Semantic Confusion

[The following Bible Lab was written for us by Dr. John Moore. He was a Professor of Natural Science at Michigan State University for over 30 years. He wrote the book How to Teach Origins (Without ACLU Interference) (Mott Media, 1983). In 1963 he helped to found the Creation Research Society. He is deeply concerned about the nomenclature concerning the question of origins and he is a meticulous semanticist.]

Beware Semantic Confusion                      

With regard to the creation/evolution controversy; much of the discussion would be clearer if each spokesperson would carefully provide readers (and/or listeners) with specific definitions of terminology. Semantic confusion “arises” from the absence of proper definitions. To avoid semantic confusion the following paragraphs have been crafted, utilizing years of classroom experience and lectures before scientists and laypersons.

Many individuals, including many scientists, consider “creation” to be religious, and “evolution” to be scientific. This position is challenged in the following paragraphs.      

A straightforward presentation of the creation point of view and the evolution point of view is within fully reasonable education of the young. No new law is needed. This conclusion is based upon Supreme Court rulings, and would be applicable whether at the college or the high school level of education. Possibly even the elementary level of education could be included in such a conclusion.         

Regardless of the level of education involved, careful definition of terminology is important to avoid semantic confusion. Thus the term “religion” must be carefully defined. The fact remains that beliefs and worshipful practices, procedures and conduct are involved in the meaning of “religion”. Any belief system that contains a total explanation of reality is a “religion;” many belief systems do not involve the supernatural.           

When “all is said and done” many authors “leaning” toward an evolutionary point of view, mean by the term “evolution” any change or development. However, when “evolution” is used without any prefix, confusion is generated and ambiguity prevails, because there is no indication of the degree of change involved.

Quite often the reader is not informed of involvement of vertical change of one kind into another kind of organism. (This could be a “real” definition of “evolution.”) Or, the reader is left in doubt as to whether horizontal change is intended. Now such a degree of change would be possibly artificial breeding; hence the degree of change intended for the reader is actually no more than variation within kind or form of an organism.

Of course the term “microevolution” is employed by some authors, and horizontal change (or variability within kind) is meant; whereas occasionally an author really means the word “evolution” to be the same as “macroevolution” (or modification of one kind into another kind---vertical change).

“Creation” is used too often by scientists to convey something coming into existence as something new; that is, by some natural means. Accurately, the term “creation” as the beginning of something new, is reserved most properly for supernatural acts of God.

The word “science” is used often as propaganda—as anything done by scientists without clear attention to certain aspects. Such aspects as methods, procedures and practices involving specific techniques and equipment are very important.                            

The word “science” is employed as if supposed methods, procedures and practices were not limited, i.e., unlimited. However, proper scientific methodology is limited always to the observational; that is, dependent upon the senses involving the sense of measurement, of touch, of smell or otherwise. Real, true “science” is measurable, quantitative, mechanical and correctable.           

Clearly the better definition of “science” would be a body of knowledge obtained by methods based only upon the authority of observation.             

Yet the term “historical” is employed often without clear definition. Usually “historical” or “history” involve activities of human beings. So, misleading use (by some evolutionists) with respect to any imagined geological event, to many, means postulation of real objects and/or events presumed to be involved in imagined past eras of time. Most properly all narratives, as imagined by geologists, are essentially prehuman.           

Thus it follows that no scientist was present, as a scientist, when first life appeared on the earth. There never has been scientific study of the origin of life on the earth—nor can there ever be any careful and proper, real scientific study of first life on the earth (within present technology). (Note: Genesis 1-11 is “historical” in the sense of an account provided by an Eyewitness.)       

In writing about origin questions an author is found often to depend upon the term “hypothesis.” In careful, proper, orderly scientific practice the term “hypothesis” should be applied only to concepts that are testable by measurement procedures. By using this term evolutionists give the wrong impression that many of their ideas are testable statements formulated by careful scientists.

If the reader encounters the term “theory” then such usage should be recognized, right away, as involving any idea regardless of scope. The problem of semantic confusion occurs when evolutionists use “theory” to convey status to some ideas similar to that accepted for proper scientific theory. Supposedly broad, inclusive ideas of evolutionists were formulated according to rigorous criteria, and in accordance with limitations of scientists. (Note: Atomic Theory and Gene Theory are proper scientific theories.)

