The Intersection of Science and Religion

Scientific and technological advances have had profound effects on human life. In the 19th century, most families could expect to lose one or more children to disease. Today, in the United States and other developed countries, the death of a child from disease is uncommon. Every day we rely on technologies made possible through the application of scientific knowledge and processes. The computers and cell phones which we use, the cars and airplanes in which we travel, the medicines that we take, and many of the foods that we eat were developed in part through insights obtained from scientific research. Science has boosted living standards, has enabled humans to travel into Earth’s orbit and to the moon, and has given us new ways of thinking about ourselves and the universe.

Evolutionary biology has been and continues to be a cornerstone of modern science. This booklet documents some of the major contributions that an understanding of evolution has made to human well-being, including its contributions to preventing and treating human disease, developing new agricultural products, and creating industrial innovations. More broadly, evolution is a core concept in biology that is based both in the study of past life forms and in the study of the relatedness and diversity of present-day organisms. The rapid advances now being made in the life sciences and in medicine rest on principles derived from an understanding of evolution. That understanding has arisen both through the study of an ever-expanding fossil record and, equally importantly, through the application of modern biological and molecular sciences and technologies to the study of evolution. Of course, as with any active area of science, many fascinating questions remain, and this booklet highlights some of the active research that is currently under way that addresses questions about evolution.

However, polls show that many people continue to have questions about our knowledge of biological evolution. They may have been told that scientific understanding of evolution is incomplete, incorrect, or in doubt. They may be skeptical that the natural process of biological evolution could have produced such an incredible array of living things, from microscopic bacteria to whales and redwood trees, from simple sponges on coral reefs to humans capable of contemplating life’s history on this planet. They may wonder if it is possible to accept evolution and still adhere to religious beliefs.

This Web site speaks to those questions. It is written to serve as a resource for people who find themselves embroiled in debates about evolution. It provides information about the role that evolution plays in modern biology and the reasons why only scientifically based explanations should be included in public school science courses. Interested readers may include school board members, science teachers and other education leaders, policymakers, legal scholars, and others in the community who are committed to providing students with quality science education. This site is also directed to the broader audience of high-quality school and college students as well as adults who wish to become more familiar with the many strands of evidence supporting evolution and to understand why evolution is both a fact and a process that accounts for the diversity of life on Earth.

From Science, Evolution, and Creationism, National Academy of Sciences and Institute of Medicine. © 2008 National Academy of Sciences