Misconceptions about human evolution
|Misconceptions About Human Evolution
Because it has been a controversial issue for many years, facts about human evolution have been misconstrued. Since evolution is rarely taught in schools today, students do not have the opportunity to learn the truth about the subject. Students tend to only hear the popular misconceptions about human evolution and accept them rather than question these ideas that are ultimately false. Below are some examples of these misconceptions and evidence to disprove them in favor of human evolution.
Possibly the most popular misconception of human evolution is that it does not exist. This idea has grown from the assumption that evolution is a theory or, rather, a hypothesis-- not a fact. In common language, a theory is “an imperfect fact” (Moran). However, a scientific theory, such as human evolution, is slightly different. “In scientific usage… a theory is a logically self-consistent model or framework for describing the behavior of a related set of natural or social phenomena. It originates from or is supported by experimental evidence…. In this sense, a theory is a systematic and formalized expression of all previous observations which is predictive, logical and testable” (Answers.com). In the case of human evolution, the explanation of fact is the theory, itself (Barnett). The fact is that “life evolves“ (Barnett); “evolution is the change in the frequency of genes in a species over time” (Barnett). This is best explained by Darwin’s idea of natural selection-- the most common theory of evolution-- and the time needed for evolution to occur. “Natural selection involves genetic variation and selection among variants present in a population” (Berkeley) in which better adaptations to ecological niches dominate over the lesser traits. Genetic mutations also provide a means of evolution by adding more genes into the gene pool that could be more or less advantageous for a species (Barnett). These micro-evolutionary changes can be seen over a few generations in some organisms, but in order for macro-evolution to occur, such as humans evolving from an ape-like ancestor, thousands of years are needed (Barnett). However, it cannot be denied that human evolution does, indeed, exist when scientists claim that evolution, itself, is an observable fact.
Another misconception is that humans did not evolve from an ape-like ancestor. This false assumption comes from the never-ending rebuttal against human evolution: “If humans evolved from apes, why are there apes still around today?” There is a simple explanation for this. Humans are a type of ape that descended from a common ape-like ancestor alongside other primates that also branched-off from the common descendant (Barnett). All primates share similarities, including grasping hands and eyes in the front of their heads. The appearance of all primates hands, feet, skeletal structures, and ears seem to correlate with each other as well (Plaisted). The study of genetics has also confirmed a close connection between humans and chimpanzees, discovering that they share 98% of the same genes (Teach). Similarities such as these help scientist classify organisms taxonomically. In this case, humans are from the kingdom animal, phylum chordata, class mammalia, order primates, family hominidae, genus Homo, and species sapiens (Barnett). The only difference between humans and an ape in categorizing would be the genus and species. The fossil records show that hominids changed into austral piths, which later became the genus homo, founding the later species as modern humans. Therefore, that proves that we are a type of ape that evolved from an ape-like common ancestor.
Most people also believe that human evolution exists to disprove a god’s divine creation of humans. In fact, study during the Scientific Revolution, the beginning of unofficial evolutionary work, was mostly done by Christian scientists, such as George Buffon (Scientific Revolution). He along with Carolus Linnaeus saw the close relationships between organisms and tried to explain their associations through binomial nomenclature and taxonomy (Scientific Revolution). This led to deeper inquiries by later scientists such as Charles Darwin. As stated before, evolution is a fact, and it is also a theory that tries to explain how evolution occurs. People tend to think that human evolution is an origin story about where humans came from; this is not true. Human evolution deals with evolution after the creation of life. This is why religious views and evolution beliefs are commonly seen as incompatible. Although science uses “natural causes… to explain natural phenomena” (Berkeley) and religion uses “beliefs that are beyond the natural world” (Berkeley), the ideas behind both evolution and religion do not necessarily intersect (Berkeley). However, some people do believe that evolution is used as one of “God’s mechanisms” that sustains the Earth. Other than that belief (Barnett), evolution and religion are not conflicting, and evolution does not disprove a god.
Although humans are thought of to be advanced, the idea of human evolution constantly “improving” is false. Evolution does not care about advancements in nature and most certainly does not care about the advancement of humans in particular. The whole idea behind evolution is survival in which those organisms with the most beneficial characteristics from their genes in their environmental niche will survive (Berkeley). Even organisms with traits that allow them to barely survive are seen as fit when it comes to evolution because they simply continue to exist (Berkeley). This is where natural selection occurs. In this context, “no organism has to be perfect” (Berkeley). In fact, the qualities that people see in humans as being advanced and better than other organisms is actually a misconception in itself. Humans have specific characteristics that allow them to survive in their environments just as much as slugs or ants have their own in their environmental niches (Berkeley). This fitness of a species is related directly to the environment rather than progress or advancements (Berkeley). The whole notion of this advancement has strained from the “evolutionary ladder” idea (Evolution). This idea conveys the message that evolution is moving in one linear direction, such as climbing a ladder, with humans at the top (Evolution). However, this idea has been disregarded since the thought of a universal common ancestor has heavily dominated the study of evolution today (Evolution). Instead of organisms following a linear path, they branch off from the common ancestor and form what is called a evolutionary tree (Evolution). In this tree, there is neither a pinnacle to which humans belong nor any signification of advancements for nature (Evolution). Survival is all that is necessary, not advancements (Berkeley).
A final misconception about human evolution is that the process of evolution for humans is complete. This idea has come from the question of why people have not seen the evolution of humans in recent times. Macro-evolution for humans would take thousands of years to occur, so it is impossible to suggest that humans today would witness such evolution to take place (Barnett). It is possible that this macro-evolution could occur for humans, depending upon the environment and its changes, though (Barnett). Humans, like every other organism, have the potential to “evolve into something measurably different, though it takes a vast amount of time to do so” (Barnett). One incredible prediction made by Oliver Curry states that humans will become two different species, one “attractive, intelligent, ruling elite” species and another that is “dim-witted” and “goblin-like” (Firth). As for the truth of this prediction, only time and environmental changes will unfold what is just the beginning of modern-day human evolution.
These misconceptions have altered what evolution is truly about. People have become reticent toward evolution and its truth; therefore, these false ideas have spread. With the growing study of evolution and strong evidence to support its theory today, it is nearly impossible to deny its existence along with all of its implications that are based on facts.