“Howler Monkeys” by Steve from Washington, DC, USA. Licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0 via Wikimedia.

There’s a persistent belief in creationist circles that the theory of evolution is a house of cards that will collapse if an astute, open-minded person just looks at it hard enough. To facilitate this process, creationists pass around lists of questions which they are certain evolutionists “can’t answer.” The questions emphasized vary from group to group, but the suggested tactic is the same: publicly confront an evolutionist, ideally a professor or teacher, and confound him or her with questions that will expose the structural weaknesses of the theory. From Creation Today:

NOTE TO STUDENTS: Make a copy of this challenge to evolutionists and ask your teacher or professor to give you answers to these questions. If they cannot, you have a right to be skeptical that what they are teaching about evolution is true. Also, give copies to your fellow students so that they, too, will be aware that there are huge flaws in the theory of evolution. It is still a theory, not a “fact.”

The questions from the source above include things like:

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What are the odds that the evolutionary process, proceeding by random changes, would produce human beings, plus millions of species of animals, birds, fish and insects, all with symmetrical features, i.e., one side being a mirror image of the other? We take symmetry in all these creatures for granted, but is that a reasonable outcome for a random process?

Where are the trillions of fossils of such true transitional forms?

What are the odds that, of the millions of species of animals, birds, fish and insects, a male of each species developed at the same time and in the same place as a female of the same species, so that the species could propagate? Why are there two sexes anyhow?

Of course, anyone who has taken a high school introductory biology course should be able to answer questions like these (or point out exactly how they are flawed.) I say “should be able”, but unfortunately that is not always the case. This semester I taught an introductory university course in physical anthropology in which we intensively studied human evolution, beginning with basic concepts in genetics and evolutionary theory and finishing with an overview of the hominin fossil record. (I used Clark Spencer Larsen’s “Our Origins” as the textbook). I discovered early in the semester that about half the class was not well prepared for this material: many knew absolutely nothing about human evolution, and a sizable number knew very little about evolution in general. It’s not the students’ fault. Science education in Kansas (where I teach) has been under attack for some time by a coalition of religious groups trying to prevent the teaching of evolution in public high schools, and I suspect that my students’ lack of preparation might be at least partially attributable to this. But that’s a subject of another, longer post in the future.

Regardless of how little they know coming in to the course, I want my students to walk out of the classroom with a solid knowledge of how evolution works. In five years’ time, they may have forgotten the morphological differences between the teeth of Australopithecus afarensis and Homo erectus , or the phylogenetic relationships of Denisovans to Neandertals and H. sapiens as inferred from ancient genomes (although I hope they don’t!), but if they have a basic understanding of how evolution works as a process, they should be able to understand the significance of new fossil or genetic discoveries. Similarly, if they understand the difference between science and pseudoscience, they should be able to evaluate factual claims. The difficulty for me was figuring out how to present these ideas when the course is already jam-packed with information the students needed to learn in order to advance.

So I tried something new. One of the questions that some creationists (and people who simply don’t know a lot about evolution) frequently ask to challenge evolution is: “If we evolved from monkeys, why are there still monkeys?” (I see this question asked every single day on Twitter, thanks to the account of @TakeThatDarwin who retweets creationists). In the past I’ve simply rolled my eyes at how ridiculous the question is–in fact, several groups like Answers in Genesis, strongly urge their readership not to use it–but I recently realized that it nicely gets at some very serious and common misunderstandings about evolution. I decided to experiment with using it to further students’ critical thinking.

I gave this question to students to answer several times throughout the course. First, I used it as a means of (anonymously) assessing their knowledge about evolution as a process early in the course. About a fourth of the class gave confused answers to it, and another fourth could answer it partially but without sufficient detail. After we had gone through basic concepts of evolutionary theory, genetics, and primate phylogenies (but before we got into the hominin fossil record), I made it the subject of an in-class discussion, so students could learn from each other’s answers. At that point, they had the basic tools to answer the question, and those who participated in the discussion were able to answer it in some detail. Finally, as a means of reinforcing students’ knowledge at the end of the course, I gave it as the last extra credit question on the final exam. Nearly everyone who chose to answer this question received full credit.

