Written by Jason Petersen
When having a discussion, the ability to clearly articulate an argument is paramount. The one who can articulate his argument the most clearly will most often be the person that is the most convincing. Multiple creationist organizations point out the conflict of worldviews and how a person’s worldview can influence their interpretation of scientific literature. One of the keys to making a clear argument is to have an understanding of both worldviews. If both worldviews are properly understood, the differences are easily perceived. If the differences are easily perceived, one can easily expose the flaws of a worldview that contrasts with Christianity be it in some or all respects.
It is not possible to understate the importance of understanding where the disagreement between these opposing views lie. Too often, creationists and evolutionists unknowingly waste their time by arguing about topics that are irrelevant in regards to the creation vs evolution debate. If the disagreements and their implications are properly understood, a dialogue is more likely to take place; however, if the disagreements and their implications are not understood, there will not be a dialogue. Instead, there will be two (or more) monologues.
The Philosophy of Science
In order to be effective in making an argument for Biblical creation, one must have a philosophy of science. The philosophy of science is a second-order discipline that investigates the philosophical nuances in regards to science itself. One central question concerning the philosophy of science would be, “Can scientific method allow a person to give an account for knowledge?” 1 Another example of a relevant questions would be, “What is the purpose of the scientific method?” If there is going to be a debate that will involve dealing with data and conclusions that are drawn from that data, these fundamental questions must be answered. 2 This author adopts a philosophy of science known as ‘operationalism.’ 3 Operationalism holds that scientific concepts should be defined by operations. This means that any statement concerning science that is not a measurement or observable is ultimately meaningless. In this philosophy of science, science is not viewed as a truth-finding method. Rather, it is considered to be a functional method. Rather than attempting to embark on an inevitably fruitless endeavor of discovering the truth via the scientific method, we should seek to use models that allow us to get the results that we desire. This will be the position on the philosophy of science in which this article will take.
Definitions and the Philosophy of Language
A precondition for any meaningful discussion is an agreement on the definitions of terms. If there are not common definitions, meaningful dialogue is impossible because the meaning of a word influences the meaning of a proposition. In this case, there is a lot of arguing over semantics.
‘Words’ are symbols that are used to communicate propositional meaning. A ‘proposition’ is a declarative statement that is either true or false. With these understood definitions, it is time to proceed to a brief summary concerning this author’s position on the philosophy of language. If words are used to communicate the meanings of propositions, then one must choose which words are utilized to communicate that meaning. Therefore, words that are utilized are chosen. Also, the meaning of a word is also chosen. This means that words such as ‘evolution’ may be defined in any way that the person is using it would like to define it so long as the definition does not cause problems in regards to the formulation of arguments or logical progression.
Problems with Defining Evolution when Referencing Universal Common Descent
This author’s preferred definition for ‘evolution’ is ‘the change in gene pools over time.’ Unfortunately, not all usages of the word ‘evolution’ are so precise. It has become popular in creationist (and evolutionist) circles to invoke confusing terminology such as ‘micro’ and ‘macro’ evolution. As an example for usage on the evolutionist side, an article from Berkley University will be quoted:
Evolution encompasses changes of vastly different scales — from something as insignificant as an increase in the frequency of the gene for dark wings in beetles from one generation to the next, to something as grand as the evolution and radiation of the dinosaur lineage. These two extremes represent classic examples of micro- and macroevolution.
Microevolution happens on a small scale (within a single population), while macroevolution happens on a scale that transcends the boundaries of a single species. 4
Clearly, the ‘scale’ of (whether it is micro or macro) evolution is determined by the boundaries of a species. But what is it that determines the boundaries? Clearly, the boundaries of species cannot be discovered. The boundaries are chosen. One cannot draw a line unless one makes a decision on where to draw it. This means that when evolution is being taught to students, there are two ways in which the issue at hand becomes confused:
1. The scientists and teachers that argue for evolution are at liberty to determine where the boundaries might be drawn concerning what separates one single species from another. As a result of this arbitrary boundary, the meaning of ‘microevolution’ and ‘macroevolution’ only adds confusion to the meaning of ‘evolution.’
2. Definitions may be revised if they become problematic. This means that if a problem arises, those who put forth the evolutionary hypothesis may change their definitions so it fits their paradigm. 5
Clearly, if the lines drawn are so arbitrary and subject to change, invoking a distinction between ‘micro’ and ‘macro’ evolution becomes quite problematic because the lines are always being redrawn. But now we shall turn our attention to the definition of ‘evolution’ that references universal common descent. An online textbook that is provided for OakLawn-Hometown Middle School students reads:
The list of species continues to grow as scientists discover new species.
