It always me amazes that so many Americans refuse to accept the fact of evolution, a century and a half after Charles Darwin published On the Origin of Species. It’s still a fascinating book, though of course many of the details have changed.
The full title of the book is “On the Origin of Species by Means of natural Selection or the Preservation of Favoured Races in the Struggle for Life”. What’s interesting is that the ideas in the book were already under discussion before publication, and as the years went on, Darwin , worked to provide answers to criticisms he knew would occur, spending several chapters refuting his critics. So each subsequent edition of Origin was slightly different, the closest Darwin’s time could come to blogging.
What’s also amazing is the sheer number of people with whom he corresponded. The book is written in a very conversational style, and Darwin frequently uses information gathered from his many correspondents. He states his ideas clearly, then methodically brings in evidence to support them across a wide range of fields. One of the common arguments by creationists is that the eye couldn’t have ‘just happened’, but Darwin anticipated this line of reasoning, and creationists should read his discussion of the many ways in which optical apparati have evolved in multiple creatures, often for original purposes other than sight.
The final paragraph of the book bears repeating, [and Stephen J Gould used it as the inspiration for his monthly magazine columns]:
“There is a grandeur in this view of life, with its several powers, having been originally breathed by the Creator into a few forms or into one; and that, whilst this planet has gone cycling on according to the fixed law of gravity, from so simple a beginning endless forms most beautiful and most wonderful have been, and are being evolved.”
This passage also reminds us that, again, contrary to what creationists might say, Darwin did not address the Origin of life itself. Instead, he describes the scientific background that permits the development of species after life started.
Much has changed since Darwin’s time – remember that his era didn’t even know what genes were, much less had any concept of the process by which DNA encodes the entire organism. So it’s no surprise that Darwin got some of the details wrong. No scientist has ever been 100% correct, but that’s the beauty of the scientific method. Unlike religion and other dogmatic faiths, science thrives on criticism, rethinking, and experimental demonstration of hypotheses. This makes the Theory of Evolution one of the most solid intellectual constructions of all time. It is the basis for our understanding of the natural world, and supports modern biology.
More Maps and charts of evolution, plate tectonics and geology
The Beak of the Finch
This book explains one of the most famous examples of evolution – Darwin’s finches. The original population from the mainland Ecuador became isolated on the Galapagos islands, and different paths led to variants; eventually if isolated long enough the variants can be recognized as separate species
Meanwhile, on the mainland any beneficial changes would quickly spread through the entire population, so that group would also differ from the original colonizers. The book follows current researchers in the Galapagos
Species is really an artificial construct – for most large animals, it’s easy, say, to tell lions from tigers. but yaks and cattle interbreed and their offspring are backcrossed leading to many intermediate forms. Thus you’ll never ‘see’ a species jump out of nothing. it’s only after the 2 populations have changed enough that you can declare there’s a new species
Before the Dawn: Recovering the Lost History of Our Ancestors -Nicholas Wade.
An excellent recap of the last half century of research into human origins.
Easily the best book on evolution for the non-scientist since ‘Beak of the Finch’. ‘Before the Dawn’ will be familiar to anyone who reads the NY Times Tuesday Science section – many of the discussions in the book started as articles Wade has written over many years there. Now he synthesizes those pieces and shows how a new consensus is developing and how once heretical theories like Greenberg’s on language are being supported by new research in genetics and molecular biology. As others have mentioned, some of his suggestions need more support, but in a time when scientific ignorance is getting worse, this is a great book to recommend for anyone.
|Evolution of Cooperation
Robert Axelrod — If living things evolve through competition, how can cooperation ever emerge? Despite the abundant evidence of cooperation all around us, there existed no purely naturalistic answer to this question until 1979, when Robert Axelrod famously ran a computer tournament featuring a standard game-theory exercise called The Prisoner’s Dilemma. To everyone’s surprise, the program that won the tournament, named Tit for Tat, was not only the simplest but the most “cooperative” entrant. This unexpected victory proved that cooperation–one might even say altruism–is mathematically possible and therefore needs no hidden hand or divine agent to create and sustain it.Wisdom of the Genes
The intersection of genetics, evolutionary science and molecular biology has produced remarkable findings in recent years. Jumping genes–pieces of DNA that move about the chromosomes–have been found to play an influential role. Parasites that actually live inside DNA can trigger mutations. Many biologists, among them UCLA professor Wills, believe that the process of evolution has grown easier over the eons because certain gene patterns turn some species into ever-more-agile adapters to environmental changes. How
butterflies mimic look-alike cousins, the mix of marsupial and placental mammals in Australia and South America and the reign of the therapsids during the 50-million-year stretch before the dinosaurs are some of the intriguing phenomena Wills discusses in this lively primer of modern evolutionary theory. He uses apt analogies and examples but avoids oversimplification. Illustrations. From Publishers Weekly
The Evolution Game in Action:
Hopeful Monsters shows the interplay of biology, physics, philosophy and politics. Skipping the usual banal comparisons, we’re embedded in the period between the world wars. Themes of uncertainty, quantum mechanics and relativity weave the plot. Following a British boy and a German girl, the book proceeds in a series of back looking narratives that take place in the major cockpits of the 1920 – 1930s – from Weimar Berlin to Bolshevik Russia and Civil War Spain. With Fascism and Communism playing for dominance across the continent, politics is brutal and vital. But the characters also try to find a way to create a meaningful life. Significant characters whose views permeate the book include Wittgenstein, Heideigger, the Lamarckian scientists Kammerer and Lysenko, Einstein, and many others. Never a didactic presentation, the novel presents a clear understanding of the major intellectual trends of the 20th century. Others have set their stories in this fermentive period but usually just as a background. Here it’s an essential element to the plot.
Great for book club discussions – you’ll find no end of ways to interpret and discuss this book
|Science Books – Reviews & Recommendations