According to the most recent Gallup poll of Americans’ views on evolution, almost half of all respondents rejected the mainstream view of human origins. The number — 46 percent — has not changed meaningfully in more than two decades.
It’s anyone’s guess as to why that is. But to understand my theory, I offer an analogy, which actually involves individuals from the opposite side of the fence.
When I’m talking with atheists or agnostics who are passionately against any and all religion, I sometimes find that they have inaccurate (or just plain wrong) ideas about the teachings of the Bible, the nature of the Christian faith and the qualities of the God I believe in. In other words, some of those whom I’ve encountered have a poor understanding of the very thing they think they oppose.
And I’ve found that the same is often true of anti-evolutionists — in my experience, anyway.
So, as a free public service to my friends who think evolution should be spelled “evilution,” I offer the following Top 10 Signs That You Don’t Understand Evolution At All.
1. You think “it hasn’t been observed” is a good argument against it.
Popularized most recently by Ray Comfort’s mind-bendingly bad, gospel-poisoning movie, “Evolution vs. God,” this claim generally betrays not only a misunderstanding of evolution, but science in general. If the idea (that “scientific evidence must be both observable and repeatable”) were carried to its logical conclusion, it would cripple not only the study of evolution, but every line of historical inquiry. We would, in fact, be prohibited from exploring most matters that cannot be brought inside or recreated within a laboratory, whether they be large (the composition and origin of stars, for example) or small (like the forensic recreation of a crime scene).
Making viable conclusions based on inferences from the available evidence is not at all unscientific, and it is this reasoning that has compelled us toward the theory of evolution. Interestingly, evolution is observable and repeatable in the sense that scientists can make and test predictions of the theory, and this is exactly what they have been doing for more than a century. For example, the theory of evolution predicts that large-scale changes, like those that turned fishy ancestors into land-treading mammals, take many millions of years, so the fact that we haven’t observed anything like that since Darwin is a confirmation of his idea. If the fossil record, genetic evidence, laboratory experiments and more had not borne out this and other predictions, it would have immediately required modifications to the theory, and may have falsified it altogether.
This, of course, is the defining characteristic of science: Not that is observable and repeatable, but that it is testable and falsifiable. There is very little that fit the former criteria, but evolution absolutely fits the latter. As a side note, I do get a chuckle from YECs who claim evolution isn’t scientific because it isn’t observable or repeatable. Because, if anything is not observable or repeatable, it’s creationism. Therefore, their beliefs, too, are invalidated by their own argument.
2. You think we’ve never found a transitional fossil.
This claim is demonstrably false, and its use by those who claim to serve the Lord through whom came grace and truth is reprehensible. Strong language, I know, but Christians are explicitly commanded not to lie to each other, so this is inexcusable. We have found fossil series that clearly illustrate the transitions of dozens of major features in various lines. We have found “fishapods” and “frogamanders” and walking whales and feathered dinosaurs and half-shelled turtles. We have often and repeatedly found exactly what the theory of evolution predicted we would find, in the time period in which the theory predicted we would find it.
3. You think macroevolution is an inherently different process than microevolution.
At its core, “macroevolution” is simply the steady accumulation of the small changes we observe in “microevolution.” It seems any sane person must admit that, if small changes can occur, then it is logically consistent that small changes adding up over extremely long periods of time would result in very large changes. On the other hand, the creationist assertion that there is some mysterious, invisible barrier within “kinds” that prevents large-scale changes is as logically consistent as saying you can walk from your front door to the sidewalk, but walking to your friend’s house across town is fundamentally impossible.
4. You think mutations are always negative.
This is another one of those incredibly common and completely untrue statements that nothing more than a few minutes’ research on the Internet could have corrected. The truth is that mutations in nature are usually neutral — i.e., they have no effect on the gene or resulting protein. Of course, whether a mutation has a positive or negative effect — or no effect at all — is often dependent on environmental factors (for example, sickle cell anemia is a genetic disease, but it also protects against malaria — making it either a defect or a survival mechanism depending on one’s environment). Mutations that are inherently harmful are very rare. A 2000 study in Genetics showed that on average, out of 175 mutations in humans, only three are deleterious. And purely beneficial mutations have been observed, even in humans. Just ask the handful of villagers at Limone sul Garda, Italy, who possess a rare protein mutation that shields them from cardiovascular disease. I doubt they’re complaining.
5. You think it has anything to do with the origin of life, let alone the origins of the universe.
This is like the king of all straw men, and it’s extremely common. It involves something like the thoroughly debunked theory of spontaneous generation (the idea that life can come from non-life under normal circumstances) being used as evidence against the theory of evolution. Hear me on this, guys: Evolution has nothing to do with the origin of life. The theory of evolution presumes the existence of life, and it is a useless concept in the absence of life. And, as such, scientists’ current confusion over how life started has no impact whatsoever on the validity of the theory of evolution. In the same way, Newtonian physics presumes the existence of the universe; Newton did not have to explain how the universe came to be in order to understand how it operates now. Evolution is no different.
I’ve even seen people use things like stars and planets, or the supposed implausibility of the Big Bang theory (the cosmological model, not the show), to try and cast aspersions on the prevailing theory of how biological organisms on earth have come to look the way they do. These attempts are so nonsensical that I hope I don’t really need to address them here.
6. You use the phrase “it’s only a theory” and think you’ve made some kind of substantive statement.
I think the “only a theory” argument is so popular because of the unfortunate disparity between the common definition of “theory” in American pop culture, and the working definition of the word in science. In popular usage, “theory” means a “hunch” or a “guess” — and it’s the opposite of a “fact.” It’s conjecture, a shot in the dark that has just as much chance (and probably even more so) of being wrong as it has of being right.
