This Step is a bit long. But definitions are the key to critiqueing any truth claims.
Evolutionary theory in one form or another frames the prevailing creation story of all living things, including human beings.
If we wish to critique the truth claims of evolution we must do it with a proper definition of the term “evolution.”
Thus, in this step we will provide reasons for adopting a correct–that is a critique-able–definition of evolution. This will not be a definition of evolution that simply describes gene-pool changes in populations of organisms. It must be a definition of evolution along the lines of what Darwin proposed and which remains the foundation of all evolutionary theories: a natural process that can explain the origin and existence of all life forms from an original first life form.
If you Google the definition of evolution you will be confused. Not only are there many definitions floating around, many of the definitions use unfamiliar terminology that seems to be directed toward something other than explaining the actual origin of species, including entirely new life forms and features.
To help you choose the right definition of evolutions, below we present an excerpt from an upcoming book that Creation Reformation will soon publicize.
The National Center for Science Education (NCSE) has surveyed various ways evolution is defined and how those definitions have changed throughout history. In a section of their website entitled “Defining Evolution,” the NCSE recognizes that:
[s]ome of the definitions found in the scientific literature, including textbooks and popularizations of evolutionary theory, use technical terms that do not seem to convey to the public that evolution explains the diversity of living forms.https://ncse.ngo/defining-evolution-0.
To illustrate, the NCSE offers several definitions including one that, according to the NCSE, has become the standard definition in textbooks:
[E]volution can be precisely defined as any change in the frequency of alleles within a gene pool from one generation to the next.Ibid. And note that this is not even a definition; it is merely an observation. Consider if photosynthesis was “defined” the same way: “Photosynthesis can be precisely defined as any change in color within a leaf pool from one season to the next.”
The NCSE goes on to point out that many leading evolutionists—including Ernst Mayr, the “Darwin of the 20th century”—reject such a definition as “not explanatory” and even “misleading.” (Ibid.) We agree; if this is the definition of evolution then evolution is neither surprising nor controversial and it indeed explains nothing. This and other proffered definitions, the NCSE notes, “illustrate that there is a wide range of approaches to defining evolution and that ‘experts’ disagree over what to emphasize in their definitions.” (Ibid.)
In the absence of consensus amongst the leading evolutionists themselves, then, what will be emphasized in the most precise definition of evolution upon which to base our subsequent Steps to Truth?
In answer, let us consider Darwin’s book On the Origin of Species, the basic principles of which continue to be the basis for all evolutionary thinking. Starting with Darwin’s theory any definition of evolution sufficient to explain the origin of entirely new beings on earth must recognize the required Darwinian mechanisms of “descent with modification” (also termed heritable variations) together with natural selection. That is, Darwin’s evolutionary process starts with an assumed first living life form and proceeds naturally with two easily understandable components: (1) heritable variation in living organisms from parent to child (Darwin’s “descent with modification”), and (2) a way to preserve advantageous variations (Darwin’s “natural selection”). Granted, these may not be familiar concepts to most; we will explore these terms as we go.
Modern science adds to Darwin’s theory by recognizing that the “heritable variation” in living organisms is due to genetic variation. Moreover, new features of living organisms are achieved primarily by genetic variation due to mutations. And we note that the evolution of interest to us is the theorized evolution of current living forms, that is, those preserved from extinction to this day, including human beings.
With consideration to these concepts, we adopt as our working definition of the term evolution: The idea that from a beginning life form all new living forms arose as the preserved product of unguided, purposeless, natural mechanisms, chiefly natural selection acting on random heritable variation or mutation.
Our Definition of Evolution:
EVOLUTION: The idea that from a beginning life form all new living forms arose as the preserved product of unguided, purposeless, natural mechanisms, chiefly natural selection acting on random heritable variation or mutation.
Evolution defined this way is wholly consistent with current evolutionary thought. Our definition emphasizes what evolutionary biologists hold as true: that the purely natural Darwinian mechanism of natural selection acting on random variations in living organisms completely suffices to explain the origin of complex, new, and entirely new life forms—including human beings—from simple, prior life forms. And those life forms that exist today have been preserved from extinction to do so.
Our Use of the Terms in Our Definition:
The whole of a definition is, of course, only as useful as the sum of its parts are meaningful. Beyond the aggregate definition, then, we must examine the precise meaning of its component words and phrases:
New living forms. Darwin purported to explain the origin of species. We will have much more to say about species; we note here that by “species” Darwin meant not only varieties within a genus but entirely new forms, or kinds, of living organisms altogether.
In the final paragraph of On the Origin of Species, remarking on the “grandeur” he saw in his view of life “having been originally breathed into a few forms or into one,” Darwin penned that:
…from so simple a beginning endless forms most beautifully and most wonderful have been, and are being, evolved.Charles Darwin, On The Origin of Species, A Facsimile of the First Edition (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1964), p. 490, emphasis added.