Too often “measurement” is used when the term “estimate” would be more accurate. Certainly scientists can “estimate” the “age” of the universe; the “age” of the earth; or the “age” of a rock. In each of these instances real, true scientists are fully limited to stating that these are “estimates” only.   

The reader will find that the terms “date” or “dating” are written in place of the term “age.”  Such terms are used to convey some degree of accuracy.      

For instance, the time of the commencement of a trip can be checked against a watch. The development of the first cotton gin can be dated, just as the assembly of the first automobile can be dated, since some records of such man-made objects are available to us. However, “dates” of rocks are only “estimates.” The “age” of rock layers is only an “estimate.” This is because no one, as a scientist, was present when rocks or rock layers formed.          

Semantic confusion is generated by improper use of the terms “advanced” or “adapted” (“adaptation”). Those attempting to show relationships between and/or among living and fossil organisms will use the term “advanced.” Often “advanced” is used as if genetic lineage or familial relationships were involved; yet such relationship is totally unobservable.                          

Criteria of “advanced” are not given usually by authors who have a prior commitment to an evolutionary outlook. The term “higher” is used even, in conjunction with “advanced,” to convey meanings of greater development or improvement than that of so-called previous organisms.    

Improper use of the words “adaptation” or “adapted” often refer to observed conditions that exist. But, no explanation is given as to how recognized conditions came into existence. To write that an organism is “adapted” seems to explain something, but no real knowledge is gained as to how fish, for example, came to live and swim in water, or how birds came to fly in the atmosphere.

In contrast to “advanced” is the term “primitive.” “Primitive” is used commonly by those attempting to show relationships between and/or among living and fossil organisms. Usually the writer means to propose some genetic lineage or familial relationship; however, that relationship is totally unknown. Criteria for “primitive” (or “lower”) are not usually given by evolutionary authors. The term “lower” might be used in conjunction with “primitive” to convey supposedly a concept of lesser development than of existing organisms.

Any discussion of origins might be formulated properly in terms meant to be ideas or thoughts about the imagined origin of the universe, or about the imagined origin of life on the earth, or about the imagined origin of the beginnings of humankind. In the case of origin of the universe, the term encountered involves semantic confusion in the term, “cosmogony.” “Cosmology” is used often as if interchangeable with “cosmogony.” However, “cosmology” is limited comfortably to ideas of validity and reliability of the “science” of the cosmos. The word is used rather indiscriminately to include ideas of some scientists about origination and generation of the universe that is more accurately subsumed under the term “cosmogony” (the astrophysical study of the origin and evolution of the universe).           

As to the supposed origin of life on the earth, really no one knows when or how life originated, as a scientist. However, the term, “column,” as used in geology, is supposed to support some “chain of being.” Supposedly that could be “translated” into vertical change of one kind of organism into another kind of organism (or life changing from the “simple” cell into a complex organism). Yet no physical layers exist with regard to the traditional geologic “column” anywhere on the surface of the earth. (To write about a so-called “column” of life conveys the concept of reality that does not exist!)    

When considering the origin of humankind the term, “natural selection,” is used. This expression is a cover for what is really elimination or survival. Actually the term, “selection,” conveys the idea of volitional (willful) choice by human beings.                            
Usually certain criteria are intended, as in “artificial selection.” But, “artificial selection” is actually “directed” by human beings. No criteria of selection or survival exist in the natural environment. Volitional choice, of the type practiced by human beings in “artificial selection,” does not occur as organisms interact with each other and with the natural environment.                   

When these words are written with capital letters as “Natural Selection,” a further instance of anthropomorphic thinking (or personification) is illustrated by naturalistic evolutionary scientists.

In addition to “Natural Selection” the reader encounters often the terms, “natural,” “nature” or “natural laws” (“laws of nature”). Many evolutionists misuse the term, “nature,” as if they have knowledge of or have studied natural objects and/or events of the past. “Natural laws” do not govern (or control) anything, since “laws of nature” are only descriptions formulated by human beings. Just like all scientists, the “Laws of nature” are not proscriptive they are only descriptive.

Too often, evolutionists consider some event or process involved as natural if the idea can be thought of; that is, if an idea is thinkable. Then they presume that that event or process involved is bound to be natural. Such is not the case, for example, for tectonic or orogeny concepts of geologists regarding mountain building. Indeed, mountain building concepts are unnatural in the degree or magnitude imagined by evolutionary geologists.

