October 13, 2021

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by Jerry A. Coyne.
Viking, 2009 (282 pages)

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    Quote = Darwinism is "this simple and profoundly beautiful theory of evolution by natural selection. It has been so often misunderstood, and even maliciously misstated, that it is worth pausing for a moment to set out its essential points and claims... In essence, the modern 'theory of evolution' is easy to grasp. It can be summarized in a single (long sentence) — 'Life on earth evolved gradually beginning with one primitive species — perhaps a self-replicating molecule — that lived more than 3.5 billion years ago; it then branched out over time, splitting off many new and diverse species; and the mechanism for most — but not all — of evolutionary change is natural selection'." (By author, Jerry Coyne, paraphrased slightly by webmaster, page 3)

    Quote = "Main idea of chapter one: All the evidence for the existence or truth of evolution — both old and new — leads ineluctably [meaning inevitably; inescapably; or by necessity] to the conclusion that evolution is true." (Paraphrased by webmaster from Chapter 1, pages 1-19)
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note = Numbers in parentheses refer to pages

PREFACE (xi-xiv)

    Quote = "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." (By Michael Shermer, page xv)
    Quote = "A curious aspect of the theory of evolution is that everybody thinks he understands it." (By Jacques Monod, page 1)

    Quote = Main idea of chapter one: "All the evidence for the existence or truth of evolution — both old and new — leads ineluctably [meaning inevitably; inescapably; or by necessity] to the conclusion that evolution is true." (Paraphrased by webmaster from Chapter 1)

    note = "Darwin's argument against Paley's Divine Design argument for the existence of God:"

      "Darwin well knew the seductive power of arguments like Paley's. The more one learns about plants and animals, the more one marvels at how well their designs fit their ways of life."

      "What could be more natural than inferring that this fit reflects conscious design?" (3)

    note = "Yet Darwin looked beyond the obvious, suggesting — and supporting with copious evidence — two ideas that forever dispelled the idea of deliberate design. Those ideas were "evolution" and "natural selection." Darwin was not the first to think of evolution — since several before him, including his own grandfather Erasmus Darwin, floated the idea that life had evolved. But Darwin was the first to use data from nature to convince people that evolution was true, and his idea of natural selection was truly novel." (3)

    note = "It testifies to his genius that the concept of natural theology, accepted by most educated Westerners before 1859, was vanquished within only a few years by a single 500 page book! Darwin's book, On the Origin of Species, turned the mysteries of life's diversity from mythology into genuine science." (3)

    note = "So what is 'Darwinism'? This simple and profoundly beautiful theory of evolution by natural selection, has been so often misunderstood, and even maliciously misstated, that it is worth pausing for a moment to set out its essential points and claims... In essence, the modern 'theory of evolution' is easy to grasp. It can be summarized in a single (long sentence) — "Life on earth evolved gradually beginning with one primitive species — perhaps a self-replicating molecule — that lived more than 3.5 billion years ago; it then branched out over time, splitting off many new and diverse species; and the mechanism for most — but not all — of evolutionary change is natural selection." (3)

    note = "When you break that statement down, you find that it really consists of six components = [1] Evolution, [2] Gradualism, [3] Speciation, [4] Common ancestry, [5] Natural selection, and [6] Non-selective mechanisms of evolutionary change. Let us examine what each of these parts means." (3)

      [1] Evolution = gradual genetic change within a species over time (3)

      [2] Gradualism = it takes many generations to produce a substantial change (4)

      [3] Speciation = life is diverse because of slitting apart or speciation (4-5)

      [4] Common ancestry = we can always look back in time, using either DNA sequences or fossil, and find descendants joining at their ancestors (10-13)

      [5] Natural selection = (13)

        "The idea of ‘natural selection' is not hard to grasp. If individuals within a species differ genetically from one another, and some of those differences affect an individual's ability to survive and reproduce in its environment, then in the next generation the ‘good' genes that lead to higher survival and reproduction will have relatively more copies than the ‘not-so-good' genes... Over time, the population will gradually become more and more suited to its environment as helpful mutations arise and spread through the population, while deleterious ones are weeded out. Ultimately, this process produces organisms that are well adapted to their habitats and way of life... The process is remarkably simple. It requires only that individuals of a species vary genetically in their ability to survive and reproduce in their environment. Given this, natural selection — and evolution — are inevitable...This requirement is met in every species that has ever been examined. And since many traits can affect an individual's adaptation to its environment (its "fitness"), natural selection can, and over eons, sculpt an animal or plant into something that looks designed." (11)

