Friday, September 4, 2009

Book Review: Why Evolution is True

Why Evolution is True by Jerry A. Coyne

Book description: What is evolution? What proof is there that it exists? Jerry Coyne answers those questions in a very accessible and interesting way. He explains exactly what evolution is (and isn't), and then provides specific examples of proof that evolution exists.

Eighty-three years have passed since Scopes v. State, also known as the Scopes Monkey Trial. John Scopes, a high school science teacher, was found guilty of teaching evolution. However, due to a technicality on appeal, he was never actually punished.

But surely we have moved beyond that, right? Coyne's book starts out with some personal reflections on Kitzmiller et al. vs. Dover Area School District et al: a modern day Scopes monkey trial in which the Dover, PA school district board passed a resolution requiring biology teachers to read a short statement offering intelligent design as an alternative theory to evolution. Some outraged parents sued, and thankfully, the judge ruled in their favor. That case was in 2005.

In 2009, band members of Smith-Cotton High School (Sedalia, MO) were forced to return tee-shirts that were promoting their fall program because the shirts depicted the evolution of man. (The theme of the program was "Brass Evolution".)

Obviously, evolution is still a contentious issue. Creationism has been renamed "intelligent design" and is still being pushed to be offered as an "alternative" in parts of the country. In his book, Coyne does an admirable job in not only defending evolution but, by implication, exposing intelligent design's lack of foundation.

He begins by explaining that a scientific theory is much stronger and unimpeachable than laymen consider a theory. The "theory" of evolution is commonly accepted in the scientific community as scientific fact. There has been no evidence to contradict it, despite creationists assertions to the contrary (he also debunks a number of those in his book). And he points to evidence that not only did the planet and all plants and animals on it evolved, but that humans did as well.

I find evolution absolutely fascinating, and I am constantly amazed when I run into someone who turns a blind eye to all the evidence that it happened and that it's still happening today. I love learning how different species evolved in a community and formed relationships with other species (predator-prey, symbiotes, etc.), and within species.

Evolution has always been wrapped up in my head with the environment thanks to my college course "Ecology & Evolution" - but it does make sense. If you're learning about ecology, learning about how said ecology came about can be extremely enlightening in understanding why things are they way they are.

Just call me an evolution fangirl.

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