In science, this definition is far more consistent with a “hypothesis” than a theory. Hypotheses are guesses; they are subject to experimentation, and they have no hope of progressing beyond the hypothesis “stage,” unless they are supported by experimentation. Theories are hypotheses that have “graduated”; they are comprehensive explanations of the available hard evidence. Scientific theories are not the opposite of facts; they are actually superior to facts in the hierarchy of terms because they explain facts. And while it is true that scientific theories can never really be “proven,” they can be confirmed through prediction, testing, experimentation and observation — which is exactly what has happened to evolution for the past 150 years.
Consider gravity. What is it? We don’t know. It is a theory, created to explain facts like “When I drop something, it falls down.” Gravity is, in fact, “only a theory,” just like evolution. But that doesn’t seem to make people any less nervous around heights.
7. You think acceptance of evolution is the same as religious faith.
Another one that you may have heard from our friend, Banana Ray. In his film “EvG” (which is subtitled, “Shaking the Foundations of Faith”), he underscores this supposed parallel by asking his victims — oh, I mean, “interview subjects” — ridiculous questions like “Are you a strong believer in evolution?” and “When did you first start believing in evolution?” His point, as he goes on to explain, is that anyone who accepts the truth of evolution based on the testimony of expert scientists is relying on “blind faith” in the same way atheists accuse religious people of doing.
“Blind faith” does indeed have pejorative connotations in secular usage, but RayCo lends credence to these undertones in a way that no True Christian™ should. That’s because the Bible talks about “blind” religious faith, and its description is anything but negative. In John 20:29, Jesus declares that those who “believe without seeing” are “blessed” (contrasting them with “doubting” Thomas, who asked for proof), and 1 Peter 8-9 warmly declares that those who have not and do not see Christ nonetheless are “filled with an inexpressible and glorious joy, for you are receiving the end result of your faith, the salvation of your souls.”
So, ironically, if RayCo really understood scripture he would realize that he was actually giving his victims — er, “interview subjects” — a compliment when he accused them of having “blind faith.” But I reject his assertion that the trust college students place in their experienced professors and peer-reviewed textbooks is in any way comparable to the glorious, joy-bringing, life-saving faith that the Bible describes.
Don’t misunderstand me. I’m a big supporter of critical thought — and of an engaged populace that rationally considers the information it receives before accepting it. But there are far worse people one could open one’s mind to than those who are sharing their expertise within the fields they have risen to the top of — especially when their conclusions are based on mountains of hard evidence that are available to anyone who doesn’t willfully choose to ignore it. The scientific community is extremely competitive, but it is also inherently open and transparent — and the modern comforts and advances you enjoy every day are proof that their methods work.
8. You think our modern understanding of it rests on a long series of hoaxes perpetuated by scientists.
Affirmed by the likes of everyone’s favorite nut-job conspiracy theorist meets cartoonist, Jack Chick, this idea is alive and well in evangelical culture. And why shouldn’t it be? Repeatedly assured by young-earth creationist groups that there is “absolutely no evidence for evolution,” what else would explain the theory’s unshakable dominance in the scientific community, courts and public schools besides a vast atheist conspiracy? And so, young-earthers on the Internet commonly parrot blatant falsehoods like “Archaeopteryx was a hoax” (they’re actually thinking of this; we have more than a dozen verified specimens of Archaeopteryx) and “Java Man and Peking Man were frauds” (not actually true; probably because of Piltdown Man, creationists seem to believe that any fossil with the word “man” in its name was a hoax).
The truth is that we have found fossilized remains of many of the links along our most recent evolutionary heritage, and anyone who thinks we haven’t is simply wrong. But what I find most interesting thing in the cases of Archaeoraptor, Piltdown Man and Nebraska Man (an accidental misclassification rather than a deliberate hoax), it was scientists — not skeptical creationists — that brought the truth to light. That alone should be enough to sink this conspiracy theory nonsense. Why would the very people who are supposed to be perpetuating a hoax be solely responsible for debunking evidence that would otherwise support their hoax?
They answer is obvious: They wouldn’t.
9. You don’t like Pokémon because you think it “promotes” evolution.
I haven’t encountered this sentiment in my dealings on this site, thankfully, but I was reminded of this “controversy” after the recent release of the latest entries in the Pokémon franchise, which I think are called Pokémon Yin and Yang, or Pokémon Peanut Butter and Jelly, or Pokémon Men are from Mars, Women are from Venus. Something like that.
Here is what the Pokémon version of evolution has in common with the theory of biological evolution as we understand it. No. 1: They’re both called “evolution.” No. 2: That’s it. In the game, Pokémon “evolve” into completely different creatures when they reach a certain level, or walk a certain number of steps, or are exposed to a “moon stone” and similar malarkey. In real life, species “evolve” when inheritable characteristics change over time and are passed onto successive generations.
Plain and simple: If a silly game causes you psychological discomfort just because it uses the word “evolution,” then it would seem you have problems I’m not trained or licensed to help you out with.
10. You think it’s inherently opposed to Christianity or the Bible.
Evolution, as defined by Helena Curtis and N. Sue Barnes in their textbook, “Biology,” is “any change in the frequency of alleles within a gene pool from one generation to the next.” It is beyond me how accepting this fact of science could possibly undermine one’s faith in Jesus — from whom originated all things which science is capable of exploring.
Christ is before all things, and in him all things hold together. Therefore, if evolution is true — as everything we know about biology, and a number of overlapping fields of inquiry indicate — then it is incapable of conflicting with the God-breathed truth of sacred scripture. If there appears to be a disagreement between the two, then the interpretation of the passage in question must be incorrect. For the Bible-believing Christian, there is no other option.