Evolution: Fact , Fiction, or Opinion - Answer Key and Discussion Points

These are discussion points to the worksheet where students discuss which statements are fact, fiction, or opinion. Lesson is used as a starting activity for a unit on evolution. Links are included for further discussion.

There are no transitional fossils. FICTION

There are many examples of transitional fossils. This page from Berkeley provides overviews of transitional forms observed in whales, tetrapods, mammals, birds, and humans.

Humans are more evolved than reptiles. FICTION

All populations evolve, but evolution is not a ladder with humans on top. Evolution results in organisms that are the most fit, or have traits that are well suited to their habitats. There are not "more" or "less" evolved organisms.

The theory of evolution has changed since the time of Darwin. FACT

We have continued to revise our understanding of evolution and now have more tools (genetics) to understand relationships among organisms.

Humans evolved from monkeys. FICTION

Humans an monkeys share a common ancestor, genetic studies confirm that humans and chimpanzees share 90% of their genetic sequence.

To be good at their job, scientists should believe in evolution. OPINION

While most biologists do accept the theory of evolution, doctors and other scientists have suggested that they do not believe in it, or only believe in parts of the theory. Whether this makes them bad at their job is an opinion.

Interesting article: "Why Do Some Doctors Reject Evolution"

Charles Darwin developed the theory of evolution. FICTION

The theory of evolution was proposed long before Darwin's time. He didn't come up with the idea, but the mechanism he proposed (natural selection) is the one that serves as a model for our understanding of how orgnanisms change over time, and of common descent.

Ten Myths about Charles Darwin

All traits are adaptations produced by natural selection. ‍FICTION

Traits can result from other other evolutionary processes, such as sexual selection or genetic drift. This video on "The Five Fingers of Evolution" explains 5 processes that can results in change in a species. Only one of those processes is natural selection.

See also: New Scientist: "Evolution Myths: Natural Selection is the only means of evolution."

Religion and evolution are incompatible. FICTION

Many scientists who understand evolution are also religious. Some major religious organizations have said that the theory of evolution is compatible with their faith:

Evolution Myths: Religion and evolution are incompatible

Pop Francis Says Science and Faith Aren't at Odds

Natural selection is another word for evolution. FICTION

Natural selection is only one of several processes that can result in evolution. See: "Evolution & Natural Selection: Anthropologically."

Evolution can be observed. FACT

Evolution can be observed. We can see it in bacteria that become resistant to antibiotics and in insects that become resistant to pesticides. We can also observe it in animals we have produced through artificial selection, like domesticated dogs. See also: Examples of Evolution in Action

Natural selection acts for the good of the species. FICTION

Natural selection favors survival and reproduction of individuals, which can be good for the species, but that is not necessarily the main driver of those traits. Altruism can be explained by other factors, such as kin-selection.

Natural selection leads to greater complexity. FICTION

Complexity is a human idea, we tend to apply it to animals, suggesting that a fish is more "complex" than a sponge. Evolution favors traits that improve survival and reproduction, it is not necessary that these traits be complex.

Evolution Myths: Natural selection leads to ever greater complexity.

Mutations cannot create new traits. FICTION

The gene that allows humans to digest milk is a newly acquired mutation which now persists in much of the population because it provided an advantage for pastoral populations. New Scientist has other examples of traits that have resulted from single mutations.

If evolution can be disproven, then creationism must be true. FICTION

A theory must stand on its own, provide evidence and show usefulness as a model of how the world works. Disproving evolution (if that happened) would not prove that creationism is not true. Consider another example, if you proved that Joe didn't commit a crime, that doesn't automatically mean that John is guilty. You would need to build a case against John independently.

The earth is about 10,000 years old. FICTION

Based on several methods of dating, the eary is estimated to be about 4.5 billion years old. See: Smithsonian for information on how we determined the age of the earth.

There is evidence that dinosuars and humans coexisted. FICTION

There is no evidence that dinosaurs and humans coexisted. The fossil record shows a sequence of events where humans appeared much later in the record. "Why Did Mammals Survive When Dinosaurs Perished."

Evolution should be taught in biology classes. OPINION

Many state standards do require evolution be taught in science class and many biology teachers feel strongly that it should be taught as the foundation of biology. A famous essay by Dobzhansky is often quoted " "Nothing in Biology Makes Sense Except in the Light of Evolution" to justify the need to teach evolution as part of any biology course. Still, questions about whether something should or shound not happen is more of a matter of opinion.

Evolution ensures that all organisms are perfectly adapted. FICTION

Evolution does not produce perfect individuals, it produces individuals that are "good enough" to survive and reproduce. There are many traits organisms have that are actually detrimental, and are often the results of trade-offs. See Limitations of natural selection for more information about trade-offs and limitations to natural selection.

Humans share a common ancestor with chimpanzees. FACT

Genomic studies show similarities in DNA that suggest common ancestry.

Resources for Addressing Myths Regarding Evolution

Mashable: Myths of Evolution

Berkeley: Misconception FAQ

24 Evolution Myths (New Scientist)

Resources for Teaching Evolution

Peppered Moth Simulation – updated simulation on the peppered moth

Stickleback Fish –  This HHMI virtual lab requires students to count the phenotypes of stickleback fish in two distinct lakes

Natural Selection with Bunnies and Wolves – interactive simulation at phet.colorado.edu where students manipulate variables such as climate, fur color, presence of predator, or food limitations.

African Elephant: Change Over Time – examine a graph showing the number of elephants with tusks, showing that the number has changed as a result of poaching