Why Evolution Is True

Why Evolution Is True

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by Jerry A. Coyne
     
 

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"Coyne's knowledge of evolutionary biology is prodigious, his deployment of it as masterful as his touch is light." -Richard Dawkins

In the current debate about creationism and intelligent design, there is an element of the controversy that is rarely mentioned-the evidence. Yet the proof of evolution by natural selection is vast, varied, and magnificent. In

Overview

"Coyne's knowledge of evolutionary biology is prodigious, his deployment of it as masterful as his touch is light." -Richard Dawkins

In the current debate about creationism and intelligent design, there is an element of the controversy that is rarely mentioned-the evidence. Yet the proof of evolution by natural selection is vast, varied, and magnificent. In this succinct and accessible summary of the facts supporting the theory of natural selection, Jerry A. Coyne dispels common misunderstandings and fears about evolution and clearly confirms the scientific truth that supports this amazing process of change. Weaving together the many threads of modern work in genetics, paleontology, geology, molecular biology, and anatomy that demonstrate the "indelible stamp" of the processes first proposed by Darwin, Why Evolution Is True does not aim to prove creationism wrong. Rather, by using irrefutable evidence, it sets out to prove evolution right.

Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
"[Coyne] makes an unassailable case."
-New York Times

"In nine crisp chapters...the respected evolutionary biologist lays out an airtight case that Earth is unspeakably old and that new species evolve from previous ones."
-Boston Globe

"Coyne's book is the best general explication of evolution that I know of and deserves its success as a best seller."
-R.C. Lewontin, New York Review of Books

"I recommend that Mr. Coyne's insightful and withering assessment of evolutionary studies of human psychology and behavior be taped to the bathroom mirrors of all those (perhaps especially journalists) inclined to be swept into excited announcements of What Evolution Shows About Us."
-Philip Kitcher, Wall Street Journal

"With logic and clarity, Coyne presents the vast trove of scientific evidence that supports Darwin's theory."
-Cleveland Plain Dealer

"It's always a pleasure to tell people about a wonderful book, especially when the subject of the book is of universal and critical importance. Evolutionary geneticist Jerry A. Coyne has given us such a book...A book that may change the way you look at things-if you dare."
-The Huffington Post

"In this 200th anniversary year of Darwin's birth, Why Evolution is True ranks among the best new titles flooding bookstores."
-Christian Science Monitor

Thomas Hayden
For those who want to understand the evidence for evolution, Jerry A. Coyne's is a fine place to start.
—The Washington Post
Publishers Weekly

With great care, attention to the scientific evidence and a wonderfully accessible style, Coyne, an evolutionary geneticist at the University of Chicago, presents an overwhelming case for evolution. Ranging from biogeography to geology, from anatomy to genetics, and from molecular biology to physiology, he demonstrates that evolutionary theory makes predictions that are consistently borne out by the data-basic requirements for a scientific theory to be valid. Additionally, although fully respectful of those who promote intelligent design and creationism, he uses the data at his disposal to demolish any thought that creationism is supported by the evidence while also explaining why those ideas fall outside the bounds of science. Coyne directly addresses the concept often advanced by religious fundamentalists that an acceptance of evolution must lead to immorality, concluding that "evolution tells us where we came from, not where we can go." Readers looking to understand the case for evolution and searching for a response to many of the most common creationist claims should find everything they need in this powerful book, which is clearer and more comprehensive than the many others on the subject. Illus. (Jan. 26)

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Library Journal

November 2008 marks the 150th anniversary of the publication of Darwin's On the Origin of Species, and Coyne's (Univ. of Chicago) excellent volume offers a crystal clear presentation of the evidence for evolution with no polemics, unnecessary technicalities, or undue epistemological speculation. His prose is not fancy but compelling in its clarity. This is Coyne's first book for a general audience; he has been doing distinguished research on speciation for many years and has written magazine articles on evolution and related topics. The author brings his extensive knowledge of evolution to his writing but is spare with details of his own work, concentrating on explaining all the independent lines of evidence for evolution. These include the fossil record, vestigial organs, embryology, makeshift design, biogeography, direct and indirect observations of natural and sexual selection, and observations of speciation itself. He addresses the perennial counterarguments with effective dispatch without being insulting. Many recent writers, from Stephen Jay Gould and Richard Dawkins through Sean B. Carroll and Neil Shubin, have made wonderful contributions to the public understanding of evolution, but Coyne has done the best job of simply laying out the evidence. Highly recommended for all libraries.
—Walter L. Cressler

Kirkus Reviews
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 inevery 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.

