Kids' Evolution Book, Shunned in US, Gets Award

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Photo: The cover of the new book "Evolution: How We and All Living Things Came to Be"

A new book about evolution that couldn't get published in the United States has won a Canadian book award.

On Wednesday the book, "Evolution: How We and All Living Things Came to Be," by Daniel Loxton, won the 2010 Lane Anderson Award in the young reader category for a book published in the field of science and written by a Canadian. Loxton's book was also a finalist for the prestigious Silver Birch Award earlier this year and is in the running for a third book award for Canadian children's nonfiction.

Loxton's book is, of course, not the first book devoted to evolution; for example, eminent biologist Richard Dawkins' "The Greatest Show on Earth: The Evidence for Evolution" came out in 2009. So why were American publishers reluctant to take Loxton's award-winning book?

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Part of the answer is that, unlike most books on evolution, it's aimed at kids (suggested for ages 8 to 13). To those who dispute evolution, this smacks of indoctrination, not science education. Loxton told Discovery News that he approached several American publishers but was told that his book might be controversial and was "too hot a topic."

Evolution is certainly not controversial among scientists; it is instead a well-accepted and well-established process. Charles Darwin published "On the Origin of Species" in 1859, and evidence for evolution has grown more robust with each passing year.

Loxton begins "Evolution" by noting that different fossils are found in different geological strata — a fact that suggested to early researchers that many now-extinct animals, such as dinosaurs, had once roamed the planet.

He goes on to discuss a wide variety of subjects related to evolution, from DNA to the alleged "dinosaur monster," mokele-mbembe, of central Africa. Along the way, he introduces new concepts such as species and mutation, often in the form of posed questions.

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Darwin's experiments are briefly described, including his research into avian inbreeding and the variations found in beaks in isolated populations of Galapagos Island finches.

Evolution is all around us and relevant to our daily lives; for example, we need a new flu vaccine each year because the influenza virus evolves resistance to the previous year's drug.

Yet surveys show that a significant number of people (around 40 percent, depending on the poll question) have doubts about evolution. Many are creationists, who insist that evolution contradicts the Bible, despite the fact that Pope John Paul II issued a statement in 1996 saying the scientific evidence for evolution was well established ("more than a hypothesis") and compatible with Catholic faith.

Loxton, editor of a section devoted to teaching kids critical thinking in Skeptic magazine, was well aware of the efforts to inject creationism and "intelligent design" into public discussions about evolution. "Evolution" anticipates and addresses some of the most common anti-evolution fallacies (such as that the eye is too complex an organ to have evolved naturally).

Loxton said that he has already received angry emails from creationists demanding to know why his book doesn't give "equal time" to their point of view. He explains that his book is about science, not religion. Furthermore, the Christian creation story is only one of many from various cultures around the world.

No one objects to the Bible or creationism being taught in schools as literature or religion — just not as science.

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