What Even is Evolution by Natural Selection, Anyway? A Beginner's Guide

in #steemstem3 years ago (edited)


I saw a discussion online today started by someone who, like me, attended a private fundamentalist Christian school as a child. They have long since left the fold, so to speak, and accept evolution is true, but they confessed to not fully understanding it.

This was unsatisfactory to me. They only accepted it was true because it was rejected by their religion, and upon learning their religion was untrue, they assumed everything it opposed as a falsehood must in fact be true. That's just more faulty reasoning.

Many who leave the faith struggle with reasoning because they were never taught how to do it, and often were specifically taught not to evaluate the credibility of claims using reason, but rather the degree to which said claims are consistent with the Bible.

However it made me realize there's a real need for an entry level primer about evolution. Not written for children but for the adult layperson who was raised in an environment where they were both prevented from researching what evolution is, and fed misinformation about it in order to make them reject it.

This was the case for me. I was told all sorts of lies about evolutionary science while attending that school, such as "evolutionists believe all life descended from rocks". Or that the piltdown man hoax proves all of evolutionary science is a hoax (or hackel's embyro illustrations, though his inferences about ontogeny recapitulating phylogeny were essentially correct), or that human footprints have been found inside fossilized dinosaur footprints, or that if evolution were true, the monkeys at the zoo would be turning into humans before our eyes.

Maybe much of that seems ridiculous. But if you're raised in an insular echo chamber where you only get one side of the story, and all the adults who seem authoritative, credible and smarter than you say evolution is impossible, you would likely assume that's the case.

I've had many commenters on my blog leave long, elaborate arguments in the comments section of articles like this one because they think I just don't understand their sophisticated, intellectual form of creationism. They think I haven't heard their particular obscure apologetic argument. They think it is I who does not understand their position rather than the reverse.

However it's been my experience that if you can explain evolution simply enough, using examples from everyone's common day to day experience which they know to be true, then they cannot help but recognize it is true. They do not always fully accept it, wanting to compromise parts of it to preserve their religious beliefs. But they do accept to some extent, once you show them how obviously true it is, that species change over time.

Without further delay, a beginner's guide to what evolution is and how it works, followed by some commentary on common confusion and disinformation related to it:


You know how babies have some of their father's DNA, and some of their mother's DNA? Because sexual reproduction combines DNA from both sources?

That's called heritability. Offspring inherit genetic traits from their parents. Because this principle was understood long before anybody even knew what DNA was, they were able to use that understanding to do selective breeding.

Selective breeding is where a farmer decides he wants more cattle with a specific trait. So the ones who have that trait are permitted to breed, while others are not.

This results, very rapidly, in the replacement of all individuals in that group of cattle who didn't have the trait, with ones that do.

Natural selection works the same way, but instead of a farmer choosing who gets to breed and who doesn't, it's circumstance. Mostly the environment and how good individuals are at surviving in it.

Traits that make an individual bad at surviving lessen their chances of reproducing. They just don't live long enough to reach sexual maturity or find a mate and make babies.

Now, sometimes they do. Not every individual with that trait has to fail at surviving/reproducing for natural selection to occur, just more of them on average than the individuals of their species who don't have that trait.

This means over time there will be fewer and fewer individuals with that trait. It causes changes way more slowly than selective breeding because there's no farmer or other intelligence deliberately constraining who breeds, it's just a statistical tendency of individuals with traits that aren't a good fit for their environment to succeed at reproducing less frequently than the rest.

That's what it means for a trait to be selected against. For a trait to be selected for, it's much the same but flipped around: The trait turns out to give some small advantage.

It doesn't have to be huge, just something which makes life a little bit easier. It doesn't mean individuals who have it will survive to maturity and reproduce every time, just somewhat more often than those who don't have it.

The result? Over many generations, individuals with this trait become more numerous, and a larger and larger percentage of the species on the whole.

This is how over time, "bad" traits which make survival and reproduction more difficult are weeded out by death, and "good" traits which make survival and reproduction easier become more prevalent until they are found in every member of the group.

