Review of Why Evolution is True
By Jerry A. Coyne
Review by C. Paula de los Angeles
Darwin matters because evolution matters. Evolution matters because science matters. Science matters because it is the preeminent story of our age, an epic saga about who we are, where we came from, and where we are going.
Out of all the books on Darwin and evolution I have read this quarter, a University of Chicago biology professor’s, Jerry A. Coyne’s Why Evolution is True has been my favorite. Opening with the above quote, everything about this book was elegant and tight—the writing, the explanations, the questions asked and answered. The student of both leading biologists Ernst Mayr and Stephen Jay Gould, Coyne provides a comprehensive and convincing dissertation on why evolution is true, science-that’s explained-in-a-way-that’s-easy-to-understand included. In a way, Why Evolution is True is an updated Origin, with all the recent developments in biology filled in—the new fossils, the population genetics, the evolutionary developmental biology; it’s all there.
My two favorite chapters were 1) Chapter Three, Remnants: Vestiges, Embryos, and Bad Designs and 2) Chapter Eight, What about us?. The former explains how the imperfect designs of humans and animals do not lend credence to an Intelligent Designer, or watchmaker in the words of antecedent theological William Paley. He cites ostriches that can’t fly, the human tial or coccyx, and pseudogenes like GLO, which doesn’t allow humans to make vitamin C, though most primates and guinea pigs can. The latter chapter proposes that evolution may still be in action, humans are evolving, citing the variable ability to digest lactose across human populations and drug resistance as examples. In an explanation of race, Coyne argues, the presence of different races in humans shows that our populations were geographically separated long enough to allow some genetic divergence to occur.
What is most compelling is Coyne’s logic and attitude. Though he seems frustrated that we still have to convince the public of “why evolution is true”, 150 years after natural selection was proposed by Darwin, he is patient with the reader. Coyne is enthusiastic and is able to explain the biology, the science, and its importancein a simple and elegant way. For Darwin, the scientists, and every individuals, evolution matters. To the body of literature, popular science, and research on evolution, Why Evolution is True matters.