Reification: attributing a concrete characteristic to something that is abstract.


I see evolutionists committing the fallacy of reification all the time. It's mostly something like: "Evolution made apes into humans." or "For jaguars, it was beneficial for it to evolve larger jaws for it to eat reptiles." or "This bacterium decided that it would be beneficial for it to join in with a nuclear envelope." or "This fossil says that this transitional link proves the evolution between these two species." or "This selective pressure wanted this species to evolve." 


Could this fallacy be one of the reasons that evolution is convincing to many people? Obviously, there are other major factors, but couldn't this factor play a role in convincing people in believing evolution?

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Comment by Adam J. Benton on May 12, 2011 at 4:48am

You ask many broad questions, which I'll answer to the best of my ability but feel free to ask for clarification if you feel I haven't gone into enough detail on any of the points.


Why do animals behave the way they do? This isn't so much a failing of evolution as it is a failing of our animal psychic ability. Though studies have, broadly speaking, outlined the processes which give rise to animal behaviour. A simple behaviour might be innate, arising from the genetics, for example the drive to eat. A more complex behaviour might be the result of conditioning based on how the body reacts to different foods. I have the drive to eat and if I find meat more delicious, I'll eat that. Then there's "learnt" behaviour. My group may teach me how to gather meat, for example. Different organisms have different mixes of innate/conditioned/learnt, the sum total of which is their behaviour.


So we have an animal doing its thing, can it choose to evolve? As you mentioned, not really. Evolution occurs at the genetic level, which we can't control and natural selection occurs at the environmental level, which we can't control (well, humans are beginning to develop these abilities, but that's besides the point). You can't choose whether you're going to have a mutation or not or whether the environment will exert pressure on you or not.


So why evolve? Well, as mentioned, you have no choice. Its a fact of life that, since the reproduction process is imperfect (more so when you're having sex, that mixes up the genes good and proper) so you're going to wind up producing offspring who aren't the exact same as you. Some of these variants will be more suited to the environment and so pass on their "better" genes and others won't. Over time the "better" genes will themselves get improved upon and so on and so forth.


But what you have to remember is that the same thing is happening to everyone. You might be a lion evolving faster legs over generations, but the gazelle you hunt is too. Not to mention that the environment might change, altering how you evolve, or a new creature might be introduced into your territory, changing selection pressures. Creatures are evolving as fast as they can just to stay in the same place in the food chain. So, if a population of a species is split into two environments, this constant evolution will drive them to slowly differentiate, so that if they ever meet up again they can no longer reproduce and are pretty much different species.


Could this lead to drastic changes? Simply put, yes. We've seen all the mechanisms for evolution occur, we see mutations accumulate into different species. With no known process by which this accumulation can be prevented to a sufficient degree to make evolution impossible, then we can be fairly certain that evolution will keep going and the more it does so, the more drastic the changes will be.

Comment by Private Private on May 11, 2011 at 9:45pm

Thank you for that. 


To add on; I think many times though, even though the use of the fallacy can be used in certain cases simply to explain an evolutionary process that makes it less complex to understand, it does not highlight why organisms would do certain things which enabled them to adapt to their environment, and later evolve. Many times I ask my teachers: "So why exactly did this organism do this, which caused it to evolve?" It seems to be a hard question to answer. Many times teachers don't talk about that. Perhaps even though the fallacy is used, would it make any significant difference if the fallacy was not used? By that I mean that people tend to not talk about why organism X would chose to do Y. Can it chose in the first place (of course there are some factors that it does not chose such as mutations)? And then why would this happen. Even without the fallacy, it seems to be a weak point, in which it is hard to answer why organisms would evolve. Of course it is said: Selective pressure, mutations, gene flow, and things like that which are suppose to lead to evolution, would it really get that far? And could those factors really cause such dramatic changes? As Dr. Lisle states, "mutations can enable an organism to adapt to its environment, but it cannot introduce a brand new gene." 


Hopefully that was not to wordy, but I especially liked your comment: "And do these analogies convince people of evolution? Well, they make it easier to understand so I guess it all boils down to whether you think.
understanding what evolution says will convince someone that it is true." I had not thought about it. That things as such which makes something easier to understand are more convincing.


In Christ,




Comment by Adam J. Benton on May 11, 2011 at 5:43am

There are many reasons why an evolutionist might be using "flowery" language. They might be attempting to give an analogy to help teach how a process works, they might be simplifying a principle to make it easier to understand. They might be using a single word less accurate than a scientific phrase as shorthand for that phrase, or maybe they're using rhetoric to make their work nicer to read. All of these uses can be rightfully criticised as not being completely accurate descriptions of reality, but the question becomes: "should they be criticised?"


I don't think so. This kind of language is merely a tool to convey a concept - attacking the tool leaves the concept unscathed, so one can't actually dismiss evolution on these grounds. If one wishes to actually argue against it, one must turn to the evolutionist and say "you've used your analogy to explain evolution, but now let us discuss the actual facts."


And do these analogies convince people of evolution? Well, they make it easier to understand so I guess it all boils down to whether you think understanding what evolution says will convince someone that it is true.

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