Misconceptions about Evolution

Discussion in 'Science and Technology' started by N4mddissent, Feb 18, 2009.

  1. N4mddissent
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    N4mddissent Active Member

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    After reading some of the "Celebrate Darwin's Birthday" thread, it became apparent that there are some fundamental misunderstandings among the members here concerning evolutionary theory. This is an attempt to address a few and hopefully provide some understanding.

    1. Common Ancestry

    This is often misunderstood as "we came from monkeys" or "we came from apes". First, Evolution broadly states that all life descended from a single organism. Strictly speaking, Evolution is not concerned with the origin of the first organism since it's focus is on how organisms change over time. Specifically, the "why are monkeys still around" comment is common and demonstrates a lack of knowledge about Evolution. What science states is that humans and other primates descended from a common ancestor (although it was an ape-like ancestor) that no longer exists on earth. This ancestor had offspring that over many generations separated into multiple groups. Each of those groups followed a different evolutionary pathway due to different selection pressures and mutations, changing over the course of millions of years. Some became extinct. Some eventually became chimpanzees. Some became gorillas. One group became homo-sapiens.

    This idea has been confirmed with beyond any reasonable doubt by genetic studies and DNA comparison. Techniques like identification of genetic markers and comparison of specific traces of genetic "events" (like retroviral dna insertion) confirm not only common descent but can give a general picture of how far removed our kinship is with various other species and in almost every case, it matches what would be predicted intuitively. I.E. we are more closely related to primates than dogs. We are more closely related to other mammals than reptiles. Etc...

    To deny the genetic science that confirms this idea is to suggest that the methodology or interpretation is flawed or incorrect. These are the same techniques used to convict or exonerate criminals using dna and the same techniques used in paternity testing. If the methodology is wrong, and indeed our entire understanding of dna would have to be wrong, then we should see those who deny common ancestry protesting the use of dna evidence in trials and paternity cases with at least as much zeal as protesting the teaching of evolution. Any conviction or exoneration based on dna evidence would have to be invalid.

    2. You don't see x giving birth to a y.
    Evolution involves the accumulation of very small changes over vast periods of time. A good analogy is language. Think of how English has changed. It certainly reads differently today than it did when the Declaration of Independence was written. Go a bit further back in time and read some Shakespeare and some people begin to start feeling less comfortable understanding it. Now go read some original Chaucer. It can be understood but looks very strange and passages may be unintelligible. Now go all the way back to Beowulf in its original Anglo-Saxon. It cannot be read and understood without special training. One must learn a completely different language. All the way from the Anglo-Saxons to this post I am typing, there was no point that children could not understand the language their parents were speaking or vice-versa. There was no conscious intent to change the language or any clear lines of division between old English and middle English. It was just small changes in words and meanings with each generation that have accumulated over time to the point where we today speak a different language than "English" speakers during the time of Beowulf's composition. The same goes for speciation.

    3. Evolution is just a theory.

    A theory in science refers to scope not validity. Any idea that has broad explanatory power for natural phenomena is a theory. It's a broad unifying prinicple. Like the theory of Gravity. There are lots of details that continue to be explored and there are still mysteries about gravity. Indeed, one of Einstein's claims to fame is that he in some ways showed the flaws in Newton's ideas about gravity. But the basic theory that objects with mass attract one another is still sound. It is a broad explanation, the details of which can be disputed. The germ theory of disease is another example. What germs and how they cause disease may not be known in every case. Yet, the broad idea that micro-organisms can cause disease in larger organisms is still sound and is a good explanatory basis. The theory of evolution is a broad explanation. In its most basic form it simply states that inheritance and accumulation of small changes due to mutation over large amounts of time leads to diversification of organisms. Natural selection influences changes by exerting pressures for survival and reproduction. Modern evolutionary theory also incorporates neutral changes such as genetic drift.

    Modern biologist are as confident in Evolutionary Theory as physicists are in Atomic Theory. In many ways biology today depends on evolutionary theory as much or more than physics depends on atomic theory. And while not every detail or question within the broad theory of evolution has not been analyzed or answered, it is no different than quantum theory or atomic theory which still have their mysteries as well.
     
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  2. Diuretic
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    Diuretic Permanently confused

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    This should be a sticky.
     
  3. Ljevin
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    Ljevin Rookie

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    Thank you so much for this even headed and knowledgeable account.
     
  4. N4mddissent
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    N4mddissent Active Member

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    I forgot to include one. The missing link. Popular media is primary culprit in this misconception's persistance. I mean, going back to my language analogy (which I think works on many levels, including common ancestry- English and German) can you imagine trying to find a "missing link" between Anglo-Saxon and modern English? It makes no sense. Every slightly different version of English between then and now is a "link". To not have a "missing link", one would have to have a complete version of the English language for every single year in between, since each one is a slightly different link in the chain. Talk about ambitious goal posts.

    I also could have went ahead and put forth the Micro vs. Macro Evolution misconception. I thought the language analogy addressed it fairly well, but in case that explanation's applicability sails past some people, I use a "walking across America" analogy. Those who accept so-called microevolution but deny it can lead to speciation are like someone who denies it is possible to walk across the country one small step at a time. They may accept that taking one small step at a time, they can reach the end of the driveway (they accept small changes like the ones emphasized all the time when trying to breed the best crops or livestock). The scientist then says that if you continue to take those small steps and are given enough time- a lot of time- it is possible to walk all the way across the country. It's hard for me to see how the logic of this is denied without compromising one's intellectual honesty.
     
  5. Diuretic
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    Diuretic Permanently confused

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    Without wanting to trash the objectors to the theory (who haven't commented yet) the discussion usually goes off the rails at about post #2. This is accomplished by a complete misrepresentation of the theory of evolution, turning it from a valid scientic theory which is being applied constantly in such areas as medical research (eg viral evolution) into a caricature which can then be smeared quite easily.

    Standing by.......
     
  6. RetiredGySgt
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    RetiredGySgt Platinum Member

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    No need, THEORY says it all. If it were so "proven" it would no longer be a theory at all.

    And I will never believe I am descended from apes with out a hell of lot more than this and the so called proof science has provided. With in a species evolution is proven, it is not even close to being proven with animals changing from one species to an entirely different species.

    And again plants and one cell life does not count. Nor do any bacteria or any of that.
     
  7. N4mddissent
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    N4mddissent Active Member

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    You know, the entire purpose of the thread was to inform so as to avoid this type of uninformed comment. Read #3 of the initial post, please.
     
  8. Diuretic
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    Diuretic Permanently confused

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    We need a "....thinks this was an unhelpful post" button :lol:

    Rock. It doesn't matter what you bellieve. It doesn't matter what I believe. Science couldn't give a shit about your belief or my belief. It just cares about observable phenomena.

    And what you believe or I believe doesn't change a bloody thing.

    Viruses will continue to evolve and give scientists a research ground for studying evolution regardless of whether you believe in it or not.

    And great intellects will waste their talents in discussing things like how many angels can dance on the head of a pin and my believing it's a waste of intellectual power won't change a bloody thing. :lol:
     
  9. KittenKoder
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    KittenKoder Senior Member

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    One, as the OP has already pointed out, that is just ignorance since no one ever said that. However, if you did not evolve like the rest of us then you are unnatural and an abomination according to even the gods.
     
  10. YWN666
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    YWN666 Freelance Beer Tester Supporting Member

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    The word theory as used in the scientific community does not imply doubt. A theory is not a guess, it is an explanation of the facts.

    Looks like you didn't even read N4m's post before trashing it. It was directed at falsehoods like the ones you have posted.
     

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