My early impression was that Coyne was a mess. Then, in the midst of finishing his book, I came across a CT article, noting that Coyne had described Francis S. Collins' ideas as "scary...bizarre...inane...snake oil" and that he "pollute his science with his faith". So, Coyne has quickly established that he's a jerk and a moron-- at least in terms of religion, if not science.
But the funny thing is that Coyne's book got better as it went along. He provides a lot of good evidence for natural selection in areas from genetics to the fossil record-- much of it new to me. So, if you're looking for that, I can now recommend his book, despite the silly stuff.
As for the silly stuff, it fades a bit as the book goes along; in a word, Coyne becomes a bit more humble as the book evolves. Picking things up in chapter 2...
-Early in chapter 2, he draws an analogy between the available fossil evidence and a scattered and torn book with only remnants of pages still remaining. Of course, Coyne feels quite comfortable drawing inferences from the remaining evidences. "Without them, we'd have only a sketchy outline of evolution." (p. 21). By any objective standard, the outline is still quite sketchy, even if one is impressed by the evidence and the accompanying narrative. (And if we're comparing Evolution to literal writing, I wonder what he thinks about the evidences for the preservation of the Bible.)
-At times, he admits the staggering task at hand for evolution: "The theory of natural selection has a big job-- the biggest in biology. Its task is to explain how every adaptation evolved, step by step." (p. 119) Exactly. At present, only someone with a lot of (implicit or explicit) faith in the narrative can get there. Elsewhere: "We should be able to imagine a plausible step-by-step scenario for the evolution of that trait." Exactly. Imagine a scenario. With the "ability to extrapolate time...it becomes to easier to accept that...selection could cause..." (p. 125) Yep, an exercise of extrapolation to accept (on faith) that selection could do such-and-such. Who can argue with that? And given artificial selection, "making the leap to natural selection was not so hard" (p. 127). Leap of faith, anyone?
-On transitional forms, Coyne is coy about the extent to which they matter. In his mind, we don't need many-- which happens to coincide with those we have in hand. He doesn't say what we should believe if we had fewer-- or the extent to which our faith should be bolstered by more. If it's a done deal, then we don't need any more.
-Coyne is candid about the limits of Evolution as early as chapter 2: "We have no idea what selective pressures drove the evolutionary changes in these plankton and trilobites. It is always easier to document evolution in the fossil record than to understand [and explain] what caused it..."
-Over and over again, he asserts what the creationist and ID models would predict. First, this runs counter to the frequent assertion that neither sets of models are testable. Moreover, Coyne seems confused about the extent of intervention required by ID and (old-earth) "creationism". The ID'er or God could have intervened a little or a lot. With ID, the question is whether design can be inferred probabilistically in some contexts. With old-earth creationism, evolutionary mechanisms are supposed to account for some/much of the variation we see today-- just not all. Coyne asks "Why would a creator put a pathway for making vitamin C in all these species, then inactivate it?" It's as if he can only imagine a black/white world where there is all/no evolution.
-Coyne repeatedly compares Evolution to his flawed, simplistic version of ID. "There is no reason a celestial designer...should make new species by remodeling the features of existing ones." (p. 54) Really?! "Species aren't all that well-designed, either: many of them show imperfections that are signs not of celestial engineering but of evolution." A common misperception of ID-- and it indicates that Coyne really believes these are competing hypotheses. "Perfect design would truly be the sign of a skilled and intelligent designer." OK, but that's not a criterion of ID. "Why would a creator...?" Coyne is quick to say X makes no sense if there's a creator, but slow to say that Y makes no sense if we rely on Evolution.
-He never gets around to defining ID properly. He completely skirts it early-on, makes a half-hearted effort in chapter 3 (p. 81,85), and finally makes a much larger effort in chapter 5 (p. 136-143). Here, tellingly, he asks for some wiggle room: "In the main, ID is unscientific, for it consists largely of untestable claims." (p. 137) Jerry, I would have thought that you could pin that down a little tighter? And then he wants to take back the wiggle room he requested earlier: "The onus is not on evolutionary biologists to sketch out a precise step-by-step scenario documenting exactly how a complex character evolved." (p. 138) Jerry, I know that explanations are tough business, much tougher than narrative and faith. And it cracks me up that he talks about scientists "intelligently designing" all kinds of stuff in the lab, without ever catching the irony.
-I wonder the extent to which evolution is falsifiable-- really. Coyne says that we will find an early land-dweller with reduced gills and limbs in freshwater sediments from 380 million years ago (p. 38). But what if doesn't work out that way? I'm figuring that the theory gets adjusted and we move forward, right? It seems unlikely that Coyne would reject everything if he's wrong on this prediction.
-In addition to the supposed evolution from land-bound mammals to whales, I'm surprised that he's so comfortable in imagining Indohyus (a raccoon-sized animal) turning into a something so large (p. 49-51). But he wraps up that section with the glib remark: "The sea was ripe for invasion. All of its benefits were only a few mutations away." Then, we find that evolution can easily go the other way too-- as glyptodontsThen, he concludes-- with no touch of irony-- that "Creationism is hard-pressed to explain these patterns." (Volkswagen-sized ancient armadillos with two-inch armor) are supposed to evolve into contemporary armadillos (p. 96).
-It's interesting that Evolutionists imagine the ostrich evolving to flight and then away from it (p. 57). Why was a smaller appendix better for us? Could it grow or shrink again? Likewise, he claims that eyes have evolved in and then out. And he claims that eyes take a lot of energy to build and can be easily injured (p. 59). True to some extent, I suppose, but it's difficult to imagine either of those as significant factors. Later, he asserts that a rudimentary light-patch could start-- and then the evolution to a retina and an optic nerve would follow through natural selection (p. 142-143). OK, Jerry-- if you say so!
-I don't understand the information component of the genome, but why would it degrade while unused? (p. 65)
-There is a fascinating discussion of the Asian giant hornet vs. European and Japanese bees (p. 111-113). The introduced European bees are at a severe disadvantage-- interesting if not unusual, since new species often gain and hold an upper hand. In contrast, the Japanese bees are claimed to have evolved a response that is effective against the hornet. But it seems odd that the evolution of an individual could survive to evolve into a group that was so powerful.
-One thing that gets some attention (to his credit), but ultimately is the subject of immense hand-waving, is the ability of mutated creatures to reproduce-- and survive and thrive-- over and over and over again. Sure, "once sex has evolved, sexual selection follows inevitably..." But how did sex evolve in its beginning? And relying on sex for natural selection is reasonable. The biggest problem? Assuming that the gene-- which promotes the ability of the female to identify the healthier males-- is able to evolve systematically. It's also interesting (and seemingly troubling) that more energy to non-productive characteristics is good in an evolutionary sense. But this is a problem of credibility: only the healthy can afford the sacrifice.
-Toward the end, Coyne takes evolution fans to task (p. 228)-- those who try to "Darwinize every aspect of human behavior, turning its study into a scientific parlor game...imaginative reconstructions of how things might have evolved are not science; they are stories". He then invokes Stephen Jay Gould and "Just-so-Stories". I wish he had talked about Gould's idea of "punctuated equilibrium", but maybe that's a little too close to home...