The preceding pages have provided abundant resources to help us understand why contemporary evolutionary theory is so well supported. Hours of lectures (audio and video), stacks of essays, and shelves of books can be found in the first several sections of this website (see Table of Contents).
More online resources are scattered throughout the other pages on this website, including a large collection of lectures given around the country in honor of Darwin's 200th birthday--see our Bicentenary page.
Below are online resources from reputable organizations (the National Academy of Sciences, the University of California Museum of Paleontology, and London's Natural History Museum), as well as leading periodicals (Scientific American, Nature, Evolution: Education and Outreach, and Science).
Enjoy the exploration!
Educational Resources for Students and the General Public
National Academy of Sciences (2008)
Science, Evolution and Creationism (Washington, DC: National Academies Press, 2008). News Release. Here's a preview. This book provides a very nice introduction to the topic, and it's available for free on-line. For a pdf copy, link here.
University of California's Understanding Evolution
Understanding Evolution is a non-commercial, education website, teaching the science and history of evolutionary biology. This site is here to help you understand what evolution is, how it works, how it factors into your life, how research in evolutionary biology is performed, and how ideas in this area have changed over time. This site is a collaborative project of the University of California Museum of Paleontology and the National Center for Science Education.
Main topics include:
London's Natural History Museum: Nature Online
It is generally accepted that the astonishing diversity of life on our planet is the result of a process called evolution, which drives organisms to change gradually over time . While the basic concept of organisms evolving is not a difficult one, understanding how evolution works, and how evolutionary theory was developed, is more complex. Front pageWhat is evolution?
Evolution can loosely be defined as genetic change over time, but there is much more to it than that. Link
What is the evidence?
Both fossils from long ago and organisms alive today provide evidence for evolution and help us to better understand how the process works. Link
How did evolutionary theory develop?
Like many new ideas, the theory of evolution was not immediately accepted by everyone when it was proposed. Discover who was for and against the theory and why. Link
The National Science Foundation: The Evolution of Evolution
The National Science Foundation launches The Evolution of Evolution
, celebrating 150 Years of Darwin's "On the Origin of Species." The site is a multi-disciplinary one-stop-shop of resources on evolution and Darwin himself that are available nowhere else--including eye-catching graphics; captivating interviews and essays by a team of international evolutionary experts; fast-read texts; a timeline that neatly summarizes major intellectual and technological achievements that advanced our understanding of evolution; and downloadable documents.
Scientific American Magazine (January 2009)
The Evolution of Evolution: How Darwin's Theory Survives, Thrives and Reshapes the World
The bulk of this Special Edition is dedicated to Evolution, "the Most Powerful Idea in Science"
The issue is currently online. Full-text pdf available for purchase
We open here with an editorial, followed by a list of other articles.
Dynamic Darwinism: Evolution Theory Thrives Today
The naturalist would approve of how evolutionary science continues to improve
By John Rennie
A billion and a half years ago, life on earth was staggeringly dull. The ocean, once a steaming primordial soup, had become a cold, thin, dreary broth of look-alike organisms. Eukaryotic cells with internal structures had appeared, but multicellular creatures were scarcely a blip in the census. Life lazed through those doldrums for a million millennia.
Then something happened: some unidentified combination of environmental circumstance and genetic novelty triggered crazy diversification in the variety and complexity of animal life over tens of millions of years, climaxing in the so-called Cambrian explosion. By 530 million years ago the seas held all the bizarre creatures fossilized in the Burgess Shale (and popularized two decades ago by Stephen Jay Gould in his book Wonderful Life). Many of those animals were evolutionary dead ends, but a few were the progenitors of every animal alive today.
When Charles Darwin published On the Origin of Species in 1859, he touched off a Cambrian explosion in evolutionary thought. Naturalists had theorized about evolution for centuries before him, but their ideas were generally unfruitful, untestable or wrong. Darwin’s breakthrough insight was not that a simple mechanism—natural selection—made evolution possible. Rather it was that in organisms whose environment changed nonrandomly and whose reproductive success in that environment depended on inherited traits, evolution became inevitable.
In the decades that followed, Darwin’s ideas connected up with the nascent field of genetics and then, at an ever quickening pace, with molecular biology, ecology and embryology. The explanatory power of his concepts proved irresistible. Today, 200 years after his birth and 150 years after Origin of Species, Darwin’s legacy is a larger, richer, more diverse set of theories than he could have imagined.
