A | B | C | D | E | F | G | H | I | J | K | L | M | N | O | P | Q | R | S | T | U | V | W | X | Y | Z


Abiogenesis The development of life from non-living systems via natural mechanisms. cf. creation. (W. R. Elsberry talk.origins via W.J. Hudson)

Agnostic Someone who defers belief or non-belief in a god until the evidence is in. Usually accompanied by the assertion that the evidence is not in. cf. unbelief (W. R. Elsberry talk.origins via W.J. Hudson)

Analysis Step Six in the Scientific Method. Experimental results are gathered. The experiment should be repeated (replicated) several times to avoid chance error. The results are subjected to statistical analysis. Statistical analysis is designed to help minimize false positives and false negatives.   In most statistical procedures in biology, a 5% error rate is allowed to occur and still consider the results viable. This much error is accepted as "due to chance alone." (W. R. Elsberry talk.origins via W.J. Hudson)

Archetype Platonic forms or Ideas, which in Neoplatonic emanationism became one of the intermediate stages between the absolute reality and the material world. In the late 18th and 19th centuries the concept of an ideal primitive plan ("Bauplan") on which organisms, such as plants or vertebrates, are based became a central theme in German Idealism and Naturphilosophie. Called by Richard Owen the "primal pattern" and "divine idea." See also Idealism. (modified from M. W. Strickberger).

Argument from Design An argument most notably forwarded by the Reverend Paley which brought us the "watchmaker" analogy. At basis, this argues that the complexity and good design seen in natural systems could only be attributed to a superlative designer. Centuries ago, David Hume argued that one can only separate designed from non-designed entities via experiential comparison and contrast. Hence, since we only have one universe, we have no point of reference to argue that the universe is designed (or not designed). More recently, Richard Dawkins has written an excellent summary of at least one way in which good design does not imply the existence and action of a designer. (W. R. Elsberry - talk.origins). See also intelligent design; irreducible complexity, teleology

Aristotle (384-322 b.c.e.), student of Plato, ancient Greek polymath, who wrote on Logic, Physics, Astronomy, Biology, Psychology, Metaphysics, Ethics, Politics, Rhetoric, and Poetics. In biology, he made numerous very detailed observations, including many dissections; some of his observations have proved remarkably accurate. He also produced the first detailed taxonomy, dividing animals into blooded and bloodless ones, and from there into further subcategories, see Scala Naturae. His view of the history of life was non-evolutionary and non-creationist; he believed that the Universe is eternal, being pretty much the same for all time. Species don't evolve, but they had always been in existence. He also believed that living things have three types of vital force: the vegetable soul, that all living things have, the animal soul, that all animals have, and the rational soul, that only humanity has. (EvoWiki)

Atheist Someone who either states a disbelief in a god or gods ('strong' or 'positive' atheism), or an unbelief in a god or gods ('weak', 'negative' or 'passive' atheism).  cf. agnostic. (W.J. Hudson)


Belief The position of affirming the truth of a proposition. Belief, if asserted as true in a debate, bears a burden of proof (as does disbelief). See also: unbelief. (W.J. Hudson)

Burden of Proof Also known (especially in legal terminology) as the onus probandi. The burden of proof is something shouldered by anyone who makes an assertion regarding a proposition -- a requirement that they support/substantiate their assertions, if they expect anyone else to accept them. It is important to note, however, that simply having a belief or disbelief on a subject does not require the burden of proof -- one must actually assert that one's position is true.  cf. unbelief. (W.J. Hudson)


fields that contributed to the birth of cognitive science

Fields that contributed to the birth of cognitive science.

Concept adapted from a figure presented in Miller, George A (2003). "The cognitive revolution: a historical perspective". TRENDS in Cognitive Sciences 7.

Compiled by Wikimedia user Beao from works by AJ Ashton, verdy_p, NASA, jossi, Gdh, Fibonacci, Mysid, Bilboq and Aaron Rotenberg.

C-decay Young Earth Creationist assertion that the speed of light has undergone a measurable slowing in recorded history, forwarded by Barry Setterfield. Setterfield further claims that the decay of the speed of light follows an exponential, such that light speed was infinite a few thousand years ago. The talk.origins FAQ deals with the questionable data handling and analysis which Setterfield had to use to obtain his pre-ordained results, and the wholesale rejection of data points which would have lessened the confidence levels which Setterfield claimed. (W. R. Elsberry - talk.origins)

Catastrophism the theory that the Earth's geological landscape is the result of violent cataclysmic events. Advocates of this theory usually believe that there have been a number of wide-spread violent and sudden natural catastrophes that have destroyed most living things. It was used by George Cuvier to explain the extinction of species. Contrast with uniformitarianism; the two opposed each other during the late 18th and 19th centuries. Young Earth Creationism uses a modified from of Catastrophism, employing the Biblical Flood to explain the fossil record

The Clergy Letter Project project that gained signatures from over 10,000 members of clergy for An Open Letter Concerning Religion and Science. This letter contains the basic statement: "We the undersigned, Christian clergy from many different traditions, believe that the timeless truths of the Bible and the discoveries of modern science may comfortably coexist. We believe that the theory of evolution is a foundational scientific truth, one that has stood up to rigorous scrutiny and upon which much of human knowledge and achievement rests." (EvoWiki, Wikipedia) Compare with Non-overlapping magisteria

Cognitive science interdisciplinary scientific study of minds as information processors. It includes research on how information is processed (in faculties such as perception, language, reasoning, and emotion), represented, and transformed in a (human or other animal) nervous system or machine (e.g., computer). Cognitive science consists of multiple research disciplines, including psychology, artificial intelligence, philosophy, neuroscience, linguistics, anthropology, sociology, and education. It spans many levels of analysis, from low-level learning and decision mechanisms to high-level logic and planning; from neural circuitry to modular brain organization. The term was coined by Christopher Longuet-Higgins in his 1973 commentary on the Lighthill report, which concerned the then-current state of Artificial Intelligence research (Wikipedia)

Common ancestor The ancestral species that gave rise to two or more descendant lineages, and thus represents the ancestor they have in common. The idea of a common ancestor is central to evolutionary thinking from Darwin onwards. In the Modern Synthesis' Evolutionary Systematics the common ancestor is usually shown as the most suitable fossil form at the base of a lineage, where it may or (more likely given the small number of species known from those which actually lived in past ages) or may not be an actual ancestor, more often it is a sort of grand-uncle rather than grandfather). Nevertheless, some idea of a general common ancestor can be had. In an attempt to establish greater rigour and precision, Cladistic phylogeny defines the most recent common ancestor as the originator of a clade; in other words the first species or organism to possess the unique attributes of that clade. Contrary to popular opinion, cladograms do not actually show the common ancestor; in this context, see basal taxon, hypothetical common_ancestor. See also non-missing link. (MAK)

Consilience as defined by Edward O. Wilson in his 1998 book Consilience: The Unity of Knowledge, an attempt to bridge the culture gap between the sciences and the humanities that was the subject of C. P. Snow's book on The Two Cultures. Wilson's assertion was that the sciences, humanities, and arts have a common goal: to give a purpose to understanding the details, to lend to all inquirers "a conviction, far deeper than a mere working proposition, that the world is orderly and can be explained by a small number of natural laws." (Wikipedia) Compare Integral Theory (a very different attempt to likewise create a unifying synthesis of human knowledge)

Consciousness pertaining to subjective or "inner" experience and existence, awareness, sense of selfhood, and including as its contents the relationship between the mind and the world with which it interacts. Equivalent to "mind" in the mind-body problem of philosophy. Reductionists and metaphysical naturalists tend to reduce consciousness to matter, idealists the reverse. Cognitive science studies the workings of consciousness in relation to neural funcdtioning. The evolutionary philosopher Teilhard de Chardin used the trem complexification to refer to the relation between "outer" complexity and "inner" consciousness. In physicalism (a form of materialistic monism), consciousness is identified with physical functions such as neural functioning, in dualism it is considered distinct from matter, and in some forms of Eastern Philosophy (another form of monism) it is identified with the absolute reality (MAK).

