Book Review: Jerry A. Coyne’s “Why Evolution Is True”

Posted by on May 5, 2011 at 4:15 pm

Evolution, the scientific explanation for how all life on the Earth came about, is easily the most contentious of all things scientific. People can live with science’s explanation of how computers and microwaves work, how stars are birthed, live and die through snapshots, or how candy tastes yummy, but as soon as someone tries to explain that humans and modern apes came from a common ancestor that lived millions of years ago, all hell must break loose. Growing up, I lived by the Bible, so it didn’t really matter what that “theory” said, it didn’t even matter what facts were involved, the reality is that I didn’t want to believe it.

Evolution is the modern “Round Earth” theory. It doesn’t matter how many times you verify it, if I look out, I don’t see round, I see flat. Among industrialized nations, the United States ranks as the highest in denying evolution as a form of biological origin. Instead, many rely on an array of Creationist explanations about how humans are derived directly from God and everything else was created by a divine brush all within a few days. As such, Why Evolution Is True opens on the defensive, coming off as slightly condescending if you’ve had a Creationist background. But Coyne understands your pain, easing you into evolutionary theory by first defining it, then spending the rest of the book thoroughly explaining why it’s the only possible reasoning as to how we all came about.

The Creationist argument against Evolution, he explains, isn’t really an argument at all, but rather the attempt to discredit the whole thing by highlighting gaps in scientific knowledge (like abiogenesis, the spontaneous creation of life, something the book skims over), but with the (relatively) recent discovery of genomic mapping, these arguments become less sturdy. Reading a bit like a top ten list, Coyne goes through the most common reasons why people doubt the science. Citing a variety of studies done over the past several hundred years with clever illustrations along the way, by the end of this book you’re left wondering why you didn’t think about it a little harder. How is dog breeding possible? Natural selection. How does the rhinovirus (responsible for the common cold) keep affecting us year after year? That same natural selection.

When you realize that 99% of all species that ever existed are no longer with us, it makes sense these gradual changes to our DNA over billions of years produce a lot of losers. We’re just the ones that made it. For a lot of people, realizing that our origin isn’t all that special is Earth-shattering. Coyne says we should live with it and be better people as a result. I’m inclined to agree.

9/10 FleshEatingZipper

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