Our Use of the Term "Evolution"
Definitions of “evolution” tend to vary from the obscure to the meaningless. Often dictionaries water down the definition to something uncontroversial along the lines of “the way in which living things change and develop over millions of years.”
But despite any agreement at a precise definition, those discussing human origins know the practical definition of evolution understood by all. Everyone understands that the theory of evolution purports to explain how every living thing developed from a theorized first living thing with no supernatural intervention. The first living thing may have been a bacterium. According to evolutionists, that first living thing changed over time by purely natural processes to become every human being on earth.
Explaining our Definition of "Evolution"
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—that is a critique-able—definition definition of the term "evolution." This cannot be a "definition" of evolution that simply describes gene-pool changes in populations of organisms or differential reproducion in populations. 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. To help you choose the right definition of evolution, 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 for our purposes?
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.
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.