Product Details

ISBN-13:
9780143116646
Publisher:
Penguin Publishing Group
Publication date:
01/26/2010
Edition description:
Reprint
Pages:
304
Sales rank:
187,277
Product dimensions:
5.40(w) x 8.30(h) x 0.80(d)
Age Range:
18 Years

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What People are saying about this

Carl Zimmer
"Evolution is the foundation of modern biology, and in 'Why Evolution Is True,' Jerry Coyne masterfully explains why. From the vast trove of evidence of evolution scientists have gathered, Coyne has carefully selected some of the most striking examples and explained them with equal parts grace and authority."--(Carl Zimmer, author of Microcosm: E. coli and the New Science of Life)
From the Publisher
"Its ignorant opponents like to say that the process of evolution by natural selection is 'only a theory'. (That's how they prove their ignorance.) Jerry Coyne shows with elegance and rigor that it is a hypothesis that meets and withstands all tests, and strengthens itself as a theory thereby. One could almost say that it had the distinct merit of being true.
-Christopher Hitchens, author of God is not Great

"For anyone who wishes a clear, well-written explanation of evolution by one of the foremost scientists working on the subject, Why Evolution is True should be your choice."
-Edward O. Wilson, author of Consilience, On Human Nature, and Sociobiology

"Evolution is the foundation of modern biology, and in Why Evolution Is True, Jerry Coyne masterfully explains why. From the vast trove of evidence of evolution scientists have gathered, Coyne has carefully selected some of the most striking examples and explained them with equal parts grace and authority."
-Carl Zimmer, author of Microcosm: E. coli and the New Science of Life

"Jerry Coyne has long been one of the world's most skillful defenders of evolutionary science in the face of religious obscurantism. In Why Evolution is True, he has produced an indispensable book: the single, accessible volume that makes the case for evolution. But Coyne has delivered much more than the latest volley in our "culture war"; he has given us an utterly fascinating, lucid, and beautifully written account of our place in the natural world. If you want to better understand your kinship with the rest of life, this book is the place to start."
-Sam Harris, author of The End of Faith and Letter to a Christian Nation and founder of the Reason Project

"I once wrote that anybody who didn't believe in evolution must be stupid, insane or ignorant, and I was then careful to add that ignorance is no crime. I should now update my statement. Anybody who doesn't believe in evolution is stupid, insane, or hasn't read Jerry Coyne. I defy any reasonable person to read this marvellous book and still take seriously the 'breathtaking inanity' that is intelligent design 'theory' or its country cousin, young earth creationism."
-Richard Dawkins

"Why Evolution is True is the book I was hoping would be written someday: an engaging and accessible account of one of the most important ideas ever conceived by mankind. The book is a stunning achievement, written by one of the world's leading evolutionary biologists. Coyne has produced a classic — whether you are an expert or novice in science, a friend or foe of evolutionary biology, reading Why Evolution is True is bound to be an enlightening experience.
- Neil Shubin

"Scientists don't use the word 'true' lightly, but in this lively and engrossing book, Jerry Coyne shows why biologists are happy to use it when it comes to evolution. Evolution is 'true' not because the experts say it is, nor because some world view demands it, but because the evidence overwhelmingly supports it. There are many superb books on evolution, but this one is superb in a new way — it explains out the latest evidence for evolution lucidly, thoroughly, and with devastating effectiveness."
-Steven Pinker, Harvard University, and author of The Stuff of Thought: Language as a Window into Human Nature

