FAQ for r/evolution

These are frequently asked questions/statements about evolution along with answers generally agreed to by the scientific community. This FAQ is for reference by the SubReddit? /r/evolution. This document should always provide citations to online resources for further reading.

Should you need to contact the moderators of this subreddit, they can be reached via this link.


What is evolution?

Evolution is at its heart: A change in allele frequency in a population across generations. An Allele is one version of a particular gene. Over time, depending on reproductive success of certain members of a group, the number of different alleles will change. Wikipedia on Allele Frequency.

Did Darwin Invent Evolution?

Prior to Darwin's book, the Origin of species, the discovery of the fossil remains of extinct species and the use of selective breeding in farming had suggested the idea of evolution. Lamarckian evolution was a short-lived hypothesis about how evolution might work in the wild; and a great example of science correcting itself with better theories to fit the evidence at hand.

Darwin didn't think up evolution. Along with Sir Alfred Russel Wallace, he thought up the concept of evolution being pushed in certain directions through a non-conscious force called Natural Selection, and that such a force could account for the variety of life on planet earth.


The Origin of Species is not a very hard book to read. Anyone interested should grab a copy and dive in! Free LibreVox audiobook Free Online Text Amazon paperback

Did Darwin recant on his deathbed?

No, this rumor does not reference a true event. Even if it were a true event, Darwin's personal feelings on the matter doesn't change the observed fact of allele frequency in populations over time; aka, evolution.


Was Darwin wrong?

Of course he was. None of us are ever 100% right about anything - we're human! Darwin's version of evolution knew nothing about genes, or the complex mechanisms of genetic heredity. Mendel's pea hybrid experiments were effectively lost when Darwin was writing. The very fact that Mendel's independent experiments verified Darwin's overall concepts support evolution - in particular, the idea that descent with modification leads to variation and eventually new species.

The Origin of Species was written during a time when the idea that domestic varieties of pigeons were bred by humans from wild species was a bit crazy. We know much more about the theory now than when Darwin proposed it.


Life is very complex! There no way that it could form by accident.

Otherwise known as the "airplane formed by a tornado in a junkyard" argument, this statement confuses the idea that mutation are random with the idea that evolution as a whole is random.

Chemistry is not random. Biology is not random. Evolution is not random.

While evolution via natural selection suggests that random mutations in the genome are the source of variation, the driving forces behind Natural Selection are decidedly NOT random.

http://www.talkorigins.org/indexcc/CB/CB010.html http://www.talkorigins.org/indexcc/CB/CB010_1.html http://www.talkorigins.org/indexcc/CB/CB010_2.html http://www.talkorigins.org/indexcc/CF/CF002_1.html

Proteins need DNA to form, DNA needs Proteins to form.

This is not the genetic material you are looking for....


Evolution can't explain how life began

Absolutely correct! Evolution requires the passing of hereditary information between generations; it can't work before life with some sort of hereditary material already exists. The theories on the beginning of life are classified under the heading "Abiogenesis"


Abiogenesis is untestable

Not quite. The claim here is misleading, suggesting that we need to be able to have 100% certainty in every idea for it to be useful science. There is a lot unknown about how abiogenesis originally occurred, but we are not without evidence. Just because we can't go back in time and record the original event, doesn't mean we can't learn things about it by the results it left behind - life!


Mutations are extremely rare/only certain areas of the genome can mutate.

Mutations are not extremely rare, and they happen all over the genome. Certain areas of the genome are more effectively checked for mutations (and then fixed) than others, but no section of the genome is "protected".

Most mutations do nothing, since many gene sequences code for the same amino acids and in turn produce the same proteins. Of the mutations which do have an effect, most are not beneficial, and often harmful. This is why evolution takes a long time, only the beneficial mutations will survive, and *they* aren't very common.


Microevolution has not been seen/variation only occurs within a population using existing traits.

Speciation HAS been seen, frequently.

This claim is repeatedly shown to be inaccurate in lab experiments, the most obvious of which is bacterial cultures created from a single parent cell. Because the experiment starts with a single genome, any genetic variation in that population is introduced from mutation.

http://www.talkorigins.org/indexcc/CB/CB910.html http://www.talkorigins.org/indexcc/CB/CB110.html

Macroevolution has never been seen/variations can only occur within set limits.

We wouldn't expect to observe so-called 'macroevolution' on the human time scale very often; evolution is a very slow process. This does nothing to promote or discredit either side of the argument, however. Would you expect to see a new moon pop into existence from accumulated space debris within your lifetime?

Despite this, because of the trillions of individuals reproducing every second around the world, we have witnessed specialization a number of times, in the lab and in the wild.

