n a previous post I discussed the "good enough" mentality that most Christians have regarding their faith and the infallibility of the scriptures. That post aimed broadly at the Christian faith overall but there's a sinister implementation of this mentality I'd like to address now. This post pertains to the "good enough" mentality regarding the Theory of Evolution.
Above is a Christian parody of the Descent of Man illustration from a fairly well-written Revelife article on the Christian misunderstandings of evolution. You may want to take a minute and read it. This post will still be here when you get back.
Back now? Good! As you may have read, even some Christians can acknowledge the finger-in-ears behavior one observes when trying to discuss evolution with the faithful. The biggest hurdle you must overcome is the acceptance of the Biblical creation account as inerrant fact. If a Christian believes that man and woman were created less than 10,000 years ago from dirt and a rib then you've got your work cut out for you. These are truly the "good enough" crowd and it's unlikely you'll be able to help them understand why they're wrong about evolution. However, you can always try. I'll address the common misconceptions Christians have about evolution in a list so you it's easier to read through.
Religious Myths About Evolution
- HUMANS DON'T COME FROM MONKEYS!
This is absolutely true. It is not, however, true for the reasons the Christian may think. The problem, I believe, stems from the illustration above. If you give a figurative illustration to a person who takes the Bible literally, chances are good that they'll take the illustration literally. What does it look like is happening? Monkeys are turning into men right before your eyes!The unfortunate Christian doesn't realize that we're not talking about literal descent like you would talk about your grandparents and your children. We're talking about slow, gradual change and transitional forms over a very, very, very long period of time. The frustrating thing about evolution is that, unless you're talking about Mayflies who only live for 24 hours, you won't ever live long enough to directly observe it in action. Rest assured, however, that no monkey has ever given birth to a human. We can safely put Bonzo to bed.
- IF HUMANS COME FROM MONKEYS, WHY ARE THERE STILL MONKEYS?
For the reasons listed above, this argument starts out just flat-out wrong. Furthermore, I believe that the misunderstanding voiced in this question can be traced - again - back to the illustration. If one assumes that the monkey at the left is turning into the human on the right, then it would stand to reason that once all the monkeys transmogrified into humans there would eventually be no monkeys left.
Fortunately for monkeys, that's not the claim that the Theory of Evolution makes. Let's try to reword it so it makes sense to a Biblical literalist:
Evolution means that mutations which occur in some species of animal may be passed on to offspring and accumulate over very long periods of time. Because these mutations change the way the animal develops, there will eventually be a new branch of descendants that look slightly different from the original animal. These descendants will then have offspring that look like them, and so on. Those animals that didn't receive the mutation from their ancestors will continue to look like their ancestors and more than likely have offspring that look like them. This means that there can be monkeys and humans at the same time even though they both share a common ancestor.
- MUTATIONS ARE ALWAYS BAD!
Wrong again. Mutations can be one of three types: beneficial, detrimental, or neutral. We're not talking about X-Men mutations though. We're talking about slight variations in the genes being passed from one generation to the next, and the next, and the next. These variations can cause bad things like two-headed babies, five-legged cows, or sickle-cell disease (although sickle-cell has the benefit of tolerating malaria better, which is why it's more common in people from tropical and sub-tropical regions). Mutations can also provide measurable benefits to an organism, as detailed in this paper: Examples of Beneficial Mutations and Natural Selection. These beneficial mutations include small things like adaptation for survival in environments with limited food supply as well as much bigger things like conversion of single-celled organisms into multi-celled organisms (like bacteria into humans in 4 billion years). Neutral mutations are things like eye color, hair color, etc. that may have a bearing on sexual selection but ultimately don't affect the organism's survival.
- THERE ARE NO TRANSITIONAL FOSSILS!
I'm going to answer this myth with a pretty picture. Feast your eyes on this (click for full-sized goodness):
What you hear most often is that because we don't have a fossil for every single, microscopic change between forms, the fossil record is woefully incomplete and fails to explain anything. This is obvious crap, and here's why: not everything gets fossilized. Anybody who paid attention in fourth-grade science class knows this. Asking for a thousand different fossils is like asking for a comprehensive tome of every variation in language from grunting-and-pointing to modern-day English or Japanese. We're actually very lucky to have the number of fossils we do. The fossils we do have tell a very intriguing story of gradual change over a long period of time, which is what the Theory of Evolution describes. No fossils have ever been found that refute this premise.