"With great care, attention to the scientific evidence and a wonderfully accessible style, Coyne, an evolutionary geneticist at the University of Chicago, presents an overwhelming case for evolution. Ranging from biogeography to geology, from anatomy to genetics, and from molecular biology to physiology, he demonstrates that evolutionary theory makes predictions that are consistently borne out by the data-basic requirements for a scientific theory to be valid. Additionally, although fully respectful of those who promote intelligent design and creationism, he uses the data at his disposal to demolish any thought that creationism is supported by the evidence while also explaining why those ideas fall outside the bounds of science. Coyne directly addresses the concept often advanced by religious fundamentalists that an acceptance of evolution must lead to immorality, concluding that "evolution tells us where we came from, not where we can go." Readers looking to understand the case for evolution and searching for a response to many of the most common creationist claims should find everything they need in this powerful book, which is clearer and more comprehensive than the many others on the subject."
-Publisher's Weekly starred

Christopher Hitchens
"Its ignorant opponents like to say that the process of evolution by natural selection is 'only a theory'. (That's how they prove their ignorance.) Jerry Coyne shows with elegance and rigor that it is a hypothesis that meets and withstands all tests, and strengthens itself as a theory thereby. One could almost say that it had the distinct merit of being true."--(Christopher Hitchens, Author of the #1 NYT Bestseller God is Not Great)
Neil Shubin
"A stunning achievement. Coyne has produced a classic-whether you are an expert or novice in science, a friend or foe of evolutionary biology, reading Why Evolution is True is bound to be an enlightening experience."--(Neil Shubin, Author of Your Inner Fish)
Edward O. Wilson
"For anyone who wishes a clear, well-written explanation of evolution by one of the foremost scientists working on the subject, Why Evolution is True should be your choice."--(Edward O. Wilson, author of Consilience, On Human Nature, and Sociobiology
Sam Harris
"Jerry Coyne has long been one of the world's most skillful defenders of evolutionary science in the face of religious obscurantism. In Why Evolution is True, he has produced an indispensable book: the single, accessible volume that makes the case for evolution. But Coyne has delivered much more than the latest volley in our "culture war"; he has given us an utterly fascinating, lucid, and beautifully written account of our place in the natural world. If you want to better understand your kinship with the rest of life, this book is the place to start."--(Sam Harris, author of The End of Faith and Letter to a Christian Nation and founder of the Reason Project)

Meet the Author

Jerry A. Coyne has been a professor at the University of Chicago in the department of ecology and evolution for twenty years. He specializes in evolutionary genetics and works predominantly on the origin of new species. He is a regular contributor to The New Republic, the Times Literary Supplement, and other publications.

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Why Evolution Is True (Custom) 4 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 71 reviews.
geo_grad_student More than 1 year ago
This book has it all! From speciation to adaptation and everything in between. I love the way he presents the fossil record and shows that a prediction about ancestry can be proved true. The author actually states creationists arguments and then proceeds to blow them out of the water with multiple examples to support every point of his discussion! Bravo!! This is a great read and I recommend it for anyone wanting to gain more insight into why evolution really is true!
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
This is a fantastic read, but it's not for everyone. If you're not convinced about evolution, but you're capable of having an open mind, it's a wonderful book. If you believe in evolution conceptually but have never been aware of the astounding amount of evidence supporting it this is a wonderful book to read. However, if you're close-minded or intent on believing in creationism regardless of the evidence all around us then this is a terrible book for you. Another reader review on this site describes the book as a "reminder of the far strech of the human mind to rationalize belief" and I couldn't agree more. However, he's trying to defend creationism. This book helps the reader realize who is really warping reality here, and it's clearly not those who know evolution is true.

This book is extremely well put together, interesting and easy to read. Every chapter is packed with facts and interesting explanations that not only gets the reader thinking about the world around him, but helps him realize the extent to which evolution binds our world together. Reading this book has given me a greater appreciation for nature and the world around me.

