It greatly puzzled Darwin that the most ancient rocks, those dating before the Cambrian period, seemed to be barren of fossils when he would expect them to be teeming with life. Decades of work by modern paleontologists have indeed brought us amazing fossils from far beyond the Cambrian, from the depths of the Precambrian. Yet hidden in these depths is a great mystery--something happened around the Cambrian to dramatically speed up evolution and produce many of the early forms of animals we know today--and scientists don't really know what provided that spark.
About 550 million years ago, there was literally an explosion of life forms, as all the major animal groups suddenly and dramatically appeared. Although several books have been written about this surprising event, known as the Cambrian explosion, none has explained why it occurred. Indeed, none was able to. Here, for the first time, Oxford zoologist Andrew Parker reveals his theory of this great flourishing of life. Parker's controversial but increasingly accepted "Light Switch Theory" holds that it was the development of vision in primitive animals that caused the explosion. Drawing on evidence not just from biology, but also from geology, physics, chemistry, history, and art, In the Blink of an Eye is the fascinating account of a young scientist's intellectual journey, and a celebration of the scientific method.
Richard Dawkins transformed our view of God in his blockbuster, The God Delusion, which sold more than 2 million copies in English alone. He revolutionized the way we see natural selection in the seminal bestseller The Selfish Gene. Now, he launches a fierce counterattack against proponents of Intelligent Design in his New York Times bestseller, The Greatest Show on Earth.Intelligent Design is being taught in our schools; educators are being asked to teach the controversy behind evolutionary theory. There is no controversy. Dawkins sifts through rich layers of scientific evidence--from living examples of natural selection to clues in the fossil record; from natural clocks that mark the vast epochs wherein evolution ran its course to the intricacies of developing embryos; from plate tectonics to molecular genetics--to make the airtight case that we find ourselves perched on one tiny twig in the midst of a blossoming and flourishing tree of life and it is no accident, but the direct consequence of evolution by non-random selection. His unjaded passion for the natural world turns what might have been a negative argument, exposing the absurdities of the creationist position, into a positive offering to the reader: nothing less than a master's vision of life, in all its splendor.
DNA, the genetic blueprint of all creatures, is a stunningly rich and detailed record of evolution. Every change or new trait, from the gaudy colors of tropical birds to our color vision with which we admire them, is due to changes in DNA that leave a record and can be traced. Just as importantly, the DNA evidence has revealed several profound surprises about how evolution actually works.
"Shermer is savage about the shortcomings of intelligent design
and eloquent about the spirituality of science . . . An invaluable primer."
--Los Angeles Times Book Review
Science is on the defensive. Half of Americans reject the theory of evolution and intelligent-design campaigns are gaining ground. Classroom by classroom, creationism is overthrowing biology.
In Why Darwin Matters, bestselling author Michael Shermer decodes the scientific evidence to show that evolution is not "just a theory" and illustrates how it achieves the design of life through the bottom-up process of natural selection. Shermer, once an evangelical Christian and a creationist, argues that intelligent-design proponents are invoking a combination of bad science, political antipathy, and flawed theology. He refutes their pseudoscientific arguments and then demonstrates why conservatives and people of faith can and should embrace evolution. Cutting the politics away from the facts, Why Darwin Matters is an incisive examination of what is at stake in the debate over evolution.
