A few misconceptions about Evolution

This week I’ll be writing about misconceptions about The Theory of Evolution. Alas I see people make mistakes more and more often. A lot of these mistakes are made in religious debate and other more important issues, so I feel it’s important to get a few facts straight before people criticize something that they have no idea about.

One of the most often made mistakes is the confusion about the word ‘theory’. What is important to remember is that theory has an everyday meaning in language but also a scientific meanings. In everyday terms people say a theory when they mean a hunch, or being speculative about a certain subject. However, in scientific use, it is a hypothesis that has been supported by evidence that is repeatedly confirmed through observation and experimentation.  We use theories to form a sort of foundation to do future experiments and to further gain knowledge. So the theory of evolution, just like gravity, the atomic model and the theory of relativity cannot be just thrown aside as “it’s not fact, it is a theory”.

“Evolution is random” is also something I see a lot. It’s true that some parts in the total picture of evolution is random, like the genetic mutations that take place, but evolution is far more than random mutation alone. The process is hand-in-hand with natural selection, a process that is not at all random. An individual’s chance to survive may increase or decrease due to the random mutations in his DNA. He might develop a mutation that is beneficial for its survival, which means it can live longer, have a longer period of time to create offspring that will also inherit this mutation and might even produce more offspring than it would usually do. This natural selection is based on one’s environment and the ‘ability’ to adapt to it, making it non-random, thus making the entire process involved non-random.

“Evolution gives organisms what they need”. No, this is also false. As we said in the previous part the mutations are random, and the (often) beneficial ones stick. Evolution has no direction or sense where it is going.

“Human have stopped evolving, as we have no survival of the fittest anymore”. This is also not true. Humans indeed have stopped evolving in accordance our ‘natural environment’ as we are able to form our own environment around us.  Human have only ‘changed the direction’ of evolution. We are simply no longer faced with the same challenges our ancestors did. The parts we are evolving the most are disease resistances, because we are prone to epidemics due to the high density of the population.

“If Humans evolved from monkeys, how come there are still monkeys nowadays?”  Well this is kind of the pinnacle of getting the wrong idea. Like every species, humans have evolved. However, the ape which bears our resemblance is not our ancestor. This may be seen as a more ‘simple’ form of human but it is not. Apes and Humans simple share an ancestor. About 6 million years ago humans and chimpanzees shared an ancestor. A sort of ‘humanzee’ if you like. This common ancestor’s offspring started to differ more and more as time went by. One ‘branch’ started to look more like humans and the other more like the chimpanzees we know today.

scientificamerican0606-4sp-I5

References;

David R. Begun and John Gurche – Planet of the Apes Scientific American 16-4 13 (2006)

Misconception on Evolution (Worth the read if you would like to see more)

http://evolution.berkeley.edu/evolibrary/misconceptions_faq.php#a1

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