Despite the mass awareness of evolutionary theory and scientific research on the topic, Darwin’s work does not come without its criticisms. Even today, the legitimacy of evolution is hotly debated, with most criticism coming from religious groups, specifically relating to creationism. Broadly, creationism is the belief that nature, and aspects such as human life, Earth, and the universe, were created by a god.7 To this end, creationists believe that evolution is religious, rather than scientific. Some feel that by accepting evolution, one is rejecting religion and promoting atheism. Such beliefs rest in an “anti-evolution movement and attack the teaching of evolution.8
The controversy surrounding evolution has historically extended into the American education system.8 Many favored the teaching of evolution in public schools, valuing contemporary scientific thinking, freedom of speech, and the separation of church and state. Alternatively, those opposed to teaching evolution felt it was supporting eugenics and religiously inaccurate narratives. The controversy over implementing evolution into the education system became a legal issue in the late 1960s, when the U.S. Supreme Court struck down state laws banning the teaching of evolution in public schools. Specifically in the famous legal case Epperson v. Arkansas,9 it was said that the law violated students’ abilities to learn from a non-Christian viewpoint, thus promoting religion. Despite an accumulation of legal activity, there remains debate today over whether evolution should be taught in schools.
In response to religious criticisms, authors like Robert Asher (Evolution and Belief: Confessions of a Religious Paleontologist) explore the overwhelming evidence for evolution and explain why it should not be perceived as a threat to the Christian faith.10 While the Catholic Church now recognizes the existence of evolution,11 the creationism versus evolution debate remains controversial and popular, as seen in this debate between Christian author Ken Ham and scientist Bill Nye.
Generally, critics state that evolution cannot be taken as fact. However, scientific facts are verifiable empirical observations for which there is overwhelming evidence, and the theory of evolution is indeed well-established.12 13 Despite criticisms from the public, then, evolution is widely accepted by scientists. If anything, most general criticisms toward evolution are often based on misunderstanding.14 15 For example, one common argument is, “If humans descended from monkeys, why are there still monkeys?”16 17 The answer is that evolutionary theory would say humans and monkeys have a common ancestor, rather than say that humans are descendants of monkeys. Secondly, some mistakenly believe that evolution results in the extinction of previous species. However, species develop new traits and behaviors, changing their genetic makeup, rather than going extinct. Although the term evolution rings a bell for most people, the extent of their familiarity varies, and such inconsistencies are often the root of criticisms from the general population.