Table of Contents
“A stunning achievement. Coyne has produced a classic—whether you are an expert or novice in science, a friend or foe of evolutionary biology, reading
Why Evolution Is True is
bound to be an enlightening experience.”
—Neil Shubin, author of
Your Inner Fish
“Jerry Coyne has long been one of the world’s most skillful defenders of evolutionary science in the face of religious obscurantism. In
he has produced an indispensable book: the single, accessible volume that makes the case for evolution. But Coyne has delivered much more than the latest volley in our ‘culture war’; he has given us an utterly fascinating, lucid, and beautifully written account of our place in the natural world. If you want to better understand your kinship with the rest of life, this book is the place to start.”
—Sam Harris, author of
The End of Faith and Letter to a Christian Nation,
and founder of the Reason Project
“Evolution is the foundation of modern biology, and in
Why Evolution Is True,
Jerry Coyne masterfully explains why. From the vast trove of evidence that evolution scientists have gathered, Coyne has carefully selected some of the most striking examples and explained them with equal parts grace and authority.”
—Carl Zimmer, author of
Microcosm: E. coli and the New Science of Life
“Jerry Coyne’s book does an outstanding job making the basic concepts of evolution understandable for the average reader. He covers topics ranging from the fossil record to biogeography to the genetic mechanisms of evolution with equal clarity, and shows convincingly why creationism and ’intelligent design’ fail miserably as science.”
—Donald R. Prothero, professor of geology at Occidental College, and author of
Evolution: What the Fossils Say and Why It Matters
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First published in 2009 by Viking Penguin,
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Copyright © Jerry A. Coyne, 2009
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Illustration credits appear on page 271.
Illustrations by Kalliopi Monoyios. Copyright © Kalliopi Monoyios, 2009.
LIBRARY OF CONGRESS CATALOGING-IN-PUBLICATION DATA
Coyne, Jerry A., 1949—
Why evolution is true / by Jerry A. Coyne.
Includes bibliographical references.
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For Dick Lewontin
il miglior fabbro
ecember 20, 2005. Like many scientists on that day, I awoke feeling anxious. John Jones III, a federal judge in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, was due to issue his ruling in the case of
Kitzmiller et al. vs. Dover Area School District et al.
It had been a watershed trial, and Jones’s judgment would decide how American schoolchildren would learn about evolution.
The educational and scientific crisis had begun modestly enough, when administrators of the Dover, Pennsylvania, school district met to discuss which biology textbooks to order for the local high school. Some religious members of the school board, unhappy with the current text’s adherence to Darwinian evolution, suggested alternative books that included the biblical theory of creationism. After heated wrangling, the board passed a resolution requiring biology teachers at Dover High to read the following statement to their ninth-grade classes:
The Pennsylvania Academic Standards require students to learn about Darwin’s Theory of Evolution and eventually to take a standardized test of which evolution is a part. Because Darwin’s Theory is a theory, it continues to be tested as new evidence is discovered. The Theory is not a fact. Gaps in the Theory exist for which there is no evidence.... Intelligent design is an explanation of the origin of life that differs from Darwin’s view. The reference book
Of Pandas and People is
available for students to see if they would like to explore this view in an effort to gain an understanding of what intelligent design actually involves. As is true with any theory, students are encouraged to keep an open mind.
This ignited an educational firestorm. Two of the nine school board members resigned, and all the biology teachers refused to read the statement to their classes, protesting that “intelligent design” was religion rather than science. Since offering religious instruction in public schools violates the United States Constitution, eleven outraged parents took the case to court.
The trial began on September 26, 2005, lasting six weeks. It was a colorful affair, justifiably billed as the “Scopes Trial of our century,” after the famous 1925 trial in which high school teacher John Scopes, from Dayton, Tennessee, was convicted for teaching that humans had evolved. The national press descended on the sleepy town of Dover, much as it had eighty years earlier on the sleepier town of Dayton. Even Charles Darwin’s great-great-grandson, Matthew Chapman, showed up, researching a book about the trial.
By all accounts it was a rout. The prosecution was canny and well prepared, the defense lackluster. The star scientist testifying for the defense admitted that his definition of “science” was so broad that it could include astrology. And in the end,
Of Pandas and People
was shown to be a put-up job, a creationist book in which the word “creation” had simply been replaced by the words “intelligent design.”
But the case was not open and shut. Judge Jones was a George W. Bush appointee, a devoted churchgoer, and a conservative Republican—not exactly pro-Darwinian credentials. Everyone held their breath and waited nervously.
Five days before Christmas, Judge Jones handed down his decision—in favor of evolution. He didn’t mince words, ruling that the school board’s policy was one of “breathtaking inanity,” that the defendants had lied when claiming they had no religious motivations, and, most important, that intelligent design was just recycled creationism:
It is our view that a reasonable, objective observer would, after reviewing both the voluminous record in this case, and our narrative, reach the inescapable conclusion that ID is an interesting theological argument, but that it is not science.... In summary, the [school board’s] disclaimer singles out the theory of evolution for special treatment, misrepresents its status in the scientific community, causes students to doubt its validity without scientific justification, presents students with a religious alternative masquerading as a scientific theory, directs them to consult a creationist text
[Of Pandas and People]
as though it were a science resource, and instructs students to forego scientific inquiry in the public school classroom and instead to seek out religious instruction elsewhere.
Jones also brushed aside the defense’s claim that the theory of evolution was fatally flawed:
To be sure, Darwin’s theory of evolution is imperfect. However, the fact that a scientific theory cannot yet render an explanation on every point should not be used as a pretext to thrust an untestable alternative hypothesis grounded in religion into the science classroom to misrepresent well-established scientific propositions.
But scientific truth is decided by scientists, not by judges. What Jones had done was simply prevent an established truth from being muddled by biased and dogmatic opponents. Nevertheless, his ruling was a splendid victory for American schoolchildren, for evolution, and, indeed, for science itself.
All the same, it wasn’t a time to gloat. This was certainly not the last battle we’d have to fight to keep evolution from being censored in the schools. During more than twenty-five years of teaching and defending evolutionary biology, I’ve learned that creationism is like the inflatable roly-poly clown I played with as a child: when you punch it, it briefly goes down, but then pops back up. And while the Dover trial is an American story, creationism isn’t a uniquely American problem. Creationists—who aren’t necessarily Christians—are establishing footholds in other parts of the world, especially the United Kingdom, Australia, and Turkey. The battle for evolution seems never-ending. And the battle is part of a wider war, a war between rationality and superstition. What is at stake is nothing less than science itself and all the benefits it offers to society.