      [6] Non-selective mechanisms of evolutionary change = mutations (13-14)

    note = "So natural selection does not yield perfection — only improvements over what came before. It produces the ‘fitter,' not the ‘fittest.' And although selection gives the appearance of design, that design may often be imperfect. Ironically, it is in those imperfections, that we find important evidence for evolution." (13)

    note = "According to the Oxford English Dictionary, a scientific theory is 'a statement of what are held to be the general laws, principles, or causes of something known or observed.' Thus we can speak of the 'theory of gravity' as the proposition that all objects with mass attract one another according to a strict relationship involving the distance between them. Or we talk of the 'theory of relativity,' which makes specific claims about the speed of light and the curvature of space-time." (15)

    note = "Two ideas should be emphasized here. First, in science, a theory is much more than just a speculation about how things are. A theory is a well thought-out group of propositions meant to explain facts about the real world. For example, 'atomic theory' is not just the statement that 'atoms exist;' it is a statement about how atoms interact with one another, form compounds, and behave chemically. Similarly, the 'theory of evolution' is more than just the statement that 'evolution happened.' It is an extensively documented set of principles that explain 'how and why' evolution happens — in six major principles!" (15)
    [1] Making the record (21-25)

    [2] The facts (25-26)

      (1) Big patterns (26-52)

      (2) Fossilized evolution and speciation (29-32)

      (3) "Missing links" (32-35)

      (4) Onto the land — from fish to amphibians (35-38)

      (5) Into thin air — the origin of birds (39-42)

      (6) Back to the water — the evolution of whales (42-52)

    [3] What the fossils say — the fossil record teaches us three things (52-54)

      (1) First, it speaks loudly and eloquently of evolution = gradual change within lineages, splitting of lineages, and the existence of transitional forms between very different kinds of organisms. There is no getting around this evidence, no waving it away. Evolution happened — and in many cases we see how! (53)

      (2) Second, when we find transitional forms, they occur in the fossil record precisely where they should. The earliest birds appear after dinosaurs but before modern birds. We see ancestral whales spanning the gap between their own landlubber ancestors and fully modern whales. If evolution were not true, [then] fossils would not occur in an order that makes evolutionary sense! (53)

      (3) Finally, evolutionary change, even of a major sort, nearly always involves remodeling the old into the new. The legs of land animals are variations on the stout limbs of ancestral fish. The tiny middle ear bones of mammals are remodeled jawbones of their reptilian ancestors. The wings of birds were fashioned from the legs of dinosaurs. (53)

    There is no reason why a [hypothetical] "celestial designer" [or god], fashioning organisms from scratch like an architect designs buildings, should make new species by remodeling the features of existing ones. Each species could be constructed from the ground up. But natural selection can act only by changing what already exists. It cannot produce new traits out of thin air! (54)

    Darwinism predicts, then, that new species will be modified versions of older ones. The fossil record amply confirms this prediction. (54)
3) REMNANTS — Vestiges, embryos, and bad design (55-85)
    Quote = "Nothing in biology makes sense except in the light of evolution." (By Theodosius Dobzhansky, page 55)

      [1] Vestiges (55-64)

      [2] Atavisms (54-66)

      [3] Dead genes (66-73)

      [4] Palimpsests in embryos (73-80)

      [5] Bad design (81-85)
    Quote = "When on board H. M. S. ‘Beagle' as naturalist, I was much struck with certain facts in the distribution of the inhabitants of South America, and in the geological relations of the present to the past inhabitants of that continent. These facts seemed to me to throw some light on the origin of species — that mystery of mysteries — as it has been called by one of our greatest philosophers." (By Charles Darwin in On the Origin of Species, page 144)

      [1] Continents (91-99)

      [2] Islands (99-109)

      [3] Envoi (109-110)
    [1] Evolution without selection (122-124)

    [2] Animal and plant breeding (125-128)

    [3] Evolution in the "test tube" (128-132)

    [4] Selection in the wild (132-136)

    [5] Can selection build complexity (136-143)
    [1] The solutions (148-154)

    [2] Why sex? (154-159)

    [3] Breaking the rules (159-161)

    [4] Why choose? (161-167)
    Quote = "Each species is a masterpiece of evolution that humanity could not possibly duplicate even if we somehow accomplish the creation of new organisms by genetic engineering." (By E.O. Wilson, page 168)
8) WHAT ABOUT US? (190-189)
    Quote = Princess Ida: "Darwinian Man, though well behaved, At best is only a monkey shaved." (By William S. Gilbert and Arthur Sullivan)

      [1] Fossil ancestors (194-210)

      [2] Our genetic heritage ( 210-212)

      [3] The sticky question of race (212-216)

