Evolution has long been a controversial topic in the United States, often the target of laws and public policies designed to prevent it being taught in schools. While evidence for evolution is abundant, to many the most troublesome part of Darwin’s theory is its claim that our own species was fashioned by the evolutionary process. Beginning with the basic principles of evolution by natural selection, I will review the data that form our current understanding of the evolutionary process, and show how it has produced the diversity of living things around us.
Next up will be the specific question of human evolution, reviewing the abundance of pre-human fossil forms that have come to light in recent years, and then moving to the marks that evolution has left in the human genome. Particular DNA sequences and unique chromosome markers demonstrate the ancestry of our species, and link us to a number of other close animal relatives.
Finally, I will conclude by asking what the scientific evidence means in human terms. Does the scientific story of our ancestry minimize, dehumanize, or even trivialize the significance of human life? As I will argue, this view is based upon a profound misunderstanding of the actual nature of evolution. An authentic review of the actual science does quite the opposite, confirming human exceptionalism, and validating the idea that the human experiment matters for ourselves, the planet, and even for the Cosmos.