Friday, March 13, 2009

My review of Why Evolution is True by Jerry A. Coyne

Okay. I really liked this book. The writing is clear, engaging and on a level that any interested high school student could follow. It is well annotated and referenced.

This is a good place to start for anyone looking to learn about Modern Evolutionary Theory, whether you know nothing about it or just need to brush up on the evidence.

I do have one major problem with it, and one minor quibble.

My major problem is that Coyne uses a variation on "Evolutionary Theory explains this very well, but it makes no sense from the standpoint of Special Creation" at the end of nearly every section.

Part of my problem is that this book is supposed to support MET, and I strongly feel that Special Creation shouldn't be mentioned at all. Creationists have no positive evidence, and must resort to lame attempts to tear down MET. Coyne presents a ton of evidence, and the above statement is completely unnecessary.

Mostly though, my problem is that the statement is wrong. It flies in the face of Special Creation's biggest weakness; the thing that makes it totally unscientific. Falsification.

You see, all these things do make sense under Special Creation. But so does anything else. Special Creation provides no reason to think things should be one way and not another (especially when God the Designer is defined to be inscrutable), so it can't make predictions.

For example, using MET, Neil Shubin and his colleagues predicted that fossil evidence of a fish/amphibian transition would be found in strata around 375 myo. After locating exposed strata in this age range, and after some diligent searching, Tiktaalik was discovered. A prediction of MET was fulfilled. (Coyne provides this example).

Now, if we want to find fossils with certain characteristics, how would Special Creation predict where to look?

When asked what evidence he would accept to falsify Evolutionary Theory, J.B.S. Haldane famously said, "Fossil rabbits in the Precambrian!"

But what could possibly falsify Special Creation? There is nothing that can't be explained by God's whim. This is what makes Special Creation, and all such supernatural ideas, not science.

Now my minor quibble.

Coyne describes several predictions of MET, but the above Tiktaalik example is the only one that was clearly a prediction. The others are called predictions, but it is never clear if the evidence was found after the prediction was made or if the prediction is actually an explanation of previously uncovered evidence.

It makes a difference. Explanation is great, of course, and the prediction is that it will apply to any future evidence. But good, solid, positive predictions are the hallmark of a sound theory, and it is those that I want most to read about. That is what makes Tiktaalik so viscerally satisfying.


4 people have spouted off:

tom said...

I think the scientific community as a whole should never use the terms "special creation" and "intelligent design." Never! We should simply ignore the terms and not give them any credit whatsoever. It irks me when any scientist wastes time slandering ID or trying to prove that evolution is a more sensible theory. It's not a fight; we don't have to try to suppress some imaginary opponent. Yes, I understand that we should try to raise awareness and promote thinking, but you cannot argue with anyone who has a deficient logic circuit.

John said...
I totally agree.

My response to any stripe of creationist is along the lines of "Evidence or STFU"
3/13/09, 4:53 PM
Jackie said...

I'm sure you guys have already seen this, but it's hillarious and sad when creationsists pretend to do science.

John said...
Yeah, I saw that. I totally failed PZ's challenge to read the whole thing without laughing out loud. I made it about 2 lines into the second paragraph, I think.
3/14/09, 9:21 AM