Evolutionary Equivocation

Young earth creationists are vigilant in arguing against the use of equivocation in debates with evolutionists on the issue of macro-evolution and micro-evolution, but they seem quite prepared to commit the same error in their arguments.

Equivocation is the altering of a word’s definition during the argument, here’s an example.

We believe in gravity as a fact because it is irrefutable, but God’s existence is also irrefutable, so we should accept it as fact.

This is an unlikely argument for the existence of God, but it serves to illustrate my point. The word irrefutable is used twice. The first time it is used it means that gravity has been well tested and never refuted. In the second instance it means that God’s existence is beyond empirical testing, and therefore cannot be refuted by regular enquiry. The change in meaning of the word is the logical fallacy of equivocation.

In the Creation Ministries International’s “Question Evolution Campaign,” many of the questions are levelled at what would be rightfully termed abiogenesis, the origin of life. The obvious counter argument to the questions regarding the origin of life is that they do not concern evolution. This is true to a point, but only to a point, since obviously there would be no evolution without life.

The response from CMI, and various other creationists is to point out that the terms organic or chemical evolution are used to describe the process which leads to abiogenesis. This is true, these terms are used, but they don’t mean the same as “microbe to microbiologist evolution.” The phrase, “molecules to molecular biologist” is sometimes used, but this throws all the processes into one, much like an evolutionist claiming that macro-evolution is nothing more than an extension of micro-evolution.

Macro-evolution has never been demonstrated, so to throw it into the same definition as micro-evolution is not a scientific claim, but rather a philosophical one, which is equivocal. Not even all evolutionary biologists are at a consensus that breaking species; genus; family; order or the higher levels of classification are the same as a change within a species. Likewise, abiogenesis is not in the same boat as macro-evolution in that the later is prone to the process of natural selection, while the former is not, since you would need reproducing organisms to have survival of the fittest. A further problem for aboigenesis is that it is not just about getting the right combination of molecules together (a corpse has all that) it’s about what actually puts the life into that collection of molecules.

Another issue with this argument is that it tends to be an argument against atheism rather than evolution. Theistic evolutionists and many agnostic evolutionists would happily ascribe abiogenesis to a higher power, but would argue that mutation and natural selection took over the process once the first lifeforms were created.

In short, if young earth creationists want to be taken seriously, they need to follow the same standards they expect evolutionists to stick by, we still probably won’t be taken seriously. To use this argument is ignoring that evolution from inorganic matter to organic matter and evolution from living organisms to other living organisms isn’t the same thing. When debating evolution, it’s probably wise to define exactly what type of evolution is under debate, this is likely to reduce the chance of the discussion straying beyond it’s intended focus.

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3 thoughts on “Evolutionary Equivocation”

  1. Well… you bring up several good points.

    But one I like… because it’s thrown about a lot is that “a corpse has all that”. For that matter so does a dead horse… šŸ˜‰ But… ultimately that point actually raises many questions to which the most pertinent remains, “how exactly do you define life?”

    Ultimately everything becomes very subjective from that point. How do you classify one life form from another? Then how do you group them? How do you define relation/distiction. Now draw the line as to where exactly micro evolution stops?

    Unfortunately while those that make these decisions (the scientists) continue to argue over the details – because science is like that, they’re right until later when proven wrong (over simplified) – discussions can literally be taken to either extreme citing much of the same (not identical) information.

    1. Defining life is tough from a scientific standpoint, since I’m not a scientist, but I think we can all agree when something is alive, and when it’s not, be it microbe; horse or human. šŸ˜‰

      The change from micro to macro, depends on whether or not taxonomists have the correct classification. Is the interbreeding of different canines producing new types of creatures, or just variety within a type, likewise, pantheras; equids; or wildebeest. Remember our discussion here. If physical similarity isn’t enough to denote family relationship, then we need to find improved methods of enquiry. For creationists, that would involve verifying whether or not the animals they claim to be of one kind could potentially interbreed, for evolutionists the problem is greater, since the fossil record, as they interpret it, starts with all known phylla, and only contains 20% of the proposed timeline. Also, very few true transitional fossils actually exist, and none are undisputed. So then how do we know that the minor changes we see within species can translate to a cross species change?

      1. I’ll argue šŸ˜› because that’s what I do… I can’t agree on what is alive or not… pesky viruses continue to haunt me ever since I first called them the “undead” in biology class. I was 12 but I’m sticking to that description 20 years later. And it still bugs me! šŸ˜¦

        All of the points you make are valid. But they are also the reason why scientists don’t claim rock solid proof. They’re erring on the side of caution.

        Fossils are problematic because they offer a look at an organism, but really just a glimpse at what that one (or few) were up to. But I think we can all agree that you won’t be able to take the fossils of 17 house cats and assume that they all looked exactly the same. Without a solid genetic, physical and characteristic study we’ll never really know. So it comes down to what can be agreed as a best guess. And… the arguing starts.

        Taxonomy is difficult at best with ALL of the information the poor duck billed platypus is my favourite example there, but now try classify that one with just a fossil.

        We do have some species that have been bred to the point that they can no longer breed with previous generations, would that qualify? Technically I’d still call that a no, but by your definition I guess it would. Again, all way too open without a solid set of data – which we’ll never have.

        I’m still going to go on the educated guess (which most likely will be updated in time) .

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