Which Part of Evolution Do You Disagree With?
Objections to the theory of evolution, and more specifically to Charles Darwin’s concept of natural selection, tend to resemble one of the following:
- “It contradicts the Bible.”
- “Certain body parts are too complex to have developed by this process.”
- “It’s the theory that something randomly came from nothing.”
- “There’s no morality in Darwin’s theory.”
- “If we believe in evolution, we’ll be supporting eugenics next.”
- “My great-grandparents were not apes!”
- “There’s this fossil that was found, which has no obvious relatives among the other fossils people have found so far.”
Interestingly, NONE of the above actually attack the basic mechanisms that make up the theory of evolution, such as natural selection, mutation, or genetic drift. That’s right, none. They are all objections with real or imagined peripheral topics, or outright misunderstandings.
The theory of evolution is not the theory that the Bible is wrong, or that something randomly comes from nothing, or that we should engage in ethnic cleansing, or that a chimpanzee gave birth to the first human. It has nothing at all to do with morality. It doesn’t disregard the complexity of life. It doesn’t demand that the entire fossil record be laid out in a convenient flow chart.
It’s simply an explanation for why living things are the way they are now, and how they came to be that way.
Creationists like to pick on natural selection the most. The central concepts of natural selection are:
- Organisms struggle to survive in an environment; not all will survive or reproduce.
- Organisms vary, and they inherit their traits from their parent(s).
- Organisms with traits that favor survival in their environment will survive and reproduce at a higher frequency than organisms with traits that disfavor survival in their environment.
If someone wants to debunk natural selection, demand that they pick one. To disprove it, all they have to do is find the faulty part.
Certainly there are plenty of conclusions, ancillary topics, applications in specific cases, and implications that spin off of those three central concepts. There are also academic debates about particular processes and relationships between species. But again, these are applications of the theory, not the theory.
To illustrate the difference, consider the well-supported theory that tobacco smoke can cause cancer. Suppose someone says that theory is false because:
- “It contradicts my faith that tobacco use is safe.”
- “Tobacco is perfectly affordable.”
- “The tobacco industry employs hundreds of thousands of people.”
- “I crave and enjoy tobacco.”
- “If tobacco smoke caused cancer, it would be the smoker’s fault if they got cancer.”
Of course, none of these statements contradict the theory that tobacco smoke can cause cancer. These are side topics. To disprove the theory that tobacco smoke can cause cancer, you would need to produce evidence that tobacco smoke does not cause cancer.
There’s a reason creationists don’t attack natural selection and the theory of evolution head-on. They would have to (1) claim that all organisms have an equal chance of surviving and reproducing, (2) deny that traits are inherited, or (3) claim that, over time, the population of organisms with a trait would be unaffected by the fact that this trait makes reproduction more or less likely.
In other words, you can choose to deny that some organisms die without reproducing, deny Mendellian genetics and thousands of years of agricultural experience, or deny math itself.
Pick your approach, critics!
As for the rest of us, we must quit letting creationists drag us off topic!
The theory itself is the debate, and evolution’s critics should be made to address it directly rather than being allowed to falsely redefine it.
All too often I hear creationists put defenders of evolutionary theory on the defensive with a barrage of false claims or tangents, which then becomes the argument – all the while, no one ever explains what the theory of evolution actually is.
The next time someone objects to the theory of evolution, ask them which of its core concepts they disagree with. They will reply with what they understand evolution to be, which will usually be an inaccurate concept taught to them by a religious leader. After all, shockingly few students in the United States are taught evolutionary theory in high school:
“Only 28 percent of high-school biology teachers followed the National Research Council and National Academy of Sciences recommendations on teaching evolution, which include citing evidence that evolution occurred and teaching evolution thematically, as a link between various biology topics.“
And now we come full circle:
Arguments that reflect ignorance of the theory are used to create political pressure to ban teaching of the theory. Teachers cave to the political pressure, resulting in ignorance of the theory, resulting in even fewer students being taught this basic concept that underpins all biological science.
This cycle will repeat until we insist upon debating on the actual, simple theory of evolution, rather than implications, slogans, or other distractions.
All we have to say is:
“That claim is not part of the theory of evolution, which is the topic we are talking about. Let’s start with the concept of natural selection, which has three parts…”
Then list the three parts. You did memorize them, right?