This article was posted in Compuserve’s RELIGION forum in November 2003 by Robert Little and is placed here with his permission.
In reviewing and discussing the topic of "creation versus evolution" for almost seven years now, I've arrived at a startling conclusion: Creationists accept arguably large portions of evolutionary theory. Specifically, Creationists accept three concepts within evolutionary theory, albeit with some qualifications: evolution, microevolution, and macroevolution. I'll address the qualifications that Creationists pose for each concept here.
"evolution ... In biological terms: a change in the genetic composition of a population over time." (BioTech Life Science Dictionary, http://biotech.icmb.utexas.edu/search/dict-search.phtml?title=evolution)
Notice that this definition, and hence the Creationist acceptance of the term "evolution," is quite limited. Creationists often define evolution as "molecules-to-man," but that's not how biologists define it. Thus I am not attempting to play a semantic game here. I'm not claiming, for example, that to accept "evolution" means accepting "molecules-to-man"; rather, it means accepting changes in gene pools of biological populations. As evolution is defined by biologists as referring to such changes, I conclude that Creationists accept evolution in this sense.
I'll address other arguments regarding semantics, later in this post.
"microevolution (adj. microevolutionary) Definition: Evolution on a molecular level (changes within DNA, i.e. mutations), an individual organism level (DNA recombination, chromosomal mutations, reproduction, natural selection, etc.), and a population level (genetic drifts, phyletic shifts, founder effects, etc.)." (ibid, http://biotech.icmb.utexas.edu/search/dict-search.phtml?title=microevolution)
Arguably, this is the evolutionary meta-concept best accepted by Creationists. However, there's still at least two Creationist sticking points.
First, "microevolution" as used by Creationists takes on a larger meaning. To them, it means evolution (defined above) within a created kind. Again this is an argument largely relating to semantics, and I'll treat it later in this post.
Second, and perhaps more importantly, Creationists reject that microevolution has "creative power." Specifically mutations, as mentioned in the definition, are viewed by Creationists as either meaningless or destructive; commonly, Creationists view mutations as a "loss of information."
"macroevolution (adj. macroevolutionary) Definition: Evolution on a species level (speciation and extinction) and at higher taxonomic classifications (appearance and disappearance of genuses, families, orders, etc.)." (ibid, http://biotech.icmb.utexas.edu/search/dict-search.phtml?title=macroevolution)
Among evolutionary concepts, the term "macroevolution" is one of the most contentious for Creationists. Thus, it may be surprising for many people here to see me include within the Creationist acceptance of evolutionary theory concepts. However, the reasoning leading to my conclusion is quite straightforward, once one sees what "macroevolution" really means, defined above.
First, the definition of macroevolution specifies extinctions, at the species level and above. Extinctions weren't even considered two centuries ago; then, it was inconceivable for an entire species to die out. But the great Creationist naturalist Cuvier demonstrated the fact of extinction in the early 1800s, by pointing to the unusual fossil forms that have no living descendants today. Whether by accepting the facts, or by simply accepting the word of a great Creationist, Creationists have no trouble accepting extinctions -- part of the definition of macroevolution.
Second, macroevolution includes the concept of speciation. Speciation simply refers to the process of one species splitting into two species (BioTech Life Science Online Dictionary, http://biotech.icmb.utexas.edu/search/dict-search.phtml?title=speciation). Curiously, the topic of speciation is rarely addressed by Creationists, and for a very simple reason: Creationists accept that speciations occur. Here's an example of such acceptance from none other than Henry M. Morris, considered a founding father of modern Creationism:
[Morris]>Creationists have no problem, however, with speciation, or even the "evolution" of new genera in some instances, as long as such development does not extend to the "family" (dogs, cats, horses, etc.).< (Henry M. Morris, "The Microwave of Evolution," BTG No. 152a August 2001, Institute for Creation Research, available at http://www.icr.org/pubs/btg-a/btg-152a.htm)
Third and perhaps most importantly, macroevolution includes the "appearance ... of genuses." Again, Morris' explicit acknowledgement makes Creationist acceptance of this phenomenon an easy point to demonstrate. There is an important caveat: there's at least one case of a "new" genus that Creationists do not accept: that of genus _Homo_ within Family Hominidae.
Fourth and perhaps least importantly here, Creationists occasionally suggest that they accept rare appearances of higher classification levels, including family, order, class, and even phylum. Such suggestion comes from responses addressing evolutionist-supplied examples of speciations and genera appearances: "they're still birds," for example, in response to the example of the Galapagos finches. Unfortunately, I've never seen an explicit statement by Creationists that indicates accepting any appearances of the higher classification levels of family and so forth; IMX attempts to clarify Creationist vague statements such as "they're still birds" are usually met with equally vague Creationist responses.
Again, there's a semantic angle to Creationist objection to "macroevolution." I'll review the semantics arguments, and post my conclusions, in part 2 of this topic.
I expect Creationists to object to my claims of accepting evolution, microevolution, and macroevolution, as playing word games -- semantical tricks. I'll attempt to address these presumed objections here.