Now, take what's written here, and think about this same process happening not to a single trait, but simultaneously to every genetic trait that defines an organism. Natural selection does not act on one trait at a time, but all of them at once.

Also think about how these changes will accumulate over very long timescales. As the environment changes, more and more previously "good" traits become "bad" traits and are weeded out of the genome, because those traits were suited to environmental conditions that no longer exist.

At the same time, traits that would not have been good in the old conditions are suddenly very useful, and will be selected for, becoming more and more common in the gene pool.

Because the environment never stops changing (except in a few unusually stable niches, which accounts for why many deep sea species have remained mostly unchanged for eons) you can see how the genome of any species living in that environment will undergo constant change along with it, losing some traits while gaining others.


Eventually so much change will have occurred that the species will be unrecognizable compared to its distant ancestors. Creationists argue that this can't happen; that some unspecified force will stop canines, for example, from changing so much that they are no longer recognizably canine.

This is their concept of "kind". Most acknowledge that humans selectively bred wolves into modern domesticated dogs, but hold that this doesn't prove evolution because dogs and wolves look very similar, and thus are the same basic "kind" of animal.

The problem is, "kind" is not rigorously defined. It's just "what type of animal it looks like to a creationist". Nor do they ever explain what exactly would stop a species from evolving beyond the point where it's no longer recognizable compared to its distant ancestors.

Birds, for example, descended from dinosaurs. This is a big problem for creationists because of the well preserved fossils of archaeopteryx, with feathered wings, but the head of a small dinosaur. Also the dormant dinosaur genes still in modern birds.

Genes selected against are not truly erased, but switched off. "Dormant". So that if conditions abruptly change, those traits don't have to re-evolve. How? Those species whose DNA had this feature were able to adapt more rapidly to environmental change than those whose DNA did not store dormant ancestral traits.

Because of this, it's possible with genetic engineering to turn dormant genes back on. In chickens for example, doing this results in dinosaurian features. Sharp teeth, featherless bodies, long tails, etc.

Re-activation of dormant genes in humans can result in babies being born with tails. All human embyros develop tails, but they are normally absorbed into the tailbone prior to birth. Many other ancestral features can be seen in embryos in the different stages of development, for reasons explained here.

I've written a great deal about this, but it seems to fall on deaf ears in situations where someone has firmyl decided what they believe, especially when they hold those beliefs for emotional reasons. But even for such people there are questions related to this topic worth dwelling on.

Why do Christian educators, pastors, etc. devote such special attention to smearing evolution? They do not similarly dispute most other areas of science. They have no issue with any field that does not contradict Biblical claims. We are for some reason expected to believe that scientists are honest in those areas, but uniquely conspiratorial and deceptive in the fields of biology, geology and any other discipline which has produced findings contrary to a Biblical, young Earth creationist worldview.

Does that not seem at least slightly contrived? Does it not make more sense if viewed from a different angle, that they devote so much energy to hiding the actual definition of evolution from their children/students because it does in fact disprove the Biblical account of human origins, and they don't want their children/students to conclude that Christianity is untrue?

What else explains such organized, deliberate misrepresentation of evolution in Christian schools? Shouldn't it be enough to give an honest, accurate account of what biologists hold evolution to be, and how it works? If it's so plainly wrong, why lie about it? Why teach intentionally false, absurd definitions of it?

Poorly photoshopped images of giant nephilim skeletons, the countless claims to have located the wreckage of Noah's Ark, the admitted lies of the boy in "Heaven is for Real", the Cassie Bernall hoax and more ought to demonstrate exhaustively that Christians have a long history of circulating faith-promoting lies.

Their reason for doing so ought to be self evident: In their mind it's justifiable to promote a lie if it causes someone to convert to Christianity, because they believe it will save that person's soul. Never have they considered that perhaps they were only led to believe conversion saves somebody's soul, in order to make them feel compelled to recruit as many people as possible into Christianity.

I digress. The point is that there's a long, well documented history of Christians knowingly lying in an effort to make Christianity appear more credible, and to discredit any scientific findings which contradict scripture. What reason is there, then, to suppose they aren't doing the same thing when they misrepresent evolution to students?