I was looking for two parts in their response: 1. A recognition that we did not evolve from monkeys–or other living primates– but instead share a common primate ancestor. (Bonus points for recognizing that the category ‘monkey’ is paraphyletic and is a colloquial term, not a scientific taxon). 2. An understanding that evolution doesn’t work in a linear fashion, with one species replacing the last. There are many good analogies to use in teaching this concept; I like to use the analogy of a family tree: that is, I and my sister are both descended from the same parents, yet we exist at the same time.

This approach allowed the class to confront some of the major misconceptions of evolution, including the idea that modern animals transform into other kinds of modern animals, that there is a predetermined “order” to evolution, and that evolution is a “finished” process. It served as a platform to discuss several important concepts: adaptations, natural selection, heredity, and that evolution occurs in populations, not individuals. I saw a distinct progression in students’ reasoning on this question over the course of the semester, and I think that it proved to be pretty useful in the end.

Another approach I used to supplement the textbook (because the findings were so new they weren’t in the textbook) was to show students two video clips offering two very different perspectives on the newest hominin fossil, Homo naledi. The first was by Kent Hovind (I started at 9 minutes in, and we watched for about 10 minutes or so).

The second was by National Geographic, and included clips from paleoanthropologist Lee Berger who discovered H. naledi.

I asked students to identify two or three testable claims presented in each video, and think about what kinds of evidence would be needed to test these claims. This sparked a very lively and (I think) helpful discussion in class which covered radiometric dating methods and their limitations, how to interpret clues about behavior from the fossil record, and a brief discussion on how fossil discoveries are portrayed in the media. We ended by discussing how new information about human ancestors–derived from fossils, archaeology, and genetics–is evaluated by the scientific community.

While I’m on break, in addition to catching up on all the writing I didn’t have time for during the semester (how do people stay on top of all of this?), I’m looking for more materials that would be good for these kinds of exercises in critical thinking. I just found the Institute for Creation Research’s document summarizing the “scientific” case against evolution, and I think that there are some very useful instances of misconceptions that could work well as the basis for student research and discussion. For example, the following statement could serve as a useful starting point for students to think critically about taxonomy, evo-devo, and both early and later primate fossil records:

Fossil discoveries can muddle over attempts to construct simple evolutionary trees — fossils from key periods are often not intermediates, but rather hodge podges of defining features of many different groups. . . . Generally, it seems that major groups are not assembled in a simple linear or progressive manner — new features are often “cut and pasted” on different groups at different times.

As far as ape/human intermediates are concerned, the same is true, although anthropologists have been eagerly searching for them for many years. Many have been proposed, but each has been rejected in turn.

But I’d like to find more. To any professors who teach evolution who read this blog, I want to ask: In addition to assigned readings, traditional lectures, and labs, what approaches do you use for teaching on the fundamentals of human evolution (or evolutionary theory)? Do you do something similar?

To anyone else who reads this blog, I want to ask: How did you first learn about evolution, and human evolution in particular? Have you ever changed your mind on the subject? If so, what caused you to change your mind?

Published On: December 30, 2015

Jennifer Raff

Jennifer Raff

Jennifer Raff is an anthropological geneticist and assistant professor in the anthropology department at the University of Kansas. Her research centers around understanding human prehistory through analyzing the genomes of ancient and contemporary populations. Currently, she focuses on the prehistory of North American populations and addresses questions about the initial peopling of the continent, as well as region-specific histories in the North American Arctic and mid-continental United States. Raff is also keenly interested in public scientific literacy and has written on numerous topics including pseudoarchaeology, race and genetics, and vaccines on her outreach blog, Violent Metaphors. She also tweets daily about various topics in science and combat sports. Follow her @JenniferRaff.


  • Anonymous says:

    My degree is in engineering and so I have very little background in biology. I attend a fundamentalist church and was asked to teach a class on “the science behind the creation account” and was given YEC materials to use. The more I studied it, the more I became convinced that young earth creationism is dead wrong. Unfortunately, fundamentalist Christianity forces people to choose un-necessarily between science and religion. In addition to what you are doing (which I applaud you for), we need to find a way to convince church leaders that science is not the enemy and that evolution and faith can peacefully co-exist.