Creation The bringing forth of matter from nothing, or the development of life from non-living systems. cf. abiogenesis. (W. R. Elsberry talk.origins via W.J. Hudson)

Creation-Evolution debate situation that has developed in Western society as a result of the clash between religious traditionalists who advocate a supernatural worldview, and the scientific community which uses empirical method and tends to agnosticism and naturalism. A highly polarised society with a strong religious demographic like America has a larger proportion of creationists than a more secular society like Britain or Australia. Alternative solutions include more science education, non-overlapping magisteria, universe story, theistic evolution, and pantheism. (MAK)

Creation out of nothing The Judaeo-Christian doctrine that God created the cosmos out of nothing (ex nihilo in the famous latin phrase). Rejected by both emanationism and naturalism (MAK)

Creation Science see Scientific creationism

Creationism The belief in creation as having a supernatural agent, but usually without limiting the range of mechanisms used by that agent. Variations include Young Earth and Old Earth creationism and religious forms of Intelligent Design. May or may not claim scientific credentials. Creationists generally accept microevolution but not macroeveolution. (W. R. Elsberry talk.origins via W.J. Hudson, MAK)

Cyclic most premodern cosmologies posited a cyclic universe, in which the same stages occur in the same sequence again and again. The originbal inspiration here seems to have have been the movement of the celestial bodies and the regularity of the seasons. The only non-cyclic cosmologies were those associated with Semitic monotheistic religion, in which case the universe is created by God out of nothing six thousand years ago and will end soon in a day of judgment. Eastern philosophy today holds to a cyclic cosmology, Creationism to a religious linear cosmology, and Theosophy and the New Age combine cycles and evolution to give a spiral cosmology (MAK)


Darwin fish

Darwin fish

Darwin fish parody of the Christian ichthys (fish) symbol with feet, legs and Darwin written inside the fish to symbolise Darwin's Theory of evolution by natural selection which is seen in contrast with Biblical creationism which is based on christian fundamentalism (hence the legs and feet attached to it). It is often associated with another parody of the ichthys fish known as the Evolve fish which is depicted as having legs, the word evolve written on it and carrying a wrench. (EvoWiki, from Wikipedia)

Darwinian Of or pertaining to natural selection, or Darwin's theory of evolution in general. Sometimnes taken to mean natural selection with gradualist assumptions, although it is now considerd doubtful that Darwin was a uniformitarian to this degree. (modified from W. R. Elsberry - talk.origins)

Darwinism  In 1859 Charles Darwin supplied a mechanism, namely natural selection, that could explain how evolution occurs. Darwin's theory of natural selection helped to convince most people that life has evolved and this point has not been seriously challenged in the past one hundred and forty years. It is important to note that Darwin's book "The Origin of Species by Means of Natural Selection" did two things. It summarized all of the evidence in favor of the idea that all organisms have descended with modification from a common ancestor, and thus built a strong case for evolution. In addition Darwin advocated natural selection as a mechanism of evolution. Biologists no longer question whether evolution has occurred or is occurring. That part of Darwin's book is now considered to be so overwhelmingly demonstrated that is is often referred to as the fact of evolution. However, the mechanism of evolution is still debated.   cf. Modern Synthesis. More (W.J. Hudson).

Decision  Step Seven in the Scientific Method:  The estimate of error and the allowance for error are analyzed, and the hypothesis is either "rejected" or "not rejected"   Please notice that the hypothesis is not 'proven'!  The end result of the process is a theory. A theory is what a hypothesis becomes after it has accumulated supporting experimental data. (W.J. Hudson)

Deism 18th century theology, stemming from the Age of Enlightenment, according to which God, the divine clockmaker, created the universe at the beginning, but did not interfere in any way since. (MAK)

Denialism any psychological attitude that involves denying empirically verifiable historical or scientific facts, in order to avoid facing the uncomfortable truth such evidence or research reveals. Climate Skepticism (which rejects findings of climate science) and Creation Science (which denies evolutionary theory) are probably the two most influentual forms of denialism today. Denialists of one type of denialism need not agree with those of another; e.g. geologist Ian Plimer, a climate denialist and author of the best-selling Heaven and Earth, is also an evolutionist who has vigorously criticised creationists. Denialists may be free thinkers, sincerely concerned about the way established paradigms dominate a particular field of science and unconventional views are rejected. Or they may be deliberate advocates of religious, ideological, or corporate pressure groups or vested interests. (MAK, Wikipedia. Ref: New Scientist - Special report, Age of Denial, 15 May 2010, vol 206, no. 2760 (preview, full view for subscribers))

Disbelief A position which asserts that a proposition is false. This is technically a "positive" position on any matter, and, like belief, must shoulder a burden of proof if it is to be proven. cf. unbelief. (W.J. Hudson)

Dualism the belief or philosophical argument that claims that mind or spirit and matter or physical reality are two fundamentally different and irriducible realities. The standard metaphysical form is substance dualism, argued by Descartes, who claimed that there are two fundamental kinds of substance: mental and material. The mental does not extend in space, and material cannot think. Supernaturalism would constitute another form of dualism, as it places a supernatural reality consisting of God and other religious entities apart from the natural material world. Dualism is now out of favour with contemporary philosophy. Compare theistic evolution. Contrast monism and materialism. Emanation, emergence, and holism represent various alternatives to both Dualism and Monism (MAK, Wikipedia glossary)


Eastern philosophy philosophical and spiritual (as opposed to religious) aspects of Buddhism, Jainism, Hinduism, Taoism, and similar worldviews, which teach the goal of existence is the realisation of the absolute reality. Influential in Transpersonal Psychology and the New Age/New Paradigm, and Integral movements. Assumes endless cycles of existence but accommodates evolution without any problem. Tends to reject creationism and supernaturalism in favour of monism and emanation. See also individual evolution, conscious evolution (MAK)

Empiricism understanding the natural world by means of verifiable observation via the senses and scientific instruments; an essential component of scientific method and naturalism in general. Also refers to a school of 18th century philosophy which argued that knowledge is only derived through the senses, in contrast to rationalism (knowledge can be derived through pure reasoning; e.g. Cartesian realism). Empiricism can be used to argue for both positivist realism and pragmatist neo-kanteanism. In late 20th century systematics, neo-pragmatist radical empiricist methodologies, such as Phenetics and Pattern Cladism, sought to arrive at a perfectly "objective" science (or hypotheses) devoid of any subjectivity, evolutionary narrative, and "intuition"; such attempts fail because any assesment, e.g. weighting, is itself the result of subjective opinion and "intuition" (MAK)

Evolution (Biology) A change in the gene pool of a population over time. The process of evolution can be summarized in three sentences: Genes mutate. Individuals are selected. Populations evolve. (W.J. Hudson) A subset of Evolution (Systems Theory). See also Darwinism, Modern Synthesis .

