Faulty notions handicap evolution debate
Faulty notions handicap evolution debate
Kennebec Journal, Monday, August 15, 2005 - original
Given the Aug. 7 editorial about President Bush's support of intelligent design, "Bush weighs in on science education," it's sure to begin debate on evolutionary theory.

There are three common hang-ups whenever folks discuss evolutionary theory. First, nonscientists tend to use "theory" to mean "something provisional or not quite real." On the other hand, scientists tend to use it to mean "a systematic framework of concepts that describe a natural phenomenon." The problem is that in the first meaning, any theory is as good as any another, since they are all provisional anyway; but scientifically, theories are judged by how well they describe the available evidence.

Second, many people are confused about what evolutionary theory involves. I hear this a lot: "Evolution can't be right, because there's no way life could start only by random chance." Evolutionary theory says nothing about how life began on Earth. It takes life as a given, and describes how life adapts based upon the pressures of the environment and the presence of other, competing species.

Third, many people are also confused about what evolutionary theory says about our relationship to other primates -- monkeys and apes, specifically. A common refrain is, "I am not descended from a monkey." In fact, this is correct. Other primates and humans share a common ancestor, but those primates are not themselves our ancestors.

These three misconceptions represent stumbling blocks in meaningful discussions, so hopefully we can get these out of the way early on.

Andrew Paradis