Hunter says "this" is not Evolution - a problem with definitions?

I was quite flabbergasted when I encountered this assertion regarding Harvard’s Visualization of Bacterial Response to environmental toxins:

“For instance, bacterial adaptation has often been found to be rapid, and sensitive to the environmental challenge. In other words, when we look at the details, we do not find the evolutionary model of random variation slowly bringing about change, but rather environmentally directed or influenced variation. That is not evolution.”

While Roger [@Relates] dislikes when I presume he likes something, I’m gosh-darned sure that I can say Roger is not going to like the way Hunter frames this description of Evolution!

And I would expect a great many to be quite shocked at this kind of sweeping generalization and nullification by an academic!

The entire discussion is located here:

1 Like

You are wrong again. Hunter is correct in that the evolution observed in the Harvard Experiment is not Darwinian evolution, but ecological evolution or adaption as he put it.

I will say it again. ID and Darwinians are BOTH WRONG. They concentrate on genetics, when the real problem is Natural Selection. Therefore neither is right and both are wrong. The experiment reveals the truth to anyone who is willing to accept it.

It is old news, which we have already discussed.

Roger, @Relates, On the plain reading of what he writes, I have to maintain that @Cornelius_Hunter says it isn’t Evolution of any kind.

I think he would have specified the nuanced use of Darwin if that had been his intention.
Below, again, are his exact words:

“For instance, bacterial adaptation has often been found to be rapid, and sensitive to the environmental challenge. In other words, when we look at the details, we do not find the evolutionary model of random variation slowly bringing about change, but rather environmentally directed or influenced variation. That is not evolution.”

Perhaps I am misinterpreting … but it seems like rather clear English:
To paraphrase: “Environmentally directed or influenced variation is not Evolution.”

Do you have comments that would clarify, Prof. Hunter?

@gbrooks9 this is not a terribly helpful conversation.

Both @Relates and @Cornelius_Hunter have idiosyncratic definitions of evolution. They are entitled to their personal vocabulary, and it is worthwhile understanding it to the extent we need to correctly interpret the. However, it is more important to understand the historical and scientific definitions of evolution (and the development of these definitions too). And there is wide divergences between @relates and @Cornelius_Hunter and the historical and scientific definitions of theses works.

So the experiment does show evolution (including Darwinian and non-Darwinian mechanisms in evolution). But it does not show evolution as @Cornelius_Hunter defines it. But he uses a personal definition, an idiosyncratic relabeling of things. It is his private language.

Of course, let’s understand it for the purpose of interpreting him correctly. But this conversation is entirely orthogonal to really making sense of the science, history and theology.



Well, first of all, the point of this particular thread was not to contradict Roger. It was to show Roger how one Christian chooses the exact opposite of Roger’s definition: One person says “Environment shapes Evolution” - - while another says “If Environment is shaping the change, then it isn’t Evolution”.

This is a pretty stark difference.

As to an academic writing articles where, by means of some inexplicable definition, he dismisses away a vast chunk of Evolutionary study and science … I think it would have been better to have understood how different his working definition of Evolution was earlier in the discussion than at the very end of the Discussion with no explanations provided.

How many challenges have participants on this board faced about how the word Evolution is meant? Lots!

And yet the definition of Evolution is at the very heart of all of our discussions, and at the heart of a great many profound misunderstandings with other thinkers.

Nothing provoked a pause in me greater than the following exchange in yet another thread:

What I think is a little surprising is that you object to my drawing attention to the completely incompatible definition of Evolution he was using.

If we are to clarify the understanding of Evolution in the hearts and minds of the American public, it may well be necessary to begin with challenging the misconstrued conceptual models lurking (intentionally or unintentionally) in the hearts and minds of those who would delude the American public.

Sincerely and with Respect,

George Brooks

1 Like

Thank you for your input to this conversation. I have for a long time complained about the amorphous character of evolutionary thought, so it might be a good time to try to clear things up.

