Two microbiologists, two philosophers of science and a technical writer present for students a concise introduction to the cases, both pro and con, regarding major aspects of neo-Darwinian evolutionary theory.
Within the evolutionary-biology realm, the authors explore how Darwin’s theories of natural selection and universal common descent are faring these days. They use an inquiry-based approach: point, counterpoint. The book’s brevity precludes extended treatment of topics, but through succinct language and extensive use of illustrated sidebars and summary boxes, an impressive amount of terrain is covered in a colorful and lively fashion. The role of the fossil record, biogeography and anatomical, molecular and embryonic similarities are rolled out to buttress the theory of universal common descent. Counterclaims follow that seek to undermine the earlier conclusions, including the circular reasoning of the molecular clock, the potential fabrications of Haeckel’s â€œontogeny recapitulates phylogeny,” how differing family trees are created via anatomical and molecular patterns of relationships and the meaning of gaps in fossil evidence. They move on to probe how the evidence squares with theories of variation, heritability and differential reproduction; that is, the creative power of natural selection. Challenges to examples of artificial selection and microevolution–namely, the â€œbeak of the finch” and the â€œpeppered moth” classics–take them apart without necessarily dismissing the theories writ large. The same can be said for natural selection as a whole, from disagreements that impugn the validity of co-option in forming complex organisms, or the importance of mutation in producing fundamentally new life forms. Still, in the end, it is Darwinism that raises the interesting questions, which is what good science is all about.
Substantive food for thought about natural selection and universal common descent, and surprisingly rich for so concise a treatment.