Macro- vs. Micro-Evolution

I do not like the terms “macro-evolution” and “micro-evolution” because they are poorly defined, without a clear boundary, even though they are very different at the extremes. I also am the first to emphasize that even if bacteria can evolve resistance to antibiotics (what you would call microevolution), that alone is not enough to show that humans and apes have common ancestors (what you would call macro evolution). Such an argument is absurd. Much more work has to be done (and has been done) to show the latter.

As an example of what I mean by saying that “macro-evolution” and “micro-evolution” are poorly defined, Kurt Wise, a Young Earth Creationist, thinks that the evolution of Whales from land animals is an example of micro-evolution. Of course, RTB and you think differently. How do you adjudicate that? The distinction is meaningless because it was never a well defined concept, other than:

micro-evolution = the amount of evolution I think could have happened
macro-evolution = the amount I do not think could have happened

That is about the only real pattern there is in those terms. So please do not put me in the “crowd” that equivocates between generic “change over time” and “common ancestry.”


I think the normal gate-keepers for the meaning of such terms would be the scientific community which eschews them. This naturally leaves a vacuum and uncertainty. A definition which is as clear as many other distinctions in science could be made, but its not being made because the gate-keepers don’t like the terms, even those like you who are fair-minded enough to know the extremes of what evolution is believed to be responsible for have significant differences.

In my favor because YEC is less credible than about any other position. But I wish biologists would adjudicate it. I sense that they don’t want to touch it though, because “its all evolution” and any attempt to put distinctions or parameters on it would give creationists a thread to cling to. I don’t see you being particularly threatened by that. Were there more like you perhaps we’d have that distinction better defined. And I think that could only help scientific progress in the field, whether creationists are right or evolutionists are right.

Except, I have been clear about this:

So ‘macro-evolution’ or ‘evolution’ is common descent between species under question, and:

  1. Does not deny God’s action, but is silent about it.
  2. Does not include abiogenesis.
  3. Does not include a universal claim about species that are not under question

As I’ve explained, the key lynch pin here is the common descent of man and the great apes, which is perhaps the most well established example of evolution. There is just so much evidence for this, and if its true, objections to most of the rest just evaporate.

Of note, @Joel_Duff has done a great deal of work on YEC “hyper-evolution”, which shows what they believe “micro-evolution” is capable of doing. It should be obvious why the term has lost meaning. If their version of evolution was possible, they cannot plausibly dispute “macro-evolution” on any scientific grounds.

@Patrick, if you haven’t seen that link yet, its fascinating. It is really worthwhile reading before your next trip to Ark Encounter. They actually have a Pakicetus in the Ark, which Wise think evolves after the flood into all modern whales.

1 Like

Demarcation criteria appear a lot more straightforward when dealing with babies and bathwater:


You have made that clear and I get that it is helpful in that it is not intrinsically theistic. Why can’t both terms, micro-evolution and macro-evolution fall under “common descent”? I don’t see any conflict whatsoever in saying “evolution is common descent” while also describing processes where new genes which produce new functional structures and proteins is “macro-evolution” and changes in existing gene frequency within a population is “micro-evolution”. Nothing in any of that would conflict with evolution overall being “common descent.”

Well I agree with that last statement. And I have some inklings on that but really nothing I can offer you now to contradict it and on this thread I don’t have to. The question in the context of this thread would be whether we got there via micro-evolution or macro, and if the latter how big and plausible were the jumps? All it does, if you are right about our origins, is more precisely define the details of what is occurring. Normally scientists are all about that, but in this case its not PC it seems.

Look they have to bend and twist all of reality to try and justify their refusal to accept that they are mis-handling the Word of God. Again, you guys should be defining the term, because I think it reflects real differences in the way life operates. That you won’t do so is what allows crazy to fill the vacuum. That’s not on Hugh Ross or me who are trying to lobby for reasonable definitions for the terms. That’s on the gate keepers who won’t touch it.

Well, you will have conflict with other anti-evolutionists. They all have different definitions!

