The Misconceptions of Evolution By Ransom R. Traxler In spite of our technical society and

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The Misconceptions of Evolution By Ransom R. Traxler In spite of our technical society and our public school system, most people believe in many misconceptions about evolution. This is due, in part, to educators who wish to avoid controversy or who do not fully understand the subject they teach. Furthermore, anti-evolutionists knowingly propagate these erroneous beliefs in their religious crusade against science. As a systematic biologist (in whose field organic evolution begins), I wish to correct a few of these myths. These statements are not just personal beliefs--they are facts and concepts supported by volumes of research and agreed upon by those scientists who are most knowledgeable about the subject. _Evolution is just a theory._ Evolution is a valid scientific theory, just like electricity, gravity, atoms, light, cells, and disease-causing germs are valid scientific theories also. For example, we are taught that the earth orbits the sun; scientists call this the heliocentric theory. A theory in science is a highly-tested, verified and demonstrated explanation for observed facts, not "a guess or conjecture." To state that evolution is only a theory is the same as stating that gravity is only a theory. Knowing this, who would still wish to contest it by jumping off a building? _Evolution is not based on facts._ There are facts and theories about evolution. The facts of evolution are that the earth is billions of years old and that the life on it has changed over that time. The fossil record is clear that life living today differs greatly from that living, say, 300 million years ago. In between we have a vast collection of fossils that, as one looks at younger and younger specimens, become more modern-looking. The theories of evolution are about what caused this metamorphosis. We know several mechanisms that can produce changes in organisms: natural selection, genetic drift, the founder effect, genetic recombination and mutations are just a few. The debates scientists have are about the mechanism of evolution, not the fact that it has occurred. Practicing scientists do not doubt evolution. _Darwin invented evolution._ Would one say that Newton invented gravity or Einstein invented time? The evidence for evolution had been known by scientists for centuries. In the sixteenth, seventeenth and eighteenth centuries the early naturalists, who were also clergy, discovered that the earth was very old and that life was very different in the past. However, evolution was not generally accepted because no one knew how it was happening. In the nineteenth century Darwin was the first to propose a valid mechanism to explain what produced evolution. Since then his mechanism, natural selection, has been thoroughly tested and was rapidly accepted by scientists everywhere. Likewise, continental drift was thought of since Benjamin Franklin's time, but it was not until the 1960's that a valid mechanism, plate tectonics, was discovered. Today scientists accept it as they accept evolution. We now have several mechanisms that explain how evolution occurs, discovered by many scientists over the last century. _Evolution is caused by blind chance._ In all aspects of evolution (cosmic, chemical and organic) natural laws and principles can explain what has occurred. These influences act as a controlling force that guides evolution to predictable outcomes. Cosmic evolution is governed by the laws of physics, not chance. Gravity and nuclear reactions cause the birth and death of stars and planets (we have witnessed these events with telescopes). Chemical evolution abides by the laws of molecular reactions which can produce complicated organic molecules naturally (we have witnessed this in the laboratory). Organic evolution is directed by biological principles such as natural selection and genetics, which again we have observed in the laboratory. The odds are, at the moment of conception, over 70,000,000,000,000 (70 million million) to one that your genes will not come together in the combination now in your body. However, you are here and it was all controlled by the principles of genetics. Natural forces and laws govern and direct evolution, not "blind chance." _Complex organisms, such as ourselves, must have been designed by a more complex, intelligent creator._ This argument has been shown to be logically and scientifically false for at least a hundred years, yet it is still used by anti-evolutionists in their religious crusade. Logically for their argument to be true, two criteria must be adhered to: One: everything as complex as a living organism must have been designed. No exceptions, or else we could be here not by design but by the natural process of evolution. Two: everything as complex as a living organism must have a designer even more complex than it is. If this was not true, then we could have been designed by a less complex primate who, in turn was designed by a less complex mammal, and on and on to a primordial cell. This is a teleologic view of evolution. Since