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Darwinism and Its Discontents – Book Review Wednesday, August 22, 2007

Posted by henry000 in anti-creationism, anti-fundamentalism, anti-ID, Behe, biology, book review, Charles Darwin, Christianity, consilience, creationism, Darwin, Darwinism, Dawkins, evolution, genetics, geology, God, Gould, Haeckel, human evolution, philosophy, Piltdown Man, punctuated equilibrium, rationality, reason, religion, science, scientific theory.
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I have been thinking about the ideas in this book for about four decades and have decided that the time has come to put them all together.

This is the opening sentence of Professor Michael Ruse’s latest book Darwinism and Its Discontents. Ruse is a well-known evolutionary philosopher and has been a great defender on Darwinism for a number of years. And with an opening statement like that, naturally I was thrilled to read what the discontents are all about, and if they matter at all.

The book is a defender of Darwinism and the fact of evolution from all sides of attacks, and is understandably light on refuting creationism of various flavours, so read this book to cement your understanding of Darwinism and evolution – I certainly learned a good deal from it.

Darwinism is defined as a particular theory in which evolution works. Its heart lies in the concept of natural selection, the chief causal process behind all organisms, and is the widely accepted evolutionary mechanism by the scientific community. However, it has always been under attack from various disciplines in social science, philosophy, religion, and even within science itself, and Ruse writes how these attacks are categorically mistaken.

Darwinism and Its Discontents Cover

The first chapter goes through the historical background of Darwinism. Ruse includes a number of notable historical figures ranging from people who did not have direct contribution to Darwinism such as Lyells and Malthus, to modern day scientists such as Fisher, Haldine and Wright. The conclusion of the chapter is right on spot – why was Darwin important? Because it was after him that a revolution happened – that life is a naturalistic, not a supernatural or God-inspired one.

The next few chapters are, I think, the highlights of the book as they outline what the fact of evolution is, its path, its cause and its limitations. Ruse presented the concept of consilience argument – that is, direct evidence supporting evolution from a myriad of fields of studies: palaeontology, biogeographical distribution, classification, morphology, embryology and so on. These chapters are essential in understanding the science of Darwinian theory of evolution – population genetics, adaptation, physical constraints on the phenotype, drift, and of course, natural selection, as well as a dash of Gould’s famous punctuated equilibrium theory.

The second half of the book then takes a different turn. It examines humans, the mistakes and dishonesty made in the history of evolutionary science (such as the Piltdown Man and Haeckel’s drawings) – and finally, Ruse looks at Darwinism from philosophical and religious point of views.

Overall I thought this book is very well balanced and not too technical for the layman; however it is definitely not an introductory level kind of book. If you are looking for the whole creationism vs. evolution debate then this is not an ideal book; conversely if you are looking for a book that covers a wide areas of Darwinian evolution – from past to present and across various disciplines, then this book is it.

Why Darwin Matters – The Case Against Intelligent Design Saturday, June 16, 2007

Posted by henry000 in anti-creationism, anti-evolution, anti-fundamentalism, anti-ID, biology, book review, Charles Darwin, Christianity, creationism, Darwin, Evangelical, evolution, fundamentalism, Jerry Coyne, Michael Shermer, rationality, religion, science, United States, Why Darwin Matters.
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This is the title of a highly enjoyable book written by Michael Shermer, which I have just finished reading now (how can one ignore a book with such a title?). Prior to this I have never read of Shermer.

Why Darwin Matters - The Case Against Intelligent Design

It is important that we read what Shermer has to write on this topic. A former creationist and Evangelical Christian, and even more interestingly a friend to some of the Intelligent Design proponents such as Dembski, Shermer presents a highly readable and well-researched book to the general public.

The first few chapters are on the defensive. They tell what evolution is, and why it is under attack. Then the book begins its attack on Intelligent Design – its fallacies and the real agenda behind it. Shermer then concludes the book with a couple of chapters on why evolution cannot contradict religion – and why fundamentalist Christians should accept evolution.

One thing I like about Why Darwin Matters is that the author fills the book with many real life examples, not just dry and scholarly arguments. One of my favourite example looks at dogs. Dogs evolved from wolves very recently, yet there is hardly any “transitional fossils” available – however,

the convergence of evidence from archaeological, morphological, genetic, and behavioural “fossils” reveals the ancestor of all dogs to be the East Asian wolf.

Although personally I think the attack on Intelligent Design somewhat lacks some punch – see Jerry Coyne’s brilliant paper on this attack – however, I think Shermer writes with the general laymen in mind, hence the book is not as technical nor as in-depth.

In summary, I very much enjoyed reading this well-structured and well-researched book. It is a great book for the people who are curious about the whole evolution-vs.-creationism debate, and a fantastic introductory book for anyone interested in knowing evolution better.