Is the Theory of Evolution Controversial?

A common ploy of creationists is to state that "evolution is a controversial theory which some scientists present as scientific explanation for the origin of living things, such as plants and humans". In several proposed disclaimers for public school science texts, this thought continues with... "No one was present when life first appeared on earth. Therefore, any statement about life's origins should be considered as theory, not fact. "

What is the Theory of Evolution?

A theory, in common terminology, usually refers to a guess. In science; however, the term theory has a very different meaning. To scientists, a theory is an explanation of a natural phenomenon, as opposed to a fact, which is a confirmed observation. Theories explain facts and, contrary to the impression given by the creationist disclaimers, this means that theories are more important than facts.

An example of a fact related to evolution would be that there is great consistency in the sequence of fossils in the fossil record, with no major branch of the tree of life being out of order (for example, fossils of mammals are never found in the Devonian Period - a time marked by the diversification of bony fishes and the appearance of the first amphibians and insects). Another fact is that living species tend to be found where their fossil ancestors are also found.

We make sense of these and many other confirmed observations, or facts, with the explanation that living things share common ancestors, from which they have diverged. This explanation is the Theory of Evolution, which can also be defined simply as:

The process that results in heritable changes in a population spread over many generations.

- or -

The change in frequency of alleles within a gene pool from one generation to the next.

Is evolution a controversial concept among scientists?

The short answer to this question is a flat - no. A Gallup poll in 1996 showed that over 95% of all scientists (including chemists, physicists, and mathematicians) accepted the modern theory of evolution as the only valid explanation for the nature and diversity of life on Earth. This number rises to essentially 100% among researchers in the Life and Earth Sciences - those scientists who are closest to the evidence for evolution. An October 2002 poll of Ohio scientists by the University of Cincinnati and Case Western Reserve University had essentially the same results. The Theory of Evolution is so well supported by evidence from many diverse areas of study (such as Microbiology and Ecology) and fits so well with all other scientific theories, that it is considered to be the central organizing principle of all the Life Sciences.

Where does the controversy lie?

The Theory of Evolution is only controversial to individuals whose particular religious beliefs are challenged by the evidence of the natural world. Most persons of faith here and abroad do not have a problem with reconciling their beliefs with the idea of biological evolution.

Science Organizations with statements affirming that evolutionary theory is the only scientifically valid explanation of the nature and diversity of life on Earth.

Academy of Science of the Royal Society of Canada

Alabama Academy Of Science

American Anthropological Association

American Association For The Advancement of Science (1923, 1972, 1982)

American Association For The Advancement of Science (Commission on Science Education)

American Association Of Physical Anthropologists

American Geophysical Union

American Institute Of Biological Sciences

American Astronomical Society

American Society Of Biological Chemists

American Chemical Society

American Geological Institute

American Psychological Association

American Physical Society

American Society Of Parasitologists

Association of College and University Biology Educators

Australian Academy of Science

Authors of Biology Texts

California Academy Of Sciences

Ecological Society of America

Genetics Society of America

Georgia Academy Of Science (1980, 1982)

Geological Society Of America

Geological Society of Australia

History of Science Society

Iowa Academy Of Science (1982)

Statement Of The Position Of The Iowa Academy Of Science On Pseudoscience (1986)

Kentucky Academy Of Science

Kentucky Paleontological Society

Louisiana Academy Of Sciences

National Academy Of Science

National Conference on Teaching Evolution

National Science Teachers Association

North American Benthological Society

North Carolina Academy Of Science

New Orleans Geological Society

New York Academy Of Sciences

Ohio Academy Of Science

Ohio Mathematics and Science Coalition

Oklahoma Academy Of Sciences

Sigma Xi, Louisiana State University Chapter, Baton Rouge, Louisiana

Society For Amateur Scientists

Society for Integrative and Comparative Biology

Society For The Study Of Evolution

Society Of Vertebrate Paleontology (1986, 94)

Southern Anthropological Society

University of North Carolina

Virginia Academy of Science

West Virginia Academy Of Science

Religious Organizations with statements affirming the validity of the Theory of Evolution

American Jewish Congress

American Scientific Affiliation

Center For Theology And The Natural Sciences

Central Conference Of American Rabbis

Episcopal Bishop Of Atlanta, Pastoral Letter

The General Convention Of The Episcopal Roman Catholic Church (1981)

Message from the Pope - 1996

Unitarian Universalist Association (1977, 1982)

United Church Board For Homeland Ministries

United Methodist Church

Lexington Alliance Of Religious Leaders

The Lutheran World Federation

United Presbyterian Church in the USA (2002)

Ohio Citizens for Science


last update 8/16/02