The Evolutionary Use of the Terms Primitive/Intermediate/Lineage
by Laurence D Smart B.Sc.Agr., Dip.Ed., Grad.Dip.Ed
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A large percentage of the general public has had some science education and is able to understand evolutionary media releases. However, a problem has arisen over the past 10-20 years where some evolutionary jargon has changed meaning. These alterations in meanings have not been passed on to the public, nor to the science teachers who have been teaching evolution to the world's younger generation. As a result of these changes, the public are not correctly interpreting what evolutionists are writing or saying.
The general public understand the meaning of the following evolutionary terms to be:-
'Ancestor' - the true predecessor of an organism.
'Intermediate' - an organism that was truly between two different types of organisms.
'Transition' - one of the true steps in the change of one type of organism into another.
'Lineage' - the true history of the ancestors of an organism.
Evolutionists have redefined these four terms, giving them 'technical' meanings to fit in with the modern interpretation of fossils using cladistics and phenetics. These two modes of fossil interpretation are now preferred by palaeontologists and do not require that an ancestor, or lineage (phylogeny) ever be identified.
Cladistics and phenetics are two styles of studying systematics (the classification of living things). Phenetics studies the overall similarity between whole bodies. Cladistics studies the way a single character is distributed throughout groups of organisms. The words defined above derive their new meaning from phenograms and cladograms, the 'tree' diagrams produced by the phenetic and cladistic analysis of fossils.
When palaeontologists say that they have "Discovered the ancestor of an organism", or that a particular organism is "An intermediate between two others", or that they "Now know the lineage of humans", the public interpret these statements as meaning that scientists have proved these as facts of evolution. In reality, the evolutionists are only making statements of probability, possibility and conjecture, based on systematics. Modern palaeontology, therefore, does not require that actual ancestral fossils have to be found for evolutionists to make what they regard as 'factual' statements.
The early Darwinists believed that they would easily find the history of the evolution of all organisms in the fossil record, but this failed to materialise. Despite this lack of evidence, many evolutionary trees have been displayed in museums and textbooks.
Under pressure from creationists to prove their phylogenic trees directly from the fossil record, the constant failure forced evolutionists to look for a theoretical basis for identifying lineages. Phenetics and cladistics provided the tools for this method. This has been very handy, because it has lifted the burden off evolutionists to provide the physical evidence.
Using indirect analysis and inference, palaeontologists can now make hypothetical statements on evolution from the fossil record that they believe is as close as they can get to the truth. The problem arises when the media, science teachers and the general public receive the information, and interpret the statements as fact. For example, when a palaeontologist says that a particular organism is, "An intermediate between two others", they are actually referring to the fossil's systematic relationship derived from phenetic or cladistic interpretations. This derivation is always missing from the evolutionist's discussions or media releases. Meanwhile, the general public interpret this same statement as meaning that the excavators have actually found the true (real) intermediate - ie, the organism that was actually the evolutionary step between the other two. The two interpretations of the same statement mean two different things. This is why evolutionists can make 'rash' hypothetical statements while their readers and listeners are interpreting them as fact. This helps to convey the illusion that evolution has been proved.
Evolutionists use the term "primitive" and "ancestral" to describe an organism, when they compare it to another, if it is:-
(1) An ancestor of the other
(2) Simpler than the other
(3) Of an older geologic age than the other
(4) In a group that lacks some of the characters in the other
(5) Classified in a higher taxonomic group than the other
There are therefore five possible interpretations of the words "primitive" and "ancestral", but only meaning #1 is the one presumed by the public.
For this reason evolutionists can say that "Bacteria are the ancestral form of multicellular organisms", not because they have been proven to be so, but because they are simpler than multicellular organisms. The statement is true, but it sounds like an evolutionary lineage, when it actually says nothing about lineage at all.
Also, the statement, "Ancestral fossil specimens confirm that evolution has occurred", is ambiguous - it appears to say that evolution has been proven. This was done by creating the illusion of ancestry, rather than by speaking from the physical facts.
The use of the terms "intermediate" and "transitional" both convey the idea of evolution as a fact, yet there is a lot of confusion in their interpretation.
Many evolutionists refer to a species as an intermediate between other species if they all have a pattern of nested similarities. This is determined from a cladogram.
Evolutionists prefer to use the terms "intermediate" and "transitional form" rather than "chimera" or "mosaic form" as the former convey the illusion of evolution as a fact.
The meaning of the terms "intermediate" and "transitional" have changed over time, depending on phylogenetic fads and fashions of the day. This explains why many so-called intermediates have been added to and removed from evolutionary trees without evolution losing face.
The systematic re-definition of "intermediate" also permits transitions to co-exist with their descendants, making evolutionary lineages immune to criticism.
For this reason palaeontologists can insist, for example, that Seymouria is the transition between amphibians and reptiles, even though it was found in Permian rocks, while the first reptiles were found in Carboniferous rock, 20 million years 'older'. Such re-definitions make the determination of lineages immune to the fossil sequence.
Evolutionists have redefined "lineage" and "phylogeny" in terms of cladograms.
Palaeontologists today who favour the systematic analysis of fossils even criticise their colleagues of former times who used the fossil record in the geologic column to create lineages. However, the general public still believes that lineages are based on the order of fossils in the geologic column.
Using the systematic analysis of cladograms and phenograms, rather than presenting physical facts, has therefore allowed evolution to change without contradiction itself.
Also, by using jargon interchangeably when being questioned by anti-evolutionists, palaeontologists give evolution the appearance that it has all the answers - creating the illusion that evolution is a fact.
SOURCE: W.J. ReMine "The Biotic Message: Evolution Versus Message Theory",
St Paul Science: Saint Paul (USA), 1993 p:291-297, 409-418