20 February 2018 16:08

Douglas Futuyma: Modern science and biology is a part of evolution

Evolutionary Biologist Douglas Futuyma spoke to Evrensel Daily: 'If you do not teach the evolution, you do not teach biology either'



Douglas Joel Futuyma, professor of ecology and evolution at New York State University, participated in the Aykut Kence Evolution Conference in METU on 10-11 February. He answered Evrensel Daily's questions and warned: You can not teach modern biology if you do not teach the evolution.

Maybe you have heard that in the curriculum of high schools in Turkey the topics related to evolutionary biology will not be included anymore? How do you consider that?

I consider that very unfortunate. As I said in my talk, evolution really is the most important framework for thinking about biology about every aspect of animals, plants, bacteria and humans. In every aspect of the framework study of the genome of genes or molecular biology, biochemistry, physiology, anatomy, health, cancer. All of these aspects are informed by evolution. There are people doing research on cancer as an evolutionary phenomenon. 

They're people doing many aspects of studying human health and disease from an evolutionary point of view. Understanding the causes of this. It is really important that understand the disease organisms, harmful bacteria and viruses evolved, so we must understand that process of evolution in order to prevent it from becoming more harmful. It's the same with if you are growing vegetables if you are growing crops, you have the same issue in that evolutionary changes in the insects reject the plants in the diseases the fungi that rejects the plants. The evolutionary changes becoming resistant to chemicals we use to control the pests. There are so many ways in which evolution is very important for human society and certainly very important for understanding how the human body functions and all the organisms which we share this earth.

What do you think about possible effects of not teaching evolution for high school students?

Well again so I think that if you do not teach people about evolution. There are two, I think two, aspects that are important. Number one, they'll fail to understand some aspects that are very important about human variation - how different people are from one another and what that means? How to interpret that why that is important? They'll not understand certain aspects of diseases. They should understand these things that I just talked about. They'll not, students will not understand. Number two and maybe even more important. If you don't teach evolution, then you're not teaching modern biology. You're not teaching how the science actually is done and what science has to say. And what that means is, you're diminishing respect for science as a source of knowledge and understanding. You're saying 'I don't care about science', 'I'm just not going to listen what the scientist are saying'. I think that's very dangerous. Because science is the best process we have; so far we are not invented anything better than science for understanding how thinks happens in the world and why they happen.
And science is the best process we have for the way achieving some understanding of the truth. You know in my country, now we have a problem with some of our political leaders. The basic way they don't care about the truth. They say this is fake news, this is whatever they have no respect for evidence. And I think one of the most important aspects of the education of teaching students is asking always the question 'what is the evidence'. Now, you're telling me something should I believe this or not. I should ask you: 'What is your evidence? What makes you think that it is true or false?' And science always teaches you to ask ''what is the evidence?''. 'Why should I believe this comparing to something else?' So, understanding this from a scientific point of view is extremely important as a part of everyone’s education. Evolution is just one aspect of teaching people how to think scientifically.

And lastly, what do you think about Aykut Kence Evolution Conference in such a current situation? 

I'm so happy to see what the students here have done to organising this conference and I'm so impressed. There so many people here, maybe 800 people will be coming today and Saturday. They could playing ball, having fun and instead, they are so interested to know about biology, to know about evolution. I think this shows that the students and people are thinking and want to know. Really. What is science saying about humans, about health and every aspect of biology? They want to know, 'what is the modern science?' And I think this conference is so important. Students really want to know 'what is happening in modern science'. And modern science and biology is a part of the evolution.