"Evolution is one of the most powerful and important ideas ever developed in the history of science. Every question it raises leads to new answers, new discoveries, and new smarter questions. The science of evolution is as expansive as nature itself. It is also the most meaningful creation story that humans have ever found."Bill Nye
Sparked by a controversial debate in February 2014, Bill Nye has set off on an energetic campaign to spread awareness of evolution and the powerful way it shapes our lives. In his New York Times bestseller, Undeniable: Evolution and the Science of Creation, he explains why race does not really exist; evaluates the true promise and peril of genetically modified food; reveals how new species are born, in a dog kennel and in a London subway; takes a stroll through 4.5 billion years of time; and explores the new search for alien life, including aliens right here on Earth.
With infectious enthusiasm, Bill Nye shows that evolution is much more than a rebuttal to creationism; it is an essential way to understand how nature works-and to change the world. It might also help you get a date on a Saturday night.
|Publisher:||St. Martin's Press|
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About the Author
Bill Nye is a scientist, engineer, comedian, and inventor. He has a BS in Mechanical Engineering from Cornell University where he studied under Carl Sagan, and worked on the 747 as an engineer at Boeing before creating and hosting his much-loved Emmy award-winning PBS/Discovery Channel show Bill Nye the Science Guy. He holds six Honorary Doctorate degrees from Lehigh University, Willamette University, Quinnipiac University, Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, Goucher College, and Johns Hopkins, and teaches at Cornell regularly as a visiting professor.
Corey S. Powell is the former editor in chief of American Scientist and Discover, where he is currently editor at large and continues to write the "Out There" column and blog. He is also a visiting scholar at NYU's SHERP science journalism program, as well as a freelance writer for Popular Science, Smithsonian, Nautilus, and Aeon; his article "The Madness of the Planets" appears in The Best American Science and Nature Writing 2014. He lives in Brooklyn with his wife, two daughters, and a small collection of Permian-era fossils. Undeniable: Evolution and the Science of Creation is his first collaboration with Bill Nye, but he hopes it will not be his last.
Read an Excerpt
Evolution and the Science of Creation
By Bill Nye, Corey S. Powell
St. Martin's PressCopyright © 2014 William S. Nye
All rights reserved.
ME AND YOU AND EVOLUTION, TOO
I think it started with the bees. I was about seven years old, and I watched them ... all day. That Sunday, I had read the "Ripley's Believe It or Not" column in The Washington Post, which claimed, "The Bumblebee: Considering its size, shape, and wingspan, is an aerodynamic misfit — which should be unable to fly!" It was frustrating, because here they were flying. I got caught up in the details. Their wings looked like decoration, no more useful than a store-bought bow glued to a gift. I looked closely at my mother's azalea flowers — so many delicate parts. Somehow, the bees were able to get in there, fill their pollen baskets from the flowers, and fly away again and again.
How did bees learn to do all that? Where did they come from? Where did the flowers come from? Come to think of it, how did any of us get here? Why did Ripley's have it so obviously wrong? I was getting pulled into something much larger than myself. The yearning to know about nature and where or how we fit in is deep within all of us. As I learned about evolution and descent by natural selection, the answers fell into place.
We are all aware that evolution happens, because we all have parents. Many of us have, or will have, children. We see the effects of heredity up close and personal. We've also experienced firsthand what Charles Darwin called descent with modification: the way that an entire population of living things can change from generation to generation. Think about the food grown on farms. For about twelve thousand years, exploiting the phenomenon of evolution, humans have been able to modify plants through a process known as artificial selection. In wheat farming and horse racing we call it breeding. Darwin realized that breeding (and domesticating) plants and animals involves exactly the same process that occurs naturally in evolution, only accelerated with the help of humans. This natural process produced you and me.
Once you become aware — once you see how evolution works — so many familiar aspects of the world take on new significance. The affectionate nuzzling of a dog, the annoying bite of a mosquito, the annual flu shot: All are direct consequences of evolution. As you read this book, I hope you will also come away with a deeper appreciation for the universe and our place within it. We are the results of billions of years of cosmic events that led to the cozy, habitable planet we live on.
