Truthiness and the March of Progress

Yesterday I mentioned how truthiness (beliefs supported by emotions and feelings, rather that truth, which is supported by empirical evidence and facts) is becoming more common. This is particularly evident in discussion of human evolution. Perhaps the most commonly used and potent symbol for evolution is “The March of Progress”

The March of Progress, regressing the perception of human evolution

The illustration compresses several million years of human evolution into a single graphic, however the choice to have the figures in a steady queue, starting with the oldest, and ending with the most recent has caused great misunderstanding. The graphic, and its title, suggest that our species is the culmination of millions of years of directed evolution, and implies that each previous figure led to the next. Possibly because of the way this graphic has been misinterpreted, a common anti-evolution question repeatedly gets thrown about, “If evolution is real, why are there still monkeys?” Which one blogger describes as the equivalent of asking “If genealogy is real, and my cousins and I share the same grandparents, why do my cousins exist?” “The March of Progress” has frequently been interpreted to mean that monkeys (well chimpanzees, which are apes, not monkeys) turned into humans, which is not the intent or the actual case. Humans and chimps shared a common ancestor millions of years ago, which was neither human or chimp, that split onto different evolutionary paths, eventually resulting in modern humans and chimps. This is very simply and effectively shown below.

A more appropriate visual aid for describing evolution.

As long as we are still using an inaccurate symbol to depict human evolution, it is not surprising that some people may “feel” that it is just not true. Adoption of a more correct depiction might help to reduce the truthiness aspect that gets thrown around in anti-evolution debates, and help to effectively communicate human evolution.

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