Would it be okay if we stopped using the "Everything you thought you knew about X is wrong" headline formulation now? It's played out.

"Why everything you've been told about evolution is wrong," bellows the headline in today's Guardian. Well rest easy, my anxious science fans, it's not. Assuming everything you've been told about evolution has come from people who understand it, the less appealing headline should read, "as you were, you clever people".

Alas, in his feature, Oliver Burkeman has given, in my view, an insufficiently critical airing to some specious arguments put forward in a new book entitled What Darwin got Wrong. Authors Jerry Fodor and Massimo Piattelli-Palmarini are not evolutionary biologists, and have attempted to scrutinise evolutionary theory whilst simultaneously misrepresenting it.

Of course, there are plenty of things that Darwin got wrong. That is the nature of science, and indeed good scientists love to be wrong. It means that the theory will subsequently be refined to be more right. Darwin knew, as does every subsequent evolutionary biologist, that natural selection is the major, but not the only contributing factor to evolution.

Fodor and Piattelli-Palmarini seem oblivious to this. They base their whole argument on either misunderstanding what real evolutionary biologists think, or by simply ignoring it. They describe processes in evolution that are easy to understand and are part of evolutionary theory, and quote them as a means to knock down that exact same theory. Repeating and enhancing these brainwrongs so elegantly, as Burkeman does, simply makes matters worse.

Take epigenetics – the idea that modifications to the structure of DNA changes its behaviour. As Burkeman points out, this is a new field, and its impact on biology has not yet been fully realised. However, nothing about it suggests that it doesn't fit within the existing framework of evolutionary theory. Burkeman cites a study (from my own alma mater) of Swedish boys whose lifespan was affected by the behaviour of their grandfathers. Although new for paternal inheritance, the paper itself describes the phenomenon as "well recognised". A metastudy of this "transgenerational" effect across many species concludes that the effect is universal. As ever, evolutionary theory needs refining, but does not need a revolutionary assault.

There are too many things wrong with Fodor and Piattelli-Palmarini's arguments to go into here, so for a detailed analysis I refer you to a thorough demolition in the Boston Review (warning, contains real science).

The Guardian is making the same needless error that New Scientist, an otherwise fine publication, made in their issue celebrating the 200th anniversary of Darwin's birth last year. Their cover declared that "Darwin was Wrong". The article describes lateral gene transfer – something that was not included in The Origin of Species, but really does not obscure the truth of evolutionary theory at all. They were good enough to publish a letter from Richard Dawkins and several leading evolutionary scientists pointing out its folly.

The wrongness of the book itself is relatively inconsequential. There are plenty of wrong books out there, many much more damaging than this. What saddens me is the coverage gifted to it. In the many public lectures that I gave and attended over the Darwin anniversary year, on seven separate occasions, audience members used the New Scientist "Darwin was Wrong" cover line to attack evolution, without referring to the nuances of the article. Headlines matter.

"Nobody wants to provide ammunition to the proponents of creationism," says Burkeman. But he is doing just that. Unfortunately now, many people will again assert that evolution is wrong, but very few will understand that the fact that 8% of our own genome is derived from viruses enhances evolutionary theory, rather than subverts it, as Burkeman suggests.

As a newspaper, the Guardian's record on science is second to none. This is not a personal attack on Oliver Burkeman, who is an outstanding writer. Nor is this an attempt to further the specious argument that science journalists need to have been scientists to understand the complexities inherent in science. I certainly don't subscribe to that, and win this argument in perpetuity with two words that Guardian science fans will know well: "Tim" and "Radford".

But without fully understanding the issues at hand, it is easy to fall into the trap of regurgitating self-serving controversies. "To an outsider" says Burkeman "this is mind-blowing". Unfortunately though, to the knowledgeable, it is a disappointing combination of at best misleading distortion, and at worst plain wrongheadedness. Now we have to clean up the mess.

• This article was amended at 16:49 on 19 March 2010. The Boston Review article linked to is by Ned Block and Philip Kitcher, not Jerry Coyne. This has been corrected