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Founding History

The Evolution Institute’s Founding


After retiring from the University of South Florida in 2002 as director of the endowed Jim Walter Partnership Center he founded, Jerry Lieberman served as elected president of the Humanists of Florida Association, an affiliate of the American Humanist Association. During his eight-year tenure, he worked with the board to give voice to Humanist values and led an initiative to create a think tank based on evolutionary science.

Jerry discussed his goal with American Humanist Association officers in Washington, DC, and one suggested he contact David Sloan Wilson, author of Evolution for Everyone (Delacorte Press, 2007) and Distinguished Professor Emeritus of Biological Sciences and Anthropology at Binghamton University in upstate NY, which he did and received an invitation to visit and discuss the idea. Both were keen on possibilities of cultural evolution and agreed to organize a “proof-of-concept” workshop in November 2008 at the University of Miami. Evolutionary scholars from an array of academic disciplines convened to explore what’s known about early childhood learning from hunter-gatherer societies to the present. The product was a multi-coauthored article entitled “Ten Simple Truths,” which was shared with the Florida Department of Education and a host of policymakers and educators.

As a nonprofit, the Humanists of Florida Association sponsored the Miami workshop and a second event that a participant offered to host the following year at the University of Arizona to explore Risky Adolescent Behavior with a variety of evolutionary theorists. The proof of concept in Miami was deemed a well-founded success, and plans began for spinning off The Evolution Institute (EI) as an independent nonprofit.

EI’s Articles of Incorporation from 2010 state, “The Corporation is organized exclusively for such charitable, educational, literary, or scientific purposes” and “is specifically organized to develop a scientific institute, based on evolutionary theory and relevant to the public welfare that will educate the general public.” In October 2020, the board revisited EI’s mission and vision, and adopted as its mission:

Apply science-based solutions and use evidence-based best practices to solve today’s most pressing social issues to improve quality of life. With many of our proof-of-concept programs focused on marginalized neighborhoods in west Florida, our aim is to develop innovative yet practical approaches that are replicable, scalable, and adaptable to specific needs and opportunities of communities around the world to positively affect societal problems and serve the needs and aspirations of its members for the public benefit of all.

. . . Our vision is to apply research, knowledge, and expertise in order to elevate quality of life, advance social justice and human equality, and add value to issues affecting humanity for the benefit all people.

We contend that it is helpful to provide context and details on what constitutes quality of life, as it is a central concept for EI’s entire work. We find the United Nations Human Development Index most helpful in this regard because there is broad international consensus regarding its validity as a metric to rate nations on how well they provide their populace a high quality of life. The metric, created to emphasize that people and their capabilities should be the ultimate criteria for assessing the development of a country, not economic growth alone, measures health, education, and standard of living. Consequently, the EI has chosen to maximize its knowledge of places in the world where people have the highest quality of life and intentionally has established direct contact and built sustainable, mutually beneficial relationships in those places.

The UN, in addition to developing the Human Development Index, has agreed upon a 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development with a wide-ranging set of 17 Sustainable Development Goals (UN-DES, 2022). Among these are no poverty; good health and well-being; quality education; decent work and economic growth; and partnerships for the goals. The vision of the Sustainable Development framework is to encourage every country to assume responsibility for planning and providing better outcomes for future generations, resulting in maximizing social justice and creating a healthy environment and economic viability for the population of the globe. However, the Agenda for Sustainable Development and its goal in providing a framework do not offer a pathway, which is EI’s intent through its work locally that is informed by partnerships in Norway and the Basque region of Spain.

To see a historical overview of EI’s participation in workshops from inception to 2023, click here.