    • José Roberto de Almeida says:

      Concordo plenamente com suas colocações, fica cada vez mais perceptível que, a teoria da evolução, precisa ser vista, como uma teoria e não como uma afirmação cabal.
      Na medida que evoluímos “científicamente falando” a lacunas entre a teoria de Darwin e a ciência moderna só cresce, e foi criando um vácuo que precisa ser encarado, existem respostas que só encontraremos, se dermos o próximo passo na questão : evolução
      Pra isso, é bem possível que tenhamos que.” Desconstruir tabus e dogmas” obrigatoriamente teremos que rever, verdades tidas hoje, como absolutas.
      O fato é que, ou fizemos isso, damos o próximo na questão evolução, ou corremos o risco de permitir que a religião se agarre a uma teoria da evolução, evidentemente falha e mantenha a humanidade numa espécie de “idade média moderna”
      Penso que, se continuarmos, dermos o próximo passo, num futuro não muito distante, ciência e religião irão convergir para o mesmo ponto ) mesma filosofia). Ao passo que, se isso não acontecer, tanto a religião quanto a própria ciência atual, não teram mais condições de oferecerem respostas para asdemandas da sociedade humana, e isso, tem o potencial de levar a humanidade a um colapso.

    • Anonymous says:

      Although I respect your opinion, I also admit that I strongly disagree.
      If you believe in faith, you believe in the Bible. If the Bible doesn’t talk about evolution, then we have no reason to believe it exists, no matter what the world tells us. In fact, I think evolution is in a way doubting God’s power – that he can create the entire universe in 7 days, versus believing that he slowly made changes and created it over millions of years. That’s ridiculous.
      If you believe in evolution, what you are actually doing is doubting the straightforwardness and truthfulness of God’s word. In the Bible, it is very clear how God created the Earth. I prefer to trust him versus believing only partially in him and partially in what the world thinks.

  • Lee Dugatkin says:

    Hi Jennifer, I was going to email this to you directly, but then I thought it might be useful to others, so I posted here. In terms of teaching basic evolutionary ideas, I like to steal a page from Darwin on this. Following CD, I have found that using an example that students already think they understand — domesticated animals, antibiotic resistance, etc — is a good starting point. Get them to explain why they think they understand these processes and then show them, nice and slowly, that the same processes are in place for other evolutionary phenomena. It doesn’t always work, but sometimes it does

  • Rob King says:

    Hi. Thanks for your thought provoking blog. My background was in teaching in a faith school where the kids challenged me to answer why I believed in evolution. The resultant discovery totally changed my direction of career. I now teach at UCC (Ireland). A very useful book–which takes people away from some of the contentious material–is Neil Shubins “Your Inner Fish”. His series on this is also highly recommended

  • Adam says:

    This is a great piece! Thanks for contributing it. I love the idea of basing parts of a course around “anti” claims – I would love to teach a whole course centered on this idea! (Hmmmm. Honors course idea?)

    I have taught both Evolution and Human Evolution courses and have faced some of the skeptic questions. Here are some things that I have had good results with:

    1- When I taught “Evolution” a few years back, I wanted to supplement the textbook (a dry standard thing) with something more engaging. This desire, along with my love of Darwin in general and his genius (yet too dry for a short undergraduate course section) book Origin lead me to embrace the cheap, quick read, and beautiful graphic adaptation by Michael Keller: Charles Darwin’s On the Origin of Species: A Graphic Adaptation

    Get a copy. My students loved it!

    For extra credit, I also got my students to write responses to one or two songs from Baba Binkman’s “The Rap Guide to Evolution”.

    2- As a comparative anatomist, my favorite “anti” claims to tackle are the anatomical ones. For instance, I love it when creationists point to the eye as something that could only be designed because it couldn’t work in stages. Not only have stages now been found, but it blows students minds to learn how the photoreceptors are pointing backwards! Great piece of unintelligent design!

    3- A basic rule in all subjects, but especially in the teaching of science is that it is okay to say “I don’t know! (But let’s figure it out together.)” Many of the approaches that you discuss hinge on the questioner to trip up the questioned. Since when is it proof of an argument when one person can not answer all questions off the top of her/his head?

    4- As an extension of my love of Darwin, I love to teach about Darwin’s “Gemmules” and the tragedy that he never read Mendel’s work. Just because he was wrong about some stuff, and indeed WAY wrong about some stuff, doesn’t mean that the baby must be thrown out with the bathwater!

    5- I also make it really clear to my students how silly the concept of “only a theory” is from a scientific perspective. Indeed there might be invisible gremlins holding us to the ground, but I think most of us would agree that the “theory” of gravity is a bit more likely!

    • It’s funny–I have no problem with telling my students “I don’t know the answer to that question.” I’m not sure why that’s a hard thing to say for so many people.
      Thanks for the resources, I’ll definitely check them out!