I couldn't recommend this title more, especially for those who aren't already well versed in the field of evolution. This well written and enjoyable book is great for anyone with an open mind or who needs more background on evolution. However, the close-minded individual who can't wrap his or her head around the truth in this book will not be able to appreciate it.
DicranurusMD More than 1 year ago
Given the raging culture wars, there is an abundance of misinformation being disseminated. This book lays out in a very clear and understanding manner the irrefutable evidence that establishes that all animals, including humans, share a common ancestor and that evolution is a scientific fact. A must read for anyone interested in science and science education.
Sapient More than 1 year ago
I thought I had a pretty good understanding of evolution before reading this book, but after reading it... I know I do. Great book for those who get evolution, but would like to really understand it. Imperative for those who do not get it and even claim it to be untrue. Useful and informative for all.
Rachaelreader More than 1 year ago
Evolution is a fantastic book and is meant to be informational.
Good Book!
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
A summary of the latest research on this topic. Fascinating science in an easy to read book. Full of facts and, as an added bonus of digital books, full of links for subsequent reading.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
An excellently documented and easy to understand presentation of the evidence for biological evolution. Every individual wanting to understand the importance of science for learning about nature and ourselves will benefit from the education this book provides.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Easy to read. Should be a textbook
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
This book is amazingly insightful, it was occasionally difficult to read (reads almost like a textbook, sometimes) but it had plenty of examples to balance out its large vocabulary.
willyvan More than 1 year ago
In this superb book, Jerry Coyne, Professor in the Department of Ecology and Evolution at the University of Chicago, makes what the New York Times called 'an unassailable case' for evolution. He sums up the modern theory of evolution: "Life on Earth evolved gradually beginning with one primitive species - perhaps a self-replicating molecule - that lived more than 3.5 billion years ago; it then branched out over time, throwing off many new and diverse species; and the mechanism for most (but not all) evolutionary change is natural selection." The theory has six components: evolution, gradualism, speciation, common ancestry, natural selection ('the non-random survival of random variants' - Richard Dawkins), and nonselective mechanisms of evolutionary change. Coyne writes, "Given the gradual pace of evolution, it's unreasonable to expect to see selection transforming one 'type' of plant or animal into another - so-called macroevolution - within a human lifetime. Though macroevolution is occurring today, we simply won't be around long enough to see it. Remember that the issue is not whether macroevolutionary change happens - we already know from the fossil record that it does - but whether it was caused by natural selection, and whether natural selection can build complex features and organisms." He continues, "creationists often claim that if we can't see a new species evolve during our lifetime, then speciation doesn't occur. But this argument is fatuous: it's like saying that because we haven't seen a single star go through its complete life cycle, stars don't evolve, or because we haven't seen a new language arise, languages don't evolve." Coyne argues, "If we want to see selection in action, then, we should look in species that have short generation times and are adapting to a new environment." He cites Galapagos finches, soapberry bugs in the New World and wild mustard plants, then writes, "There are many more examples, but they all demonstrate the same thing: we can directly witness natural selection leading to better adaptation." He sums up, "we've seen new species form, both in real time and in the fossil record, and we've found transitional forms, between major groups, such as whales and land animals." As he points out, "Despite innumerable, possible observations that could prove evolution untrue, we don't have a single one. We don't find mammals in Precambrian rocks, humans in the same layers as dinosaurs, or any other fossils out of evolutionary order." He concludes, "Selection is both revolutionary and disturbing for the same reason: it explains apparent design in nature by a purely materialistic process that doesn't require creation or guidance by supernatural forces."
TyJK More than 1 year ago
