Coyne’s last two chapters might best be treated together. This is because the closer we get to the end, the faster the evolution of this review wants to accelerate.
In these chapters, Coyne addresses the evolution of man. Chapter 8, “What About Us?” tackles the evolution of man, and his last chapter, “Evolution Redux,” also about us, tries to whistle up meaning from the void.
To his credit, Coyne at least tries to tackle the thorny topic of race as it relates to evolution.
“In The Descent of Man, Darwin had conjectured that our species had originated in Africa because our closest relatives, gorillas and chimpanzees, are both found there” (p. 191).
Darwin also thought this because early evolutionists believed that blacks, also found there, were the closest human relatives of those primates. Coyne keeps Darwin and other worthies out of it, but he does acknowledge the problem. “From the beginning of modern biology, racial classification has gone hand in hand with racial prejudice” (p. 212).
What he doesn’t adequately reckon with is the fact that such “prejudice” ought not, on evolution’s terms, be kept off the table. There have been creationists who have been racially bigoted, but when they were, it was contrary to their foundational beliefs about a common descent from Adam and from Noah. But if evolutionists came across a lost valley somewhere that had a tribe of “people” that walked upright, had a language with 500 words in it, and were four feet tall, what would they do with them? If we are related to the primates, is it automatically prejudice to try to figure out if some of us are closer relations than others?
Without entering the debates himself, Coyne reveals how particular the debates about human speciation can get.
“Whether a humanlike fossil is named as one species or another can turn on matters as small as half a millimeter in the diameter of a tooth, or slight differences in the shape of a thighbone” (p. 197).
As though differences between individuals didn’t display much greater variations than that! Their fossil history of the human race is like the vocabulary exercise I mentioned before, where a child is given ten words and told to work them into a story. The fact that all the words can be made to fit does not mean the story actually happened. And we are not talking a short little elementary school story. We are talking about ten thousand Russian novels, and we still have just ten vocabulary words. We are talking about millions of years and a relative handful of bones.
There are three basic considerations that need to be taken into account, and which Coyne does not do. The first is that evolution doesn’t have a notion of progress built into the science of it. Evolution is all about surviving, and not about listening to the symphony. That means that “up” is a metaphor, and it is not necessary for the “advanced” species to be the descendant. If we all devolve to cockroaches, that would be fine, provided there are a bunch of us carrying our genes into the glory of that wonderful future.
Second, Coyne has consistently refused to acknowledge that creationists believe in variation within kinds, and they believe in variations significant enough that were a evolutionary paleontologist to find a couple sets of bones from two variants, he would call them distinct species. Creationists believe that Goliath was a blood cousin to the pygmies.
And third, related to the second, it would be the work of a ten minute thought experiment to take an animal kind — the dog, let us say — pretend we had never seen one, and then to dig up the bones of a little lap dog, a spaniel, a Rottweiler, and an Irish wolfhound, and then construct a story about how the big ones came from the little ones. We could get from a circus pony to a Percheron the same way. But weaving the story doesn’t make the threads come into existence.
As he rounds into the straight, Coyne wants to gallop to a glorious finish. Evolution is a “scientific fact” (p. 222). “All the evidence” shows “without a scintilla of doubt” that “organisms have evolved” (p. 222). Evolution “always comes up right” (p. 223). “No serious biologist doubts these propositions” (p. 223).
Fortunately, it is very easy to tell who the serious biologists are, because they are the ones who never doubt these propositions. It is like survival of the fittest, only for biologists. The fittest survive, and we know who the fittest are because they survived. Isn’t science wonderful?
Controversies within the evolutionary community are a sign of a “vibrant, thriving field” (p. 223). Disagreements among creationists, on the other hand, indicate a group of cornpones in disarray (p. 208). This is simply a variation on the previous point.
I said earlier that Coyne wanted to whistle up meaning from the void. God has placed eternity in our hearts (Eccl. 3:11), and that cannot be adequately replaced by eons of evolution, however many adjectives you use. “We make symphonies, poems, and books to fulfill our aesthetic passions and emotional needs” (p. 233). We also build churches, and evolutionists want to deconstruct and explain away that need. When they are done, the symphonies and poems will be next. Any left over emotional needs can be fixed with sex, soma, and the feelies.
But if you lose meaning, and you have a desperate need for it, the only alternative is to make your own out of the surrounding meaninglessness. This has happened within living memory, a fact of history concerning which Coyne appears to be serenely unaware.
“The biggest of these misconceptions is that accepting evolution will somehow sunder our society, wreck our morality, impel us to behave like beasts, and spawn a new generation of Hitlers and Stalins. That just won’t happen, as we know from the many European countries whose residents wholly embrace evolution yet manage to remain civilized” (p. 233).
Excuse me for a minute while I make merry with some questions. What was it that produced the last generation of Hitlers and Stalins? How long ago was that? Did my father-in-law fight in that war? Did my father join the Navy to fight in that war? Did I serve in the Navy to help take down the evil empire that Stalin had consolidated? Why does it seem not all that long ago? And may I be pardoned for wondering what continent those bad guys were on? Did they remain civilized throughout the course of that conflict? Or did civilization vanish sometime (when? how? in the grip of what kinds of scientific theories?) and then reboot in 1945? And what was it that happened in 1945? Well, I will tell you. The American creationists (p. 192) kicked some evolutionary butt.