Mark Twain once said that it's much easier to fool a man than it is to convince him that he's been fooled. I lament how true that is, because I've undertaken the tedious and thankless task of convincing millions of people that they've been fooled.

I'm not sure what else to do, as somebody who treasures truth. Not what a book says is true, or what feels true in my heart, or what I wish to be true, but what can be shown by experiment, forensic science and supported by good reasoning. I hope what I've written here will effectively serve that goal.

Stay Cozy!


The religion plan is different because its religion is because of its destination, which brings its destination,

Excellent article, agree with vast majority of your observations. Nice to see you openly sinking your teeth into a much more meaty topic.

To both scientists and the religious, its wise to remember there is an important difference between evolution and abiogenesis. The religiously inclined should remember there is wisdom in understanding the mechanisms and math governing our reality, while the strictly scientifically inclined should remember that humans usually derive comfort and security from their faith, however misplaced the empirically minded may think it is.

Both can and should coexist, realizing humans don't live in a vacuum and are not devoid of irrational feelings. Even devout atheists, when going into war as soldiers and are grievously wounded will often call out to God for aid. It's when either side - if it should even be looked at as opposing sides - gets too "preachy" (no pun intended) that trouble ensues.

Even devout atheists, when going into war as soldiers and are grievously wounded will often call out to God for aid.

No they don't, and in fact formed an organization to dispel that myth. Like the claim that Darwin recanted on his deathbed, it's faith promoting slander circulated by people who are disturbed by the existence of unbelievers and wish to believe they secretly aren't.

To both scientists and the religious, its wise to remember there is an important difference between evolution and abiogenesis.

This is true, but while abiogenesis does not yet have the same degree of support as evolution, there are many compelling reasons to suppose it is true that I have outlined here.

Though I personally don't think we live in a created universe or that life is created, evolution and abiogenesis do not necessarily rule that out. They just indicate that nature, even if ultimately artificial, is complete and works by itself without requiring ongoing intervention.

"Both can and should coexist, realizing humans don't live in a vacuum and are not devoid of irrational feelings."

I do not think this is a good reason to tolerate the assimilation of half of humanity by an apocalyptic cult. I am content that we disagree on that matter though.

Agree to disagree on some points. Gotcha. That's perfectly fine. :-)

I believe there is a spark of something special in mankind. Whether it came from God or something else, I don't claim to know but it continues to be my opinion that humans are more than the sum of their atoms, if you will. That's one reason I don't believe human consciousness can ever be uploaded into a machine, as something will inevitably be lost in the process.

As for your commentary on soldiers in combat, sorry that's BS. Your flat statement refuting even the possibility is unusually inflexible, even for you. Respectfully, don't go spouting off with arbitrary comments about something you don't know about. Or at least don't expect it to go unchallenged. I've been in two combat areas - and yeah, even most of the so called hardcore science-based "no religious preference" types start praying. Note - I never said self-declared atheists don't serve in the military, of course they do. What I said was people who are badly wounded (or more generally, about to go into active combat) will often turn to God for aid.

P.S. As long as that "cult" (not strictly true, as the leader - if you refer to Christianity - is no longer alive) doesn't harm anyone, is completely voluntary, and provides comfort to its members, then there's more net positive than negative.

You're right, I should clarify: It is a common, comforting assumption I see Christians make that nobody sincerely disbelieves in Christianity, and that every supposed unbeliever privately prays to the god of the Bible in times of need.

This does not preclude the possibility that some people have done this. The point I want to make is the psychological pressure driving the assumption that all unbelievers do this, and that no actual unbelievers exist, just rebellious secret Christians.

That was quite enjoying to read, more of this, please. I need food for my brain. Morrrrre.

First of all a new topic. It's good to indulge in talks that are worth discussions. Anyways evolution,survival of the fittest, etc this is we humans who created it. Of course to survive you need to be fit but than by natural selection we are not giving a chance of surviving. This selection may end loosing a certain traits which could not be good for those species...

If I understand your meaning, you are saying natural selection is very harsh and brutal. This is true, but just because nature works that way does not mean we humans have to live that way. We have safe, organized civilization to save us from that. But some say because of this, we are growing weaker.