For me evolution is a natural process whereby lifeforms, flora and fauna [it seems that most times we forget that plants evolve also, so our theories overlook them,] have developed through the ages. However I have observed that others define evolution as a theory of how this happened, and one theory in particular, the theory generated by Charles Darwin. Thus if I say that I accept evolution as true and accurate, I am saying that I accept Darwin’s Theory, and not Lamarck’s theory.

If the theory and the process are thought of as one and the same, then we lose our objectivity, which I fear is what has happened in this situation. Nota Bene: Common origin per se does NOT describe how this process works. It is a result of how this process works.

Dr. Hunter @Cornelius_Hunter says (to use George’s paraphrase,) “Environmentally directed or influenced Variation is not Evolution,” as it is understood by Neo-Darwinism. I would say, “Environmentally directed or influenced Natural Selection as demonstrated in the Harvard Experiment is Evolution as it is best understood as a natural process.”

You write that the experiment “does show evolution (including Darwinian and non-Darwinian mechanisms in evolution),” so it seems to demonstrate an objective process. However the “mechanisms” are mixed, both Darwinian and non-Darwinian. I find this a real problem.

You can’t really fix a dated model by adding mechanisms. Einstein who found that Newton “approximately right” as attraction at a distance, but close really does not count in science. When a better model comes along, the old model needs to fade away.

The Harvard Experiment and EES are strong indications that the Darwinian MS model is no longer satisfactory. It is not a replacement, although I do have one ready, when people are interested.


I’m a little confused by your discussion.

If the Harvard scientists avoid the term “Darwinism” … and simply point out how Environmental conditions (i.e., various toxic levels of antibiotics) helped change the gene pool of the bacterial population being studied…how can you say this is any different from the multiples discussions you have posted on these boards where you insist that ecological/environmental factors are what cause Evolution?

At no point do the Harvard scientists blame changes in the bacterial gene pool to increased mutation rates… or “survival of the fittest” (whatever that would mean).

So I don’t see how you can even partially dismiss an almost perfect presentation of the very forces of Evolution you have championed on these boards for years.

George Brooks


I am not arguing with the Harvard Experiment. I am agreeing with it. What I am arguing is that the experiment give strong evidence that the Modern Synthesis needs to be replaced by a new ecological model.

@Swamidass, @jstump, and others seem to think that we can plod along with a makeshift system which is not really a system or a model and say that this is good science.

@Relates / Roger, perhaps what @Swamidass and @jstump are trying to say is that we don’t need to make some kind of “official replacement” model on the pure science front.

BioLogos specializes in a Christian interpretation… isn’t that already pretty ambitious? We can’t call it “good science” – not because it isn’t scientific, but because BioLogos still allows for non-scientific things to happen.

If BioLogos didn’t venture into the realm of religion … or if there was universal consensus on how God interacted with the natural side of the vast Cosmos, I could see wanting to go public with an OFFICIAL replacement. But neither of these conditions apply.

Have you had time to ponder the nature of Hunter’s comments? He pretty clearly slammed your position… without intending (I’m sure) to single you out in particular.

But he pretty clearly thinks that an evolutionary model that uses the ecological factors to explain and shape evolution isn’t worth discussing!


1 Like

Exactly. We start with the mainstream science model, because it is quite robust and constantly being published about. We have no interest in raising scientific correctives to this effort. Though we frequently draw attention to theological and philosophical concerns that arise.

And I would point out that in the actual primary literature, the importance of environment has been known for a very very very long time. I know that this is a pet idea of some people here, but there is really nothing new here. At best, it is a call to for better explanations of evolution. At worst, it is rhetoric against other equally important parts of the theory.

Either way, this is all resolved by focusing on understanding how mainstream science models and understands evolution, rather than coming up with idiosyncratic models and agendas.



I so not understand Dr. Hunter this way.

BioLogos ventures into science when it criticizes ID from a scientific point of view. Many of the leaders of BioLogos as well as bloggers are scientists so they are free to comment on science.

Two compartmentalize the world into science and non-science is false and against what BioLogos should stand for.

