Why is it important to teach evolution?
Understanding evolution is critical for understanding biology. As the preeminent scientist
Theodosius Dobzhansky stated, “Nothing in biology makes sense except in the light of
evolution.” Evolution is the only scientific explanation for the diversity of life. It explains the
striking similarities among vastly different forms of life, the changes that occur within
populations, and the development of new life forms. Excluding evolution from the science
curricula or compromising its treatment deprives students of this fundamental and unifying
scientific concept to explain the natural world.
Teaching and learning about evolution have immense practical value that extends beyond
understanding our world. The principles of evolution underlie improvements in crops, livestock,
and farming methods. Natural selection accounts for the rise in pesticide resistance among
agricultural pests and informs the design of new technologies to protect crops from insects and
disease. Scientists are applying lessons from evolutionary biology to environmental
conservation: plants and bacteria adapted to polluted environments are being used to replenish
lost vegetation and to clean up toxic environments. Species from microbes to mammals adapt to
climate change; studying the mechanism and rate of these changes can help conservation experts
formulate appropriate measures to protect species facing extinction.
Understanding evolution is also central to the advancement of medicine. Indeed, the entire field
of “evolutionary medicine” is devoted to using the principles of evolution to study and treat
human illness and disease. Concepts such as adaptation and mutation inform therapies and
strategies to combat pathogens, including influenza. Models developed by evolutionary
biologists have shed light on genetic variation that may account for an increased risk of
Alzheimer’s and coronary heart disease. Knowing the evolutionary...