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“Why Evolution Is True” by Jerry Coyne Term Paper

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Updated: Sep 9th, 2021

Introduction

Humanity has always had a thrift for knowledge and discovery, trying to cognize the world that surrounds them and find answers to vital questions. That is why people offered multiple philosophical conceptions and paradigms that served as the main tool to investigate the world. At the same time, the complexity of some issues and the lack of knowledge to find appropriate explanations for various processes puzzled people and stipulated the creation of frameworks that could provide at least some treatment. In such a way, the first myths and religions appeared as a method to justify the existence of objects or phenomena that remained mysterious to people. Regarding the fact that the problem of people’s nature and their descent has always preserved its topicality, the central idea of any religion was the creation of a human being by God. These creationist moods had been dominant for a long period of history; however, the rise of science preconditioned the appearance of the idea of evolution that explained how species and human beings emerged.

Background

Regardless of the existence of numerous pieces of evidence proving the theory of evolution, there are still adherers of the creationism stating that the world with all its animals, nature, and people originated from the act of divine creation. Religious moods remain strong in a particular part of the population, which means that there can be a wrong idea or poor understanding of the way people evolved. At the same time, even among groups who recognize the true character of this theory, there are various perspectives on its stages and how species managed to acquire features that helped them to survive. For this reason, there are many works devoted to the in-depth analysis of the evolution theory with its basic assumptions and factors that shaped our world. The book by Jerry Coyne Why Evolution is True can also be considered one of the relevant sources that touch upon the essential aspects of the long way the planet has passed to acquire characteristics we can observe today.

Evolution

Starting the book, the author introduces the idea that evolution remains one of the most fascinating wonders of the universe that science managed to explain. However, at the same time, it is one of the most disputable or even hated phenomena that always serve as a cause for vigorous public debates and discussions. To a greater degree, it can be explained by the fact that recognition of the concept that there is no miracle or extraordinary superpowers responsible for the creation of human beings can be disappointing for individuals and transform them in a deep way (Coyne, 2009). It can be challenging or even unacceptable for people to consider the paradigm that shows their place in the circle of life along with millions of other creatures and forget the thought of superiority or divine nature. At the same time, this idea can serve as a factor in uniting nations and showing the direct way for further development. From this very perspective, the book becomes an important source that helps to resolve conflicts and eliminate gaps in knowledge related to the issue.

In the very first chapter, Coyne touches upon the critical theme trying to define evolution and answer some essential questions related to it. The central idea that contributes to the improved understanding of this unique process is that “plants and animals seem intricately and almost perfectly designed for living their lives” (Coyne, 2009, p.1). Fishes can live in the water, birds can fly, and lions are perfect killers. It seems natural as today we associated these species with their unique peculiarities of behavior, habitat, or skills. However, they had to pass the long way to acquire the needed traits of their bodies and organs to adapt to the environment in which they live (Darwin, 2006). It perfectly represents the phenomenon of evolution stating that life evolved gradually, from primitive forms the lived more than a billion years ago to new diverse species through the mechanism of natural selection (Williams & Dawkins,.2018). This idea becomes critical for the acquisition of the improved understanding of how the Earth we know emerged.

Fossils and Evolution

The author also appeals to ideas offered by Darwin and their impact on society. The fact is that when the theory of evolution was created, the majority of scientists remained creationists (Coyne, 2009). However, with the introduction of the idea of testable predictions, the paradigm presupposing the gradual development of life becomes clearer. This theme is discussed in the next chapter, as Coyne states that “the story of life on Earth is written in the rocks” (Coyne, 2009, p. 21). It can be considered a perfect way to prove the existence of various stages of animals or other species’ development. Rocks, or fossils, contain much information about our planet and their detailed analysis is a key to the improved understanding of its formation and evolution. Additionally, the discovery of new forms can be used while discussing the given idea. One can see that some species evolved and acquired characteristics that helped them to survive in the new environment. Birds developed an opportunity to fly as it was the safest way to avoid danger, while whales returned to the sea to find food and protect themselves (Coyne, 2009). All these factors prove the true character of evolution.

