People have had diverse perspectives regarding the origin of the world that reflected the level of their knowledge about the universe. The use of the scientific method, as well as diverse observations and discoveries, enabled people to develop a theory of evolution that provided an evidence-based paradigm of the origin of species. Darwin was not the first scientist to pronouns such ideas, but his fundamental work On the Origin of Species, published in 1859, was the first major document that included such meticulous details (Coyne, 2009). Further scientific exploration led to an increasing number of insights into the way the world transformed throughout centuries. However, the views of the creationist approach remain very strong in many countries, including highly developed democracies, such as the United States. In his book Why Evolution Is True, Jerry A. Coyne re-introducing the central and the most recent pieces of evidence, making people see the obvious truth. This review includes a reflection on central themes discussed in the book and the way it affects the reader.
Reflections on Preface and Introduction
First, it is necessary to note that the book has received quite different reviews as many people criticize the author. These critics articulate creationist views mainly and accuse Coyne of lacking flexibility. At the same time, the author of the book under discussion operates facts and provides diverse types of evidence to support each of his claims. In the preface to the book, Coyne (2018) mentions the current attitude towards evolutionist and creationist approaches in American society and the country’s educational system. The researcher mentions the arguments of the supporters of creationists, and it is clear that they tend to concentrate on ideas, texts, and people’s perceptions rather than hard evidence and scientific facts.
The biologist adds that many countries are now characterized by the shift towards dogmatic perspectives rather than the scientific approach. The examples of these transformations in some societies are vivid as creationists try to appeal to emotions rather than critical thinking and common sense. Such books as the one under analysis can help in bringing people to science rather than dogmas, which will be beneficial for the further progress of society.
One of the peculiarities of the book is the author’s fascination with Darwin’s work and contribution. Coyne (2018) provides Darwin’s numerous quotes to illustrate his ideas or show that scientific thought achieved remarkable results several centuries ago. Modern scientists managed to contribute to the framework, providing various facts and arguments in favor of the evolution theory. In contrast to creationists who refer to old texts and dogmas, scientists unveil new secrets in the spheres of paleontology, genetics, and neurobiology, among others. Technology and new evidence show that the assumptions and the overall theory of Darwin is true.
Reflections on Chapter 1 Themes
In the first chapter, Coyne (2018) considers major misconceptions regarding the theory as well as its basic peculiarities. For instance, the author’s explanation of the very concept of evolution is valuable in explaining why the theory is true. Coyne (2018) mentions that creationists claim that species diversity is sound evidence of divine creation. The author opposes that genetic diversity is a result of mutations that take place over a considerable amount of time due to the pressures of the environment. An important point provided by the author is that all species share certain traits in common. Gradual changes that occurred throughout generations made biodiversity possible.
Another argument in favor of the theory is the arrangement of species. Coyne (2018) notes that “natural classification” is one of the phenomena that can hardly be explained by the creationists’ framework (p. 9). Species can be easily grouped based on the major traits they share in common, and the classification is universal, which makes it objective, as many scientists develop similar groups. Evolution explains and predicts this process as the species that share most features in common have recent ancestors, while those having fewer common traits have distant ancestors. Natural classification is evidence-based due to the abundance of facts and artifacts, including fossils, as well as the bulk of knowledge on species accumulated during centuries. The most recent studies involving DNA analysis provide sound evidence regarding the links between different groups of species.
Natural selection is another pillar of the evolution theory and one of the important themes in the chapter as it explains the process of change. As usual, Coyne (2018) provides compelling illustrations from the natural world while no arguments are possible on the part of creationists. Species try to adapt to the environment to survive, which leads to gradual changes. An important point Coyne (2018) makes is that new attributes are built in the existing structures, which explains perfectly well the fact that species have so many traits in common. In contrast to the ideas of the inner drive to transform or someone’s will, evolution theory (its concept of natural selection, in particular) explains the appearance and extinction of some species. Although some genetic changes occurred randomly or to adapt to some environments, the traits that made a species vulnerable led to its vanishing.
I would like to note that I consider these concepts to be a universal truth that can hardly be questioned. The abundance of proofs that are consistent and perfectly fit the overall concept leaves no doubt that evolution is true. I am a supporter of the theory that is the only scientific and evidence-based explanation of the origin of species. Coyne (2009) manages to highlight the central concepts and provide clear and straightforward proofs to support his every claim, which makes the book (and this chapter specifically) powerful.
