iSoul In the beginning is reality.

Category Archives: Evolution

Evolution in the related senses of transformism, Darwinism, Neo-Darwinism, and evolutionism

Biological classes and ancestries

Taxonomy is the science of classification. Taxonomy applied to biology is a systematic approach to classifying organisms. It can be applied to all organisms at a particular time, throughout time, or within any context. Once a classification is determined, other questions arise such as whether there is an independent reason that organisms are in the same class together.

The basic question in all classifications is whether the objects to be classified fit within a class or belong to another class. The goal of a classification is to minimize the within-class differences and maximize the between-class differences. This is often done by defining a distance metric that quantifies the differences.

Carl Linnaeus is known as the father of modern taxonomy who formalized the binomial nomenclature and called the lowest classes species and genus (no doubt after Aristotle’s method of defining with species and genera). His original expectation was that these biological species were natural kinds that do not change over time. With the discovery that fossils came from dead organisms, it became clear that some of his species had changed over time.

The solution to this problem was to reclassify organisms both living and dead in a new classification system. But this was easier said than done since it took years for fossils to be examined. Meanwhile, people were anxious to know how all the diversity of species arose.

Charles Darwin’s hypothesis was soon adopted: species are temporary population groupings with universal common ancestry. If all species are temporary, there is only one fixed class: the class of all species. Others hypothesize  there are classes of species that are fixed and have separate ancestries, which supports design or special creation.

How can this dispute be resolved? Elliott Sober compares these two hypotheses in his book Evidence and Evolution. Sober argues for a likelihood approach to determining the better of two hypotheses. The law of likelihood states that evidence E favors hypothesis H1 over H2 if and only if the probability of E given H1 is greater than the probability of E given H2, or in symbols, P(E | H1) > P(E | H2). Note that this is a comparative approach; it only works when comparing two specific hypotheses.

In this case, the context is all species on the earth over all the history of life on earth. Hypothesis H1 states that there are multiple classes of species that span the history of life on earth, each class with separate ancestry. Hypothesis H2 states that there is only one class of species that span the history of life on earth, all with common ancestry.

Sober notes that Darwin routinely inferred common ancestry if there was some similarity between species. Sober calls this modus Darwin. It is better to have an overall metric of distance between species than rely on a few similarities. However, there is no generally accepted distance metric for species. In its absence, we can still make some inferences.

If there are many similarities between two species, that evidence is more likely given hypothesis H2 (common ancestry), though there is some likelihood given hypothesis H1. If there are discontinuities between two species, even if there are some similarities, that evidence is more likely given hypothesis H1 (separate ancestry).

Note that if someone proposes a possible sequence of events that explains a discontinuity given hypothesis H2, it is merely a possibility and lacks likelihood. But since hypothesis H1 includes partial common ancestry, it is likely with evidence of similarities as well as differences. Note that universal common ancestry (H2) must have higher likelihood in all cases, which is unlikely. The conclusion from this exercise is that separate ancestry is the superior hypothesis.

A problem arises when proponents of common ancestry insist there must first be an explanation of how these separate lines of ancestry originated. The best answer is that, just as abiogenesis is not part of the common ancestry hypothesis, so the origin of the separate classes of species is not part of the separate ancestry hypothesis.

God the Creator and Designer

The Christian doctrine of creation declares that the reason there is something and not nothing is because God created something ex nihilo, out of nothing, and that is what it means to say that God is the Creator. This is the primary creation, since the secondary creation such as the birth of new organisms occurs ex aliquo, out of something.

Did God create a mere something, that is, an entity with no identity, a whatever, a primordial blob? Or did God create and design a particular something, an entity with identity? Read the first verses of Genesis again:

1:1 In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth. 2 The earth was without form and void, and darkness was over the face of the deep. And the Spirit of God was hovering over the face of the waters. 3 And God said, “Let there be light,” and there was light. 4 And God saw that the light was good. And God separated the light from the darkness. 5 God called the light Day, and the darkness he called Night. And there was evening and there was morning, the first day.

