In a June 15 letter to the editor (“Macroevolution impossible”), frustrations concerning aspects of evolution were presented. While it would take pages to correct the silly mistakes presented in that letter I would like to help clear up two of the major misunderstandings
First, those concerned that evolution is inappropriately broken into two parts, “microevolution” and “macroevolution,” need not fear. We humans like to put things into boxes, whether they fit or not.
For example, searching the world over will reveal a continuum of woody plants, from very short to very tall, and yet, the botanists break the world of woody plants into two major groups: trees and shrubs. Those designations exist to make life easier for humans, but they do not necessarily represent an absolute division in nature.
The debate over micro- and macroevolution misunderstands the difference between how humans label nature and nature itself. The concepts microevolution and macroevolution represent just such an attempt to break one of nature’s complicated continuums into discrete units.
Many small changes (microevolution) eventually lead to big changes (macroevolution). It may be difficult to believe, but the Mississippi River that flows beside Baton Rouge is the culmination of a multitude of headwater streams each small enough step over.
Secondly, what we call “science” is an attempt to understand what is in nature and how nature works. Those that discover and describe nature by looking at nature (Isaac Newton, Albert Einstein, E.O. Wilson, etc.) are called scientists.
Scientists don’t create the laws of nature, but once discovered, those laws can be used to do “magic.” For example, the raw materials used to make cellphones are basically sand, mud, and oil. How those raw materials are used to make a cellphone is called “chemistry,” which is a shorthand way to refer to our knowledge of how nature works at the level of atoms and molecules.
“Evolution” and “biology” are shorthand ways to refer to how nature works in relation to living organisms. That living organisms change over time, that they are related to one another and that new species can arise from existing species is not an invention of scientists, but a description of what we see happening in nature when we look at nature.
To put this another way, if you are upset about evolution, or the tides, or that water runs downhill, go outside and yell at the universe, it makes the rules, scientists just describe how the game is played.
A robust and accurate education for our children, especially at the high school level, would do much to alleviate these misdirected frustrations.
extension associate, LSU