Vestiges and Bad Design

Another important idea touched by the author to show how species adapt during several generations is the existence of vestiges. In chapter three, Coyne draws readers’ attention to the fact that there are many animals, including human beings, who have parts of the body that are not needed today. For instance, ostriches have wings that are a vestigial trait, “a feature of a species that was an adaptation in its ancestors, but that has either lost its usefulness” (Coyne, 2009, p. 61). In other words, for many years, all creatures have been trying to develop characteristics that would be helpful for them. This fact can be offered to refute creationist ideas about the creation of life by some supernatural power. In this case, there should not be elements that are not needed for animals as they are not necessary. At the same time, the continuous adaption to the gradually changing environment and habitat explains the existence of vestiges. Humans also have many parts showing how we evolved, for instance, appendix and coccyx, or a vestigial tail that reminds us about our ancestors. Their existence shows that we also passed a long way to form the bodies we have today.

A strong argument offered by Coyne to prove the evolution theory and make creationists think about the nature of life is the imperfection or even bad design of women’s reproductive system. The author outlines that females “give birth through the pelvis, a painful and inefficient process that, before modern medicine, killed appreciable numbers of mothers and babies” (Coyne, 2009, p. 91). From a scientific perspective, it can be explained that during their continuous evolution, human beings acquire a big brain and head that are too large if to compare with the opening of the pelvis. For this reason, all women feel extreme pain during labor. Additionally, there is a probability of the development of abdominal pregnancy because of the existence of a gap between the ovary and the Fallopian tube, a remnant of fish and reptilian ancestors (Coyne, 2009). In such a way, if people are created by an almighty and intelligent designer, the reason for this bad design and imperfection remains unclear as it threatens individuals and might result in their death. This fact evidences that evolution is true as the existence of these issues can be explained only by this process.

Variety of Species

Continuing discussion of the main questions of life and its appearance on the Earth, Coyne states the variety of species and their distribution on various locations can also be used as the factor proving the theory of evolution. If all existing species were created, there is no answer to the question whey animals living in similar environments, climates, and terrain have various differences. At the same time, the perspectives on continental drift and molecular taxonomy perfectly explain the existence of similar and opposite traits in species living in many geographic areas (Coyne, 2009). Darwin (2006) was the first to introduce the idea of movement and search for better living conditions. This theory became extended by the recent DNA analysis results proving the existence of some connections between animals. In such a way, the appearance of various groups of species in different locations can be explained not by the case of multiple creations, but by the work of evolutionary processes that shaped the world.

Natural Selection

The book also delves into one of the ideas frequently mentioned by creationists. Everything people see in nature looks as if it was created to fit the environment and perform the functions it performs. For this reason, for centuries, people had believed that life is the product of “celestial design” (Coyne, 2009, p. 125). However, after reading this book, one can understand that the existence of particular functions peculiar to different species is the product of natural selection that affects all living beings and serves as the main engine of evolution. It means that living beings adapt to the environment by acquiring various traits and characteristics. These peculiarities help to survive and propagate, transferring these very features to the offspring. In their turn, representatives of the new generation will continue to improve these skills or trains to guarantee better survival of their descendants (Williams & Dawkins,.2018). There is also a genetic change needed to ensure that new forms will become inborn. This is how evolution works and how the perfect adaption to the environment is achieved. In other words, creationist perspectives can be refuted by appealing to the process of natural selection that moves evolution.

Moreover, the evolution is not stopped, and it continues today as species adapt to the new environment, climate, and conditions under which they have to live. For instance, birds on the Galapagos Islands try to alter their behaviors to feed and survive. The finch, a bird that traditionally preferred small seeds, had to acquire a new feature, a big beak, to crack bigger seeds because of the draught. As a result, more big-beaked birds survived and reproduced. A new generation was characterized by the bigger size of their beaks as a part of the gradual evolution and adaption (Coyne, 2009). In such a way, the author shows the idea that the world continues to evolve, and there is no act of instant and diving creation. Instead, all living beings have to acquire new qualities and traits to be able to guarantee their further existence.

Sex and Evolution

Speaking about reproduction, Coyne also cogitates about the problem of sex. For a long period, the existence of sexual dimorphism had been a mystery both for scientists and creationists. Males and females of a species have many critical differences that might seem illogical or useless. Even today, adherers to the idea of divine creation cannot explain why a designer introduced features that harm the survival of a particular sex (Coyne, 2009). Bright colors of male birds, long plumages, horns, or some other peculiarities might be too resource-consuming and dangerous. However, an evolutionary approach found an explanation by emphasizing much higher changes to have mates and reproduce among males who have outstanding distinctive features (Coyne, 2009). In such a way, there is a cause of sexual selection, as propagation is the key to survival. That is why, even to the detriment of their chances to survive, many species have ponderous or dangerous mechanisms either to attract females or compete with other males. From this perspective, sex becomes another critical driver of evolution as it preconditions the appearance of features needed to reproduce.