Creation ex nihilo gets us to verse 3, with its deep, formless void and nonspecific light. After that, God is the Designer, separating and naming.

Some theologians consider design to be beneath God, as if the Divinity were merely a Platonic demiurge. But God created a particular something, which is described in terms of creating and designing rather than a single create-and-design action. We should accept the distinction between Creator and Designer, whether we separate them or not.

The theological significance of Design has been underappreciated. But it makes a difference whether the creation is made into distinct entities and kinds or is only a mass differentiated by degrees. The differences between plant and animal food and sacrifices, for example, only make sense if plant and animal are different kinds of organisms – or vegetative and animal souls are different kinds (species) in Aristotle’s terms. Above all, the difference between humans and other creatures is essential to the significance of the fall and redemption of mankind (and Aristotle’s distinction of the rational soul).

Classical creationism underestimated the extent of within-kind variation. Modern evolutionism makes the opposite error and vastly overestimates the extent of variation. Some scientists are developing a middle position, despite much opposition, that combines natural kinds with substantial variation and adaptation. Such a moderate view is quite consistent with the biblical Creator and Designer.

Note: God alone can make extrinsic design into an intrinsic nature through divine creative power. Perhaps the design was intrinsic all along but it could have been extrinsic at one point, at least insofar as it is in a logical sequence of steps, if not a chronological sequence.

Creation and evolution intersect

The controversy over creation vs. evolution, or creationism vs. evolutionism (naturalism), is often treated as an either-or, one-or-the-other proposition. In fact the creation models of today contain much that would be classified as ‘evolution’ (change over time).

Before the 19th century, theories of creation accepted a static model in biology, geology, and astronomy. That is, the universe of today was considered virtually the same as it was when first created. Extinction, for example, was widely considered impossible. In the 19th century Georges Cuvier and others showed that fossils were the remains of living beings and extinctions did occur. That upended the static model of creation.

Opponents of creationism, from Darwin to today, define creationism as the static model of creation. However, creationists have included change over time to their model of creation, starting in the 19th century and continuing today. Much of what commonly comes under the heading ‘evolution’ is part of the creation model today: adaptation, natural selection, speciation — all are part of creationism.

It is false to identify creationism with a static model of creation.

What parts of evolution theory are not part of creation theory today? Universal common descent is part of evolution theory but not creation theory. Change over time is limited in creation theories to within life forms or kinds (similar to genus or family), whereas there are no limits to change over time in theories of evolution. The postulate of deep time is necessary for theories of evolution, but not for theories of creation.

Importantly, humans are different only in degree from other animals in theories of evolution, but in theories of creation humans are different in kind from other animals. This point goes beyond mere biology to a statement of what it means to be human. Accordingly, it is open to other disciplines. For example, Mortimer J. Adler’s The Difference of Man and the Difference It Makes makes a philosophical case for humans being different in kind from other animals.

Theories of creation and evolution intersect. Their differences are about the limits to change over time, rather than the existence of change over time.

Creation and evolution posts

Creation and evolution typology

The first issue that arises in developing a typology for ideas about creation and evolution are the terms themselves: they are sufficiently ambiguous that their meaning differs even by the same author in the same work. This can be part of a fallacy of equivocation or it can simply mean the terms are general and should not be expected to carry a technical meaning unless that is specified. Let’s take the latter path and use them as general terms.

Some authors promote creation only whereas others promote evolution only but there are other ways of speaking. Some speak of creation by evolution which means evolution but a Creator is given credit for it. Others speak of evolution by creation which means progressive creation but evolution is given credit for it. These are categorized under evolution and creation, respectively.

Further, creation used to mean static creation, that is, life, the earth, and the universe were created in a state that has not significantly changed. Also, evolution used to mean only gradual evolution, that is, life, the earth, and the universe have changed gradually but drastically over a long period of time.