We experience evolution every day in our culture as well. People everywhere are fascinated with other people. That's why we have sidewalk cafés, televisions, and gossip magazines. We interact to produce more of us for future generations. People are fascinated with their bodies. Turn on the television to any channel. If it's youth-oriented music programming, you'll see advertisements for skin medicines to make you look healthy, for deodorants to modify your natural scents, and for hair and makeup products to render you more attractive to a potential mate. If it's a staid news channel, you'll see ads for improving your breathing, your bones, and, of course, your sexual performance. None of these products would be produced were we not walking, talking products of evolution.
We are all so much alike, because we are all human. But it goes deeper than that. Every species you'll encounter on Earth is, near as we can tell, chemically the same inside. We are all descended from a common ancestor. We are shaped by the same forces and factors that influence every other living thing, and yet we emerged as something unique. Among the estimated 16 million species on Earth, we alone have the ability to comprehend the process that brought us here. Any way you reckon it, evolution is inspiring.
Despite all of that, a great number of people in many parts of the world — even in well-educated parts of the developed world — are resistant or hostile to the idea of evolution. Even in places like Pennsylvania and Kentucky, here in the United States, the whole idea of evolution is overwhelming, confusing, frightening, and even threatening to many individuals. I can understand why. It's an enormous process, unfolding over times that dwarf a human lifespan — across billions of years and in every part of the world. And it's profoundly humbling. As I learned more about evolution, I realized that from nature's point of view, you and I ain't such a big deal. Humans are just another species on this planet trying to make a go of it, trying to pass our genes into the future, just like chrysanthemums, muskrats, sea jellies, poison ivy ... and bumblebees.
Many people who are troubled by evolution want to suppress teaching the whole concept of descent through natural selection in schools. Others try to push it aside or dilute it by casting doubt on the established science that supports it. State education standards allow the teaching of fictitious alternatives to evolution in Texas, Louisiana, and Tennessee. Even though the people who support these curricula live lives that are enriched in many ways by science and engineering (everything from running water and abundant food to television and the Internet) they avoid the exploration of evolution, because it reminds us all that humankind may not be that special in nature's scheme. What happens to other species also happens to us.
I continually remind people what is at stake here. Our understanding of evolution came to us by exactly the same method of scientific discovery that led to printing presses, polio vaccines, and smartphones. Just as mass and motion are fundamental ideas in physics, and the movement of tectonic plates is a fundamental idea in geology, evolution is the fundamental idea in all of life science. Evolution has essential practical applications in agriculture, environmental protection, medicine, and public health. What would the deniers have us do? Ignore all the scientific discoveries that make our technologically driven world possible, things like the ability to rotate crops, pump water, generate electricity, and broadcast baseball?
Even the theological objections to evolution stand on shaky ground. For the last century and a half, ever since the publication of Darwin's On the Origin of Species in 1859, many people have come to believe that evolution is in conflict with their religious beliefs. At the same time, many people around the world who hold deep religious convictions see no conflict between their spiritual beliefs and their scientific understanding of evolution. So the naysayers are not only casting doubt on science and nonbelievers; they are also ignoring the billions of non-conflicted believers around the world, dismissing their views as unworthy.
I'll admit that the discovery of evolution is humbling, but it is also empowering. It transforms our relationship to the life around us. Instead of being outsiders watching the natural world go by, we are insiders. We are part of the process; we are the exquisite result of billions of years of natural research and development.
Frankly, my concern is not so much for the deniers of evolution as it is for their kids. We cannot address the problems facing humankind today without science — both the body of scientific knowledge and, more important, the process. Science is the way in which we know nature and our place within it.
Like any useful scientific theory, evolution enables us to make predictions about what we observe in nature. Since it was developed in the nineteenth century, the theory itself has also evolved, by which I mean that it's been refined and expanded. Some of the most wonderful aspects and consequences of evolution have been discovered only recently. This is in stark contrast to creationism, which offers a static view of the world, one that cannot be challenged or tested with reason. And because it cannot make predictions, it cannot lead to new discoveries, new medicines, or new ways to feed all of us.
