An Easy Way to Explain Evolution May 4, 2011

An Easy Way to Explain Evolution

This has been around for a while, but I only saw it recently for the first time. It’s a simple and creative explanation of how evolution works (click to enlarge):

(via Reddit)

"The way republican politics are going these days, that means the winner is worse than ..."

It’s Moving Day for the Friendly ..."
"It would have been more convincing if he used then rather than than."

It’s Moving Day for the Friendly ..."

Browse Our Archives

What Are Your Thoughts?leave a comment
  • I am actually colorblind and I can still tell that’s red about as easily as I can tell that lots of small changes=a bigger one.

  • Another Steve

    God just changed the colors that way in order to confuse us

  • Miko

    To be fair, that actually says nothing about how evolution works. It just suggests an analogy for why those who accept micro-evolution might also consider accepting macro-evolution. Even then it isn’t an especially good analogy, as the difference between red and blue is not the same thing as the difference between, say, a dinosaur and a modern bird.

  • Miko, it’s like this: we know that a chicken today is virtually the same as a chicken 1,000 years ago, or maybe even 10,000 years ago, even though (technically speaking) they are not 100% the same. We are constantly evolving, even though the changes are so minute that we cannot notice them ourselves. This is one of the main arguments against evolution, that since we can’t tell things are changing, that somehow things are therefore NOT changing.

    A better analogy would be language. English today is generally the same as English 100 years ago, with a few differences in words, spelling, and pronunciation. But go back even further, and the English language changes even more and more. But because we have proof in the form of written documents and such from various time periods, we easily understand that language evolves slowly.

  • I love it. It doesn’t prove anything, but it’s an excellent analogy, especially for those who still like to say that evolution means that a duck laid by a bird will hatch a lizard.

  • Brian

    I think this video summarizes the same thing:

  • You mean an egg laid by a bird. Unless you really meant duck… O.O

  • It also illustrates the paradox (if I can call it that) where you can take any two neighboring letters and claim that they are virtual the same color (“species”) — even though technically they aren’t. But, taken as a group, there is an obvious change through three colors (or “species”): red, purple and blue.

  • Hah! Yes, yes I did. Though the idea of a duck hatching a lizard strikes me as kind of hilarious.

  • lurker111

    I think Miko’s point is that you may be able to _explain_ using analogies, but you cannot _prove_ anything using analogies. And I agree with him (her?).

  • Jon Peterson

    Miko, a particularly good typographic artist could extend the analogy by blending shifts to bold and italic text in to the mix, and by adding variation to the opacity of the text and the background image.

    The analogy only shows one trait, breaking it down to the very simplest level. This is excellent for introducing the concept in a way that can’t be mistaken into “well why aren’t babies born as monkeys then? OH GOTCHA THERE!”.

    Any further depth to the analogy would only create confusion, unless that base layer was introduced and understood first, and only after that other layers were added to show how more than one trait can change at a time and that they don’t need to change in unison.

  • Ali

    Good grief.

    The analogy is just fine.

  • Cindy

    Grammar nazi: it’s should be its in the 4th sentence…


  • Adrian

    I like it! Of course the big problem is that it’s science, and thus not to be trusted if you believe in god.

  • Rich Wilson

    I’ve been thinking something sorta kinda like this to show the genetic similarity between the great apes would be interesting. Take, say, an initial paragraph, and then make a few changes, and you have the Orangutan/Gorilla-Chimp-Human common ancestor. A few more, and Gorillas branch off. A few more, and Chimps/Humans split. And maybe throw in some other things like cows and whales. Again, it doesn’t prove anything, but it would show how we obtain a tree structure by looking at what pars of our DNA are the same and different.

  • TychaBrahe

    I don’t know. It does suggest the one thing that bothers me about people’s understanding of evolution, the problem summed up in the question, “If people evolved from monkeys, why are there still monkeys?”

    Now, for the first part, that’s an incredibly stupid question, because no one actually says that people evolved from monkeys (or chimps, or anything alive today). We say, rather, that we evolved from a common ancestor. But one could sensibly ask, “If dogs evolved from wolves, why are there still wolves today?”

    And the answer is that evolution doesn’t happen in species. Evolution happens in individuals. One infant creature is born with one mutation that proves beneficial, such that this creature has more offspring, and over time the descendants of this creature begin to encompass more and more of the population.

