The “Evolution” of “Evolve”

I have an issue with the word “evolve,” primarily in the way it’s used for individual shifts in thought or process: “My view has evolved,” or “Our process has evolved.”

The word “evolve” has two similar but very different meanings. One, “to develop over successive generations as a result of natural selection,” is the traditional scientific definition of evolution. The other, “to develop gradually from a simple to a more complex form,” is simply a synonym for “change.”

One plays verb to the noun that is “evolution.” The other is misleading – it’s nearly the opposite of evolution. Saying your view has evolved, or that your child’s vocabulary has evolved, indicates that one single thing has shifted and changed and improved over time. Evolution, however, is not concerned with individuals: it’s the shift through generations of genes via the theory of natural selection.

Evolution doesn’t mean a thing just CHANGES, like a monkey becomes a man overnight. This isn’t Kafka. There ain’t no cockroaches under that bed.

When you hear ill-advised rebuttals of evolution based on things like “I didn’t come from no monkeys” or “How can the eye have just evolved to what it is – that’s nearly impossible!” I fear that the concept of evolution is being watered down thanks to the accepted use of “evolve” as a synonym for “shift” or “change”.

Evolution takes a very long time. That’s kind of how it works. It may take 30 generations of humans to weed out a faulty trait. Or longer. But, in terms of geologic time, it’s merely a blip, and it’s this relative spacing that keeps us from evolving … ahem … clarifying our view on evolution.

This was lovingly handwritten on November 30th, 2011