WEIT reviewed in Current Biology

I must be on a roll — another review of WEIT, and a good one, by Tom Tregenza in the latest issue of Current Biology.   Tregenza works at the University of Exeter, where he (like me) studies speciation, as well as sexual selection and mimicry in cephalopods.

From his review:

Like many biologists, I occasionally panic that if the appeal of religious dogma can prevail over such a well-supported and rigorously tested theory as Darwin’s, then it can only be a matter of weeks before we’re all wearing sandals and the next breakthrough in oncology is expected to come from making offerings to a parsnip with a resemblance to the Virgin Mary. At such times, I vow that I will drag myself out of my ivory tower and try to explain what I do to the (surely fairly rational?) man in the street. Similarly, reading the manifestos of those seeking election to offices of the European and American Evolution Societies, there is universal agreement that evolutionary biologists need to do more to explain their work to the public. The fact is, however, that we’re still not very good at delivering on these good intentions. So, it is terrific to see a biologist of Jerry Coyne’s standing writing a book with the specific aim of explaining to any reasonably bright reader just why the theory of evolution is no more in doubt than the theory that tides are caused by the moon.

Coyne acknowledges the existence of religious accounts of biology, but by and large, doesn’t get sucked into addressing the arguments put forward by the religious proponents of intelligent design. This allows the book to stand as a scholarly, yet delightfully readable account of the state of the art, avoiding the tedious and fatuous debates beloved of the proponents of ‘intelligent design’. . . .

If I was being picky, I might comment that his explanation of the difference between selection favouring traits that act for the good of a gene (ubiquitous), or for the good of the species as a whole (very rare) might have warranted more than a couple of pages (since this is a distinction that is frequently misunderstood). But in general, this is a book that is a pleasure to read, and that even professional biologists will find energising and exciting. The fact that Darwin’s theory makes so many predictions, none of which has ever been falsified, and the prospect of the mountain of supporting evidence becoming ever higher, makes it easy to make a further prediction: it is only a matter of time before the religious proponents of intelligent design make it a fundamental tenet of their ideology that the pattern of life has been made that way specifically to fool biologists. In which case, evolutionists can take comfort in knowing that the creator specifically had them in mind at every step of the process.

3 Comments

  1. MelM
    Posted March 24, 2009 at 2:42 pm | Permalink

    “In which case, evolutionists can take comfort in knowing that the creator specifically had them in mind at every step of the process.”

    Let’s face it. Nothing can top the explanatory power of a being who can do anything.

  2. Loc
    Posted March 24, 2009 at 3:00 pm | Permalink

    I find the last sentence….comforting.

  3. Posted March 24, 2009 at 3:49 pm | Permalink

    Nice review, and well-deserved. There has been a need for this kind of synthesis of the evidence for evolution for some time, and you nailed it.


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