the two conditions above must be true or the design argument fails miserably then who designed our more-complex-than-we-are-designer? And who, in turn, designed him? These two conditions require an infinite number of designers, each one more complex than the one he designed. Scientifically, there is another choice instead of a designer or blind chance; evolution, which is guided by the laws and forces of nature. We have documented cases of changes produced by natural selection, which acts as a "designing force" to make organisms better suited to their environment. However, it is not as perfect as an omnipotent designer would be. There are thousands of examples of poor design in nature. Many organisms use modified organs that barely suit their need; many organisms have vestigial parts that do not help them but could actually harm (wisdom teeth and appendix in us, hind limbs in whales and snakes, and much more). If this is the work of a designer, then it was a terrible job. We, with artificial selection (breeding) and genetic changes, are improving on some of the poor designs of nature. _Creationism is another scientific explanation._ This is definitely not true. Creationism is a religious belief based on the [Christian] Bible. Evolution is a scientific explanation based on observation, experimentation and objective evaluation. None of the vast store of scientific data we have supports a literal interpretation of the [Christian] Book of Genesis. The small amount of "scientific" evidence propagated by "scientific creationists" has been investigated by the scientific community using the scientific method (just like evolution has been for over 150 years). Most of these claims were abandoned by scientists over two centuries ago because the data and experiments did not support them. The newest claims were found to be distortions and misrepresentations of firmly established data. Creationism is a religious belief and, as such, everyone is free to believe it or not; but as a scientific explanation, it has no support whatsoever in fact. _Creationism should be given equal time in the science class because so many people believe in it._ Many people believe in astrology; should it be given time in an astronomy class? Or how about alchemy in a chemistry class? Numerology in a mathematics class? Atlantis and ancient astronauts in a history class? Flat-earth in a geography class? If some people believe that 6x9=42, should we give the students two multiplication tables and let them choose which one they will use? The science classroom is not where religious beliefs should be presented as fact for the student to accept or reject as he/she wants. Instead, the classroom is where the current knowledge in the field is presented to students to increase their understanding of that subject. _Evolution should not be taught because it is unimportant._ Evolution is to biology as atoms are to chemistry. It is the unifying concept that connects genetics, anatomy, medical science, taxonomy and many others into a comprehensible framework. It is THE central idea of biology that ties together all its subparts. Evolutionary biology explains the distribution of life on this planet, tissue rejection in transplants, and how our body works. In other fields cosmic evolution is the center of astronomy (it tells us how the universe and stars function) and earth evolution is the basic concept of geology (it tells us how the earth came to be as it is today). What would chemistry be like without atoms to explain how and why chemicals react as they do; or physics without the concept of energy being able to convert into different forms to explain how a steam engine works? What if a teacher felt that atoms or energy were unimportant and ignored them in his/her chemistry or physics class? Without the why and how explained by evolution, much of science becomes a meaningless collection of facts with no logical association or understanding. _Evolution should not be taught because it is contrary to some people's religious beliefs._ First of all our government is religiously neutral according to our Constitution. Therefore, religion cannot be a factor in determining the curriculum. Secondly, the teacher has the obligation to present the students all the knowledge of the subject being taught based on their level of understanding. Any science teacher who fails to present evolution properly to the students betrays the trust placed in them by the public and acts in an unprofessional manner. _Evolution should not be taught because it promotes the religion of secular humanism._ Evolution is a science and that is all it is. People are free to form whatever philosophies or religions they want based on whatever source they want. Some people have formed their belief system around old books variously translated through the years. Primitive people use [a] [god, gods, goddess, or goddesses] to explain ordinary occurrences in nature because that is the only way they can comprehend the world around them. Scientists of all religions accept evolution because it is the best scientific explanation we have not because of some religious reason. As a religiously-neutral