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by Jerry A. Coyne

Pub Date: Jan. 26th, 2009
ISBN: 978-0-670-02053-9
Publisher: Viking

Coyne (Ecology and Evolution/Univ. of Chicago) patiently explains that the “theory” of evolution is neither open to question, nor one of several alternative theories.

Indeed, he writes, the accumulation of fossil finds, the use of molecular genetics to establish kinships and estimate the years since species shared a common ancestor, as well as the existence of intermediate forms (between reptiles and birds for example) are all neatly laid out. So, too, are the atavisms (like tails in humans) reminding us that we carry remnants of our past in our genes. Nor are species perfect, as presumably an Intelligent Designer would fashion them to be. Numerous examples—including the male urethra running through the prostate gland and the narrow female pelvis that enables bipedal walking but also inflicts great pain during the birth of our big-headed babies—demonstrate how nature compromises, configuring new features but making do with parts at hand. Coyne discusses natural selection as the engine of evolution, but also mentions genetic drift, whereby random changes can occur in gene frequencies over time in a small, isolated population. Sex also drives evolution, as Coyne illustrates with many examples of male competition and female choice. The abundant evidence provided makes this an apt primer for high-school biology teachers. But there’s more here than that. The closing chapters address what is the real issue for anti-evolutionists: the fear that subscribing to Darwin’s ideas reduces humans to materialist beasts lacking “moral values.” You can’t derive meaning, purpose or ethics from evolution, Coyne responds, taking to task those extreme determinists who look for evolutionary adaptations in every bit of human behavior. The study of nature may be a spiritual experience, he acknowledges, citing scientists like Einstein who found it so, but evolution is neither moral nor immoral. It just is.

Richly detailed evidence to counter the Intelligent Design argument.