Misconception: “Natural selection involves organisms ‘trying’ to adapt.”
Response: Natural selection leads to adaptation, but the process doesn’t involve “trying.” Natural selection involves genetic variation and selection among variants present in a population. Either an individual has genes that are good enough to survive and reproduce, or it does not—but it can’t get the right genes by “trying.”
Response: Natural selection has no intentions or senses; it cannot sense what a species “needs.” If a population happens to have the genetic variation that allows some individuals to survive a particular challenge better than others, then those individuals will have more offspring in the next generation, and the population will evolve. If that genetic variation is not in the population, the population may still survive (but not evolve much) or it may die out. But it will not be granted what it “needs” by natural selection.
Misconception: “Evolution is like a climb up a ladder of progress; organisms are always getting better.”
Response: It is true that natural selection weeds out individuals that are unfit in a particular situation, but for evolution, “good enough” is good enough. No organism has to be perfect. For example, many taxa (like some mosses, protists, fungi, sharks, opossums, and crayfish) have changed little over great expanses of time. They are not marching up a ladder of progress. Rather, they are fit enough to survive and reproduce, and that is all that is necessary to ensure their existence.
Other taxa may have changed and diversified a great deal—but that doesn’t mean they got “better.” After all, climates change, rivers shift course, new competitors invade—and what was “better” a million years ago, may not be “better” today. What works “better” in one location might not work so well in another. Fitness is linked to environment, not to progress.
Response: Scientists do not debate whether evolution (descent with modification) took place, but they do argue about how it took place. Details of the processes and mechanisms are vigorously debated. Antievolutionists may hear the debates about how evolution occurs and misinterpret them as debates about whether evolution occurs. Evolution is sound science and is treated accordingly by scientists and scholars worldwide.
Response: Evolutionary science is a work in progress. New discoveries are made and explanations adjusted when necessary. And in this respect, evolution is just like all other sciences. Research continues to add to our knowledge. While we don’t know everything about evolution (or any other scientific discipline, for that matter), we do know a great deal about the history of life, the pattern of lineage-splitting through time, and the mechanisms that have caused these changes. And more will be learned in the future. To date, evolution is the only well-supported explanation for life’s diversity.
Response: Scientists have examined the supposed “flaws” that creationists claim exist in evolutionary theory and have found no support for these claims. These “flaws” are based on misunderstandings of evolutionary theory or misrepresentations of evidence. Scientists continue to refine the theory of evolution, but that doesn’t mean it is “flawed.” Science is a very competitive endeavor and if “flaws” were discovered, scientists would be more than glad to point them out.
Survival of the fittest
A better way of expressing this idea is “survival of the fit enough.” Portraying nature as “red in tooth and claw,” wherein living things always engage in a life-or-death struggle against competitors grossly oversimplifies what is really going on. Many life forms get by for eons by existing in niches that other organisms are not suited for. For example, brine shrimp live in water that is unsuitable for potential aquatic enemies, and they apparently have no significant competitors for food.