9 Things Evolution Is NOT

9 Things Evolution Is NOT September 10, 2019

So, here’s a thing I discovered: Don’t argue with an evolution denier right before bed. You’ll more than likely wake up with a migraine the size of Ken Ham’s ugly. If you’re wondering, that’s slightly smaller than his stupid, and just a tad bigger than his goofy. In any case, I have an evolution headache so I thought I’d clear up a few misconceptions about it, that just about any idiot could understand. I know, I know, the problem isn’t that the deniers can’t grasp these simple concepts, but rather, the problem is that deniers avoid reading pieces like this one, so they can continue to live in their bubbles of ignorance, clinging to the idea some self-doubting dudebro in the sky created all these billions of lightyears just for us and Ken Ham’s ugly.

I’m gonna write this anyway. Think of it as me pouring out my migraine onto the page.

Here are ten goddamned things evolution is not, no holy. NOT.

1. Evolution is not “just a theory”. It’s not a guess.

Sigh. Evolution is a theory in the same way gravity is a theory – the way we use the term theory in science is different, completely, from the way we use the term colloquially. In everyday language, theory tends to mean a guess:

“I have a theory about why Elliot has no control over Mr. Robot.”

It usually means you have little to no evidence to back it up, and you’re just guessing based on your own personal deductions, which have not been tested in a controlled environment, undergone a peer review process or been proven in any way. A theory, as we use it every day, is just a wild stab in the dark, a guess at best and one for which we have little to no evidence. On the flip side, “theory” as it is used in science, is, according to Wikipedia,

a well-substantiated explanation of some aspect of the natural world that is acquired through the scientific method and repeatedly tested and confirmed through observation and experimentation.

The key part here is that the evidence for a scientific theory must be repeatedly tested and confirmed. That’s why gravity is a scientific theory, because even right now, as you sit at your desk at work, you can test and confirm the effects of gravity. Just drop a pen. You know and I both know very well what’s going to happen unless you’re working on the ISS. The evidence for gravity has been repeatedly tested and confirmed and that’s what makes it a scientific theory. It’s factual – it’s a collection of evidence that all point to a specific explanation that has been tested, observed and confirmed more times than can be counted. The evidence for evolution is mountainous and undeniable, should you be willing to look at it.

No, evolution is not “just a theory”. It’s a scientific theory. It’s well-substantiated, evidenced, and true. Saying evolution is just a theory makes those of us who know better think, “aww, isn’t that sad. He has no idea that theory means something entirely different in science.” You look ignorant and uneducated.

2. It’s not a behavioural guide. It is not how we determine right and wrong.

Evolution and survival of the fittest are both descriptive: they are what we use to describe the world around us and how it works. These are not prescriptive. They have nothing to say about how we should behave. Saying that evolution makes murder okay, is like saying that the fact the sky is blue makes public nudity a moral act. The two are not related.

3. Evolution is not a belief.

No, no, you don’t believe in facts. You have knowledge of them. I don’t believe I’m a mom. I know I am. Unless my son is not mine… wait a minute… Godless Dad!

4. Evolution is not a process with which one individual can give birth to a different species or transform, within that individual’s lifetime, into another species.

Evolution does not apply to individuals. It applies to entire populations of species. The change is gradual, and minute and takes millions of years. A mother may give birth to a member of the same species with one small, tiny variation. If that variation or mutation results in an individual better adapted to its environment, the individual is more likely to survive than those without the mutation. If he survives longer than those without it, he has more time to reproduce before he dies, passing down that mutation to more members of the population who then also survive longer than their counterparts without said mutation, and are, as a result, able to reproduce more. Eventually, after many generations of this species, an entire population has this one tiny mutation. As many millions of years go by, enough of these variations can pop up and be passed down to future generations, and eventually, there will be a population that hardly resembles the species it came from many generations back. While that original species still exists, there is now a new one that came to be through countless variations/mutations and it’s impossible to pinpoint where one species became another. It’s so gradual and takes so long, there is no one moment that can be pointed to as the moment this species became that species.

No, evolution does not make us meaty transformers; no one is asserting we’re all shapeshifters. No, this is not some Mulderian theory that involves alien DNA that gets Scully in a huff. It’s a gradual process, like a daughter being born with blonde hair to brown-haired parents. Slight change over time.

