Macro- vs. Micro-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.

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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.

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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.


In fact, I would argue that God has deliberately littered the world with evidence for common descent and speciation (with no post creation examples of God creating other things from dust)… that God is trying to inform YECs of the reality of God’s choices.

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I kind of like the definitions presented in this video. He defines them right out of the gate do you don’t hsve to fast forward or anything

Now hold on pardner. Under the framework where GA is even necessary as an answer to a problem, Genesis one and two are either totally separate accounts or (as I think) separate but connected accounts.

So what if for example, evolution was used for the creatures of the world but special creation was used for domesticated versions of some of those creatures that were for the garden? What would that look like?

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In the @swamidass scenarios… it makes more sense for some/all domesticated mammals being specially created and released from Eden.

And we can place that time anywhere from 4000 to 10,000 years ago.

I listened until he got to the part where he claimed that we now know that the eye is very poorly designed. I guess its not a case of him being wrong so much as his knowing things that are not true.

I think what I have learned here today is that the prior campaign to avoid using the terms “micro” and “macro” evolution is slowly being supplanted by an effort to to manufacture definitions which fit with the original premise for refusing to use such terms. To whit- that there is no difference in mechanisms, only a difference in time so that macro = micro x Y.

I must reject this effort from the Yale professor as more of a rhetorical tactic than an acknowledgement of what happens when bacteria become mammals is different in kind as well as degree from say, existing allele frequencies changing in a population of insects.

Therefore statements like this…

While generally true do not account for people like me who said previously in this thread…

Therefore I think nature can and has produced changes that I would consider “macro-evolution” without believing that nature can do so at the rate necessary to produce all the change we see during certain points in the biologic record and consider that there is likely to be some changes that nature could not produce at all, in anything like the time she has had , without help. I think nature left alone would mess it up faster than she could generate it.

Well I agree with that, though I think it could be as long as 13,400 years ago. And I predict that not only will the area north of Mesopotamia be where many animals (and plants) were domesticated, but that “the rocks won’t match the clocks” here. @T.j_Runyon was frustrated with me on a prior thread because I was trying to make hay out of the rocks and clocks being in conflict on the Cambrian Explosion. But now I am going to say the same thing about events at the edge of human civilization. Many animals are going to genetically look like they were separating from their wild versions long before we see from the history that they did. That is, there will be more genetic change present than can be explained from them being taken out of the larger population of wild animals at the time they were taken out.

In some cases domestication happened more than once. In those cases what I wrote above would probably just apply to the domesticated population from Anatolia/NW Iran.


You wrote:
“… consider that there is likely to be some changes that [N]ature could not produce … in anything like the time [S]he has had without help. I think [N]ature left alone would mess it up faster than she could generate it.”

Again… this is a statement geared to an Atheist audience. Why do you bother formulating it here?

Not for the benefit of our resident atheist, that is for sure. I am trying to show people like you that at some point the lines become blurred. The activity described is both “evolution” and “creationism”. For example, when human scientists add jellyfish genes to mice so that they glow in the dark, and those mice have offspring and pass off that trait, is it evolution or creationism, or both?


I realized this as soon as I adopted the phrase “God-Guided Evolution”.

And yet there still seems to be an adequate SOLID LINE to rely upon:

Speciation by Evolution, or Speciation by Special Creation. Even @swamidass’ dual scenario does not make de novo humans a separate species.

I didn’t like the poor design statement either. And I was going to say the only problem I had with his definitions is I don’t know if macro is just micro plus time. I Lean towards no. You should watch that whole lecture series though. It’s great


Heres a good history of the terminology

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I sensed that you acknowledged a distinction. Here the problem seems to me to be that we can know a lot about the tractable part of the matter (pop gen and so on), which has to do with processes visible, regular in some senses, and reproducible. Science through and through.

But the macro- /micro- distinction arose because it was perceived that there seemed to be things happening in the fossil record beyond the reach of the observable mechanisms (henceforth called micro-evolution), partly because they are in the distant past and partly because they seem to involve origins to some degree or other. (How does an arm ever become a wing? How does the exact same pattern of wing in bats appear to come separately in insectivores with echolocation and primates with good eyesight? And why does the stasis/saltation pattern remain in the fossil record even when it is known to give a pretty complete record over time?)

So the “macro-evolution” term is a placeholder for mechanisms as yet unknown - I guess “common descent” might be no worse, but I doubt it is any better, because it’s still covering our ignorance of what may be a multitude of unknown mechanisms, including (to some unspecified degree) the genetic processes we know and love, then all kinds of exotic “natural” processes from hybridization to emergent laws of form or saltations, up to special creation of … something … be that an entirely new organism or a few key mutations.

In other words, we can’t (usefully) simply define our distinction as something precise like “everything below species level is micro, and everything above is macro.” As we all know, “species” is a slippery concept, and microevolution might be capable of producing some of what we term species (I’m thinking of the way that bird races have been split into species recently on genetic grounds), but not others.

Until we have a better fix on mechanisms, we’re not even sure what it is we’re defining, apart from recognising the valid suspicion that there’s “something out there” beyond the old population genetics extended in time. It’s interesting, for example, that some of Richard Buggs’ and Paul Nelson’s work on Orfans has (at this early stage) hinted that there may be commonly a true natural distinction at the level of the genus. If that kind of thing were confirmed, it would be a focus for research on what a genus actually is, and how they arise - but neither “common descent” nor “macroevolution” would be of much further use in describing what’s going on.

I agree that your example of YEC whales from ungulates microevolution is not useful unless we grant that everything is, after all, microevolution. That kind of thinking seems to hinge on this concept of “kinds”, which given how few kinds are in the biblical data (for example, 3 kinds cover all animals on land, none of which are whales, which are created, in old translations, on a separate day) is to me an arbitrary scientific category.

The whale example, though, provides another category of “macroevolutionary” mystery, which is the apparent long-term teleology involved in such a transition, for which neither neutral theory nor adaptationist Neodarwinism seem a good fit. Instead of arterodactyls getting by by being “good enough” in a marine environment, it’s as if they were handed a spec for perfect adaptation to deep-water life and ticked off each modification as they achieved it in a program uninterrupted by dead-ends, climate change, etc. Sea-otters work well enough - why become a blue whale?

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