Saturday, 30 June 2007

Scientists Confront Intelligent Design and Creationism – Andrew J. Petto & Laurie R. Godfrey (Eds.) ***

When I get a book to review that is a collection of essays by academic authors, I have to confess it tends to sink to the bottom of the review pile. Often this is the mark of a cheaply assembled book in the sense that there is no attempt to avoid overlaps, so there’s lots of repetition, and frankly the writing standard (even from well established authors) can be a trifle dull. So it was a very pleasant surprise to discover that this book, which is in that worrying format, is in fact well edited to avoid overlaps, and is almost entirely very readable.
I have really agonized over the rating to give this book. Considering the topic, it is relatively easy going, and I think everyone should be interested in understanding just what is going on when creationists and their intelligent design offspring take on evolution. So from those two points the book was really deserving of 5 stars. Yet in the end, it is an academic assault on creationism and intelligent design – which isn’t a bad thing, but doesn’t make for true popular science. I am really interested in the subject, and so found in fascinating, but I don’t think it’s ever going to appeal to the kind of person who will buy, say, Bill Bryson’s A Short History of Nearly Everything – and it’s for that reason alone that it gets the three stars.
The book is divided into three sections. The essays in the first section look at what intelligent design and creationism are, in the second the different scientific tacks taken by these two movements in attacking evolution and “Darwinism” are covered, and in the third, aspects of the theory of science itself that are relevant to the argument are covered. What we see time and time again is the false logic that is used in trying to attack evolution. It’s quite frustrating when the arguments veer off into something that’s more a matter of philosophy than science. Somehow, the advocates of creationism feel they can blame everything from socialism and communism (both arguably influenced by early Christian ideas like owning goods in common) to the breakdown of society on evolution. Part of the book is dedicated to explaining why this apparently bizarre connection is made.
A lot more is concerned with how the idea that the Bible is inerrant leads to various strange scientific beliefs, which are put above the observed reality – plus the remarkably solid peer-reviewed support for the various mechanisms of evolution (as the book points out, the creationists and ID supporters tend to attack “Darwinism”, an approximation to the 100+ year old idea of evolution, rather than modern scientific detail), compared with the almost non-existent academic science in “creation science” and intelligent design.
Anyone with a real interest in the subject who has heard a little about intelligent design, which sounds quite rational when described by one of its supporters, will find this is a valuable tool for understanding what is really happening, and the difference between science and the attempts to attack science. I ought to stress this isn’t an anti-religious book like Dawkins’ The God Delusion, which we haven’t reviewed as it’s technically theology rather than science. Most Christians would find nothing in here to be uncomfortable with. Instead they would have a better understanding of why some of their fellow Christians mistakenly attack one of the most elegant and effective theories in science.
Paperback:  
Review by Brian Clegg

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