Specious reasoning and clever crafting of definitions can make about anything appear to come true. As John Mackay (1852) observed, When men wish to construct or support a theory, how they torture facts into their service! Mackay, J. (1852). Extraordinary Popular Delusions and the Madness of Crowds.
Some words are innocently created to straight forwardly describe a particular thing but can insidiously take on a life all their own. Our language is filled with words that have departed from their original definitions and are now widely misconstrued and abused. Examples include truth, religion, supernatural, morality, liberal, capitalism, freedom, love basically all the hot button words and subjects people consider to be their little sacred domains of private belief and interpretation.
Evolution is another example of such a word. In the dictionary, evolutions first definition is: the process by which something develops into a different form. The word and this meaning predated Darwins concept of biological evolution. Heres how that fact has proven useful in helping to make his case.
Most certainly, things do evolve in the dictionary’s pre-Darwinian sense of the word. We evolve as individuals, society evolves, technology evolves, education evolves, the automobile evolves and agriculture evolves. To the uncritical eye, evolution, taken as being synonymous with change, seems to fit well with what all of us experience every day: Homes get built beginning with simple blocks and 2 X 4s, our bank account balance grows slowly, our bodies begin small and get bigger, babies begin with one cell that multiplies into a whole body and anthills grow one grain of dirt at a time. Since everything changes, everything can be said to evolve. How convenient for Darwins evolution.
He could not have chosen a better word. The case was closed before he ever got into court. Since everything evolves it is not too much of a leap to accept that life evolved. The word itself is tendentious, creating in and of itself reason to believe the theory.
If he had chosen the word transmutation instead of evolution, things might be entirely different. Although transmutation would be a better description of the theory, the unfamiliarity of the word would force people to determine meaning and evaluate that against their own experience. In the larger sense, Darwins evolution requires that species transform into one another (transmutate) all the way up from a single-celled organism. Since nobody has ever seen one type of organism transmutate into another, he would have had a much harder sell. On the other hand, saying that change is the same thing as biological evolution makes anyone who does not accept Darwins evolution, someone who rejects change. In other words, stupid.
Please note that evolution normally implies progressive change. But nothing evolves in that sense without intelligent manipulation. Corn kernels get bigger, evolve, because of intelligent horticulture, home architecture evolves because of intelligent engineering, and mathematics evolves because of mathematicians. That little fact — that intelligence is needed for things to progressively evolve — just happened to be left out when Darwins evolution was attached to dictionary evolution.
A word was stolen from our vocabulary, a word everyone can agree to. Cleverly then, a new footnote about a whole new mechanism was attached to it without really alerting anyone. By that I mean biological evolution is not mere change. In overview (cell to human sense) it is gross change, more like a skipping or gigantic hopping. It is about transmutations in the absence of any intelligent force to make them happen.
It would be like me coming up with a new theory of commerce. I scan the dictionary and decide to call my theory, “possession”. Everyone possesses things and possession is nine tenths of the law. My possession theory is a process by which one goes into a store, loads up bags and carts with whatever they want and takes it all home. The stuff is possessed. What a cool theory. Now when the police show up at your door and take you to court, you just take your dictionary. You say to the judge, Looky here judge, the dictionary says possession is to have things and thats all I did. Do you think the prosecutor might make the argument that you have left out an important part of the definition, namely that to possess something legally requires a mechanism called paying for it?
Possession means having something, according to the dictionary, but that does not legitimize any form of possession. Evolution means change, according to the dictionary, but that does not legitimize any theory of change.