A couple of things intersected over the last week or so that have had me thinking a bit more about evolution and how it’s presented. More specifically, I’ve increasingly noticed a phenomenon that seems to get little attention and might be worth a bit more consideration. In short, there do seem to be a good number of people who, for whatever reason, are really quite happy with the concept of evolution as a whole (species arise, natural selection happens, common ancestry etc.) but seem to profoundly misunderstand how and why it works.
It’s perhaps understandable that a lot of focus goes into winning over the people who don’t accept that evolution even exists, but we should not ignore those who are happy enough with the idea, but actually don’t understand it at all well. After all, they might well be vulnerable to misinformation or further misunderstandings, when in fact they should be the kind of people who would be resistant to such things. I’ve heard or come across all sorts of basic mistakes and misunderstandings like the idea that evolution is directed (or has some predetermined outcome), that mankind is all but inevitable, that evolution occurs at the individual level, that X is the exact and direct ancestor of Y and so on.
All of these things are the kinds of fallacies that creationists use to undermine evolution or promote confusion about how it really operates, yet these are also errors made by those who have no problem with the concept. While these mistakes are not ignored when it comes to public outreach in science, I do wonder if in part, we are paying too little attention to a sizable number of people who would benefit from knowing more and having a better understanding and appreciation of evolution, and likely be interested in learning more. We’re not talking about deep and complex evolutionary theory, merely some fairly basic concepts that should be easy and simple enough to explain quickly and effectively, the question is, are we doing that for the people who need it?