Natural Law, Science, and the Social Construction of Reality
As a philosopher who has written on evolution, both from a scientific and ethical viewpoints, I found this book to be extremely clear in explaining what evolution is, and what it isn't, and why we all not only should, but MUST accept the truth of evolution.
I have two minor quibbles with the book, quibbles only a philosopher would have. One has to do with the use of the term 'theory' and the other with Coyne's discussion of values in the last chapter.
Coyne is essentially correct in stating that the scientific use of 'theory' is not the same as everyday usage. In science theories explain facts. For example, atomic theory explains why boiled water turns to steam. Evolution is a fact. The evidence is overwhelming. Yet people refuse to accept the truth of evolution by calling it a theory.
As Coyne points out, there are some problems with explaining certain aspects of the evolutionary process, but that, in no way, diminishes the truth of evolution. My minor quibble with his use of the term is that he sometimes uses it a bit imprecisely and sometimes comes close to everyday usage.
The book is set out in 9 self chapters, each presents what is needed to convince the reader of the truth of evolution. And, in the process, he demonstrates the shortcomings and fallacies of anti evolution arguments.
In chapter one he defines what evolution is: "Life on Earth evolved gradually beginning with one primitive species....more than 3.5 billion years ago; it then branched out over time, throwing off many new and diverse species; and the mechanism for mot ( but not all) evolutionary change is natural selection."
Chapter two discusses the fossil record and how the fossil record demonstrates evolution in three ways:
Fossils confirms predictions which arise out of evolutionary theory, transitional forms are in the fossil record where they should be, and the fossil record records major changes.
Chapter three deals with our vestigial organs and how they demonstrate human evolution, as well as how human embryonic development also demonstrates the evolutionary process in humans. In this chapter Coyne also shows how various arguments from design do not hold up.
Chapter four is about how geography influences evolution from the developments of different characteristics of the same specie in different geographical contexts, and how travel to isolated islands can effect the evolution of a species. This leads into a discussion of the effects of environment on evolution.
Chapter five is a detailed discussion of the processes of natural selection and how it works, using a wide variety of examples. Briefly, natural selection involves the adaption of a characteristic which is variable within a species as the color of an animal. Second, some of the variation has to be genetic, and third, the genetic change must improve the animal's ability to leave offspring.
Chapter six about how sexual selection affects evolution. It is through sex that we reproduce, so how sex selects who produces works with natural selection in insuring species survival.
Chapter seven discusses what is meant by 'species.' It was Coyne's teacher Ernst Mayr who came up with the definition still used: a group of interbreeding natural populations that are reproductively isolated from other such groups." This is called the "biological Species Concept."
And chapter eight finally gets around to human evolution. Coyne again returns to the fossil record and relates some of the history of finding fossils that fill out the human evolutionary chain. In this chapter he also discusses the relationship between humans and our nearest relatives, the chimpanzees. The most interesting aspect of this discussion is that, while we are constantly told that there is only a 1.5% difference in the dna of chimps and humans, Coyne shows how this is misleading and that the differences, when looked at from an amino acid standpoint, since there are hundreds of them, 1% in genetic material may still mean there are hundreds of differences in protein make up of the dna. Thus we are bit farther away from chimps than just 1.5%
And in the final chapter Coyne discusses why people still refuse to believe in evolution. People do want to give up other aspects of how we think about ourselves.
And my final quibble is when Coyne allows that sources such religion can still be used for our values. In this he still adheres to an old view of science where fact and value are separated. But, as I argue in my book, listed above, our understanding of nature implies certain values. In other words, evolution contains a foundation for ethics.
But aside from these minor quibbles, this a is a great book and should convince every reader of the truth of evolution.