Q. Is there any credible proof that Darwin/Modern Synthesis is true?
Asked by John Joy via Facebook
Personally, I think it’s more reasonable to flip this question on its head, and ask ‘Is there any credible proof that Darwin/Modern Synthesis is false?’
(By ‘Darwin’, incidentally, I’m assuming that we’re talking about Darwin’s theory of natural selection – the process underpinning evolution. The Modern Synthesis is essentially our current interpretation of Darwinian evolution, and is built on various branches of biology to give a ‘big picture’ view.)
Our current understanding of evolution (which I talk about in this blog post) is a neat example of the scientific method in action – that is, scientists have developed a hypothesis (in this case, how organisms evolve) and have tested that hypothesis by gathering information and seeing whether the hypothesis withstands scrutiny when viewed through the prism of the information that’s been gathered. In my view (and the view of many others), evolution does withstand that scrutiny: all the evidence available to us is consistent with organisms evolving as a result of natural selection.
At one time, much of our understanding of evolution stemmed from the fossil record – a sequence of fossils that represent a ‘snapshot’ of what organisms looked like at various points in time. This record is a stunning representation of how organisms have evolved over tens of thousands of years – though it’s not perfect. Yes, there are gaps in this record. But, then, the fossil record isn’t the only evidence on which our understanding of evolution is based. For example, we now have the benefit of molecular data, which help us to characterise how the genes of organisms have changed: not only can we ‘see’ how organisms have evolved by looking at their physical form in the fossil record, but we can also see how their genes have changed. And, because physical form is determined by our genes – such that if genes change, physical form changes – we find the available evidence consistent. Whatever way we look at the information, it relays the same message: our current understanding of evolution is indeed credible.