Darwin’s great insight that the vast diversity of life on earth arose over time from a common ancestor revolutionized scientific understanding, with substantial benefit to our economy and our well being. Today, evolutionary principles are the foundation of all of modern biology and have led to major advances in fields as diverse as molecular biology, developmental biology, genetics, behavior, and paleontology. Understanding evolution also allows us to identify genes underlying human illness, combat infectious diseases, mitigate impacts of invasive species, and control pathogens and pests of our crops and livestock.
The importance of evolution to science and society is outlined in “Evolution, Science, and Society,” a document representing the broad consensus of eight major scientific societies, in which the American Society of Naturalists played an important role. Evolution is at the heart of the mission of the American Society of Naturalists to enhance the conceptual unification of the biological sciences.
Evolution is supported by overwhelming scientific evidence from many disciplines. Like all scientific theories, evolutionary theory generates explicit hypotheses about the world around us, and these hypotheses are then tested against the facts through observation and experimentation. Hypotheses supported by results from multiple lines of inquiry are used to extend the theory, whereas hypotheses not supported by facts are discarded. This scientific process has yielded a robust, empirically supported theory of evolution, which continues to be developed and rigorously tested.
Science is only science when it can empirically test hypotheses and discover whether the facts support or refute them. Science cannot refute or support hypotheses concerning the existence, actions, or methods of God or any other intelligent designer. Such articles of faith should not be part of the science curriculum in public schools simply because they cannot be empirically tested and thus they fall outside the purview of science. In contrast, evolution is a rigorously tested and ever-expanding body of scientific knowledge that underlies and integrates our understanding of all areas of the biological world — from our cells and DNA to our lakes and forests. As such, evolution must be an integral part of any science curriculum.
With a solid science education that includes evolutionary biology, today’s students will find better solutions to tomorrow’s problems.