With the publication in 1859 of On the Origin of Species by Means of Natural Selection, Charles Darwin established evolution by common descent as the dominant scientific explanation for natures diversity. This was to be his gift to science and society at last, we had an explanation for how life came to be on Earth.
Scientists agree that the evolutionary origin of animals and plants is a scientific conclusion beyond reasonable doubt. They place it beside such established concepts as the roundness of the earth, its revolution around the sun, and the molecular composition of matter. That evolution has occurred, in other words, is a fact.
Yet as we approach the bicentennial celebration of Darwin's birth, the world finds itself divided over the truth of evolutionary theory. Consistently endorsed as good science by experts and overwhelmingly accepted as fact by the scientific community, it is not always accepted by the public and our schools continue to be battlegrounds for this conflict. From the Tennessee trial of a biology teacher who dared to teach Darwin's theory to his students in 1925 to Tammy Kitzmillers 2005 battle to keep intelligent design out of the Dover district schools in Pennsylvania, its clear that we need to cut through the propaganda to quell the cacophony of raging debate.
With the publication of Darwin's Gift, a voice at once fresh and familiar brings a rational, measured perspective to the science of evolution. An acclaimed evolutionary biologist with a background in theology, Francisco Ayala offers clear explanations of the science, reviews the history that led us to ratify Darwin's theories, and ultimately provides a clear path for aconfused and conflicted public.
Taking a more pacific tone than Richard Dawkins and Daniel Dennett in this marvelous little book, Ayala, a UC-Irvine biologist and member of the National Academy of Sciences, offers a way to reconcile religion and science on the issue of evolution. He is uniquely well suited to address this: before becoming an evolutionary biologist, he trained for the Catholic priesthood. According to Ayala, Darwin provides both a clear understanding of the nature of the physical world and an explanation for its flaws that takes the onus for them off of God. Natural selection gives scientists an eminently plausible and verifiable explanation of the shape species and members of those species have taken over millions of years. For religious believers, evolution offers an explanation for the flawed designssuch as the too narrow human birth canal and our badly designed jawbonethat might call into question the work of a benevolent designer. Ayala points out that science and religion perform different roles in human understanding: science offers a way of knowing the material world, but matters of value and meaningthe core of religionare outside of the scope of scientific investigation. This elegant book provides the single best introduction to Darwin and the development of evolutionary biology now available. Illus. (June)Copyright 2007 Reed Business Information