Longtime friend of Dispatches Ron Brown asks an interesting question at his blog: What is the most misunderstood idea of all time? He offers an initial suggestion that the most misunderstood is Descartes’ famous statement cogito ergo sum, but I think his second idea is even more misunderstood:
* That evolution is driven by random chance. While genetic mutations occur at random, natural selection is the exact opposite of randomness.
* That evolutionary theory or Darwin himself ever argued for eugenics. Evolution is a theory of what is, not what ought. Further, in On The Origin of Species, Darwin specifically spoke against human eugenics.
There are so many misconceptions of what evolutionary theory means or requires that I would nominate this as the clear leader for the most misunderstood idea ever. Very few people understand what the theory of evolution is, what it entails or how it happened. How often do you hear people ask, “If we evolved from apes (or worse, monkeys), why are there still apes?” Anyone asking that question doesn’t have the first clue how evolution works, yet it is staggeringly common. There are more myths and false perceptions of evolution than any other idea I can think of.