Cites five previous mass extinctions on the planet while explaining that the human race may be the first to trigger its own destruction through irresponsible practices
In this companion volume to the seven-part PBS series, an award-winning science writer tells the story of the theory of evolution, from Darwin's seminal insights to the cutting-edge developments in 21st century science that have confirmed and extended Darwin's theories.Charles Darwin's On the Origin of Species was written long before paleontologists and geologists worked out the chronology of life on Earth, long before biologists uncovered the molecules that underlie heredity and natural selection. Author Carl Zimmer begins by allowing students to look over Darwin's shoulder as he reads the scientific theories of his day, studies at university, explores the natural world, and forms one of the most controversial scientific theories of all time. Featuring more than 150 color illustrations, this remarkable book presents a rich and up-to-date view that guides students through the evolution of Darwin's great theory and introduces them to the research of leading scholars in the life sciences such as Stephen Jay Gould, Sarah Hrdy, Mary-Claire King, and Steven Pinker. Students will see how many of Darwin's ideas have been vindicated, and how evolution also turns out to work in ways he never anticipated. In a rich narrative that will appeal to both science majors and nonmajors, Zimmer explores the far-reaching implications of Darwin's theory and emphasizes the power, significance, and relevance of evolution in our lives today. Afterall, we ourselves are the product of evolution, and we cannot tackle many of our gravest challenges-from the lethal resurgence of antibiotic resistant diseases to the wave of extinctions that looms before use-without a sound understanding of evolution. Beginning with an introduction by renowned paleontologist Stephen Jay Gould, Evolution provides the most up-to-date information on topics ranging from Darwinian medicine, sexual selection, and the origins of language to evolutionary psychology and the controversies surrounding creationism. With Evolution, your students will take part in a remarkable scientific journey, from the emergence to the triumph of an idea. The Evolution Project--a groundbreaking public television series and web site--offers teachers a free 40-page teacher's guide tied to state and national science high school biology curricula, and multimedia classroom resources such as online student lessons, short classroom videos, a web library, teacher methodology videos, and an online course for high school teachers to deepen teachers' understanding of evolutionary concepts and help them address obstacles to teaching evolution. For more information, and to order other educational resources or videos of the series, visit www.pbs.org/evolution.--Science Magazine
The metaphor of Mount Improbable represents the combination of perfection and improbability that is epitomized in the seemingly "designed" complexity of living things. Dawkins skillfully guides the reader on a breathtaking journey through the mountain's passes and up its many peaks to demonstrate that following the improbable path to perfection takes time. Evocative illustrations accompany Dawkins's eloquent descriptions of extraordinary adaptations such as the teeming populations of figs, the intricate silken world of spiders, and the evolution of wings on the bodies of flightless animals. And through it all runs the thread of DNA, the molecule of life, responsible for its own destiny on an unending pilgrimage through time.
Climbing Mount Improbable is a book of great impact and skill, written by the most prominent Darwinian of our age.
"Ontogeny recapitulates phylogeny" was Haeckel's answer--the wrong one--to the most vexing question of nineteenth-century biology: what is the relationship between individual development (ontogeny) and the evolution of species and lineages (phylogeny)? In this, the first major book on the subject in fifty years, Stephen Jay Gould documents the history of the idea of recapitulation from its first appearance among the pre-Socratics to its fall in the early twentieth century.
Mr. Gould explores recapitulation as an idea that intrigued politicians and theologians as well as scientists. He shows that Haeckel's hypothesis--that human fetuses with gill slits are, literally, tiny fish, exact replicas of their water-breathing ancestors--had an influence that extended beyond biology into education, criminology, psychoanalysis (Freud and Jung were devout recapitulationists), and racism. The theory of recapitulation, Gould argues, finally collapsed not from the weight of contrary data, but because the rise of Mendelian genetics rendered it untenable.
Turning to modern concepts, Gould demonstrates that, even though the whole subject of parallels between ontogeny and phylogeny fell into disrepute, it is still one of the great themes of evolutionary biology. Heterochrony--changes in developmental timing, producing parallels between ontogeny and phylogeny--is shown to be crucial to an understanding of gene regulation, the key to any rapprochement between molecular and evolutionary biology. Gould argues that the primary evolutionary value of heterochrony may lie in immediate ecological advantages for slow or rapid maturation, rather than in long-term changes of form, as all previous theories proclaimed.
Neoteny--the opposite of recapitulation--is shown to be the most important determinant of human evolution. We have evolved by retaining the juvenile characters of our ancestors and have achieved both behavioral flexibility and our characteristic morphology thereby (large brains by prolonged retention of rapid fetal growth rates, for example).
Gould concludes that "there may be nothing new under the sun, but permutation of the old within complex systems can do wonders. As biologists, we deal directly with the kind of material complexity that confers an unbounded potential upon simple, continuous changes in underlying processes. This is the chief joy of our science."