The Five Most Common Misunderstandings About Evolution
The Five Most Common Misunderstandings About Evolution
By Paula Kover / theconversation.com
Feb 22, 2016

Given its huge success in describing the natural world for the past 150 years, the theory of evolution is remarkably misunderstood. In a recent episode of the Australian series of “I’m a Celebrity Get Me Out of Here”, former cricket star Shane Warne questioned the theory – asking “if humans evolved from monkeys, why haven’t today’s monkeys evolved”?

Similarly, a head teacher from a primary school in the UK recently stated that evolution is a theory rather than a fact. This is despite the fact that children in the UK start learning about evolution in Year 6 (ten to 11-year-olds), and have further lessons throughout high school. While the theory of evolution is well accepted in the UK compared with the rest of the world, a survey in 2005 indicated that more than 20% of the country’s population was not sure about it, or did not accept it.

In contrast, there are not many people questioning the theory of relativity, or studies on the acceptance of the theory of relativity; possibly reflecting an acceptance that this is a matter for physicists to settle. Many studies have tried to determine why evolution is questioned so often by the general public, despite complete acceptance by scientists. Although no clear answer has been found, I suspect the common misconceptions described below have something to do with it.

1. It’s just a theory

Yes, scientists call it the “theory of evolution”, but this is in recognition of its well accepted scientific standing. The term “theory” is being used in the same way that gravitational theory explains why, when an apple falls from your hand, it goes towards the ground. There is no uncertainty that the apple will fall to the ground, in the same way that there is no uncertainty that bugs resistant to antibiotics will continue to evolve if we do not curb our general use of antibiotics.

Although people use “theory” in everyday conversation to mean a not necessarily proven hypothesis, this is not the case in scientific terms. A scientific theory typically means a well substantiated explanation of some aspect of the natural world that sits above laws, inferences, and tested hypotheses.

2. Humans are descended from monkeys

No, your great-great-great-ancestor was not a monkey. Evolution theory indicates that we have common ancestors with monkeys and apes – among the existing species, they are our closest relatives. Humans and chimpanzees share more than 90% of their genetic sequence. But this common ancestor, which roamed the earth approximately 7m years ago was neither a monkey nor a human, but an ape-like creature that recent research suggests had traits that favoured the use of tools.

 

3. Natural selection is purposeful

There are many organisms that are not perfectly adapted to their environment. For example, sharks don’t have a gas bladder to control their buoyancy (which bony fish typically use). Does this refute the theory of evolution? No, not at all. Natural selection can only randomly favour the best of what is available, it does not purposefully turn all living organisms into one super creature.

It would be really convenient if humans could photosynthesise; hunger could be immediately cured by standing in the sun (and the much-sought miracle diet would have been found: stay inside). But alas, the genetic ability to photosynthesise has not appeared in animals. Still, selection of the best option possible has led to an amazing diversity of forms remarkably well adapted to their environments, even if not perfect.

4. Evolution can’t explain complex organs

A common argument in favour of creationism is the evolution of the eye. A half developed eye would serve no function, so how can natural selection slowly create a functional eye in a step-wise manner? Darwin himself suggested that the eye could have had its origins in organs with different functions. Organs that allow detection of light could then have been favoured by natural selection, even if it did not provide full vision. These ideas have been proven correct many years later by researchers studying primitive light-sensing organs in animals. In molluscs like snails and segmented worms, light-sense cells spread across the body surface can tell the difference between light and dark.

5. Religion is incompatible with evolution

It is important to make it clear that evolution is not a theory about the origin of life. It is a theory to explain how species change over time. Contrary to what many people think, there is also little conflict between evolution and most common religions. Pope Francis recently reiterated that a belief in evolution isn’t incompatible with the Catholic faith. Going further, the reverend Malcom Brown from the Church of England statedthat “natural selection, as a way of understanding physical evolutionary processes over thousands of years, makes sense.” He added: “Good religion needs to work constructively with good science” and vice-versa. I fully agree.


