What is Evolution?

Evolution is seen by many people as a confusing or even controversial topic but it’s actually very easy to understand. This animation goes over the basics of how evolution works.


In Biology, the theory of Evolution doesn’t tell us exactly how life began on earth, but it helps us understand how life, once it came into existence, diversified into the many incredible forms we see now and in the fossil record.

It also helps us make sense of the way in which modern creatures continue to adapt and change today.

In biology, evolution can be defined as any change in the heritable traits (those are physical traits like fur color in mice, spots on the wings of butterflies, or instinctive traits like the way in which dogs greet their friends with a sniff) within a population, across generations .

This definition can be a bit confusing so let’s see how it works.

All healthy living things, from single celled amoebas, to flowers, to dolphins: are capable of reproduction. We have children, we make copies of ourselves. We do this by duplicating our DNA and passing that DNA on to future generations.

DNA is a chain like chemical stored inside each one of your cells, which tells them how to grow and function. Your DNA contains coded information on how to build you. The information in your DNA is different than that of, say, a daffodil’s DNA which is why you look and function differently than a daffodil. The information in your DNA is slightly different than that of Elvis Presley, which is one of many reasons you don’t look or act quite like he did.

Single celled amoebas (and other simple creatures) reproduce by copying their DNA inside their guts, moving both copies to either side of their body, splitting in two right down the middle, and then growing back to full size.

If all goes well, the two new amoebas will be exact copies of each other, but in nature, things aren’t always perfect. When DNA is being copied, errors can occur which modify the DNA code. This is what we call a DNA mutation. These mutations (which happen completely on accident and randomly to any part of a DNA strand) can produce variation in the body shape and function of the creature who inherits the modified DNA.

In this case, our new little friend has an arm that stretches extra long. If he survives to grow and reproduce, that extra stretchy arm (which is now coded for in his DNA) will be passed on to his children. Evolution, any change in the heritable traits within a population, across generations, has officially occurred.

As you know, reproduction for Dolphins and badgers and people, is a little more complicated. We have to find ourselves a partner. When two badgers get together and… ya know, fall in love, a sperm cell from the father (which contains a copy of half of his DNA – ONLY half), combines with the egg cell of the Mother (which contains half a copy of her DNA). The result is a new cell with a complete set of DNA instructions, all the information needed to divide and grow up into a brand new badger.

The new child matures to be similar to her parents but also unique because she developed some traits from her mother’s DNA and some from her father. Her new combination of traits can be passed to her children and again, evolution, any change in the heritable traits, within a population, across generations, has officially occurred.

Besides the unique recombination of her parents traits, she might also have developed some completely new traits due to DNA mutations. Maybe extra hairy ears for example. If she survives long enough to have kids of her own, her DNA will combine with the DNA of her partner, and she’ll pass on those extra hairy ears to at least some of her children.

This of course, is also evolution. So there you have it, evolution is really pretty simple. Scientists and normal folks everywhere, witness evolution happening all around them all the time.

Small changes like the ones we’ve seen here can add up over multiple generations to create dramatic changes.

If you were to go back in time just a few thousand years, you’d find that all dogs for example, originally evolved from an ancestral group of gray wolves. The evolution of those wolves, from generation to generation, was guided by humans. People were selecting wolves with traits they liked, letting them breed, and then only keeping the puppies with the most desirable traits.

As time went on, different breeders preferred dogs with different features, some selected for large size, some for small size, some for brains, others for braun.

Today, wolves have branched out into hundreds of dog breeds, very few of which look and behave much like their ancestors.

A massive amount of observable evidence from many of different fields such as Genetics, Chemistry, Paleontology and Mathematics, overwhelmingly suggest that just like all dogs share a common ancestor, all living things; me; you; puffer fish; banana trees; if you go back far enough, also share a common ancestor. We are literally related.

We don’t know what the first life form was or exactly how it came to be, but the simple process of reproduction with variation over billions of years looks to be responsible for all the diversity in of life we see today.

Now you might be saying: “Wait a minute! Hold on here. Isn’t evolution random? To do something functional like turn a wolf into an adorable mini poodle, random evolution had to be guided by a dog breeder. Researchers say all mammals evolved from an ancient shrew like creature but the difference between a shrew and an elephant is far greater than that of a wolf and a poodle. Who guided that process? Who was the breeder?”

