Facts, not Fantasy

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Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Falsehoods Circulating About Evolution

With my upcoming move, I have been rather busy. So today I bring you a blog entry from Greg laden. I hope to be able to incorporate any of the falsehoods I missed in my initial write up one I have his permission. here it is:

The Falsehoods

Biology is harder to learn than quantum physics. Why? Because most people think they totally get biology, but everyone knows nobody gets quantum physics. Therefore, any effort to explore quantum physics will result in new learning, but people rarely learn new biology. The bottom line is that our brains are full of biology, which would be good if most of it did not consist of falsehoods.

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The things that people know already often need to be removed from the brain prior to teaching new stuff. This may seem a little offensive to some, but really, it is easier to just admit it. I'm not saying that everything I might ever tell you about evolutionary biology, for instance, is necessarily true and correct, but in most cases (unless you are an evolutionary biologist) it will be more on the mark than the stuff you learned in Kindergarten or the stuff you learned by simply absorbing the information in which we are all steeped, daily. Personal experience and the nature of the media dumbly conspire to prepare students to fully misunderstand even the most basic concepts in evolutionary biology. These things ... the things taking up valuable brain space but that deserve no place in your grey matter ... are The Falsehoods.

I have a long list of them, which apply mainly to college Freshman. My wife Amanda, a High School Biology teacher, has a list too, that applies to high school students. (How romantic was that, when we each learned that the other had a Falsehood list!!! I'll never forget that day... Oh, but I digress..)

My list is long, but the key elements can be summarized quickly, as follows:

Falsehoods about Evolution:


  • 1.Evolution is goal directed and progressive. When you look at an evolutionary story, you can see that all along there was a certain direction in which the evolutionary process was moving.

  • 2.Species can be organized on a scale of primitive or simple to advanced and complex. One thing this means is that there are "living fossils" among us. Some of those "living fossils" are actually specific human cultures, societies, or races.

  • 3.Natural selection is all about "survival of the fittest"

  • 4.Things that are natural are generally good, while things that are unnatural are generally bad. The naturalness of something is the best guide for it's goodness.

  • 5.Evolution is "only a theory" and can therefore be proven wrong at any moment.



Falsehoods about how nature works:


  • 1.Nature maintains a balance. If nature is perturbed, it will come back into balance eventually.

  • 2.Individual animals typically act for the survival of their species. A trait that enhances the ability to act for the survival of the species will be selected for. Darwin said that.

Falsehoods specifically about human evolution:


  • 1.Humans evolved form apes.

  • 2.Evolution has stopped for humans.

  • 3.Serious scientists often entertain the question: "Has evolution stopped for humans?"

Falsehoods about behavior:


  • 1.Genes code for behaviors.

  • 2.The earlier in the life cycle, the more genetically controlled the individual is.

  • 3.Culture overrides or compensates for biology.

  • 4.Culture is quick and adaptive, but biology is ponderous

  • 5.An adopted baby is not the biological offspring of her mother.

What I call "Us vs. The Other" falsehoods:


  • 1.Primitive cultures are in balance with nature, while complex civilizations are usually not.

  • 2.Primitive cultures are primitive, while complex civilizations are complex.

  • 3.You have to be smarter to live in an industrialized (western, complex) society.

  • 4.Civilization will not collapse.

The Common Nonsense Falsehoods:


  • 1.You can get a free lunch.

  • 2.Rich people have fewer babies than poor people.

Remember, these are falsehoods. I once had a student who studied this list thinking they were all truehoods. He got a perfect score on the midterm exam. Unfortunately, it was not a perfectly good score...

I've blogged about this topic before, but at the moment, I'm re-writing all of the falsehood essays and trying them out on you.

What are your falsehoods? -- You must have a list somewhere --

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