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Navigating Verbal Minefields

By Joe Aguirre - January 1, 2009
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Are you an evolutionist or a creationist? It’s a simple enough question, but the answer may not be so easy. Like many words, factors like history and context come into play. As a historical example, if you asked someone anytime before 1859 if he were a creationist, he might say, “No, I’m a traducianist.” Huh? Well, for much of church history until the time of Darwin the origin of the soul (of which creationism and traducianism expressed different views) was a hot topic, just like the origin of everything is today.

According to Wikipedia the term creationism in its contemporary sense was not used until the late nineteenth century.1 And science historian Ronald Numbers notes that the evolution of the word—pardon the expression—was no overnight sensation.2 For decades, terms like “direct Creationism,” “special creationist,” “advocates of creation,” or “antievolutionist” were variously employed. Descriptors like “creation science” or “scientific creationism” came later still, leading to the simpler modern term “creationism,” which is anything but clear in describing what people believe.

Evolution is no easier to trace. You have micro and macro, theistic and deistic, divergent and convergent, Darwinian and naturalistic—even creationary evolution, just to name a few that come to mind in a massive vocabulary course.

What’s the point?

Words carry different meanings and they can be nuanced, but ultimately they mean something. As this layperson has learned the hard way (a frequent event), a poor response to “evolution is a proven fact,” is “no, evolution is just a theory.” What the opponent could have had in mind was a study of Galapagos finches showing different beak sizes in response to changes in the environment. The evolution was indeed a proven fact, but it was really microevolution (adaptation), which is a nonissue. The finches are still finches. The just-a-theory retort will get an eye-rolling response as the opponent concludes the creationist has no inkling of how science works.

A good way to start a conversation is to ask what people mean by the terms they use. The Golden Rule of Apologetics, as RTB theologian Kenneth Samples reminds us, stresses that we strive to understand a person’s position correctly before offering critique.3 Asking questions leads to clarification and learning. How much longer and more fruitful might discussions on pivotal issues become if opposing sides made understanding one another the primary goal? (Sounds like marriage.)

And a good way to get equipped for effective dialogue is to get a hold of Hugh Ross’s new book, More Than a Theory (available next month at reasons.org). He explains—in lay-friendly language—various positions on creation and evolution and how to test them.

Tools like this one can help prevent someone like me from making the following statement and looking like a monkey’s uncle: “If humans evolved from monkeys, why are monkeys still around?”

Endnotes
  1. Wikipedia, s.v. “history of creationism,” http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/History_of_creationism, accessed December 11, 2008.
  2. Ronald L. Numbers, “Creating Creationism: Meanings and Usage Since the Age of Agassiz: Part One” in Facts & Faith, fourth quarter 1995, http://www.reasons.org/resources/faf/95q4faf/95q4asi.shtml, accessed December 11, 2008.
  3. Kenneth Richard Samples, “The Golden Rule of Apologetics, Part 1 (of 7),” Today’s New Reason To Believe, http://www.reasons.org/tnrtb/category/philosophy/page/5/, accessed December 11, 2008.

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