Introduction to Evolutionary Biology
Copyright 1996-1997 by Chris Colby
[Last Update: January 7, 1996]
Evolution is the cornerstone of modern biology. It unites all the fields of biology under one theoretical umbrella. It is not a difficult concept, but very few people -- the majority of biologists included -- have a satisfactory grasp of it. One common mistake is believing that species can be arranged on an evolutionary ladder from bacteria through "lower" animals, to "higher" animals and, finally, up to man. Mistakes permeate popular science expositions of evolutionary biology. Mistakes even filter into biology journals and texts. For example, Lodish, et. al., in their cell biology text, proclaim, "It was Charles Darwin's great insight that organisms are all related in a great chain of being..." In fact, the idea of a great chain of being, which traces to Linnaeus, was overturned by Darwin's idea of common descent.
Misunderstandings about evolution are damaging to the study of evolution and biology as a whole. People who have a general interest in science are likely to dismiss evolution as a soft science after absorbing the pop science nonsense that abounds. The impression of it being a soft science is reinforced when biologists in unrelated fields speculate publicly about evolution.
This is a brief introduction to evolutionary biology. I attempt to explain basics of the theory of evolution and correct many of the misconceptions.