In the mid 1800s two men, Charles Darwin and Alfred Russel Wallace independently discovered, that a breeder is not necessarily needed. There is another force capable of guiding random evolution to produce order and complex function. They called it Natural Selection which happens to be the entire topic of our next video, but before you move on let’s recap what we have learned so far.

Biological evolution is any change in the heritable traits within a population across generations.

All healthy living things can make copies of themselves, but they do so imperfectly. Small variations can add up over time to create dramatic differences in body form and function.

Evidence overwhelmingly suggests that all living things are related.

So remember, next time you invite family and friends over for a holiday feast, you’re actually just inviting family. That includes the turkey and the pumpkin in the pumpkin pie.


  • Kali says:

    I only got halfway through — love the idea of teaching science through cartoon, but two badgers making a baby badger that is different from them is not evolution unless those were the only two badgers in the population (i.e. major evolutionary bottleneck). In general, there are more badgers in a population and the gene frequencies across the whole population would have had to change for there to be evolution. If those two badgers made another baby that had the exact opposite mutations, the gene frequencies in the population would be exactly the same and thus, no evolution.

    • Jon says:

      The badger example is accurate and demonstrates an important aspect of sexual reproduction. A single tick of evolutionary change occurs every time two creatures mate via gene shuffling and recombination. Whether or not that evolutionary change sticks around or radiates through the larger population is up to selective pressures and sometimes mere genetic drift.

    • Mike says:

      The speaker in the video you linked states he has some expertise in a scientific field. His post secondary education is as follows: Hovind attended the non-accredited Midwestern Baptist College and received a Bachelor of Religious Education, and Hovind was awarded a master’s degree and doctorate in Christian Education through correspondence from the non-accredited Patriot University in Colorado Springs, Colorado (now Patriot Bible University in Del Norte, Colorado, which no longer offers this program). He currently resides in federal prison in New Hampshire in 58 federal counts, including 12 tax offenses, one count of obstructing federal agents, and 45 counts of structuring cash transactions.
      This person has no credentials in science or in much else for that matter. Your stated argument against evolution is invalid.

  • Erik says:

    God movie!

  • Wai says:

    Since we haven’t surveyed all life on earth, is it possible that there are some organisms to which we aren’t related due to more than one (possible) origin of life on earth? Basically, if there were multiple origins of life on earth, would we be related to those descendants of other origins of life?

    • Jon Perry says:

      It is possible that there were multiple origins. Some chemists believe our genetic system is a symbiosis of at least two primitive chemical “species”: protein only and RNA only.

      All life as we know it today seems related though. We get this idea from the fossil record and especially now through genetics. NASA and other groups do however have their radar up for non-related organisms on earth and abroad.

      If we found life (any self-replicating chemical system) which does not use RNA & Proteins the way we do, we would know it’s something special; possibly not related to us in any way.

  • Jon Perry says:

    NOTE: I am not the author. I just happen to have the same name.

    Great videos. My children are grown and the Internet was very young 25 years ago. However, I will pass this website along to my daughter for her children. The videos are simple enough, yet sufficiently in depth to educate not just children, but creationists as well.

    Excellent job!

  • kimsland says:

    Thanks for the ‘simple’ video.

    I would have liked more ‘human’ specific drawings and information.
    Even the tree picture itself (suggesting ALL life) did NOT include people!!
    I feel the video could be made much more clearer by addressing the REAL confusion and unknowns of humans, and less info on say the wolf.

    At no point did you mention humans from other animals (ie apes).
    When strangely this is the MOST important part about evolution of the human species.

    The video could possibly be too simplified and misses the point. Humans were not created they evolved, just as our planet has LONG before us.

    Ideally I would like if you could update (edit/modify) the video more, as new information (and suggestions provided ;) ) are made available.
    I would also like real life photos (not drawings) but I suppose that may be for size limits.

    The idea is brilliant. State it clearly and concisely :)

    • Travis says:

      The video was titled “What is Evolution” not “Human Evolution” The theory of evolution, like a lot of science does not just revolve around humans, unfortunately many people make humans the center of everything. If you understand the basic concepts taught in the video you could probably then do some studying to learn about the topic of Human Evolution. Using actual photographs would also probably defeat the purpose of using and undermine the artist who worked hard to create these videos.

  • matt says:

    so can you tell me what a good way to know who i can from

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