      • Mike Z says:

        I’m a big fan of “I don’t know.” I think the students find that very refreshing and are more likely to trust that the things you DO say are not just made up. I also say “We don’t know” when they ask about something that scientists are still working on, like the origin of life or some such topic.

      • Shasta says:

        I once had a student in my Human Origins course ask me if the Neandertals knew they were going extinct. I HAD to answer “I don’t know!” And I have no trouble at all admitting when I don’t know something – especially when I get questions like that!

        • Geoff says:

          I think you may confidently assume that the concepts of species and extinction were beyond Neanderthals…or even any humans up to quite recently.

  • Jonathan Tweet says:

    I learned evolution from the start but didn’t understand it well. For example, as a kid I thought that Ankylosaurs were somehow the ancestors of animals alive today. Now as an adult, I’ve written the first book to teach evolution to preschoolers: GRANDMOTHER FISH. It’s fun for kids but also scientifically informative. It shows why “there are still monkeys.” http://www.grandmotherfish.com

  • Holly says:

    Good stuff in here for helping students understand evolution. When I first started teaching my psychology of primates class, it amazed me just how little students knew about evolution. “If we evolved from monkeys, why are there still monkeys?” is a question I was asked. It showed they didn’t really get it.

    During a discussion in my social psychology class about attraction and love, one student asked, “If we prefer to mate with attractive people, why are there still ugly people?” It was a question that was put very delicately, but it was a great question.

    Both questions afforded a really wonderful opportunity to talk about evolution – what it is and what it isn’t. I love when students ask good questions. These might seem like dumb questions, but they are actually the best questions, and I am so glad students piped up to ask them. Everyone learned more because of them.

    Both were questions from my university students. I never got questions like these from my ‘gifted’ liberal arts students, and I wondered why over the years. I wonder if the SLAC students think they know it all already, so they don’t ask. Or, they think it’s a dumb question, and therefore don’t ask because they don’t want to feel embarrassed among their peers. Or, perhaps they really do know the answer. Either way, I wish they asked these questions or that I had!

    • Paul Burnett says:

      Re: “If we prefer to mate with attractive people, why are there still ugly people?” – “Nobody is ugly after 2 AM” (when the bar closes).

  • Mike Z says:

    I teach philosophy of science rather than straight science, so I approach this at a more general level that may compliment some of the strategies already suggested.

    If creationism is supposed to be a rival *scientific* theory, then like every scientific theory, it needs to be useful as a basis for scientific research. I ask students to think of ways that the creationist theory itself could be used to generate new research questions or experiments that scientists could study in order to gain a deeper understanding of the process of creation. They quickly realize that any predictions based on creationism are either wrong (e.g. “There should be evidence that the earth is less about 10,000 years old) or correct-but-trivial (e.g. “There should be plants”). It also has no causal details to explore, no new practical applications to develop, etc. etc. If it is supposed to be a scientific theory, then it is the only scientific theory that shuts down scientific inquiry rather than promoting it.

    Also, if creationism were correct, then evolutionary theory (their real target) would not be the only casualty. Most other fields of science would also have to be radically incorrect in some way or another. For example astronomy and geology both require a very ancient universe and planet. Same for nuclear physics because radiometric dating gives us very old dates for rocks. Do the students really think that all of science is really that far off, especially given the amazing progress of technology and medicine on which it is based?

    On the other hand, if creationism is not meant to be a rival scientific theory, but rather an assertion of truth without any need for independent justification, then that’s religion. I never try to tell a student that their religion is false, but I do point out that rejection of scientific standards has consequences they may not enjoy.

    P.S. I borrowed all of this from people much smarter than me, like Thomas Kuhn, Philip Kitcher, Kenneth Miller, and many others.

    • Good points.

      I once had a writer for the Discovery Institute criticize me for not taking I.D. “research” seriously. So I seriously reviewed an I.D. paper. It went about how you might expect. http://violentmetaphors.com/2013/09/27/critical-analysis-of-intelligent-design-research/

    • Jack C says:

      I am an English language teacher with a passion for science. I teach mostly in the UK but have been confronted by rooms of students from countries where creationism tends to be the accepted view. Getting a good debate going is one of my favorite ways of motivating students to speak in their target language and critical thinking tasks like this are wonderful for dividing a classroom. Inevitably after a good debate if time allows the teacher is asked ‘What do you think?’. Mike Z has presented two wonderful explanations of why my opinions are based on the scientific consensus that I will definitely be using in future. Simple, concise and self evident.