Yes that is my point we are growing weaker and weaker as we see, we always are fighting with new and new diseases. This could be because of loss of certain traits.. Like you said human selection is responsible for this loosing of traits which otherwise is not visible but does create an impact...

I was raised in a very strict Baptist family, but we didn't have a problem with the idea that Book of Genesis wasn't literal--in fact, the contradictions in the literal text reveal spiritual meaning (man made on the sixth day, man was God's highest creation, then it says man made on the fifth day, man co-created with God). My mom was even the town's only biology teacher--and she most certainly did teach evolution. Here's something both sides leave out though. Evolution only applies to traits that are expressed BEFORE you reproduce. A gene that only has importance in old age isn't part of evolution--because it's not relevant to reproducing babies.

That's true, and the really contentious stuff in evolution (like group selection) is often ignored because the media focuses on the false, manufactured controversy creationists push about whether evolution happens at all.

Besides group selection I might also have discussed epigenetics, k selection versus r selection and loads of tertiary theories. But this was meant only as a basic introduction to the concept for somebody whose understanding of evolution was intentionally stunted growing up. I will leave the finer details to somebody more qualified. :)

It's going to be worthwhile to follow you. Your posts are worth reading carefully.

Thank you for your kind words.

Whenever evolution is the title, darwins theory comes into mind... When we see our ancestors,we hardly resembles with them physucally... Natural selection is much more evident , there were early man period, before that ,those were all together different from homosapiens....
As you mentioned"Eventually so much change will have occurred that the species will be unrecognizable compared to its distant ancestors. Creationists argue that this can't happen; that some unspecified force will stop canines, for example, from changing so much that they are no longer recognizably canine."

What do you think humanity will look like in 1 million years?

What we really need to do is educate people on how to think for themselves and be confident in their reasoning abilities. Also on how to judge whether information is credible, its sources, etc.

This was done in highschool when I was that age. I don't know if they have critical thinking classes now.

Hello, @alexbaymen. i hope you and family it's okey.

The post is very long and good information. in my opinions about evolution (darwin) there are differences of views are very different. I think evolution is right, that means adjusting. But if in conclusion such a man comes from the ape it becomes polemic. as you mentioned if the Christians are also different.
in Indonesia itself as the majority of Muslims, about the theory of evolution is very sensitive because our beliefs are the same. so in my opinion there is a truth in the statement of this theory of evolution and something is not quite right.
so my opinion, please advise.

The fact that its a sensitive issue is only due to people's lack of understanding. Saying we are from apes is not saying 'we come from monkeys'.

On the contrary, both monkeys and humans, as well as gorillas and chimps, all come from a completely ddifference ancestor.

So although the image in this post is a famous representation of evolution, it's actually oversimplified and leaves people to misinterpret. This is more accurate:

As you can see, a variety of apes and monkeys separated from us millions of years ago, the most recent being the Chimp (also the bonobo).

So yes, all of us are apes, but we are not descended from chimps, nor monkeys, nor gorillas. We are all from one ancestor that is long extinct.

This is also why we are not 'more evolved' than gorillas. We are in fact equally evolved as them. We just happened to get bigger brains, while they got bigger muscles.

"But if in conclusion such a man comes from the ape it becomes polemic."

Why? Only because that would be a problem for religion?

When you look at a chimpanzee and a human side by side, isn't it obvious we are related?

Well actually the point is simple, Monkey, apes and humans are closely related with few differences but they have not originated from one another. Humans have 23 pairs of chromosomes and Monkeys have 24 pairs as you know. Hope it clarifies

The explanation for the different number of chromosomes is very interesting, it turns out.

Yeah thats interesting and very explainatory.

Evolution always wins, history depicts.

I think mankind will soon use technology to overcome evolution, and decide for ourselves what we will become. But it has done a remarkably good job until now. No human engineer is smarter than 2 billion years of trial and error.

Mark Twain once said that it's much easier to fool a man than it is to convince him that he's been fooled.

Well done!

