I’ve decided to re-animate this blog for a while to post a short series of clear, simple discussions of some of the common arguments that are used to reject evolutionary theory as an explanation for the current diversity of living things on Earth.
When I raised the issue on Facebook, a friend asked “Why is it so important to you to persuade people to believe the Theory of Evolution?”, which is a great question. So this post is both an introduction to the series (initially I think there might be about 10 posts in total, but it may well grow), and my attempt to answer that question.
First, I think there’s value in clarifying that evolution is not something we ‘believe in’ in any religious sense. Rather, we ‘believe that’ it is the theory that best explains all of the available evidence… until a better one comes along. This is true for all scientific theories.
With that in mind, then, I care that people understand evolutionary theory because I care about what is true, and because it is a theory that we use in things like medical and pharmaceutical advances that save lives. Rejecting it is also strongly associated with rejecting science in other domains such as vaccines and climate change. It also makes people very vulnerable to liars and charlatans.
I suppose there’s one or two other notes worth including in this introductory post: I’ve been using the words ‘evolution’ and ‘evolutionary theory’, but it is probably more accurate to talk about the ‘modern evolutionary synthesis’ – the sum of the best current understanding on the part of evolutionary biologists of the mechanisms through which life perpetuates itself and changes.
Those who reject evolution often talk of ‘Darwinism’, but this is inaccurate for two reasons:
- Evolutionary theory is a scientific theory, not an ideology. It is not an ‘ism’. Confusing the kind of thing an idea is confuses our thinking.
- While Charles Darwin was important in outlining the broad lines of evolution, others also did so before and since. He wrote in a time when he did not know of the existence of genes or DNA, so he got some things wrong. Science, by its nature, moves on, and evolutionary science is no exception. Refuting Darwin may not refute the modern evolutionary synthesis, and vice versa. (A related point is that traducing Darwin’s character or motivations does not refute evolutionary theory.)
The other point is about the use of ‘theory’ in relation to evolution, and this is something I’ve already written about elsewhere: Facts, Theories and Laws
I hope that the journey will be interesting and useful for all of us.
For ease of navigation I will include links to each of the other posts in this series at the bottom of each post.
Cosmogenesis, abiogenesis and evolution
Evolution and entropy
Facts, Theories and Laws
Radiometric dating and deep time
Four Forces of the Universe
Probability and evolution
Species and ‘baramin’, macro- and micro-evolution
Mitochondrial Eve and Y-chromosomal Adam
Complexity – irreducible and otherwise