    • Anonymous says:

      A question for you – what are those consequences for not believing in evolution? Personally, I can’t see any so please explain. However, I do see the consequences of rejecting creationism in case you’re wrong – hell. I’m just saying…

      I also would like to add that I don’t think it is a crazy idea to believe that so many other sciences are wrong. There is so much evidence that radiometric dating is wrong.
      I also believe that scientists don’t just research and find out the facts and then decide what the facts mean. It seems to me that scientists research the things that they think would prove evolution. I do think their methods are wrong a lot of the time. I don’t doubt that they are smart people, but I also think that they are ignorant and only think the facts could mean one thing. Basically, what I’m saying is that scientists are biased when they begin their research, so #1 they don’t research unbiased things and #2 they look at their evidence from a biased opinion about what it could mean and how it could prove evolution, when the same evidence could be used to prove creation or go against evolution.
      As for their dating methods….they are straight out wrong. Although they might believe they are dating the Earth I think that they don’t actually know how to do it correctly. Again, I don’t doubt their intelligence, I just think that sometimes like everyone they are wrong. Their numbers are way off, and I completely doubt the radiometric dating method.
      In addition, the only “evidence” scientists give that the Earth cannot be 10,000 or less years old is their dating methods, which they rely on as their only argument in this case (at least the only argument I’ve ever heard/found). And since they only rely on that…. imagine if their dating methods were wrong – well, their whole argument would be messed up. I think they need more than one piece of evidence in case one of those pieces of evidence is wrong. The argument is too weak to only rely on a method you cannot prove because there is no way to prove it.

  • Alan Rogers says:

    I love your use of “why are there still monkeys.” In our intro to bio anthro, I spend the 1st two weeks teaching from my small book, “The Evidence for Evolution”. I also teach an honors course, which covers both sides of the argument in historical perspective. Help yourself to the materials on my website: http://content.csbs.utah.edu/~rogers/evidevolcrs/index.html.php

  • Chuck says:

    Your article has a lot of straw man argument for trying to discount the creation viewpoint. If you look for example at the work of Dr Stephen Meyer in the book Darwin’s Doubt you will find many mathematical problems by which Darwinism cannot be possible. For example there are not enough organisms to have ever lived in history to randomly make a new protein of 150 chain links. Also body plans are locked up within epigenetics and not subject to mutation. This means an animal can change by genetic variation and adaptation, but its body shape and function cannot change. Thus wolves dogs foxes can all have a common ancestor but it actually is more of a process of de-evolution and genetic variation- adaptation not Darwinian evolution. There are numerous other mathematical problems that prevent Darwinism from being possible. What we find as fact is that Micro evolution is true. A bacteria can mutate and become resistant to antibiotics. But it is only surviving due to a loss of functionality rather than a gain in some new functionality. Darwinism is a dying theory because of new revelations in math,science, genetics, and biochemistry not because of religion.

    • Daniel says:

      Hi Chuck, can you give some more details about these ideas? For example how was the conclusion that “there are not enough organisms to have ever lived in history to randomly make a new protein of 150 chain links” arrived at? The same with “body plans are locked up within epigenetics and not subject to mutation” as well as “A bacteria can mutate and become resistant to antibiotics. But it is only surviving due to a loss of functionality rather than a gain in some new functionality.”

      I appreciate your candor

    • James Downard says:

      Although Steve Meyer is long on confidence, scratch his source usage and he knows way less than he presents. Meyer’s whole chapter in “Darwin’s Doubt” on Punctuated Equilibrium was a mess, as I noted in my catalogue of antievolutionist discussion of Punc EEk http://www.tortucan.com/chapter1/intelligent-design-doesnt-fare-much-better-including-stephen-meyers-darwins-doubt.html. I recommend readers of Meyer (and all other antievolutionists) take to fact checking their usage of primary sources. It is not a pretty picture, and explains why antievolutionist viewpoints are so irrelevant in current science. (See #TIP project http://www.tortucan.wordpress.com & http://www.tortucan.com for more on the flawed methodology of antievolutionism

    • glblank says:

      If Darwiniasm as you call it is dying, and it isn’t nothing of what you wrote is the cause as none of it came from Darwin. Congratulations you broke the arguing from ignorance rule right from the jump.

