Evolution is a central concept in modern science, including biology, geology, and astronomy. The California Academy of Sciences, with its broad mission to explore, explain, and sustain life, recognizes that evolution is fundamental to understanding biological diversity and is a critical organizing principle for both scientific research and science museums.
In biology, the basic facts of evolution, including the extinction and emergence of new species over time, were understood and accepted by the end of the nineteenth century. Charles Darwin identified natural selection as a primary mechanism driving evolution (that some organisms are more likely to survive and reproduce, thus their genetic traits will be inherited by future generations while other traits will be lost). Through selection, some life-forms thrive, reproduce, and adapt as conditions change, whereas others disappear. The detailed processes that create variation and drive natural selection became evident during the twentieth century with the discoveries of DNA and molecular inheritance. Twentieth century geologists also learned to use radioactivity to determine the age of the Earth (4.5 billion years), and astronomers discovered the expansion of the universe, measuring its age as approximately 14 billion years. Change is an inherent property of stars, planets, and life.
Scientists in many fields use evolutionary concepts daily in their research. In pharmacology and agriculture, these concepts are central to efforts to overcome the evolution of harmful organisms that have become resistant to antibiotics or pesticides. Evolution as the organizing principle for science museums has transformed the eighteenth-century collections of "curiosities" into modern museums of natural history. The California Academy of Sciences recognizes the importance of understanding evolution for both scientists and the public, and we emphasize that evolution belongs in school curricula and textbooks as one of the fundamental concepts of modern science.