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Define Your Terms!

I got into an argument with a friend the other day over evolution. He argued that basically evolution had done nothing good for the world, and I maintained that, in spite of some questions about the ultimate accuracy of the model, it had successfully guided research into some useful discoveries. He responded that they were made using what Bacon, Newton and others had developed long before Darwin came along.

We went round and round until I realized that we were talking past each other. He was arguing against evolutionary philosophy, and I was talking strictly about the scientific theory of evolution as a mechanism. I realized that this was the agent-mechanism debacle that I keep railing about, all over again. In his mind, ‘evolution’ refers to the entire kit and kaboodle of atheistic evolutionary theory and philosophy of origins. In my mind, I see distinct separations between Darwin’s scientific theory (and subsequent derivations) and the naturalistic philosophy with which it is often paired and which tend to feed off of each other.

Therein is the confusion—to many people, Christian or otherwise, there is no separation between the scientific mechanistic theory of evolution and the naturalism prevalent among atheistic/agnostic folks. Thus, to talk about one, you are talking about the other.

Unless one recognizes that they are separate (though closely related), it can be difficult to evaluate the theory on its scientific merits or lack thereof (depending on your viewpoint). The theory says the diversity of life arose through genetic changes over time. The philosophy says therefore that God did not have any hand in getting us here and, in fact, doesn’t exist.

Thus, it is imperative to carefully define your terms in most any discussion and make sure all parties agree to them. Unfortunately, even once I realized the confusion and explained it to him, we were forced to agree to disagree, as he seemed unable or unwilling to concede my assertion that they were separable.

For those folks who are ‘theistic evolutionists,’ this is the uphill battle they face. There are all too many people on both sides like my friend who don’t see them as separable. Therefore, many Christians see them as heretics, and many naturalists see them as cheap compromisers trying to find a way to allow for their faith in the face of ‘overwhelming scientific evidence to the contrary.’

In nearly every field, there is at least one issue that causes bitter division. What is it in yours? Can some of the heat in the division be reduced by taking a step back, and starting from first principles, set up the definition of terms such that jumbled ideas can be separated? (Maybe this isn’t possible long term as the jumbled ideas may truly be interrelated, but is it possible to temporarily set up a separation for purposes of argument and theory refinement?)


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