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Beyond this broad definition, the word evolution is used in a number of different ways, leading to a great deal of confusion. Three major uses of the word evolution include:
- Biological evolution: attempts to understand and describe how the genetic characteristics of species change over time, as a result of recombination, mutation, natural selection, and genetic drift.
- Stellar evolution: the field of astronomy that describes the theoretic changes that stars are believed to undergo during their life cycle, including star formation. Since these changes are believed to occur over millions or even billions of years, astrophysicists theorize about how stars evolve by observing numerous stars, each at a different point in its life cycle, and simulating stellar structure with computer models.
- General theory of evolution: the speculation that all life originated through purely natural processes without any act of creation (abiogenesis). It is theorized that all life on Earth originated from a single ancestral cell (common ancestry). All the biological complexity, adaptivity, and artistry on the planet is solely the result of random changes and natural selection over billions of years.
The distinction between these two uses of the word "Evolution" is important, because creationism acknowledges that biological evolution is a true and scientific reality, but argues that the theory of evolution is a speculative farce, overwhelmingly discredited by the scientific evidence.
- Main article: Biological evolution
Biological evolution is the change in the heritable characteristics or allele frequency in populations over time. Biological evolution may be minimal or substantial; it embraces everything from slight changes in the proportion of different alleles within a population (such as those determining blood types) to the successive alterations that led to the diversification of the created kinds to countless unique species. It can generally be said to involve the following as explanatory mechanisms:
Biological evolution should not be confused with the theory of evolution. Biological evolution is an observable scientific fact, because the mechanisms of change in populations over time have been obvious and observable for thousands of years. Even the ancient Spartans enforced a policy of eugenics in an effort to promote desirable characteristics in their gene pool. The theory of evolution, however, makes a number of unfalsifiable or false claims about the origin of life, to include abiogenesis, common descent, and the like, which cannot be observed as biological evolution can be observed, and which are highly speculative in nature.
Also, biological changes in an individual organism such as metamorphosis or embryonic development are not considered biological evolution, because biological evolution transcends the lifetime of a single individual. The changes in populations that are considered evolutionary are those that are inherited through genetic information from one generation to the next. Biological evolution can be summarized as a change in allele frequency in a population over time.
Theory of Evolution
- Main Article: Theory of evolution
The concept evolution presupposes materialism to be true. According to it, species always originate or arise from material environments interacting with previously living species. Once such a presupposition is accepted it cannot be falsified, but only modified. This makes evolution untestable, and as such violates the usual rules of scientific inquiry—a weakness that does not seem to have deterred any of its proponents.
The general theory of evolution encompasses the historical claims that life originated through random natural processes (abiogenesis), and diversified through genetic variability and natural selection. It furthermore asserts that all life on Earth shares a common ancestry. The idea is ancient in origin, being held by Greek philosophers such as Anaxagorus, but was recently revived in Europe and America during the secularization of the 19th century. However, no one has produced any credible obsservation of any mechanism for evolution actually occurring in the wild.
Evolutionism comes in many forms, but most predominately atheistic, pantheistic and theistic evolutionist. Atheistic evolutionists believe that evolution occurs solely through natural means. Theistic evolutionists believe that God guides the process of evolution. Pantheistic evolutionists believe that evolution is part of how the spirit of the cosmos develops over time.
Conflating the Two Meanings of Evolution
Some evolutionists have been known to commit a logical fallacy by conflating biological evolution and the general theory of evolution. The argument goes like this: "There is a great deal of evidence for biological evolution. Therefore the general theory of evolution is true." This argument is fallacious, because while biological evolution makes no claim as to the origin of life and allows for the possibility that it was originally created, the general theory of evolution claims that life originated by chance through abiogenesis, a speculation for which there is neither evidence nor comprehensive explanation. Further, while biological evolution says only that life changes over time, but allows that some biological diversity may be the result of creation, the general theory of evolution holds that this change occurs without limits, and that all biological diversity is due to evolution, another speculation for which there is neither evidence nor comprehensive explanation.
The problem is one of degree. Darwin observed changes in the shape and size of the beaks of finches. From this observable and very minor example of biological evolution, he created a general theory of evolution, that all species diversity is a result of biological evolution. As he stated in The Origin of Species:
|“||In North America the black bear was seen by Hearne swimming for hours with widely open mouth, thus catching, like a whale, insects in the water. Even in so extreme a case as this, if the supply of insects were constant, and if better adapted competitors did not already exist in the country, I can see no difficulty in a race of bears being rendered, by natural selection, more and more aquatic in their structure and habits, with larger and larger mouths, till a creature was produced as monstrous as a whale. (On the Origin of Species (1859), original edition, p. 184)||”|
Darwin omitted this story in other editions of Origin (because it was received as preposterous), but regretted his revision:
|“||I still maintain that there is no special difficulty in a bear's mouth being enlarged to any degree useful to its changing habits. ("More Letters of Charles Darwin," 1903, page 162)||”|
By conflating biological evolution with the general theory of evolution, these evolutionists make arguments that sound meaningful, but are actually meaningless. They note changes in the size of finch beaks, and infer (without evidence) that bears can evolve into whales. They note superficial changes in structure by natural selection, and infer that the structure itself evolved by the same mechanism. Or, more generally, they prove biological evolution (an idea nobody disputes), fail to provide evidence for the general theory of evolution, and then claim that their evidence for biological evolution supports the general theory.
- True or False: Darwinian evolution is random by Anika Smith
- The Facts about Intelligent Design: A Response to the National Academy of Sciences’ Science, Evolution, and Creationism by Casey Luskin. Intelligent Design and Evolution Awareness (IDEA) Center. January 15, 1985.