Evolutionary Theory (or Evolutionary Mechanism Theory) Any one of several theories in biology dealing explicitly with some aspect of evolution or cumulative evolution. Examples include Sewall Wright's "shifting-balance theory", Eldredge and Gould's "punctuated equilibrium theory", the theory of common descent, Darwin's "descent with modification", Henry Fairfield Osborn's "orthogenesis", and "Gene Flow". While "evolutionary theory" is equivalent, the point that mechanisms are proposed and tested in evolutionary mechanism theories is worthy of stress and repetition. Some mechanisms increase genetic variation ( cf. mutation, recombination, gene flow ) and some decrease genetic variation ( cf. natural selection, genetic drift ) (W. R. Elsberry talk.origins via W.J. Hudson)

Evolutionism Conditional acceptance of one or more Evolutionary Theories based upon the overwhelming evidence found for such; philosophy of inevitable development. (W. R. Elsberry - talk.origins). Consititutes an evolutionary narrative, which is accepted by mainstream science but rejected by both radical empiricism and neo-pragmatism. Evolutionism can be naturalistic, acknowledging only natural selection and mutation or rearrangements of genetic material that allowing successive generations of living beings adapted to changing environments, or it can also include teleological factors such as theistic evolution, conscious evolution and/or a pantheistic/panentheistic Godhead. The opposite of Creationism. (MAK)

Experiment Step five in the Scientific Method. The system is manipulated and the results are compared against a control setting and the prediction. (W.J. Hudson)


Fact in science, an observation that has been repeatedly confirmed and for all practical purposes is accepted as "true." Truth in science, however, is never final, and what is accepted as a fact today may be modified or even discarded tomorrow.

Fundamentalism the belief in a literal and inerrant interpretation of the Bible. The term developed in the American Protestant community of the United States in the early part of the 20th century, and that had its roots in the Fundamentalist-Modernist Controversy of that time. It was popularized by a series of books called The Fundamentals, published in 1910 and funded by Milton and Lyman Stewart, referring to those tenets considered fundamental to Christian belief. More recently it has come to be applied to religious extremism and literalist belief in religious scripture in any faith. Almost all Young Earth Creationists are of this persuasion, in contrast to Old Earth Creationists, Theistic Evolutionists,Deists, and Pantheists, who all adopt a more allegorical approach to the Bible. (MAK, Wikipedia)


God the supreme being of supernatural religions (note that Buddhism is an atheistic religion and so does not believe in a supreme deity). In a broader sense, any mystical or ultimate theistic reality (may be personal or impersonal). Contrast with absolute reality, emanation, naturalism (MAK)

Gosse Assertion, The The belief that a creator created the universe and life by fiat, but with the "appearance of age". Rightly rejected by most theologically astute persons as libelous or blasphemous. Gosse was the author of "Omphalos" (navel), where this assertion was given its fullest treatment. (W. R. Elsberry - talk.origins)

Gradualism or Phyletic gradualism evolutionary mechanism theory, based on the premise that evolutionary change takes place through the gradual change of populations and not by the sudden (saltational) production of new individuals that represent a new type. Nnew species evolve through the steady and gradual transformation of the entire population. The standard evolutionary paradigm prior to the early 1970s, as shown by the diagram (right) from Moore, Lalicker, & Fischer 1952. This view is usually attributed to Darwin because of his being influenced by uniformitarian geology by Eldredge and Gould, who instead argued for Punctuated Equilibria. But Richard Dawkins explained that such constant-rate gradualism is not present in the professional literature, thereby the term only serves as a straw-man for punctuated equilibrium advocates. In his book The Blind Watchmaker, Dawkins argues against the idea that Charles Darwin himself was a constant-rate gradualist, as suggested by Niles Eldredge and Stephen Jay Gould- See also comments by John Wilkins and Larry Moran (MAK; W.J. Hudson, Wikipedia)


Holism A non-reductionist descriptive and investigative strategy for generating explanatory principles of whole systems. Attention is focused on the emergent properties of the whole rather than on the reductionist behavior of the isolated parts. The approach typically involves and generates empathetic, experiential, and intuitive understanding, not merely analytic understanding, since by the definition of the approach, these forms are not truly separable. (Wikipedia glossary)

Hypothesis The third step in the scientific method. A tentative statement about the natural world leading to deductions that can be tested, It provides explanatory and predictive power, and is conditionally held on review of further observations and experiment. If the deductions are verified, it becomes more probable that the hypothesis is correct. If the deductions are incorrect, the original hypothesis can be abandoned or modified. Hypotheses can be used to build more complex inferences and explanations. cf. theory. (W. R. Elsberry talk.origins via W.J. Hudson, modified)


Idealism in metaphysics (as opposed to colloquial or political definitions), the premise that the visible, material world of phenomena is secondary to fundamental non-material ideas, plans, archetypes, forms, or consciousness underlying the phenomena we observe in nature. It has been historically influential in 18th and 19th century pre- and non-Darwinian biological and evolutionary thought. See also German Idealism, Naturphilosophie, Teleology. (MAK)

Intelligent Design is the proposition that "certain features of the universe and of living things are best explained by an intelligent cause, not an undirected process such as natural selection." Usually it a form of creationism restated in non-religious terms, retaining the idea of deity while seeking to embrace scientific method. In this form it is a contemporary adaptation of the traditional teleological argument for the existence of God, but one which deliberately avoids specifying the nature or identity of the intelligent designer. Its leading proponents are associated with the Discovery Institute, a politically conservative religious fundamentalist think tank who believe the designer to be the Christian God. There are however other, non-religious, interpretations of Intelligent Design, such as emanation, panspermia, link: consciousness and quantum physics), universal field, and emanation. Link: EvoWiki


"Just so" story Sarcastic term used by some neo-pragmatist critics of empirical realism when describing accounts of the evolution of life. According to pheneticists and many early cladists (especially of the Pattern / Transformed orientation), phylogeny such as is described by evolutionary systematicists has no more validity than a Rudyar Kipling fable of how the elephant got its trunk. While pheneticists and cladists did acknowledge the reality of evolution (unlike creationism for example), they rejected any empirical or literalist interpretations, and argue that all phenetics and cladistics does is characterise and analyse patterns, these patterns may or may not correspond to actual evolution and phylogeny, but even if they do, it is impossible to prove this for certain, still less to analyse the underlying causes that generate these patterns (Eldredge, 1993, p.34). Remarkably similar to certain anti-empirical and anti-realist trends in postmodernist philosophy, such as Derridean deconstruction and Wilfred Sellars "myth of the given". Rightly criticised by Richard Dawkins and others. Note that modern Phylogenetic Systematics (currently the mainstream phylogenetic paradigm) rejects this approach and returns to phylogenetic realism. (MAK)



Law A descriptive generalization about how some aspect of the natural world behaves under stated circumstances.


Macroevolution  Evolution at or above the species level. The boundary between macro- and micro- is fuzzy, as some researchers prefer to include speciation in micro- and others reson that the only macro- process that gives distinctive events is speciation. Speciation events are thus, to many scientists, examples of macroevolution. Another definition is  evolution too imperceptible to be observed within the lifetime of one researcher . (W. R. Elsberry talk.origins via W.J. Hudson) link: Macroevolution Its Definition, Philosophy and History by John Wilkins

Materialism the philosophical view that the only thing that can truly be said to 'exist' is matter; that fundamentally, all things are composed of 'material' and all phenomena are the result of material interactions. (note: matter could include energy or other phenomena known to science, in this context materialism and metaphysical naturalism are synonymous). There are a large number of different schools and interpretations, e.g. dialectical materialism (Marxism), eliminative materialism (consciousness is simply brain functioning and doesn't exist in itself), emergent materialism (just the opposite, mind is an irreducible existent, and the study of mental phenomena is independent of other sciences), reductive materialism, and so on (from Wikipedia glossary)

Meme controversial concept proposed by Richard Dawkins. A meme is a "a unit of cultural inheritance, hypothesized as analogous to the particulate gene and as naturally selected by virtue of its 'phenotypic' consequences on its own survival and replication in the cultural environment." A meme can be an idea, skill, story, or custom, which is passed from one person to another by imitation or teaching. Some theorists argue that memes are the cultural equivalent of genes, and reproduce, mutate, are selected, and evolve in a similar way. The study of memes is called memetics. (Mavericks of the Mind; PBS evolution Glossary)

Metaphysics branch of philosophy concerned with explaining the nature of being and the world, and which seeks to clarify the fundamental questions of nature of existence, including existence, properties, space, time, causality, and the nature of being (ontology), God (theology), consciousness, the Mind-Body problem, and the nature of the universe (cosmology).

