1. Evolution - the change in the gene frequency of a population over time. Translation: if you monitor a population through time and the types of genes that code for characteristics change in abundance or type, that's evolution. Notice that it is populations that are evolving and not individuals. We see changes in species but those physical changes (the phenotype) are caused by changes in the relative genes (the genotypes) of the individuals within the population. Many speak of microevolution, changes within a population that does not hinder reproduction within a species or sometimes changes within a group that may result in different species but is still considered the same type or "kinds". Macroevolution would be major change across larger taxonomic levels, such as early reptiles to birds, or a primate ancestor to modern humans. Anti-evolutionists now accept microevolution but not macroevolution. Evolutionists often don't see a difference; if you extend evolutionary changes out far enough, all micro becomes macro. But the terms are helpful so both sides of the debate don't speak past one another. Evolution: Fact & Theory
2. Natural Selection - the differential reproductive success of individuals within a population. This is currently thought to be the only or certainly the main mechanism for evolution. Natural selection drives the changes in a population. Natural selection is not debatable; it has been proven over and over again in the field and lab. Translation: NS can be broken down in to a few principles.
1.All organisms produce more offspring than survive to reproduce. Think about fish and all the eggs that are laid over a lifetime and yet populations stay about the same. Consider a large tree and all the seeds it produces year after year over a lifetime and yet on average the forests are pretty stable if not disturbed.
2. There is much variation between individuals. This variation is inherited by the offspring.
3. Some of those traits affect how successful the organism will be in leaving offspring to the next generation. Speed, intelligence, poison concentrations in the leaves or venom, size of thorns, brightness of plumage, ability to store fat, etc. are all factors that may help a male attract a mate, a female to lay more eggs, or a plant to produce more viable seeds.
4. Those traits that help an organism leave more offspring compared to the other individuals in the same breeding population will tend to be passed onto the next generation.
Note that it really comes down to leaving more successful offspring than others in your population. One type of natural selection is sexual selection, responsible for the peacock's feathers and the proboscis monkey's amazing snout. Some biologists think selection can occur at a higher level. This is called group selection but it remains very controversial even after decades of research. Also note the difference between evolution and natural selection. The evidence for evolution is considered overwhelming, but we do not know if Darwin's natural selection is the only thing driving evolution. Thus, even if natural selection were minimized, changed, or negated in the future we'd just need to find a more complete mechanism for evolution; the data supporting evolution still would be present. You can't get rid of evolution by only attacking Darwin; they are not the same.
3. Fitness - those individuals who are the most successful at leaving offspring. A strong, fast, intelligent, great looking individual who leaves no offspring (passing those wonderful genes) into the next gene pool has as a fitness of zero. There are exceptions such as in insects where the workers are related to the queen and their sisters and by helping the colony they indirectly help pass their genes to the next generation. Survival of the Fittest was not coined by Darwin, but by Herbert Spencer in 1864.
4. Hypothesis - a tentative explanation for an observation or problem that can be tested. Basically, it's an educated guess or explanation that lends itself to further testing. Note that it is tentative and it can be tested.
5. Theory - a set of principles formulated to explain a group of facts or phenomena, especially one that has stood repeated testing and is so widely accepted that it can be used to make predictions. Want to sound naive and ignorant to a scientist? Say evolution is "just a theory", or "after-all, it's only a theory". In science, after repeated testing and confirmation a principle that explains much data often from divergent scientific fields is elevated to the status of a theory. Examples include the theories of gravity, relativity, cell and evolutionary theories. When your car makes a horrible noise and steam rushes out from under the hood, you might say, "I have a theory that my darn radiator is defective". That's how we use the term theory all the time in common usage. "I have a theory about that." Unfortunately, even scientists commonly use the term that way when they are not at work. What we really mean is that we have a hypothesis about something and we can look under the hood and see if the radiator hose has steam coming from it and the radiator is nearly empty. Is evolution a fact or theory? Yes. Just like gravity is a fact, but since there is still much we don't know about gravity, we also call it a theory because in science theories carry HUGE importance.
6. Deism - belief in a supreme being, but a creator that does not intervene in his creation. Thus, prayer to this god would be ineffective. Like a watch, this creator wound the universe watch up at the beginning, endowed it with physical laws that would allow it to unfold, and then stepped out of the way. Some view this as a transition from personal belief to disbelief. It would not seem to satisfy most people who hope for a god that can come to help and comfort them in times of need and give purpose to a person's life through a supernatural agent and a hope in an afterlife.
7. Theism - belief in a god or gods where the creator can and does intervene in his creation, answer prayers if it chooses, and can develop relationships with its created creatures. When believers say they believe in God, this is what they are usually referring to and not deism. The difference is crucial. As a negative, the existence of god cannot be disproved, thus philosophically deism is not testable. Theism, however can be evaluated. Faith healing can be analyzed, prayer outcomes can be tested, the health of believers vs. nonbelievers can be compared, and claimed supernatural events and interventions are amenable to testing to name just a few. And when tested logically and empirically, theism in this author's view fails. As Victor Stenger put it, the absence of evidence is evidence of absence when the evidence should be there and is not." Thus when we commonly discuss atheism ("not - theism") what most people are saying is really "a-deism". It's unfortunate that this one word that is so important in our culture has taken on the wrong meaning. They are not the same terms, although many believers naturally equate them.
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