    • Paul Burnett says:

      Dr. Stephen Meyer’s book “Darwin’s Doubt” is not a science book – it is anti-science propaganda for the pseudoscience of intelligent design creationism. Meyer, who is not a scientist but a philosopher, mis-quotes and quotemines actual science, cleverly showing only the parts that make it look like it’s true. See Aaron Baldwin’s one-star review on Amazon’s “Darwin’s Doubt” page.

  • Mike says:

    Evolution has always made sense to me but actually reading Origin Of Species revealed so much more than I expected. The “Where are the trillions of fossils of such true transitional forms?”challenge is answered in depth and at length in the book as are many of the other Creationist challenges. These days I refuse to argue evolution with anyone who has not read and understood Origin.

  • Tom says:

    As an educated layman from a country not infested with creationists, I would have a couple of suggestions:
    1) Stress the imperfection of evolution. Evolutionarists often “show off” with how wide and beautiful range of results has evolution brought (such as extreme orchid/insect coevolution examples). Instead, push your students to appreciate the imperfection and suboptimality of evolutionary solutions, that are based on randomness and path dependence rather than best possible means toward any desired end. I think that with realization that neither humans, nor other species are perfect, intelligent design loses a lot of ground. Dawkins’ autopsy of a giraffe and explanation of throat innervation via heart is great and on youtube.
    2) Give them a story. Don’t show the theory as a set of facts and their intepretation, but instead as a process. Seeing “behind the scenes”, getting to know the history of the theory, how it was shaped, how it was perpetrated, how it made mistakes (e.g. the Piltdown man), and how even today allows for different perspectives and explanations – all that was a significant hook for me. And it came at first from essays by S.J.Gould, so try introducing him to your students (and there are many more great writers, Dawkins, Ridley etc, but Gould’s essays allow for a short read, especially if you pick them a good first one).
    3) As many suggest a book, let me offer one, too. Jaroslav Flegr is a Czech biologist, who came up recently with a theory of frozen plasticity. He presents it in a pop science book called Frozen Evolution and does it in a way, that the book was very helpful to me as a brief primer to history and theory of evolution. Try it, there’s a free pdf here: http://www.frozenevolution.com/

  • Dorinda says:

    The text on your website is so small and light it is very difficult to read. Sorry, this may not be the proper place to comment this but my eyes are already so strained from trying to read your article I can’t stay and look around for a contract us button. Please pass on a request to invest in more ink.

  • glblank says:

    All one really needs is a course in logical fallacies to slap down Creationist nonsense, because they break every rule and have no concept of what the fallacies are.

  • Karen the rock whisperer says:

    While evolution was taught in my Catholic high school, I was an engineer wannabe and skipped biology in favor of physics (both didn’t fit my schedule). Somehow I managed to get through my undergraduate years as well without taking biology, so I never learned much about evolution except for outside reading. When I went back to school to study geology, I got tossed into the deep end of the evolution pool, so to speak, in historical geology and paleontology. Intense studying! And I still understand invertebrate evolution better than vertebrate evolution. But I’m glad I finally more-or-less caught up.

    • It’s funny… I attended Catholic school where I was taught evolution, and it wasn’t until I went to public school (in AP Biology of all places!) where I ever heard creationism discussed as an alternative.

  • Gabriël says:

    Great to hear you giving your students insight in the basic concepts of evolution. I am a biologist student myself (in the Netherlands, so no problems with creationist luckily) and it took me some time to get a grasp on the concept myself (during high school that is). The moment where everything fell in it’s place for me was when i understood the enormous amounts of time that is required for evolution to create a biodiversity as we see today. Before that i could not grasp how all those animals, plants bacteria etc could possibly have evolved from just one ancestor. The sheer magnitude of that idea was a little bit to much, until i understood that the scale of the time that has passed since that first common ancestor is correspondingly unimaginably big giving evolution in all it’s randomness enough change to do it’s work.

  • Emil says:

    I would have no problems answering those question and I think that it is not because of my medical degree. I really do not remember when I first learned about evolution, but it was in my early childhood for sure, probably from those colourful textbooks for children. I was obsessed with dinosaurs back then and I learned the basics of evolution. My parents, both open-minded, were really helpful in this process and although they are both religious, they do not see the Bible as a scientific textbook, so they did not force any creationist thinking over me. Actually, the first person I remember who tried to ridicule evolution was my primary school religion teacher.

