Final Review

Here’s the review of Jerry Coyne’s Why Evolution Is True that I posted on goodreads.com when I finished the book:

I’d give it 2.5 stars if I could. Seeing how I think he’s wrong, though, I’ll downgrade rather than upgrade. [I gave it two stars]

I probably agree with 70% of what’s in the book, which may be surprising, me being a creationist. I’m not going to try to untangle all the mixtures of agreement and disagreement.. but its interesting that I definitely am fully onboard with over half of the book, but still disagree with the major premise; that evolution is true.

Coyne succeeds in presenting a case for neo-darwinian evolution. By which I mean, he successfully explains observations in light of modern evolutionary theory. He paints a fairly complete systematic understanding of the history of life. I recommend the book to everyone for this reason. E.O. Wilson is correct when he writes in the blurb on the back that this is a “clear, well-written explanation of evolution.”

Unfortunately, he doesn’t begin to explain the serious difficulties of darwinism (he outright denies the existence of such problems!). That’s a major drawback of the book… it presents it more as a defensive boast rather than a scientific and critical examination of evidence.

A further detriment is the apparently intentional strawman portrayal of creationists. There is an endnote on page 33 that explains the creationist position as allowing for microevolutionary change within biblical ‘kinds’. But this is the only place in the book creationists are treated this honestly. Everywhere else ‘special creation’ is caricatured as a special creation event for each and every species of organism. It is dishonest and, once again, takes away from the argument of the book.

The final failure of the book I will mention is the last chapter, where Coyne attempts to deal with philosophical and metaphysical implications of evolution. It is a sad attempt… while he should be praised for recognizing the need to deal with these issues, he should have stopped when he honestly stated the case: “How can you derive meaning, purpose, or ethics from evolution? You can’t.” (p225)

Here are the two posts I made while reading the book:
Evolution/Creation/Intelligent Design
millions of years of change

5 thoughts on “Final Review

  1. Thanks for pointing me to this review. So, are there evolutionists who would agree with you that there are difficulties in defending Darwinism? If so, who are they? Thanks!

  2. I don’t think many evolutionists would say there are difficulties defending Darwinism (there are some that argue for other mechanisms, like Gould for example with his Punctuated Equilibrium theory), but any/all of them when not in a context of defending evolution will say there is a lot of knowledge to be had.

    Darwinism is accepted as the filter to interpret observations. In their minds it doesn’t need defending. But, when in a ‘safe place’, I’m certain they would all agree that there are areas that need better explanation.

    Pick up any biological journal and look at the research on evolution… it’s all new knowledge that is attempting to better explain where current knowledge is lacking.

    In one of the other posts linked at the bottom I refer to the battling explanations of how bird flight evolved. There is not agreement.. at least two contradictory views are in the mix. Both are darwinian and both have good criticisms of the other, but they can’t both be true. Evolution needs some ironing.

    Take a look at work by W.F. Doolittle… he’s an evolutionist and darwinian, but his research has presented serious problems to the present day understanding of Darwin’s universal tree of life. He suggested there were multiple, independent instances of life origins, and data has supported him. That throws a real wrench in explaining how all life shares a genetic code (which is a major argument for common descent).
    Then, problems come from the other side too, because many organisms have a modified genetic code, that *isn’t* the same as everything else. Where did these guys come from?

  3. Wow, very interesting. I think my first job should be to research what Darwinism consists of… for example, I didn’t even know that punctuated equilibrium was a separate mechanism from Darwinism. Thanks.

  4. Darwinism is small changes built up step-by-step over very large stretches of time.

    This is why the idea of ‘irreducible complexity’ has traction (IMO). Some molecular machines don’t appear to have a favorable function until after they are assembled, but according to Darwinism they would have to be assembled step-by-step, and that only works when each step gives that organism a selective advantage over those that don’t have it (allowing them to reproduce more and spread that gene/adaption through the population).

    Punctuated Equilibrium (which isn’t a widely accepted evolutionary mechanism) is when organisms stay pretty much the same for long stretches of time, and then very quickly have a whole host of changes, creating new organisms and body plans, which then exist for long stretches of time before rapid changes again. Gould suggested this because it is very often what is observed in the fossil record. You see lots and lots of time where everything looks the same, and then all of the sudden, bunches of new organisms. look for “Cambrian Explosion” for examples of this.

  5. I’ve heard the “irreducible complexity” argument before. It seems a very compelling criticism of Darwinism. Are there other evolutionary theories to explain it besides Gould’s? I have trouble following these debates because they quickly become so technical and I’m a layperson.

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