Why is Evolution Important in Teaching, Science, and Society?



"Nothing in Biology Makes Sense Except in the Light of Evolution" (Dobzhansky, T. 1973)

Recently, evolution has been characterized by non-scientists as a “theory in crisis”.  Many biologists have payed litte attention  to  evolution’s critics, simply because evolution is so strongly supported that virtually all scientists see evolution as fact.  But today we find that high school biology curricula are being changed to include the teaching of creationism, and related ideas of “intelligent design” - perhaps those of us in higher education should assess how we are teaching the subject..   

The common complaint  that Evolution is “just a theory”, arises from a basic misconception on the nature and content of scientific theories.   If we were to dismiss other well-supported theories, like the theory that the earth revolves around the sun, or the theory of gravity, or the theory that bacteria can cause disease, we would take a step back to the dark ages.  The stakes are large in this societal debate because it involves basic issues, not just of science, but of rationality, communication and trust.   

"All of life science is integrated in some way by evolution as all living things that surrounds are a product of evolutionary history."

Evolution is the central theory of life.  An understanding of evolutionary process and evidence is necessary for considering, not only the history of living things, but also many modern questions. For example; Why should we be concerned with a bird-flu epidemic?  Why is HIV so difficult to treat?  How does research on lab rats apply to humans?  How did humans evolve from apelike ancestors?  What is the best strategy for delaying the onset of pesticide resistance?  Increasingly evolutionary understanding is required for appreciating basic questions in fields traditionally apart from basic biology and anthropology.   Major areas of psychology, philosophy, computer sciences, and other fields now require a solid grounding in evolutionary thinking.

What does it mean to understand evolution?  The most basic idea is that living things have evolved and radiated from common ancestors over a very long period of time.  Understanding evolution also means knowing how natural selection works;  and it means having knowledge of the basic kinds of evidence that support the theory of evolution.

Dobzhansky, T. 1973. Nothing in biology makes sense except in the light of evolution. American Biology Teacher 35: 125-129.