    Although, honestly, I’m more and more convinced that evolution isn’t really about beneficial genes as it is about the ability of two populations to continue to intermix. I think about chimpanzees and bonobos, who would up on opposite sides of a river (the Congo) that over time became too wide to cross, such that they could no longer interbreed. The humans walk out of Africa and suddenly the ones who settle in different places start looking different. I’m convinced that if some natural disaster had isolated the populations in Europe, Asia, and Africa for long enough, we would have wound up as three different species rather than one species with three different sets of physical appearances.

  • i dunno, i always liked the cladiographical tree. everyone can understand a tree, right? they are ‘3-D’ and have ‘diverse’ branchings that are surprising and unexpected. evolution is so much more than red to blue with purple in between. it’s also random and short termed and biosphere-specific and all this other stuff which catches the attention. i left biology as a career because i just wasn’t smart enough; nature defeated me in that sense. my mind is evolved, but not penultimate. i can admit that easily and i think anyone who tries to understand the ‘logic’ of evolution can eventually as well.

  • Militant Maggie

    This may not be the perfect explanation to how evolution works, and I dont’ think the writer meant it as such. I think he was addressing how the way our language works doesn’t necessarily jive with some individuals’ way of thinking.

    By way of logic, if a cat gives birth, its offspring are also cats. And so on, and so on, over millions of years. Technically, no matter how much it has changed, it would always be a cat, because no one could pinpoint that exact time when it changed from a cat to, say, a tac (yes, I know, lame examples, it’s 4am and I can’t sleep). But, at some point, the cat we know of would’ve given birth to the tac, which just completely hurts our brain to think about. Technically, our nearest ancestor had to give birth to a human, even though it’s not technically possible to give birth to another species.

    I completely accept the theory of evolution; I really see no reason not to. But I can understand if someone asks the question of how one species got to be another. That’s fine. WE CAN EXPLAIN IT. Unfortunately, most of the time they just don’t wanna listen. JE-sus takes over the logical part of their brain.

  • Darwin’s Dagger

    Sure, they’ve demonstrated how minute gradual changes can be cumulative and lead to something that is noticeably different, but I don’t know how useful that is in defending or explaining evolution. After all these gradual changes in text color are the result of an intentional intelligent process. Someone planned this and executed it. That is the exact thing we don’t want people to think about evolution.

  • Claudia

    Sure, they’ve demonstrated how minute gradual changes can be cumulative and lead to something that is noticeably different, but I don’t know how useful that is in defending or explaining evolution. After all these gradual changes in text color are the result of an intentional intelligent process. Someone planned this and executed it. That is the exact thing we don’t want people to think about evolution

    I think this has to to with explaining the microevolution/macroevolution fallacy. Almost all creationists will accept “microevolution” (gahh I hate the term, it shouldn’t exist) because honestly they have no other choice. Bacterial evolution has been directly observed and thanks to antibiotic resistance isn’t really disputed even by creationists. Even though guided by humans, they must also accept that genetic variety within species is possible without divine intervention.

    So most creationists will admit to microevolution but somehow cannot wrap their minds around the notion that changes from one species to another can be achieved through these small steps. Some merely claim it’s impossible of course, as if there were some invisible “limit” to variation, but I think others really don’t understand the notion of a large biological transition made up of very very small steps, hence the analogy above.

  • Hypatia’s Daughter

    The example also points out that there is at no point a half red, half blue transition – i.e. no creature with a dinosaur head and bird body (the crocoduck fallacy). Each new word carries some of the previous characteristics (redness) as it “evolves” into a completely new characteristic (blueness). One cannot would not expect to find a whole bunch of half & half fossils, any more than you can find the first distinctly purple word.

  • CanadianNihilist

    Miko is typically a Japanese woman’s name so I would bet on the her side of him/her.

    But back on topic it is a good analogy to explain that micro-evolution over time is macro-evolution. But I just prefer to call the whole thing evolution.

  • The first purple word is ‘blue’ and the first blue word is ‘purple’.

    Now that’s a good example of intelligent design 😉

  • Nordog

    Seems to me that this image provides nothing that one couldn’t get from simply looking up “gradual” in the dictionary.

  • Yes, Nordog, but I doubt the kind of person who thinks evolution is about cats turning into dogs would think to do that, or understand why.

  • Nordog

    Gretchen, how exactly does this image address the type of person you cite?

  • @ Cindy; you should be looking at the colours, not the grammar.

  • StinaK

    There is no change in “species” (so to speak) here, merely color. You mixed 2 primaries and produced a secondary.  It’s like mixing human races which results in a bi-racial human… you still have a human.  In this case; red, blue, or purple… you still have the same text.

error: Content is protected !!