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Book Review - Why Evolution Is True

I've just finished reading Jerry Coyne's book, Why Evolution Is True. This is one of my new favorites for introducing evolution to people who don't currently understand or accept it. It contains a great balance of theory and evidence, or in other words, explaining how evolution works, as well as showing the evidence of how we know that.

The book covered a wide range of topics, and did it well while keeping the book to a manageable length. It started with an explanation of what evolution actually is. This was a pretty important chapter, given how much many people misunderstand evolution. He then moved on to fossil evidence for evolution, followed by discussion of vestigial organs, embryological evidence, evidence from poor 'design', and biogeographical evidence. Following all that was a discussion of natural selection and sexual selection, and then a discussion of speciation. The penultimate chapter focused on recent human evolution (recent as in after the chimp & bonobo lineage diverged from ours). Finally was a chapter to wrap it all up, which also discussed what some people believe to be implications of evolution (i.e. if it says we're just animals, why not act like animals). Of course, by covering such a broad range of topics, Coyne couldn't delve too deeply into any single one, but I think it was very good for an introductory book.

Why Evolution Is True was written not just to explain evolution, but also as a counter to creationism. In many places, he pointed out why evolution was a more reasonable explanation to certain pieces of evidence than creationism. When I read Richard Dawkins' book, The Greatest Show on Earth, I'd mentioned that he hammered too hard on creationists, and that it was a bit of a distraction. In contrast, Coyne seemed to spend just enough time discussing creationism without it becoming too distracting from the far more interesting story of evolution itself.

Coyne was also very balanced in his discussions of controversial areas, or areas where the evidence isn't conclusive. For example, in the discussion of sexual selection, he mentioned both the good genes hypothesis and the perceptual bias hypothesis, as well as studies that provided evidence for both.

In short, this book is a great introduction to people who don't understand evolution. Donald Prothero's Evolution: What the Fossils Say and Why It Matters may have a more detailed discussion of the fossil evidence, and Carl Zimmer's The Tangled Bank may have a more detailed discussion of the mechanisms, but Coyne's book has just the right balance of theory and evidence, especially evidence from a broad range of disciplines.

For a great review from Amazon, go here.

Updated 2011-11-02 Fixed link to Zimmer's The Tangled Bank.


During Darwin's time science was at war with religion and had a bee up its butt in terms of wanting to 'stick it ' to God. So the scientists of the day could hardly be described as objective in their views and opinions as they carefully cratfed a theory of evolution that intentionally left God on the outside looking in.

Not good enough. It's like me saying that house which functions beautifully was built without any thought put into it whatseover. I know this because I have never seen a 'thought', so thoughts cannot exist.

One must take evolution with a grain of salt considering the bias inherent within it.

Twinkledorp Peabody IV

Of course, Jeff, this comment brings us back to the old "if God designed everything then who designed the designer" argument. Even though people like him can't answer that one, you'll never win with the notion that a designer isn't needed and that life designs itself without help. It might need a generation or two before most people will accept that things just "happened" without the conscious reason and will of a higher being, just as it might take many generations before many people in the arabic-speaking world see the insult to their "creator" that is inherent in the belief that He wasn't capable of speakiing to all people in their own languages, but spoke through Allah in arabic only, and to add further insult, not since the 700's AD. If you grow up brainwashed, it is hard to clear the mind.

Important FAQs about Evolution - Fighting the Status Quo here:http://nature-sucks.blogspot.com/

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