So what’s the “Theory of Evolution”?


So what’s the “Theory of Evolution”?

As covered in my previous post, evolution is an observable fact. So what’s the “Theory of Evolution” then?

“Theory of Evolution” is essentially just another name for the “Theory of Natural Selection”.

Like evolution, gravity is an observable fact. In normal conditions we don’t find ourselves floating away from the ground; we find ourselves sticking to it. If we’re unlucky we find the ground rushing towards us very fast. Gravity is not a theory.

The “Theory of Gravity” is a theory that explains how and why gravity operates. More correctly, it’s the “Theory of General Relativity” that explains the how and why of gravitation. The “Law of Universal Gravitation” describes the observable facts of gravity.

What’s in a name? Why do some people like to say “Theory of Gravity” or “Theory of Evolution”? I don’t know; maybe it’s because they’re simpler than “Theory of General Relativity” and “Theory of Natural Selection”, both of which might sound more technical or ambiguous.

What’s the difference between the modern “Theory of Evolution” and Darwin’s (and Wallace’s) “Theory of Natural Selection”? Not a lot, really – some might say “Theory of Evolution” encompasses what’s known as the “Modern Synthesis” or “Neo-Darwinian Synthesis”.

The Modern Synthesis brings together evidence from all the fields of biology including population genetics, which didn’t exist when Darwin formulated his theory (he wasn’t even aware of Mendel’s early genetic research when he published). Critically, the Modern Synthesis demonstrates that all the evidence from these diverse fields corroborates the Theory of Natural Selection.

The modern theory is therefore the same as the original (Darwinian) theory – it’s still the Theory of Natural Selection (a rose by any other name…).

Calling the Theory of Natural Selection the “Theory of Evolution” is like calling the Theory of General Relativity the “Theory of Gravity” – it’s a simplification or a colloquialism.

Don’t get confused – evolution is not a theory.

“Nothing in biology makes sense except in the light of evolution.” – Theodosius Dobzhansky (Eminent geneticist, evolutionary biologist and co-formulator of the Modern Synthesis)






  1. Very clear and there can be little doubt about evolution even in the case of man himself. I think it could be said that those who do object do so on religious grounds believing man to be different from the rest of the animal kingdom.
    I can understand this objection since man does seem to be unique. This uniqueness lies in his moral sense which derives from his self consciousness.
    Why has man developed in this way?

    1. We are indeed different and as you say it is our consciousness that makes us different. Specifically it is our highly developed ability to conceptualise that sets us apart and I believe it is from this that our morality as well as culture and other uniquely human features have derived.

      We must be careful though. “Man alone with himself” has a double meaning – our experience of the world is purely subjective both on the level of the individual and that of the species. This subjectivity can often make us feel more “different” from one another as individuals than we really are. Similarly, to an outside observer we, as a species, would likely seem far more similar to other animals than many of us care to admit.

      1. I should perhaps add that morality has evolved by the addition of conceptualisation to reciprocal altruism. Reciprocal altruism is observable in many social species and in this context conceptualisation will give rise to empathy, empathy to morality.

        Why has conceptualisation itself evolved is the next question of course and will be the subject of a future article on my WP. Evolutionary psychology is the field that deals with all these questions.

  2. We also seem to have a knack of not following our conscience but instead seeking our own selfish ends even to the extent of killing those in our way. Hence the state of the world. Perhaps we still largely follow our instincts survival of the fittest. Religious teaching seems to have had little effect. I wonder if we are in control of our own destiny we certainly do not seem to be ruled by our intelligence.

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