Microevolution  Evolution within the species level, or a change in allele frequency in a population over time. Note that this connotation is equivalent to evolution. All "Scientific Creationists" so far admit that microevolution is observed. Some Theistic Anti-Evolutionists may not. (W. R. Elsberry talk.origins via W.J. Hudson)

Mind-Body problem branch of metaphysics that deals with the relationship between consciousness and the body, more specifically with the brain and nervous system. Generally, reductionistic, materialistic, and naturalistic worldviews and methodologies support the reduction of the former to the latter, citing developments in neuroscience, neurotheology and cognitive science, whereas idealistic and dualistic philosophies, tend to be sceptical in considering that scientific methodologies can deliver the complete picture. According to mind-body philosopher David Chalmers, such approaches do not deal with the "hard problem" of how objective physiological impulses are transformed into subjective qualia (elements of consciousness). (MAK)

Missing link see Non-missing link

Modern Synthesis theory of evolution, representing the synthesis of Mendelian inheritence and Darwinian natural selection, and moving the emphasis from individual organisms to genes, phenotypes, and populations. Essentially proposes that macroevolution is only quantatively, but not qualitatively, different from microevolution.

Monism philosophical premise which holds that there is ultimately only type of substance in the universe, or alternatively that reality is ultimately unitary. Some of the (sometimes overlapping) variants include Nonduality, an eastern philosophy which says that reality is ineffable, and all that can be said is that it is not dualistic; Pantheism asserts that everything is God; phenomenalism, or mentalistic monism (and Idealism in part), which holds that only mind or spirit is real; Neutral monism, which holds that both the mental and the physical can be reduced to some sort of third substance, or energy; and Physicalism or materialism, which holds that only the physical is real, and that the mental or spiritual can be reduced to the physical. Contrast with dualism. (MAK, Wikipedia)


Natural selection The differential reproduction and, thereby, transmission of alleles between generations, of individuals in a population, due to heritable variation in a trait or traits which they possess. This is one mechanism by which evolution can occur. (W. R. Elsberry talk.origins via W.J. Hudson). Conceived independently and then jointly published by Darwin and Wallace, and substantially elaborated upon in the early part of the twentieth century with the rediscovery of Mendelian genetics and then advances in population genetics (Kutschera & Niklas 2004, p.256)

Naturalism any of several philosophical stances, typically those descended from materialism and pragmatism, that do not distinguish the supernatural (including strange entities like non-natural values, and universals as they are commonly conceived) from nature. Naturalism does not necessarily claim that phenomena or hypotheses commonly labeled as supernatural do not exist or are wrong (in fact it remains agnostic about non-physical things), but insists that all phenomena and hypotheses can be studied by the same methods and therefore anything considered supernatural is either nonexistent, unknowable, or not inherently different from natural phenomena or hypotheses. (Wikipedia glossary). Naturalism is the methodology of science, as opposed to philosophy, religion, idealism, etc. Naturalistic (theories of) evolution explain biological evolution without requiring supernatural or teleological factors. Can however tend to Metaphysical naturalism (and thus rejection of theism and theistic evolution), as championed by British evolutionary biologist Richard Dawkins This is the belief that nothing exists but objects, forces, and causes of the kind studied by the natural sciences, and that consciousness, mind, etc can be reduced to physical causes. A metaphysical, rather than a scientific, premise that rejects the existence of supernatural entities (including spirits and souls, non-natural values, and universals as they are commonly conceived) as well as any form of teleology. In practice, metaphysical naturalism tends to reduce to the more specific ontological view of scientific naturalism (scientism), according to which reality consists only of what the concepts of the natural sciences (and especially physics) investigate. Physicalism, reductionism, and atheism are similar and often (putting aside philosophical hair-splitting) synonymous. MAK

Neo-Darwinism Originallky referred to the incorporation of Weismann's ideas on heredity into Darwin's theory of natural selection. Now, a synonym for Modern Synthesis, or even any modern approach to evolutionary theory

Neo-Kantean sceptical approach to empiricism, derived from the German Transcendental idealist philosopher Immanuel Kant. Reacting to the excessively naive realism of the French rationalist philosopher Descartes (who, following a thought experiment (the original "brain in the vat" experiment) rejected radical doubt and argued not only for the existence of the material world of spatial extension, but also the God of his religion) Kant denied that it was possible to know anything about reality in itself (noumena), all one could know, he argued, are the subjective phenomena we experience. Kant's hyper-agnostic worldview became lmost influential following the decline of Hegellian metaphysics, and as a reaction to the excessive logical positivism and empiricism of the early 20th century. Neo-Kantean idealism is central to the pluralistic and anti-foundationalist worldview of some representatives of pragmatist and "postmodernist" philosophy. Especially influential here is Wilfred Sellar's Neo-Kantean critique of empiricism (Sellars, 1956/1997), which is both a development of positivism and a rejection of naturalistic realism (so these two tendencies need not be opposed), denies the positivist premise that empirical methodology describes a real world "out there" (Sellars refers to the belief in a pre-given objective reality as the "myth of the given"). Instead, all that science, or philosophy, can do, is examine the linguistic and socio-cultural premises behind such beliefs, or test empirical evidence as hypothetical or historical reconstructions, or as patterns or diagrams thrown up by various methodologies which do not provide proof or factual representation of the objective world. In evolutionary science, examples of neo-kantean theorising can be found in phenetics and Pattern cladism (see "just so" story); ironically these are methodologies that tried to totally eliminate subjectivism in favour of extreme empiricism, and hence one would expect them to be the opposite of postmodernism. More recently, philosopher of science Karl Popper however has refuted such arguments as examples of the "myth of the framework (the belief that socio-cultural factors determine everything we can know about reality). (MAK)

Neuroscience, Neurobiology a branch of cognitive science, scientific study of the nervous system. Traditionally, neuroscience has been seen as a branch of biology. However, it is currently an interdisciplinary science that collaborates with other fields such as chemistry, computer science, engineering, mathematics, medicine, philosophy, physics, and psychology. The term neurobiology is usually used interchangeably with the term neuroscience, although the former refers specifically to the biology of the nervous system, whereas the latter refers to the entire science of the nervous system (Wikipedia). See also, paleoneurobiology

Neurotheology branch of Neuroscience, involves the study of correlations of neural phenomena with subjective experiences of spirituality and non-ordinary and mystical states of consciousness, and hypotheses to explain these phenomena. Proponents of neurotheology say there is a neurological and evolutionary basis for subjective experiences traditionally categorized as spiritual or religious. (Wikipedia).

