Thursday, December 2, 2010

Why Evolution Is True

I find biology and evolution to be a very interesting topic, particularly as it relates to the epic Creation vs. Evolution debate. I've read enough about it over the past few years to consider myself pretty well-versed in the topic, almost to the point that I didn't expect to find many things in this book that I hadn't heard before.

But I turned out to be very wrong about that last part. In addition to laying out a start-to-finish argument for why evolution is true, drawing from numerous branches of science, what Jerry Coyne really provides in this book is detail. There are illustrations of fossils, various charts and diagrams -- and he manages to include all these while also creating an extremely readable, engaging work of nonfiction.

I think it was the fascinating little examples he provided that I enjoyed the most. For instance, since evolution predicts that truly monogamous species will show less sexual dimorphism than non-monogamous ones, you can tell whether bird species truly pair bond (as opposed to sham pair bonding laced with adultery) by whether the males and females look alike. I find myself thinking about this every time I see ducks and geese now.

Also, I especially liked this bit at the end:

Human beings may be only one small twig on the vast branching tree of evolution, but we're a very special animal. As natural selection forged our brains, it opened up for us whole new worlds. We have learned how to improve our lives immeasurably over those of our ancestors, who were plagued with disease, discomfort, and a constant search for food. We can fly above the tallest mountains, dive deep below the sea, and even travel to other planets. We make symphonies, poems, and books to fulfill our aesthetic passions and emotional needs. No other species has accomplished anything remotely similar.

But there is something even more wondrous. We are the one creature to whom natural selection has bequeathed a brain complex enough to comprehend the laws that govern the universe. And we should be proud that we are the only species that has figured out how we came to be.

I thought there was something moving about this passage, and especially that last sentence. It boggles my mind, sometimes, when I think about how many billions of years evolution has taken to work its wonders -- and there's something charmingly recursive about the fact that it finally produced something that can discover and understand how that process went.

Although I came to this book armed with some degree of knowledge about evolution, I suspect it would be just as accessible to a complete newcomer to the topic. I would particularly recommend this book to those who reject evolution, mainly because I've noticed that the vast majority of them seem to be badly confused about what the theory actually says, and the scope of the evidence supporting it. (If nothing else, reading this book should at least give them a clearer idea what they're arguing against.)

Why Evolution Is True
by Jerry Coyne
My Rating: 5 out of 5

2 comments:

  1. This sounds really interesting and it's a topic I feel stupid for not knowing much about it. I'll have to give a read soon! Thanks for the recommendation!

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  2. Hi! Thanks for the comment -- it really is fascinating, and this book is definitely one of the best I know of for jumping right in to the topic.

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