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118 of 125 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Excellent account of evolution, 25 Jan 2009
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This review is from: Why Evolution is True (Hardcover)
Jerry Coyne is a bit annoyed that it was necessary to write this book. I am glad he got annoyed enough to write it. In part he is writing against the intelligent design movement, and against creationism and he shows the flaws in these viewpoints not with rhetoric, but with well chosen evidence.

The book is a powerful and straightforward account of evolution showing the strength of the theory, its ability to make predictions, and giving many examples of the evidence on which evolution is based. After reading the book you have a good idea of what evolution is about, and what fields of study it applies in. Coyne is clear that evolution is a theory in biology of great explanatory power. The key idea is that of descent with modification.

He is also clear (in his final chapter evolution redux) of the limits to evolutionary thinking. Good scientists know what they know, and also have some idea where their knowledge stops. Coyne demonstrates this ability well. By doing this he becomes a far better advocate for evolution than Dawkins.

Evolution is not an ontological or moral theory. You can derive no moral lesson from evolution- it just is (p253). David Hume pointed out that deriving an ought from an is is usually to make a specious argument. The fact that the idea of evolution as progress has been misused by many is not an argument against evolution. It is an argument against the misuse of ideas.

Coyne (p248)describes that, "There is an increasing (and disturbing) tendency of psychologists, biologists and philosophers to Darwinize every aspect of human behaviour, turning its study into a scientific parlour game." He liberates us (p250)from some of the genetic determinism that sometimes accompanies evolution, "There is no reason, then, to see ourselves as marionettes dancing on the strings of evolution. Yes certain parts of our behaviour may be genetically encoded, instilled by natural selection in our savanna-dwelling ancestors. But genes aren't destiny...."genetic" does not mean "unchangeable.""

Coyne liberates evolution from its role as chief evidence for atheism.(pxix) "Nor must it promote atheism, for enlightened religion has always found a way to accommodate the advances of science. In fact, understanding evolution should surely deepen and enrich our appreciation of the living world and our place in it." Denis Alexander makes a similar point in his recent book,"Creation or Evolution:Do we have to choose."

This book does have one notable omission which arises because it sticks closely to the facts. There is no account of how the first cell ever got started, maybe because there is not yet any great evidence for how this happened. So far as I can understand evolution it describes the mechanisms of relationship between ancestors and descendants, but the tracing back of ancestors can only go back so far- to some original reproducing cell.

This book is timely this year. It's a great account of how evolution works from its 6 basic principles namely evolution (genetic change over time), gradualism, speciation, common ancestry, natural selection, and non selective mechanisms of evolutionary change. The basic principles have clear starting points and consequences which are observable or at least, inferable.

It puts evolution in a sensible context, and shows where, and to what, it sensibly applies. It is a welcome book this year and it puts the theory of evolution centre stage on its own merits, and not as a means to advocating for other ideas. Sensible, tolerant, encouraging and provoking further thought. Very scientific. Highly recommended.
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Showing 1-5 of 5 posts in this discussion
Initial post: 25 May 2009 11:10:24 BDT
David Benton says:
[Customers don't think this post adds to the discussion. Show post anyway. Show all unhelpful posts.]

Posted on 4 Sep 2009 22:43:14 BDT
G. Stevens says:
"Coyne liberates evolution from its role as chief evidence for atheism."

I've never seen evolution in this light. Evolution is evidence that things evolve, rather than were designed, nothing more. It debunks ID but provides no evidence that there is no 'higher power'. I have yet to read the book, it's ordered, so I'm unsure if those are Dr Davies words or the authors. The chief 'evidence', should atheists actually need any, is the lack of evidence from theists for their beliefs.

The comment from the book 'In fact, understanding evolution should surely deepen and enrich our appreciation of the living world and our place in it' appears to actually suggest that evolution should actually support a theist position, presented as it is as a counterpoint to the earlier part of the paragraph. The sentiment on it's own makes sense, evolution is a huge idea and should indeed elicit the feelings suggested, but in this context just appears silly.

On the subject of genetic determinism Dawkins has already made the point, on several occasions, that while genes may predispose us to certain behaviours they do not determine them. This is not a new idea. After The Selfish Gene Dawkins was called on to respond to those who misinterpreted the book, either wilfully or ignorantly, and understood it to mean that our genetic makeup relieved us of responsibilty for our actions.

In reply to an earlier post on 18 Sep 2009 00:15:20 BDT
D. Lowbrow says:
Nonsense, Mr Benton. Dr Davies's review is a model Amazon review: intelligent, clear and informative. I'll be buying this book on the strength of it.

Posted on 3 Nov 2009 11:49:54 GMT
I cannot accept evolution as a viable explanation for existence. It requires a leap of faith akin to any other form of idea based upon scant evidence. I for one will not be buying this book as it challenges my own indoctrination into the Flat Earth Society and the League of Fairies.

Good day,

Regards

Godfrey Heathen

Posted on 25 Jan 2010 11:53:54 GMT
Excellent review. I am an applied ecologist and bought and have read the book after I saw it recommended as further reading in a Brights one pager on Evolution. The book was very enjoyable and well written and contains a number of useful figures and illustrations. One of the best books on Evolution I have read. Richard Dawkins is quoted on the back cover calling the book "marvelous", noting that "Anyone who doesn't believe in evolution is stupid, insane or hasn't read Jerry Coyne" (adding ignorance is no crime).
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Dr. Peter Davies
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