Why Evolution Is True/Jerry Coyne

Phew. Just finished reading Jerry Coyne’s book, “Why Evolution Is True”. This would be the first book I’ve ever read using an e-book reader.(although I admit I skimmed through the one-before last chapter because there is a limit of how many times I can read the same stuff, even about evolution. More about that, later).

Since I have a laptop soldered to my abdomen, and have evolved special skin-pouches (battery charger included!) for my Asus PPC (which also serves as my mobile cell phone) – I figured as much that using these two to keep and read books with is favorable. I also have no qualms over reading e-books instead of stroking the fabric of papery words with my fingers – words are just as meaningful and inspiring, be they imprinted in ink, manifested in pixels or are engraved in stone. I have a designated e-reader version for my PPC, which allows me to comfortably read at bedtime without even having to turn a page.

Well, enough with the technological self-stroking, let’s talk about Coyne’s book a bit, shall we?

“Why Evolution Is True” – What I Like:

Jerry Coyne is an ultra-informed evolutionary biologist, who studies fruit flies and probably break records at giving away hardcore evidence for evolution, in any field. Unlike Dawkins, Pinker, Gould and Sean B. Carroll (authors I truly admire) – Coyne tends to write in a more “American”, “No-Bullshit” style. He gives you the facts, straight off. Doesn’t beat about the bush, likes to get his hands dirty, et cetera et cetera. I could learn a thing or two from him 🙂

This isn’t to say that he glibly writes ho-hum facts akin to the snoring lectures of the most careless and tired old professors. He’s funny, he’s eloquent, and he does the job of writing well, he’s just a little lacking in the hot-air department.

To me, this is important. Although writing a book demands the occasional waxing poetic, the main concern for me when I read popular science is, well, science. I want to finish the book being able to cite examples and data, however concisely, that will back up the claims made by the author.

Additionally, Jerry Coyne, unlike other books I’ve read about evolution, does something that creationists often do, only this time, he does it with the evidence backing his claims, sans the quote-mining, deliberate misrepresentation or omission of data or, in extreme cases, outright lies :

He piles enormous amounts of facts and evidence.

This was underlined and bolded strictly because unlike any other book I’ve read about evolution (and I must have read at least a dozen or so) – no one has yet wrote a book designed specifically to pile evidence, without elucidating few examples extensively, but with a greater emphasis on handing away a large list of instances, including citations of books that hold even more – one striking example is this citation:

Natural Selection in the Wild, a book by the biologist John Endler, documents over 150 cases of observed evolution,”, [COYNE, JERRY A., Why Evolution Is True]”

Although every author on evolution gives a large amount of citations, I was delighted by Coyne’s “Evolution, I got plenty of data supporting it” approach. One major obstruction towards accepting evolution is the sad, but true reality that we can’t know everything. This fact is ameliorated by Coyne, who, while not telling you everything that supports evolution, does hand you a shitload of evidence.

Coyne also does a good job with illustrations and diagrams, most of them very layman-friendly and some of them are truly a source of ooh-and-ahh (for example, he’s got one illustration of flying-squirrel like animals in his “biogeography” chapter. Befuzzling indeed).

Last but not least, I come to the pro that is also, for me, a con – although I’m no evolutionary biologist, I have been reading about evolution for about 3 years now. I can safely say that I understand the basics pretty well, and as a result, reading the definition of the Biological Species Concept, or of Genetic Drift (a subject I actually got tested on in college) – is frankly old hat. This is not to say that a book that’s supposed to be a primer on evolution shouldn’t explicate these elementary terms, but to me, as an informed layman evolutionist – it can get rather tiring. The flip side is, of course, that this book is exquisitely designed to inform those poor souls who have yet to understand how evolution works and does well to introduce the basic mechanisms of evolution. It does so with very friendly, no-two-ways-about it language – and, I think, ensures a “soft landing” for any passionate layman who’s a complete novice in Biology.

What I don’t like (there isn’t much):

As I just mentioned – this book can be a bit frustrating for any evolutionist who, for example, already knows all the “classic examples” cited for evolution and taught extensively in biology class (two places in which I’ve encountered them, e.g. peacocks, E. coli, Darwin’s finches, etc.) – Coyne justifiably introduces the subject of evolution with well-known, well-established cases – but to someone who wanted to get a bit deeper on certain topics about evolution, (say, the nitty-gritty of paleontology)  I was decidely flustered. This is more of my fault than Coyne’s, though. This is also why I’m going to read Carl Zimmer’s “At The Water’s Edge” next (in real paper!).

The only other thing I found unlikeable in Coyne’s book is his frequent hammering of creationists and creationist claims, and even more annoyingly, his tendency to claim that this or that fact that is well explained by evolutionary theory cannot be explained by special creation.

In that respect, Coyne’s dead wrong. The reason being is that everything can be explained by special creation, which is why special creation is useless, unscientific and frankly, bloody stupid. If special creation explains it, so does “blue-reddish invisible elves who blow the diversity of species out of their nose” explains it. Creation isn’t “not right” because of evolution, it isn’t even WRONG simply because it sucks big time as an explanation to anything.

Now, now, I understand why Coyne would put an emphasis on creationism – his book was probably written, in large part, due to the rise of creationism and Intelligent Design in America (and, as I’ve learned from his book, in other countries as well, most remarkably, Turkey). His refutations of creationism address the kind of deity that Christian Americans believe it – but strictly speaking, nothing refutes creationism because creationism is irrefutable (and useless, and thus, doesn’t need to be refuted).

In short – anyone who’s interested in knowing what the fuss is all about would do a tremendous service to oneself by picking up this book (and reading it, of course!) I just wouldn’t recommend the more informed species of layman reading it because I guarantee a strong amount of “re-read” in it – Coyne’s good writing notwithstanding.

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16 Responses to “Why Evolution Is True/Jerry Coyne”

  1. Mark Says:

    You got me there. The downside is not so relevant to me (having read only the selfish gene and some articles here and there of the “evolution genre”), so I really think I’ll check the book out if I’ll be able to lay my hands on it.

    Btw, I just spoke about the topic of the future of books with a friend yesterday… the notion of reading a full book on a computer always intimidated me, thought it’s a bit silly as I’m reading quite a lot from the screen anyway.
    Having an Asus Comp myself, I’m interested to know what e-reader exactly were you using? Do you have windows installed or do you use linux?

  2. Freidenker Says:

    10′ is still a bit uncomfortable to my taste. 8′ is just about right. Especially if you can turn the desktop display 90 degrees – that way you can read lying down like I do 🙂

  3. Belated Monday Organism - Kakapo - The Flightless Parrot | Obsessed With Reality Says:

    […] never heard of the kakapo before reading about it in Jerry Coyne’s treasure tome, “Why Evolution Is True” (well, treasure .pdb file, since I read it with an e-reader) – as evidence for evolution by […]

  4. Freidenker Says:

    See, I almost didn’t find the Reply button cause the thread is ridiculously, well, threaded.

    Hey, I recognize the name! You were at that comment section in Evolutionblog with that gigantic poe!

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