Jerry Coyne Explains Why Evolution Is True

Jerry Coyne wrote the great book Why Evolution is True a few years ago, and in this lecture given last month, Coyne talks about some of the additional lines of evidence that weren’t listed in his book. He also talks about the religious opposition to evolution and ways we can increase acceptance of evolution in America:

As always, if you like any particular portions, let us know the timestamp and summary in the comments.

(Thanks to Brian for the link!)

About Hemant Mehta

Hemant Mehta is the chair of Foundation Beyond Belief and a high school math teacher in the suburbs of Chicago. He began writing the Friendly Atheist blog in 2006. His latest book is called The Young Atheist's Survival Guide.

  • TheAnalogKid

    I don’t think there is a lot that can be done to increase the acceptance of evolution in this country. These folks don’t deny the validity of evolution because of evidence or the lack of evidence. They simply do not like evolution.

    • Jmart1453

      As Jerry mentions in this video and at other talks he’s given, the main reason why people “do not like evolution” is due to the overwhelming religious influence upon this country.

    • Frank Mitchell

      When your opponents insist upon their own “facts”, all you can do is reach out to the next generation and wait for their parents to die out.  (And keep the loonies from gaining power, at which we’ve thoroughly failed.)

  • Cincinatheist

    Jerry is awesome. Loved his book and along with you and a few others, Jerry’s blog is one that I always read daily.

  • Pseudonym

    This talk is well worth watching in full, if only to discover why Jerry Coyne is a brilliant biologist (well, most of the time) and a terrible social scientist.

    • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_P4QFA6I7PKYUHIQNOCP6LFVXVY Woody Tanaka

      Coyne’s opposition to Wilson demonstrates his brilliance, as Wilson’s ideas are worthy of scorn.

      • Pseudonym

        I don’t know how many evolutionary biologists you know, but Coyne’s opinion on group selection is definitively in a minority these days.

        I know of only a few evolutionary biologists who think it’s “worthy of scorn”. Almost all of them have a large emotional investment in seeing religion as an evolutionary byproduct, rather than an evolutionary adaption. Almost every evolutionary biologist who does not have a strong opinion on the matter agrees with the theory of group selection.

        Correlation does, of course, not imply causation. But it often suggests avenues for future research.

      • Pseudonym

         Sorry, I accidentally hit “post” before adding a qualification.

        Almost every evolutionary biologist who does not have a strong opinion on whether religion is an evolutionary by product or an evolutionary adaptation believes that group selection is not “worthy of scorn”. Scientists try very hard not to pour scorn on actual scientific theories, even if they think those theories are incorrect. Pouring scorn on mainstream science is generally left to cranks.

        • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_P4QFA6I7PKYUHIQNOCP6LFVXVY Woody Tanaka

          Then I stand corrected: Wilson is worthy of scorn and his ideas are wrong.  And I believe you are absolutely wrong that group selection is a widely adopted thing.  It is simply not, as much as Wilson wants it to be. 

          • Pseudonym

            I think I may have been a little clear.

            The mechanism of group or multi-level selection is essentially uncontroversial, apart from a few influential high-profile holdouts. There is plenty of modelling and simulation which essentially proves that it can happen.

            There are two main points that are controversial.

            One is the terminology. Many biologists quite correctly point out that terms like “group selection” are misleading, even if they refer to real phenomena. Genes are what is actually selected, and organisms and groups are merely the vehicles for genes. “Group selection” is actually an emergent phenomenon. So many biologists are against the language of group selection.

            The other is whether or not any specific trait or collection of traits actually evolved by that mechanism. Wilson claims, for example, that it’s a more viable explanation for the evolution of altruism.

            Some of Wilson’s ideas are wrong. I’d agree with that. But Coyne doesn’t even appear to understand the argument.

            • Pseudonym

              Err… I meant unclear.

              By the way, none of this changes my main point: Coyne makes a terrible social scientist.

  • Dina

    I thought this was a good—not great—explanation of why we should accept evolution as fact. I watched hoping I could recommend it to my a’int-got-no-monkey-uncles family as an overview of a complex topic. I won’t, because there’s no way they’d get through the first ten minutes of feeling mocked. It’s just more of that intellectual elitism.

    However, I did take a screen shot of the graphic near the end correlating successful societies with belief in god, which I plan to post n Facebook with the question, “cause of society’s ills, or opiate of the masses?”

    • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=626026259 Glen Hopping

       http://www.epjournal.net/wp-content/uploads/EP073984414.pdf

      • Dina

        Look, I get that, based on the evidence he provided, decreases societal success correlates to increased belief in god (though, as he points out, that evidence cannot be used to say which one causes the other, or what other factors may be involved).

        My point is, if we really want to convince these people of the evidence, we have to get them to hear it. If we start by saying, “you dumb Christians need to realize how dumb you are,” we aren’t going to change anything. In fact, if any of the churchies did get to the end of this, they probably left strengthened in their resolve that what they believe is true.

    • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_P4QFA6I7PKYUHIQNOCP6LFVXVY Woody Tanaka

      “I won’t, because there’s no way they’d get through the first ten minutes of feeling mocked. It’s just more of that intellectual elitism. ”

      If they’re creationists, of course they will feel mocked.  That’s not “intellectual elitism,” that’s honesty.  I’m sorry, but someone who believes in Genesis is believing gibberish.  And sugar coating their feelings won’t change that.

      • Dina

        You can say you disagree with them without calling the dumb repeatedly. He’s entitled to say what he wants, of course, but his tone throughout this lecture was mocking and dirisive. He was just scoring yuks off the crowd because he knew he was mostly preaching to the choir.

        • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_P4QFA6I7PKYUHIQNOCP6LFVXVY Woody Tanaka

          And it should be mocking and derisive.  This isn’t a debate between two well-supported position arrived at by consideration of the facts.  This is one side believing nonsense and fairy tales.  If mockery and derision isn’t appropriate for that, what is it appropriate for? 

          Because, frankly, most of them are dumb.  They either  are simply not intelligent, not curious enough to examine the evidence for the propositions or they have had the error of thier thinking repeatedly explained to them and they choose to believe the bronze-era myths anyway.  This is almost the definition of “dumb.”

          But, as I noted above, I’m not the person you want if you’re trying to soft peddle this stuff.  I have patience for self-inflicted idiocy like this.  I’m glad there are people who do. 

          • treedweller

            You know them all then? Consider that they have been brainwashed since birth to believe the god story and it’s easier to cut them some slack. Yes, we all were subject to the same brainwashing and some of us moved beyond it, but some of us were washed with a mild soap and some of us with lye (hah! Get it? Lye? Lies? Inadvertent puns kill me).

            • Dietrich

              In addition to brain washing as children, these people have access to a lot of science-y sounding misinformation from creationist websites.  This bolsters their beliefs, giving them the idea that there is some scientific basis for creationism.

              While I agree that many of them are stupid, there are also creationists who are smart but are blinded by confirmation bias.

              I also agree with Jerrry that simply trying to get people to buy into evolution is not the answer.  Creationism is a symptom of an underlying problem.  The most interesting part of his talk (for someone who is already familiar with evolution), is his suggestion that creating a more functional society in the US will lead to decreased religiosity, which will ultimately lead to acceptance of scientific findings such as evolution.

            • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_P4QFA6I7PKYUHIQNOCP6LFVXVY Woody Tanaka

              No, I don’t know them all.  But I’ve read a significant amount of creationist literature and statements by creationists over the past 15-20 years to understand what their thinking is.

              And I disagree with the notion of giving them slack because of the brainwashing.  At a certain point, a child is responsible for deciding, for him or herself, what to believe.  At that point, the person must, in my opinion, stop relying on what he or she is told. 

              But, I’m a hard-ass about this stuff and it’s good that there are those with a more light touch involved as well.

      • Dina

        Oh, and I guess I should have used quotes or a smiley with “intellectual elitism.” That’s a quote from a cousin in a Facebook thread when I challenged her on a pic she posted (not that it matters, but it said, roughly, ‘why is a single cell on mars life, but in a womb it’s not?’ and I replied life =/= person, and she said my statement was not true mathematically or scientifically. I replied that there was no factual error in my statement, and she said she wasn’t getting dragged into IE.).

        Of course, this willful ignorance is tough to counter, but I still maintain we’d have better luck if we talked to them as fellow intelligent beings who are misguided and mistaken rather than as idiots.

        • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_P4QFA6I7PKYUHIQNOCP6LFVXVY Woody Tanaka

          I understand your position.  And I believe that it is good that people with more patience than I exist, because, honestly, I cannot believe that anyone who believes in the literal truth of the Genesis story is anything other than delusional, an idiot, a fool, or brainwashed.  And, frankly, when it comes to that creationism nonsense, I don’t see much difference between these.

          I hope, of course, that they awake from their mental stupor, but don’t hold much hope that they will.  But I simply cannot even fake the distain for someone who believes such fairy tales are real.  I’m glad that you can.   

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=626026259 Glen Hopping

    I do tend do disagree with his concept that the prostate’s location is an example of bad design because the prostate would have evolved to it’s present location before we were stood erect.

    • Dan

      That’s an evolutionary explanation for the prostate’s location, not an intelligent design explanation, which was Dr. Coyne’s point.

  • http://squeakysoapbox.com/ Rich Wilson

    For the purely atheist part, at about 59:35 he gets into “How do you get rid of religion” (after explaining that religion is the main reason people reject evolution)

    He then goes on to correlate a society’s health with its religions adherence, and by the measures he’s using (income equality, health care, infant mortality, incarceration, he didn’t say it but I presume education levels,  etc), there’s a very strong inverse correlation, and we’re both very religious, and not very healthy as a society.

  • newavocation

    If evolution is true then religion is false, such a downer, first no Santa and now no heaven, but come on Xians you still have bingo!

  • David Mowers

    Michelle Bachmann told people the thoughts in her mind came from Jesus Christ, so she is but a vessel for the word of God and God is very angry about the light bulb ban…God’s also pizzed about Iran and the lack of drilling in State parks for oil.

    • Patterrssonn

      Where does he stand on iOS vs Android?

  • sam

    lord give me patiens

  • sam

    God”s wrath is coming


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