Written by Christopher Emerling, Ph.D.
Evolution is the dominant scientific theory that seeks to explain the diversity and history of life on this planet. While to many people this is not a difficult concept to accept, there is still a large portion of Americans who believe that not only is evolution not true, but instead that a superior being, usually the Christian God, created all life some 6,000 to 10,000 years ago. In fact, the most recent Gallup poll showed that 42% of Americans believe the latter model, at least specifically for humans.
For some scientifically-inclined individuals, the thought that anyone can still disbelieve in evolution is abhorrent. Only those individuals that are foolishly devoted to outdated, hokey beliefs could disavow Darwin, right? Aren’t these individuals just anti-scientific, ignorant yokels?
Maybe. Or maybe it’s more complicated than that and we shouldn’t be too quick to cast judgment.
In a series of blog posts, I will discuss some of the reasons that people disbelieve in evolution. The hope is that this stirs empathy and discussion, as well as a reevaluation of why evolution advocates, perhaps including yourself, believe what they do.
Evolution is a tough pill to swallow
Take a moment and really process what the implications of the theory of evolution are. It’s not simply saying that a red bird can evolve into a blue bird or even that humans descended from chimpanzee-like apes. It’s saying that all life, from pond scum to squirrels, from mosquitoes to elephants, and from Velociraptors to pine trees are all related. When you take a bite into a delicious Chipotle burrito, you’re eating the body parts of not one but several of your cousins. The wheat that makes up your tortilla, the steak, chicken, or carnitas, the guacamole, the rice, the beans, the lettuce, the bell peppers and the onions. Take a good look at them: these are your family.
I’m not kidding. Evolutionary theory says that these things are your cousins. Your 10 billionth cousin 535 million times removed, perhaps, but if you believe us scientists, then that’s what we’re telling you.
Whales look nothing like deers and cows, but evolutionary biologists think that both flipper the dolphin and the largest animal in existence, the blue whale, descended from hoofed mammals. Snakes are basically lizards that lost their legs and got stretched out. Birds are just flying dinosaurs that don’t have teeth or tails, and dinosaurs are just lizard-like animals that walk upright instead of in a sprawling posture. You are just a fish that evolved such that you walk on land, breathe air, grow hair, stand upright and read blog posts in your free time.
Process this. Ponder this. This is not intuitive. This is not obvious. And as an evolutionary biologist, I can tell you this: we scientists are not sure how it all happened. So can you blame someone for not believing the story that evolution tells?
Christopher Emerling is a postdoctoral fellow in the Museum of Vertebrate Zoology at the University of California, Berkeley, studying genomic adaptations in vertebrates over long time scales. Chris is Middle Circle's resident scientist and will be blogging regularly with Middle Circle. You can check out his regular blog here.