Reflections on Chapter 2 Themes
Chapter 2 of the reviewed book dwells upon fossils that are some of the central pieces of evidence of the evolution theory. I also believe this is the most difficult area to discuss for creationists who have rather simple and weak arguments saying that those were species that were not as good as the modern ones. The evolution theory, on the other hand, provides clear explanations that are simple and logical. Fossils enable scientists to unveil diverse peculiarities of dinosaurs and even earlier species, as well as the traits they share with modern animals and plants. For me, fossils are some of the basic arguments proving the evolution is true. Coyne (2009) also highlights certain challenges paleontologists face when working with fossils and fossil records. This book unveils the flaws of some of the existing fossil records, which helps researchers to critically think about the artifacts they are using in their studies. Again, the author is precise and attentive to details, making clear claims to support the theory.
Although the author mentions remnants as proof of the theory in earlier chapters, he devotes an entire chapter to this matter. Chapter three, to my mind, is another powerful account destroying the creationist perspective. Coyne (2009) provides an in-depth analysis of the remnants he refers to as “bad design” that is often used by creationists (p. 55). For me, the traits species have but can hardly benefit from show the gradual change every species underwent. These suboptimal features are inherited from earlier ancestors, and these traits can be found in all species. Creationists’ claim that the great supernatural force being perfect and almighty could also make mistakes creating bad designs is rather controversial and surprising. In my opinion, one of the strengths of this chapter and the book as a whole is the fact that Coyne (2009) mentions creationists’ arguments and the way scientific (and creationist) approaches transformed throughout centuries. The discovery of each trait contributed to the accumulation of facts and knowledge that was crystallized by Darwin and his followers.
Biogeography is another area providing a wealth of evidence to support the theory of evolution. The author provides numerous details regarding the way species evolved and migrated from one place to another, leaving different traces. Biogeography explains the processes that resulted in the existing biodiversity on different continents. The accounts regarding Pangaea can help readers who are poorly acquainted with the topic to see a clear picture of the past of the planet and the way it developed. This chapter is instrumental in explaining some traits certain species had and the reasons for further development of these features. The inclusion of this discussion makes the book a compelling guide for a person who wants to understand the mechanisms of evolution and origins of species.
After the introduction of the concept of selection in the first chapter of the book, the author refers to it many times throughout his fundamental work. Chapter 5 is completely devoted to this concept, and all the major facets of the matter are explained. Coyne (2009) provides numerous examples of adaptations and touches upon the theme of sex and species’ reproductive power, as well as their role in evolution. One of the techniques the author uses and the ones making the book so powerful is the choice of illustrations. Coyne (2009) chooses remarkable examples, such as wasp killers or worms de-camouflaging ants, making the book such exciting reading. The researcher also includes various descriptions of experiments and findings that illustrate the process of adaptations perfectly well. Reading this book cannot leave anyone doubtful as to the plausibility of the theory of evolution.
As mentioned above, the author discusses sex in chapter 5, but he elaborates on this topic in chapter 6. By stipulating that sex is the driver of evolution, Coyne (2009) explains the associated processes and provides vivid illustrations to support his claims. He explicates the differences between mating strategies of the sexes with a focus on genetics. The author gives examples from diverse groups of species. When reading the book, I concentrated on humans and found clear illustrations and evidence of every point made by the researcher. The author evaluates the cost of mating, which is an interesting and captivating idea that clarifies the essence of the theory of evolution.
In addition to the discussion of mating strategies, Coyne (2009) analyzes the value of two rather than one sex. Notably, the author mentions that the concept of sex is still disputable and associated with diverse aspects yet to examine. In order to remain focused, two sexes are seen as the basis of the evolution process while different variants appear and exist. However, it is clear that variation enhances considerably if two sexes (rather than one) exchange their genes. Instead of multiplying the same traits, species need new features as the environment is constantly changing.
The author elaborates on the origin of species in the second half of the book, although the subject matter of the book is the theory of evolution that explains species origin. Coyne (2009) states that the discontinuity of species was quite a challenge for scientists for many years. While creationists stressed that the diversity of the natural world is a result of elaborate work, researchers could not provide clear arguments within the evolutionary paradigm. For me, it is quite obvious (of course, after reading the book and other materials related to the theory of evolution). Speciation is a result (or a byproduct as stated in the book) of evolution and species existence in different environments. Animals had to adapt to different geographic peculiarities, so they had to develop diverse tools to survive and produce offspring.