      [4] What about now? (216-220)
9) EVOLUTION REDUX (221-233)
    Quote = "After sleeping through a hundred million centuries we have finally opened our eyes on a sumptuous planet, sparkling with color, bountiful with life. Within decades we must close our eyes again. Is it a noble, an enlightened way of spending our brief time in the sun, to work at understanding the universe and how we have come to wake up in it? That is how I answer when I am asked — as I am surprisingly often — why I bother to get up in the mornings." (By Richard Dawkins, page 221)

      [1] The beast within (225-233)

    note = A common belief about evolution is that if we recognize that we are only evolved mammals, there will be nothing to prevent us from acting like beasts. Morality will be out the window, and the law of the jungle will prevail. This belief is called the "naturalistic view of ethics" [Nancy Pearcey].

    note = "Universals"

    note = Einstein quote about studying the mysteries of the universe as "spiritual"
NOTES (235-245)

GLOSSARY (247-250)


REFERENCES (257-270)


INDEX (273-282)

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR = Jerry A. Coyne has been a professor at the University of Chicago in the department of ecology and evolution for twenty years. He specializes in evolutionary genetics and works predominantly on the origin of new species.

SUMMARY = In this succinct and accessible summary of the facts supporting the theory of natural selection, Jerry A. Coyne dispels common misunderstandings and fears about evolution and clearly confirms the scientific truth that supports this amazing process of evolutionary change. The book sets out to prove evolution right by using irrefutable evidence.

BOOK DESCRIPTION = In the current debate about creationism and intelligent design, there is an element of the controversy that is rarely mentioned — the evidence for evolution. In crisp, lucid prose, Coyne weaves together the many threads of modern research findings in genetics, paleontology, geology, molecular biology, and anatomy that demonstrate the "indelible stamp" of the processes first proposed by Darwin. While extolling the beauty of evolution and examining case studies, even Richard Dawkins and Stephen Jay Gould did not focus on the evidence itself. Yet the proof is vast, varied, and magnificent, drawn from many different fields of science. Now scientists are observing species splitting into two and are finding more and more fossils capturing change in the past, such as dinosaurs who sprouted feathers, and fish who grew limbs eons ago. It does not aim to prove creationism wrong.

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PUBLISHERS WEEKLY REVIEW = With great care, attention to the scientific evidence and a wonderfully accessible style, Coyne, an evolutionary geneticist at the University of Chicago, presents an overwhelming case for evolution. Ranging from biogeography to geology, from anatomy to genetics, and from molecular biology to physiology, he demonstrates that evolutionary theory makes predictions that are consistently borne out by the data — basic requirements for a scientific theory to be valid. Additionally, although fully respectful of those who promote intelligent design and creationism, he uses the data at his disposal to demolish any thought that creationism is supported by the evidence while also explaining why those ideas fall outside the bounds of science. Coyne directly addresses the concept often advanced by religious fundamentalists that an acceptance of evolution must lead to immorality, concluding that "evolution tells us where we came from, not where we can go." Readers looking to understand the case for evolution and searching for a response to many of the most common creationist claims should find everything they need in this powerful book, which is clearer and more comprehensive than the many others on the subject.

LIBRARY JOURNAL REVIEW = November 2008 marks the 150th anniversary of the publication of Darwin's On the Origin of Species, and Coyne's (Univ. of Chicago) excellent volume offers a crystal clear presentation of the evidence for evolution with no polemics, unnecessary technicalities, or undue epistemological speculation. His prose is not fancy but compelling in its clarity. This is Coyne's first book for a general audience; he has been doing distinguished research on speciation for many years and has written magazine articles on evolution and related topics. The author brings his extensive knowledge of evolution to his writing but is spare with details of his own work, concentrating on explaining all the independent lines of evidence for evolution. These include the fossil record, vestigial organs, embryology, makeshift design, biogeography, direct and indirect observations of natural and sexual selection, and observations of speciation itself. He addresses the perennial counter arguments with effective dispatch without being insulting. Many recent writers, from Stephen Jay Gould and Richard Dawkins through Sean B. Carroll and Neil Shubin, have made wonderful contributions to the public understanding of evolution, but Coyne has done the best job of simply laying out the evidence. Highly recommended for all libraries.-Walter L. Cressler, West Chester Univ. Lib.,

CHOICE REVIEW = This well-written account of recent discoveries supporting Darwinian evolution confronts creationists and intelligent design advocates who argue for including their views in the public school science curriculum. The evidence supporting evolution is drawn from genetics, anatomy, molecular biology, paleontology, and geology. Coyne (Univ. of Chicago), a well-respected authority on speciation and evolutionary biology, provides examples of the genetic foundations of natural selection and adaptation. He explains speciation events in terms of lineage splitting, and also discusses the importance of geographical isolation and the concept of common ancestry.