Others combine creation and evolution in a kind of partnership. Creation with evolution makes creation primary but acknowledges something like evolution within created limits. This dynamic creation differs from the older conception of a purely static creation. Evolution with creation applies to others who make evolution primary but acknowledge something like creation within evolutionary limits. Evolution with large catastrophic or saltational changes differs from the older conception of a purely gradual evolution.

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Evolution posts

Evolution for everyone

The word evolution is related to the terms evolve and evolute, and originally meant an unrolling. It acquired a sense of development in the 19th century and was associated with progress, especially as promoted by Herbert Spencer. Charles Darwin used it in print only once since his theory was not a theory of progress. “But Victorian belief in progress prevailed (and the advantages of brevity), and Herbert Spencer and other biologists after Darwin popularized evolution.” (source)

Today the basic meaning of the word evolution is change over time. That is, evolution refers to a process that changes one form into another form over time; in short, transmutation. There are various proposed means or mechanisms of evolution but they are all asserted to produce change over time.

Thus the concept of evolution is the opposite of the idea that forms do not change over time. What makes it complex is that some forms may change over time but not others. But no one today seriously alleges that there is no significant change over time. In that sense, we are all evolutionists.

Then we need terms to distinguish the different kinds of evolutionary concepts. One could simply attach the names of their originators, but their concepts are modified over time so additional terms would be required. We need simple terms to designate the main types of evolution. Three-letter acronyms would help, too.

Thus I propose the following terms and acronyms, starting with those who acknowledge no limits to evolution:

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Design and evolution

I last wrote about design here.

What is the essential element of a design? Dictionaries define design in terms of a plan but that concerns how a design is recorded or communicated rather than the design itself. I suggest that the essential element of a design is the necessity of a trade-off.

To define a trade-off first define incompatible qualities as qualities that contain contraries, for example, doing something accurately and speedily. An increase in accuracy causes a decrease in speed and an increase in speed causes a decrease in accuracy. Accuracy and speed are not contraries but accuracy contains slowness and speed contains inaccuracy, which makes accuracy and speed incompatible.

A trade-off is the situation calling for a selection of the degree of two incompatible or contrary qualities. A design is the selection of the degree or amount of two incompatible qualities or things. The design decision may be made by maximization of something desirable, such as profit, or minimization of something undesirable, such as cost. Hence optimization results in a design.

Evolutionary algorithms are solution-space trial and error search algorithms with stochastic optimization. They are based on concepts from evolutionary biology. Their result is an optimum solution within the given solution space. Because of the stochastic element of evolutionary algorithms, it may seem as if the computer made the optimization decision and so the solution was not designed.

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A demi-creator for science

Creationists reject what might be called the Deep Time Postulate (DTP): that long stretches of time existed before the earliest humans ever lived. The DTP enables uniformitarianism in geology, evolution of all species in biology, and evolution of the solar system in astronomy. DTP enables science to insert a kind of history before history, that is, before written records or human artifacts.

Without the DTP, less than ten thousand years have transpired in the universe, that is, the time since humans and other living kinds appeared on the earth as determined from human artifacts and records. Instead of the DTP, creationists accept what might be called the Demi-Creator Postulate (DCP): that a demi-creator exists (or existed) who formed the earth and celestial bodies as well as the kinds of organisms that originally populated the earth. The DCP enables large-scale catastrophism in geology and creation in biology and astronomy.

Why “demi-creator” instead of Creator? The answer is that science does not use scriptures and so a scientific creator lacks the full range of characteristics that a theological Creator would have. For the purpose of science all that is necessary is a being like Plato’s demiurge*, who is like us but with much greater power and intelligence. I am calling this being a “demi-creator” since it is a partial creator. Whether it is the same being as the Creator of the theologians is for them to decide. For science a creator-type being is like us, not creating from nothing but forming a product from something else.

From the existence of a demi-creator one may infer that the creation is intelligible by us and that it exhibits features that are recognizable by us as intelligently designed. From knowledge of some parts of the creation, we may be able to infer the character of other parts, since they would exhibit similar characteristics, as a design engineer implements an overall design in every part.