5. Evolution does not attempt to explain the origin of life.

Evolution only attempts to describe the process through which life diversifies. What this tweet is talking about is abiogenesis. Not evolution. The tweet should be read as: I never paid attention in science class and for some reason, I’m proud of it.

6. Evolution does not have goals.

No. Evolution is not a movement. It’s got no goals, no direction. Evolution is, rather, a way to describe how life became diverse. That’s it.

7. Evolution is not synonymous with natural selection.

Of course they are linked, but they are not one and the same. Natural selection is the driving force behind evolution. Evolution is how we describe the changes that occur in populations over the course of generations. Natural selection is how and why those changes occur. It really is as simple as that.

8. It’s not progress – it’s not a system where things get objectively better.

Because that’s not how evolution works. Evolution is not about bettering a species, period. It’s about the suitedness a species has to its environment, allowing it to survive and reproduce. If a species is suited well enough to its environment to survive and reproduce, environmental pressures to change are, by definition, limited, and therefore, very little change will take place. Humans, as you can tell by our planetary population, are doing just fine in the reproduction and survival categories. Not much evolutionary change needs to happen then, unless we find ourselves in a different environment that begins to threaten our survival, such as an environment that could be a result of climate change.

9. Evolution is not random.

Evolution via natural selection rewards traits that are well suited to the environment in which the species finds itself. That’s hardly random. As the term “natural selection” implies, it’s quite selective.

These points about evolution are all so simple, that even a copywriter like me, lacking much scientific education, can grasp them. It’s astonishing to see grown adults unable to wrap their minds around these simple concepts, especially while arguing against evolution. You’d think people would want to understand, thoroughly, the theory of evolution if they’re going to try to take it down. Nothing makes it clearer that you have no understanding, at all, of what evolution is than uttering the points in the tweets above. You make it painfully obvious that the only reading or education you’ve ever had on the topic of evolution came from young earth creationists and those hawking nothing but straw men. You make it so clear, how desperately and pitifully you lack any sort of education at all. To avoid any future embarrassment for you and those who attempted to educate you, you might think about informing yourself. Avoid Ken Ham’s Answers in Genesis, and start here:

Understanding Evolution

What have you heard people say about evolution that you know is not true? Let me know in the comments!

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  • llDayo

    Evolution isn’t true because gawwwddd! That’s pretty much the argument that is made constantly. Nice quick review of some of the main points!

  • anxionnat

    Thank you for the list. Another way of conceptualizing evolutionary theory is that natural selection is the *mechanism* by which variants are tested. My favorite example of evolution in action is rattlesnakes. In California, one of the species is the Black Rattler–which BTW has never been implicated in a human death. So, suppose you are walking on a trail at dusk, and you step on a Black Rattler which is still basking in the sun. You get bitten, you get in your car, drive to the hospital, and get a shot of antivenon. OK, so you’re good to go. The snake, however, has used up all its venom. Imagine its normal prey (vole, rat, mouse) comes by 15 minutes later, but the snake has used up all the venom in biting something that’s too big to eat. Venom doesn’t just magically appear; it has to be manufactured–in the venom sacs, or made somewhere else and shipped to the venom sacs. So the snake doesn’t get dinner. If this happens often enough that individual may not survive to pass its genes down to the next generation. Which may lead to this rattlesnake population becoming less startle prone–voila, evolution in action.

  • nmgirl

    People accept gravity is a theory, even though we know way more about the mechanics of evolution than we do about gravity.

  • Evolution and her cronies the no less Satanic Big 69Bang and Deep Time in geology have far more observational evidence and are more beautiful and worth of the kind of God they love talk so much about than texts that date from the Bronze Age era, written by desert dwellers who did not even know the existence of other oceans and continents, not to mention Earth being a sphere (more or less) or the actual size and composition of the Universe, and that fittingly to their knowledge would occupy less than one A4 page (the very first verses of Genesis).

    If Fundies cannot even grasp what really mean hundreds of millons of years, it’s not our fault.

  • John Pieret

    Earth being a sphere (more or less)

    If you want to confuse ’em, tell them the Earth is an “oblate spheroid” … pear shaped … with the northern hemisphere slightly smaller than the southern because most of the landmass is in the northern.