In addition, taxonomists are learning more about the evolutionary
history of species. As you read in Section 1, new knowledge resulted in
the reclassification of species such as the giant panda. Both the names
of species and the groups into which they are arranged may change as
a result of discoveries about the evolution of these species. 6
There are many instances of changes in classification in taxonomy. Plants and animals are organized into differing categories when new conclusions are drawn from empirical investigation. Because new conclusions arise, the content of taxonomy is in a constant flux. Now, the word ‘evolution’ is used interchangeably to refer to changes in gene pool over time and universal common descent. In this instance, we will focus on the latter usage that focuses on universal common descent. Universal common descent refers to the proposition that all organisms have a common ancestor. This means that any outline of the history of an organism will trace back to ancestors in which another organism may also have descended from. This process of tracing the origins of this organism will eventually arrive at a single-common ancestor.
What has been highlighted in the section of this article is highly problematic for the application of the word ‘evolution’ that refers to universal common descent. If the taxonomic structure of universal common descent is in a constant state of change, be it changes in classifications or the addition, revision, of a species’ place in the taxonomy that is used to describe the history of descent, it would mean that the definition of ‘evolution’ that refers to universal common descent would be in a constant state of change. This means that every time taxonomy is modified, the definition of evolution changes. 7 What is a defender of evolution to do if he is defending a concept of evolution from the year 2016, and then refers to a Biology textbook from the year 1995? There is no doubt that the taxonomic structures of the kingdoms (there are now six kingdoms, but it used to be commonplace to only refer to two kingdoms) has changed. If the taxonomic structure is now different in 2016 from the taxonomic structure that was used in the year 1995, the definition of evolution that was invoked in 1995 is different from the definition of evolution that is was invoked in the year 2016. And if the evolutionist is open to the notion that taxonomy could change again in the future, the theory of evolution that he has defended today will be different from the theory of evolution that he will be defending tomorrow. What then, pray tell, is the evolutionist defending? We simply do not have a clue, and neither does the evolutionist. Therefore, we must not only conclude that the distinction, ‘micro’ and ‘macro’ evolution are problematic, but the definition of the word ‘evolution’ that is invoked when referencing universal common descent is absolutely meaningless. It cannot be quantified, nor can it be measured if it is in a constant state of change. 8
Implications on the Creation vs Evolution Debate
At the beginning of the article, it was said that we must be aware of where the disagreements lie. Let us be clear, the disagreement concerning creation vs evolution is not centered in how much organisms can change. Rather, the disagreement lies in the history of life in this earth. Was man created by God and given dominion over earth and the life that is on it (Gen. 1:28)? Or was man a descendant of an ape-like creature? To argue affirmatively for the former question, we need only appeal to the scriptures, for that is the only way we can know the nature of the creation of man. But to argue affirmatively for the latter question, a definition of evolution must be given (when referencing universal common descent), but if the term is in a constant state of flux, and if the opponent believes that taxonomy will change again, he has nothing in which he can argue for because what he is arguing for today will be false in the future. That which cannot be defined cannot be defended. To speak of something that is undefined is to babble about nothing. Because of this, evolution is simply indefensible.
1. In this article, knowledge is defined as the possession of the truth. ‘Accounting for knowledge’ means that knowledge can be approached in a systematic fashion as opposed to a disjointed fashion. Rigorous systematization will separate intellectually sharp people from intellectually dull people.
2. If there is someone who is reading this article that does not feel that they have an understanding of the philosophy of science or is not sure what is the proper philosophy of science, check out this link.
3. It is important to note that this author does not agree with Percy Bridgman’s skeptical view on epistemology.
4. The Understanding Evolution Team, Evolution at different scales: Micro to macro. Retrieved February 07, 2016, from <http://evolution.berkeley.edu/evolibrary/article/evoscales_01>
5. It should be noted that revising problematic definitions is not intrinsically dishonest. One can look at both the history of theology and philosophy in the past 2,000 years and see the revision of definitions is quite commonplace. However, these revisions may be confusing to students (and perhaps teachers) who do not have a solid grasp on the philosophy of language.
6. Oaklawn-Hometown Middle School, Classification systems change
as scientists learn more, http://www.d123.org/olhms/dedie/documents/classification2.3b.pdf (Note: This author was not able to access the home page for this textbook so he was not able to find out which textbook this passage was taken from).
7. In order to fully comprehend this point, a person will need be familiar with the philosophy of science that is espoused by the late Christian philosopher Gordon H. Clark and the late philosopher Percy Bridgman.
8. This is because some of the propositions in which the word ‘evolution’ references change when there is a change in classification of organisms. If the propositions referenced changes then so does the definition. Even if the definition itself is not reworded, the implications of the words used in the definition would change. Two definitions that imply differing propositions are not synonymous in their meaning.