  • Steve says:

    Surprisingly, the earliest exposure to evolution I can reliably remember was in my 8th grade science class in a small town in, of all places, Kansas, in the mid-80’s. I don’t remember the details, but I do recall that my teacher began the lesson with a disclaimer about religious beliefs and the origins of man. That left me with at least a childish understanding of how evolution works, and my own curiosity led me to learn more on my own later in life.

    Presently, I doubt very seriously that 8th graders in that town get the same quality of education that I did.

  • Rikki Donachie says:

    Hi Jennifer,

    Great post. And you have my admiration for continuing to teach in such a blinkered backwater as Kansas. Over here in the UK things are a little better but, sometimes seem to be getting worse.

  • Sharon says:

    This might be hard to believe, but after taking an honours biology course in high school and majoring with a biological science degree (in Alberta, Canada)… I knew very little about evolution. What I thought I knew was supplied by endless rounds of Christian apologetics at church and innumerable church activities. It wasn’t until my brother made a passing comment on Facebook that the evidence for evolution is solid that I decided to find out for myself. I happened to read “The Greatest Show on Earth” by Richard Dawkins and I watched Bill Nye debate Ken Ham on young earth creationism (they have my deepest gratitude for changing my life). It took three weeks for me to become an atheist… And I am still stunned that nobody ever told me this information before!

  • ingsve says:

    The work monkey doesn’t need to be paraphyletic though if only it was used correctly as a colloquial term for anthropoidea. I mean we don’t say that dinosaurs are paraphyletic we instead correctly identify birds as being proper dinosaurs and as such we should recognize all anthropoidea as monkeys including all apes even us humans.

  • Paul says:

    I once had a creationist tell me that the eye must have been designed by a higher being because it is perfectly designed and evolution couldn’t produce such a perfect organ gradually. I asked him, “if eyes were perfectly designed, why was he wearing glasses?”. The look of confusion was priceless.

  • Rick Mutton says:

    Great article!

    I would add exploring “ring species” (you can Google it) as well as the great documentary “Judgement Day: Intelligent Design on Trial”. It is on youtube.
    I have had my kids watch it when they were younger (8&10) and it really made a lot of sense to them.
    Neil Shubin (Your Inner Fish) is in it. His book and TV show are also great, as mentioned by earlier posters.

  • Daimonie says:

    I greatly enjoyed reading this article.

    I’m responding to your final question. I’m no biologist, but I would suggest doing something with the common vegetables (cabbage, kale, broccoli, etc.). If memory serves, most of these derive from wild cabbage – a surprising fact for most people. The example is extremely relatable.

  • Jon Stow says:

    Since you asked, as a UK-born child I first heard about evolution on weekly BBC Schools broadcasts “How Things Began”, which involved a narrator time-travelling, visiting the Earth from the Cambrian through to the Quaternary, describing the scenes. This broadcasts would have gone out around 1962 when I was about nine. It was absolutely fascinating. I was captivated. No one ever suggested there was conflict with religion, or that we had to take the Bible literally in every respect.

  • Connie says:

    You should watch more of Kent Hovind,
    he makes a good case and Evolution is a THERORY.

    • Connie says:

      Theory not therory, sorry could not find a way to edit my comment

      • Connie,
        I have watched a great deal of Kent Hovind, and attended a seminar of his recently. So please trust me when I say that I understand the points he is trying to make very well.

        When you use the word THEORY, exactly what do you mean by that? Can you explain a little bit more?

  • Sean O'Bleness says:

    I learned about evolution sometime before college, though I would be hard pressed to tell you what year; likely 5th or 6th grade in “science” class. I have never doubted it any more that I would doubt my love of hot dogs or my inability to breathe water.

    I applaud what you are doing but am depressed by the need for it. Our education system is failing students at the lower levels, and that failure gets passed up to the university level. It causes people to cast higher education as “High School II”, and thus devalue it, and defund it. You shouldn’t be expected to teach aspiring baccalaureates elementary principles of biology. This is part of what I can only characterize as a systemic attack on education in The United States, and it’s a fight we can’t afford to lose.

    It is what it is. Thanks for keeping up the fight.

  • Ryan says:

    I was raised in a devout Baptist home, taught young-earth creationism from a very early age. I changed my mind in my late 20s because I could no longer accept that the majority of scientific minds would conspire to hide or obscure the truth across several different disciplines, and I could no longer accept that God would have created the universe so deceptively.