Consider the notion of selection itself. What Darwin called natural selection was the competition for ecological resources often abbreviated as “survival of the fittest.” As H. Allen Orr describes [see "Testing Natural Selection" below], natural selection demonstrably drives much of evolution and speciation. Yet modern biologists have also elaborated greatly on Darwin’s ideas about sexual selection, in which members of a species compete for opportunities to breed. Kin selection and other forms of group selection are active areas of study, too, with theorists debating roles for selection at the level of single genes, individual organisms, whole species—or all of the above.
Meanwhile the sources of heritable variation go far beyond point mutations in genes, as David M. Kingsley explains [see "Diversity Revealed" below]. Such changes might facilitate the rapid evolution of complex traits.
Just as most of the weird Cambrian monsters eventually went extinct, many current hypotheses in evolution will also wither over time. Those that survive, however, will be inestimably powerful for explaining the natural world. We humans can also continue to use those ideas to make technologies more adaptable and robust. Why shouldn’t we learn from billions of years of nature’s experiments?
Nature Magazine (January 2009)
"15 Evolutionary Gems" is a new resource summarizing fifteen lines of evidence for evolution by natural selection, provided by the journal Nature, the world's most highly cited interdisciplinary science journal.
The editors explain, "About a year ago, an editorial in these pages urged scientists and their institutions to 'spread the word' and highlight reasons why scientists can treat evolution by natural selection as, in effect, an established fact ... This week we are following our own prescription. In a year in which Darwin is being celebrated amid uncertainty and hostility about his ideas among citizens, being aware of the cumulatively incontrovertible evidence for those ideas is all the more important. We trust that this document will help."
The fifteen evolutionary gems, as Nature describes them, are in three categories: gems from the fossil record (land-living ancestors of whales, from water to land, the origin of feathers, the evolutionary history of teeth, and the origin of the vertebrate skeleton), gems from habitats (natural selection in speciation, natural selection in lizards, a case of co-evolution, differential dispersal in wild birds, selective survival in wild guppies, and evolutionary history matters), and gems from molecular processes (Darwin's Galapagos finches, microevolution meets macroevolution, toxin resistance in snakes and clams, and variation versus stability). References and links to relevant resources are provided.
The opening paragraphs:
"Most biologists take for granted the idea that all life evolved by natural selection over billions of years. They get on with researching and teaching in disciplines that rest squarely on that foundation, secure in the knowledge that natural selection is a fact, in the same way that the Earth orbits the Sun is a fact.
"Given that the concepts and realities of Darwinian evolution are still challenged, albeit rarely by biologists, a succinct briefing on why evolution by natural selection is an empirically validated principle is useful for people to have to hand. We offer here 15 examples published by Nature over the past decade or so to illustrate the breadth, depth and power of evolutionary thinking. We are happy to offer this resource freely and encourage its free dissemination."Full-text here -->> For more by Nature on Evolution and Darwin
Science News: Magazine of the Society for Science and the Public (February 2009)
This special Web edition of Science News includes expanded versions of articles from the magazine’s print edition plus two additional features, all commemorating the 200th anniversary of the birth of Charles Darwin.
"Darwin's Evolution" byTom Siegfried. Two centuries ago, modern biology’s founding father was born in England. He became the most celebrated scientist of his time, deciphering the records of life’s history from creatures extinct and living and thereby explaining the genesis of life’s diversity.
"Evolution's Evolution" by Rachel Ehrenberg. Darwin's dangerous idea has adapted to modern biology.
"Molecular Evolution" by Tina Hesman Saey. Investigating the genetic books of life reveals new details of ‘descent with modification’ and the forces driving it.
"Step-by-Step Evolution" by Sid Perkins. Mining the gaps: The in-between fossils are the hardest to find, but they tell the best stories.
"Computing Evolution" by Patrick Berry. An extensive look at the mathematics formulated around Darwin’s ‘Tree of Life,’ his essential diagram of evolution.
"A Most Private Evolution" by Susan Milius. Dumb designs for sex: Evolutionary biology walks on the weird side.
"When Darwin Got Sick of Feathers" by Susan Milius. The man who started evolutionary biology had some bad moments over a bird.
