Why evolution is critical to science education

NCSE Friend of Darwin recipient Lacey Wieser says evolution education helps students understand what science is as a discipline.

As a child, I thought the natural world was fascinating and full of amazing things to explore and learn, and was constantly asking questions. It wasn’t until later in life that I realized that many of my childhood questions could be answered simply by understanding evolution.

Learning about evolution helped me understand the very nature of science. To comprehend biological evolution, scientists need to ask questions and look at evidence to be able to understand not only the history of Earth and how it has changed over time, but also more importantly how we know what we know. What evidence is used? How much evidence is there? What qualifies as evidence? How was that evidence collected? How is that evidence interpreted and are there different ways to meaningfully interpret the evidence? Teaching evolution helps students develop a deep understanding of evolution but, more importantly, it helps them understand what science is as a discipline.

Learning about evolution helps us understand that science is a human endeavor.

Learning about evolution helps us understand that science is a human endeavor. While Charles Darwin is arguably the most recognized name in the field of evolution, he is one of many scientists who contributed to our current—and future—understanding of evolution. It is human nature to want to understand the world around us; individuals across many time periods, across many continents, and often working in large teams across different disciplines have shaped that knowledge. As scientists continue to ask questions, not only do they deepen our understanding of evolution, they increase our understanding of many other fields of science.

Learning about evolution helps us understand that science is interdisciplinary. While students often perceive science to be static and separated into disciplines, understanding biological evolution integrates numerous core ideas and concepts within science and across disciplines: anthropology, biology, chemistry, geology, physics, math, astrophysics, and others, to be able to understand the history of Earth and how it has changed over time. Understanding evolution isn’t just about understanding the past. The principles of evolution, coupled with genetics, microbiology, immunology, DNA sequencing, and biochemistry, provide knowledge needed to improve medicine and disease control. A solid understanding of evolution coupled with agronomy, population dynamics, climate science, and geology is needed to support agriculture and create a sustainable future on this planet.

Evolution education is more than just a study of past life forms and the relatedness and diversity of present-day organisms. It helps students understand the nature of science, how science is an interdisciplinary endeavor, and how we can prepare for a sustainable future. 

Lacey Wieser
Short Bio

Lacey Wieser currently serves as the Science Content Specialist at EdReports.org, served as the Director of K-12 Science and STEM at the Arizona Department of Education, and is a former high school biology teacher. Wieser received several awards, including NCSE’s Friend of Darwin Award in 2019, for her advocacy work to ensure that Arizona science standards remained accurate and included evolution.

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