One of the most interesting and eye-opening concepts mentioned in this chapter is the biological explanation of species. I thought species are grouped due to a set of (morphological and genetic) features, but this is quite a superficial approach. The fact that species are reproductively isolated is absolutely satisfactory and rather illuminating for me. Different species simply do not produce offspring, which is the ground for their being distinct from each other. Again, Coyne (2009) illustrates this concept using interesting examples and simple terms. This clarity and precision are persuasive and contribute to the development of a clear understanding of why evolution is true.
For many people, excluding myself, the origin of the human being is still something sacred from many perspectives. The majority of these individuals simply cannot accept the fact that the human with such intelligence, might, morality, and spiritual potential can descend from a monkey. Coyne (2009) makes an interesting observation that many are ready to agree with the evolution of species from simplest organisms, or fish, or dinosaurs, but cannot stand the idea of a human descending from apes. For me, the origin of humans is obvious, and I see nothing humiliating or hurting in this fact. People, as any other species, found themselves in an environment where they were able to evolve into highly developed and organized creatures. The author also refers to the considerable value of fossils that enabled scientists to prove their claims and provide sound evidence.
An important topic for many modern people is raised in the book, which is the concept of race. Coyne (2009) argues that race is another word for variations within one species, and this feature is common for all species on the planet. Hence, races (certain vivid differences between different groups of humans) support the theory of evolution and the concept of adaptation. Diverse groups of people had to adapt to the environment they inhabited, so they developed the most suitable traits. The author emphasizes that genetic differences between races are associated with the variation of alleles, so no dramatic gaps can exist. I agree with the researcher’s conclusion that people are just too young to develop major distinctive features, so cultural aspects are the strongest factors affecting individuals’ behavior.
The final chapter of the book dwells upon the modern state of science based on the theory of evolution, as well as the modern status of humans as species. People are still adapting to new environments, and these adaptations are mainly associated with cultural factors and behavioral patterns. I personally appreciate the part related to people’s health and the association between health and ancestors’ lives. The parts concerning lactose tolerance or eating behaviors provide the ground for understanding the mechanisms that can prevent diseases. Knowing the nature of people’s behavior can be instrumental in developing effective tools to help people cope with their health problems or avoid any. The author also shows that creationists’ claims and fears that science deprives humans of being truly humane as they focus on materialistic rather than spiritual aspects are irrelevant.
This chapter may seem unrelated to the point and too philosophical. However, I find it a good concluding piece that creates a bridge between science and supernaturalistic views. The author stresses that the theory of evolution may have some controversies or unclear portions, but these controversies may be explained by the lack of data and knowledge. People simply are yet to discover new facts that will support different aspects of the theory. There are numerous examples of filling in the gaps, which build on and refined the theory.
The book under review is one of the central readings for people of all ages (but young generations will benefit most). The author uses simple terms and illustrations that are understandable to a wide audience. As mentioned above, the researcher uses captivating illustrations when discussing features and behaviors. Instead of, or rather in addition to, discussing some conventional examples provided by evolutionists, Coyne (2009) chooses cases that are memorable and even stunning. This kind of presentation is one of the factors making the book such a successful reading on the theory of evolution. I find myself in a difficult position as being a reviewer I need to identify some weaknesses of the book. However, I can hardly name any because the book is interesting, detailed, and evidence-based. I believe I cannot identify any shortcomings as I am a devout evolutionist.
I am a supporter of the evolutionist approach, although (following Coyne (2009)) I admit that there is a certain likelihood of supernatural or another origin of biodiversity. I did not need to be persuaded, but I became even more convinced that I was right to believe in evolution. More importantly, the book will become a source of evidence to persuade (or rather enlighten) others. Some people may contradict and try to prove that supernatural forces created everything in this world. Instead of saying something general about Darwin’s and other scientists’ discoveries, I will have interesting facts to provide. I will refer people to the book under review to help them develop an understanding of what the world actually is.
Coyne, J. A. (2009). Why evolution is true. New York, N.Y: Penguin Books.