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Position statement: EGU advocates the teaching of evolution

6 July 2017

Joggins Fossil Cliffs in Nova Scotia, Canada, a site with one of the world's most complete fossil records
Joggins Fossil Cliffs in Nova Scotia, Canada, a site with one of the world's most complete fossil records (Credit: M. Grey/L. Nicoll/Joggins Fossil Institute, via imaggeo.egu.eu)

The European Geosciences Union (EGU) strongly supports the teaching of evolution in schools and other educational fora. Evolution, a fundamental concept in biology and the Earth sciences, is the only theory supported by scientific evidence to describe how life on Earth has evolved.

The concept is not controversial from a scientific standpoint: in the nearly two centuries since the theory of evolution was proposed by Darwin, no data has been found that contradicts its overall conclusions.

“Evolution is a well-established, evidence-based scientific concept rooted in clear and logical facts, supported by a wealth of evidence on geological time,” says EGU President Jonathan Bamber.

Evidence comes from many areas of science, including some of EGU’s disciplines. The fossil record details how species changed over time and geographical location, and anatomical similarities visible in diverse fossils indicate how different life forms relate to each other. In addition, radioisotope dating of fossils and rocks on Earth indicates that the Earth is 4.5 billion years old, that life has existed for at least 3.8 billion years and that it has become more complex and diverse over time.

Helmut Weissert, President of the EGU Division on Stratigraphy, Sedimentology and Palaeontology, says: “Two hundred years of geological and palaeontological research provide us with an increasingly detailed picture of co-evolution of life and its physical environment over the last 4 billion years. Geological archives on land and under the sea teach us about bacterial beginnings of life, about mass-extinctions triggered by major environmental perturbations and about recovery of biota after catastrophic events. Understanding evolution of the Earth’s biosphere is of fundamental importance for humankind in search for sustainable development in the 21st century.”

Even though evolution is a complex theory, its basic principles are simple and should be taught in schools to children of all ages. Nevertheless, the theory should always be taught sensitively, seeking not to undermine the belief structures of children.

The EGU Committee on Education points out that: “Educating children from their youngest age, even intuitively, in the theory of evolution reinforces the feeling of belonging to the long-term history of our planet and helps in understanding the role of humankind on the Earth.”

Evolution is essential to the understanding of biology and many Earth sciences. A society that understands evolution is one that can solve problems that have an impact on our lives, from finding better ways to treat diseases to cultivating more resistant crops. Evolution is a central component of modern science that should be taught in schools worldwide.

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