"Hitting the Redo Button on Evolution" by Tina Hesman Saey. Scientists are experimenting with bacteria to see if evolution plays out the same way every time.
"The Man Who Rocked Biology to its Core" by Tom Siegfried. Two hundred years later, Charles Darwin’s ideas still live on.
Evolution: Education and Outreach (since 2008)
This is a new quarterly journal, introduced January 2008, which aims to promote accurate understanding and comprehensive teaching of evolutionary theory for a wide audience. Targeting K-16 students, teachers and scientists alike, the journal presents articles to aid members of these communities in the teaching of evolutionary theory.
The editors are a father-and-son team, Niles Eldredge, Division of Paleontology, The American Museum of Natural History, and Gregory Eldredge, John F. Kennedy High School, Bronx, New York. Here's their opening editorial.
The publisher (Springer) has made the first several issues available full-text on-line. Below we highlight a couple special issues.
The sixth issue (Vol 2, No 2; June 2009) of Evolution: Education and Outreach features transitional fossils. The table of contents is posted here. Below is the introductory editorial.
We at Evolution: Education and Outreach continue to celebrate the 200th birthday of Charles Darwin, as well as the 150th anniversary of the publication of his epochal On the Origin of Species, with the publication of this issue on transitional fossils, edited by paleontologist Don Prothero. Darwin had had an ambivalent relationship with paleontology—first using fossils to come to his earliest ideas on evolution (“transmutation”—see the “Editor’s Corner” of the present issue). But, by the time he published the Origin, Darwin had come to see the fossil record as an embarrassment—so incomplete, so lacking in evidence of transitional forms (with rare exceptions) that it was a hindrance—not at all helpful for establishing his evolutionary views. Darwin devoted an entire chapter in the Origin to the “..Imperfections of the Geological Record.”
Yet, when we ask ourselves, as many have been doing in this anniversary year, what do we know now that Darwin did not know?, the answer includes a vastly more detailed and comprehensive knowledge of the fossil record of the history of life. We now have a stunning array of fossil sequences documenting the stage-by-stage transition from one group to another; this issue is the “handy-dandy” guide to many of the most powerful examples of evolutionary sequences thus far discovered in the fossil record. As with our recent issue on the evolution of complexity, “focused” on the evolution of eyes, this current compilation of “transitional fossils” is destined to become an “instant classic”—the source that teachers and evolutionary biologists will turn to time and again.
We are proud to announce that Evolution: Education and Outreach has recently received Honorable Mention in the category Journal/Social Sciences and Humanities from the Association of American Publishers PROSE Awards. This is high praise and welcome recognition of our early success in achieving our goal: to bring the professional evolutionary scientific research community into closer and more productive touch with K-16 teaching. This award strengthens our resolve as we move forward towards new heights!
The Evolution of Eyes
The fourth issue (Vol 1, No 4; October 2008) features the evolution of eyes. Below is an excerpt from the opening editorial by T. Ryan Gregory.
Not long ago within the scope of human history, the complexity of intricate organs such as eyes seemed overwhelming—miraculous, even. The precise mechanisms by which such structures carry out their roles seemed inexplicable, and no alternative but divine creation could be seriously proposed to account for their origin (Paley 1802). Nevertheless, the determined efforts of countless scientists have revealed a great deal regarding the form, function, diversity, and origin of eyes. In particular, recent generations of researchers wielding an impressive array of genetic, molecular, and other tools have refined our understanding of eyes and other complex biological structures to a level that would have been unimaginable only decades ago. This special issue of Evolution: Education and Outreach is a celebration of these achievements.
The basic framework for a natural explanation for the origin of eyes was assembled 150 years ago by Charles Darwin (1859). Darwin suggested that eyes, like other biological features, are the product, not of miracles, but of history. According to Darwin, the gradual evolution of what he called “organs of extreme perfection and complication” could be accounted for by the non-random preservation and accumulation of slight, beneficial chance modifications—that is, by natural selection acting on the variation generated by mutations. Drawing on what was, for the time, an impressive knowledge of biological diversity, Darwin presented his case for the gradual evolution of complex organs like the eyes currently reading this introduction (and, one would hope, about to read the other articles in this special issue).