New Age Describes a broad movement of late twentieth century and contemporary Western culture characterised by an individual eclectic approach to spiritual exploration. It has some attributes of a new, emerging religion but is currently a loose network of spiritual seekers, teachers, healers and other participants. The name "New Age" also refers to the market segment in which goods and services are sold to people in the movement. (Wikipedia). New Age teachings tend to reject both materialism and creationist literal religion on the other, and favour holism, non-religious intelligent design, pantheism, and spiritual evolution. New Paradigm refers to a somewhat more intellectual rigorous approach to these themes, drawing from transpersonal psychology, systems theory, and other fields, the term itself is based on an appropriation of Thomas Kuhn's paradigm theory. "New Paradigm" is rarely used nowadays. Another, more recent, term is New Consciousness. Despite the eastern elements, New Paradigm and New Consciousness are based on popularist science (holographic universe, Gaia theory, etc) that seeks justification in scientific naturalism. Have a friendly approach to Darwinian-derived evolutionary theory and empirical/positivist realism, rejecting only excessive reductionism and metaphysical naturalism. Considered pseudoscience by many scientists and sceptics. See also Universe Story, Integral Theory. (MAK)

Non-missing link Although creationists often claim that no transitional forms are known in the fossil record, in fact the reverse is the case. (see Link). As it would be oxymoronic to refer to these intermediate species by their popular moniker as "missing link" (e.g. link link) I have coined the informal term "non-missing link". See also anagenesis, ancestor, common ancestor, basal taxon, stem group. Note that even though, in view of the vagaries of the fossil record, the non-missing link may not necessarily be the actual, literal, common ancestor of all later species in that lineage (although in some cases where stratigraphic preservation is very good it might), but it would certainly be a closely related form (MAK)

Non-overlapping magisteria is the view advocated by Stephen Jay Gould as the solution to the supposed conflict between science and religion. His idea of Non-Overlapping Magisteria (NOMA) states that science and religion are compatible and each magistrate(or layer) occupies a separate realm of human understanding. Essentially, this is an appeal to the separation of Church and State; or in this instance Church and Science. Gould's position here has been criticised on a number of grounds by Richard Dawkins (see Wikipedia link for more) who argues instead for the atheistic position. Compare with Clergy Letter Project as similarily supporting the non-conflict between science and religion. Contrast with integral theory, pantheism, and Teilhard de Chardin as examples of unified framework integrating science and religion in a single undividivded worldview (rather than two distinct magisteria). (MAK, Wikipedia, EvoWiki)


Observation  This is the first step in the scientific method. The scientific method is founded upon direct observation of the world around us. A scientist looks critically and attempts to avoid all sources of bias in this observation. But more than looking, a scientist measures to quantify the observations; this helps in avoiding bias. (W.J. Hudson)

Old Earth creationism Old Earth creationism holds that the physical universe was created by God, but that the creation event of Genesis is not to be taken strictly literally. This group generally believes that the age of the Universe and the age of the Earth are as described by astronomers and geologists, but that details of the evolutionary theory are questionable. Old Earth creationists interpret the Genesis creation narrative in a number of ways, that each differ from the six, consecutive, 24-hour day creation of the Young Earth Creationist view. Gap creationism, Day-Age Creationism, and Progressive creationism are related or variant forms.


Panspermia the hypothesis that life did not originate on Earth but was seeded from elsewhere in the universe. There are several forms:

Directed and Ancient Astronaut Panspermia are clearly variations on the Intelligent Design approach which attempt to circumvent supernatural explanations. The problem with panspermia though, even naturalistic interpretations, is that it still doesn't explain how life appeared in the first place. Even if life or intelligence didn't evolve first on Earth, it still had to evolve somewhere else in the universe. Links: Panspermia (large web site, naturalistic approach); Problems with Panspermia or Extraterrestrial Origin of Life Scenarios

Pantheism, Panentheism Pantheism is a form of monism that asserts that God is the same as the cosmos, and vice versa. Hence divine laws and natural laws are the same. Einstein famously advocated this position; he was inspired by the philosophy of Spinoza. Pantheism allows both science and spirituality and metaphysics to co-exist. Also popular in the New Age movement. Panentheism is similar except that it asserts that God is not only the same as the cosmos and everything in it (pantheism), but also transcends the cosmos. Panentheism tends to be preferred by mystics, amd ties in also with emanation. (MAK)

Paradigm as defined by historian of science Thomas Kuhn as the set of practices that define a scientific discipline at any particular period of time. In his landmark book in The Structure of Scientific Revolutions, Kuhn defines a scientific paradigm as:

Within normal science, the paradigm is the set of exemplary experiments that are likely to be copied or emulated. In this scientific context, the prevailing paradigm often represents a more specific way of viewing reality, or limitations on acceptable programs for future research, than the more general scientific method.

When one paradigm is replaced or overthrown by another, that is called a Paradigm Shift. Kuhn considered that transition from one paradigm to another via revolution is the usual developmental pattern of mature science. Hence paradigm shifts tend to be most dramatic in sciences that appear to be stable and mature, as in physics, where around the turn of the 20th century, classical netwonian physics was replaced by relativity and quantum mechanics. The mid-19th century transition from a more static biology to a Darwinian-derived evolutionary one would be another example. Evolutionary Theory itself underwent a number of paradigm shifts, such as Darwinism, Neo-Darwinism, Modern Synthesis, and now more recent ideas incorporating molecular phylogeny, evo-devo, cladistics, systems theory, and so on. In terms of mapping out the history of life there was a qute dramatic paradigm shift in the 1980s, from evolutionary systematics to phylogenetic systematics (two other paradigms, phenetics and pattern cladistics, played a much more minor role), more recently there has been a further shift from morphology based cladistics to molecular phylogeny

Advocates of specific paradigms tend to be feircely passionate about their own preferred paradigm, extolling its strengths and virtues and minimising its weaknesses, while at the same time being uncompromisingly critical, dismissing, and ridiculing their oponents' paradigms. In this way, a paradigm becomes like a religion or a political ideology, something that may indeed have good qualities, but which is held to with irrational fervour. In the current iteration of Palaeos I have tried to balance and include many paradigms, not just dominant ones, while acknowledging that inevitavbly, whatever paradigms are used will be supplemanted or supplanted in the future by paradigms which we have no conception of now, and even if we did, would probably not believe. (Wikipedia, MAK )

Parsimony Also known as Occam's Razor (after the medieval theologian William of Ockham (c. 1285–1349), who rejected the idea of universals) is the principle that recommends when choosing between two competing hypotheses, that the simplest explanation of the evidence or observation is to be preferred, when the hypotheses are equal in other respects

Philosophy of biology subfield of philosophy of science, which deals with epistemological, metaphysical, and ethical issues in the biological and biomedical sciences. Although philosophers of science and philosophers generally have long been interested in biology (e.g., Aristotle, Descartes, and even Kant), philosophy of biology only emerged as an independent field of philosophy in the 1960s and 1970s. Philosophers of science then began paying increasing attention to biology, from the rise of Neodarwinism in the 1930s and 1940s to the discovery of the structure of DNA in 1953 to more recent advances in genetic engineering. Other key ideas include the reduction of all life processes to biochemical reactions, and the incorporation of psychology into a broader neuroscience. (Wikipedia)

Piltdown Man famous 1912 hoax of early fossil man, consiting of a human skull, ape jaw, and filed down teeth. Had a significant detrimental impact on early research on human evolution: discoveries of Australopithecine fossils found in the 1920s in South Africa were ignored and instead the popular (but erroneous) theory argued that the human brain expanded in size before the jaw adapted to new types of food. rather than the reverse. Definitively exposed as a forgery by scientists back in 1953 (MAK, Wikipedia)

Platonism the school of philosophy founded by Plato. Often used to refer to Platonic idealism, the belief that the entities of the phenomenal world are imperfect reflections of an ideal truth. In metaphysics sometimes used to mean the claim that universals exist independent of particulars. Quite distinct from Aristotleanism, with its more naturalist approach. The synthesis of Platonism, Aristotelianism, and Stoicism culminated in Neoplatonism was a school of philosophy that took shape in the 3rd century c.e. under Plotinus. The school was characterized by a systematization of Platonic metaphysics along with a pursuit of mystical union with the divine. Platonic, Aristotelian, and Neoplatonic ideas led to the Great Chain of Being, and ideas like teleology (Aristotle) and archetypes (Plato, Neoplatonism), which remained influential well into the 19th century. (MAK, Wikipedia glossary)

