Why Evolution Is True

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Why evolution is more than just a theory: it is a fact

In all the current highly publicized debates about creationism and its descendant "intelligent design," there is an element of the controversy that is rarely mentioned-the evidence, the empirical truth of evolution by natural selection. Even Richard Dawkins and Stephen Jay Gould, while extolling the beauty of evolution and examining case studies, have not focused on the evidence itself. Yet the proof is vast, varied, and magnificent, drawn from many different fields of science. Scientists are observing species splitting into two and are finding more and more fossils capturing change in the past-dinosaurs that have sprouted feathers, fish that have grown limbs.

Why Evolution Is True weaves 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. In crisp, lucid prose accessible to a wide audience, Why Evolution Is True dispels common misunderstandings and fears about evolution and clearly confirms that this amazing process of change has been firmly established as a scientific truth.

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Editorial Reviews

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)

Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.
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.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780670020539
  • Publisher: Penguin Group (USA)
  • Publication date: 1/22/2009
  • Pages: 304
  • Product dimensions: 9.24 (w) x 6.18 (h) x 1.17 (d)

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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Table of Contents

Why Evolution Is True Preface

1. What Is Evolution?
2. Written in the Rocks
3. Remnants: Vestiges, Embryos, and Bad Design
4. The Geography of Life
5. The Engine of Evolution
6. How Sex Drives Evolution
7. The Origin of Species
8. What About Us?
9. Evolution Redux

Suggestions for Further Reading
Illustration Credits

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Customer Reviews

Average Rating 4
( 62 )
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See All Sort by: Showing 1 – 20 of 30 Customer Reviews
  • Posted March 12, 2009

    more from this reviewer

    The most compelling, well-written, interesting book I've read in a long time!

    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!

    11 out of 12 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted January 25, 2009

    A wonderful read

    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.<BR/><BR/>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.<BR/><BR/>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.

    11 out of 12 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted August 8, 2009

    I Also Recommend:

    The evidence for evolution.

    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.

    8 out of 8 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted April 1, 2009

    Misrepresenting contradicting facts as supporting evidence.

    As a mainstream faculty member researching epigenetics and evolution, I would like to point out here that Coyne has grossly misrepresented facts in his latest book.

    The modern evolution theory consists of two opposite sub-theories, NeoDarwinism/natural selection and the neutral theory. NeoDarwinism or natural selection is largely irrelevant to molecular evolution, or, more precisely, contradicted by molecular data. As a result, a theory based on the negation of NeoDarwinism or natural selection, the neutral theory, is used to explain molecular evolution, in particular the molecular clock. And the neutral theory is however widely acknowledged to be an incomplete explanation and has countless contradictions of its own.

    But the only theory Coyne ever talks about in his book is NeoDarwinism or natural selection. There are very few sentences that mention molecular evolution. And these in fact mislead the readers into believing that NeoDarwinism is supported rather than contradicted by facts of molecular evolution. Here is what Coyne wrote: "Evolution theory predicts, and data support, the notion that as species diverge from their common ancestors, their DNA sequence change in roughly a straight-line fashion with time."

    Does Coyne really expect the lay readers to know that the 'evolution theory' here means the neutral theory, when the neutral theory is never mentioned in the book and must negate the key idea of Darwin? If the lay readers, after reading this, then believe incorrectly that NeoDarwinism predicts the major facts of molecular evolution, is it the readers' fault or the author's?

    Coyne had openly said: "In science's pecking order, evolutionary biology lurks somewhere near the bottom, far closer to phrenology than to physics." But there can be no justification in any kind of science to misrepresent contradicting facts as supporting evidence.

    It is clear that NeoDarwinism is true for some aspects of microevolution. It is equally clear to anyone familiar with the primary literature that it cannot explain all the relevant facts or is contradicted by numerous facts including both fossils and DNA data. A complete theory of evolution must include and grant the proven virtues of NeoDarwinism and must explain all relevant facts including those that contradict NeoDarwinism. By not informing readers of the incomplete nature of the existing theories, the author is actively reducing the population of thinkers who may participate in the search for the complete truth.

