Prosanta Chakrabarty—Explaining Life through Evolution

Cover of the book Explaining Life through Evolution by Prosanta Chakrabarty showing several types of fish.

Explaining Life through Evolution

Prosanta Chakrabarty
MIT Press, August 8, 2023, paperback $22.95, ebook $15.99
ISBN-10: 0262546256, ISBN-13: 978-0262546256
Epub: 97892662375474, ASIN: B0BLTSYYFN

Chakrabarty reports:

I started writing Explaining Life Through Evolution as a response to an anti-evolution law in my adopted home state of Louisiana.

I begin the book by explaining the consequences of the “Louisiana Science Education Act,” passed by the Louisiana Legislature on June 11, 2008. The Act should have been named the “Weakening of Science Education Act” because it allows public school teachers to bring into the classroom non-science materials to contradict so-called “controversial” scientific ideas like evolution.

Portrait photo of Prosanta Chakrabarty

Prosanta Chakrabarty

I wanted to explain why evolution shouldn’t be controversial. Evolution is a fact: It is a fact built on observations and experiments and everything from a 3.5-billion-year-old fossil record to work with genetic editing tools like CRISPR.

I met MIT Press representatives at an American Association for the Advancement of Science meeting in 2019. I had a seed of a book, and was glad they were open to working with me. At Louisiana State University, I have my regular research, teaching, and curatorial duties, and I have family responsibilities, so I’ve been pecking away at this book a long time.

I aimed to give readers tools not only to understand key concepts in evolution but also to help them explain the science of evolution and why it is important to others. Perhaps this focus is what separates it from other books on evolution.

Some people use false evolutionary ideas as a weapon against LGBTQ+ and other marginalized groups. They do so by reinforcing common misconceptions about evolution (e.g., “survival of the fittest”) in a social/cultural context.

These tactics are similar to those of the eugenics era of the last century when some political parties promoted “Social Darwinism” to sterilize and sometimes promote the killing of people they thought were “weak.” These heinous ideas have nothing to do with Darwin or the science of evolution. They are exaggerated and mutated views of biological processes.

I hope this text helps inform more people about what evolution is, and what it isn’t. Understanding that race, gender, sex, and sexuality are traits on a spectrum ideally will neutralize bigotry towards minoritized and marginalized groups.

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Banner image adapted from original photo by Prosanta Chakrabarty.

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