I try to stress clarity in these online discussions. Communication is difficult in this medium as it is, especially concerning potentially emotional issues such as these; communication is further hindered by unclear or distorted meanings of words and technical terms. This is one reason why I often include definitions in my posts. I don't attempt "win arguments" by posting definitions; rather, I attempt to clarify the pertinent issues by carefully defining the terms of the discussion.
Since I make my claims regarding evolution and related concepts strictly within the biological context, IMO it makes sense to use the language as biologists. Hence, when biologists use these terms, the definitions are those posted above, or *very* similar to them. Again, this helps to clarify the biological context of my claims here.
Upon posting these definitions and demonstrating Creationist acceptance of the defined concepts -- to various degrees -- I try to ascertain the actual issues of contention. Occasionally Creationists respond clearly to such attempts, and I appreciate such responses. More often, however, further dialog is often confused and equally unclear, or else it's simply and rather abruptly curtailed. Again, my goal in posting questions concerning clear statements of contentious issues is a clear dialog, towards further goals of discussing with substance and, ultimately, more concerted effort into looking further into the issues by consulting a number of sources, especially the professional scientific literature and the available information from Creationists "intelligent design" proponents.
Moving onto more specific presumed objections, Creationists might argue that the terms microevolution, macroevolution, and evolution are "redefined" by evolutionists, especially the latter two terms.
The fact is that microevolution and macroevolution are terms *coined* by evolutionists, to better describe their ideas: "The terms macroevolution and microevolution were first coined in 1927 by the Russian entomologist Iurii Filipchenko (or Philipchenko, depending on the transliteration), in his German-language work Variabilität und Variation, which was the first attempt to reconcile Mendelian genetics and evolution" (John Wilkins, "Macroevolution," http://www.talkorigins.org/faqs/macroevolution.html). It's difficult to make the charge of evolutionist redefinition stick, when evolutionists defined these concepts in the first place. More likely, *Creationists* have redefined these terms to suit their purposes.
The case for "evolution" as an evolutionist redefinition is somewhat better. Evolution as a word existed long before Darwin; the Latin word "evolutio" existed long before then, for example. Before Darwin's ideas became widely accepted by biologists, "evolution" did *not* refer to biological evolution as it's known today; more importantly, it didn't mean "molecules-to-man" either! IOW "evolution" represents a case where both Creationists and evolutionists have adopted new meanings for an existing word. Thus it's difficult for Creationists to make the charge stick, that evolutionists have redefined evolution, when in fact Creationists have redefined the term themselves, just as biologists have done.
Creationists have charged that "evolution" USED TO BE defined by evolutionists as something akin to "molecules-to-man." Unfortunately, attempts to substantiate this claim have failed. I've seen no references, other than Creationist texts making the charge, that support this claim. I'm welcome to examine the possibility that evolutionists indeed USED TO define "evolution" this way; however, until I see some substance to the claim, I'm forced to conclude that the claim is unsubstantiated at best, or simply wrong at worst.
I attempt to clarify the issues of contention by Creationists by citing two specific concepts that Creationists seem to agree *do* constitute such issues: common descent and abiogenesis.
Abiogenesis of course is not part of evolutionary theory. Creationists often claim otherwise -- a related claim to the charge of evolutionist redefinition of the term "evolution," overviewed above. Again, I see no reason to conclude that evolutionary theory, let alone biological evolution itself, has ever included the concept of abiogenesis within its realm. Yes, there are a number of Creationist texts that claim otherwise, but they never offer any substance -- no references to the biological literature -- that support this charge.
That brings us to the one meta-issue of contention that fits squarely within the realm of evolutionary theory, and thus biology: common descent, or the notion that all living species share common ancestry. I agree that Creationists do not accept common descent, and I would hope to demonstrate that their objections to common descent are often based upon faulty reasoning and unsubstantiated claims of fact. However, mostly I invite Creationists to clarify their objection -- "I accept evolution, but I reject common descent" might be one way to do so. I especially invite Creationists to look deeper into the literature for themselves, to gain a better appreciation of the issues involved.
Creationists may object to my claim that they accept evolution, microevolution, and macroevolution. However, my claim is based upon the biological concepts that these terms reference; IOW I'm stressing acceptance of concepts over words. I realize that, even then, Creationist acceptance of these concepts is qualified, to greater and lesser degrees, especially regarding the concept of macroevolution.
In the interest of clear communication, I ask Creationists to avoid claims that say things like "I don't like evolution," or "I disagree that macroevolution is a fact." Rather, I would ask that they either use other terms to outline their objections in a clear manner; the term "common descent" is especially useful in this context.
Failing that, I would ask that Creationists qualify their objections regarding these terms, preferably by defining what the terms "evolution," "microevolution," and "macroevolution" mean for *them*. While there's a danger in this route, consistent use of terms in these discussions would go a long way towards more substantive discussion, and ease the posting burden of all participants -- IMO we spend *way* too much time attempting to clarify the simplest concepts to one another.