In my last post I wrote an article questioning if evolution is testable, and I concluded on the basis of a number of factors that it’s not. Now I want to delve into another topic I’ve touched on before, and that’s the difference between historical science (forensics) and observational science (also operational science), and then touch on how the definition of evolution is used to affirm evolution.
Some evolutionists refuse to admit there’s any distinction between historical science and observational science, and others think the distinction is simply a rhetorical argument that prevents us from knowing anything. Nonetheless, there’s a real distinction, and those that understand it have an advantage.
Consider Darwin’s finches for example. Darwin observed these finches on the Galapagos Islands, and over time he noticed some changes. He had studied their measurements and categorized them, and he found that their beak size varied during periods of drought and abundance. This is based on the scientific method, which uses observable and repeatable experimentation. These finches aren’t evolving various beak sizes, and that’s because the genetic blueprint for beak sizes already exists within their genome. Yet through inheritance, genetic variation and natural selection, the finches produced offspring with different traits, and after several generations, those with the most advantageous beak size for the environment survived, while the less fit died out. There’s nothing mysterious about this. But it’s important to understand that this is observable over time- hence the term: observational science.
In contrast, what we can’t observe is the conclusion that Australopithecus (an extinct ape) is an ancestor of man. This should be obvious, but it’s worth mentioning. There’s nothing imaginary or rhetorical about this. The conclusion that an extinct ape is our ancestor is based on, not observation or empirical evidence, but conjecture, inferences, speculation and philosophy. Evolutionists may sincerely believe that an ape-like creature evolved bipedalism (the ability to walk on two legs), but, scientifically, such a conclusion can’t be observed and confirmed via the scientific method, so there’s no way to know if it’s true. The conclusion, therefore, is something that must be believed by faith. That’s why we use the term historical science- it’s an event that happened in the past that cannot be observed and confirmed by the scientific method.
Another way to look at historical vs. observational science is through the lens of forensics. We know for certain that not every person found guilty of a crime actually committed the crime in question. Some prisoners, for example, have spent decades in prison before being exonerated based on new evidence; the initial evidence led the jury to believe- without a reasonable doubt- that that individual was guilty. But when it’s discovered that an innocent person was wrongly convicted of a crime, we begin to see the limitations of forensic science- we don’t really know what happened in the past. We’re trying our best to reconstruct the past and let the evidence lead us to what we hope is the truth… but, ultimately, that is not always the case. In some instances, sadly, juries have been so certain that the evidence led them to the truth that they wrongly sentenced the suspect to death. With this in mind, it’s important to understand that all sciences operate much the same way when trying to reconstruct the past, so it’s not unusual for a scientist to arrive at an incorrect conclusion.
More specifically, this also applies to dating techniques and evolution. Evolution, however, is far more complex than a criminal case, and that’s because evolution supposedly happened millions of years ago- not several weeks ago or several decades ago. There are no living witnesses to those events, and, while technology improves, there’s no experiment that can be conducted to confirm the truth of any evolutionary scenario.
But when we refer to observational science, we’re talking about things that can be confirmed by empirical evidence, and things that are testable and repeatable through experimentation. For example, when engineers build airplanes, they are able to do so through the process of experimentation. They can figure out what works and test it, and if it doesn’t work, they try something else until they get it right. The end result is a dependable plane that can take us from destination to destination. This is also true in the medical field, where scientists are able to treat sickness and disease. They do this via the scientific method and peer review. They research the disease, and then target it to bring about a cure. There are countless examples of how observational science works, but the important point is that the conclusions can be confirmed. We don’t have to rely on faith. In the case of historical science, however, the conclusions can never be confirmed, no matter how sound the investigation.
Now this doesn’t mean that it’s impossible to arrive at a correct conclusion regarding a criminal case, evolution, or anything else, based on the available evidence, but it does mean that we need to recognize the limitations of science when applied to history and allow for the possibility that the conclusion may be incorrect- even if we believe it wholeheartedly. It also doesn’t mean that we should avoid applying historical science. But it does mean that we need to be careful, and that we shouldn’t demand that students believe something that must be believed by faith and without empirical evidence.
Another issue arises when evolutionists accuse creationists of changing the definition of evolution to suit their narrative. But I don’t think that’s the case. On the contrary, I think it’s evolutionists who are guilty of changing the definition to suit their narrative.
There are multiple ways to define evolution, but I’ll use the Merriam-Webster definition:
biology : a theory that the differences between modern plants and animals are because of changes that happened by a natural process over a very long time
: the process by which changes in plants and animals happen over time
: a process of slow change and development
Creationists actually agree with the first definition of biological evolution. We do know that many modern plants and animals aren’t the same as their ancient ancestors, and any changes that have occurred have done so by natural processes over a very long time. I’m cool with that. The second definition even sounds good; plants and animals obviously do change over time. And the third definition works too; we know that plants and animals can slowly change and develop over time. So what’s the problem? Well, for starters, the issue between creation and evolution is much more complex. If creationists accept the above definition, then we could call ourselves evolutionists too. But we’re not. Creationists reject the idea that dinosaurs evolved into birds, a hoofed mammal evolved into a whale, or that fish evolved into amphibians, reptiles and mammals, or that apes evolved into humans.
