Why teach evolution?

Renowned author James Gleick adds his voice in support of evolution education.

Are we really still asking this question in 2020?

You might as well ask why teach that the earth is round.

Evolution arouses strong feelings precisely because it addresses hard questions: Where did we come from, and where are we headed?

The answer is the same. Because it’s true. Because it’s useful to know. And because the knowledge was hard-won: Generations of researchers and thinkers looked closely at their world, gathered information, braved dangers, calculated, theorized, argued with one another, and gradually gained an understanding of what had seemed an unfathomable mystery. We owe them respect.

Also, their stories are thrilling. Charles Darwin didn’t just sit on a couch and imagine that “from the war of nature, from famine and death, the most exalted object which we are capable of conceiving, namely, the production of the higher animals, directly follows.” He sailed the world on HMS Beagle. He scrutinized earthworms, barnacles, finches, and climbing plants. Every creature, every organism, no matter how small, has something to tell us.

“Each [organism] instructs,” Stephen Jay Gould once said. “Its form and behavior embodies general messages if only we can learn to read them. The language of this instruction is evolutionary theory.” (The Panda’s Thumb, 1980, p. 11.)

There are people who don’t want to know, admittedly. Those who wish to see human beings as special—divinely created, masters of the universe—may blame Darwin as a bearer of bad tidings. Evolution arouses strong feelings precisely because it addresses hard questions: Where did we come from, and where are we headed?

James Gleick
Short Bio

James Gleick is the author, most recently, of Time Travel: A History. His previous book was The Information: A History, a Theory, a Flood, an international bestseller exploring the genesis and consequences of the information age. His first book, Chaos: Making a New Science, was a National Book Award and Pulitzer Prize finalist. He collaborated with the photographer Eliot Porter on Nature’s Chaos. His other books include the best-selling biographies Genius: The Life and Science of Richard Feynman, and Isaac Newton, both shortlisted for the Pulitzer Prize, as well as Faster and What Just Happened. His books have been translated into twenty-five languages.

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