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By the end of this section, you will be able to:
  • Identify common misconceptions about evolution
  • Identify common criticisms of evolution

Although the theory of evolution initially generated some controversy, by 20 years after the publication of On the Origin of Species it was almost universally accepted by biologists, particularly younger biologists. Nevertheless, the theory of evolution is a difficult concept and misconceptions about how it works abound. In addition, there are those that reject it as an explanation for the diversity of life.

Concept in action

This website addresses some of the main misconceptions associated with the theory of evolution.

Evolution is just a theory

Critics of the theory of evolution dismiss its importance by purposefully confounding the everyday usage of the word “theory” with the way scientists use the word. In science, a “theory” is understood to be a concept that has been extensively tested and supported over time. We have a theory of the atom, a theory of gravity, and the theory of relativity, each of which describes what scientists understand to be facts about the world. In the same way, the theory of evolution describes facts about the living world. As such, a theory in science has survived significant efforts to discredit it by scientists, who are naturally skeptical. While theories can sometimes be overturned or revised, this does not lessen their weight but simply reflects the constantly evolving state of scientific knowledge. In contrast, a “theory” in common vernacular means a guess or suggested explanation for something. This meaning is more akin to the concept of a “hypothesis” used by scientists, which is a tentative explanation for something that is proposed to either be supported or disproved. When critics of evolution say evolution is “just a theory,” they are implying that there is little evidence supporting it and that it is still in the process of being rigorously tested. This is a mischaracterization. If this were the case, geneticist Theodosius Dobzhansky would not have said that “nothing in biology makes sense, except in the light of evolution.” Theodosius Dobzhansky. “Biology, Molecular and Organismic.” American Zoologist 4, no. 4 (1964): 449.

Individuals evolve

An individual is born with the genes it has—these do not change as the individual ages. Therefore, an individual cannot evolve or adapt through natural selection. Evolution is the change in genetic composition of a population over time, specifically over generations, resulting from differential reproduction of individuals with certain alleles. Individuals do change over their lifetime, but this is called development; it involves changes programmed by the set of genes the individual acquired at birth in coordination with the individual’s environment. When thinking about the evolution of a characteristic, it is probably best to think about the change of the average value of the characteristic in the population over time. For example, when natural selection leads to bill-size change in medium ground finches in the Galápagos, this does not mean that individual bills on the finches are changing. If one measures the average bill size among all individuals in the population at one time, and then measures the average bill size in the population several years later after there has been a strong selective pressure, this average value may be different as a result of evolution. Although some individuals may survive from the first time to the second, those individuals will still have the same bill size. However, there may be enough new individuals with different bill sizes to change the average bill size.

Questions & Answers

explain why a fresh water fish excrete ammonia
Leonard Reply
plz answer my question
Leonard
What are eukaryotic cells?
Nwosueke Reply
where does the cell get energy for active transport processes?
A'Kaysion Reply
what is synapsis
Adepoju Reply
how many turns are required to make a molecule of sucrose in Calvin cycle
Amina Reply
why Calvin cycle occurs in stroma
Amina
why do humans enhale oxygen and exhale carbondioxide?
Maryam Reply
why do humans enhale oxygen and exhale carbondioxide? For the purpose of breaking down the food
dil
what is allele
uzoka Reply
process of protein synthesis
SANTOSH Reply
what is cell
Zulf Reply
a cell is a smallest basic, structural and functional unit of life that is capable of self replication
Lucas
why does a fresh water fish excrete ammonia
Leonard
plz answer my question
Leonard
Ammonia is a toxic colorless gas and when its inside the fish biological system is converted to a less toxic compound then excreted in the form of urea. However too much ammonia will kill the fish " Ammonia Poisoning " which is a very common disease among fish.
This
what is cytoplasm
uzoka Reply
cytoplasm is fluid of cell.
Deepak
how many major types of Cloning
Saeed Reply
two
amir
two
Zulf
comparative anatomy of gymnosperms?
Meenakshi Reply
anatomy of gymnosperms
Meenakshi
how genes are regulated
Ainjue Reply
what is storage of glycogen
Student Reply
glycogen is a protein content
Najeem
how many times breathing a day normally does a person have
Vernalyn Reply
100
Aadil
on average 18000 times a day when resting.
gagan

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Source:  OpenStax, Concepts of biology. OpenStax CNX. Feb 29, 2016 Download for free at http://cnx.org/content/col11487/1.9
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