Five Most Common Misconceptions of Evolution in Books and Movies

Happy Darwin Day from all of us at Nerd Monkey.  Without further adieu, as if I need to explain why I’m posting this today, let us begin with the five most common misconceptions of evolution in books and movies, namely of the science fiction genre.

5. Man evolved from modern apes.

So many books and movies I’ve read or seen.  So many authors and film makers who have zero understanding of evolution, yet intend to write about it for whatever reason.

It’s long been known that mankind did not evolve from what we now know as modern apes.  Apes and man share an ancestor, yes, and we’re also incredibly similar genetically with all species of greater apes (some more than others).  In fact, modern chimpanzees share more with humans than any other species on earth, insinuating we probably share a recent modern ancestor.  Experimentation into fossils and genetics also conclude the same.  But we should keep in mind that while the fact that evolution happened is indeed a fact, there is a lot of uncertainty in regards to lineage.  And as with any other science, new evidence comes in by the day that reshapes what we previously thought to be the dominant hypothesis.

4.  There is a missing link between man and man’s ancestors.

You see this kind of stuff in a lot of films and books.  A missing link in evolution is discovered, and more often than not, it’s alive and wants to make friends.  This idea, however, is yet another example of evolutionary ignorance.

The original idea of evolution, at least in the minds of those who didn’t understand it, would have suggested a missing link.  One day and ape had a baby that was half ape- half man, and that half man had a baby who was full man.  This is not how evolution works.  Even in all of the recorded cases of evolution happening in very quick genetic hiccups, such as the anti-freeze in the bodies of arctic fish, evolution has never been recorded this fast.  There are many, many, many links between one species to another, and the amount varies if we’re talking about Homo erectus and Homo sapien, or lizards and Homo sapien.  The fact of the matter is that there are a ton of missing fossils between specific changes in human evolution, however, the fossil record is quite clear even if there are small, tiny little gaps.

3. “Darwinian” evolution has anything to do with the origin of life on earth.

Darwinian evolution does not and never has dealt with the actual origin of all life on earth.  It is known that all life originates from a single common ancestor: Small unicellular organisms that were able to survive and even thrive in harsh conditions.  However, the origin of that life is not part of the study of evolution.  It’s actually not even a part of biology.  It’s actually a discipline of chemistry known as abiogenesis.   The most well known experiment in this field is the famous Miller experiment, or “soup theory” as its been called by both its detractors and its supports.  I should also note the latter category are in the majority.

2.  Evolution can occur within a single lifetime.

You see this kind of stuff in a lot of science fiction and fantasy movies, although usually there is an outside culprit that causes it.  Either way, no matter how much ooze you’re around, your genetic makeup is not going to alter beyond the limitations of epigenetics in one lifetime.  Evolutionary change is based on gradual changes of the genetic makeup of an organism.  Individual organisms don’t evolve – entire populations evolve.  Diseases or parasites could cause, say, a bird to lose its feathers during its lifetime, but that’s not to say if it were to spawn, its offspring would not develop feathers.  This is about the only length in which environmental factors can incur changes within a single organism during its own lifetime, and are not likely to be genetic

The fact of the matter is that new gene variants such as alleles are the product of random mutation, and occur over the course of many, many generations.

1.  Humans have somehow stopped evolving.

It may seem like humans no longer have a need to evolve.  We have invented medical treatments that have tripled our life expectancy.  We have altered our environments with the aid of technology, and we’ve also invented agricultural tools that are slowly but surely wiping out starvation.  However, we as humans continue to face hurdles in our own survival, as with every hurdle we leap over, there’s another one in our way that is potentially more deadly.  These days, it’s not the ability to outrun our outsmart a cheetah in the wild, but it’s instead the ability to defeat much, much, much smaller organisms such as bacteria, cancers, or even our own genes working against us (diabetes, autism, et cetera.  We’ve not stopped evolving whatsoever, we’ve only altered the direction of our evolution.  Even still, while many of our more recent evolutionary adoptions are on the smaller level and within our own genomes, even so, we continue to see small, gradual changes in the average appearance of human beings, such as our height and rate of development.

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As with all top five or top ten lists, I’m sure my observations aren’t yours, and you’ve quite possibly seen other predominant misconceptions of evolution portrayed in books or movies.  And I’m sure you’ll tell me about it if you have.  Either way, happy Darwin Day, and today is a good day for one beautiful quote:  “You’re the product of almost four billion years of evolution.  Act like it.”

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