One consequence of the DCP is that the creation is finite because a demi-creator is only capable of what we could do given greater intelligence and power. Creationists take this as supporting the creation of a finite number of different kinds of organisms. Different kinds of organisms likely exhibit similar design features, in what those who accept the DTP would call convergent evolution.

* The demi in demiurge is not from demi, meaning half or partial, but from demos, common people; nevertheless, it suggests something less than divine.

Science or stories

Science has no stories. Stories have characters, plots, and narratives. Science has data, hypotheses, postulates, and theories. Science and stories are different. They should be kept separate.

Stories can refer to science or be about scientists, but that is not part of science. Science can refer to stories or collect data from stories, but that is not storytelling.

Evolutionary stories are not part of science. Evolution without stories is part of science. But evolution without stories is variation and adaptation.

The science community and its boosters confuse science and stories. They are different and should be kept separate.

History is a chronicle, a narrative, a story. But history is not science.

The Bible is a story of stories. It includes chronicles, poetry, parables, and letters. The Bible may refer to science, but the Bible is not part of science.

The stories of the Bible are not inconsistent with science as long as science is not confused with stories. If science is confused with stories, then there may be inconsistencies with the Bible. The answer is to stop confusing science and stories.

Biblical creationists follow the science community and its boosters in confusing science and stories. Creationism is about history and theology, not science.

Science or stories: focus on one or the other but don’t confuse them.

Change and stability

Evolution or alteration means change over time. Sameness over time is called permanence or stability. The study of change or the lack of change over time is called history or diachrony.

Change happens. But sameness happens, too. One easily sees that sameness happens in the natural realm much more than change. That is not the result of chance but of law, which is why natural science is able to articulate laws and predict the future. The natural future is like the natural past.

Some changes are unpredictable individually but have predictable distributions or aggregates. Many sciences from statistical mechanics to quantum mechanics to genetics are stochastic in nature.

Similar to the coastline paradox, the amount of change depends on the length of the “ruler” used to measure change. If it is a small ruler, one measures minutiae, and more changes will be found. If it is a large ruler, one measures key features, and fewer changes will be found.

The conceit of evolutionary biology is that very low rates of unpredictable change over very long periods of time can result in all the biological diversity of today. It is an appeal to the imagination more than an appeal to knowledge. Without imagination, the argument becomes an assertion of mere possibility, rather than plausibility, probability, or necessity.

But if very low rates of unpredictable change can determine what happens, how much more can very high rates of predictable stability. One does not need to appeal to the imagination to see that stability is the rule, and exceptions only prove the rule.

Organisms are similar in some respects but not in other respects. If one focuses on minutiae, there are many differences. It is part of the conceit of evolutionary biology to overstate the importance of minor differences such as color and understate the importance of major differences such as body plan.

One might hope that biologists would be working toward finding the optimum characteristics to measure biological change. Alas, they are determined to find the smallest ruler and overstate change as much as possible.

I predict that a more mature biology will seek the optimum measure of change, and will accept that some characteristics are permanent features of a body type.

Evolution for everyone

The word evolution is related to the terms evolve and evolute, and originally meant an unrolling. It acquired a sense of development in the 19th century and was associated with progress, especially as promoted by Herbert Spencer. Charles Darwin used it in print only once since his theory was not a theory of progress. “But Victorian belief in progress prevailed (and the advantages of brevity), and Herbert Spencer and other biologists after Darwin popularized evolution.” (source)

Today the basic meaning of the word evolution is change over time. That is, evolution refers to a process that changes one form into another form over time; in short, transmutation. There are various proposed means or mechanisms of evolution but they are all asserted to produce change over time.

Thus the concept of evolution is the opposite of the idea that forms do not change over time. What makes it complex is that some forms may change over time but not others. But no one today seriously alleges that there is no significant change over time. In that sense, we are all evolutionists.

Then we need terms to distinguish the different kinds of evolutionary concepts. One could simply attach the names of their originators, but their concepts are modified over time so additional terms would be required. We need simple terms to designate the main types of evolution. Three-letter acronyms would help, too.

Read more →