Most users of this site subscribe to the evolutionary origin of species as opposed to intelligent design - but some of them seem to operate from a wrong mental model of evolution which supposes it should act like an intelligent designer.

This is evident in questions whose answer can be generalized as "Because there was no natural selection for/against that". The newest example which prompts this question is Why do teeth decay of sugar?, but there are other examples, such as The skin color of bonobos, How does Oedipus complex fit in the evolutionary theory? (OK, this one has other problems, but it is still a good example, because the OP assumed Oedipus exists) and Why have whales and dolphins not evolved to have gills?. Basically, somebody thinks "Wow, a species would have it better if it had/didn't have trait X" and asks "How come trait X evolved/didn't evolve when it would have been so awesome to not have it/have it?".

I agree that this type of question is not flat-out wrong for the site because of the faulty assumption, as discussed in Voting to close a question as off-topic because it is based on a faulty presupposition. But answering each of them with the same explanation of how evolution doesn't work would become tedious as these questions grow in numbers. Also, it goes against StackExchange's goal of making information findable, because the general knowledge is hidden under a very specific question.

Is there a solution for making this easier on both the people who want to answer and the people who want to learn? Maybe making a canonical question to which we link from any new question which makes us think the author does not realize that evolution is not about adding cool design elements to animals?

  • $\begingroup$ I would support your suggestion. $\endgroup$
    – mdperry
    May 10, 2015 at 22:59
  • 2
    $\begingroup$ There's a parallel problem here as well: when someone asks a question about evolution, answers are submitted by people who think they understand evolution but don't have a good grasp of even the basics. Something about the subject makes everyone think they are experts. Worse still, these answers often get numerous upvotes because they sound plausible on the surface and not enough people voting have the background to see the flaws. Until we solve this problem, biology.SE will be an unreliable source of information about evolutionary biology. (Maybe this deserves its own meta question.) $\endgroup$
    – Corvus
    May 11, 2015 at 5:55
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ @Corvus You should definitely post a separate question to expand on this. Your point is probably true for many topics, especially on smaller sites as BiologySE, with relatively small user base (fewer experts) compared to the range of topics covered here. $\endgroup$ May 11, 2015 at 8:54
  • $\begingroup$ @Corvus you are correct, but it is a different beast which plagues all SE sites in one way or another, while the problem I had in mind is not so widespread (I've only seen it here and on UX). The one you are talking about is inherent in the SE system, which ranks answers by popularity and not by "quality" as is claimed. I'd like to see a separate meta question on it, maybe somebody will come up with a good idea of handling it or at least mitigating the problem. $\endgroup$
    – rumtscho
    May 11, 2015 at 9:05
  • $\begingroup$ Note the post: very introductory online source of information in evolutionary biology on the main (not meta) Biology.SE site. $\endgroup$
    – Remi.b
    May 21, 2015 at 2:55

1 Answer 1


I think that having a single consistent high-quality internet resource to which we can direct these people would be extremely useful. The Understanding Evolution project at UC Berkeley would be my choice. They have both a useful tutorial Evolution 101 for those who want to grasp the basics of evolutionary biology, and a nicely done FAQ on misconceptions about evolutionary biology.

For the particular misconceptions that you describe here, I'd recommend some combination of : (1) MISCONCEPTION: Natural selection produces organisms perfectly suited to their environments. and (2) MISCONCEPTION: All traits of organisms are adaptations.

  • 1
    $\begingroup$ I mostly agree, even if it is probably pretty un-stackexchange-like to refer to an outside resource as a standard answer. However, for questions that are deemed off-topic/closable for the site, such a referral should be fine. The best thing would probably be to have a canonical answer that includes a brief explanation of evolutionary misconceptions and then links to e.g. Understanding Evolution for further information. Then new similar questions could be closed as duplicates, using the canonical answer as reference. $\endgroup$ May 11, 2015 at 22:45

You must log in to answer this question.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged .