From everything I have heard, Jerry Coyne’s new book Why Evolution is True is very good. I haven’t read it yet (it is on my list), but I am willing to assume that the reviews have been reliable and that he makes a superb case for the fact of evolutionary descent.
What I don’t understand is the consistent contradictions that seem to come up whenever I encounter his writings. For example…
- He co-authors a very useful book on Speciation and is considered an expert on the topic. But the book includes almost nothing about punctuated equilibria (i.e., one of the major issues with regard to patterns of speciation in the fossil record), and he even misconstrues it as saltationist.
The idea of macromutational hopeful monsters, or “saltations,” had a prominent resurrection in 1980 when Stephen Jay Gould, as part of his and Niles Eldredge’s theory of punctuated equilibrium, proposed that macromutations could explain the “jumps” in the fossil record. After getting a severe drubbing from geneticists, Eldredge and Gould retreated in 1993, claiming that they never suggested the idea of saltations. [See rebuttals here and here]
- He writes a book about the evidence for evolution, but he also was one of the people responsible for undermining the peppered moth example in a strange book review.
Until now, however, the prize horse in our stable of examples has been the evolution of ‘industrial melanism’ in the peppered moth, Biston betularia, presented by most teachers and textbooks as the paradigm of natural selection and evolution occurring within a human lifetime. The re-examination of this tale is the centrepiece of Michael Majerus’s book, Melanism: Evolution in Action. Depressingly, Majerus shows that this classic example is in bad shape, and, while not yet ready for the glue factory, needs serious attention. [See Majerus’s paper in E:EO about this]
- He is a vocal critic of creationists, but he also defends the use of their favourite term “Darwinism”. Biologists rarely use it anyway (because, as I and many others feel, it is misleading both historically and scientifically), so this can only provide benefit to anti-evolutionists. He also doesn’t seem to grasp that it’s not that eliminating the term would cause creationists to vanish, it’s that they would no longer have the (let’s face it, effective) tool for persuading non-scientists that evolution is an ideology based on one man’s teaching.