  • Rob says:

    Evogeneao has a great interactive tree of life. https://www.evogeneao.com/explore/tree-of-life-explorer

  • Lawrence says:

    I’m not a biologist so my knowledge is of the topic is limited to simple reading: Darwin’s Origins, Coyne, Dawkins, Wilson, Shubin, Sean Carroll, Gould, etc. Professionally, my areas are computer science, mathematics, statistics, and law.

    Of course, creationist are wrong at every level, and the arguments for evolutionary process overwhelmingly supported by the evidence. What I find disenchanting is what I consider weak defenses of evolution by its proponents.

    First, I don’t like the idea of the “fundamentals of human evolution”. There are fundamentals of evolution itself — there’s nothing fundamental about the human side of evolution. Humans are not really special, just one of literally millions of examples.

    Second, creationists are fixated on “species” and “Darwin”. For creationists, Darwin is to evolution and his “Origins” as Jesus is to Christianity and its Bible. In their eyes, they are the “truth givers” in their respective domains with similar “Holy” books. Evolutionary theory and evidence is a science and not a religion, and is not being taught by a “teacher-pastor”. This is a problem in middle and high schools because teachers there are not usually experts.

    “Species” has magical powers to creationists, like the word of God. It causes me substantial discomfort when biologists place too much importance on the relatively arbitrary taxonomies used. A species name is a label experts place on a population when certain differences among population reach some significance. Same is true for “subspecies”, “breeds”, “varieties”. The comment from Chuck talking about “micro evolution” and “de-evolution” and other such nonsense nicely illustrates the magic that he applies to the merely human thinking process to better understand relationships by creating a hierarchy of categories.

    More specifically related to the author’s comments, his answer to “If evolution is true, why are there still monkeys?” makes me uncomfortable. Aside from the problem with terminology, the general answer is not because humans have a common ancestor. Humans could have directly evolved from “monkeys” it just so happens, evidence shows otherwise. See Domesticated Dog vs Grey Wolf — “If the domesticated dog evolved from the Grey Wolf, why are their still Grey Wolves”.

  • Adnan says:

    “I was looking for two parts in their response: 1. A recognition that we did not evolve from monkeys”

    I agree with you in part, but it would be unfair given how you phrased the question (“if we evolved from monkeys…”).

    I had hardly heard about evolution when it dawned on me. In a graduate class in physiology, we were studying action potentials. A synapse fires then has a refractory period of 70 ms. This made me wonder why we perceive the world at the speed at which we do. If our reflexes were slow, we would be eaten by other animals. There has therefore been selective pressure to keep up, and that extends to other aspects of our physiology for a variety of reasons.

  • Malcolm Ocean says:

    What caused me to really grok evolution was reading the book Rationality A-Z, which has a section on evolution. The thing it really drove home was that evolution is not a deliberate process by which some overseer decides which creatures get to stay and which don’t, but merely that *the kinds of creatures we see today, we see because their ancestors were successful at replicating themselves*

    It’s similar to how you’d be surprised to find a needle-shape rock on the beach: such a rock would have been broken. The kinds of rocks we see are the result of the output of the process of water smashing rocks against other rocks. Similarly, certain traits (symmetry, claws, sexuality, etc) cause patterns to reproduce more effectively, hence we see them. The creatures that didn’t have those traits didn’t reproduce.

    I’m now wondering if it might be helpful to use memetics as a metaphor to understand *genetics*. The reverse of the original, but we can watch memetic propagation easily, and it’s not so fraught with controversy, so it might be easier to study initially.

  • Farida Jalaludin says:

    hi, so why do you say evaluation does not occur in an individual person ? what do you say about a single person fighting off cancer and passing those genes to her /his descendants then they would have been said to mutate ? adapt or simply multiply genes to evolve? I am not sure how this theory works can you share some light…

  • Bata says:

    I make my FEST theory about hominin’s evolution which must perform evolution of intelligence but it is hidden in evolution of emotions…

  • Reese says:

    Although I respect evolution-scientists’ ideas, I am a Christian and I don’t believe in them.
    One question that I have for you evolutionists is more about the chances of planet Earth supporting life and everything that it does as perfect as this. How is the universe so fine-tuned? The chances are just so slim it’s ridiculous. That idea was confirmed in me when I watched this video:
    With your own evolution argument, please argue what’s in this video. I’m curious about what you will say about it. Thanks 🙂

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