Am I A Monkey?: Six Big Questions about Evolution

Published by: The Johns Hopkins University Press, 104 pages

Am I A Monkey? aims to convince creationists that Judeo-Christian religion is compatible with evolutionary theory by explaining the basic tenets and underlying theory of natural selection. After a smattering of recent texts that have done much to polarize the religion-evolution debate, this is a refreshing thesis. However, although Ayala’s heart is in the right place, much of this book does not do his point justice.

One obvious issue with this work is the fact that it will never reach most of its intended audience. Ardent creationists will likely never read a book that shakes the core of their view. While those still teetering with indecision may be swayed by the book’s arguments, this audience seems sparse.

The book starts by offering rather rushed and incomplete explanations of the underlying principles of evolutionary theory. The first few chapters skim the basics of genetics and palaeontology so quickly that a neophyte’s head would spin.  Given that these topics have been explained so well in myriad other texts, Ayala could have skipped the basic scientific explanations in favour of the (arguably more interesting) details of each side of religion-science debate.

Furthermore, in an attempt to write clearly, Ayala uses a very simple style that tends to come off as obtuse and disjointed.  There is very little compelling writing in this book, which makes it hard to focus on the subject matter. However, in spite of the numerous inchoate sections, Ayala hits his stride by the time it comes to the work’s core material. The last and most important chapter, which outlines the relationship between evolution and religion, is clearer and easier to read than its predecessors.  Indeed, if more of the book had been dedicated to this topic, it would have been far more enjoyable.

In all, Am I a Monkey? is a commendable attempt to distil the religion-evolution dichotomy to its simplest terms.  If it had spent less time clumsily re-iterating material that has been written about so exhaustively in the past, it may have been more successful and interesting.

Emily Rondel recently completed a Master’s degree in Environmental Studies where she focused on citizen science, particularly relating to birds. As a direct consequence of this research, she now belongs to a small fringe group that is trying to make birdwatching cool again. She also works at the Royal Ontario Museum.

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