If you think you understand it, you don't know nearly enough about it.New Scientist has just published an excellent series of articles on evolution [Evolution: 24 myths and misconceptions]. These are some of the best explanations of evolution that I've ever seen in a popular magazine. Thus, it's all the more tragic that they spoil it all by putting a false picture of evolution (right) on the website.
Everything is an adaptation produced by natural selectionWe tend to assume that all characteristics of plants and animals are adaptations that have arisen through natural selection. Many are neither adaptations nor the result of selection at all.Natural selection is the only means of evolutionMuch change is due to random genetic drift rather than positive selection. It could be called the survival of the luckiest.Natural selection leads to ever-greater complexityIn fact, natural selection often leads to ever greater simplicity. And, in many cases, complexity may initially arise when selection is weak or absent.Evolution produces creatures perfectly adapted to their environmentYou don't have to be perfectly adapted to survive, you just have to be as well adapted as your competitors. The apparent perfection of plants and animals may be more a reflection of our poor imaginations than of reality.Evolution always promotes the survival of speciesThe phrase "survival of fittest" is widely misunderstood (see 'Survival of the fittest' justifies everyone for themselves). Many wrongly assume it means that evolution always increases the chances of a species surviving.It doesn't matter if people do not understand evolution
Evolution sometimes results in individuals or populations becoming less fit and may occasionally even lead to extinction.At an individual level, it might not matter much. However, any modern society which bases major decisions on superstition rather than reality is heading for disaster"Survival of the fittest" justifies "everyone for themselves"The "fittest" can be the most loving and selfless, not the most aggressive and violent. In any case, what happens in nature does not justify people behaving in the same wayEvolution is limitlessly creativeIt might seem like there is no end to nature's inventiveness but there are some features that could probably never evolve, at least on Earth.Evolution cannot explain traits such as homosexualityThere are numerous evolutionary mechanisms that might explain homosexual behaviour, which is common in many species of animals.Creationism provides a coherent alternative to evolutionThe only thing that creationists agree on is that they don't like evolution. Even Genesis gives two contradictory accounts of creation.
Evolution must be wrong because the Bible is inerrantThis argument is undermined by the hundreds of errors and inaccuracies and contradictions found in Bible. It is anything but "inerrant".Accepting evolution undermines moralityActually people in more secular countries appear to behave more morally. And even if this claim was true, that would not alter the facts or justify their suppression.Evolutionary theory leads to racism and genocideDarwin's ideas have been invoked as justification for all sorts of policies, including some very unpleasant ones. But evolutionary theory is a descriptive science. It cannot tell us what is right and wrong.Religion and evolution are incompatibleThere are various ways in which the known facts about evolution can be reconciled with theistic religions. Some of these ways might be illogical and irrational, but they are no more illogical and irrational than other aspects of religions.Half a wing is no use to anyoneJust as objects designed for one purpose can be used for another, so genes, structures and behaviours that evolve for one purpose become adapted to do another.Evolutionary science is not predictiveIt might not be possible to predict exactly what life will look like in a billion years but what counts are the predictions that can be made.Evolution cannot be disproved so is not scienceThere are all sorts of findings and experiments that could have falsified evolution. In the century-and-a-half since Darwin published his theory, not one has.Evolution is just so unlikely to produce complex life formsBy weeding out harmful mutations and assembling beneficial ones, natural selection acts like an "improbability drive" that can, given enough time, produce results that appear utterly impossible at first glance.Evolution is an entirely random processNo and yes. Natural selection is a rigorous testing process that filters out what works from what doesn’t, driving organisms to evolve in particular directions. However, chance events play a big role too.Mutations can only destroy information, not create itBiologists are uncovering thousands of examples of how mutations lead to new traits and even new species. This claim not only flies in the face of the evidence, it is also a logical impossibility.Darwin is the ultimate authority on evolutionModern evolutionary theory is built on some - but not all - of Darwin's ideas, but has gone far beyond them.The bacterial flagellum is irreducibly complexActually, flagella vary widely from one species to another, and some of the components can perform useful functions by themselves. They are anything but irreducibly complex.Yet more creationist misconceptionsEvolution is just a theory: Yes it is, like Einstein's theory of special relativity. By theory, scientists mean an explanation backed by evidence. What creationists mean is that evolution is just a hypothesis, unsupported by evidence - which it is not. Evolution is a fact as well a theory.Evolution violates the second law of thermodynamicsThe second law of thermodynamics states that entropy, a measure of randomness, cannot decrease in a closed system. Our planet is not a closed system.