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Tag Archives: Evolution

evolution as a general idea (e.g., Spencer) and as a particular theory (e.g., Darwin)

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.

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.

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Variationism vs. progressivism

Broadly speaking, there are two different paradigms concerning the history of the material world. One paradigm is that the material world has always been roughly the same as it is now. An ancient version of this said everything would eventually return to the same state. This cyclic version is rare now. What became more common is the idea that things change within limits. Call this variationism, because it says that everything is a variation of what came before.

The other paradigm is that the material world was very different from what it is now; whether that is seen as better before or better now. The idea of a former golden age was common in ancient times but has almost disappeared. The more common idea is that the world was once primitive and has become complex, which is seen as better. Call this progressivism, because it says that everything progressed from something different to what it is now.

There are metaphysical and theological implications of these two paradigms. Aristotle said that the world is eternal since an origin couldn’t be determined. That is compatible with variationism since an eternal world must always be a variation on what it was in the past. Many today would say there are eternal laws of nature that have operated on the natural world over time to generate the world of today. That is compatible with progressivism since it says everything is always progressing to something different.

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Wasmann on biology and evolution

From Modern Biology and the Theory of Evolution by Erich Wasmann, S.J.

Translated from the Third German Edition by A. M. Buchanan, M.A. London, 1910

Excerpts from Chapter IX, Thoughts on Evolution (with most footnotes omitted)

Note: creatio e nihilo means ‘creation from nothing,’ a slight variation on creatio ex nihilo, ‘creation out of nothing’.

p.256

2. THE VARIOUS MEANINGS OF THE WORD ‘DARWINISM’

For over forty years a conflict has been raging in the intellectual world, which both sides have maintained with great vehemence and energy. The war-cry on one side is ‘Evolution of Species,’ on the other ‘Permanence of Species.’ No one could fail to be reminded of that other great intellectual warfare regarding the Ptolemaic and the Copernican systems, which began about three hundred and fifty years ago, and raged with varying success for over a century, until finally the latter prevailed. Perhaps the present conflict between the theories of evolution and permanence only marks a fresh stage in that great strife, and, if so, how will it finally be decided?

The contest that we have to consider was stirred up by Charles Darwin, when he published his book on the ‘Origin of Species’ about the middle of last century. The theories advanced by Lamarck and Geoffroy St. Hilaire at the end of the eighteenth and the beginning of the nineteenth centuries may be regarded as causing preliminary skirmishes, but Cuvier’s powerful attacks soon succeeded in overthrowing the new ideas of evolution (see p. 28). It was not until the year 1859 that the great battle began, which has received its name from the commander-in-chief of the attacking army, Charles Darwin. The warfare with which we are now concerned centres round Darwinism, so-called.

I say, so-called Darwinism. A few words of explanation are absolutely necessary. The thick smoke of the powder, which hid the battlefield from our gaze, is gradually dispersing,

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Variation is a fact

One of the characteristics of post-modernism is the overlap between facts and theories. In modern science theories were based on facts, theories explained facts, and theories connected facts together. But post-modernism blurs the distinction between facts and theories. For example:

In science, a “fact” typically refers to an observation, measurement, or other form of evidence that can be expected to occur the same way under similar circumstances. However, scientists also use the term “fact” to refer to a scientific explanation that has been tested and confirmed so many times that there is no longer a compelling reason to keep testing it or looking for additional examples. Because the evidence supporting it is so strong, scientists no longer question whether biological evolution has occurred and is continuing to occur. Instead, they investigate the mechanisms of evolution, how rapidly evolution can take place, and related questions. The National Academies – Evolution Resources [The National Academies is also known as the (U.S.) National Academy of Sciences.]

It is easily seen that the term “evolution” is used in (at least) two different senses. Under Definitions, the above website provides the following:

Evolution: Evolution consists of changes in the heritable traits of a population of organisms as successive generations replace one another. It is populations of organisms that evolve, not individual organisms.

That is the factual part. But there is another part, the theory part, which is obscured by not distinguishing fact from theory. For example, their entire website only mentions common descent once, and that in reference to additional resources:

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Terms for science controversies

Controversies are more difficult than they need be. I have written about this before here and here. One challenge for dealing with controversies is that terminology is misleading, inaccurate, or loaded. Here are some examples from the creation-evolution controversy.

The term ‘evolution’ originally meant an unrolling, and was applied by Charles Lyell and Herbert Spencer to the idea that there was a natural progression over time from lower to higher organisms. Charles Darwin did not originally call his theory ‘evolution’ but others prevailed on him to use the term. Ever since people have confused the idea of progress with Darwin’s theory of unguided evolution.

Historically, Darwin’s theory is one of several theories of transmutation, which is any natural sequence of changes over time from lower to higher organisms. Darwin’s particular theory was that the natural variability of generations over a long time might result in some populations of lower species transmutating into higher species. In other words, varieties could become new species, which could become new genera, and so on.

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