I think this is true, but in the context of BioLogos this also is true…

When I as a scientist venture into explaining science here, I am not trying remake a new scientific model. Rather, I am trying to present the agreed upon mainstream scientific model in manner consistent with Christian theology. To teach it in in a way that separates out the atheistic worldview that often accompanies it. This is the BioLogos model I know and love.

So yes, we do venture into science, but not to correct mainstream science. We do so to complete it with a Christian understanding of the world. To explain evolution in light of Jesus.


To explain evolution in light of Jesus.

Bro. @Swamidass

Thank you for you kind response. Please let me show you how my perspective disagrees with yours.

It seems that you make two assumptions that I do not agree with. First that the mainstream scientific model is agreed upon and correct. It has always been controversial and now it is more than ever as indicated by the London Conference.

To buy into a flawed model is a serious mistake. Indeed the Papacy disciplined Galileo because he dared to differ with the mainstream science of his day.

It appears that BioLogos has been spooked by YEC. Yes, YEC is a problem, but a theological problem. Scientific facts are not going to change YEC, only good theology, which is what they need and what everyone needs.

The other assumption is that one can explain MS, mainstream neoDarwinian model of evolution in light of the Love of Jesus, the Logos. In reading Dawkins and Dennett who are the most prominent spokespersons for mainstream evolutionary science, they say that evolution is based on conflict and chaos.

They make the de facto case that God the Creator did not create the universe through God the Logos.
How can one teach evolution that says the creation of humanity was strictly by chance?
How can we teach that nature is at war with itself when it is not?
How can evolution be caused by unrelenting conflict, when we know it was created by the God of Love and Peace?, How can survival of the fittest be the ethic of nature, but humans are called by the God of Nature to cooperation and love?

Christians have always opposed survival of the fittest. It goes against all that Jesus stands for. How do you square His Love with the Selfish Gene?

On the other hand ecology is a science that has newly come into prominence and importance. It covers much of the same ground as evolution and beyond. It does not teach survival of the fittest, but symbiosis, so it is not in conflict with Jesus as the Logos. Mainstream evolutionary science needs to learn from ecology. Although being human, it is not easy to change particularly while under attack from ID and YEC.

In summary I would say that what BioLogos is doing to teach evolution is basically good, but it is a mistake to allow main stream science to determine the content of what it teaches. Jesus Christ the Logos must to be our Primary Guide in all things.

You are entitled to disagree and I think I understand you.

However this post confirms again that you are using an “idiosyncratic” definition of evolution based on an incorrect understanding of mainstream science. By “idiosyncratic” definition, I mean you define evolution with a personal definition that one has to talk to you about to understand. Everyone is entitled to personal definitions, but is confuses conversations irrecoverably when we can’t recognize the more important definition is not within us, but with in the field. That is our fixed point.

Let me point out some of your mistakes here (so you see why I am making this assessment)…

I never said every detail was agreed upon and correct. But look at all the controversies. Scientists on both sides still say they agree with evolution. By this, they mean they all agree with “common descent.” This is agreed upon, and appears correct.

But also, our position is not predicated on the assumption that science is correct. Rather, we believe science is “provisional.” In important ways, that asserts that science is never fully correct.

I agree. Why would you think I see things otherwise?

This is anachronistic. Like talking about the difficulty of finding a place to put all your washing boards and telegraphs. Mainstream science, does not operate with a neoDarwinian model of evolution. The neoDarwinian model was falsified a long time ago in science.

There are three different definitions of Darwinism, and you are confusing them as if they are the same.

  1. The scientific model of positive selection dominated change, “neo Darwinism”, that was falsified by genetic data in the 1960s and 1970s.

  2. The philosophy of atheism that uses evolution as a key tenet, and is promoted by people like Dennett and Dawkins. This, in no way at all, is science. It is not part of science. This precise view is not even common among scientists. Rather, it is anti-religious sentiment masquerading as science. When I talk about “mainstream science’s” understanding of evolution, it specifically rejects this view as non-scientific.

