Re: the definitions of evolution

From: george murphy (
Date: Mon Oct 08 2001 - 09:59:56 EDT

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    Uko Zylstra wrote:

    > The recent exchange over Dick Fisher's book has again raised the question of the
    > meaning of evolution and our general lack of precise definitions.
    > I have always found Keith Stewart Thomson's "Marginalia" column in the American
    > Scientists (70:529-531, 1982), to be very helpful. Thomson distinguishes three
    > meanings of evolution:
    > Evolution as Pattern (e.g. fish preceded amphibians in fossil record)
    > Evolution as Process (e.g., fish gave rise to amphibians in fossil record)
    > Evolution as mechanism (e.g., natural selection)
    > While there is abundant evidence for evolution as pattern, the evidence which
    > is generally cited in textbooks, etc., there is scant evidence for the actual
    > process of evolution. Furthermore, the recent discussion/debate about
    > irreducible complexity and intelligent design points tot he fact that there is
    > limited evidence for the precise mechanisms that account for the actual process
    > that might explain the patterns that we observe. Until we are more consistent in
    > what me mean by evolution and more consistent in the explanation of the
    > empirical evidence as to what meaning of evolution it is evidence for, we will
    > continue to have confusion and deep differences in our discussion of
    > "evolution".
    > I, for one, recognize overwhelming evidence for "evolution as pattern" which
    > indicates support for common ancestry. However, I find minimal evidence for the
    > actual process which has brought about this pattern ov common ancestry.
    > Speculation in this regard does not contribute to scientific objectivity.
    > Scientific objectivity should lead us to say we don't know, if we don't have the
    > empirical evidence for it.

            It's true that there's much more positive evidence for "pattern" than for
    "process". But given the overwhelming evidence for the 1st (i.e., that there has
    been a succession of many different species), what are the alternatives to the 2d?
    Spontaneous generation of thousands of fully-developed species,
    including Homo sap? Direct divine creation of all those species? Arrival of them
    all from space?
    I'm not trying to be funny: What really are the alternatives? Are there others I
    haven't mentioned?
            & if one argues for direct divine creation - what sorts of theological
    questions would have to be asked? What would the idea of God miraculously creating
    huge numbers of species in separate actions mean for our understanding of the
    integrity of creation? What would it mean for our understanding of God? (Recall
    C.S. Lewis' principle of literary criticism: "One magician is better than two



    George L. Murphy
    "The Science-Theology Interface"

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