When the term, “nature,” is capitalized, as “Nature,” then reification (to consider an abstract concept to be real) and/or deification (to raise to the condition of a god) of all or part of the natural environment will result in semantic confusion. Such anthropomorphic (or personification) usage is inappropriate fully for naturalistic scientists.     

Further the word “mechanism” is used, and that word is essentially a cover word, or a semantic “trick,” for observable conditions; when there is no “real” explanation about how such conditions came into existence. The reader would gain the impression of some mechanistic worldview. (Actually a mechanistic worldview centers on the idea that causal factors are known, and more or less a deterministic situation exists.) 

Previously the term or terms, “related” or “relationship,” were mentioned. Evolutionists would employ these terms with regard to different kinds of organisms as if observable, reproducible lineage relationships exist. However, in careful practice, evolutionists can write or speak accurately, in rigorous discourse, only of mere similarities. Properly, “relationship” is discernible only by means of breeding practices to set the limit of actual variation. Thus, “similar” or “similarities” should replace “related” or “relationship(s).”      
Then quite often the words, “reconstruction” and/or “record” are used. The former is a cover word used by evolutionists. They hope to gain “real” meaning for imagined scenarios about supposed past geologic features and/or events (or about exterior appearances of organisms when only articulated skeletons exist).       

The word, “reconstruction,” is associated most properly with such work as the reconstruction of Williamsburg, VA of the past colonial period. In that work, actual records and eyewitness reports of previously existing constructions are available; whereas no such records or reports of participants are available to evolutionists.        

“Reconstruction” can only follow original construction by human beings. “Reconstruction” (actually “construction”) by evolutionists is no more than imagined narratives (or really imagined appearances); even creationists can offer only their interpretations.            

Of course “record” is a term associated usually with the activities of human beings. The term, “record,” requires an eyewitness reporter at some time. So when evolutionists use the term, “geologic record” or “fossil record,” then they convey the idea, most improperly, of actually eye witnessed occurrences. They do not utilize eyewitness reports, since no one, as a modern scientist, prepared a “record” of the formation of current rock layers. Therefore, evolutionists can write or speak accurately only of the existence and description of rock layers or fossil materials (and should never use “fossil record”).

Occasionally the reader will encounter the terms, “self-producing” (“self-replicative”) or “spontaneous.” Specifically, these former words involve “self” that usually conveys the idea or meaning of “selfness” or “selfhood.” Yet these words involve human existence; these words involve human volition. At base this practice is another example of anthropomorphism (or personification) that is not at all appropriate for impersonal scientific work or writing. No cell component reproduces in isolation. (Examples of misuse: “self-contained,” “self-pollination,” “self-fertilization,” “self-induction”)                                  

Since no scientist can avoid some external intervention (of direct or indirect degree), no scientist is involved ever with “spontaneous” chemical reactions. Rather the correct term is “instantaneous,” as most chemical processes occur at some instant in time. All experiments and basically all observations are the result of interventions of one type or another by scientists practicing the procedures and methodologies of the profession.   

Also evolutionists use the term, “sequence,” multiple times. When they use this term in connection with discussions of rock layers, they convey the idea of a known cause and effect relationship. Evolutionists, however, are not able to discern any cause and effect relationships between fossil materials (not “fossil records”) in rocks. Hence they go beyond the exactness of observable conditions and show their bias in reporting about their findings.          

Yet evolutionists commit a logical fallacy, regularly, when they write or speak about rock layers or fossils in “sequence.” They commit the logical error of reasoning that something is the cause of something else merely because the former is presumed to be earlier in time. (That practice involves post hoc ergo propter hoc ["after this therefore because of this"], and the author of any book on logic would condemn such a practice.)        

Our last example is the term, “trace.” Evolutionists use this word for presumed detection of lineages of plants and/or animals, but such lineages can only be deemed plausible. This term covers over the proper distinction between speculated lineages and actual genetic events “traced” by careful analyses conducted by human beings, often employing technical detection equipment (like the current use of DNA analyses).        

Thus, the creation/evolution controversy could be resolved, if spokespersons would employ careful, clear definitions of terminology.


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