BIO120: Explanation of Readings for Lectures 1 to 12, Laurel Duquette
Readings for Lectures 1-12:
“Why Evolution is True” by Jerry Coyne: All eight chapters are required.
I will not provide any written summary of this book and there will be a few questions on Test 1 that will be
based on information in this book. Some chapters are more important than others and I will identify which
chapters are most relevant to each lecture. This book is a fun book to read and I will point out important
passages from the book from time to time. You will gain the most from this book if you read as we move
through the lectures.
The following guide to the book “Why Evolution is True” was written by Prof. Barrett for
the Fall session of BIO120. It is a useful guide for the Summer session as well.
Coyne – “Why Evolution is True”
Required reading – all chapters.
“Why Evolution is True” is not the typical science textbook required in first year. They are commonly the
size of a phone book, cost a fortune, and are crammed full of facts that need to be learned. This is a book
that you can relax with and enjoy as you might any non-fictional work. I suggest you start reading the
book before my section begins. Instead of trying to memorize large portions you should simply try to
understand the main arguments and concepts and concentrate on the nature of the evidence for evolution
and why it is hard to refute. Coyne’s approach in the book is based on scientific reasoning as he carefully
shows why creationist arguments and those from intelligent design are simply not consistent with the
observed facts. Some books that are read during undergraduate years can have a profound influence on
student career paths and intellectual development. I hope you enjoy this book and that for some of you it
may change the way you see the world.
1. Preface & Introduction. There is much here that I hope will engage you and these introductory pages
provide an excellent taste of what is to come. There are some shocking statistics on scientific illiteracy
and many thought-provoking questions are posed.
2. Chapter 1 – “What is Evolution”. This chapter summarizes what evolution is. It identifies six
components (tenets) to the evolutionary process and goes through each one in turn. Concepts such as
common ancestry are introduced and a phylogeny (evolutionary tree) is illustrated. There is an
important discussion of the misunderstood term “scientific theory” and the chapter ends by pointing
out that a scientific theory must be testable and make verifiable predictions. Evolutionary predictions
from the six tenets are then made.
3. Chapter 2 – “Written in the Rocks”. The material in this chapter will not be covered in lecture so it is
important that you read this chapter carefully. It provides a nice summary of how fossils provide
evidence for evolutionary change. I will not be testing you on the details of the figures in this chapter
(e.g., the names of periods in Fig. 1 or the times of the appearance or Latin names of various fossils). I
am more interested in making sure that you know what we can and cannot say about fossils and
evolution and appreciate that the tempo of change in the fossil record is sometimes gradual, but can
also be more rapid. Other important topics in the chapter include missing links, transitional forms, the
origin of birds, the colonization of land from water, and the return to water by some groups such
as marine mammals. 4. Chapter 3 – “Remnants: Vestiges, Embryos and Bad Design”. This chapter is about vestigial organs,
atavisms, and genes that no longer function and examples of bad evolutionary design. The chapter is
a good rejoinder to arguments about so-called “intelligent design” and also contains answers to
fascinating topics such as why humans have an appendix. As with Chapter 2, I will not be covering
this material in any detail in class so again I encourage you to read the chapter carefully so that you
understand the main ideas.
5. Chapter 4 – “The Geography of Life”. This chapter is about the distribution of plants and animals on
earth – the field of biogeography. Ideally, read this chapter before my lecture on what Darwin saw on
the voyage of the Beagle (Lecture 2), as it will provide a good background to some of the examples I
present, including those from the Galápagos. The main lesson from this chapter is that only evolution
can explain the diversity and distribution of life on continents and islands. Topics included in the
chapter include convergent evolution, dispersal to islands and how it favours some groups and not
others, human origins in Africa, and differences in the biotas of continent