Saturday, July 11, 2015

Review of Jerry Coyne's Why Evolution is True

Jerry Coyne, biology professor at University of Chicago, is a vocal and popular advocate of neo-Darwinian evolution (what he himself often refers to as "Darwinism").  He is likewise severely critical of Darwinism's theoretical rival, intelligent design.  His 2009 book Why Evolution is True sets out to make a case for Darwinism and against intelligent design.  Coyne puts his thesis this way:
"This book lays out the main lines of evidence for evolution. For those who oppose Darwinism purely as a matter of faith, no amount of evidence will do--theirs is a belief not based on reason. But for the many who find themselves uncertain, or who accept evolution but are not sure how to argue their case, this volume gives a succinct summary of why modern science recognizes evolution as true" (p.xiv).
Coyne indeed accomplishes his goal of laying out lines of evidence in favor of evolution in his book.  In the first chapter, he lists six predictions of Darwinism.  The first three of these predictions are related to the fossil record and describe the features we should expect to see if organisms slowly changed over time from simpler forms to more complex forms.  For example, Coyne says we should find simpler organismal forms in older layers of rock; we should find cases of speciation in the fossil record; and we should find links (or transitional forms) between groups that diverged from common ancestors.  Unrelated to the fossil record, Coyne says we should observe a wide range of genetic variation in organisms (i.e. random mutations); we should find examples of "imperfect" biological systems, because evolution is blind or unguided; and we should see natural selection occurring in the present-day in the wild.