Darwin did not succeed as well as he might have liked on this front. His friend, the prominent American botanist Asa Gray, wrote to Darwin in January 1860 that “what seems to me the weakest point in the book is the attempt to account for the formation of organs,—the making of eyes, &c by natural selection.” Darwin concurred in his response written the following month: “About weak points I agree. The eye to this day gives me a cold shudder, but when I think of the fine known gradations, my reason tells me I ought to conquer the cold shudder.”1 In any case, 150 years of empirical and conceptual advances have made the nineteenth century information upon which Darwin built his case seem trivial by comparison. Indeed, as the papers in this special issue demonstrate, our current understanding of eye evolution has moved far beyond the simple beginnings laid down by Darwin.
The rest of the article
In their article "Misconceptions About the Evolution of Complexity," Andrew J. Petto and Louise S. Mead take the vertebrate eye as their example, since "the complexity of vertebrate eyes is a common antievolution argument." In the abstract, they summarize, "Despite data and theory from comparative anatomy, embryology, molecular biology, genomics, and evolutionary developmental biology, antievolutionists continue to present the eye as an example of a structure too complex to have evolved. They stress what we have yet to explain about the development and evolution of eyes and present incomplete information as evidence that evolution is a 'theory in crisis.' An examination of the evidence, however, particularly evidence that has accumulated in the twentieth and twenty-first centuries, refutes antievolutionists' claims. The distribution of eyes in extant organisms, combined with what we now know about the control of eye development across diverse groups of organisms, provides significant evidence for the evolution of all major components of the eye, from molecular to morphological, and provides an excellent test of predictions based on common ancestry."
EvoS Journal (Nov 2009)
The first issue of EvoS Journal: The Journal of the Evolutionary Studies Consortium — a new open-access on-line peer-reviewed journal designed to promote the education of evolutionary theory in colleges and universities — is now available. The journal is published by the Evolutionary Studies Consortium, of which NCSE is a member institution. The consortium seeks to "facilitate the development and implementation of Evolutionary Studies Programs at colleges and universities across the United States"; the original model for such programs is David Sloan Wilson's Evolutionary Studies Program at Binghamton University.
Correspondingly, EvoS Journal seeks to "publish peer-reviewed articles related to evolutionary theory in higher education" as well as to "publish undergraduate peer-reviewed publications that have arisen from courses offered through Evolutionary Studies Programs." In their editorial introduction to the first issue, Rosemarie Sokol Chang, Glenn Geher, Jennifer Waldo, and David Sloan Wilson write (PDF), "The contents of EvoS Journal will be doubly exhilarating. First, there is the exhilaration of expanding evolutionary theory throughout and beyond the biological sciences, including all aspects of humanity. Second, there is the exhilaration of incorporating this expansion into higher education and public life. We look forward to your participation, as readers and contributors."
Origins, Science's Evolution Blog
ScienceNOW Daily News, 9 January 2009
If Charles Darwin had had a laptop, he probably would have been a blogger--so eager was his desire to disseminate and discuss his ideas with the world. In this spirit, Science yesterday launched a new blog, Origins. Via weekly posts, our writers and editors, as well as guest researchers and blog readers, will share their thoughts, not just about the origin of species but also about key nodes throughout the evolution of life, just as Darwin did. Our bloggers will be introducing the people and processes behind the research, as well as other "Origins" themes.
Talk.origins is a Usenet newsgroup devoted to the discussion and debate of biological and physical origins. Most discussions in the newsgroup center on the creation/evolution controversy, but other topics of discussion include the origin of life, geology, biology, catastrophism, cosmology and theology.
Douglas Theobald (PhD, University of Colorado, Boulder), Assistant Professor of Biochemistry, Brandeis University Biosketch
Evolution, the overarching concept that unifies the biological sciences, in fact embraces a plurality of theories and hypotheses. In evolutionary debates one is apt to hear evolution roughly parceled between the terms "microevolution" and "macroevolution". Microevolution, or change beneath the species level, may be thought of as relatively small scale change in the functional and genetic constituencies of populations of organisms. That this occurs and has been observed is generally undisputed by critics of evolution. What is vigorously challenged, however, is macroevolution. Macroevolution is evolution on the "grand scale" resulting in the origin of higher taxa. In evolutionary theory it thus entails common ancestry, descent with modification, speciation, the genealogical relatedness of all life, transformation of species, and large scale functional and structural changes of populations through time, all at or above the species level (Freeman and Herron 2004; Futuyma 1998; Ridley 1993).
