- If you think you understand it, you don't know nearly enough about it.
- It will soon1 be 200 years since the birth of Charles Darwin and 150 years since the publication of On the Origin of Species, arguably the most important book ever written. In it, Darwin outlined an idea that many still find shocking - that all life on Earth, including human life, evolved through natural selection.
- Darwin presented compelling evidence for evolution2 in On the Origin and, since his time, the case has become overwhelming. Countless fossil discoveries allow us to trace the evolution3 of today's organisms from earlier forms. DNA sequencing has confirmed beyond any doubt that all living creatures share a common origin. Innumerable examples of evolution4 in action can be seen all around us, from the pollution-matching peppered moth to fast-changing viruses such as HIV and H5N1 bird flu. Evolution5 is as firmly established a scientific fact as the roundness of the Earth.
- And yet despite an ever-growing mountain of evidence, most people around the world are not taught the truth about evolution6, if they are taught about it at all. Even in the UK, the birthplace of Darwin with an educated and increasingly secular population, one recent poll suggests less than half the population accepts evolution7.
- For those who have never had the opportunity to find out about biology or science, claims made by those who believe in supernatural alternatives to evolutionary8 theory can appear convincing. Meanwhile, even among those who accept evolution9, misconceptions abound.
- Most of us are happy to admit that we do not understand, say, string theory in physics, yet we are all convinced we understand evolution10. In fact, as biologists are discovering, its consequences can be stranger than we ever imagined. Evolution11 must be the best-known yet worst-understood of all scientific theories.
- So here is New Scientist's guide to some of the most common myths and misconceptions about evolution12.
- There are already several good and comprehensive guides out there. But there can't be too many.
- Shared misconceptions
- Everything is an adaptation produced by natural selection
- Natural selection is the only means of evolution14
- Natural selection leads to ever-greater complexity
- Evolution15 produces creatures perfectly adapted to their environment
- Evolution16 always promotes the survival of species
- It doesn't matter if people do not understand evolution17
- "Survival of the fittest" justifies "everyone for themselves"
- Evolution18 is limitlessly creative
- Evolution19 cannot explain traits such as homosexuality
- Creationism provides a coherent alternative to evolution20
- Creationist myths
- Evolution21 must be wrong because the Bible is inerrant
- Accepting evolution22 undermines morality
- Evolutionary23 theory leads to racism and genocide
- Religion and evolution24 are incompatible
- Half a wing is no use to anyone
- Evolutionary25 science is not predictive
- Evolution26 cannot be disproved so is not science
- Evolution27 is just so unlikely to produce complex life forms
- Evolution28 is an entirely random process
- Mutations can only destroy information, not create it
- Darwin is the ultimate authority on evolution29
- The bacterial flagellum is irreducibly complex
- Yet more creationist misconceptions
- Evolution30 violates the second law of thermodynamics
Footnote 1: As of 16 April 2008.
Footnote 13: Follow the link to the Website for the articles with the titles below.
Text Colour Conventions (see disclaimer)
- Blue: Text by me; © Theo Todman, 2020
- Mauve: Text by correspondent(s) or other author(s); © the author(s)