2005 Salt Lake City Annual Meeting (October 16–19, 2005)

Paper No. 1
Presentation Time: 8:15 AM


TANG, Carol M., Education Division, California Academy of Sciences, 875 Howard Street, San Francisco, CA 94103, ctang@calacademy.org

It is ironic that just as the controversy over the teaching of evolution has heated up in America, so too has the incorporation of evolution into geoscience and space science research. As the developing fields of geobiology and astrobiology become more visible in scientific meetings, professional societies, scholarly journals and funding opportunities at NASA and NSF, physical scientists are delving deeper into concepts of biological evolution in order to understand the universe around us. Thus, teaching evolution is not confined to biology or paleontology courses but rather, has become more important in basic and advanced geology and astronomy courses as well.

Biological evolution has always played an important role in stratigraphy and geochronology because the change in species through time, the origin of new species, and species extinctions are key to recognizing and correlating stratigraphic intervals. The recognition of deep time and the evolutionary history of life on earth also go hand-in-hand in geoscience teaching and research. Understanding the development of adaptations through natural selection is useful in the interpretation of facies and paleoenvironments in the geological record.

In the fields of geobiology and astrobiology, evolution also plays an integral part in setting the direction of research. Some of the proposed criteria for recognizing life in ancient rocks and the search for life beyond Earth include concepts such as individual variation, natural selection, adaptation to extreme environments and evolution through time. Processes such as the development of oxygen in the Earth atmosphere, carbon and nutrient cycling, and reef and carbonate formation through geological time are best done in the context of understanding the origin, evolution, and extinction of life forms.

Thus, physical scientists can and should play an increasingly larger role in promoting the teaching of evolution and developing successful strategies to teach natural selection, microevolution and macroevolution. But at the same time, because many geology students are not well-versed in biology, geoscience educators must be careful not to gloss over or employ “shorthand” when discussing the complexities or subtleties in evolutionary theory so as to avoid promoting and reinforcing misconceptions by the public.