science, it should be taught in the classroom. _Evolution is anti-God._ Impossible, for science just like mathematics is neutral towards any religious belief. Science and religion are two separate philosophies dealing with different realms. Religion deals with the supernatural and cannot be supported by experimentation--it must be accepted by faith alone. Science deals with the natural universe and its discoveries can be confirmed or disproved by experimentation -- scientific ideas are accepted by the scientific community based on evidence. Evolution, as any science, can never say anything about the "Ultimate Cause" of the universe and our existence; these can only be answered by religion. Since these two philosophies deal with different realms, there is no basic conflict between them. _Evolutionists are atheists._ Many scientists and science teachers are devoutly Christian or Jewish. [Or deists, Wiccans, Pagans, Muslims... - flr] Some of the great founders of evolutionary biology were strong theists. A few of us are atheists. This is because we are able to separate the two realms of our lives--the spiritual and the material. Since evolution does not deny the existence of a Supreme Being, one is free to hold whatever beliefs there are in one. Saying that "evolutionists are atheists" is just like saying "apple-lovers are orange- haters." One can like (or dislike) both apples and oranges. _Scientists believe in evolution as their religion since they do not believe in God._ The religious beliefs of scientists are as varied as it is in any group of professional people. Unfortunately our secondary school textbooks and various media sources like to use the phrase "Scientists believe..." whenever they present evolution as if the scientists hold a unique religious belief. This is especially harmful when facts are presented, because it gives the student or layperson the idea that the facts are not supported by evidence and can be accepted as questionable. What would happen if a teacher were to say, "Mathematicians believe that 5x6=30" or "Historians believe that we fought a civil war in the 1860's?" Instead of saying "Scientists believe in evolution" one should say "Scientists accept evolution based on the overwhelming objective evidence in its favor." _Evolution is "The Big Lie" that Satan tempted Eve with in the Garden of Eden._ This may not sound like a scientific statement, but it is repeated frequently by the "scientific creationists." In fact one such group, the Institute for Creation Research, publishes a book entitled "The Lie: Evolution" with a large poster showing a serpent holding an apple marked EVOLUTION. These people state that scientists lie while they spread "The Truth." So then what is "The Truth?" -=- Creationists are the masters of prevarication. In their presentations they frequently make false statements about science and scientists; anyone familiar with biology or geology can spot them. Then why do they do it? One reason could be that they are ignorant about science and, therefore, make many mistakes. However, they say that they are experts on evolution and have some degree in engineering or theology to prove it. A practicing scientist knows these statements are false and ridiculous; many of us have exposed them as such. Then why are they still frequently repeated? The other possibility is that these anti-evolutionists know the statements are false, yet repeat them anyway. Many of the "scientific creationist" debaters make statements they cannot prove; in fact, many scientists have proved their claims as false and they have admitted their error. Yet in their next debate or presentation, they repeat these falsehoods unabatedly. I can show anyone the scientific evidence to support what I said above. This is more than what "scientific creationists" can do. In this country anybody can hold whatever religious beliefs they want to; however, when they say that these beliefs are scientific and should be taught in public schools, they must produce evidence to support what they say. I have always found it amazing how many falsehoods and distortions are said by those spreading "The Truth." There are many more misunderstandings about evolution which a quality science education will expose. Until such teaching becomes the standard, we scientists and educators need to reveal these myths for what they are--an attempt to mislead the public and discredit the scientists and teachers who have devoted their lives to increasing our knowledge of the universe solely for the purpose of converting students and the public to a specific religious belief system. [This article was the basis for Traxler's lecture before the Missouri Association for Creationism meeting in April, 1991. Ransom R. Traxler is the Director of the St. Louis Association for the Teaching of Evolution (SLATE), P.O. Box 462, O'Fallon, IL 62269-0462. This article reprinted with permission from the May/June 1991 issue of _The American Rationalist_. Permission to reprint this article must be obtained in writing from _The American Rationalist_, P.O. Box 994, St. Louis, MO 63188.]


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