Reflecting on evolution as the “foundation” of biology reminded me of my teaching days in grad school. I’ve had to teach Maxwell’s Equations several times. In the classes I taught at least, it would have been borderline deranged to reduce them to quantum electrodynamics. (Let’s leave aside the fact that I didn’t really know QED.) Good teaching often requires obscuring underlying theories and principles.
I question the implicit assumption that knowing underlying principles is the best way to understand something. Even more strongly, I question whether understanding, as opposed to practical application, is the outcome that matters. Knowledge and understanding by themselves don’t automatically lead to anything useful. Conversely, history is rife with examples where technology advanced even though no one could explain why. Some of the most talented engineers I’ve known did not care a bit about the underlying physics.
Which brings me back to evolution. I can accept that you won’t really “understand” biology if you don’t learn evolution. Yeah I know I just said evolution is not the foundation of biology. And I stand by that statement. But evolution is very important, and you’d understand less if you didn’t know about it. I’m just not convinced that “understanding” biology should be something we care about when we teach biology. No one has explained to me why we teach evolution in the first place. What are our teaching goals here?