    Thanks to his effort and others like him among Darwin followers, that population has become extremely small especially among professional biologists but fortunately not yet extinct. For a strong candidate to the complete truth, read about the maximum genetic diversity (MGD) hypothesis. http://precedings.nature.com/documents/1751/version/2

    A true theory loves all facts and is contradicted by none. And such a theory is not impossible in the field of evolution.

    Shi Huang

    8 out of 32 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted June 9, 2009

    more from this reviewer

    Didn't realize I knew so little

    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.

    5 out of 5 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted March 4, 2009

    The Muddling of Darwinian Evolutions

    Coyne, like many other scientists, teachers and the general public, incorrectly treats Evolution as a single absolutely true "theory" or "law" encompassing both Darwin's truly scientific theory of natural selection or adaptation of species and his subsequent speculative or philosophical rumination culminating in his "philogenetic tree". Darwin's latter speculation lacks verifiable experimental suppport that is obviously difficult to acquire or confirm for a random statistical upward "evolution" occurring over a mega millennial time frame. Hence, any "evolution" of species from primordial mud to living species of increasing complexity, while superficially and intuitively obvious, lacks scientific proof demanded of a theory or even an hypothesis. Furthermore, "irreducible complexity", often requiring concurrent events in creation of complex organs occurring at infinitesimally low compound probabilities, also bars upward evolution even among living species. Even Darwin publicly acknowledged that a complex organ like the human eye could not possibly have evolved by his theory. One must conclude that vertical evolution of species, like Creationism and Intelligent Design, thus is a faith-based construct without scientific merit. Lacking the current knowledge of molecular biology and the unfathomable complexity of the genetic code, Darwin's flawed beliefs are excusable. But current scientists, like Professor Coyne, must be faulted for blindly embracing the "non-theory" of mud to man evolution and in indiscriminately muddling the two "evolutionary" theories, one true and the other fatally flawed. As a chemist, I second the opinion of the late Professor Leslie Orgel, a molecular evolutionist, who bluntly stated that any proposed evolutionary theories cannot be based on "if pigs could fly chemistries".
    Herman Rutner, M.S. chemistry, retired industrial R&D scientist

    5 out of 42 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted February 2, 2009

    more from this reviewer


    Evolution is a fantastic book and is meant to be informational.<BR/>Good Book!

    4 out of 4 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted May 29, 2009

    more from this reviewer

    Why there is so much fear?

    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.

    2 out of 3 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted February 11, 2009

    Excellent book!!

    The review by geologist00 is damn funny. At first I thought he was talking about religion.

    1 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted December 18, 2009

    more from this reviewer

    Misguided beliefs about Creation have led him to accept Evolution as 'fact'

    With their beliefs about Darwinian Evolution as hard scientific fact firmly in tow, most scientists now degrade Creation and show in their defense that they don't even understand it in the first place. Species, weather, climate, motions of planets and galaxies change: that is true. But that does not rule out a Creator. There is so much complexity in the infinite diversity of Life that there is no sound basis for saying that 'blind chance' and random mutations have worked together with 'natural selection' to guide the evolutionary history of life on this planet and all things associated with it. Mr. Coyne has taken his own personal beliefs (or spiritual disbeliefs) and supported them with his academic credentials and scientific jargon to try to force us into believing that Evolution is true and grounded in hard scientific investigation and calculations that have been proven 'beyond a reasonable doubt' to be true. After reading his book, I am even more convinced in the absurdity of Evolution as I continue to seek the most consistent doctrine to desribe the origin and propogation of species and all Life on this planet and beyond.

    0 out of 22 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted January 3, 2009

    If Evolution were true, it would be apparent.

    Reading this book is a reminder of the far stretch of the human mind to rationalize desired belief.

    0 out of 42 people found this review helpful.

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