Evolution Misunderstood or Misrepresented?

Evolution Misunderstood or Misrepresented? June 19, 2014

The British Center for Science Education shared this example of how the ACE curriculum depicts evolution:

I’ve encountered people who genuinely accept this depiction as being what evolution posits. If you are one of them and you do not know how the bottom is very different from what biologists mean when they talk about evolution, please ask. I and others here will happily explain this to you, as we have countless times before. Or you could just read a book by a biologist on the subject.

The question I want to focus on here is whether we can legitimately accuse those who promote this false depiction of science of being dishonest, of deliberate misrepresentation.

On the one hand, it may be that all those who currently promote this sort of nonsense can trace their own misunderstanding back to someone who genuinely misunderstood.

On the other hand, if you are producing a curriculum, or giving talks which claim to be about science, aren’t you implying that you have studied the subject enough to teach others?

It may be that young-earth creationist peddlers of nonsense are genuinely mistaken about science, rather than deliberately dishonest.

But surely we can accuse them of dishonesty when they claim to be able to teach science, because if they think that the bottom illustration depicts biological evolution as understood by scientists, then they are lying about having studied evolution enough to understand it themselves, much less sufficiently so as to be able to teach others.

Let me end on a more lighthearted but related note, with this video in the “Epic Rap Battles of History” series. This one is between Isaac Newton and Bill Nye (with a third latecomer). HT Hemant Mehta. Click the image below to watch the video on YouTube:


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  • It may be that young-earth creationist peddlers of nonsense are
    genuinely mistaken about science, rather than deliberately dishonest.

    It’s hard to say whether there is a difference.

    A teacher has a responsibility to know the subject matter being taught. To teach science, while not understanding it, is already dishonest.

    What might be excused as misunderstanding when preached at the pulpit, must be seen as dishonest when introduced into the curriculum.

    • Clark’s law (or corollary to Hanlon’s Razor): “Sufficiently advanced incompetence is indistinguishable from malice”

      • Tatonka

        That’s brilliant.

    • Laura Cordova-James

      When I see how much money the peddlers of creationists are making and how they are able to divert funds to lobbyists, there is no mistake. They are deliberately lying.

  • James Walker

    I’m not sure the diagram is entirely dishonest so much as it vastly oversimplifies and ignores the multitude of factors (including the key ones of time and selection pressures) that give rise to new orders of life from the existing ones.

    Clearly modern fish do not mate and produce frogs or frog-like offspring no matter what kinds of “genetic disturbance” may occur. There is, however, a common ancestor between modern fish and modern frogs if you trace back far enough and some sort of “genetic disturbance” did occur which led to the differing branches of sub-species, species, etc. that eventually produced the modern types we see today.

    • But I think the people who made the image really do think that evolution involves not just minor genetic disturbances of the sort that we can observe happening all the time, over time leading to subtle changes which, again over long periods of time, result in much larger differences, but rather involves fish giving birth to frogs.

      • James Walker

        in the few face-to-face conversations I’ve had with YEC adherents, I’ve seen them roll their eyes the moment the subject of minute changes accumulating over vast stretches of time comes up. it doesn’t fit at all in their frame of reference because they are indoctrinated against there being any such lengths of time.

        • Even though the evidence for such lengths of time is arguably even more clear cut than the evidence for biological evolution…

          • James Walker

            I used to be one of those “true believers” who attended an ACE school no less. We were taught “the controversy” of how radiometric dating techniques were flawed and unreliable. We were taught that all the geological layers of the earth were completely explained by the Genesis Flood story. We were taught that physical processes, like the day/night cycle and earth’s orbit around the sun were different shortly after Creation so tree rings in petrified wood can’t be used to establish sound dates.

            In short, they tried to do a thorough job of inoculating us against any scientific evidence we were likely to encounter if we took the expected course of attending a Bible college and studying to be Ministers, Lawyers, Accountants, or some other “approved” degree. There was, of course, no need for us to study Science! Everything anyone needed to know about science was already contained in the Bible.

          • MattB

            I as a Christian don’t believe the Bible supports YEC, nor Science(Obviously). There is no date given about the age of the earth in Genesis. No age calculations arrive us at the earth being “6000” years old. I think there are even hints in the Bible that biblical figures lived even before that.

      • lance Geologist

        James, I have seen over and over again that no matter how many times YEC “questions” are answered , the same “questions” are again posted on other sites. They don’t want to be educated. Tis a shame, since Geology and the history of our Earth does not have to negate a belief in God.

  • laugh or retch

    I think “willful ignorance” is a good way to describe the situation. Evolution contradicts what they want to believe. They don’t want to waste time on something they don’t want to believe in the first place. So they seek out over simplified explanations of evolution. That way they can dismiss it without spending a lot of time on it. They know there is more to evolution but they willfully ignore it because they wanted to believe something else in the first place.

  • Sean Garrigan


  • joriss

    Although much in biology hints at evolution, the idea that little living systems develop without any added information or abilities, into higher, far more complicated, far more intelligent, far more sensible, into conscious, higher conscious, emotional, more sensitively emotional, music enjoying, literature reading and writing, religious, God-worshipping beings is nearly unbelievable, even over a period of billions years. I think people can be honest and not believing evolution.
    I read the book Genetic Entropy of John Sanford, a high educated scientist. Afterwards I read an answer to this book of another scientist: Letters to Creationists of Scott Buchanan, who refuted this book. And then again the answer to this answer. I didn’t get the impression that one of the two was lying, although they were both convinced of being right.

    • David Evans

      I think it can be nearly unbelievable if you don’t take the billions of years seriously. Consider how wolves have changed into the various breeds of dog over a few millennia, and then think that a billion years is a thousand thousand millennia. The ask yourself is it incredible that apes developed into men, that some earlier mammal developed into apes….that fish developed into amphibians…., in each case allowing thousands of millennia (millions of generations, not the single generation of the hopeful monster theory) for the transition. I think not.