Evolutionary theory takes us into the future. As the foundation of biology, evolution informs big questions about emerging agricultural and medical technologies. Should we genetically modify more of our foods? Should we pursue cloning and genetic engineering to improve human health? There is no way to make sense of these issues outside of an evolutionary context. As an engineer trained in the U.S., I look at the assault on evolution — which is actually an assault on science overall — as much more than an intellectual issue; for me, it's personal. I feel strongly that we need the young people of today to become the scientists and the engineers of tomorrow so that my native United States continues to be a world leader in discovery and innovation. If we suppress science in this country, we are headed for trouble.
Evolutionary theory also takes us into the past, offering a compelling case study of the collaborative and cumulative way that great scientific discoveries are made. In some sense the concept of evolution can be traced to the Greek philosopher Anaximander. In the sixth century BC, after evaluating fossils, he speculated that life had begun with fishlike animals living in the ocean. He had no theory of how one species gave rise to another, however, nor did he have an explanation of how Earth acquired its stunning biodiversity. Nobody would, for another two millennia. Ultimately, the mechanism of evolution was discovered by two men at very nearly the same time: Charles Darwin and Alfred Wallace.
You've probably heard a great deal about Darwin. You may not have heard so much about Wallace. He was a naturalist who spent a great deal of time in the field studying and collecting specimens of flora and fauna. He traveled in the Amazon River basin and in what is now Malaysia. Through his far-flung geographic and intellectual explorations, Wallace formulated his theory of evolution independent of Darwin, and described an important aspect of the evolutionary process, often still referred to as the "Wallace effect" (more about that in chapter 12). Wallace recognized humans as just one part of a much broader living world. Quoting from his 1869 book The Malay Archipelago, "... trees and fruits, no less than the varied productions of the animal kingdom, do not appear to be organized with the exclusive reference to the use and convenience of man ..." In Victorian England, such a point of view was controversial to say the least.
Darwin had the earlier start. Wallace was just eight years old in 1831 when the twenty-two-year-old Darwin had a remarkable opportunity as an energetic young man to go to sea aboard the HMS Beagle. He realized that if humans could turn wolves into dogs, then new species could come into existence by the same means naturally. He also saw that populations do not grow and grow indefinitely, because their environment will always have limits on the resources available. Darwin connected these ideas by observing that living things produce more offspring than can survive. The individuals compete for resources in their respective ecosystems, and the individuals that are born or sprout with favorable variations have a better shot at survival than their siblings. He realized that, left unchecked, the process of natural selection would result in the great diversity of living things that he would go on to observe.
Recognizing the two scientists' convergent views, colleagues arranged for Wallace and Darwin to present a paper together at a meeting of the Linnaean Society in London in 1858. The paper was based on a letter that Wallace had written to Darwin, along with an abstract for a paper that Darwin had written in 1842. The revolutionary impact of the joint presentation was not immediately obvious to all of those in attendance. Thomas Bell, the president of the Linnaean Society, infamously reported that no important scientific breakthroughs had occurred that year: "The year which has passed has not, indeed, been marked by any of those striking discoveries which at once revolutionize, so to speak, the department of science on which they bear ..."
The publication of On the Origin of Species in 1859 created a sensation and proved President Bell spectacularly wrong. It also made Darwin far more famous than Wallace, as Darwin remains to this day. His ability to articulate the theory of evolution is still astonishing. On the Origin of Species remains a remarkable and remarkably readable book, readily available in hardback, paperback, and online a century and a half later. In it, Darwin gives us example after example of evolution and explains the means by which it happens, providing both the facts and the mechanism in one volume.
Evolution is one of the most powerful and important ideas ever developed in the history of science. It describes all of life on Earth. It describes any system in which things compete with each other for resources, whether those things are microbes in your body, trees in a rain forest, or even software programs in a computer. It is also the most reasonable creation story that humans have ever found. When religions disagree about just creation, there is nothing to do but argue. When two scientists disagree about evolution, they confer with colleagues, develop theories, collect evidence, and arrive at a more complete understanding. Every question leads to new answers, new discoveries, and new smarter questions. The science of evolution is as expansive as nature itself.
Evolution goes a long way toward answering the universal question that ran through my brain as a kid, and still does: "Where did we come from?" It also leads right into the companion question we all ask: "Are we alone in the universe?" Today, astronomers are finding planets rotating around distant stars, planets that might have the right conditions for supporting life. Our robots are prospecting on Mars looking for signs of water and life. We're planning a mission to study the ocean of Jupiter's moon Europa, where there is twice as much seawater as there is here on Earth. When we go seeking life elsewhere, the whole idea of what to look for, and where to look for it, will be guided by our understanding of evolution. Such a discovery would be profound. Proving that there is life on another world would surely change this one.
