Evolution is one of the greatest ideas in the history of civilization. Few other ideas have so revolutionized how humans think about themselves. The idea of evolution, although it obviously emerged from a specific culture, translates into nearly all cultures—except religious fundamentalist societies that will not admit it for dogmatic reasons. Evolution is steeped in pure science, and the idea itself evolves and complexifies as we discover new manifestations of its processes and patterns. The philosophical idea that everything in life evolves is as deep and complex as the scientific details behind it. That is the “evolution revolution.”
The history of the idea of evolution exemplifies two basic principles of science. First, scientific ideas change as new evidence is discovered and is tested against what we think we already understand. Weak hypotheses are discarded, and those that are supported by independent lines of evidence are more generally used. Second, the more we discover, the more we learn, and we don’t just reject hypotheses that are poorly supported; we use the new evidence to corroborate what we already understand. What an object lesson!
Teaching the philosophy and history of evolution, integrated into a presentation of the hypotheses, evidence, and questions in the various fields of evolution, will provide the richest experience possible for students.
The presentation of evolution is better when its various scales and dimensions are balanced. This means, on the one hand, plants and animals and microbes, because they evolve in both the same and different ways. But it also means an integration of population-, gene-, and molecular-level evolution with the large-scale changes in life: macroevolution.