  • The last time someone told me that evolution is “…just a theory…”, I said ”Gravity is ‘…just a theory…’ too. Let’s see you jump off a cliff.”

  • John Pieret

    What have you heard people say about evolution that you know is not true?

    That the Biblical patriarchs all lived hundreds of years of hale health because DNA and Earth’s climate were “perfect” in the beginning but the sin that caused god to toss A&E out of the Garden and then to bring on the Flood somehow wrecked the climate and wrecked DNA too.

    Virtually all young-Earth creation “science” is false and a good deal of old-Earth creation “science” is also false. Theistic evolution is not false to the exact same extent as it says nothing about what any god did or how it did it … it is merely useless.

  • Luther Dorn (deplorable)

    5. Evolution does not attempt to explain the origin of life.

    Good point. There used to be a Yahoo forum called Evolution vs. Creation or something like that and people would get mad when I pointed out that it should be abiogenesis vs creation.

  • Joe_Buddha

    My personal take is that Evolution is a fact that’s been seen in the lab, in the real world, and in the fossil record. The THEORY was originally Natural Selection.

  • Jim Jones
  • Jim Jones

    The fundies cannot grasp the size of the universe. It’s staggeringly large.

  • Ann Kah

    They babble about how it’s impossible that so many creatures “suddenly” appeared in the Cambrian “explosion” …that took place over many millions of years.

  • Like the Big 69Bang the origin of the Universe. It stops where physics breaks down.

  • True. As being far more believable Eve had been formed from Adam’s rib than evolution (textual words), with no arguments to justify that.

  • Cozmo the Magician

    Lemme guess it was the word that starts with P that got flagged..

    Only&#8203 17&#8203 comments&#8203 so&#8203 far?&#8203 I&#8203 expected&#8203 the&#8203 Trolls&#8203 for&#8203 Jesus&#8203 would&#8203 be&#8203 stomping&#8203 on&#8203 you&#8203 with&#8203 both&#8203 feet.&#8203 Guess&#8203 they&#8203 are&#8203 pissing&#8203 in&#8203 somebody&#8203 else’s&#8203 pool&#8203 today.

  • Cozmo the Magician

    Space is big. You just won’t believe how vastly, hugely, mind-
    bogglingly big it is. I mean, you may think it’s a long way down the
    road to the chemist’s, but that’s just peanuts to space.Douglas Adams, The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy

  • Hard to believe that this is even up for debate in the 21st century.

    5: Evolution does not attempt to explain the origin of life.

    True. For that we just have to turn to “chemical evolution.” You need four basic elements: Carbon, hydrogen, oxygen, and nitrogen. Given water, energy, and maybe a few other helpful elements, these elements have a perfectly natural way of combining into molecular forms of increasing complexity. Life just kinda springs from there:
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mRzxTzKIsp8

  • Thank you muchly!

  • God sounds like kind of a jerk, if you ask me.

  • Yeah, they make this mistake so often and many of them are not willing to hear the correction, no matter how polite you are about it.

  • Big 69Bang! I love it!

  • gemini bowie

    Xians, and theists in general, have a desperate psychological need to manufacture arguments against what they perceive to be an attack on their faith where none exists, and it dominates all other concerns.

    Their religious delusion is the basis of their worldview. The disconnect is in their brains, not in the evidence for evolution. If they reject their creation story, that means their god is “wrong,” and that would mean they and their worldview are.

  • gemini bowie

    Xtian creationists reject evolution, but believe:

    A donkey talked
    A man lived in a fish
    A woman turned into salt
    A snake talked
    A man rode a tornado to heaven
    The sun stood still for a day
    Hundreds of thousands of animals lived on a 500′ boat
    Zombies wandered around Jerusalem
    A disembodied hand scribbled on a wall at a party
    Half a trillion cubic miles of water fell as rain over 40 days
    Water droplets didn’t refract light be fore the time of Noah
    Blowing a horn and yelling will make city walls collapse
    Plants grew before there was sunlight

    All because stories invented in the imaginations of Bronze Age, Middle East desert dwellers who wondered where the sun went at night wrote a book in which they claim it happened that way.

  • gemini bowie

    To the average hick creationist, a theory is just an idea that lives in someone’s head.

  • Jim Baerg

    I would add this link to the one you posted.
    http://www.talkorigins.org/indexcc/

  • I took a music theory in college. I didn’t hear anyone claiming that nobody knows if music is real or not.

