Freedom had been hunted round the globe; reason was considered as rebellion; and the slavery of fear had made men afraid to think. But such is the irresistible nature of truth, that all it asks, and all it wants, is the liberty of appearing.
~ Thomas Paine, Rights of Man, 1791 ~

Thursday, May 29, 2014

Evolution: Common misconceptions

When creationists discuss evolution, they invariably misrepresent it and thus they mislead their audience, who are often not scientifically literate themselves. I want to highlight some of the more common misconceptions creationists have regarding evolution. The point of this article is not to ridicule, but to educate.

Since you are reading this, you are obviously interested in the subject, and I commend you on your bravery for looking beyond creationist material and hopefully attempting to weigh up the evidence for yourself.

Misconception 1: Evolution has never been observed

Evolution has been observed both in nature and in the laboratory.

In one example, lizards evolved into new species in just 30 years.
"In just a few decades the 5-inch-long (13-centimeter-long) lizards have developed a completely new gut structure, larger heads, and a harder bite, researchers say." 

Normally this amount of evolution would take much longer.
Typically evolution occurs very slowly, since it relies heavily on reproduction and thus it normally takes several generations before noticeable changes occur. However we can shortcut the process by observing animals and organisms that breed much more rapidly.

This is the reason why evolution is routinely observed in species such as fruit flies, and bacteria.
"One very interesting study published in 2008 bred fruit flies in continually lower oxygen environments to develop flies that are more resilient to hypoxia (lack of oxygen)." 
Another example is the decreasing efficacy of antibiotics in their defence against bacteria. This is simply natural selection at work, as the bacteria evolve resistance to the antibiotics.

There are also numerous other examples of evolution occurring in nature.
The sources I have linked to barely scratch the surface.

Misconception 2: Evolution violates the 2nd law of thermodynamics

This is more of a misunderstanding of thermodynamics than it is of evolution, but let's look closer:

"...the second law is that a closed system will not become more organized, and must either stay the same or become more disorganized. Because evolution leads to systems that can be considered more organized, some think that this violates the second law. However this is missing something very large, like the sun for instance. As long as there is energy being put into the system, the second law does not prevent things from becoming more organized." (emphasis mine) 
The point of mentioning the energy input from the sun here is to demonstrate that life on earth is not a closed system, and thus it does not violate the 2nd law of thermodynamics.
"However, they neglect the fact that life is not a closed system. The sun provides more than enough energy to drive things. If a mature tomato plant can have more usable energy than the seed it grew from, why should anyone expect that the next generation of tomatoes can't have more usable energy still?"
Misconception 3: There are no transitional fossils

It's easy to say, but comes up rather embarrassing when the evidence is presented.

A quick Google search will reveal this list of transitional fossils on Wikipedia.

Perhaps one of the more interesting transitional forms is the transition from fishes to the first amphibians.
Or maybe you'd like to see the transition from amphibians to the first reptiles.
If you have some time on your hands you could read about the transition from reptiles to the first mammals, or perhaps even the transition from reptiles to birds.

Misconception 4: Evolution doesn't make predictions

I referred to the discovery of the transitional fossil known as Tiktaalik in an earlier blog post. Scientists used information about the distribution of fossils to identify a gap in the fossil record. They determined the age of the rocks this fossil was predicted to be found in. They then looked for a place on earth where rocks of that age were accessible and exposed near the surface. They then set about digging in the most likely region. In 2004, they found exactly what they were looking for. Since then several similar fossils of Tiktaalik have been discovered, revealing a fish with fore and hind legs.

Read more about the discovery of Tiktaalik here.

And there's more...
"Darwin predicted, based on homologies with African apes, that human ancestors arose in Africa. That prediction has been supported by fossil and genetic evidence." 
Not only this, the theory of evolution has been put to practical use...
"Diseases and pests evolve resistance to the drugs and pesticides we use against them. Evolutionary theory is used in the field of resistance management in both medicine and agriculture"
Misconception 5: Evolution claims all life arose by chance

Firstly, the explanation for how life originated is not part of the theory of evolution. For that you need to look at abiogenesis. A good place to start would be here.

Now, regarding chance...
"Chance certainly plays a large part in evolution, but this argument completely ignores the fundamental role of natural selection, and selection is the very opposite of chance."
And here...
"Mutations can be considered essentially random, but the process of natural selection that drives most of evolution is the exact opposite of random."
Misconception 6: Evolution is a conspiracy against creationism

This article sums it up well:
'In summary, there is no evidence whatsoever that there is any sort of "conspiracy" or "group-think" among scientists in the areas of geology, evolution, physics or cosmology. To the contrary, when one peers beneath the smooth public veneer of the world of scientific research, one finds, more often than not, heated debates and disagreements, particularly at the forefront of research where genuine issues remain unresolved. In fact, in a real sense, virtually every scientific paper ever published (and hundreds of thousands are published each year) represents one voice in a debate, either supporting or debunking some other hypothesis or study.'
I hope you have found this article informative.
Please do check out the sources and I wish you all the best in your search for truth.