Evolution: Don't leave school without it

Evolution may be elegant, awe-inspiring, and thought-provoking, says NCSE Executive Director Ann Reid, but it's also of tremendous practical importance.

It’s become pretty common to hear people call our current times “post-truth.” By which I think people mean we nowadays make up our minds about things based on what our friends think, or what we hear from people we trust—in short, we believe what feels right, and even, perhaps, that there really is no objective truth.

Well, I guess it’s true more than we might want to acknowledge that what is objectively correct doesn’t make much of a difference in our daily lives. I mean, really, if we’re walking around on a flat earth or a round one, does it change where we go for lunch? (Before you go @-ing me on twitter, I am aware of the fascinating discussions about things like how gravity would work on a flat earth, so it’s possible our daily lives would actually be dramatically different….just go with the flow here, OK?)

Any student who does not get a chance to learn about evolution will be greatly handicapped in any effort to contribute to the solution of a myriad practical problems, whether as a research scientist or as an engaged citizen.

But sometimes the truth really matters. Say, for example, you want to launch a satellite and have it reach geosynchronous orbit so it hovers over exactly the same spot on earth. In this case, all the truths about how big and round the earth is would be critical to your success.

What does this have to do with evolution? Like the roundness of the earth, whether evolution is true or not may not seem to make a very big difference in our daily lives. So what if species were all created at once 10,000 years ago, or have been evolving for billions of years? Does that really matter on a day-to-day basis? Reader, it does.

In our "Why Teach Evolution?" series of essays, you will find many stories that illustrate how the truth of evolution matters in practical terms—how understanding the concept helps us treat cancer, predict disease outbreaks, grow more food with fewer resources, create new life-saving drugs and more efficient industrial processes, and protect precious ecosystems. Understanding evolution helps us predict how climate change will affect crops, wildlife, and human health. And understanding evolution will help us predict what kinds of human actions will be most helpful to preserving the living web of life that sustains us all.

So understanding evolution is of vast practical importance. Any student who does not get a chance to learn about evolution will be greatly handicapped in any effort to contribute to the solution of myriad practical problems, whether as a research scientist or as an engaged citizen.

But learning about evolution because it’s practical is just one reason for ensuring its place in every school curriculum; the theory of evolution is also elegant, and awe-inspiring, and thought-provoking. As Ken Miller tells us, in the first essay of our #whyteachevolution campaign, to learn evolution is “is to open one's eyes to the endless beauty that life has generated and continues to produce.”

NCSE Executive Director Ann Reid
Short Bio

Ann Reid is the Executive Director of NCSE.

reid@ncse.ngo

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