"evolutionists believe all life descended from rocks". Or that the piltdown man hoax proves all of evolutionary science is a hoax (or hackel's embyro illustrations, though his inferences about ontogeny recapitulating phylogeny were essentially correct), or that human footprints have been found inside fossilized dinosaur footprints, or that if evolution were true, the monkeys at the zoo would be turning into humans before our eyes.

Jeeze. I don't recall hearing such babble at school, but living in England, you basically get an education choice of 'Church of England' schools, or Catholic schools. Daily sessions of song and prayer whether you liked it or not, so I can certainly see the value in these posts from this particular background.

Good stuff

It's strange that such a secular country still does that, while mandatory religious education is unheard of in the US even though it's demographically and culturally much more religious.

Yep. Thankfully I do think it's just kind of a lazy attempt. Most people in England are more 'casual' christians; they might go to church during Christmas because they kinda feel they should even though it's a chore, that kinda thing. I think despite the school's ridiculous presence, England stands as one of the most secular countries on earth, taking the above into consideration.

BTW, I'd like to give a steemSTEM vote, but we like to enforce copyright protection to improve the Steem reputation. If you swap your image for something that is CC licensed/public domain, I can give a little boost =)

Done. I'll be more mindful about the copyright issue going forward as well. I badly need those votes until I can get two more people into this house, paying rent with me.

Awesome. We have quite a thriving community on discord. If you're not the social type there's also a bunch of guidelines that help maximize rewards. Having read your stuff a while now I reckon you're more than capable of being one of our better rewarded authors (unfortunately steem price at the moment means that's not something to scream about, with a ceiling of like, $30 compared to $120+ before... sigh)

Link to the discord channel? Google isn't much help.

Woops, that should have been obvious lol sorry https://discord.gg/KrWykYs

Cool, I have joined. Now what? What do I do here? I don't see you on there.

Re-activation of dormant genes in humans can result in babies being born with tails

Nice piece. I once read a documentary that states that reactivation of dormant genes can cause subsequent generations to pick up traits that were sidelined by the process of evolution. Example; the warewolf syndrome.

It makes me wonder what sort of foolish trends will arise when parents are legally allowed to genetically engineer their offspring.

Exactly my point.

@samminator @alexbeyman

You mess with nature and nature will mess with you right back. This will surely bite us in the ass in the future. lol

You really know how to write in a simple, understandable but precise way.
That's the talent.

Poorly photoshopped images of giant nephilim skeletons

My favorite crazy conspiracy theory conserning the evolution

As a biologist all I can say - excellent post! I myself write a series of posts regarding mechanisms of evolution, and natural selection is coming up next - I will include link to this one for sure! ReSteem-ed! :)

Evolution and the Bible are a long history, but I can say wherever you go, Atheist loses that conversation. Are you as a person, will you agree that you are from a monkey? Like what you said @alexbeyman, Logic and common sense, why is the monkey still a monkey? And let's not forget that the monkey and the human DNA are different! How can the atheist explain about DNA? In the DNA talk I'm sure that the athiest will be defeated.

Better maybe you ask Bro. Eli Soriano. The Old Pat (TOP)

There is no god, or angels. Just this rotten planet.

People have come to be transformed from the past because the great Alla wants it, the posterity of your poster has made this kind of change quickly, today, all the bones of the physical structure and the movement are different, thanks sir all your posts are instructive That is what teaches us all

"The ancestors of the people were bano, from Sai Khan, the monkey took the form of human being, it is written in the scriptures that people are all beloved servants of Allah, some of your posterity have changed so much that the species will be unacceptable to their remote ancestors. Thanks for the post. You,

Nice topic..... Thanks for share this Sir


To listen to the audio version of this article click on the play image.

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great job thanks for this new on steemit irs really very informative post thanks for sharing keep it and stay blessed,

I am not believing god made everything, like you said here evolution is the everything and it's not yet finished :D


As I said before, the truth of evolution does not necessarily contradict the idea that some unknown power created the universe. It just proves that nature is complete and works by itself, not requiring continual tampering from outside.

I personally don't believe that concept but many deists do. They think the universe is like a machine which God set into motion, unfolding and developing by itself as intended without needing any nudges or help after it got started.

