World of Wonders

When we see things that aren’t, we miss the wonderful things that are.

How Does Understanding Evolution Make Us Better Citizens?

On his Discover blog today, Carl Zimmer asks “…how understanding evolution allows American citizens to formulate more informed decisions about societally important matters. How does a good understanding of evolution better prepare us to make decisions as citizens?” He invited readers to submit their views. Here’s the answer I posted in reply:

It is not so much our understanding of the fact of evolution that is so important to being an informed, responsible citizen. What’s critical is our understanding of how we know that evolution is a fact. Evolution instructs us how to understand. Evolution challenges us to ask: how do we know? Do we “know” God created the millions of species on Earth because that’s what religious doctrine declares? Or do we know that species evolved from common ancestors because of the century and a half of empirical evidence that proves the idea true, and because it makes sense of and explains all we see around us.

Do we know what we know through fear, irrationality, ideology, a lack of education, or fundamentalist beliefs? Or through rationality, reason and empiricism? In this way, evolution touches issues and ideas that are important to any informed citizen. How do we know anthropogenic global warming is real? How do we determine what causes AIDS, cancer or autism? How do we know flying saucers, time-traveling cellphone-users, homeopathic cures, and Iraqi weapons of mass destruction don’t exist? We know by looking at these questions in the same way Darwin looked at the world around him.

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Filed under: evolution, science literacy

3 Responses - Comments are closed.

  1. […] This post was mentioned on Twitter by carlzimmer, Chris Sasaki. Chris Sasaki said: My reply to @carlzimmer 's question: "How does understanding #evolution make us better citizens?" http://bit.ly/cjHsDn […]

  2. […] of Wonders, How Does Understanding Evolution Make Us Better Citizens?: “It is not so much our understanding of the fact of evolution that is so important to being […]

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