  3. Some people imprecisely use Darwinism as a synonym for “modern evolutionary theory” or the “modern synthesis”. This is not a good use of the term for a wide range of reasons. Most importantly, in is often mistaken for the other two definitions, and it is ahistorical. Modern evolutionary theory mainly holds “common descent” in common with Darwin’s views (and some of its consequences). But positive selection dominated change (as Darwin conceived it) is not at all dominant as he thought. For example, ecology (and neutral drift) are important too, but that has been known for a long time (ecology was even recognized by Darwin himself) and is not at all denied by people who use Darwinism by this definition.

With those uses in hand, it becomes clear your error. You think Dawkins and Dennett are correctly representing the science. They are not. Period.

This shows the failings of your idiosyncratic definition.

The selfish gene is NOT part of mainstream science. It is Darwinism by definition #2, so of course I do not care to explain it favorably. Rather, I emphasize that it is atheism in scientific clothing, and should be treated as such.

The “survival of the fittest” is also misterming here. We have always opposed euthenasia and eugenics, but “survival of the fittest” scientifically is a description of what we directly observe, and it is not even the whole story.

This is just false. Ecology has been part of the evolutionary story since Lamark, even before Darwin. I know of no thinker that denies the importance of ecology. Just look how they talk about the KT event, and how dramatic reshaping of the environment after extinction of the dinosaurs enabled the rise of mammals. I understand that you are captured by ecological explanations of evolution. Great. But let’s not pretend that this some thing new. It is deeply embedded in both early, recent, and current evolutionary thought.

On the other hand, the real newcomer to the conversation is genetics. That has changed everything. Darwin, at the time, did not even know what DNA was. Genes were abstract entities. We know what they are now, and we can measure them directly.

This is not what I said.

Dawkins seeks to explain evolution in light atheism. We seek to explain evolution in light of Jesus.

Mainstream science, however, takes no sides here. It just studies evolution, without placing it in a philosophical context.

If you do not like the way how mainstream science thinks of evolution, go become a scientist. It is not our role to be a scientific corrective to evolutionary biology here at BioLogos. Rather, we do care to correctly represent the science (because there is nothing to fear from it), and offer theological correctives when necessary.


Could we pin this to the top of every thread?



You say that Dawkins and Dennett do not correctly represent science. They say they do.

While I respect you and want to believe you,

Why should I take your word for it when Dawkins gene’s eye view seems to be accepted a true?

If Dawkins is wrong, what is right view?

Copernicus, Newton, Darwin, and Einstein were great scientists because they discovered new ways or models used to understand the universe. These are scientific models of reality, not philosophical, even though these models do affect the way he understand philosophy and theology.

That is the reason why we have a serious problem with understanding evolution, we have a serious conflict of models of reality. There can be no reconciliation of these models until we are willing to examine and discuss them. BioLogos and you seem unwilling to do so.

I consider myself a scientist in as far as I think and work scientifically. I have cited the scientific reasons for how the Modern Synthesis is seriously flawed in my book, Darwin’s Myth.

What seems to be the basic issue is that you and other representatives of BioLogos do not accept the important concept of Scientific Revolutions as developed by Thomas S. Kuhn. This is most unfortunate and a real impediment to our understanding of science.

Don’t just take my word for it. To talk to biologists about it.

Most scientists agree with me. Most scientists feel that science is not intrinsically opposed to religion, as Dawkins likes to put it. There have been been studies on exactly these. For example, a recent one showed that most British scientists (those surveyed) thought Dawkins misrepresented science in this way and it was a problem: Most British scientists cited in study feel Richard Dawkins’ work misrepresents science | Rice News | News and Media Relations | Rice University The quotes therein are important. It will sound very much like what I have written here.

Ecklund, by the way, has written a book on this., which I can reccomend.

Dawkins however, is really clear in that he is really out to convince people out of religion, more than convince them into evolution. He puts it really clear here Lawrence Krauss Discussion (5/12) - Richard Dawkins - YouTube. The first 2 minutes are an important part to listen too. He explains that he intentionally misrepresents the relationship between faith and science so as to make faith less tenable. This is dishonest and it demonstrates that he is more of an atheist than a scientist. Scientists, in general, do not like that. That includes atheist scientists (on average) too.