The important lesson of evolution, in my mind, is that nature arrives at solutions which are better than anything human engineers can come up with. Because a human engineer lives to be 80 or 90, and that amount of life experience means nothing compared to the two billion years of accumulated wisdom found in every living product of natural selection.

Maybe some day we will be able to out-do nature. But that day is not here yet.

Dude just one thing to tell you!
Respect what you said!


@alexbeyman Best if it's biologist post,its true
We are getting weaker days day by day.Look at which is fighting some illness.The personality of his human being is his virtue,Humor's humility affects his peculiarity.

I hear you, @alexbeyman... but permit me to point out that if these evolution theories were true, then it goes without saying that there must have been a singular founding father. A living watershed. The first ancestor (afterall the typical evolution trend ensues that every organism originates from an ancestor). So i ask - where did those ancestors come from? Another ancestor? Okay, so what about the latter ancestor... Greater odds are against possibility of the concept of evolution being true.

In fact, left to me evolution is just a joke!...but this is a nice article I must admit. Nonetheless, the concept of evolution has too many pitfalls.

So i ask - where did those ancestors come from?


In fact, left to me evolution is just a joke!...but this is a nice article I must admit. Nonetheless, the concept of evolution has too many pitfalls.

Are they actual problems with the concept of evolution, or just things you don't yet understand about it? Many people confuse the two, imagining that if they personally don't know something, that nobody does. It may surprise you to find there are already answers out there to all of your questions on this topic, but the answers have been kept from you by certain people.

I see where you're coming from @alexbeyman.... Just read your article on abiogenesis and pre-biotic evolution. Applaudable!....

Your article was quite revealing but it doesn't satisfy my curiosity in any way as it is a slight digress from the centre of our little discussion.

I would love to see the founding ancestor I talked about earlier though. I'd appreciate if you shared something that centres explicitly on such a discovery (I'm trying to be objective here...merely dealing with the available facts)...

Truly, I'm a Christian. But I'd prefer to remain unbiased in this instance. Let's examine the available facts. Bring it on!

Why everything you've been told about evolution is wrong

the story, still sometimes repeated in creationist circles, goes like this: it is the 1960s, at Nasa's Goddard Space Flight Centre in Maryland, and a team of astronomers is using cutting-edge computers to recreate the orbits of the planets, thousands of years in the past. Suddenly, an error message flashes up. There's a problem: way back in history, one whole day appears to be missing.
The scientists are baffled, until a Christian member of the team dimly recalls something and rushes to fetch a Bible. He thumbs through it until he reaches the Book of Joshua, chapter 10, in which Joshua asks God to stop the world for . . . "about a full day!" Uproar in the computer lab. The astronomers have happened upon proof that God controls the universe on a day-to-day basis, that the Bible is literally true, and that by extension the "myth" of creation is, in fact, a reality. Darwin was wrong – according to another creationist rumour, he'd recanted on his deathbed, anyway – and here, at last, is scientific evidence!

Continue reading (https://www.theguardian.com/science/2010/mar/19/evolution-darwin-natural-selection-genes-wrong)

  • And
    5 Scientific Facts Prove the Theory of Evolution is False | Hidden Truth #3

  • And
    Islam, Evolution and Darwinism - Subboor Ahmad

  • And
    Why creationism is wrong and evolution is right by Prof. Steve Jones - 1/8

  • You're a special kind of retarded, aren't you. Did you intend to post a video at the end which contradicts your own position, by the way?

    And, Evolution couldn't be between different kinds (animal to human, fish to cat), but could be between the same kind (like: Bacteria) , by brief

    "Kinds" are not a category that exists in the biological sciences. It was invented by creationists. Modern animals do not evolve into each other, rather they share common ancestors at different points in the past.

    Hey i'm really glad you managed to break out from your narrow-sounding upbringing and discovered a wider world, where religion may or may not fit any more (although Religion can always exist on top of all this, so I'd never trample on this) but we must always realise how interconnected we are with nature. Personally i don't think there'll be any 'breaking free' from nature. But the power of science since before Darwin has been amazing. I'm also a big fan of Richard Dawkins; a brave guy.