evolution

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More Americans are coming to accept Charles Darwin's "dangerous idea" of evolution, according to thirty years' worth of national surveys.

Researchers have found that public acceptance of biological evolution has increased substantially in the last decade alone, following twenty years of relative stagnancy.

Between 1985 and 2010, roughly 40 percent of surveyed adults in the US agreed that "human beings, as we know them today, developed from earlier species of animals". Taking into account the small number of fence-sitters, this suggests much of the nation was evenly divided on the theory.

By 2016, that percentage had, at last, become a majority, reaching 54 percent.

As it turns out, education has played a crucial role in that shift. When researchers began to analyze the demographics of survey respondents over the past thirty years, they noticed the completion of one or more college science courses was the strongest predictor of evolution acceptance.

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In 2016, a family in Illinois thought that a meteorite had hit their backyard. They called up the geology department at nearby Wheaton College to say that whatever struck their property had started a small fire and had left a weird rock embedded in the scorched dirt.

"Meteorites, contrary to popular belief, are cold when they hit the ground," says Benjamin Hess, who was an undergraduate at the college but is now a graduate student at Yale University. "My professor readily figured out that that was probably a lightning strike."

When lightning strikes sand, soil or stone, it immediately melts the materials into a glassy clump known as a fulgurite, or lightning rock. When geologists excavated the fulgurite in Illinois, they found something unexpected inside — an important ingredient for life that had long been thought to be delivered to early Earth by meteorites.

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The long evolutionary journey that created modern humans began with a single step—or more accurately—with the ability to walk on two legs. One of our earliest-known ancestors, Sahelanthropus, began the slow transition from ape-like movement some six million years ago, but Homo sapiens wouldn’t show up for more than five million years. During that long interim, a menagerie of different human species lived, evolved and died out, intermingling and sometimes interbreeding along the way. As time went on, their bodies changed, as did their brains and their ability to think, as seen in their tools and technologies.

To understand how Homo sapiens eventually evolved from these older lineages of hominins, the group including modern humans and our closest extinct relatives and ancestors, scientists are unearthing ancient bones and stone tools, digging into our genes and recreating the changing environments that helped shape our ancestors’ world and guide their evolution.

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