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EVOLUTION: So Much Baggage for One Word to Carry

Recently I have been completely convinced of the need to continue the battle for basic evolutionary education in all levels of school.

I feel that I need to preface this by saying that I never had to be convinced of the legitimacy of evolution, it was always a part of my life. Being raised by scientific minded parents, in particular a mother who reads Richard Dawkins and E. O. Wilson for fun, I was never told anything different. When I moved into my first apartment my mother gifted me a framed picture of Charles Darwin, which is currently sitting on my mantle. I never even questioned it, because it just made sense to me. I knew there were people who did not believe in evolution, some of them very prominent influential people, like Ken Ham of Kentucky, or many of our modern politicians. That being said, I always assumed these people were simply choosing to ignore the big picture. In his recent lecture at the University of Alabama, Bill Nye discussed Mr. Ham’s refusal to accept evolution despite having been shown the overwhelming evidence that modern science provides.  A basic internet search will show that countless polls have been run demonstrating that around half of Americans don’t believe in evolution, and I was always under the impression that the majority of these people were like Mr. Ham, unwilling to change their views no matter what examples were given. Because of this I never attempted a discourse with people I have known and loved about evolution, assuming it would always be an un-winnable argument.

Serving as a teaching assistant for Introduction to Anthropology has completely changed my mind about this. There are so many people out there, especially in the younger generations who have never been taught or presented with ANY evolutionary theory. Even the most basic concept of natural selection is completely new to them. They know and in some cases understand examples of evolution, like the emergence of antibiotic resistant disease, but never associated it with Darwin’s concept of evolution. My personal favorite example to give is artificial selection of dog breeds. If humans can cause such significant change over time selecting for a trait, why would we not accept that the same sort of change could occur with nature as the selecting force?

For me, one of the most satisfying moments of my graduate career so far was when a student told me that for the first time evolution made logical sense to her. She honestly had never been presented with the most basic concepts of evolution, a problem that is becoming more and more common as science education begins to focus more and more on minute detail and less on the big picture. At that moment I was affirmed with the fact that I would no longer bite my tongue about the topic of evolution. It became clear to me that many of the people who make up that 50% were “left behind” by evolution education. They were never given the basic comprehensive explanation that many advanced classes assume everyone has had. A class on human diversity and genetics will have a decreased impact on someone who does not understand Darwinian principles.  Everyone needs to, at the very least, be presented with the evidence of and reasoning behind evolution at its most simple. What they do with it from there is up to them, but the fact remains, evolution makes sense. I truly believe that if we present it in a simple, clear way and dispel the common misunderstandings (such as the lack of fossil evidence myth, or that accepting evolution means rejecting Christianity) I have faith that mankind will eventually come to accept evolution as the prevailing truth.

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