More Options

A Gifted Writer and a Book Worth Giving

Book Review

Harriet Hall

Volume 34.5, September/October 2010

Evolution: How We and All Living Things Came to Be.
By Daniel Loxton. Kids Can Press, Toronto, 2010.
ISBN: 978-1554534302. Hardcover, $18.95.

It’s hard to believe that we still have so many evolution deniers among us. Understanding evolution is essential to understanding modern biology as well as a host of other subjects. We need to get to young minds before their neurons have a chance to congeal into unscientific ideologies. Now we have just the book to reach them.

Daniel Loxton is the editor of the “Junior Skeptic” section of Skeptic magazine, where he makes skepticism and critical thinking accessible and entertaining to the younger set. He has expanded one of his “Junior Skeptic” subjects into a superb new book on evolution.

The illustrations are colorful, informative, and whimsical. Loxton introduces us to a blue bird that compromises on a tail that is “not too long, not too short,” some cute “Zooks” that move away and eventually lose the interest and ability to mate with the others, a boy overrun with bunnies that have reproduced without anything to limit survival of the offspring, and some really cool dinosaurs. They’re a joy to the eye, and the text is a joy to the mind.

Loxton covers the basics of evolutionary theory; tells the story of Darwin, the Beagle, and the finches; and answers the questions people commonly ask:

“But have we ever actually seen a new species evolve?” Yes, both in the wild and in the lab.

“Where are the transitional fossils?” Everywhere.

“Didn’t they find some human footprints together with dinosaur footprints?” No, they made a mistake.

“How could evolution produce something as complicated as my eyes?” Loxton shows us how complex eyes gradually developed from simple light-sensitive cells.

“How could walking animals turn into flying animals?” Perhaps from gradual alterations in tree-dwelling, gliding animals.

Then the hard questions: “How did life start in the first place?” Evolution doesn’t explain the origin of life, just how it changed over time. We don’t know how life got started, but scientists are working on it.

And “What about religion?” Loxton handles this neatly by saying that this is a question science can’t help with. He refers readers to their “family, friends, and community leaders.” (He avoids mentioning rabbis, imams, priests, or Flying Spaghetti Monsterologists.)

Loxton has a wonderful knack for simplifying without condescending and for challenging young readers to grapple with complicated concepts. The book is aimed at eight–to thirteen-year-olds, but it could be useful to even a sophisticated old coot. Some of his examples might come in handy in your next discussion with an intelligent design believer or a fence sitter. I loved his illustration of how evolutionary change is not a totally random process but builds on patterns that were already there. He describes how hot-rod builders can lift a car, drop it, chop the roof, and slap on new paint, but they are still stuck with the basic pattern of a body and four wheels (not two or seventeen).

If you have children or grandchildren, this book would be a great way to introduce them to the theory of evolution. If you don’t, you still might want to buy a copy, read it yourself, and donate it to the local public or school library.

I hope Loxton will write many more books like this on a wide variety of skeptical subjects. He has a gift, and we are fortunate that he is sharing it with us.

Harriet Hall

Harriet Hall, MD, a retired Air Force physician and flight surgeon, writes and educates about pseudoscientific and so-called alternative medicine. She is a contributing editor and frequent contributor to the Skeptical Inquirer and contributes to the blog Science-Based Medicine. She is author of Women Aren’t Supposed to Fly: Memoirs of a Female Flight Surgeon and coauthor of the 2012 textbook Consumer Health: A Guide to Intelligent Decisions.