The Fact of Evolution – Cameron M. Smith

The Fact of Evolution - Cameron M. Smith

Prometheus Books, ISBN 978-1-61614-441-8

It is the fact of denial that has provoked Smith to add yet another species to the teeming ecology of books on evolution.

He draws on a decade of US college teaching to produce an unusually clear and systematic account of how it is that evolution, as theorised by Darwin and refined since, is beyond debate.

Smith’s approach is simple and cogent. There are three main elements to acknowledge: all organisms reproduce; their offspring are not identical to their parents; individuals have varying numbers of offspring, including zero. These three blatantly obvious and independent facts of life, taken together, inevitably bring about changes in the kinds of life-forms inhabiting the Earth. These changes are known as evolution, which is implicit if that trinity is acknowledged.

The book swarms with illuminating examples from all walks, wriggles, flights and growths of life, and recent research on the inner workings of DNA and the genome is clearly outlined for the non-specialist. Among many startling items is the realisation that the global weight of oceanic viruses is equivalent to 75 million blue whales, but that they are mostly unknown.

Against the steady flow of praise, doubts can be voiced about Smith’s coinage of “Teflon” versus “Velcro” symbols, in his concluding discussions. Predator alerts are Teflon symbols in that no alternative connotations may stick to them, unlike the semantically sticky symbols of human communication. Labels seem a better analogy than a mess of Velcro.

Given the virtues of this book, it was also a shock to see Smith mention the Templeton Foundation, with no footnote (despite 40 pages of them) to point out the religious motivations of the funders.

Beware of the god.

Paul Taylor