Well, the two terms originated outside the mainstream scientific community, among scientists. The only consistent definition is:

I’m the first to agree that pointing to antibiotic resistance as if it settles the debate about human evolution is absurd. Micro- vs. macro-evolution just does not coherently make that point.

However, even among ID, YEC, and OECs, there is wild disagreement about what is micro- vs. macro-. It is certainly not on the scientific communities list of responsibilities for sorting out that mess. We can’t even engage with it if creationists themselves can’t agree on what it is. And with these definitions, atheists just think that “macro-evolution” is an empty set, and Christians that are okay with God acting to inspire evolution agree with them.

I’ve already giving you better language on how to make your point. There are certain things in evolution you do not think happened: macro-evolution. There are other things you have no problem accepting happened: micro-evolution. You do not need any gatekeepers to state things that way.

Well I will just refer you back to my point about the gate-keepers and a vacuum on most of that and we can agree to disagree.

I am still turning over in my mind to what extent macro-evolution happened with animals. I already accept it with plants. I wonder how many gaps Nature needed God to stand in so as to accomplish His acceptable will, and how that looked. I really don’t fit into any easily definable existing camp because my model is largely both are one. The rate issue is one that interests me because if we can find fingerprints anywhere it is going to be in places where known processes don’t produce sustained change at the rate we see.

1 Like

i think that one different is a complex biological system. so a creature without an eye evolving an eye- this will be a case of a macro evolution. since eye is a complex system.

For you, macro-evolution = the part of evolution that you do not accept.

@Scd, if you allow for God’s action in common descent, do you think God could use common descent to produce an eye, adding to the process as He desired? Likewise, could he use common descent to make a whale, adding to the process as He desired? If so, then you have no basis for objecting to evolution as I have defined it.

1 Like

If God were to guide evolution, there is no reason to think macro-evolution cannot happen.

If God used cosmological forces over billions of years to create Earth, there is no reason to suggest thousands/millions of separate acts of special creation, instead of guided evolution.


The difficulty then becomes one of distinguishing “creation” from “guidance”
in any meaningful way.

For example, suppose God causes a beneficial mutation that would otherwise not have happened, or would have happened on average once in 10 billion years, say. How does that differ in principle from making a man from dust, which would otherwise not have happened, or only with some infinitesimal probability?

I’m happy to blur the distinction - after all, the OT word bara, create, seems to denote primarily God’s ordering of events in all kinds of ways. But it’s actually quite difficult, if one wants to split the difference, to find the demarcation criteria.

This Hump piece develops the idea a little (though the only comparison of “special providence” and “creatio continua” is in a comment below.

1 Like

sure that god can do anything. but since we can explain nature without a common descent -we dont need to involve a common descent.

This is not true. The terms “microevolution” and “macroevolution” were coined in 1927, in Russia, by leading evolutionary geneticist Yuri Filipchenko (also the mentor of the Drosophila geneticist Theodosius Dobzhansky, one of the founders of textbook neo-Darwinism) to indicate a qualitative difference between within-species (micro-) and above-species (macro-) evolution. The Wiki entry for Filipchenko gives a helpful short introduction (

One can find Dobzhanksy himself using the terms in the opening of his classic Genetics and the Origin of Species (1937), as he is grappling with the problem of understanding macroevolution (pp. 11-12; emphasis added to show usage of terms):

“Since evolution is a change in the genetic composition of populations, the mechanisms of evolution constitute problems of population genetics. Of course changes observed in populations may be of very different orders of magnitude, from those induced in a herd of domestic animals by the introduction of a new sire to phylogenetic changes leading to the origin of new classes of organisms. The former are obviously trifling in scale compared with the latter, and it may not be convenient to have all of them subsumed under the name “evolution.” Experience seems to show, however, that there is no way toward an understanding of the mechanisms of macro-evolutionary changes, which require time on a geological scale, other than through a full comprehension of the micro-evolutionary processes observable within the span of a human lifetime and often controlled by man’s will. For this reason we are compelled at the present level of knowledge reluctantly to put a sign of equality between the mechanisms of macro- and micro-evolution, and, proceeding on this assumption, to push our investigations as far ahead as this working hypothesis will permit.”

