In this question about a creationist term for macroevolution, the introduction to this site for our new user was "I can't see why EL&U should become involved in helping creationists find more persuasive terminology..." I find this objectionable, and doubly so that 7 users currently agree with this statement.

This site is about language and usage. The OP asked a question about vocabulary. If users object to the philosophy, they need not contribute an answer. I think this question is absolutely on-topic for the site. The leading comment makes it seem as though it has been closed because of its philosophy rather than its content, and indeed the "not constructive" close reason reinforces this impression.

Additionally, the first sentence was followed with "I can't see how this question will lead to anything other than extended discussion of unresolvable philosophical arguments." That is certainly reasonable, although it is troubling to me that the same user who wrote it proceeded to post 3 comments that seemed geared to provoking extended philosophical arguments. This question can be answered without dragging philosophy into it.

So if we are not going to accept this question, I want a much more definitive answer than the canned one that has been given. Why was this question closed?


The OP asked for a "scientifically correct way" to refer to a "creationist term."

That's like asking for the "green way" to refer to "red" or the "left way" to refer to "right." No such thing can exist, as the two are non-overlapping magisteria (to quote Stephen Jay Gould).

Or in other words, "not constructive" sounds accurate to me.

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    But I think you would feel differently if the question were "what word do creationists use to describe microevolution?" In other words the "creationist-ly correct way" to refer to a "scientific term." – Kit Z. Fox Jul 7 '11 at 11:39
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    Wouldn't it have been more constructive to edit the question to remove the phrase 'scientifically correct'? Once that correction is made, I believe the question would be valid for this site. After all, even the creationists argue in English and it is not the job of EL&U to judge the validity of their argument. Maybe we can judge their grammar here. :) – rest_day Jul 7 '11 at 21:49
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    @Dori - it was in general to the people who wanted the question closed. If someone has asked, "what is the correct scientific term to describe the fact that sun is the revolving round the earth", would people have voted to close the question or would they have answered 'geocentric'? – rest_day Jul 7 '11 at 22:45
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    @Dori - But how is that relevant to EL&U? The questioner might need to use it in an article about 14th century Europe. (Agreed, this is a hypothetical situation, but very much probable.) – rest_day Jul 7 '11 at 22:56
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    @Dori - The way the question is written should matter, but only in the context of English. In my opinion, my hypothetical question would help someone learn some new English terms, geocentric, geocentric belief etc., even if scientifically invalid. So for me, a question is constructive if it helps me improve my knowledge of English language. And if we started closing questions in this manner, where will it end? Global warming? Homeopathy? Psychoanalysis? – rest_day Jul 7 '11 at 23:27
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    @Dori - It sounds like the big issue is associating the word "scientific" with the word "creation". If the phrase had been "more correct way" rather than "scientifically correct way", would you have allowed the question to stand? What if they had asked for a "clearer way"? – jimreed Jul 8 '11 at 16:53
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    I have noted that some religious people use a variety of odd and strange "scientific-sounding" words that are not in general use, but that are useful to them in holding pseudoscientific discussions. The Intelligent Design types, for example, will go on about "albiogenesis" and such. I took the OP's question to be in that vein. – The Raven Jul 13 '11 at 18:33
  • @Dori, Words have have different meaning based on context, and "scientific" here means "technical". It's nowhere like trying to ask for a "green way" to refer to "red" or a "left way" to refer to "right". If you think "scientific" has many different loaded meanings, feel free to edit it to a more appropriate word. That's what edit is for. – Pacerier Apr 13 '16 at 22:55

I did not see the question until after it had been closed, so this is just an observer's opinion, but the question doesn't seem to be asking something that is answerable.

Maybe I don't understand the OP's question, but it sounds like he wanted to know the scientific term for something that creationists sometimes claim should happen if evolutionary theory is correct: e.g. a grasshopper turning into a kitten. But this doesn't happen because this isn't how evolution works, so there can be no scientific term for this. The link that the OP gives, for baraminology, is even referred to as "pseudoscience" in the second paragraph of the article.

Can we seriously be expected to bridge the gap between the scientific community and creationism in one little Q&A thread right here on this site, and stay on topic and not collapse into a flamewar?