It is the beginning of the beginning of one of those endless forms—the human species—that is the object of our inquiry. Was our beginning from so simple a beginning as one of the original few forms, as Darwinism maintains?
The phrase “new living forms” in our definition reflects a meaningful requirement we are assigning to the term evolution. Our inquiry focuses not on observations of variations within an existing species or genus but on whether evolutionary processes can explain the beginning of the beginning—the origin—of entirely new life forms and all current life forms, including the human species.
Unguided, purposeless, natural. Modern evolutionary biology, partly because its practice is subservient to the philosophy of naturalism, requires that the processes of biological evolution be unguided and purposeless. To maintain that the processes of evolution are guided in any way or have any purpose behind them requires a guide and a forward-looking plan, neither of which material nature alone provides; such a process would merely be a different form of creationism.
The purposeless nature of evolution is not controversial; not only is it required by the naturalistic definition of science, but it is explicitly taught as such, as reflected in many high school biology texts. As summarized by Stephen Meyer, the director of the Discovery Institute’s Center for Science and Culture:
This view is reflected in many high school biology texts. As Kenneth Miller and Joseph Levine long asserted it in their popular text, “evolution works without plan or purpose.” (Ibid.) Or as Purvis, Orians, and Heller tell students, “the living world is constantly evolving without any goals … evolutionary change is not directed.” (Ibid.) Similarly, Douglas Futuyma, in his widely used college textbook, Evolutionary Biology, writes: “By coupling undirected, purposeless variation to the blind, uncaring process of natural selection, Darwin made theological or spiritual explanations of the life processes superfluous.”
If evolution is true, this means that human beings likewise arose as the product of purposeless natural processes. Leading Darwinist George Gaylord Simpson unambiguously made this point when he affirmed:
[m]an is the result of a purposeless and natural process that did not have him in mind.George Gaylord Simpson, The Meaning of Evolution (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 1949), pp. 132, 345, as quoted by Wells, Icons of Evolution, p. 203.
This necessary fact of evolution is the quiet part rarely spoken out loud due to its devastating implications to the human psyche as well as human society. A purposeless existence and no reason for being: such is the lot of humans and human society if evolution is true.
Natural selection. Darwin referred to Chapter Four of On the Origin of Species, in which he introduces natural selection, as “the key-stone of my Book” and his theory is often referred to as the “theory of evolution by natural selection.” Indeed, the full title of his first edition is: On the Origin of Species By Means of Natural Selection or the Preservation of Favoured Races in the Struggle for Life.
Thus, natural selection must be a key component of any definition of evolution. Natural selection, as we will see, has been shown to produce changes in populations of organisms, such as among light and dark moths or large-beaked finches and small-beaked finches. Such phenomena attributed to natural selection, as we will find, are real and meaningful. But can natural selection explain the origin of new kinds of living beings?
Preserved. Note the title of Darwin’s work as emphasizing preserving favored races in the struggle for life. We will explore this idea in detail later. Recognizing natural selection’s preservation role in the continuance of already created living beings struggling to survive is crucial to understanding its limitations. Natural selection can explain the preservation of species, but can it explain the origin of the human species?
Heritable. New features for new life forms must, according to evolutionary theory, come from variations passed down from previous life forms. The term “heritable” captures the requirement that for variations to endure from generation to generation of evolving organisms the variations must be passed from parent to child with each generation.
Mutations. The variations of interest in evolution to produce new features and ultimately new life forms are now known to come almost exclusively from genetic mutations.
We will discuss mutations in detail in a later inquiry. But for now, to better understanding the implications of evolution as defined we note that mutations are naturally occurring permanent alterations in the coded DNA sequence of an organism. As stated at Understanding Evolution at the University of California, Berkeley:
Your DNA contains a set of instructions for “building” a human. These instructions are inscribed in the structure of the DNA molecule through a genetic code.https://evolution.berkeley.edu/evolibrary/article/%3C?%20echo%20$baseURL;%20?%3E_0/mutations_02
Mutations, as permanent alterations of the DNA molecule, necessarily affect the set of instructions passed to build offspring. As further stated at Understanding Evolution by the University of California, Berkeley:
Most of the mutations that we think matter to evolution are “naturally-occurring.” For example, when a cell divides, it makes a copy of its DNA—and—sometimes the copy is not quite perfect.https://evolution.berkeley.edu/evolibrary/article/0_0_0/%3C?%20echo%20$baseURL;%20?%3E/mutations_04
You are correct if you believe that “permanent alterations” that render the instructions to build an otherwise well-built organism “not quite perfect” seems a risky proposition for creating new organisms over many generations of parent-to-child replication. But Darwinists believe that natural selection acts as a mistake regulator, invisibly removing organisms affected by deleterious copying mistakes and keeping—preserving—organisms with beneficial ones.
