Reading Evolution

Why Evolution is True (2008) by Jerry Coyne

A special thanks to Janet, who suggested this book, and who has always respected my beliefs and my doubts.

I told myself I was going to wait until the end of the book, until I’d taken extensive notes on the entire argument. (College has ruined me for book-reading. Now, if it’s non-fiction, sometimes even if it is fiction, I have to take a pen to it, or keep a notebook of comments and questions as I read.) But ultimately, it wasn’t about ‘deciding.’ The evidence is clear, strong, and only gets stronger with each chapter. I’ve been reading Jerry Coyne’s Why Evolution is True for several months now, and even though I’m only on the fourth chapter (what can I say, I’ve been busy) it’s hard to deny what has already happened: I’m convinced.

What initially blew me away about the book was how cleanly it demolished common misconceptions about evolution. For one, nowhere in evolutionary theory is it claimed that humans descended from chimps. I grew up in a town where a common rebuttal to evolutionary theory was, “If man evolved from monkeys why are there still monkeys?” The answer? False premise. Evolution claims that chimps and people evolved from a common ape-like ancestor. The difference between this and what is commonly touted as evolution in conservative Christian circles, is the difference between saying Ghandi is my father and saying that if Ghandi and I looked back far enough in our respective family trees we could probably find someone distantly related to both of us. (This, by the way, is not meant to infer any comparison between Ghandi and a monkey.) The same goes for the ‘missing link,’ which is not some half-man-half-monkey link that joins modern humans and modern chimps. It is the common ancestor to both which naturally would’ve died many millenia ago.

As I read I find myself continually amazed at how much get’s called evolution that isn’t a part of evolutionary theory at all.

“It’s called a ‘theory’ because even the scientists aren’t sure.”

Wrong. It’s called a theory because it’s a body of scientific research and consistently re-proven hypotheses that have, over time, gained fact-hood. Example: ‘Theory of Gravity,’ ‘Theory of Heliocentricity,’ ‘Theory of Relativity.’

“Evolution proposes a linear progression from amoeba to human.”

False. Evolution is anything but linear. It’s more like a tree with thousands of growing, dying, and occasionally converging branches.

“Scientists use radiocarbon dating as their primary method of establishing fossil ages despite its <6,000 year half-life.”


“Most of evolutionary theory can be disproven by the average person if they think hard about the evidence.” “Darwin died a Christian.” “Scientists throw out data that disagrees with evolution.”

Lies. Irrelevant. Untrue of all truly professional researchers.

I haven’t believed in a literal, seven day, special creation since I was a young teen , but I hesitated to accept evolution as an alternative because I couldn’t embrace what I didn’t know; Coyne’s book was highly informative, and has given me the confidence to accept an idea that had heretofore frightened and confused me.

My friends may criticize me for embracing a point of view after only having read part of one book. But this one book has been peer reviewed (if not formally, then by the public process of publishing and criticism), it has extensive endnotes that point to reputable sources. It has been praised by the scientific community, and I am not aware of any well-researched text that disputes Coyne’s data. Ultimately, I would have to believe in a much greater conspiracy to accept the argument that Coyne is misled or a liar, than to believe a religious community feels threatened enough by an idea, or is paralyzed enough by cognitive dissonance, to misrepresent said idea as a straw man.

I’m going to finish the book. And I’m going to encourage all my friends–creationists, Christians, and science lovers–to read it for themselves, to take notes, and to engage the ideas that have frightened, offended, and fascinated so many. I cannot convince anyone of evolution (and no one I respect can be convinced by me), I can only point to the evidence that has been made accessible in print, and hope.


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