Positivism philosophical position that the only authentic knowledge is scientific knowledge (see naturalism). It is an approach to the philosophy of science, deriving from Enlightenment thinkers like Pierre-Simon Laplace and Auguste Compte. Logical positivism is a school of philosophy that combines empiricism - the idea that observational evidence is indispensable for knowledge of the world - with a version of rationalism incorporating mathematical and logico-linguistic constructs and deductions in epistemology. It grew from the discussions of a group of philosophers called the "Vienna Circle" which gathered at the Café Central, a coffeehouse in Vienna frequented by intellectuals, in the years immediately preceeding and following World War I. (MAK, Wikipedia glossary)

Preformation - click for larger image


drawn by N. Hartsoecker in 1695

Pragmatism American philosophical tradition centered around the linking of practice and theory. It describes a process where theory is extracted from practice, and applied back to practice to form what is called intelligent practice. Important positions characteristic of pragmatism include instrumentalism (the view that a scientific theory is a useful instrument in understanding the world, and should be evaluated by how effectively it explains and predicts phenomena, not how accurately it describes objective reality as such), radical empiricism, verificationism, conceptual relativity and a denial of the fact-value distinction (overlaps with postmodernism), a high regard for science, and fallibilism (the philosophical principle that human beings could be wrong about their beliefs, expectations, or their understanding of the world; the position of the natural sciences. Originally established by Charles Sanders Peirce, and further developed by William James, John Dewey and George Santayana. W. V. O. Quine and Wilfrid Sellars used a revised pragmatism to criticize logical positivism in the 1960s. Another brand of pragmatism, known sometimes as neopragmatism, gained influence through Richard Rorty, the most influential of the late 20th-century pragmatists (Wikipedia) However I would also use neo-pragmatism to include any anti-realist and radical empiricist approach, in contrast to the less nihilistic pragmatism of Pierce and James. (MAK)

Prediction  Step four in the scientific method. The prediction is a formal way to put a hypothesis to a test. If you have carefully designed your hypothesis to be sure it is falsifiable, then you know precisely what to predict. The prediction has three parts: 1. If my hypothesis is true...  2. Then _____ should happen ... 3. When _____ is manipulated. The manipulation is what you knew would likely falsify your hypothesis. (W.J. Hudson)

Preformationism historical and obsolete 17th and 18th century scientific theory that all living beings were created at the same time, and that succeeding generations grow from homunculi, animalcules, or other fully formed but miniature versions of themselves that have existed since the beginning of creation. Hence the entire human race, down to the last individuals prior to the Day of Judgment, pre-exist in the ovaries of Eve, or the testes of Adam, depending on where one locates the miniature homunculi. Although Preformationism sounds (and is) ridiculous to us todauy, it made sense to the logic of pre-evolutionary Christendom, according to which the entire lifespan of the universe from beginning to end would be no more than six or seven thousand years. Moreover, after the invention of the microscope and the discovery of microscopic organisms, but before modern cell theory, there was no reason not to assume that "big fleas have little fleas to bite 'em", and so on ad infinitum. (MAK) Link: Each Sperm Cell has a Fully Formed Human Waiting Inside.

Proposition A statement which can be either true or false, as opposed to interrogative, exclamatory, or imperative sentences. See also: belief, unbelief, disbelief. ( W.J. Hudson)

Punctuated Equilibria, Punctuated evolution evolutionary theory that argues that new species evolve suddenly and in geographically isolated areas. Hence speciation is rarely found in the fossil record, because established, populous and widespread species (the sort that are most likely simply through greater numbers to leave fossil remains) usually change slowly, if at all, during their time of residence. See punctuated equilibria FAQ on the talk.origins archive site. (W. R. Elsberry talk.origins via W.J. Hudson, modified).


Question The second step in the scientific method is to formulate a question. The question must be answerable. "Why am I here?" is not a question that is answerable by science; it is, to use the colloquialism: "metaphysics rather than physics". (W.J. Hudson, modified)

Quote mining. The intellectually dishonest art of deliberately selection of quotes, normally out of context, to refute the original author's point. This tactic is widely used among Young Earth Creationists to attempt to discredit evolution. Quote mining - RationalWiki


Random Unpredictable in some way. Mutations are "random" in the sense that the sort of mutation that occurs cannot generally be predicted based upon the needs of the organism. However, this does not imply that all mutations are equally likely to occur or that mutations happen without any physical cause. Indeed, some regions of the genome are more likely to sustain mutations than others, and various physical causes (e.g., radiation) are known to cause particular types of mutations. (UCMP Understanding Evolution Glossary)

Realism philosophical premise that reality ontologically independent of individual conception, perception, etc. Objects have certain properties regardless of any thought to the contrary. As pertains to a scientific or contemporary philosophical understanding of the world, a distinction can be made between naïve realism, the common view of the world including the claims that it is as it is perceived, that objects have the properties attributed to them, and that they maintain these properties when not being perceived, and critical realism, the view that certain types of sense data accurately represent a mind-independent reality while other types do not, for example the primary/secondary quality distinction. Naïve realism is now universally rejected, whereas critical realism represents the current accepted paradigm. Contrast with pragmatism. (MAK, Wikipedia glossary).

Reductionism in Philosophy, a number of related, contentious theories that hold, very roughly, that the nature of complex things can always be reduced to (be explained by) simpler or more fundamental things. This is said of objects, phenomena, explanations, theories, and meanings. In short, it is philosophical materialism taken to its logical consequences. Ontological reductionism is the idea that everything that exists is made from a small number of basic substances that behave in regular ways. Compare to monism, contrast with holism, emergence. Methodological reductionism: the idea that explanations of things, such as scientific explanations, ought to be continually reduced to the very simplest entities possible (but no simpler). Occam's Razor forms the basis of this type of reductionism. Compare with scepticism. Scientific reductionism: has been used to describe all of the above ideas as they relate to science, but is most often used to describe the idea that all phenomena can be reduced to scientific explanations. Also known as Scientism. Compare with naturalism and materialism, contrast with idealism. (from Wikipedia glossary). In Systems Theory, one kind of scientific orientation that seeks to understand phenomena by a) breaking them down into their smallest possible parts: a process known as analytic reductionism, or conversely b) conflating them to a one-dimensional totality: a process known as holistic reductionism. (Wikipedia glossary).


Scepticism generally refers to any questioning attitude of knowledge, facts, opinions, or beliefs stated as facts, or doubt regarding claims that are taken for granted elsewhere. A sceptical attitude is central to scientific method (MAK, Wikipedia)

Scala Naturae "Natural ladder", is a sort of proto-taxonomy first developed by Aristotle, according to which the natural world can be arranged in a single linear series from inanimate matter through plants, invertebrates, higher vertebrates, and finally man. Along with Plato's Principle of Plenitude it led to the idea of the Great chain of being. Scala Naturae and Great Chain of Being remained central ideas in natural philosophy until the mid 19th century.