 - Reader in Biology and Biochemistry, University of Bath

4.0 ·
2
Trending Today
How Mindfulness Empowers Us
2 min · 7,514 views today · Many traditions speak of the opposing forces within us, vying for our attention. Native American stories speak of two wolves, the angry wolf and the loving wolf, who both live...
Looking Forward to the Day That Nationalism Is as Reviled as Racism
Tim Hjersted · 5,825 views today · Nationalism is a form of geographical racism that makes some lives matter more than others, and explicitly justifies that logic without apology. While today, not even lying...
Trump Is a Symptom of a Sickness That Is Raging All Across The World
1 min · 5,679 views today · This is why we are here. And this is what we need to remember. 
Why It's Crucial for Women to Heal the Mother Wound
Bethany Webster · 4,177 views today · The issue at the core of women’s empowerment is the mother wound
Supporters 'Ecstatic' After Obama Commutes Chelsea Manning's Sentence
Nika Knight · 2,779 views today · Whistleblower to be released from military prison in May
What Is My Activism Really About? to Love, Serve and Remember
Tim Hjersted · 2,769 views today · I have made a promise to this world that I will carry with me to my last days. It is my vow to lessen the suffering of the world while I am here - it is to ensure that every...
John Lennon's "Imagine," Made Into a Comic Strip
John Lennon. Art by Pablo Stanley · 2,662 views today · This is easily the best comic strip ever made.  Pabl
Escape! From the Cult of Materialism (2016)
50 min · 2,098 views today · Does the philosophy of materialism work to destroy our identities, experience, and environment? Join narrator Daphne Ellis on a radical romp through the evidence and decide for...
Dinosaur explains Trump policies better than Trump!
8 min · 887 views today · Donald Trump is actually the corporate triceratops, Mr. Richfield, from the 90's TV show sitcom, "Dinosaurs". 
The Invention of Capitalism: How a Self-Sufficient Peasantry was Whipped Into Industrial Wage Slaves
Yasha Levine · 616 views today · “…everyone but an idiot knows that the lower classes must be kept poor, or they will never be industrious.” —Arthur Young; 1771 Our popular economic wisdom says that...
Today I Rise: This Beautiful Short Film Is Like a Love Poem For Your Heart and Soul
4 min · 599 views today · "The world is missing what I am ready to give: My Wisdom, My Sweetness, My Love and My hunger for Peace." "Where are you? Where are you, little girl with broken wings but full...
Stunning Photos By Alexander Semenov Showcase The Alien Beauty Of Jellyfish
Earth Porm · 534 views today · Jellyfish appear like beautiful aliens in Alexander Semenov’s photography, calling a new attraction to a magical species of marine life. Alexander Semenov is a marine...
Coping With Narcissistic Personality Disorder in the White House
N Ziehl · 502 views today · I want to talk a little about narcissistic personality disorder. I’ve unfortunately had a great deal of experience with it, and I’m feeling badly for those of you who are...
The Top 100 Documentaries We Can Use to Change the World
Films For Action · 456 views today · A more beautiful, just and sustainable world is possible. Take this library and use it to inspire global change!
The Greening of the Self: The Most Important Development of Modern Times
Joanna Macy · 387 views today · Something important is happening in our world that you are not going to read about in the newspapers. I consider it the most fascinating and hopeful development of our time...
Before He Was Assassinated, MLK Jr. Was Advocating For An End To Income Inequality
10 min · 371 views today · We can honor MLK Jr. by pursuing the causes he was advocating for before he was killed.  ​​ Part 2: The Basic Income, A New Human Right (3 minutes) MLK's idea of a basic...
One "Piece of the Oppressor" That I Have Discovered Within Myself
Tim Hjersted · 345 views today · One "piece of the oppressor" that I have found in myself during my inner activist journeys is my use of shame as a method of engaging with the world's problems. Having learned...
90 Inspiring and Visionary Films That Will Change How You See the World in Profound Ways
Tim Hjersted · 302 views today · The world today is in crisis. Everybody knows that. But what is driving this crisis? It's a story, a story that is destroying the world. It's a story about our relationship to...
This Woman Gets No Applause...Why? They Are Too Creeped Out...
7 min · 286 views today · Think you aren't being fooled by advertising tricks? Take a look at this so-called expert revealing food marketing's secret weapon. No amount of marketing makes factory farming...
Watch How Europeans Carved Up African Land They Never Owned
56 min · 250 views today · Watch how Europeans gave away African land they never owned, then expressed anger when Africans resisted. The film is called Africa: A Voyage of Discovery, Episode 6: The...
Load More
What's Next
Like us on Facebook?
The Five Most Common Misunderstandings About Evolution