  • Heh, the filter blocks the most accepted theory for the origin of the Universe so some way must be used to refer to it.

  • patience, patience. It’s early yet, folks aren’t home from work…in the bible it states that the earth was created in six days. Now it’s fairly obvious that whoever wrote that down was using 7 day weeks. which are a man made construct. and if we had all ‘evolved’ from Adam and Eve, and then Noah’s family a few generations later, wouldn’t we have soon enough evolved ourselves into some kind of incestuous chicken noodle soup?

  • Robert Baden

    Does physics actually break down or do we just not have enough information? Like, say, the total mass of the universe?

  • Graeme

    They often want to start at the beginning and go forward from there (How did life start? What was the first species? How did it mutate?) when they don’t have an understanding of the overall process. They have to look at the bigger picture, and maybe even look “backward” through the tree of life rather than fall into this (unanswerable) trap.

    It really doesn’t matter how life started, and it’s probably best to concede that God could have created the first life, and that you’d still be having the same conversation about evolution if that is the case.

  • We cannot reach time zero itself because the singularity that pops up there is usually interpreted as our theories failing and us needing a theory of quantum gravity to arrive to said moment, or at the very least approach it as it would not be surprising said theory also broke down attempting to reach time zero and needed something even more arcane to reach it, or at the very least a closer moment and so on.

    Of course there’ve been many speculations of what happened by then and even before it (eternal inflation, etc), assuming one could talk of a “before”.

  • persephone

    I was taught the difference between a hypothesis and a theory in junior high. But that was a long time ago.

  • Yeah – like one could expect a woman made out of only the material in a male human’s rib would end-up the size of a Barbie Doll. How is a doll-sized female human being going to be able to give birth to normal-sized human offspring- even allowing that her reproductive gear would accommodate Adam’s supposedly normal-sized Tallywacker. ( image from Life-Size 2, a 2018 movie starring Tyra Banks )

    https://res.cloudinary.com/jerrick/image/upload/fl_progressive,q_auto,w_1024/gymnybocfup8fttcnnbr.jpg

  • Ramp it up – ramp it up”
    Suggest_ “Gravity is ‘…just a theory…’ too. Why not attempt jumping out of an aircraft in flight, but without a parachute?

  • Also, we have the Theory of Flight. Or, do religious people believe that its God-Magic that’s keeping all those Boeings and Airbus jet people movers aloft?

    Theory of Flight
    https://www.skybrary.aero/index.php/Theory_of_Flight

    Even this Scientific Concept is not so well understood, with a False Version being taught more often than the correct one:

    Pilots are taught a false theory of flight.
    https://vimeo.com/172574660

    QUOTE: “Pilots are taught a theory of flight which NASA disproved years ago. Also, this theory was written by people who’ve never flown a plane!!” UN-QUOTE

    How Wings ACTUALLY Create Lift!
    https://youtu.be/YDeQXPNpLeY

    Helicopters and Autogyros are termed Rotary-Wing Aircraft and its clearly understood that a helicopter “pushes” air downwards to keep aloft.

  • Then again, we’re dealing with people completely ignorant of the most basic science and who hold similar views of, say, the Big 69Bang considering it far less believable than the Sun had turned off six seconds when Jesus died.

  • Or even with other stuff. Sci-fi writers have far more imagination than Fundies.

  • Jim Jones
  • James Stein

    It may not be entirely scientifically accurate, but I tend to think of Evolution as a fact (We see the result) and decent with change (Natural selection) as the theory.

  • I do have his book on my Kobo Aura H2O eReader, and I’m presently only 38% through the text – with 4 hours to the finish. But I do take it up only when I’m not involved otherwise.

    Another book, an actual paperback this one, that I’m only a quarter of the material through as yet; is JUNK DNA by Nessa Carey. This work explores the investigation activities, and the findings, related to the 98% of our DNA which was previously not understood, and what vital functions this greater majority is involved with.

    Junk DNA: A Journey Through the Dark Matter of the Genome by Nessa Carey
    https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/25083866-junk-dna

    But I did particularly enjoy the read of the following work, about a real pioneer scientist who lived 1769–1859, and “was an intrepid explorer and the most famous scientist of his age. In North America, his name still graces four counties, thirteen towns, a river, parks, bays, lakes, and mountains.

