5 Stupid Arguments Against Evolution That Just Won't Die
As a ten year old child I had my first experience with the "controversy" surrounding the theory of evolution. I had decided to do my science fair project on evolutionary biology and devised an experiment that illustrated how evolution worked. After presenting my project a man sat down next to me and asked, "you don't really believe that do you?" This puzzled me because I had just spent weeks devising an experiment that if it came out the way I thought it should, then evolution would be validated. I had just presented physical evidence. "Why wouldn't I?" The man then gave me a very confused and to my ten year old brain, highly illogical argument of why evolution was false. To his credit, he was not aggressive or agitated nor did he mention the bible or make any religious argument. He did however, profoundly misunderstand the theory of evolution and the evidence for it. That was one of the first times I remember really understanding how clueless most adults are. As a child I assumed that most of adults had all the answers.
The United States is one of the worst countries when it comes to evolution belief, with nearly fifty percent of the population discounting it, despite the massive amount of evidence. Evolution deniers, whether they be creationists or other forms, show a conspiracy theorist mindset. They either misunderstand or find small anomalies in evolution and then throw out the entire theory for "lack of evidence" only to replace it with an alternative for which there is much less evidence. These are the five creationist claims that drive me up the wall the most.
1. If Human Beings Evolved From Monkeys Then Why Are There Still Monkeys?
This was a very popular stupid argument in the 90s and it is in fact so stupid that most scientists never even address it. Those who would bring it up often did so with a smug kind of triumph, thinking they had destroyed decades of scientific work with one glib objection. The fact that most people would burst out laughing the moment they heard such idiocy never seemed to faze them.
The reason I think that this is worth bringing up is that I encounter two misconceptions about evolution that are very popular even among people who accept the scientific consensus. The first is that individuals can evolve. This one I call the comic book superhero version of evolution. The second is that species evolve. Both of these are completely false.
Imagine a single species of rabbit that has populations spread out all over the world. If a major disease or predator were to occur in one area and large numbers of rabbits were killed then the rabbits who survived in that area would have genes that allowed them to survive that specific disease or predator. They would pass these genes on to their offspring. Within a few generations this population of rabbits would already start to show differences from other populations of rabbits elsewhere. Now imagine this happening over and over again over millions of years. By the end of millions of years you would end up with a very different species in one population than you would in the other one, based on what genes were able to get into the population and which were eliminated. This is because populations evolve.
I partially blame educators for this misconception, though. When we see evolution portrayed it is usually shown as if it were a straight line, when in reality it is an intricately branching web. Though the chimpanzee shares 99% of its DNA with humans, we did not evolve from chimps. In reality, we share a common ancestor with them. At one point there was a species of hominid and one population went one way, eventually resulting in us, and the other went another way, resulting in the modern chimpanzee.
2. The World Is Obviously Designed and Evolution Cannot Account for It
The thing about intelligent design is that I really don't see what it refutes about evolution. Basically, it claims that everything we currently understand about evolution is irrefutable but the stuff we do not yet understand... well...God did that. Once you have gone this far into accepting the basic premise of evolution you have accepted all the science and the intelligent design is just a bit of theology, shoehorned in to make evolution work with whatever religion you happen to believe in. Theologians do this all the time and there is no harm in it. The harm comes when you try to claim that this argument about design is actual science.
Ray Comfort's famous "banana argument" is a classic example of this. What comfort didn't realize is that the banana has in fact been designed, by us. All of our food, whether they are crops of domesticated animals, have been bred for thousands of years in order to preserve traits that we like and find useful. In fact, the very practice of this is evidence of evolution.
The so-called "design" in nature can also be explained by evolution. There are similarities in different species and norms because we are so closely related. If creationism was true, ask yourself why God would make so many similarities between the bone structure of a bat and the bone structure of a human? If God had just started from scratch he could have just have started each animal from a completely new perspective. This would have made animals that fly more aerodynamic and could have improved many animals in any number of ways. If animals and plants were actually designed from scratch, instead of evolving, there would probably be even more variety and incongruity of life, not less.
3. The Fossil Record Is Incomplete
The idea that there are not "transitional fossils" is a crazy claim made by creationists that a lot of people let them get away with. The definition of a transitional fossil is one that shows traits of two distinct taxonomy groups. We have literally hundreds of fossils that show this. One of the ways that creationists try to make it seem like this isn't true is to change the definition of the transitional fossil.
By using deceptive language, they make it seem as if anything short of a "missing link" between known species will suffice. But if we find this link, then they simply say that we must now find the link between that species and known species. And so on and so on. So nothing short of something outlandish, like a bird turning into a monkey, would be proof to them and still they would deny it.
What is maddening about this is that DNA evidence renders it completely irrelevant. When we can see that certain species have so much similarity in their DNA that they had to have come from a common ancestor, the days of relying on fossils for evidence was long gone.
- (A few) transitional fossils
A partial list of transitional fossils.
4. Evolution Has Never Been Observed
This one is a lot like the previous one. It is simply a false statement that relies on a misunderstanding of evolution to lend it some credibility. If you believe in the comic book superhero version of evolution (individuals evolving) or the idea that whole species collectively evolve, then you might be able to buy what creationists are selling.
In reality, we observe evolution at work all the time. When we spray pesticides and future generations of insects become immune, that is evolution. When we use medications and future generations of bacteria become immune, that is evolution. Once again when we go back to how humans have domesticated animals and plants over thousands of years that are evidence of evolution as well. All observable and easy to draw conclusions from.
5. Evolution Is Random and Nihilistic
Saying evolution is random is not to understand natural selection. This is the same as those who try to break evolution into a simplistic, survival of the fittest model. Those who are able to get their genes into the gene pool, have those genes survive. How that is accomplished is an intricate struggle between life forms and their environments. Evolution definitely doesn't imply that everything is meaningless and believing in evolution doesn't mean you are also a believer in any particular political ideology.
Conspiracy theorists love to make ad hominem attacks on Darwin. These include claiming that Darwin was a Freemason (he wasn't but his father was), was racist (he was an abolitionist and strongly opposed slavery) or attempts to connect Darwinism with Nazism.
If the Nazis were using Darwin then they sure didn't understand him, as they also didn't seem to understand a great many other of their supposed influences. In order to believe this, you would have to adopt that paranoid worldview that evolution was some vast conspiracy since the beginning of human civilization.
Contrary to popular belief, evolution did not start with Darwin and it sure didn't end with him. The idea of evolution goes back to Aristotle in ancient Greece and though Darwin brought it into the realm of science, Alfred Wallace was doing research at the exact same time.
Even if Darwin never published his findings, that would not discount all of the facts and evidence we have learned since then. Attacks on Darwin are especially silly and irrelevant. They also reveal much of the character and desperation of those that make them.