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Defining terms carefully

Why we need clarity when we debate evolution


When wading into the waters of apologetics and the origins debate, it usually doesn’t take long before we hit problems defining terms. Many words commonly used in these debates have large ranges of meaning that often get conflated and confused with each other. If we are to have a meaningful dialogue, we must be careful to define our terms carefully so that everyone understands each other.

L.K. from the United States wrote:

I’d prefer a response, or whether it be to still contact me in this email so I have a larger character limit to choose from, or to direct me to a better area, as your Q&A section wasn’t that helpful.

But I’d like to let you know two simple things.

Atheism is not a religion, it is a word, it has one definition, regardless of how people use it, it will always mean what its defined as, a lack in belief of god, and just because people lack a belief in god does not mean a god doesn’t exist, nor that it DOES, just because something doesn’t exist mean it does, but I’ll get into that later.

And evolution, evolution simply means CHANGE OVER TIME, regardless of how you think it is, the animal doesn’t have a genetic coding for different types of beaks (well, in a birds case, id be surprised if a dog had a beak) for many types of beaks, it has one “Switch”, which tells the beak when to grow, and when to stop, and multiple other “Switches” telling the beak how to form, they don’t have a pelican beak in one switch, and a finch beak in the other.

Also, natural selection is the process evolution takes, saying natural selection is a thing, but evolution isn’t is just plain stupid.

Mutations are evolution in a less controlled sense, but most times if the mutation is detrimental it will not be passed on.

Just, this entire website is full of unscientific lies meant to spread christianity, from making your own definitions to words to using arguments already disproven

CMI’s Shaun Doyle responds:

Have you actually bothered to look at our articles on these issues? Is atheism a religion? explores the meaning of ‘religion’ quite extensively, and settles on a broad sociological definition for the purposes of its analysis—which the author gets from a non-Christian sociologist of religion. This is probably the best value-neutral definition one could hope for in that context. If you don’t like defining ‘religion’ like that, you can complain all you like, but it won’t change the fact that sociologists of religion often use ‘religion’ in a sense that doesn’t imply a belief in the supernatural. See also ‘Evolution is science, but creationism is religion’ Using buzzwords to divide and deride.

On the other hand, saying that atheism “will always mean what its defined as, a lack in belief of god” is absurd. ‘Atheism’ traditionally meant “a rejection of the proposition ‘God exists’.” Your definition is the new and confusing invention. The very fact that you have to correct everyone else who assumes that ‘atheism’ means a denial of the existence of God shows that ‘atheism’ has not always meant “a lack of belief of god”. The only reason certain internet atheists define ‘atheism’ as ‘a lack of belief in gods’ (since atheistic philosophers know better1) is so that they can avoid defending their atheistic claim, which they don’t know how to defend, while still getting to criticize theism. Nobody cares about your psychological state regarding God; if you think it’s more probable than not that the statement ‘God exists’ is false, then you are a traditional atheist, and you have a claim to defend. And if you genuinely think the state of the evidence concerning God’s existence is ambiguous, then you are an agnostic, and you still have a claim to defend; i.e. that the evidence concerning God’s (non-)existence is ambiguous. See Atheism is more rational? and Agnosticism for more details.

As to ‘evolution’, if all it means is “CHANGE OVER TIME”, then we’re ‘evolutionists’! We believe change over time happens! But if biblical creationists are ‘evolutionists’ by this definition, doesn’t that show just how pointless such a definition is, especially if we want to use ‘evolution’ in contrast to ‘creation’? Read What is evolution? (Kerkut).

As to natural selection, there are plenty of evolutionists who don’t believe natural selection is central to evolutionary process. Ever heard of neutral evolution? Natural genetic engineering? Self-organization theory? There are plenty of theories of evolutionary mechanism that make natural selection a sideshow to the main evolutionary event. So, if we’re “stupid” for distinguishing between evolution and natural selection, then so are plenty of evolutionists. See also Defining terms: Evolutionist Dr John Endler’s refreshing clarity about ‘natural selection’ has been largely ignored.

And no, mutations are not evolution, though they are needed for evolution. See our Mutations Questions and Answers page for why mutations are no help for evolution. Moreover, most deleterious mutations do get passed on, regardless of natural selection. This problem is called genetic entropy, and it will inexorably lead to extinction rather than evolution.

You wanted a response. However, you call us liars. If you’ve already decided that we’re liars, why ask for a response? We’re obviously not going to agree with you, but we do genuinely believe what we say we believe. At any rate, most of the links I’ve provided you show that we didn’t make up the definitions we use for terms like ‘atheism’, ‘religion’, ‘evolution’, and ‘natural selection’. Non-Christians, atheists, and evolutionists who are experts in the relevant fields use them as well. If you have a problem with us using them, by force of logic you must have a problem with them using them as well. Nor are the definitions we use for these terms self-serving (unlike your anti-traditional definition of ‘atheism’); they don’t favour our views in any way. Defining terms is about trying to achieve clarity before one engages in debate; it’s not about trying to sway the debate before the argument starts.

Published: 14 December 2019

References and notes

  1. Nielsen, K.E., On the definition of the words Atheism and Atheist, exminister.org, accessed 26 November 2019. Return to text.

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