The great questions of evolution bring out the best in us: our boundless curiosity, and our boundless ability to explore. After all, evolution made us who we are.CHAPTER 2
THE GREAT CREATIONISM DEBATE
For those readers who might be deeply religious, welcome. I very much hope you make it through this chapter. It's about my recent debate with a creationist in the Commonwealth of Kentucky, which in many ways was the impetus for me to write this book. Our issue was whether or not creationism is "viable" (the term agreed upon) as an explanation of ... well, of anything. I emphasize that I did not disparage anyone's religion. I did not mention anything about The Bible. I had no reference to Jesus from the city of Nazareth. But I was, and remain, concerned about the extraordinary claim that Earth is extraordinarily young, which is an assault not just on evolution but on the whole public understanding of science.
Having a few thousand people make use of a few million dollars to promote their point of view is not unusual. This is actually what a great many not-for-profit organizations do, including the Union of Concerned Scientists, the National Center for Science Education, and my own Planetary Society. It's also part of how government policies are developed and put into law. In the case of creationism however, certain not-for-profit groups set out to indoctrinate our science students in their central idea: that the first book of The Bible's assertion that Earth is only six or ten thousand years old (the exact number depends on their interpretation) is supported by scientific evidence. Such an idea is laughable and could be easily dismissed were it not for the political influence of these groups. In general, creationist groups do not accept evolution as the fact of life. It's not just that they don't understand how evolution led to the ancient dinosaurs, for example, they take it another step and deny that evolution happened at all anywhere, let alone that it is happening today. They want everyone else in the world to deny it, too, including you and me.
Excerpted from Undeniable by Bill Nye, Corey S. Powell. Copyright © 2014 William S. Nye. Excerpted by permission of St. Martin's Press.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Table of Contents
Table of Contents
1. Introduction: Me and You and Evolution, Too
2. The Great Creationism Debate
3. Creation and the Second Law of Thermodynamics
4. Bottom-Up Design
5. Deep TimeDive in
6. On the Origin of Evolution
7. Lamarck and His Not-Acquired Traits
8. My Prom and Sexual Selection
9. The Red Queen
10. Dogs Are All Dogs
11. The Tree of LifeOr Is It a Bush?
12. Biodiversity Comes in the Territory
13. Fossil Records and Explosions
14. Mass Extinctions and You
15. Ancient Dinosaurs and the Asteroid Test
16. Punctuated Equilibrium
17. Contingency, Bottlenecking, Founding
18. Mosquitoes in the Tube
19. Convergence, Analogy, and Homology
20. What Good Is Half a Wing?
21. Human Bodies Are Walking Talking and Good Enough
22. Evolution Is Why We Don't Believe in Evolution
23. Micro or MacroIt's Evolution
24. Michael Faraday and the Joy of Discovery
25. Medicine and YouEvolution at the Doctor's Office
26. Antibiotic Drug ResistanceFight Back
27. The Urge of Altruism
28. Games Species Play
29. Costly Signals
30. Genetically Modified FoodsWhat the GMF?
31. Human CloningNot Cool
32. Our Skin Colors
33. Is the Human Species Still Evolving?
34. Astrobiologically SpeakingIs There Anyone Out There?
35. The Sparks That Started It All
36. A Second Genesisof Life?
37. Life's Cosmic Imperative
Barnes & Noble Review Interview with Bill Nye
What is your earliest memory of writing a story?
In first grade, I wrote a poem about autumn leaves. Gravity was an influence even then.
When and where do you write? What does your workspace look like?
I write in my apartment in New York; I can see the Empire State Building outside, but I'm isolated from the bustle by two dozen stories of altitude.
In Undeniable you write, 'Once you see how evolution works - so many familiar aspects of the word take on new significance.' Did writing this book make you more grateful or in awe of certain moments in evolutionary history? Which instances of evolution at work have recently inspired/amazed you?
I came to understand that we are, from nature's point of view, good enough. We all made it this far in evolutionary history. So scientifically, we are all in this together.