According to Darwinism—and as reflected in our definition of evolution—with each generation of any given organism variations, including those due to mutations—copying errors—in the gene sequences that make up the genetic building code, can result in new organisms with new gene sequences to produce new building instructions. In turn these new gene sequences with new instructions build new features and traits in a new organism built to possess the trait. Features and traits are considered advantageous if they result in higher survival rates as natural selection “preserves” those organisms in order that they may reproduce. Darwinian evolutionary theory—consistent with our definition—can be summed up as “natural selection operating on heritable variations to preserve advantageous traits in living organisms,” with “advantageous” necessarily entailing that preserved traits are passed on in reproduction.
Random (vs Chance). Because evolution entails an unguided process any changes it produces must be from what appear to be random changes often seen as genetic mutations. Frequently these changes are referred to as being the result of “chance,” a view we must address as it relates to our inquiry because much is made in the literature, both for and against evolution, of the role of chance mutations, for example. Creationists decry chance as making evolution highly unlikely and Darwinists embrace chance as a sort of get-out-of-jail-free card; after all, when chance is in play anything becomes theoretically possible.
But we must—on first principles of science including Newtonian science of “cause and effect”—reject chance as having an explanatory effect in a naturalistic universe. Every observable effect in the natural world is caused by a causal force acting and this force was caused by an earlier cause, and so on. For naturalists this chain of causal forces traces back to the Big Bang: the theorized cosmic explosion that marked the beginning of the universe. The cosmic explosion set into motion the immutable movements of all physical matter today—subject only to natural laws. We describe outcomes we see as “random” or “chance” because we cannot know all the boundary conditions—in time or space—such as the parameters of the underlying cause(s) and intervening conditions, so that the resulting effects are, to us, unpredictable.
Consider that we call the outcome of a coin flip “chance.” But the outcome occurs not by chance but completely predictably according to the dictates of the forces acting on the coin to cause—and stop—its flipping. The result of heads or tails of a flipped coin is determined the moment the coin leaves one’s fingers. If we knew exactly all the input states and starting conditions precisely at the moment of the flip as well as the exact parameters of any intervening forces such as air currents and landing surface characteristics we could perfectly predict heads or tails for every flip. Because humans cannot know all the input conditions we speak of the unpredictable (to us) outcome as “chance.”
Consider another illustration of chance more analogous to naturalists’ Big Bang theory: the initial breaking of billiard balls in a game of pool with innumerable balls and a pool table the size of the universe. The initial break sends all the balls scattering in what appear to us as random directions. Imagine the process of dispersing the innumerable balls with such force that their movement continues for millions of years and billions of miles. A half-million years out the motion of the billiard balls in view of an observer appears to be random with interactions governed by natural laws. However, their motion at any time is not random; it is simply motion predetermined inexorably at the moment of the break. The atoms or subatomic particles in motion in our universe are no different in this respect than the billiard balls. In a naturalistic universe the indifferent motion of particles continues to this day on the paths that were inevitably and immutably determined at the Big Bang.
We reject chance as having any explanatory value for human origins. But we advisably find we should keep the term random in our definition of evolution because the only source of heritable variation in organisms is random in its appearance to us. Random serves as a sufficient qualifier to indicate that mutations appear to occur unpredictably but nevertheless inevitably without purpose. We can conclude, therefore, that there is nothing to suggest the genetic code of building instructions in any organism undergoes a change in response to a need of the organism or the dictates of the environment.
Thus, it seems necessary to adopt a definition of evolution as encompassing an explanation for the origin of all new living forms that arose as the product of unguided, purposeless, natural mechanisms. To posit the opposite explanation—guided and purposeful mechanisms—is to introduce attributes in nature unknown to Darwinian processes. Further, we understand that the results of the natural mechanisms are immutably determined from the act of first causation; if naturalism is true all of current nature—including the origin and existence of human beings—was predetermined at the moment of the Big Bang.
We affirm that it is reasonable to adopt a definition of evolution that renders it consistent with the processes of Darwinism and is subject to critique. Further, with our definition in mind it should be clear that Darwin’s theory of evolution by natural selection—in its only important meaning—is not a mysterious concept that is hard to understand. It is, indeed, as Richard Dawkins says, “bewilderingly simple.”[xvi] And just as you need not be a degreed engineer to understand the structural deficiencies of the original Tacoma Narrows Bridge[xvii] and you need not be a licensed lawyer to understand the moral deficiencies of the U.S. Supreme Court’s Dred Scott v. Sanford decision,[xviii] you need not be a credentialed scientist to understand the scientific deficiencies in Darwinism’s explanatory claims. And you need not be a scientist to understand the testable nature of its claims, which we will do as we continue.
[xvi] Richard Dawkins, Mechanisms of Evolution, in Campbell N.A., Reece J.B. & Mitchell L.G., “Biology,” , (Menlo Park CA: Benjamin/Cummings, Fifth Edition, 1999).
[xviii] Dred Scott v. Sandford, 60 U.S. (19 How.) 393 (1856).