Much current research within evolutionary theory is motivated by the conviction that Dobzhansky’s “working hypothesis” of the equivalence of micro- and macro-evolution, where the latter is simply micro scaled for time, has failed. Listen, for instance, to the introductory talk by University of Vienna evolutionary biologist Gerd Muller, to the Royal Society in London in November 2016:

Note in particular his remarks at about 10:00.

@pnelson, that is really helpful. I did now know about the Dobzhanksy quote.

So according to him:

  1. Macro-evolution, what happens over a geological time scale.
  2. Micro-evolution, what is [directly] observable within the span of a human lifetime.

I can go with that, as it is largely consistent with it seems most people are getting at. I’ve also agreed:

As we’ve discussed in the past…

Seems to me Dobzhansky is talking more about issues with mechanism than the fact of macroevolution (as he defines it). “There are deep mysteries with the mechanisms of speciation, but until they are solved we must take population genetics as far as it can go.”

Back in 2011 I downloaded a university primer (from New England) on population genetics, which was interesting because, although I pleaded ignorance in my column, it actually said pretty much what my school zoology notes say from when I wrote them in1968. Astonishingly it was still insisting on Fisher’s original, and long-disproven, assumption that mutation was not the main driver of evolution (shades of Melanogaster on BioLogos there), and was teaching that to students, I assume.

However, the point is that it too, from mainstream (if antiquated) and introductory Neodarwinism, distinguished micro- and macro-evolution, conveniently saying the latter was the business of palaeontologists, not geneticists - a wonderful passing the buck of the tough questions!

Which makes one wonder why so many people now believe that the distinction between macro- and micro- was the originally the creation of creationists. Clearly they did a different introductory course … probably because Hardy Weinberg has been arrested on rape charges… or was that someone else?


Well, in case you haven’t picked up on it. I’m agreeing with you and @Revealed_Cosmology and @pnelson that there is a distinction between micro- and macro-evolution.

I’ve been agreeing with you that there is not an equivalence. I’ve pointed out several times that additional information is required to make the case for common descent than merely observations of moths changing colors or antibacterial resistance in bacteria.

However, there is not a clear demarcation between two, as there is no established definition. That does not mean the distinction isn’t valid, but that the terminology is not helpful. Does anyone else note the irony of this? (see Methodological Naturalism, So Falsely Called). The fact that demarcation is not clear does not extinguish the distinction, but it often points to a deficiency in language.

For MN, that deficiency is resolved, I feel, by the Creation/Creator distinction.

For micro- vs. macro-evolution, it is resolved by talking about common descent (macro) vs. change over time (micro). That, I think is the clearer way to make the case. I’m not avoiding the language to equivocate what you all mean by micro- vs. macro-evolution, but to give a clearer way of explaining it, much as I was doing with MN.

Do do not misread me here. I’m not saying there is no distinction (as for example @pnelson does with MN). I’m saying the opposite, that there is a distinction. My response to the demarcation in both places is the same. The distinction is real but our language is sloppy. It seems that other people are a bit less consistent here, arguing that there is a real distinction between micro- vs. macro-evolution, even if its unclear, and that MN fails on demarcation, because the line is unclear (even though we do have a clear line in Creator vs. Creation).

You all don’t have to agree with me, but at least take the olive branch when I offer it. Micro- vs. macro-evolution is a real distinction, but very clouded terminology. The only people who use the term regularly are people saying:

If Whales evolving from a single land animal is micro-evolution for some YECs, it really has lost all sense of precision.

1 Like


This is exactly why I.D. proponents have virtually no way to confirm that science can detetect God’s activity. God can do things, by intention, which may or may not happen soon enough otherwise.

But your comparison about “making humanity from the dust” is only rejected because God has left more evidence (and more convincing evidence) that he chose evolution to accomplish creation.


You cannot explain Australia’s fossils… or its existing marsupials.

You can’t even explain how mammals ancestral to cows, bears, and sloths (etc.) all avoided drowning longer than brontosaurs and t-rex… While giant marine reptiles, built for the ocean, all died at the same time as stegosaurs… while proto whales only show up in the fossil record AFTER large mammals arrived first.