The e word:
Sometimes there is dispute centering around a word.  Such a word is “evolution.”  A significant part of America considers the word to be Ultimate Truth.  Others regard it as a Tool of the Devil.  I would say that I don’t have much use for the word, however on looking at my files I do use it a lot.  There’s a problem with the word.

It has two parts: “e” means  “out” as in exit, “volution” means a “turning” as in revolution.  Together it means “how species turn out.”  Traditionally that was supposed to be caused by “inheritable variation” and “natural selection.”  Period, full stop, that’s what causes everything.  The definition is incomplete; more things are operative.  Here goes:

  1. Inheritable variation that changes slowly, which means DNA mutations.
  2. Inheritable variation that changes quickly, which means epigenetic processes.
  3. Selection that occurs in the wild.
  4. Selection that occurs in captivity that is deliberate.
  5. Selection that occurs in captivity that is incidental.
  6. Chance.
  7. The environment, which includes weather, other living things and so forth for a very long list.
  8. Competition.
  9. Cooperation.
  10. Geology, as in climate change potentially brought about by volcanism.
  11.           Astronomy, as in impact by comets and asteroids that potentially bring about climate change.
  12. The laws of physics and chemisty.
  13. Cognitive decision making by humans.
  14. Kinship.
  15. Kin recognition.
  16. Mating strategy.
  17. Fertility.
  18. Speciation.
  19. Geography, as if is there a route to escape destructive changes from climate change to a location that is better.
  20. Territoriality in animals.
  21. War among humans.
  22. Economic activity on such a scale as to alter the environment, such as increasing CO2 by burning fossil fuels.
  23. Ongoing meta-stable mechanisms, as in the North Atlantic Conveyor, which if stopped would not necessarily reestablish itself or melting of the Arctic ice pack, which once it happens will probably recur on an annual basis for a very long time whatever happens to CO2 levels.
  24. Sequestration of biologically significant material by geologic processes, as the burying of forests that produced coal.
  25. Misunderstood factors.
  26. Unknown factors. 


Those are things that come quickly to mind.  Maybe you can add more or maybe you would protest that some factors subsume others.  Once you are happy with the list, then define “evolution,” as each of those elements must be specifically mentioned in any such definition.  So here is the challenge: can you give the definition of evolution without taking a breath in the middle?

So generally I will refer to “selection” or “fertility,” say what I mean, rather than invoke an awkward term that purports to include so much.

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