Wednesday, February 11, 2015

Ten Misconceptions people have about Evolution

1. Evolution is a Theory.
Correction – It’s a fact in that it does occur. Nevertheless the exact impact of the various factors that are behind it are up for theoretical debate.

2. Evolution has a direction
Correction – Direction implies a goal. There is no goal to evolution, nor is there any purpose it is merely a consequence of a variety of interacting factors.

3. Charles Darwin came up with the idea of Evolution.
Correction – No, he didn’t. The idea has origins in Ancient Greece and has persisted throughout western scientific history (although not with the mainstream support that creationist ideas had). Various scientists have tried to explain what its principle ‘cause’ was (including Darwin’s famous grandfather Erasmus Darwin) however it was ‘Chucky’ himself who came up with the idea of natural selection as the chief phenomenon that drives the process.

4. Natural Selection is the only driver behind evolution
Correction- Natural Selection is a powerful force but it is not the only mechanism. Genetic Drift can be important too.

5. Charles Darwin wrote the definitive all encompassing work on the evolutionary mechanism.

Correction – Darwin’s work on the Galapagos Islands (during his voyage on the HMS Beagle) were critical to the formulation of his ideas on Natural Selection but his work was far from complete. He had no understanding of the Mendelian Genetics (let alone DNA) and in a sense produced more of a macro approach to the science than anything else.

6. Darwin was a the only scientist at the time thinking along these lines re: natural selection

Correction – Much overlooked in the history of this fascinating topic is the work of Alfred Russel Wallace who had reached similar conclusions to Wallace. Darwin published before Wallace (although Wallace had notified Darwin beforehand of the conclusions that he had reached). Wallace was the product of a working class environment and in a time when class distinction was all important in British society Darwin’s ties to the establishment may have given him the edge in this regard.

7. Evolution causes organisms to improve over time.

Correction – This again implies direction. Evolutionary change favours organisms that are better adapted to the environment at the time. However if the environment had to change these better adapted organisms may find themselves on the short end of the stick and out competed by their peers who they currently dominate. In summary it is the environment that is the key.

8. Evolution explains the origin of life.

Correction – Actually it doesn’t. Science has several useful ideas how this may have happened (it also may not be a one time event), almost all of it biochemical, but the issue is far from being meaningfully resolved.

9. Darwin removed the necessity to believe in a God as a creator.

Correction – This is the classic Richard Dawkins argument that has some merit in a world of strict materialism but it still fails to answer the origin of life question mentioned in 8. In addition it is indeed possible that there may be subtle forces at play that drive evolutionary change that our material based science cannot elucidate. If God is indeed all powerful, then God can act with pure subtlety, bypassing our best efforts to notice such action. Remember our science is limited and has constraints defined by sensory and rational limits.

10. Certain features are most certainly intelligently designed.

Correction: Intelligent Design constructs (eg. clotting mechanisms, Flagella in bacteria, the eye) are an illusion driven by an innate human need to see purpose and meaning within pattern. Structures proposed by ID proponents may exhibit facets of design but these can be explained adequately by natural selections without the need to bring in a designer. Besides some designs thought to be intelligent fall short of the description…most notably the blind spot in the retina, our pharynx (which increases choking risks) and the narrowness of the female birth canal.

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