e-mail - April 2000

The Word "Macroevolution"

Subject: The word “macroevolution”
Date: Sun, 13 Feb 2000 00:35:45 -0600
From: Jim

Do you answer questions over the net? If you do, can you tell me when, where and
who came up with the word "microevolution?" I consider myself a Scientific
Creationist and have taught many Sunday School classes on it. I also write letters
to the editor on the subject. I just got a reply from a person that threw me. He
said microevolution is a word made up by creationists and it is to be ignored.
The word macroevolution covers all "science" concerning evolution according to him.

Thank You,
Jim

We do answer questions, when time permits.

It took us a while to track down the source of the words “microevolution” and "macroevolution", but we finally found it. According to an evolutionist’s web page, 1

The terms macroevolution and microevolution were first coined in 1927 by the Russian entomologist Iurii Filipchenko (or Philipchenko, depending on the transliteration), in his German-language work Variabilität und Variation, which was the first attempt to reconcile Mendelian genetics and evolution.

That same web page goes on to explain …

In evolutionary biology today, macroevolution is used to refer to any evolutionary change at or above the level of species. It means the splitting of a species into two (speciation, or cladogenesis, from the Greek meaning "the origin of a branch") or the change of a species over time into another (anagenesis, not nowadays generally used). Any changes that occur at higher levels, such as the evolution of new families, phyla or genera, is also therefore macroevolution, but the term is not restricted to the origin of those higher taxa.

Microevolution refers to any evolutionary change below the level of species, and refers to changes in the frequency within a population or a species of its alleles (alternative genes) and their effects on the form, or phenotype, of organisms that make up that population or species.

The history of the concept of macroevolution

In the "modern synthesis" of neo-Darwinism, which developed in the period from 1930 to 1950 with the reconciliation of evolution by natural selection and modern genetics, macroevolution is thought to be the combined effects of microevolutionary processes. In theories proposing "orthogenetic evolution" (literally, straight line evolution), macroevolution is thought to be of a different caliber and process than microevolution. Nobody has been able to make a good case for orthogenesis since the 1950s, especially since the uncovering of molecular genetics between 1952 and the late 1960s.

Antievolutionists argue that there has been no proof of macroevolutionary processes. However, synthesists claim that the same processes that cause within-species changes of the frequencies of alleles can be extrapolated to between species changes, so this argument fails unless some mechanism for preventing microevolution causing macroevolution is discovered. Since every step of the process has been demonstrated in genetics and the rest of biology, the argument against macroevolution fails.

Conclusion

There is no difference between micro- and macroevolution except that genes between species usually diverge, while genes within species usually combine. The same processes that cause within-species evolution are responsible for above-species evolution, except that the processes that cause speciation include things that cannot happen to lesser groups, such as the evolution of different sexual apparatus (because, by definition, once organisms cannot interbreed, they are different species).

Apparently the person who told Jim that the term “microevolution” was made up by creationists is wrong. It is a term that is used in evolutionary biology by evolutionary biologists.

Creationists do like to make the distinction between microevolution and macroevolution because the term “evolution” is too vague. It can mean anything from “change over time”, to the alleged process that converts molecules to man.

A newspaper gets old and yellow. Since it changes, one could say it "evolves". But it isn't very useful to call that process "evolution" because the process that causes a newspaper to get yellow has nothing to do with the creation of new species, which is what most people think of when you use the word "evolution.".

People who use the term "microevolution" use it to describe a process that has been observed many times in nature--specifically, a small, limited change in species over an observable period of time. They use the term "macroevolution" to describe the idea that species can change into entirely different species, given enough time.

Since these are two entirely different processes, there are two different terms for them. The only reason we can imagine that one would want to use the one term for two different things is to cause confusion intentionally.

The inconsistent use of the term “evolution” reminds us of this exchange between Alice and Humpty Dumpty in Lewis Carol’s story, Through the Looking Glass.

“..There’s glory for you!”

“I don’t know what you mean by ‘glory,’” Alice said.

Humpty Dumpty smiled contemptuously. “Of course you don’t--until I tell you. I meant ‘there’s a nice knockdown argument for you!’”

“But ‘glory’ doesn’t mean ‘a nice knockdown argument,’” Alice objected.

“When I use a word,” Humpty Dumpty said, in a rather scornful tone, “it means just what I choose it to mean-neither more nor less.”

“The question is,” said Alice, “whether you can make words mean so many different things.”

The question is, we say, whether evolutionists can make the word “evolution” mean so many different things.

Evolutionists, like the one whose web page we quoted, would like you to believe that there isn’t any fundamental difference between microevolution and macroevolution. They claim it is merely a matter of degree. They say that given enough microevolution, you get macroevolution.

The fallacy of the argument lies in the assertion that “the same processes that cause within-species changes of the frequencies of alleles can be extrapolated to between species changes, so this argument fails unless some mechanism for preventing microevolution causing macroevolution is discovered.” They are different processes, one can’t be extrapolated to the other, and there is a mechanism that prevents microevolution from causing macroevolution. Let us explain it very carefully.

For simplicity, we (and many evolutionists, too) talk about “the gene for blue eyes” and “the gene for brown eyes.” In most cases, there usually isn’t a one-to-one correspondence between single genes and visible characteristics. Visible traits are usually caused by a combination of genes. Individuals who have undesirable combinations of genes typically die before they reach sexual maturity, thereby reducing the abundance of those genes. But the genes still exist in the population, and may resurface if environmental conditions make them beneficial again.

So, the “processes that cause within-species changes of the frequencies of alleles” are natural selection and, to some extent, dumb luck. (Some evolutionists say that luck is more important than natural selection, but let’s not go there.) The important point is that these are processes that vary the abundance of existing genetic information by causing some genes to become very rare, or disappear entirely. This makes other, existing genes more plentiful (relatively speaking) in the population.

For a dinosaur to turn into a bird, you need to give it new genetic information that tells the body how to grow feathers. There is no known process that creates genetic information.

Information can get lost through random processes. (If you don’t believe me, rub a floppy disk with a strong magnet in a random pattern.) Information cannot be created by a random process. (If you want to convince me, rub a blank floppy disk with a strong magnet in a random pattern, and send me the resulting randomly-generated text file that explains how it can happen.)

The genetic information in a horse is greater than the genetic information in a bacteria. For a bacteria to evolve into a horse, genetic information had to be added. A horse’s genetic code is not simply a rearrangement of the genetic information already in a bacteria.

Evolutionists believe that genetic information somehow accumulates slowly over millions of years. But speed isn’t really the issue. Genetic information does not naturally increase at any rate at all. It does, however, get lost over time through the processes of mutation and extinction. We can’t clone any dinosaurs in the lab today because that genetic information has been lost.

Finally, we want to draw your attention to something the evolutionist said on his web page. According to him, “Nobody has been able to make a good case for orthogenesis [literally, straight line evolution] since the 1950s, especially since the uncovering of molecular genetics between 1952 and the late 1960s.”

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Footnotes:

1 http://www.talkorigins.org/faqs/macroevolution.html (Ev+)