Evolution Now
by David Penny

"So, and in a very fundamental way, there were dozens of major changes in climatic and temperature conditions, without any “mass extinction” – until after modern humans arrived."

This is a nonfiction work about the progress of science regarding biology, specifically genera and species, with a focus on the importance of Charles Darwin. The author presents a quite interesting survey of the history of scientific thought regarding biological processes. He maps out the progression from belief in a continuous spontaneous generation, where nature is always being created by an omnipotent God who finds it easy to transform stones into plants, into animals, etc., to a more measured approach based on observation and testing. It is this eventual willingness to observe, measure, test, and revise scientific theories accordingly that the author champions, a philosophy of science spelled out by Karl Popper in the mid-twentieth century. A confluence of factors, especially Darwin’s early training in geology, led to the evolutionist’s detailed mechanistic approach to the origin of species. The author shows how earlier scientific writers like Cuvier, Buffon, Malthus, Lyell, and especially Paley, set out the intellectual framework for Darwin’s newer hypotheses.

The author’s style is accessible and interesting for the most part. The more technical discussion of the Eukaryote vs. Akaryote debate may prove heavy going for some, but the vast majority of material is understandable by the non-specialist. His discussion of the entry of genetics and long geologic time into the discussion is enlightening. Even more fascinating is the discussion of “mass extinctions” (another Darwinian hypothesis) and the relative value of the popular “wiped out by asteroids” theory of the large dinosaurs' demise. The author posits that the emergence of placental mammals could also have posed enough threat—to dinosaur eggs, for example—to have had a competitive edge on the reptiles. The most competitive animals turn out to be humans, who have had one of the greatest impacts on the environment since their emergence from Africa. In short, this is a fascinating read.

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