Paul Braterman: Why I do NOT “believe in Darwin’s theory of evolution”
A recent Harris poll asked Americans “Do you believe in Darwin’s theory of evolution?” Others more eminent have commented on the answers; I would like to comment on the question.
It would be difficult to cram a larger number of serious errors into so small a space.
The word ‘theory’ means different things to the general public and the scientific community: In common language a theory always involves speculation. In academic discourse, it means a coherent set of ideas that explain the facts.
Darwin didn’t understand evolution (or ‘natural selection’) as well as we do today: He knew nothing about mutations or even about the existence of specific genes, and so he had no idea how new variants could arise and spread. His assumption of gradualism is in contrast to later ideas such as punctuated equilibrium, and we now know that much if not indeed most variation arises through neutral drift. Thus not only do we know far more facts about evolution than Darwin could have dreamt of, but our theories, too, incorporate numerous additional concepts.
Belief implies that disbelief is an option: Some people believe that Hillary Clinton will be the next President of the United States, but no one would say they “believe” that Barak Obama is the current incumbent, because no sane person doubts it.