Common descent is a general descriptive theory that concerns the genetic origins of living organisms (though not the ultimate origin of life). The theory specifically postulates that all of the earth's known biota are genealogically related, much in the same way that siblings or cousins are related to one another. Thus, macroevolutionary history and processes necessarily entail the transformation of one species into another and, consequently, the origin of higher taxa. Because it is so well supported scientifically, common descent is often called the "fact of evolution" by biologists. For these reasons, proponents of special creation are especially hostile to the macroevolutionary foundation of the biological sciences.
The Full-text: "29+ Evidences for Macroevolution: The Scientific Case for Common Descent." The Talk.Origins Archive. Vers. 2.83. 2004. 12 Jan, 2004.
This article directly addresses the scientific evidence in favor of common descent and macroevolution. This article is specifically intended for those who are scientifically minded but, for one reason or another, have come to believe that macroevolutionary theory explains little, makes few or no testable predictions, is unfalsifiable, or has not been scientifically demonstrated.
PBS Website for the Series Evolution (2001)
Evolution plays a critical role in our daily lives, yet it is one of the most overlooked principles of life. It is the mechanism that determines who lives, who dies, and who gets the opportunity to pass traits on to the next generation, and the next, and the next ...
The Evolution project is a seven-part, eight-hour television broadcast series, an extensive Web site, a far-reaching educational outreach initiative, and a HarperCollins companion book by acclaimed science writer Carl Zimmer.
Evolution, which premiered on PBS September 24 - 27, 2001, travels around the world to examine evolutionary science and the profound effect it has had on society and culture. From the genius and torment of Charles Darwin to the vast changes that spawned the tree of life, from the role of mass extinctions in the survival of species to the power of sex to drive evolutionary change, Evolution is fascinating and far-reaching in scope. The series also explores the emergence of consciousness, the success of humans, and the perceived conflict between science and religion in understanding human life.
The Evolution project's goals are to heighten understanding of evolution and how it works, to dispel common misunderstandings, to illuminate why it is relevant to our lives, to improve its teaching, to encourage a national dialogue, and to prompt participation in all aspects of the project.
This content-rich, interactive Web site with streaming imagery, animations, simulations, dynamic timelines, conversations with experts, current news bulletins, and extensive links to evolution-related learning resources worldwide.
Resources for learning: The Evolution project offers a comprehensive array of free educational and professional development resources to expand student understanding of evolution and the nature of science. Resources for Teachers and for Highschool Students
The excellent companion book by Carl Zimmer is highlighted below.
A Response to Creationist Misinformation about the PBS Series Evolution
The National Center for Science Education writes:
Creationist organizations such as Answers in Genesis (AiG) and the Discovery Institute began publishing criticisms of the landmark PBS series Evolution even before it began to air. On August 31, 2001, AiG kicked off their campaign with an articled headlined "PBS – Pushing Bad Science." The Discovery Institute joined the fray on September 10, issuing the first in a series of press releases criticizing Evolution. The creationists’ rhetoric reached a low point on October 14, when the Institute for Creation Research published an article on its web site comparing the series to the terrorist attacks of September 11.
Throughout the misinformation campaign, the National Center for Science Education (NCSE) responded to many of the creationists’ press releases and articles. With their publicity machines at full steam, and the slanders against the series coming from far more angles than just the ones mentioned above, there was simply no way to answer all of them. Nevertheless, the information contained here counters the most important claims made by the creationists. (The Chronology of Events section contains a detailed listing of many of the different creationist and creationist sympathetic organizations that published critiques of the series.)
The DI is currently distributing its own study guide to the series, Getting the Facts Straight, which repeats many of the errors and misrepresentations contained in the DI’s press releases and articles, with the purpose of influencing teachers, parents, and students to reject many of the mainstream scientific views presented in the
In order to counter that effort, and to survey the overall creationist reaction, NCSE has compiled this document with the goal of Setting the Record Straight. Parents, teachers, and students are encouraged to compare the accuracy of the information contained herein with the publications of the various creationist groups.
Also presented in this document is the NCSE Congregational Study Guide, a guide to help congregations discuss ideas presented in the series.
Video Lectures on Darwin and Evolution
Our information page on Darwin's Bicentenary celebration includes links to events across the globe, as well as to lecture series from some of these events that are available as online videos.