Females’ choices are also important for natural and sexual selection. At the moment, there is no clear understanding of why they choose mates with longer tales or brighter colors. However, it is obvious that the observed dimorphism exists with the primary goal to ensure that dominant males will distribute their genes and have many descendants with features that will help them to reproduce. Evolutionally, it is a powerful mechanism that ensures the further survival of a certain kind (Darwin, 2006). Moreover, there is an idea that females’ selectiveness is preconditioned by the existence of factors showing that a partner will be a good father (Williams & Dawkins, 2018). It can also help living beings to survive and continue their evolution by ensuring that representatives of the new generation will have better chances. That is why sex should be taken as one of the main forces for future development.

Origin of Species

The book also touches upon the origin of species as one of the critical parts of the evolution theory. All organisms that reproduce sexually have specific clusters, the existence of which can be considered a challenge to the evolution theory because of the discrete groups of animals separated from others (Coyne, 2009). However, the deep investigation of the problem can help to understand the true character of the scientific approach. Species can be determined as a group of individuals that have many similar traits (Coyne, 2009). It means that in the course of evolution, representatives of this group managed to acquire a set of characteristics promoting their further survival. That is why they might originate from a common ancestor, but in the process of continuous change, they became different to adapt to the environment in which they live.

Humans and Evolution

Finally, Coyne ends with the idea that opponents of Darwinism and adherers to creationism cannot accept the existence of human evolution forms. This resistance comes from the belief that human beings have always been considered some superior creatures that stand apart from the rest of nature (Coyne, 2009). Multiple religious beliefs that all humans are created after the image and likeness of God prevent people from accepting the fact that during their complex development all individuals evolved from an ancestor that was different from us (Coyne, 2009). That is why creationist moods remain extremely powerful today, even regardless of the existence of multiple scientific pieces of evidence proving the idea of natural selection. However, it can be explained by the lack of desire to refuse the concept of the dominant position of the human race and reconsider attitudes to nature, which is critical for its improved understanding.

Reflection

In such a way, the book can be considered an important source that helps readers to understand how life appeared and developed on Earth. The majority of points offered by Coyne to support his ideas seem potent and convincing. In a simple and effective manner, the author refutes the most popular creationist mistakes. Constantly asking questions about a particular phenomenon and if it can be explained by the act of celestial creation, he makes individuals think about the essential processes that shaped the world and contributed to the appearance of various features and traits in animals that helped them to survive. Addressing Darwinism and other relevant theories, Coyne manages to create a complete and understandable image of evolution and its main aspects, which was one of the major goals of this work.

As for my personal reaction to Coyne’s book, his arguments are convincing and credible. Being the adherer of the evolution theory, I accept the fact that there are still many mysteries that should be analyzed, but the author also managed to fill the gap in knowledge related to the various aspects of natural selection and mechanisms that impacted our survival. That is why the book sparks interest in readers and promotes the reconsideration of some ideas or false conceptions related to the issue. At the same time, it can be recommended as a source for individuals who have a vague understanding of what forces impacted the life on the Earth and how animals acquired traits we can see today. Denying religious ideas, Coyne in a clear and logical way explains why evolution is true and how it can be understood by people.

Conclusion

Altogether, the book can be recommended to a wide audience because of its simplicity and credibility. The author does not use complex terms or unknown facts to familiarize readers with the basics of Darwinism or evolution theory with the primary aim to step aside from the outdated ideas of celestial creation and acquire a new and improved understanding of one of the greatest mysteries of the world. All arguments offered by Coyne are relevant and understandable, which means that he manages to answer the question and provide people with information to reconsider some of their past views.

Works Cited

Coyne, J. (2009). Why evolution is true. New York, NY: Oxford University Press.

Darwin, C. (2006). On the origin of species: By means of natural selection. London, England: Dover Publications.

Williams, G., & Dawkins, R. (2018). Adaptation and natural selection: A critique of some current evolutionary thought. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press.

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