Please show me even a shred of evidence that we have set ourselves up in opposition to Kuhn and oppose Scientific Revolutions?

The fact of the matter is that evolutionary science has gone through several revolutions already, and it will go through more. That, of course, is wonderful. And I do not think anyone here at BioLogos stands in the way of this. In fact, if you reread what I wrote, that is a big reason why I oppose using “Darwinism” to describe modern evolutionary thought. We are well beyond Darwin’s conception of evolution, and it confuses people to use that word.

In your case @relates, I appreciate and agree with you that ecology is important to evolution. That is not our disagreement. Rather, I think you are dead wrong in claiming this is some how a new idea. Ecology in particular has been an important part of evolutionary theory from the beginning. It, of course, is being refined all the time, as all parts of the theory are. That is great. But it is really ahistorical to claim that this is some new revolution that is overturning darwinism. Like I said, if you care so much about evolutionary theory, and want it to change, you could get your PhD and start doing the scientific work here. In the process, you will find your pet theory is not nearly so new as you think.

And to be clear, the debate in the Church has never tracked with the scientific revolution re: evolution. The real hang up is common descent from common ancestors. And this part of evolutionary theory has been rock solid stable through each and every evolutionary theory revolution. That is why we focus on that here.



The right view is that God exists and God plans his use of Evolution … and that from the view of divinity … there is nothing random about Evolution because of it.


This, of course, is exactly the case I’ve been disputing with @Relates. Ecological factors are key to the arc and curve of Natural Selection. And it is hardly surprising when an Evolutionary writer describes an Ecological factor that sent a population into this or that evolutionary direction.

The surprise here is that Roger insists that God will delight in shaping the march of ecological factors… but dasn’t touch a DNA molecule by any means.

If God can start with the molecules of clay … and turn part of that raw material into genetic material… why should Roger (or any YECs on the other side) have trouble understanding God’s finger prints even on the smallest of molecules?

I find that factually untrue. Common descent was not the original problem. There is no way why God could not create by common descent. The problem with common descent is that the Bible does not indicate God created using common descent. As I have said the problem with Fundamentalists and YEC is theological and not scientific.

From a college text book we have this statement. “Darwin presented the concept that nature(evolution) entails continual change, unpredictable change events, an unrelenting struggle for survival among living creatures, and no obvious guidance. … Darwin replaced what for many was an understandable view of nature — the creativity o f a human-like God ---- by randomness and uncertainty.” p. 663, Strickberger"s Evolution, 4th Ed, Hall and Hallgrimsson

Whereas I recognize an element of randomness and uncertainty in evolution, the overall process is rational and determinate. The problem is that evolutionary thinking insists on saying that evolution is either indeterminate, or refuses to say how it is determinate.

Jesus is the Logos that means that He creates rationally and determinately. The universe is good which means that it has meaning and purpose. I do not expect science to reveal the purpose of the universe, but on the other hand I do expect that science to not deny that the universe has meaning and purpose.

The purpose of ecology is to fill in the hole that the Modern Synthesis leaves in evolutionary theory. I prefer just not to point out the problems of evolution, but how to fix the problem. I am not saying that my idea is that new. I am saying that for whatever reason it has not been accepted, probably because people have not seen the need to accept it.

I one does not recognize that there is a problem, one does not look for a solution.

Let me point out an analogous question. The Creator God (and Logos) makes sense if there is a Beginning. If the universe were eternal, there would be no Beginning and no Creation and the Christian God makes no sense. Good for us science agrees that there was a Beginning and the universe is not eternal, even though some scientists, like Dawkins, claim that there was no Beginning.

As I see it, the science of the Big Bang supports the existence of the Logos, Jesus Christ. On the other hand the Modern Synthesis concerning evolution does not support the existence of the Logos, because, as usually understood, it says that this process is random and not guided.

Now I hear you and BioLogos say that the evolutionary process is not really random and meaningless, even though you say that you agree with the science of MS. I would say that I know that the evolutionary process is not random in nature and meaningless, because I disagree with the science of the MS.