'Macroevolution' is in itself, a misleading term. There is no difference in the mechanisms involved in micro and macro evolution; in the same way there is no difference between walking down the street and walking across town.

http://www.talkorigins.org/indexcc/CB/CB901.html http://www.talkorigins.org/indexcc/CB/CB901_2.html]

variations in "kind": http://www.talkorigins.org/indexcc/CB/CB901_1.html

Speciation does not mean that macroevolution is possible. They are different.

How are they different? One is change in a population due to the collective change in allele frequency over time to a point that two populations are now classified as distinct groups by biologists. Once the accumulation of genetic difference is large enough, why is it not macroevolution? Remember that Species/Genera/Phyla, etc are all human constructions to classify the natural world; why would nature care if individuals cross our imaginary boundaries?

http://www.talkorigins.org/indexcc/CB/CB902.html http://www.talkorigins.org/indexcc/CB/CB902_1.html The Complex Case of Ring Species

Irreducible Complexity - if you remove one part of a complex system, it stops working. How can such a system evolve bit by bit?

This assumes that the structure in question always did what is does now. A television doesn't work as a television when it's not plugged in, but it still makes for a great doorstop, mirror, cloths hanger, bookshelf, fish tank, and more!


The eye, flagella, wings, etc are too complex/not useful in the supposed "stages" of their own evolution.

This is simply an incorrect claim, based on the same idea as seen in the above answer - a "partially formed" eye still works great - just not as great as other eye designs. Ask anyone wearing glasses whether their not 100% perfect eyes are still useful.

http://www.talkorigins.org/indexcc/CB/CB300.html http://www.talkorigins.org/indexcc/CB/CB301.html http://www.talkorigins.org/indexcc/CB/CB341.html

Mitochondrial DNA proves that there was an 'Eve'

mDNA does show that all currently living humans had a common female ancestor that lived roughly 200,000 years ago. This is no way suggests that this female ancestor was the first human, however. The last common male ancestor lived roughly 116,000 years ago.


If evolution occurred, where are all the middle-of-the-road animals? The croco-pigeons?

Animal populations change over time, and diverge from each other. Even though they may be related, offspring are not identical to their parents. Every individual is a transition step between ancestors and future generations.

Did your father produce a clone of himself that is alive today? What will happen to your father, as a transition version between your grandparents and yourself after he dies? It's just like that.


This would be the closest thing to a croco-duck: A crocodilian ancestor with a wide bill-like mouth http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Anatosuchus Other than that, all birds have reptile scales on their legs, and their DNA contains suppressed genes for teeth production. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Origin_of_birds#Features_linking_birds_and_dinosaurs

No completely new features have been seen evolving.

Of course not. The likelihood of a wing spontaneously forming is pretty much 0. The chances of an existing structure changing over generations due to new uses for that structure is much more likely. Finding a completely new feature with no evidence for it's having evolved from an existing prior structure would be evidence for creation.


There is a limited/non-existent fossil record for human evolution.

There is still a fair amount that we do not know about human ancestry. But there is a lot that we do know. The fossil record for humans is fairly well put together at this point, with many transitional fossils of man-like apes that no longer live today.

http://www.talkorigins.org/indexcc/CC/CC050.html http://www.talkorigins.org/indexcc/CC/CC051.html http://www.talkorigins.org/indexcc/CC/CC200.html

If humans came from monkeys, why are monkeys still around?

Because we didn't evolve from any of the modern primate species - both humans and modern monkeys evolved from a common ancestor. If you and your cousins both came from the same grandparent, then why isn't that grandparent still around?


The theory of evolution violates the second law of thermodynamics.

No it doesn't. The 2nd law says that the total entropy of a closed system will not decrease. The earth is not a closed system, due to the massive ball of fire in the sky.


Information Theory says that information in genes will only decrease over time, via the second law of thermodynamics.

This completely confuses similar terms used in different ways in different fields of study. Hot dogs are not made of dog, despite the similarity in names.


Doesn't Evolution demand a continuing increase in Complexity?

No. Evolution simply pressures populations to succeed in their environment. Simple or complex, the best fit will win. During the early stages of life, there was no where to go but towards more complexity. However, simpler structures generally take less energy to grow and maintain. Therefor, there is a constant selective pressure towards simplicity and away from complexity. Complex structures need to not only do a job, they have to help the creature more than they cost to build.

Therefor, evolution pushing towards more complex and less complex at the same time. Archaebacteria, for example, still exist. Why change a design that works?

http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/evolution/library/faq/cat03.html http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Archaea