Evolution by Definition

Most non-scientists tend to be confused regarding the precise definition of biological evolution. Such confusion exists among the scientists themselves on how to define an important term. The general publics are not aware largely due to inability of scientists to communicate effectively and spreading in the best way.

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One must distinguish between the existence of evolution and theories that explain the mechanism of evolution when getting into a discussion on the topic. It is crucial to have a clear definition in mind once referring to the existence of evolution. What is meant by biologists when they say that they have observed evolution?

Biological evolution actually refers to populations and not to individuals. The changes that occur must be passed on to the next generation. In a practical way, this means that,

Evolution is a process that results in heritable changes in a population spread over many generations.

One short definition of evolution which can be found in many textbooks is:

“In fact, evolution can be precisely defined as any change in the frequency of alleles within a gene pool from one generation to the next.”

– Helena Curtis and N. Sue Barnes, Biology, 5th ed. 1989 Worth Publishers, p.974

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These definitions convey the essence of what evolution really is. When biologists say that they have observed evolution, it means that they have detected a change in the frequency of genes in a population.

“evolution: …the development of a species, organism, or organ from its original or primitive state to its present or specialized state; phylogeny or ontogeny” – Webster’s

This one is simply wrong. Usually people have this kind of definition in their mind and engaged into a discussion on the topic where at the end of the day leads to a fruitless debate. This is because the debaters are viewing the evolution in different perspectives. One cannot refer to an acceptable scientific definition of evolution when claiming that he/she does not believe in evolution.

We have to realize that evolution is simply “a process that results in heritable changes in a population spread over many generations”. Based on this definition, it seems that this does not exclude religion at all.

Written by Ek Pardesi

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