Why Study Evolution?

A caricature of Charles Darwin from the London Sketchbook (1874).

We study evolution for the same reasons that we study any subject — the thirst for knowledge, to understand the past and predict the future, and to organize our world. But the subject of evolution also has huge relevance to our world and current issues that concern all of us. Evolution was happening 150 million years ago when dinosaurs dominated the Earth, was happening in the 1830s when Charles Darwin landed on the Galapagos Islands during the voyage of the HMS Beagle, and it is happening today. It is occurring in every living species on the planet, right now.

Evolution is not just about fossils. It is also about molecules, genes, mutations, populations, and sex in living organisms. All of these things are primary sources of data about evolutionary processes that occur when organisms try to survive and reproduce. Evolution also is about rigorous analyses — what we must do with the data to say something that is scientifically defendable. So if you thought that evolutionary biology was limited to dusty old curators in dusty old museums, think again. Scientists at universities, research centers, and museums are conducting some of the most sophistocated analyses of any kind today, using some of the best prepared specimens, most advanced techniques, and fastest computers available. Nothing in biology can be truly understood without first understanding evolution.