“Your uncle was a monkey, he was swinging through the trees / He lived on green bananas, and his arms swung to his knees.” (Geoff Moore and the Distance, "Evolution...Redefined")
This song lyric is tongue-in-cheek but it expresses a common opinion: evolution is just plain silly. It’s not only wrong but insulting to think that we humans descended from ape-like creatures millions of years ago. Many people dismiss evolution based on a caricature: basically, they reject the idea that their “uncle was a monkey.” In fact, misperceptions abound when it comes to evolution. It’s important to dispel these, especially since the issue involves more than science education. It also overlaps with religion and even politics, in court decisions over “creation science” and local school board battles over curricula.
So what should we do about the widespread confusion? Luckily, plenty of resources exist to educate both the general public and school kids. An excellent kids’ book on the subject is Evolution: How We and All Living Things Came to Be, by Daniel Loxton. He’s the illustrator and editor of “Junior Skeptic,” a section in Skeptic magazine. This part of the magazine covers topics popular with kids and teems with great illustrations. Loxton based his book on a 2-part “Junior Skeptic” about evolution. Recommended for readers age 8 and up, the book also consists of 2 parts: the first explains evolution and the second answers typical questions.
Given Loxton's artistic background, it’s no surprise that Evolution includes page after page of eye-catching drawings and computer-generated images. Many illustrations are cartoons, others are photorealistic and some in between. But content is equally if not more important, and here the book is just as successful. It begins with fossils and takes the reader along, step by logical step. Fossils lead to the subject of geological layers, which are records of ancient time. Early fossil hunters realized that the great number of layers indicated an extremely old age for Earth. Also, the further down one went in a geological column (and thus, the further back in time), the more fossils became strange, as well as simple. These strange creatures had gone extinct. Over the millennia, a huge diversity of life forms has arisen. But why do some species survive while others die out? This sets the stage for Darwin’s discovery of natural selection.
Interestingly, Loxton changes the expression “survival of the fittest” to “survival of the adequate.” He points out that most animals aren’t nearly as fit as possible. But that’s okay because “the only measure of success in nature is simply to have offspring to continue the species” (p. 34).
The first section of the book explains evolution beautifully, and the following question-and-answer section is also amazing. Loxton responds to arguments against evolution, as well as questions from simple curiosity. Each one is posed by a differently drawn person varying in age, gender and race.
One asks, “If evolution really happens, where are the transitional fossils?” Considering how hard it is for fossils to form, we actually have surprisingly detailed records of the evolutionary process. Some areas are clearer than others: for instance, Loxton mentions whales twice and gives a basic outline of their transitional history.
Another objection often brought up by creationists is, “How could evolution produce something as complicated as my eyes?” This presumes that only one type of eye exists and that it needed all its parts simultaneously in order to function. Loxton demonstrates why both of these premises are false. He shows that all kinds of eyes are found in nature, from the simplest patch of light-sensitive cells to camera-like “pinhole” eyes. As he explains, "These many kinds of eyes illustrate the series of tiny steps that could slowly transform ordinary skin cells into complex human-type eyes. Every step works. Every step is an improvement. And every step is found in animals alive today" (p. 45).
A total of 9 questions are addressed. They sound like they could come from a random sample of people, just as the characters are drawn. In fact, the whole book is fun and educational for readers of all ages. My only complaint is that Evolution has no bibliography or list for further reading, although the index and glossary are helpful. But this is minor compared to Evolution's overall value. The classrooms and homes of skeptical thinkers and budding scientists everywhere should include this wonderful book.