Evolution: What Every Teenager Should Know

evolution-cover-craigEvolution remains a controversial subject in our society. There are many millions of religious families who regard evolution with a degree of skepticism, bordering on suspicions of subversion. But even educated nonreligious parents are far more likely to expose their children to church teachings than ensure that their fifteen year old can explain natural selection. Although there are many books available to adults that explain evolution in accessible terms, and also a few picture books aimed at a young audience, there are no books on the market pitched at teenagers and young adults. This is a demographic eager to learn and open to new ideas, including those that conflict with the conventional wisdom.
Evolution: What Every Teenage Should Know grew out of conversations with my teenage son Adam over the past year. The book is organized around a dozen key questions about evolution. Each chapter begins with a question about evolution: is it a fact or a theory, how it works, whether it conflicts with religious belief. I answer each question, and in doing so hope to lay to rest some of the lingering doubts about the factual basis of evolution.

Table of Contents

Chapter 1: Is Evolution a Fact or a Theory?
Chapter 2: How does evolution work? What evidence convinced Darwin that evolution is real?
Chapter 3: What’s the harm in teaching both evolution and creation beliefs together in my science class? Can I accept that evolution is real but still believe in God?
Chapter 4: Is there always progress in evolution?
Chapter 5: How does one species evolve into another? What exactly is a species?
Chapter 6: If we evolved from monkeys and apes, why do apes still exist? Will apes evolve into more human-like species someday?
Chapter 7: Why is the fossil record so incomplete and full of gaps, and where is the missing link?
Chapter 8: Why do some species live many millions of years, and others go extinct?
Chapter 9: Are we still evolving?
Chapter 10: The evolution of teenagers


From the Preface

Evolution: What Every Teenager Should Know

In the early 21st century, we shouldn’t need to debate the fact that humans evolved from ancient apes. This book is necessary because there are many millions of Americans who still choose to live in denial of evolution. Every Fall, when I teach a large undergraduate lecture course at the University of Southern California on human origins, I ask the students on the first day of class, “How many of you believe in evolution?” More than ninety-five per cent raise their hands. This is cosmopolitan Los Angeles; most of the students come from educated families and privileged backgrounds. The response would be quite different if I took the poll in the rural Midwest or the Deep South. Opinion polls show many millions of Americans whobelieve that humans and dinosaurs once shared the Earth, and who want religious beliefs taught in public school science classrooms. But my question to the students is a trick question. Evolution is not belief; it’s a reality. If you want to live in denial of evolution, you’re in the same category as people who choose to deny the reality of the Holocaust or the moon landings. Evolution is an historical science, a tool for reconstructing the ancient past, including our own human past. Denying it makes about as much sense as saying that George Washington was just a mythical figure.

American political leaders unfortunately reinforce a denial of evolution, most likely in order not to alienate large segments of their supporters. Several of the 2012 Republican candidates for president vehemently denied the certainty of evolution, along with other related rejections of science, such as global climate change. Even President Obama stated that the Earth was created in six days, although he acknowledged that this might be a metaphor used in the bible to refer to six much longer units of time. We know that certain segments of America aren’t going to change their minds about evolution based on one book. But younger people are far more likely to explore and embrace ideas, even ones they were raised to reject. If some younger Americans are persaded to think for themselves about science and reality with the help of this book, I will feel that our effort was very worthwhile.

Evolution: What Every Teenager Should Know is organized as a series of commonly asked questions about evolution. These are actual questions that Adam was asked by his classmates, and I kept notes about them as I began to plan the book. Each question is a prompt for a concise, fact-filled explanation of how evolution works. I don’t shy away from the potential conflicts between evolutionary science and religion, and I tackle some of the thorniest questions that doubters ask. I encourage you to use this book as a conversation starter with your parents, your friends, your classmates and your teachers. That should be the purpose of any provocative book. I also hope you enjoy reading it, and will see that evolution should not be controversial, should not be avoided, and should be an accepted understanding of the world around us, as well as a major part of the science curriculum in every high school in America, public or private.