We do, however, know that dogs have changed over time, and we know that wolves, coyotes, foxes, dingoes, hyenas, greyhounds and Mastiffs are all related. Different dog breeds and species vary in size, behavior, color and fur, and these changes have occurred slowly over a long period of time. So then, is there any difference between a dinosaur evolving into a bird, and a dog reproducing a different variety of dog? The obvious answer is “yes”! There’s a huge difference. The gene for fur thickness in dogs, for example, doesn’t have anything to do with the process that transforms a scale into a feather. In one case the genetic blueprint is there, while in the other it’s absent. How fur thickness varies in a population of dogs over time has nothing to do with how an organism that does not have feathers, acquires the genetic instructions for feathers, and becomes a different kind of organism with unique traits.
Dinosaurs have scales and not feathers, while birds have feathers. If one believes that dinosaurs evolved into birds, then at some point the dinosaur didn’t have the genetic code for feathers, but must have somehow evolved that code so that it could be expressed in future generations. Something had to evolve. But the definition of evolution doesn’t articulate this. It makes no distinction between organisms evolving a non-existent genetic code, and expressing a genetic code that does exist. One is evolution, while the other isn’t. It’s not evolution when a mother and father with brown eyes give birth to a child with blue eyes. The baby didn’t “evolve” blue eyes, but is expressing heredity. No one ever says that their child has evolved because we know that’s not evolution. If, however, the child had feathers, then we could claim that the child had evolved feathers, and that’s because neither the mother nor father had the genetics to pass along feathers to their offspring. In this example I think it’s clear that there’s a real difference that the dictionary definition doesn’t capture. Therefore, creationists would define evolution as a process where organisms develop new traits that never previously existed so that they become a new, completely different kind of organism.
In one sense it may be true that creationists change the definition of evolution, but if so, it’s based on the necessity of reality. Such a change is needed in order to articulate the difference between two very different processes: one process can be observed from generation to generation, while the other is never observed, but is assumed. Therefore, if we don’t make any distinction, creationists could call themselves evolutionists, even though that’s not the case. In order to distinguish between what we believe and what we don’t believe, creationists use a definition that distinguishes between the differences.
All this leads me to conclude that it’s really evolutionists who have changed the definition of evolution. What they do is establish the definition above, and then provide examples like E-coli and bacterial resistance and claim that’s evolution. They claim we can see evolution “in action”, and it’s happening all around us, so anyone who denies evolution is wrong. And so their definition alone serves as proof that dinosaurs could evolve into birds and that scales could evolve into feathers. They actually use the definition to establish validity, and that’s a self-serving definition.
This tactic is also called a bait-and-switch. They attempt to provide an example of the definition from something that has been observed, and then extrapolate to the very process being questioned. We know organisms can express a variety of genes through their offspring, but that doesn’t mean their offspring will develop new, unique traits that will transform that organism into a different kind of organism. To keep it as simple as I can, they argue that, because we can observe bacteria reproducing different strands of bacteria, that’s evidence that a dinosaur could evolve into a bird. To evolutionists, both are evolution because they satisfy the definition (or so they think). But creationists would argue that the first process isn’t evolution. There’s another term that describes when bacteria reproduce bacteria, or when dogs reproduce dogs. This process is called natural selection. Therefore, I would argue that creationists are not changing the definition of evolution; we are recognizing the difference between evolution (when a scale changes into a feather) and natural selection (when a dog’s offspring expresses fur color and thickness). But an evolutionist uses this bait-and-switch by conflating two very different processes into the same thing to suit their own needs.
Further, when evolutionists use this bait-and-switch, they’re not even adhering to their own definition. Notice how the definition indicates that it’s a process that happens over a “very long time” and is a process of “slow change”. If we accept that evolution is something that happens slowly, over a very long time, then creationists are correct to exclude natural selection from the definition of evolution. Natural selection is a process that can happen very quickly, sometimes within a single generation, and can hardly be considered evolution. This is what evolutionists call “rapid evolution”, and there are many examples, and I’ve documented some on my website (such as the wing size of swallows changing due to heavy traffic on highways).
So we can see how evolutionists change the definition in order to convince themselves and others that evolution is real. I don’t think creationists are doing this because we’re making a real distinction between evolution and natural selection.
To close, we do know that mutations can occur within organisms, but we never see those mutations building up so that a new organism exists with new features. Whenever mutations occur, that organism remains the same type of organism; dogs remain dogs, birds remain birds, and fish remain fish. And this is exactly what the Bible describes when God commanded all the animals to reproduce according to their kind (Genesis 1:20-25).