    The Invention of Nature: Alexander von Humboldt’s New World by Andrea Wulf
    https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/23995249-the-invention-of-nature

    The author covers the largely forgotten life, explorations – travels, and copious literary productions of the 18-19th Century astonishing German naturalist who’s finding, and conclusions, were at the forefront of what would later become modern environmentalism.

    As reader “Hadrian” puts it in his “review”: “He was one of the founders of modern biology and ecology, and had a direct effect on scientists and political leaders ranging from John Muir and Charles Darwin to Thomas Jefferson and Simon Bolivar.

    (Footnote- Apparently there is a new illustrated work recently out . . . )
    https://humboldt-heute.de/fileadmin/user_upload/Wulf_Abenteuer-Alex-von-Humboldt_3D.png

    So, its not only the actual human knowledge, but the people and their work and activities, that interest me greatly. A good part of my library contains works on history.

  • I think it was in Why Evolution Is True, by Jerry A. Coyne, that I read about the “human-assisted” ‘evolution’ that created the domestic dog in multiple variations (breeds) in only about the passing of 10,000 years.

    Natural dog breeds (from the wild) – such as
    Side-Striped Jackal (Canis adustus) Flickr Credit: David Schenfeld. …
    Red Fox (Vulpes vulpes) Flickr Credit: Kamia the Wolf. …
    Culpeo (Lycalopex culpaeus) …
    Ethiopian Wolf (Canis simensis) …
    Dhole (Cuon alpinus) …
    Coyote (Canis latrans) …
    Maned Wolf (Chrysocyon brachyurus) …
    African Wild Dog (Lycaon pictus)

    . . do not exhibit anywhere near the same degree of complex differences in either size, or shape (appearance), as do the much-more-numerous domestic breeds, which are the result of human-directed cross-breeding programs .

    http://newcyprusmagazine.com/wp-content/uploads/2017/01/dog-registration-north-cyprus.jpg

  • Or that any lack of natural sunlight was not discernible by anyone who did not direct his testimony toward – anyone else excepting someone who would, in a later era, pen one of the few gospels which were still later included in an authorized version of the collected New Testament.

  • ThaneOfDrones

    I used to read that blog, but since he retired the in-depth biology articles have been largely replaced with pictures of cats and pictures of his meals.

  • ThaneOfDrones

    Junk DNA: A Journey Through the Dark Matter of the Genome by Nessa Carey

    I have not read this book myself but I would caution you that many people, including scientists and science writers, do not understand junk DNA. It is not called junk because we don’t know what it does, it is caused junk because we know what it is.

    Less than glowing review at Nature

    Review by Larry Moran, retired biochemist and textbook author:
    Nessa Carey doesn’t understand junk DNA

    What’s in your genome

  • ThaneOfDrones

    Science and Creationism Published by the National Academy of Sciences
    Featuring definitions of fact, hypothesis, law and theory

  • ThaneOfDrones

    Evolution as Fact and Theory
    Stephen Jay Gould, 1981

  • Jim Jones

    LOL!

  • For the layman not all books on science are completely understandable.
    But a certain number of humans are classed as “hoarders” . . .

    Hoarding – a 21st Century condition? Updated Tuesday 16th December 2014
    https://www.open.edu/openlearn/health-sports-psychology/hoarding-21st-century-condition

    As our lives become more complex, with methods of communication swiftly changing, and even home decorating becoming a New-Style Television trend – just where do we position the formerly used (and still quite usable) items, and tools, that once held pride of place in our lives?

    Just how different are compound, messy hoarders from those “hanging on” to older generations of computers, modems, floppy disks and the not-so-compact or multi-functional cellphones? What of the real hoards of no-longer matched-up Power Bricks required for powering, or recharging, no longer in use electronic devices?

    Is this accumulation of tools, electronics, CRT Displays, User Manuals, Centronics – SCSI – Serial – miscellaneous data, and power cables really all that different from the so-called Junk DNA portion of the human genome?

    https://ewastepa.org/wp-content/uploads/2016/02/pile-of-electronics-1.jpg

    https://youtu.be/t7GSaNUY9d0

  • James Stein

    Thank you for the reference. I had read this some years ago. It made sense then and helped form my opinion.