Book Review – Evolution: What the Fossils Say and Why It Matters Prothero
Book Review – Prothero, D. R. 2007. Evolution: What the Fossils Say and Why It Matters. New york: Columbia University Press.
The truth should be a good thing, and when people purport to be leading you to the truth, but instead lead you astray, then they do a disservice to the truth, and to you. If you are being told that the Earth is less than 10,000 years old (young Earth creationism), that fossils are created “kinds” (Intelligent Design) or that Noah’s ark is a literal account of geologic history then they are not bringing you closer to the truth but obfuscating it from you.
Readers who are religious should not shy away from this book, in fact it specifically deals with the issue of what evolution means to your religious beliefs and your experience of meaning in the face of scientific understandings of nature, and Dr. Prothero clearly makes his case for the compatibility of evolution and religious belief. If the truth matters to you, then this is a vital book.
Personally, I prefer to see the evidence, hear compelling argument and make up my own mind, as any thinking person (regardless of religious affiliation) should do. Well, in Evolution: What the Fossils Say and Why It Matters by Donald R. Prothero we have the ingredients for a great serving of truth, and an eminently readable and accessible book delineating the appropriate methods for viewing the science of evolution (the nature and philosophy of scientific claims), the multiple lines of evidence from horses to ancient camels, and the author’s considerable and rigorous arguments for evolution by natural selection. We are entertainingly told how to avoid being led astray by creationist muddling of geologic history, unqualified and deliberately misleading interpretations of fossil anatomy and their baseless and devious attacks on our current understanding of the process of evolution as an underlying principle behind accepted modern natural science.
Without resorting to only attacking creationist arguments purely on their flaws, which in itself is deftly and convincingly done, Dr. Prothero elucidates the lines of evidence for a scientific understanding of evolution and adds weighty argument for the idea that these lines of evidence are our most informed and accurate understanding of the processes behind the complexity and beauty of the natural world as we see it today. This book is a fine example of emotionally restrained, yet scientifically rigorous and devastatingly effective argument for, not only evolution, but intellectual honesty and moral courage in the face of creationists who clearly want to deceive and distort science for their own evil ends.
One can clearly hear the author’s frustration throughout the text in the face of creationist mischief, but he remains restrained in dealing with these misguided and misguiding folk by refraining from resorting to their underhanded tactics and instead focuses on the evidence, and the weight of clear argument and correct interpretation. And there is almost too much evidence to be contained in this book, even though it does a good job of introducing and explaining a wide variety and pithy selection of the molecular, genetic, fossil and philosophical. This book is sure to be intellectually stimulating to readers who are new to evolution, or experienced readers who would like to update their information to the latest lines of evidence, and to any person who cares about getting to a good understanding of how the fossil record informs our understanding of the natural world. The book also points to additional sources for furtherance of your appreciation of the evidence.
I particularly enjoyed reading about how sequentially unbroken the lines of evidence are in the microfossil record (radiolarians) and in the synapsid line (a transitional form delineating evolution from primitive amniotes, to synapids and finally mammals).
Carl Buell’s illustrations are immaculate and really add illustrative and educational value to the chapter contents.
I am in awe at what a great book this is, and reminded that there is so much evidence in favour of evolution as a fact, and evolution by natural selection (the process by which evolution takes place) that creationist counter efforts are clearly spurious.
Dr Prothero has done a great service to the advancement of science and our understanding of the natural world in writing this book, and he does you a great service in illuminating the truth should you be so lucky as to pick up a copy of this work.