Re: [asa] Evolution Conference Washington, DC - language confusion

From: <>
Date: Fri Sep 11 2009 - 18:41:48 EDT

OK, you don't like the Free Online Dictionary. How about the Compact OED?


  • verb 1 develop gradually. 2 (of an organism or biological feature) develop over successive generations by evolution. 3 Chemistry give off (gas or heat).

  — ORIGIN Latin evolvere, from volvere ‘to roll’.

Of course it's not a matter of "evolution simply equals change." It's a matter of paying attention to context & trying to understand what a person is saying. English, like many other languages, has a lot of words with a variety of different, though related, meanings. For crying out loud, "evolution" used to be used in math for the process of raising a number to some power. As the OED notes above, chemists will talk about a reaction "evolving" a gas. Your habit of insisting on one single meaning of a word & then berating people who use it in a different, although quite acceptable, sense ("nature" is another example) is why most people on this list don't pay any attention to you. The problem is not our supposed lack of philosophical sophistication but your single-mindedness.

No one would respect you any less - in fact, quite the contrary - if you were able sometimes just to say "I was wrong."



---- Gregory Arago <> wrote:
> Hi George,

Let me go then a step further than a basic on-line dictionary to quote a 'scientific/scholarly' dictionary:

"Social evolution refers to change in the size, complexity of organization, and institutional features of a society; social progress implies that change is for the better.” – Wolfgang J. Koschnick (Standard Dictionary of the Social Sciences, vol. 2, part 1, London: Saur, 1992: 1498) 

Why don't many, many people (in America or elsewhere) want to consider themselves as 'evolutionists' or as '(neo-)Darwinists'? Ridiculous, confusing use of language such as that demonstrated by the title of this conference is one legitimate reason.

Evolution simply equals change, right George? Not a problem or challenge for human identity at all...

“I am not a thing, a noun. // I seem to be a verb, // an evolutionary process— // an integral function of the universe.” – R. Buckminster Fuller (1972)

“Evolution is at present more than a biological theory. Evolutionism has influenced the physical as well as the social sciences, and has become an integral part of the intellectual equipment of modern mankind.” - T. Dobzhansky (1956)

The Free On-Line Dictionary will eventually change its definition. It would be great if Randy could eventually change his definition too!


From: "" <>
To:; Randy Isaac <>; Gregory Arago <>
Sent: Friday, September 11, 2009 2:15:45 PM
Subject: Re: [asa] Evolution Conference Washington, DC - language confusion

Gregory -

The following is the entry for "evolve" from The Free Online Dictionary.  (I realize that this isn't the most scholarly or complete reference but it is quite adequate for showing normal American usage).

e·volve (-vlv)
v. e·volved, e·volv·ing, e·volves
a. To develop or achieve gradually: evolve a style of one's own.
b. To work (something) out; devise: "the schemes he evolved to line his purse" (S.J. Perelman).
2. Biology To develop (a characteristic) by evolutionary processes.
3. To give off; emit.
1. To undergo gradual change; develop: an amateur acting group that evolved into a theatrical company.
2. Biology To develop or arise through evolutionary processes.

The 2d meaning for "evolve" as an intransitive verb fits Randy's meaning precisely - ideas "undergo gradual change" as you yourself agreed (though without the qualification "gradual").


---- Gregory Arago <> wrote:
> Hi Randy,
> Please explain or describe to me the 'mechanism' or 'method' by which 'ideas evolve.' If you'd like, pick an example or just to speak abstractly or theoretically. Otherwise, it is rather easy to dismiss you as having wax in your ears; you listen, but hear nothing I say.
> Ideas do not 'evolve'.  Sure, they change. But 'change' and 'evolution' are not the same thing.
> There has been zero willingness on your part to confront this reality, unfortunately, and now the only option left is to assume it is a willful denial of knowledge on your part. Every single person I've spoken with on this issue 'gets it.' Perhaps the problem is the medium of communication?
> I write directly like this, since you were recently the President of ASA and if you are going to say something like "The title...seem[s] appropriate" as if that has authority, when I made a clear argument against it, then you should be able to explain your view. I don't think you can and I submit that you are displaying a lack of 'proper tools' to evaluate the topic. But I say this, of course, with due respect and humility for other aspects of your participation and contribution to 'science(, philosophy) and religion' discourse. The conference could be a great one for what it is, but this doesn't excuse the misworded title.
> Do you think 'ideas evolve,' Randy Isaac: yes or no? If yes, what gives you such confidence to say apples (biological entities) are oranges (ideas) or vice versa? Evolutionary theory 'evolves' you say, Randy?
> Yours disappointed (again and again) by American evolutionistic dogma,
> Gregory
>      __________________________________________________________________
> Looking for the perfect gift? Give the gift of Flickr!
> To unsubscribe, send a message to with
> "unsubscribe asa" (no quotes) as the body of the message.

Yahoo! Canada Toolbar: Search from anywhere on the web, and bookmark your favourite sites. Download it now

To unsubscribe, send a message to with
"unsubscribe asa" (no quotes) as the body of the message.
Received on Fri Sep 11 18:42:19 2009

This archive was generated by hypermail 2.1.8 : Fri Sep 11 2009 - 18:42:19 EDT