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Busting another Darwinist Myth: Have ID Proponents Invented Terms like “Microevolution” and “Macroevolution”?

macroevdiagram.jpgIn 2005 I busted the Darwinist myth that ID-proponents have invented terms like “Darwinist” or “Darwinism” by noting that, well, Darwinists themselves have long-used such terms to describe themselves and their viewpoints. Jonathan Wells also recently busted this same myth, and Anika Smith recently busted the myth that evolution is not “random.” In 2006, I also busted the myth that skeptics of neo-Darwinism don’t exist outside the United States.

When engaging in debates, every once in a while I hear the claim that Darwin-critics also invented terms like “microevolution” or “macroevolution.” For example, Jonathan Wells reports, “In 2005, Darwinist Gary Hurd claimed that the distinction between microevolution and macroevolution was just a creationist fabrication. … Hurd wrote to the Kansas State Board of Education: “…’macro’ and ‘micro’ evolution … have no meaning outside of creationist polemics.” (Jonathan Wells, The Politically Incorrect Guide to Darwinism and Intelligent Design, pgs. 55-56). This is also a Darwinian urban legend, for such terms have been used regularly in the scientific literature. Indeed, textbooks commonly teach this terminology, including two of the textbooks I used in college when learning about evolutionary biology.

The glossary of my college introductory biology text, Campbell’s Biology (4th Ed.) states: “macroevolution: Evolutionary change on a grand scale, encompassing the origin of novel designs, evolutionary trends, adaptive radiation, and mass extinction.” Futuyma’s Evolutionary Biology, a text I used for an upper-division evolutionary biology course, states, “In Chapters 2h3 through 25, we will analyze the principles of MACROEVOLUTION, that is, the origin and diversification of higher taxa.” (pg. 447, emphasis in original). Similarly, these textbooks respectively define “microevolution” as “a change in the gene pool of a population over a succession of generations” and “slight, short-term evolutionary changes within species.” Clearly Darwin-skeptics did not invent these terms.

Other scientific texts use the terms. In his 1989 McGraw Hill textbook, Macroevolutionary Dynamics, Niles Eldredge admits that “[m]ost families, orders, classes, and phyla appear rather suddenly in the fossil record, often without anatomically intermediate forms smoothly interlinking evolutionarily derived descendant taxa with their presumed ancestors.” (pg. 22) Similarly, Steven M. Stanley titles one of his books, Macroevolution: Pattern and Process (The Johns Hopkins University Press, 1998 version), where he notes that, “[t]he known fossil record fails to document a single example of phyletic evolution accomplishing a major morphological transition and hence offers no evidence that the gradualistic model can be valid.” (pg. 39)

The scientific journal literature also uses the terms “macroevolution” or “microevolution.” In 1980, Roger Lewin reported in Science on a major meeting at the University of Chicago that sought to reconcile biologists’ understandings of evolution with the findings of paleontology. Lewin reported, “The central question of the Chicago conference was whether the mechanisms underlying microevolution can be extrapolated to explain the phenomena of macroevolution. At the risk of doing violence to the positions of some of the people at the meeting, the answer can be given as a clear, No.” (Roger Lewin, “Evolutionary Theory Under Fire,” Science, Vol. 210:883-887, Nov. 1980.)

Two years earlier, Robert E. Ricklefs had written in an article in Science entitled “Paleontologists confronting macroevolution,” contending:

The punctuated equilibrium model has been widely accepted, not because it has a compelling theoretical basis but because it appears to resolve a dilemma. … apart from its intrinsic circularity (one could argue that speciation can occur only when phyletic change is rapid, not vice versa), the model is more ad hoc explanation than theory, and it rests on shaky ground.

(Science, Vol. 199:58-60, Jan. 6, 1978.)

Finally, in 2000 Douglas Erwin wrote a paper the journal Evolution and Development entitled “Macroevolution is more than repeated rounds of microevolution” where he explained the historical controversy over whether microevolutionary processes can explain macroevolutionary change:

Arguments over macroevolution versus microevolution have waxed and waned through most of the twentieth century. Initially, paleontologists and other evolutionary biologists advanced a variety of non-Darwinian evolutionary processes as explanations for patterns found in the fossil record, emphasizing macroevolution as a source of morphologic novelty. Later, paleontologists, from Simpson to Gould, Stanley, and others, accepted the primacy of natural selection but argued that rapid speciation produced a discontinuity between micro- and macroevolution. This second phase emphasizes the sorting of innovations between species. Other discontinuities appear in the persistence of trends (differential success of species within clades), including species sorting, in the differential success between clades and in the origination and establishment of evolutionary novelties. These discontinuities impose a hierarchical structure to evolution and discredit any smooth extrapolation from allelic substitution to large-scale evolutionary patterns. Recent developments in comparative developmental biology suggest a need to reconsider the possibility that some macroevolutionary discontinuities may be associated with the origination of evolutionary innovation. The attractiveness of macroevolution reflects the exhaustive documentation of large-scale patterns which reveal a richness to evolution unexplained by microevolution. If the goal of evolutionary biology is to understand the history of life, rather than simply document experimental analysis of evolution, studies from paleontology, phylogenetics, developmental biology, and other fields demand the deeper view provided by macroevolution.

(Douglas Erwin, “Macroevolution is more than repeated rounds of microevolution,” Evolution and Development, Vol. 2(2):78-84, 2000.)

So the next time a Darwinist tells you that scientists don’t use terms like “microevolution” or “macroevolution,” remind them why this claim is a long-debunked myth!


Casey Luskin

Associate Director and Senior Fellow, Center for Science and Culture
Casey Luskin is a geologist and an attorney with graduate degrees in science and law, giving him expertise in both the scientific and legal dimensions of the debate over evolution. He earned his PhD in Geology from the University of Johannesburg, and BS and MS degrees in Earth Sciences from the University of California, San Diego, where he studied evolution extensively at both the graduate and undergraduate levels. His law degree is from the University of San Diego, where he focused his studies on First Amendment law, education law, and environmental law.