Scientific Creationism  The belief that scientific evidence supports the literal factuality of the first eleven or so chapters of the book of Genesis in the bible, in contradiction to evolutionary mechanism theories. This is derived from early sources of the term; later ones try to dissociate  "scientific creationism" from "biblical creationism" by the expedient course of not actually mentioning the Bible when discussing "scientific creationism".  "Scientific Creationists" are distinguished by two features from the theistic anti-evolutionists:  "Scientific Creationism" is associated only with literal inerrantist interpretations of Genesis, and "scientific creationists" take a proactive stance on pushing their conjectures into secondary school science classrooms as science alongside or in replacement of evolutionary mechanism theories. (W. R. Elsberry talk.origins via W.J. Hudson) As with other forms of denialism, claim their own approach is more scientific than that of the consensus scientific or academic community. See also creationism (MAK)

Scientific Method  Science can be defined as "a methodical approach to the acquisition of knowledge." This distinguishes how a scientist works from how other people learn about the world. Science is an approach that is methodical, and that approach helps acquire knowledge. Science is not the knowledge gained through the approach. Knowledge can be gained through a variety of ways, but science acquires knowledge methodically. The scientific method can be described as having seven steps: 1. Observation;  2. Question;  3. Hypothesis;  4. Prediction;  5. Experiment;  6. Analysis;  7. Decision. The end result of the scientific method is either a rejected hypothesis, or a supported hypothesis. A hypothesis that has gathered enough supporting observations and experimental results is a theory. (W.J. Hudson)

Separate creation The theory that species, or higher taxa of an indeterminate rank, have separate origins (being created by God as separate and distinct "kinds"), there is no evolutionary relationship between them, and they never change after their origin, or only change at the microevolutionary level. A central premise of creationism, which was falling out of favour even before Darwin (see Naturphilosophie and Lamarck) (MAK)

Social Darwinism a 19th century political philosophy which attempted to explain differences in social status (particularly class and racial differences) on the basis of evolutionary fitness. Based on the misinterpretation of Darwinian theory, Social Darwinism is generally considered unscientific by modern philosophers of science. (Wikipedia glossary)

Sociobiology scientific study based on the assumption that social behavior has resulted from and attempts to explain and examine social behavior within an evolutionary that context. Often considered a branch of biology and sociology, it also draws from ethology, anthropology, evolution, zoology, archaeology, population genetics, and other disciplines. Sociobiology investigates social behaviors, such as mating patterns, territorial fights, pack hunting, and the hive society of social insects. It argues that just as selection pressure led to animals evolving useful ways of interacting with the natural environment, it led to the genetic evolution of advantageous social behavior. Popularised in 1975 with the publication of Edward O. Wilson's book, Sociobiology: The New Synthesis. The new field quickly became the subject of heated controversy. Criticism, most notably made by Richard Lewontin and Stephen Jay Gould, centered on sociobiology's contention that genes play an ultimate role in human behavior and that traits such as aggressiveness can be explained by biology rather than a person's social environment. Sociobiologists generally responded to the criticism by pointing to the complex relationship between nature and nurture. In response to some of the potentially fractious implications sociobiology had on human biodiversity, anthropologist John Tooby and psychologist Leda Cosmides founded the field evolutionary psychology. (Wikipedia)

Spirituality broadly defined, the inner impetus to transcendence, and appreciation of a greater reality beyond the individual ego. Religionists and idealists associate it with transcendent reality, whereas naturalists may seek to explain it in terms of Neurotheology and Neuroscience. Spirituality can also be distinguished from normative (institutional) religion; for example Einstein's pantheistic "sense of wonder" at the universe is an example of spirituality that is not religious (because he rejects a supernatural God) but naturalistic. In contrast to some (more literalist) forms of religion, a strong sense of spirituality does not require a rejection of empirical science, as their is nothing in the findings or methods of science or naturalistic evolution that conflicts with spirituality. (MAK)

Supernatural, Supra-physical over and apart from the natural or physical world, and hence tending to imply a dualistic worldview. May refer to theological ideas (God, souls, etc) or pop-culture (vampires, ghosts etc). Generally tends to imply incomprehensibility, fantastical elements, and tital non-connection with the material world. For all these reasons an alternative and less religious term like Supra-physical would be preferable. This is the premise, advocated by most mystical, esotericist, and occult philosophies and teachings, that there exist realities that cannot be defined in terms of, or reduced to material or natural causes. In contrast to the "supernatural", with its fantastical and illogical aspects, supra-physical realities are considered to relate to the external or material universe in a knowable and meaningful way, the whole forming a unified cosmology. See also archetype, emanation, idealism, teleology. Some metaphysical philosophies, such as Theosophy, have attempted to integrate supra-physical and evolutionary ideas. (MAK) the less sensationalist term supra-physical is preferable (MAK).

System a set of interacting or interdependent system components forming an integrated whole. The scientific research field which is engaged in the study of the general properties of systems include systems theory, cybernetics, dynamical systems, thermodynamics and complex systems. They investigate the abstract properties of the matter and organization, searching concepts and principles which are independent of the specific domain, substance, type, or temporal scales of existence. Most systems share common characteristics, including:


Systems theory the transdisciplinary study of systems in general, with the goal of elucidating principles that can be applied to all types of systems in all fields of research. The term does not yet have a well-established, precise meaning, but systems theory can reasonably be considered a specialization of systems thinking and a generalization of systems science. The term originates from Ludwig von Bertalanffy's General System Theory (GST). In this context the word "systems" is used to refer specifically to self-regulating systems, i.e. that are self-correcting through feedback. Self-regulating systems are found in nature, including the physiological systems of our body, in local and global ecosystems, and in climate. See also complex system, emergence. (Wikipedia)


TalkOrigins Archive website that presents a comprehesive scientific critique of claims by young-earth, old-earth, and intelligent design creationists, and useful introduction to various evolution science topics. Uses material from the talk.origins newsgroup, collected by Brett J. Vickers in 1994 and posted as a website in 1995. Still the most comprehensive and easily accessible anti-creationism website around. Some of the material in this glossary is originally from TalkOrigins (MAK) Website

Teleology the philosophical supposition that there is design, purpose, directive principle, or final causes in the works and processes of nature, and therefore that either design and purpose analogous to that found in human actions are inherent also in the rest of nature, or that evolution is being pulled to a final goal or consumation. Teleology was explored by Plato and especially Aristotle, by Saint Anselm, and Immanuel Kant (Critique of Judgment). Philosophers and thinkers like Hegel, Marx and Engels, Henri Bergson (Creative Evolution), Teilhard de Chardin (evolutionary theology), and Ken Wilber (Integral Theory), are among the many who have in different ways have advocated a teleological theory of evolution. Both philosophical naturalism and teleology investigate the existence or non-existence of an organizing principle behind those natural laws and phenomena investigated by science. Philosophical naturalism asserts that there are no such principles, whereas teleology asserts that there are (see archetype, vitalism). Teleology is rejected by both metaphysical naturalism (e.g. Richard Dawkins), neo-pragmatism, and postmodern philosophy (as an example of a "grand narrative"). (MAK, and Wikipedia glossary)

Theism Refers to the position of belief in a God or gods. Some more  narrowly-construed versions of belief in God include: monotheism (belief in one God), polytheism (belief in many gods), pantheism (belief that God is everything), and deism (belief in a God which created the universe, but does not "interfere" with it).  contrast with atheism, agnosticism (W. R. Elsberry talk.origins via W.J. Hudson, modified)

Theistic Anti-Evolutionist Any person who expresses opposition to evolutionary mechanism theories when motivated by religious doctrine, as contrasted with those who propose alternative hypotheses and theories within the framework of the scientific method. The  theistic anti-evolutionist  tends to confuse evolution and evolutionary mechanism theories, which typically results in the theistic anti-evolutionist making specific criticisms of a particular evolutionary mechanism theory while asserting that all evolutionary mechanism theories are affected. (W. R. Elsberry talk.origins via W.J. Hudson). Basically synonymous with Creationism

Theistic evolution the view that some or all classical religious teachings about God and creation are compatible with some or all of modern scientific theory, including, specifically, evolution. It generally views evolution as a tool used by a creator god, who is both the first cause and immanent sustainer/upholder of the universe; it is therefore well accepted by people of strong theistic (as opposed to deistic) convictions. Most adherents consider that the first chapters of Genesis should not be interpreted as a "literal" description, but rather as a literary framework or allegory. Theistic evolutionists have frequently been prominent in opposing creationism

There is a continuum between theistic evolution (sensu stricta) and evolutionary creationism, the belief that things evolve but that God intervenes and directs evolution towards a goal (i.e. Humanity). The term deistic evolution has also been proposed to describe the model in which God started creation, but do not interfere in any way. Famous theistic evolutionists included Asa Gray, Darwin's correspondent, and Henry Drummond, whose Ascent of Man was a popular apologetic work of the 1890s. An alternative, non-supernaturalist approach is evolutionary pan(en)theism (e.g. Teilhard de Chardin) (MAK, Wikipedia, EvoWiki)