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    I disagree that there is no scientific term for "grasshoppers to kittens." I think this is transmogrification, something which evolutionary biologists would argue does not happen in the real world. It is spurious that baraminology is pseudoscience. – Kit Z. Fox Jul 7 '11 at 11:37
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    And indeed, evolutionary biologists must use some term to argue that "amebas to apes" is not what happens in evolution. So what is that word? That's what this question is asking, and if we're nice and answer politely without judgment, we can avoid hitting the multicollider and dragging in a bunch of tourists. – Kit Z. Fox Jul 7 '11 at 11:43
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    @Kit: Why is transmogrification a scientific term? Because it uses some Latin roots? (And why would an evolutionary biologist attempt to create a scientifically correct term to use to argue against something that doesn't exist, but that the opposing side very much wants to legitimize?) – Kosmonaut Jul 7 '11 at 12:06
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    @Kosmo: because it is a single word, with a relatively clear definition, which may well include that it does not happen in the real world. (And because the debate does continue, whether helpful or not, and it would be useful if both sides used the same terminology). Less flip: surely this debate would fit better in the original EL&U question, which would indicate that it should not have been closed. – Tim Lymington Jul 7 '11 at 13:17
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    @TimLymington: Why does the fact that something is a single word make the word a scientific word (or make a concept scientifically valid)? And why would the creationist community want to use a word from fiction and fantasy literature to describe something they want to legitimize? It sounded like the OP wanted the scientifically valid term for a concept so that they could discuss it with scientists without being scoffed at. (Also, I don't see how this or the comment I just made would be appropriate for an EL&U main thread. It is a philosophical musing.) – Kosmonaut Jul 7 '11 at 13:39
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    @Kosmo: Kit's suggestion was transmogrification, which seems sensible to me. It may well be that this points up that the creationist view is closer to fiction than scientific argument: this is a good reason for upvoting (or, if you are a creationist, finding an alternative). But the agreement or alternative belong on the original thread, surely. "Making a concept scientifically valid" is your take on the matter, which should be here if anywhere. But should it be anywhere? I see EL&U as about defining/describing words, not approving concepts. Real scientists scoff at ideas, not terms. – Tim Lymington Jul 7 '11 at 14:50
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    @TimLymington: But it's not my take on the matter; the OP says "I am looking for an scientifically correct way of referring to grasshoppers to kittens evolution" (emphasis mine). – Kosmonaut Jul 7 '11 at 16:01
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    Why should there be a scientific term for a concept which absolutely no one believes? The process described is a creationist strawman. It's their lie, they can be responsible for naming it. – TRiG Jul 7 '11 at 16:55
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    @TRiG who are 'they' in the specific context of EL&U. Last time I checked, this was a group for people interested English language. – rest_day Jul 7 '11 at 21:52
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    @rest_day. The question was not asking for a general English word. It was asking for a scientific term. A scientific term for a concept which does not exist in science. I don't see why scientists should be responsible for creationist pseudoscientific terminology. – TRiG Jul 8 '11 at 10:37
  • @TRiG, @ Kosmonaut, "scientific" here means "technical". See meta.english.stackexchange.com/questions/1479/… – Pacerier Apr 13 '16 at 22:58

The OP in that question was looking to help people (scientists) talk about some concept that another group (the creationists) calls unfortunately by a word used by the scientists. Between the two groups, one word is being used differently. The OP wants to disambiguate by finding another word (for use by the scientists, and hopefully to be used by the creationists (I'm supposing)), i.e. fill a lexical gap, and correct word misuse.

I feel that people want the question closed because it is too tendentious and/or provocative (and possibly contrary to their inclinations).

I still think the question is closable not because of its tendentious matter (easy to flame over) but because it is way off-topic/too-local: "What do you call that kind of auto-engine where the pistons go this way, but the cam-shaft is perpendicular to the line of motion?". "Excellent question...for an automotive Q&A site."

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    I see what you are saying, Mitch, but we answer questions like that here, including terms for automotives, semiotics, mathematics, and computers that you could apply the same argument to, but — – Kit Z. Fox Jul 9 '11 at 0:32
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    — we didn't close those question as being too local. – Kit Z. Fox Jul 9 '11 at 0:32
  • By the way, how do you call it? – kiamlaluno Jul 10 '11 at 14:33
  • @kiamlaluno: do you mean in my automotive question? Fanged if I know, I made that all up. – Mitch Jul 10 '11 at 14:37
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    I was worried somebody copied my invention. ;-) – kiamlaluno Jul 10 '11 at 14:47
  • @KitZ.Fox, And neither would "close as local" have been valid. – Pacerier Apr 13 '16 at 23:00

It seems to me that two reasons have been given why the question was inappropriate to this site:

  1. The question is "too local" because it cannot be answered without discussing technical details of creation and evolution theory. To the extent that this is true, it is a valid point. If someone posted a question here asking, say, "What is the correct term for a bill that has been introduced in Congress but not yet passed?", that would be a question about language, and, I would think, appropriate. If someone asked, "What is the process for introducing a bill in Congress and getting it passed?", that would be getting into the mechanics of politics and not really in scope here. And of course if they asked, "Isn't Senator Jones corrupt and incompetent?", that would be a political debate and totally inappropriate here.

But many of the responses seem to be more like, 2. I disagree with the ideas of creationists, therefore we shouldn't discuss anything to do with them on this forum. With this I disagree completely. Can't we discuss language and grammar issues on a language and grammar site regardless of the scientific, religious, social, or political beliefs of all involved? If someone asked, say, whether "Democratic Party" should be written with a capital "P" or a small "p", would you really reply that the question is unanswerable because the Democrats' policies are bad for the country? Comments that it is impossible to discuss appropriate scientific terminology related to creationism because "creationism is unscientific" are shear ideological bias and inappropriate to a site about grammar. It is exactly the same as saying that we cannot use economic language to discuss Keynesian economics because Keynesians are all wrong, or that we cannot use technical political terms to discuss communism because communists are evil tyrants.

Surely we can discuss the meaning and usage of words even if we do not agree with the philosphy behind those words. We can explain the meaning of the word "caliber" without taking a position on gun control. We can discuss the origin of the term "Nazi" without being anti-Semitic.

  • Nah. The point isn't that creationists are wrong (though they are, of course). The point is that creationists are not doing science. Whatever your feelings about Keynesian economics, it is economics. Creationism is not science. – TRiG Jul 6 '12 at 20:01
  • @TRiG, Ok, just linking to the comment above meta.english.stackexchange.com/questions/1479/… – Pacerier Apr 13 '16 at 23:03
  • @TRiG Not sure what got this one back on the radar, but: That's my point about ideological bias. I doubt any scientists today accept the phlogistan theory. But that doesn't make phlogistan theory "not science". That makes it a scientific theory that has been rejected. Ditto the planetary model of the atom, or Lamarkian evolution. If someone discusses experimental evidence and observation they are, by definition, "doing science", whether I agree with their conclusions or not. If you don't think creationists discuss experiments, observation, and evidence, you haven't read creationist literature. – Jay Apr 14 '16 at 13:33

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