Darwin’s Ghost

In Darwin’s Ghost: The Origin of Species Updated, Britain’s Steve Jones, Professor of Genetics at University College London and popularizer of scientific topics in the mode of Carl Sagan, presents for the general reader the various arguments favoring the science of evolution. Calling Charles Darwin’s 1859 work the book of the millennium, Jones models his work on the original The Origin of Species but with the inclusion of DNA and genetics, the mechanism which largely explains the evolutionary process and of which Darwin had no knowledge.

Jones refuses to accept the claim that evolution is merely a theory, perhaps to be ultimately disproved by creationism or some other non-evolutionary explanation. All of life is related, there is no special creation of humanity itself, and unlike the belief of Darwin’s predecessors, there is no fixed and immutable biological universe. The evidence—or the clues, as Jones refers to them—comes from fossils, geography, and especially genes. Evolution is inevitable, depending upon errors in reproduction and the resulting process of natural selection, or survival of the fittest, a term used not by Darwin but by Herbert Spencer.

Darwin’s Ghost ranges widely over the landscape, biological and otherwise, and among other examples of evolution in action Jones discusses the AIDS virus, which he presents as a continuing process of adaptive change. The author also includes a chapter on humankind as part of life’s evolutionary story, a subject only hinted at in Darwin’s original study. But Jones is no simplistic biological determinist, and he notes that the conscious mind of humans complements and supplements the genes’ inheritance. Written with wit and style, Darwin’s Ghost is a most insightful work.