What are the greatest books on science that you've read? Do you have favorite passages or turns of phrase from them? Where can we find poetic exploration of the physical, natural world?
The Chemical History of a Candle, by Michael Faraday is something else, as is just about any passage from On the Origin of Species, by Charles Darwin himself. My favorite idea might be from Carl Sagan, when he pointed out that since we are made of the stuff of stars, we are at least one way that the universe knows itself.
What has been the proudest moment of your career?
I hope it is yet ahead; I hope someone, who grew up watching the Science Guy show does something that changes the world, like inventing the very high density battery, or curing cancer.
You are a strong advocate of clean energy: what are the most important changes in behavior that one can do to better utilize clean energy and reduce one's carbon footprint?
Talk about climate change; talk about it with everyone, everyday, so that it becomes part of our everyday thinking.
What do you do to relax?
Swing dance, bicycle, and especially fill out questionnaires.
Is there a genre or type of writing you would still like to try your hand at? What haven't you yet done that you want to do as a writer?
I very much hope to one day produce my screenplay, a story about a historical figure who excelled at mathematics.
Who are your heroes in the world of science?
George Lang, my high school physics teacher, and Michael Faraday.
What are humanity's most common misconceptions of evolution? Ignoring those who don't accept it as undeniable, what are the hiccups in our understanding of evolutionary processes?
The biggest misconception is that evolution is something you can choose to believe in it or not to believe in. Evolution is the fact of life. In science, a theory is an idea that enables predictions. The theory of universal gravitation enables us to predict the rate at which apples fall from tree branches and to predict the exact amount of rocket fuel required to land spacecraft on Mars. The theory of evolution enables us to predict the characteristics of the apple crop five years from now.
What do you consider some of the most beautiful places in the natural world?
In the hills, the surf, and under the waves in Hawaii.
What is the best advice you've received as a writer?
Divide the task at hand into many, many much smaller tasks.
November 19, 2014
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
Don't listen to the idiot who gave the 1 star review. They are obviously either trolling or have an extremely closed mind. Either way, they shouldn't be taken seriously. Read the book, and if you're still in denial, then take your ravings elsewhere, and don't give it a low score just because you disagree with it.
whether or not you agree with the information in this book is irrelevant. it is well written, clear, informative, and above all fun to read. that is all you need to know about it. (and yes, i very much agree with the information in this book. it would take a better lair than me to lie to myself convincingly enough to sell creationism as some kind of truth. trying to poke holes in an opposing argument is not a valid defense of your stance. its just stalling. when you can provide solid proof that the information in the bible is 100% true, that comes NOT FROM ITS OWN TEXT but from another solid and clear source, then i might start looking at your information more seriously. but really, none of this matters. this is all irrelevant to the book. im not asking you to change your world view. im only asking you to judge his work based on literary criteria.)
Bill Nye does a great job describing our current understanding of evolution as we know it today. Motivated by his debate with creationist Ken Ham earlier in 2014, Bill shows his readers the substantial amount of evidence we have on evolution. He does a great time exploring the major evidence and also describes the importance for us humans to understand science and where it can take us into the future. This is a good book, especially, if you are new to evolution and wish to have an easy to read a book that breaks down the basic principals that Charles Darwin and Alfred Wallace have established and the subsequent research as of today.
Outstanding work, Bill Nye proves true to his old ways of education. I used to be Christian, an extremely devout one at that! However, now I am very proud to announce that from this day fourth I will call myself a born again Atheist! All hail glorious science and all it has to teach!
I bought this book after I heard Bill Nye talking about it on a radio interview. I remember his TV shows which always make scientific concepts understandable and the interview I heard intrigued me. In this book, he gives a detailed, explanation of evolution and explains in laymans terms why it is the correct theory of how we came about. He takes issue with those who are proponents of the creation idea. and defends evolution as the only theory that will allow us to proceed with scientific quests to learn more about our world as well as possible other worlds. I thoroughly enjoyed his "take" on these issues.
Bill Nye's "Undeniable" is exactly the book you would expect the "Science Guy" to write. It's conversational tone lays out key principles of the theory of evolution in laymans terms and avoids talking down to it's audience. Nye is very good at relating anecdotes to help illustrate ideas further. A good read.
