What is evolution?

The word evolution (sometimes called Darwinism) has a  variety of definitions, from simply “change” to “the natural process by which all life derived from a single ancestor,” and is referred to alternately as “hypothesis,” “theory,” “law,” and “fact.” Because of its imprecise nature, the term is often used ambiguously to imply that the processes we can observe in the present (e.g., natural selection) “prove” that the processes we cannot observe in the past must have happened as well (e.g., the change of dinosaurs into birds). In fact, the term evolution can also be used to denote the philosophy of naturalism, which depends upon unobserved events in the past (including in astronomy, chemistry, and geology).

In scientific terms, evolution generally means the change in genetic material between generations, which is also referred to as “descent with modification.” These changes are attributed to mutations, gene flow and drift, and natural selection, which are examples of observational science and can be shown to occur. However, the other aspect of evolution is the belief that all animals descended from one original ancestor. Evolutionists sometimes claim this “fact” is established in the fossil record, homology (similar structures), and genetic evidence. However, any evidence involving historical science (one-time events that cannot be retested) is subject to interpretational bias on the part of the scientist.

Mutations and genetic drift are often cited as the source of heritable traits from one generation to the next. While mutations do cause changes in the genome and genetic drift changes the frequency of those traits, neither process is capable of changing one kind of animal into another. More often, mutations have either no noticeable impact or cause degeneration.

When evolutionary scientists claim that evolution is a fact, they are relying upon a fallacy known as “bait and switch” (define a term one way, but use it in a completely different way later). Often the claim is that since one can observe natural selection, then descent from a common ancestor must also be true. However, this presupposes that the current processes we observe could cause the origin of completely novel structures (e.g., giving rise to lungs or complex brains). Such a claim is contrary to information theory and the laws of nature 

 
 

Theory or fact? 

In practice, evolution is neither fact nor theory. A theory is a well-supported—but falsifiable—body of interconnected statements that has explanatory and predictive power (e.g., the theory of gravity). Evolution, however, does not fit this definition because it is assumed prior to the research being conducted and because it assumes many one-time events that can neither be tested nor verified (nor have eye-witness confirmation). Evolutionists fit all evidence into the framework of evolutionary naturalism (the belief that there are no supernatural causes). As a corollary to this, evolution cannot be used to make predictions because all results are filtered through the prior belief in evolution.

Evolution is better referred to as a tenet of naturalistic philosophy or humanism (a belief system). Most evolutionists presuppose a worldview that demands the removal of any supernatural agents acting in a knowable way (e.g., miracles, special creation). Calling it a theory and/or fact is a disingenuous attempt to hide the underlying beliefs and to discourage debate by ridiculing those who disagree 

Darwinism

Many critics of evolution refer to evolution as Darwinism (a term derived from Charles Darwin, the man who is most closely associated with the modern movement of naturalistic origins). This term is useful for distinguishing evolution as the belief that all life descended from a single ancestor (the improvable assumption) from the observed aspects that have been conscripted into the idea (e.g., natural selection).

Darwinism is not an entirely comprehensive term, since Darwin’s ideas have been much expanded upon since the publication of his books On the Origin of Species and The Descent of Man. However, because of the ambiguity of the word evolution, the term is still useful. 

 
 

Natural Selection

Many observed examples of natural selection are often claimed as evidence for evolution in the broader sense (a common ancestry of all life). According to these types of arguments, since one can see natural selection acting upon an observable trait, this proves that one animal kind can change into another.

Examples of this type of claim are:

  • The color of peppered moths
  • Antibiotic resistance in bacteria 
  • Finch beak lengths

However, these claims of “evolution in action” are simply evidences of natural selection in action. Natural selection is observed and established as a theory, but this is in no way evidence that all life arose from a common ancestor or that one kind of animal could turn into another kind (e.g., fish to land animals). After all, natural selection (even when coupled with mutations) is incapable of causing the major transformations required of common descent.  

The Geological Column

The geologic column displays a definite general order of various animal kinds. Evolutionists often point to this as evidence for the history of descent. They also claim that radiometric dating proves that the order is based upon a history of billions of years. These claims, however, ignore the irregularities in the geologic column. Evolutionists rely on the assumption that order in the fossil record can only be attributed to evolutionary history and the assumption that radiometric dating proves the age of these layers and fossils. Neither of these assumptions are required of the data. In fact, the global Flood offers a better understanding of why there should be order in the geological record that we have today (and the exceptions to it). Thus, the evidence is not in dispute; the reason that we have the evidence is.

 
 

Homology

One of the most often cited evidences for common descent and evolution is the belief that the similarity of structures (homology) among various animals proves that those structures arose from ancestral species. For example, the bones in the forelimbs/hands of mammals and other vertebrates are commonly referred to as such in science textbooks and evolution websites. Such similarities are claimed in a number of areas: DNA, embryonic development, bone structure, behavior, and others.

However, homology in and of itself proves only that there are similarities. Any reason as to why these similarities exist is subject to the observer’s prior beliefs. Those who believe that evolution is the explanation for the descent of all life will see these similarities as evidence for that. In fact, it is important to note that the selection of what is a homology and what is convergent evolution (similar structures that arose independently) is often arbitrary, depending on the assumptions about when and how such structures/behaviors arose.

On the other hand, creationists see similarity as the hallmark of our Creator. Designers often employ similar structures and techniques on various projects—even if the projects are in different fields. In a similar fashion, great design in one animal kind being carried over to other kinds is better explained by common design, since it is not arbitrarily restricted by supposed relation and times.

In addition, God created many original kinds during Creation Week, and we would expect the various descendants of each created kind to share many similar traits. This would explain similarities in sheep and goats, for example, as they descended from one kind.