The 84th Annual Meeting of the American Association of Physical Anthropologists (2015)

The role of human evolution in science education: Impacts on students and the public



March 28, 2015 , Archview Ballroom Add to calendar

Physical anthropologists are uniquely positioned to encourage and facilitate education on human evolution, a topic of great general interest. Humans can be a “hook” to introduce students to the nature and interconnectedness of science. At the same time it is specifically human evolution which most provokes opposition to the general concept of evolution in American society. From the time of Darwin, through the Scopes-era laws of the 1920s and the “equal-time” battles of the 1970s-80s, and right up to today, scientific conclusions about the origins of humans have consistently sparked determined opposition, usually correlated with particular religious traditions, in some social circles. A significant proportion of this opposition is rooted neither in ignorance nor stupidity.

Comparisons of the rhetoric employed over the last century by anti-evolutionists reveal the essentially unchanging basis of their opposition, even while their tactics have adapted to a changing legal and educational landscape. A review of anti-evolution legislation proposed from 2001 to 2013 finds 163 bills in 31 states, a few of which have become law and more which nearly did so. Local-level opposition to evolution education continues today in every state. While scientific knowledge and educational resources about evolution increase exponentially, opposition to the concept remains robust, an apparent paradox. Traditional formal education by physical anthropologists and especially broader outreach to the public, including policy-makers and voters, are necessary to promote scientific understanding, even if they are not sufficient by themselves to resolve this problem.