I enjoyed it, so give it a read!
Well written, a must read for anyone who watched the debate that inspired this book.
I believe in GOD but I also am open to other ideas. The Science Guy lends credibility to other ideas. I enjoyed reading this book. It has opened my eyes, mind, and heart to the future of mankind!
Nye does a fantastic job giving his views and explaining evolution itself.
In Undeniable: Evolution and the Science of Creation, Bill Nye examines the theory of evolution with the excitement and enthusiasm which he brings to all of his work. He describes the evidence and processes of evolution from the earliest microorganisms 3.5 billion years ago up to modern Homo sapiens, outlining the story of life on Earth in a logical, highly-readable form. From the beginning, he explains that evolution, like gravity, is a scientific theory and that, unlike the vernacular use of the term, a theory in science denotes something that has continually stood up to repeated testing and can be used to predict future outcomes. He respectfully addresses the problems inherent in creationist ideology, explaining how, beyond providing a useless answer which can offer no use as a predictor of future outcomes, it fails to explain the diversity of life today or the observable processes in nature. My only complaint is that he is perhaps too respectful in dealing with an ideology that revels in and celebrates willful ignorance. Undeniable is a wonderful book for explaining evolution and his discussion on race offers insights that, taken to heart, could help people put an end to their racial biases. Truly, one of the best books about science in the past decade.
Simply a book that everyone should read. No matter where you stand on this issue, it is better to arm yourself with knowledge. And knowledge this book is brimming with. Infectious knowledge. Stemming from the attitude of it's author, it is obvious in the writing and speech of this book. It is a testament to his teaching style and desire to influence others that Mr. Nye was able to keep this book both under a thousand pages and at a level that most anyone can understand. Now there are some parts where the science just simply outruns the ability to make it digestible to the layman. But through examples and anecdotes, we are able to glean the ideology if not the mechanics. While this is a book about evolution, it isn't just about his debate with Creationists. Topics range from race, to human cloning and stem cell research, and genetically modified foods. I was never exposed to Bill Nye: Science Guy while growing up, and my grade school science teachers never had a drop of his enthusiasm. While I'm not going to rush out an grab my Doctorate in Science, I am going to read and explore more of the topics covered in this wonderful overview.
Bill Nye shows his outstanding verbal skills in this informative book. It is a must read, and he supports his ideas with excellent proof. Saying you need to read this book is "undeniable"!
An entertaining, educational read. I'll be getting a second copy for my 10 year old son's Nook.
The book covers all the arguments and proofs with evidence for evolution over intelligent design in a clear and concise manner, humourous and personal observations accompany many of the topics covered. The conclusion seems inescapable to anyone with an open mind and I highly recommend this book for anyone looking for more information to use in discussions or looking to sway anyone who is unsure about the scientific methodology.
This is a great book. I enjoyed reading it.
No matter where you stand scientifically or religiously, no matter how well-learned you are, this is a wonderful read. I recommend this book to anyone with an interest in science.
Bill Nye has always made learning interesting and entertaining and this book is no different. Excellent!
This book is presented in a way that makes science easier to understand. Bill Nyes passion for the topics discussed just makes you want to read more, learn more, question more. I really enjoyed this book.
Bill Nye is a great writer! He made the material both entertaining and enlightening. It made me want to stay up and finish the book because he made what would normally seem like a boring or foreign language topic into something approachable and provoked thought on subjects that I normally would not have thought about on my own. Reading this book has intrigued to me read more on how the world works and evolution.
As a child in the 90's, his show was a favorite, and through it he was a friend in an otherwise frightening world of science denial around me. The dark, closed, suffocating church culture that painted my universe as a deceptive, evil thing to be removed from brought me nothing but fear, pain and anxieties that I still live with as an adult. Science was light to me, and nothing was more joyful to study, or more liberating to rely on. To anyone who grew up that way: imagine a trusted teacher standing up to your childhood bullies. This book feels like that. You may already understand the concepts, but his defense of reason and evidence is solid, clearly explained and enjoyable to read. Additionally, his concern about the indoctrination of children in the subject of science is important and comforting to see voiced. Thanks, Bill Nye, for continuing to inspire and show that "science rules".