The nine chapters define evolution, document recent geological discoveries, and explain how dead genes and bad design stand witness to the vestiges of embryonic development. Coyne also details the roles of natural and sexual selection in evolution, and includes an excellent account of our own genetic heritage and that of our fossil ancestors. The book shows how evolution enhances the beauty of life and, more importantly, that it is more than "just a theory." This elegant, easy-to-read work has received glowing praise from biologists such as E. O. Wilson, Steven Pinker, and Richard Dawkins. It invites readers to experience the wonder and explanatory power of Darwinian evolution, and to face its implications without fear. Summing Up: Highly recommended. All levels/libraries. S. M. Paracer Worcester State College.

FROM BOOKLIST = Starred Review Far more presentational than disputatious, Coyne's demonstration that evolution has proven itself in lab and field is still a deliberate answer to anti-evolutionism, especially creationism or intelligent design. At its most comprehensive, creationism claims that each species is the product of a separate creative act; less universally, that at least humans were so created. Frequently throughout lucid, accessible chapters on the fossil record, vestigial features of modern bodies (e.g., the tail rarely seen but documented in newborns), biogeography, natural selection, sexual selection, speciation, and human evolution — the basic areas of evolutionary investigation — Coyne remarks that the material evidence confirms evolution, not creationism.

For the evidence shows complexities and imperfections that creationism can't explain or even allow, for that would necessitate positing a sloppy, imperfect creator or intelligence that couldn't fashion creatures to ideally fit either their habitats or their bodies. Evolution, on the other hand, expects imperfection and Jerry-rigging, and the physical findings, lately made much more precise by genetic analysis, just bolster confidence in it. In conclusion, Coyne wonders what it would take to convince the apparently reasonable people who still deny evolution. A new Milton, perhaps, to justify evolution's ways in great poetry? Meanwhile, at a time—the Darwin bicentennial and Origin of Species sesquicentennial—when good evolution books are rife, Coyne has given general readers one of the best. – Ray Olson

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[1] Coyne's knowledge of evolutionary biology is prodigious, his deployment of it as masterful as his touch is light. – Richard Dawkins

[2] The book makes an unassailable case. – New York Times

[3] In nine crisp chapters...the respected evolutionary biologist lays out an airtight case that Earth is unspeakably old and that new species evolve from previous ones. – Boston Globe

[4] Coyne's book is the best general explication of evolution that I know of and deserves its success as a best seller. – R.C. Lewontin, New York Review of Books

[5] I recommend that Mr. Coyne's insightful and withering assessment of evolutionary studies of human psychology and behavior be taped to the bathroom mirrors of all those (perhaps especially journalists) inclined to be swept into excited announcements of What Evolution Shows About Us. – Philip Kitcher, Wall Street Journal

[6] With logic and clarity, Coyne presents the vast trove of scientific evidence that supports Darwin's theory. – Cleveland Plain Dealer

[7] It's always a pleasure to tell people about a wonderful book, especially when the subject of the book is of universal and critical importance. Evolutionary geneticist Jerry A. Coyne has given us such a book...A book that may change the way you look at things-if you dare" – The Huffington Post

[8] In this 200th anniversary year of Darwin's birth, Why Evolution is True ranks among the best new titles flooding bookstores. – Christian Science Monitor

[9] A stunning achievement. Coyne has produced a classic — whether you are an expert or novice in science, a friend or foe of evolutionary biology, reading the book is bound to be an enlightening experience. – Neil Shubin, author of Your Inner Fish

[10] Jerry Coyne has long been one of the world's most skillful defenders of evolutionary science in the face of religious obscurantism. He has produced an indispensable book — the single, accessible volume that makes the case for evolution. But Coyne has delivered much more than the latest volley in our ‘culture war.' He has given us an utterly fascinating, lucid, and beautifully written account of our place in the natural world. If you want to better understand your kinship with the rest of life, this book is the place to start. by Sam Harris, author of The End of Faith; Letter to a Christian Nation; and Waking Up; and founder of the Reason Project

[11] Evolution is the foundation of modern biology, and in this book, Coyne masterfully explains why. From the vast trove of evidence that evolution scientists have gathered, Coyne has carefully selected some of the most striking examples and explained them with equal parts grace and authority. by Carl Zimmer, author of Microcosm — E. coli and the New Science of Life.

[12] Jerry Coyne's book does an outstanding job making the basic concepts of evolution understandable for the average reader. He covers topics ranging from the fossil record to biogeography to the genetic mechanisms of evolution with equal clarity, and shows convincingly why creationism and ‘intelligent design' fail miserably as science. by Donald R. Prothero, professor of geology at Occidental College, and author of Evolution — What the Fossils Say and Why it Matters.

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