I recently finished this book and I liked the level of information it provided. This was my first book that I have read on theory and I wasn't surprised when there were two main theories that were debated. The quality of this book was good and the reading level was higher than I had hoped. This book proved difficult to read. There were many pace slowing words like "paleoanthropologist" and many words in latin. That is what you'd expect in a book about the evolution of species, their scientific names. Overall I enjoyed the book and surely learned a thing or two. The information was acurate but narrowed. He included the theory of natural selection and the theory of intelligent design. I know for a fact that there are many more theories than just these two. Coyne also highly preferred the theory of natural selection and might as well have left the theory of intelligent design out of his book. He is athiest afterall. I myself have no preference to any evolutionary theories and respect the fact that many people believe in a certain theory. Throughout the book, Coyne quoted Charles Darwin's "The Origin of Species" that I didn't like. I might just read some of it, maybe the half that he didn't quote. I didn't mind reading the quotes but Coyne could have proved points without Darwin's input. I believe that Coyne used too many examples and could have proved his points with a lot less examples. The quotes were helpful, plentiful, and somewhat unneeded at certain points. I liked the fact that Coyne does his own research. He breeds gnats or Drosophila and this helps him study evolution as well as other things. He gives examples of sexual selection and sexual dimorphisms through his own exoerience. I like this because it makes me feel like I'm reading a book written by someone who knows what they are writing through first-hand experience. I also liked the fact that He added the chapter "What About Us?" Most books on evolution do not include humans. Schools aren't allowed to teach in depth about evolution and specifically the evolution of humans which he gives an example of in his preface. This is for reasons like religion and beliefs. I have first-hand experience with a legal topic in schools that caused problems. In my fifth grade class, there was a Mexican student that is a decendant of Aztecs and had similar beliefs. My class was learning about a war spain had with the Aztecs and this student had to leave the class before the teacher taught us. Just imagine a teacher asking all Christian and Jewish students to leave the classroom before they taught about evolution. I myself am Catholic but do not mind learning things against religion. Some people are highly offended by those teachings though. I learned many interesting facts in this book like the fact that Lactoseintolerance is genetic. I personally liked this book and think that it was worth the time it took to read. I recommend this book to all who can accept an athiest theory based book on evolution, and to all who want to learn something new. even if you skim through this book, you might just learn something.
joepr More than 1 year ago
Creationists always fear the evolotuion theory,,,Reason?,,It will shake the very foundation of their belives.Nothing else,,and if so,,will end their ca$hy bu$$ine$,simple.One needs to look to the sky and if you have your eyes open,will see the greatness of the universe,if you look around on earth,you will see that life as we know it,not only is diverse but unique and beatifull.The author explains in a very simple way,how life comes from a very simple begining,evolves and becomes complex,and now,we as a species are(for good or bad)the crown jewel of evolution,self aware of our existence.If creationists doubt or deny the existence of the big ban,the universe,all the forces,and laws,the begining of earths life and our existance,just look at you cell phone and you will see how "we"as a evolved dominating species,harness all the universe forces,into a every day thing that even them cant live without.I read this book and now i see life in a diferent way,its diversification and yet its similarity.Thank Mr Coyne,its a great job.I highly recomend it.
AnnieBM More than 1 year ago
In this very accessible volume, Coyne presents the major aspects of evolutionary theory and their evidence in juxtaposition to the claims of creationism and intelligent design (ID). Coyne includes many explications of important research, especially as related to natural history, biogeography, and ecology – which makes for a fascinating read. Having presented the scientific evidence, Coyne concludes with a chapter addressing the core problem with what many who reject evolutionary theory struggle: a sense of loss of human nature especially with respect to morality. He does a decent job presenting these concerns considering he is not a philosopher nor a theologian. I enjoyed the book but am left wondering for whom did he write it. He suggests that he writes for those who don't understand the evidence and those accept it but still are not convinced. I do not think his treatment will address these because he has gone after the straw man – creationism and ID which are so obviously not science. Coyne appears to place all religious views in the same kettle while at the same time wanting to almost embrace their basis for morality. To fully address this would take another book and a different author. Despite my criticism, Coyne has done his job well. This is a good book for summarizing the basic evidence for evolution and how this evidence counters creationist/ID claims but it is also valuable for his great examples. I think this would make a great supplemental text for introductory biology classes – this is far more readable and interesting than even the chapters on evolution in the classic text by Campbell and Reece. I highly recommend this book to those caught in the debate or struggle and those interested in the history of evolutionary theory with respect to religion and broader history.
dwellNC More than 1 year ago
One of many books I've read on Evolution, but it is certainly one of the best. 
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If you like dawkins, read this
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
This book is the perfect way to fix most of my curiousity when it comes to evolutionary theory.
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