The Eight Meanings of “Evolution”
by David Klinghoffer
I mentioned yesterday that Darwinists have a frustrating way, in public discourse, of failing to say what they mean by evolution. Ann Coulter observes how this can function as a method of intimidation:
Just a year later, at a 2008 Republican presidential candidates’ debate, Matthews asked for a show of hands of who believed in evolution. No discussion permitted! That might allow scientific facts, rather than schoolyard taunts, to escape into the world.
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Evolution is the only subject that is discussed exclusively as a “Do you believe?” question with yes-or-no answers.
In God and Evolution, Discovery Institute’s Jay Richards gives no fewer than eight meanings of the word. Commit these to memory:
Though God is the grandest and most difficult of all subjects, the meaning of the word “evolution” is actually a lot harder to nail down.
In an illuminating article called The Meanings of Evolution, Stephen Meyer and Michael Keas distinguished six different ways in which “evolution” is commonly used:
1. Change over time; history of nature; any sequence of events in nature.
2. Changes in the frequencies of alleles in the gene pool of a population.
3. Limited common descent: the idea that particular groups of organisms have descended from a common ancestor.
4. The mechanisms responsible for the change required to produce limited descent with modification, chiefly natural selection acting on random variations or mutations.
5. Universal common descent: the idea that all organisms have descended from a single common ancestor.
6. “Blind watchmaker” thesis: the idea that all organisms have descended from common ancestors solely through unguided, unintelligent, purposeless, material processes such as natural selection acting on random variations or mutations; that the mechanisms of natural selection, random variation and mutation, and perhaps other similarly naturalistic mechanisms, are completely sufficient to account for the appearance of design in living organisms.
Meyer and Keas provide many valuable insights in their article, but here we’re only concerned with “evolution” insofar as it’s relevant to theology…
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