One of the difficulties people have with coming to accept the science of evolution is that they have absorbed incorrect or only partially correct information. I’ve kept a list of the mischaracterizations I’ve come across, and I present ten of them here in no particular order.
- Evolution claims that we evolved from monkeys.
No it doesn’t. It doesn’t even claim we evolved from chimpanzees! Rather, evolution predicts that all life on the planet is related. That is to say that if you go back enough generations, you’ll come to a common ancestor for any two life forms. For humans and chimpanzees, the best evidence strongly suggests that the line leading to humans diverged from the line leading to chimpanzees six or seven million years ago. That original population was neither human nor chimpanzee.
- If we evolved from monkeys, why are there still monkeys around?
Start with the same correction as given in #1—apes are closer relatives than monkeys. And then there is a similar misconception. The theory of evolution does not say that currently existing species came from other currently existing species. The most recent common ancestors between humans and Old World monkeys (those from Africa and Asia) were about 25 million years ago (the New World monkeys in South and Central America split off earlier).
- The 2nd Law of Thermodynamics disproves evolution
The reasoning here seems to be that the 2nd Law of Thermodynamics says that disorder (a.k.a. entropy) increases over time. So evolution cannot be correct, since it claims that there is increasing complexity over time. For example, buildings if they are left to themselves become dilapidated over time, rather than remodelling themselves into something better (increasing in order and complexity). But of course the key here is “if they are left to themselves.” The 2nd Law of Thermodynamics applies to closed systems in which there is no external source of energy. But the earth is not a closed system! There is massive energy being poured into the system constantly from the sun. The sun’s energy is converted through natural processes into other forms of energy and powers the development of life on earth. If you include the sun within our system, then yes, things are running down. But we’ve got a few billion years left before the usable energy from the sun is gone.
- No new information can be added to DNA through natural processes.
Yes it can. Any reasonable definition of “new information” in this context has to mean something like “instructions to build something useful that weren’t there before.” That happens a lot through genetic mutations and gene duplication. Here’s a short YouTube video that explains how.
- Evolution is a theory in crisis. No it’s not. Of course scientists debate and argue about the specifics—that’s how science works. But the general framework of evolution including the common descent of all species is overwhelmingly supported by scientists. 98% of the members of AAAS (and 99% of research scientists) accept human evolution (see study). Some of the confusion on this point is that the term “Neo-Darwinism” is often used to mean the specific proposal that there is nothing more to evolution than random genetic mutations and natural selection. There is a lot of debate and dissension among scientists about that point. But it is completely illegitimate to go from “There is vigorous debate about Neo-Darwinism” to the conclusion, “Therefore evolution is a theory in crisis.” That is only rhetoric. [Editor's note: For more on this, go to our new Common Questions page on the subject.]
- There are no transitional fossils.
Well, that depends on what you mean by that. My ancestors are mostly from Germany, but if you went to a cemetery there from several hundred years ago (even in the hometown of my 8th-great grandparents), it would be pretty remarkable if you picked out one tombstone at random and hit upon a direct ancestor of mine. Many of those “fossils” could be fairly close relatives of mine (much closer than those found in Japan), but they represent different lineages that did not lead to me. The same goes for fossils of the ancestors of a species. When we find a specimen that appears to have “transitional” characteristics between two species, like a whale-ish creature with tiny legs, it would be rare if that organism itself led directly to modern whales. But when it is found in the right place and right time period, it is undoubtedly closely related to the truly transitional organism. We might better call these “intermediate” fossils. And there are gobs of these in the fossil record. Together, they make an impressive picture of the transition that occurred between species.
- Evolution is merely “Historical Science” and therefore can’t be tested or confirmed.
This is so widely proclaimed, and it perpetuates massive misunderstanding about science. There are lots of different “sciences”, and lots of ink has been spilled attempting to give a precise definition of what it is to be science (often called the demarcation problem). And there is no one sanctioning body who has the authority to determine what counts as real science and what doesn't. Evolution begins with careful observations (e.g., I found this bone in this layer of rock); then hypotheses are offered for why those specific observations were made (e.g., the bone belonged to a species that lived 65 million years ago); as the hypotheses are developed, they give rise to predictions of other observations (e.g., we should be able to find similar bones in these other layers of rock); and the hypotheses are tested by making those new observations. When the new observations turn out as predicted, they count as confirming evidence (not absolute proof--that doesn’t happen much in any science); when the observations are different than expected, we have to rethink our hypotheses. That kind of process is as scientific as you get. The new science of genetics shows even more clearly how the theory of evolution is tested and confirmed.
- Evolution is man’s word, Creationism is God’s word
First, it should be noted that there are lots of women working on evolution too. Then, if the claim is that Young Earth Creationism (or Old Earth Creationism or Evolutionary Creationism, for that matter) is God’s Word, that is dangerously close to blasphemy. These theories of origins are put together by people. All of them attempt to interpret the Bible responsibly. None of them were handed down from Heaven. If the claim instead is that Young Earth Creationism is taken directly from a plain reading of God’s Word, see the next misconception.
- The plain reading of Scripture clearly supports six day Creationism
If “plain reading” means “what the words clearly mean in my language and culture”, then I suppose Exodus 20:11 could be used to support six day Creationism. But if that is really how we’re supposed to read Scripture, then 1 Samuel 2:8 means the earth is set on pillars, and Deuteronomy 21:21 means we should stone our rebellious sons, and John 15:5 means Jesus is a plant, and Roman 16:16 means we should kiss everyone we meet. The “plain reading” of Scripture leads to picking and choosing which verses we like and which we ignore. That is not a responsible way to read the Bible. There are reasons we don’t take the plain meaning of those other verses as the best interpretation of Scripture; that makes us at least ask whether there might be reasons not to take Exodus 20:11 and Genesis 1 in their plain sense.
- Christian scholars accept the Evolutionary Creation position out of the desire for professional advancement.
The thinking here is that they want to hold on to their Christian faith, but accept evolution in order to be accepted by their professional peers. I’d be interested in seeing any actual data that supports this claim. I can produce a lot of data that refutes it. Christian scholars typically work at secular universities or Christian colleges. For those at secular universities, to admit they hold to Evolutionary Creation can call their scientific credentials into question. And for those at Christian colleges, showing any sign of being open to the evidence for evolution is not the ticket to career advancement. Believe me, I know this one personally. I don’t know anyone who has accepted Evolutionary Creation for reasons other than being persuaded by the evidence.
What other misconceptions about evolution do you hear? Let’s talk about it in the comments.
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