Theory  In science, a well-substantiated explanation of some aspect of the natural world that can incorporate facts, laws, inferences, and tested hypotheses. It proposes a natural mechanism for a phenomenon, where the mechanism is amenable to test, provides explanatory and predictive power, is conditionally held on review of further observations and experiment, and has accumulated supporting observations and experimental results. cf. hypothesis, scientific method. (W. R. Elsberry talk.origins via W.J. Hudson)

Theosophy 19th century occult philosophy and cosmology which describes planes of being and the evolution of consciousness, and attempted to integrate these with Victorian evolutionism and popular Darwinism and deep time (via a convergence of 19th century geology and the cyclic cosmology of eastern philosophy. Advocates an emantionist worldview, rejects creationism and the idea of a supernatural God. Hugely influential on the modern New Age movement. Some theosophists have attempted to reconcile the theory of root races and lost continents with 20th century scientific discoveries of earth evolution and continental drift (so, for example, Lemuria becomes Gondwana). (MAK)

Transitional form, or transitional fossil A fossil or group of organisms that are intermediate and a link between a more primitive or ancestral group and a more advanced or specialised one, possessing characteristics or traits of both (see Mosaic evolution). Generally any evolutionary lineage constitutes a series of transitional forms; for example in the evolution of birds from dinosaurs, or whales from terrestrial ancestors, there are a number of intermediate forms or non-missing links.An important aspect of evolutionary systematics, see also anagenesis. Note that strict application of cladistics rejects the possibility of identifying transitional forms (it dossn't deny the reality of evolution of course, just that it is possible to know for sure which fossils represent transitional forms) (Paraphyly Watch blog - Transitional Fossils, Microbes & Patrocladistics). An alternative approach (given in Wikipedia) would be to make a distinction between "transitional" and "intermediate". Transitional forms do not have a significant number of unique derived traits, so it is morphologically close to the actual common ancestor it shares with its more derived relative (see also basal taxon and stem group). Intermediate can be used for those forms with a larger number of uniquely derived traits. According to this definition, Archaeopteryx is transitional whereas the platypus (an specialised egg laying mammal, decsended from very primitive mammals) is intermediate. But rather than multiply terminology, it would be better to retain intermediate in the informal but more grammatically correct sense of meaning the same as "transitional". Some intermediate/transitional forms linking major groups of vertebrates include the fish/amphibian sequence from Eusthenopteron (fish) to Panderichthys to Tiktaalik to Acanthostega to fully developed amphibians (Devonian period), transitional reptile/mammal forms such as the cynodont Thrinaxodon and other mammal-like reptiles that show a blend of mammalian and reptilian characteristics (Triassic), Velociraptor and relatives, and even more so Microraptor, a four-winged gliding dromaeosaurid, and even more advanced forms such as Anchiornis and Scansoriopteryx, representing an intermediate stage between the flightless theropods and primitive birds such as Archaeopteryx (Jurassic); Pezosiren, an intermediate form of a primitive seacow with both terrestrial (land mammal) and aquatic adaptations (Eocene); Pakicetus, Ambulocetus, Rodhocetus and similar forms constitute links between amphibious and terrestrial artiodacyl (even-toed) ungulates and aquatic whales (Eocene); and Sahelanthropus, indicating it is close to the common ancestor of chimpanzees and modern humans) the most basal ape-like African hominid. mosaic of primitive (chimpanzee-like) and derived hominid features (Miocene) See Transitional vertebrate fossils FAQ, at the TalkOrigins Archive, and Wikipedia - List of transitional fossils for a much more detailed lists. (MAK; Kutschera & Niklas 2004, p.259).

Two Cultures (C.P. Snow) The Two Cultures is the title of an influential 1959 Rede Lecture by British scientist and novelist C. P. Snow. Its thesis was that the breakdown of communication between the "two cultures" of modern society — the sciences and the humanities — was a major hindrance to solving the world's problems. As a trained scientist who was also a successful novelist, Snow was well placed to articulate this thesis. (from Wikipedia). In my studies of evolutionary science on the one hand, and philosophy and metaphysics on the other, it seems to me that these two fields (and sciences and humanities in general) represent not just two radically different forms of academic study and methodology, but totally different way of thinking and interpreting and understanding the world. Science is concerned with facts, humanities with meaning. Two very different attempts to intregrate the two in a larger framework are Conscilience and Integral Theory. (MAK)


Unbelief The position of not believing a proposition. This is distinct from disbelief in that it does not assert that the proposition is false; rather, it merely states that there is no good reason to assert that it is true or false. Unbelief is, in essence, a position of suspension of judgment on a matter, and as such does not bear any burden of proof.  cf. belief (W.J. Hudson)

Uniformitarianism Assumption that processes acting in the past are the same as those acting in the present. proposed the late 18th century theory of James Hutton that the natural forces now changing the shape of the earth's surface have been operating in the past much in the same way. The most important implication is that the earth is very old (deep time) and that the present is the key to understanding the past. Developed by Charles Lyell in the 19th century, who in turn influenced Darwin. Contrast with catastrophism, punctuated equilibrium.

Universe Story understanding of the emergent evolution of the universe and life and intelligence as not simply a quantitative fact but a sacred or meaningful story (and alternative to the supernaturalism of traditional mythic-literalist religion), proposed by ecotheologian Thomas Berry and cosmologist Brian Swimme, both influenced by Teilhard de Chardin but rejecting the excessive anthropocentrism of the latter's writings. See also big history, deep time, pantheism


Vitalism metaphysical doctrine common to most cultures that explains life by means of a non-material but organisational vital principle, such as ch'i, prana, entelechy, élan vital, etc. In classical times, physicians and healers such as Galen used this to explain the functioning of the human body. Dualists associate the vital principle with the "soul", whereas emanationist, occultist, and theosophical metaphysics tends to postulate a series of gross and subtle bodies, levels of self, or "vehicles of consciousness", in which case the vital principle is the body or self level immediately beyond or behind the physical, or intermediate between body and soul, or body and mind. Vitalism was influential and respected alternative to mechanism during the 18th and 19th centuries, and can also be fo8und in the popular "animal magnetism" theories of Franz Anton Mesmer. It was also important in the thinking of later teleologists such as Hans Driesch, where it was associated with anti-Darwinism; as Darwin's theory of evolution denied the existence of any cosmic teleology, the vitalists saw Darwin's theories as too materialistic to explain the complexity of life. The demise of vitalism was brought about by increasing advances in empirical science and evolutionary and developmental theories. However, the vitalistic worldview reappeared with New Age/New Paradigm/New Consciousness movement with its emphasis on new approaches such as holism , organicism, and emergent evolution, and the rising popularity of alternative or complementary medicine. Compare with Idealism. (Wikipedia)




Young Earth creationism the belief that the Earth along with the entire cosmos was created by God within the last 10,000 years, or even 6000 or so years ago (for example the Jewish calender and the Ussher chronology) as described literally in Genesis, within the approximate timeframe of biblical genealogies. Generally Young Earth Creationists interpret the Bible literally , including not just the special, separate creation of human beings and all other species, but the historicity of Noah's flood, and attempts by some creationist thinkers to give the universe an age consistent with the Ussher chronology and other Young-Earth timeframes, e.g. C-decay.


A | B | C | D | E | F | G | H | I | J | K | L | M | N | O | P | Q | R | S | T | U | V | W | X | Y | Z

contact us

page uploaded 17 March 2002
checked ATW030421

Creative Commons License
Text by M. Alan Kazlev 2002
Unless otherwise attributed, text on this page may be used only under the terms of a
Creative Commons License.