Close

Print PDF

Position Statement

GSA: Science, Stewardship, Service

 

Teaching Evolution

Adopted in October 2005; revised May 2009 and November 2012

Position Statement
The Geological Society of America strongly supports the teaching of evolution and the directly related concept of deep time as part of science curricula at all levels of education. The evolution of life on Earth stands as one of the central concepts of modern science. During the past two centuries, research in geology, paleontology, and biology has produced an increasingly detailed, consistent, and robust picture of how life on Earth has evolved.

GSA opposes teaching creationism alongside evolution in any science classroom and rejects the characterization of evolution as scientifically controversial. Science, by definition, is a method of learning about the natural universe by asking questions in such a way that they can be answered empirically and verifiably. If a question cannot be framed so that the answer can be tested, and the test results can be reproduced by others, then it is not science. Creationism, whether presented as creation “science,” intelligent design, or hydroplate theory, attempts to explain complicated phenomena of the natural world by invoking a creator or designer. Creationism is not science because it invokes supernatural phenomena that cannot be tested. It therefore has no place in a science curriculum. Because science is limited to explaining natural phenomena through the use of empirical evidence, it cannot provide religious explanations. Science teachers should not advocate any religious interpretations of nature and should be nonjudgmental about the personal beliefs of students.

Purpose
This document (1) summarizes GSA’s views regarding the teaching of evolution; (2) defines evolution and discusses the physical and biological evidence for evolution; (3) describes the concepts of “intelligent design” and “creation science” and explains why they are not science; and (4) provides a communications tool for GSA member use.

Rationale

The rock record provides an abundance of fossils, and by the early 1800s, geologists were using physical relationships among rocks as evidence to establish the basis for the geologic time scale. They understood that the fossil record shows major changes in life forms over time. In 1859, Charles Darwin’s On the Origin of Species described these changes in detail and showed that they indicate that all life on Earth is related through descent with modification and showed that these changes can be explained by natural selection operating on random variations in organisms—the process we now know as biological evolution. Since then, we have continued to uncover details of life’s history, and biologists have elucidated the genetic and molecular basis for evolution. Evolution is not a static idea but a growing concept added to by scientific observation, testing, and debate. Scientific discoveries in these fields and related disciplines have progressively sharpened our understanding of evolution, which is now established as a well‐tested fact. Evolution is accepted by the scientific community because all available evidence supports the central conclusions of evolutionary science: that life on Earth has evolved and species share common ancestors and genomes.

The discovery of radioactivity in the twentieth century and its use for measuring the ages of rocks has made it possible to quantify Earth’s age and to estimate rates of many geologic processes. Many rocks over a billion years in age can now be dated with great precision. The ages of many rocks have been confirmed by repeated tests in multiple laboratories, often using different isotopic decay schemes. The results are consistent with the geological record, which includes the processes that uplift the land and cause the erosion and deposition of sediments. Geologists can now identify rocks that record hundreds of millions of years of sedimentation by the slow layer‐by‐layer accumulation of mud, the rhythmic rise and fall of tides on ancient continental margins, the growth of reefs, and the slow back‐and‐forth meandering of rivers in ancient valleys. Additionally, techniques that date more recent deposits have been repeatedly and accurately compared to known historical events.

Studies of Earth’s history, including the evolution of life on Earth, aid in the quest to understand how the Earth-life system functions and in the search for natural resources. The geologic record reveals how forms of life have responded to past environmental change, sometimes migrating, sometimes evolving, and sometimes going extinct. Understanding evolution has made possible many of the medical advances that save human lives and has furthered agricultural developments that feed the world. The short‐term adaptive evolution demonstrated by the ability of viruses to evolve and adapt to new vaccines, or simply to new environmental conditions, is readily comparable to the longer‐term evolution of more advanced species. Evolution has resulted in the presence of unique assemblages of life forms that change over time, the fossilized remains of which can be used to correlate rock units and thus allow geologists to accurately and efficiently locate valuable resources.

From before the time of Darwin, some people have objected to and challenged those findings of science that were considered to conflict with certain traditional religious beliefs about creation. Creationism, creation “science,” hydroplate theory, and intelligent design have emerged from religious thought, and because they invoke supernatural phenomena, they cannot frame questions that can be tested scientifically. Therefore, by definition, the notions of creationism and its more recent forms are not science. The immensity of geologic time and the evolutionary origin of species are concepts that pervade modern geology, biology, and other sciences that support human life. These concepts must therefore be treated as central themes in science courses. Without an adequate knowledge of geologic time and the evolutionary origin of species, students will not understand the processes that shape the natural environment in which they live. As a result, they will lack the understanding that is essential for making wise decisions regarding the environment upon which our survival depends. Without an understanding of and appreciation for rigorous scientific methods, students will not be prepared for higher education in the sciences or to work in the many fields of science upon which our society depends for resources and technological innovation.

Recommendations

 

 Opportunities for GSA and GSA Members to Help Implement Recommendations

To facilitate implementation of the goals of this position statement, The Geological Society of America recommends that when discussing the importance of teaching evolution and geologic time with school boards, legislative committees, and other groups likely to include individuals with strong fundamental religious conviction, it may be necessary to assert that literal interpretations of creation stories do not constitute science. Nonetheless, at all times, we must respect the differing viewpoints and interests of others.

 

top


Position Statements adopted by GSA Council may be used freely in their entirety by members in public policy discussions on the scientific issues to which they pertain.

About the Geological Society of America

The Geological Society of America, founded in 1888, is a scientific society with more than 25,000 members from academia, government, and industry in more than 100 countries. Through its meetings, publications, and programs, GSA enhances the professional growth of its members and promotes the geosciences in the service of humankind. GSA encourages cooperative research among earth, life, planetary, and social scientists, fosters public dialogue on geoscience issues, and supports all levels of earth science education. Inquiries about the GSA or this position statement should be directed to GSA’s Director for Geoscience Policy, Kasey S. White, at +1-202-669-0466 or .

© The Geological Society of America, Inc.