Science Glossary

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

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 - See also intelligent design; irreducible complexity, teleology

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)


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 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 -

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) Compare with Non-overlapping magisteria

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. (MAK)

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

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)


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 consciousness subjectivity, evolutionary narrative, and "intuition"; such attempts fail because any assesment, e.g. weighting, is itself the result of subjective opinion and "intuition" (MAK)

Evolutionary Creationism See Theistic evolution

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 consciousness 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)

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 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 - 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.


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 -


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 via W.J. Hudson, modified)


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


Jurassic Park Bestselling 1990 sci fi thriller novel by Michael Crichton, which became the basis for a very succesful Steven Speilberg 1993 movie of the same name, and eventually an entire franchise of books, films and video games centered on a fictional theme park full of cloned and revived dinosaurs. Crichton either imitated, or indepedently arrived at a very similar premise, to John Brosnan's Carnosaur, a 1984 horror novel about theropod dinosaurs running amock. The science of Jurassic Park was actually based on a very plausible hypothesis of the time - that dinosaurs could be cloned from their DNA in the stomachs of gnats and mosquitos embedded in amber, although it was discovered that DNA quickly degrades in amber so the hard science premise is unviable (there are also inaccuracies regarding the way the dinosars are decsribed). The story not unexpectedly centered on theropod dinosaurs, especially overgrown velociraptors, as scary monsters chasing the protagonists around the theme park, turning door knobs and opening doors. Neverthless, the movie surved to help popularise dinosaurs among the general public. Incorporated now refuted ideas from Bob Bakker's dinosaur renaissance, such as a 60 kph Tyrannosaurus (MAK)

"Just so" story 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 reject empirical or literalist interpretations, and argue that all that 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). Quite 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. (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 via W.J. Hudson) link: Macroevolution Its Definition, Philosophy and History by John Wilkins

The March of Progress one of the most famous and recognizable scientific illustrations ever produced, drawn by noted natural history painter and muralist Rudolph Zallinger. A compressed presentation of 25 million years of human evolution, it depicts 15 human evolutionary forebears lined up as if marching in a parade from left to right. The image has been copied, modified and parodied countless times and has proven controversial in a number of respects. Originally commissioned by Time-Life Books for the Early Man volume (1965) of its popular Life Nature Library. This book, authored by anthropologist F. Clark Howell (1925-2007) and the Time-Life editors, included a foldout section of text and images (pages 41-45) entitled "The Road to Homo Sapiens", prominently featuring the sequence of figures . As the popularity of the image grew and achieved iconic status, the name "March of Progress" somehow became attached to it.

The March of Progress

March of Progress

by Rudolph Zallinger, 1965. From Time-Life Books "Early Man", via Mad Art Lab: "AI: Have we Made Progress?" (includes other variations).

The representation of human evolution as progression in a linear, sequential fashion from an ape-like ancestor through various intervening stages of ape-men, to modern human (that is, along a road to a predetermined "ideal form") has been criticised by paleontologist and popular science writer Stephen Jay Gould. Gould explains that evolution as a straight-line from the slime to man and beyond is a concept that really has very little to do with true Darwinism. But Howell remarked that "The artist didn't intend to reduce the evolution of man to a linear sequence, but it was read that way by viewers.… The graphic overwhelmed the text. It was so powerful and emotional". (MAK, Wikipedia)

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). 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)

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 via W.J. Hudson)


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-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)

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

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)

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)

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)

Preformation - click for larger image


drawn by N. Hartsoecker in 1695

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 archive site. (W. R. Elsberry 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 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)

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). The opposite of naturalism. (MAK).

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 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. 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 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 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 via W.J. Hudson)


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.


Victorian age in Britian and the British colonies, the period of Queen Victoria's reign (from 1837 to 1901). A long and propsreous period, and also a tiome of graet scientific, technological, and social advancement. Evolutionary thinking and the science of paleontology are among the developments that stem from this period (and also from equivalent contemporary developments in France, Germany, and the United States)


Walking with Dinosaurs six-part natural history documentary television miniseries that was produced by the BBC, narrated by Kenneth Branagh, and first aired in the UK, in 1999. It subsequently aired in North America on the Discovery Channel in 2000, with Branagh's voice replaced with that of Avery Brooks. The programme's aim was to simulate the style of a nature documentary and therefore does not include "talking head" interviews. The series used palaeontologists such as Michael Benton, Peter Dodson, Peter Larson and James Farlow as advisors. Computer-generated imagery and animatronics were used to recreate the life of the Mesozoic, showing dinosaurs and their contemporaries as realistic animals, instead of the absurdities of Jurassic Park with its demonic velociraptors. Nevertheless, there was a lot of dramatic license taken; a lot of behavioural, colour, and other reconstructions were speculative, and for somne reason almost every animal featured had tto be described as being one and a half to twice its actual linear dimensions, or sometimes three times (who can forget the 25 meter long Liopleurodon?). The writers also seemed to feel that each episode requires an obligatory tragic ending. The series was followed by other Walking with... series, such as 2001 the sequel Walking with Beasts, set in the Cenozoic era and thankfully avoiding the tear-jeerker endings; this series featured extinct mammals and birds such as Indricotherium and Gastornis. In 2005 the prequel Walking with Monsters, set primarily in the Paleozoic era, and showing various invertebbrates, fish, amphbians, and early reptiles. More than a decade later, the Walking with Dinosaurs still sets the bar for paleo reconstruction. (MAK, 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.


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