Evolution by Any Other Name

Evolution used to be a dirty word. At least to many Christians that is. Back in the days of the conservative 50's and 60's a good way to cause a ruckus at any school board meeting was to mention the word evolution. Most people knew that organisms could adapt to their environment. But adapting was quite different from evolving.

Adaptation (also known as adaption) is the ability of a species to have their physical characteristics modified based on environmental conditions. There are many examples from nature. One such example often cited in school text-books is the snowshoe hare. Snowshoe hares who live in the north will have smaller ears than their southern counterparts. The ear is a very good radiator of heat. (That is why your mother told to you to put a hat on if your feet were cold). Large ears lose more heat than small ones. The hares that are born with smaller ears in a cold climate are thought to have a reproductive advantage. Over time the entire population can end up with smaller ears. The genetic make-up of the hare allows for this morphological modification. But the hare is still a hare.

Evolution on the other hand proposes that these modifications can become so great that the individuals will no longer reproduce together. This is thought to result in the creation of a new species. Evolution is supposed to be the process by which all species on Earth were created from a single, original organism.

Adaptation has always been accepted by both Christians and scientists alike. But not so evolution. The idea that species were created by descent with modification goes against the very Word of God. As a result the term evolution almost always evoked an argument from conservative Christians. But then something began to change. The term “micro-evolution” replaced adaptation and the evolution of species became “macro-evolution”. So why this change in terminology?

The terms micro-evolution and macro-evolution were coined by a Russian scientist in 1927. His reasons for doing this may have had nothing to do with any controversy over evolution. But I do believe that the scientific community readily adopted these terms for one good reason. By proving that micro-evolution occurs you can get people comfortable with the term "evolution". And if micro-evolution is true then why not macro-evolution?

But I doubt that very many Americans even know what the prefixes micro- and macro- mean. When we use the terms adaptation and evolution it is clear that we are talking about changes within a species versus creating a new species. The prefixes micro and macro only serve to confuse the non-scientist. Science should be about presenting evidence to support ideas. It should not be changing terminology in order to convince an unsuspecting public of an unproven idea.


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