- EVOLUTION IS A THEORY IN CRISIS!
Ummm, not really. Mostly, this myth stems from a crafty little piece of propaganda circulated by creationists claiming that scientists view evolution as controversial. More often than not, the scientists cited in these "studies" are sociologists, psychologists, theology professors or any number of other fields completely unrelated to evolutionary biology. Every once in a while you'll find a biologist or chemist who signed their name to such a list. The most notable of these lists generated by the Discovery Institute garnered some signatures because of vague language. It states:"We are skeptical of claims for the ability of random mutation and natural selection to account for the complexity of life. Careful examination of the evidence for Darwinian theory should be encouraged."Well, duh! If a scientist weren't skeptical they wouldn't be a scientist. It is important to note that evolution is not only NOT a theory in crisis but is the backbone of modern biology. To illustrate just how much controversy DOESN'T exist around evolution, the National Center for Science Education implemented Project Steve - a list of scientists who acknowledge that "Evolution is a vital, well-supported, unifying principle of the biological sciences, and the scientific evidence is overwhelmingly in favor of the idea that all living things share a common ancestry." This is a list of scientists, mostly biologists, whose first name is some variant of the name "Steve." So far there are 1,182 Steves on this list, all of whose credentials have been verified prior to having been accepted on the list. No creationist list can duplicate this kind of result with unambiguous wording. That should tell you something.
- EVOLUTION IS INHERENTLY ATHEISTIC!
Wrong again. Many Christians accept evolution as true even while accepting the validity of the Bible and holding a true belief in Yahweh as the one true god. They certainly go about it in a manner somewhat inconsistent with the science but it's definitely a step in the right direction. These Christians simply believe that god created life so that it would evolve in a certain way that resulted in human beings as the final, perfected form. It's arrogant to think that humans are the most perfectly evolved life form on the planet, but that's another blog post entirely.To say that one must be an atheist to accept the evidence of evolution is ignorant, plain and simple. It just happens that nearly all atheists accept the evidence for evolution because they find that reality aligns most with evolution than with special creation.
- EVOLUTION LEADS TO HITLER/EUGENICS/UNSPEAKABLE EVIL!
Again, wrong. But then, you already knew this. Otherwise this list wouldn't have been labeled, "Religious Myths About Evolution" and would have been labeled, "Religion is Spot On, By Jove!" Here's why this is wrong. Proponents of this argument intend to invalidate the Theory of Evolution by claiming that adherence to its ideas can lead to horrible crimes against humanity. Even if that were true it wouldn't invalidate the theory overall, it would only prove that people who misunderstand the implications of the theory can bend it to justify anything they want. You know, sort of like religion.
These people claim that Adolf Hitler was a huge fan of Darwin's work and saw the concept of "survival of the fittest" as justification to eliminate all races and ethnicities that he, on his own authority, deemed "inferior." Even if this were true it represents a fundamental misunderstanding of the concept of natural selection. Survival of the fittest does NOT mean that the most fit survive by actively eliminating the less fit. It means that those organisms who are especially well-adapted to their environment will survive long enough to reproduce and thereby pass their genes on to a successive generation. That's why it's called natural selection instead of selection by sadistic committee. If you don't understand the concept of natural selection (and perhaps Hitler didn't) then I'd agree that you could justify some pretty disgusting things. That doesn't mean evolution is bad. It means lack of education is harmful.
These are very common myths about evolution you'll find floating around on the Internet, in debates, in Sunday School, and even in some home-school textbooks (unfortunately). They're easily debunked but only if you're willing to devote a couple of hours reading a book that explains it all. I'll add a list of recommended titles at the bottom of this post. If you've read through this post and are still confused about evolution, please send me a message. If you've read through this post and you still think evolution is evil and speculative, please send me a message. if you found this post helpful, please +1 it, "Like" it, and share it using the links at the bottom of this post!