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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.

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.

My First Time Experience In a Creationism Sermon Monday, July 30, 2007

Posted by henry000 in Anthony Flew, anti-creationism, anti-evolution, anti-fundamentalism, Charles Templeton, Christianity, church, Creation Ministry International, creationism, fundamentalism, Haeckel, Piltdown Man, Presbyterian, science, sermon, Sydney.

Given the rare chance and out of immense curiosity, I attended a creationism sermon – for the very first time – at a Sydney Presbyterian church last weekend. The title of the sermon is Creation, a Key to the Gospel.

The presenter was Dr. Tas Walker, a retired engineer with quite a good working experience. He now works full time at the Australian based fundamentalist organisation called Creation Ministries International, where the Ken Ham, the brain behind the $US27 million Creation Museum originally comes from. I knew this before I attended the sermon, and was glad that someone highly educated and seemingly intelligent was delivering it, rather than the idiotic Ray Comfort type. The sermon was conducted with Powerpoint slides.

Walker opened the sermon by showing a collection of newspaper headlines on evolutionary discoveries, presenting it as if the secular media favours too much on evolution. He also asked if the Christians have ever had troubles or being bothered in completing school assignments on evolution, and how he hoped his presentation would answer some of the troubles. This exemplifies one central characteristic of fundamentalists – the psychology of they being marginalised and even victimised by the secular society. Perhaps these creationists should openly protest against the teaching of evolution and start a public civil movement of destroying the fact of evolution.

After this sensationalised opening, Walker proceeded to the make his case of why creationism matters. I did not fully grasp his logic because I was puzzled by his reasoning. Anyhow it roughly went something like this: Christianity is based on the Gospels and the Genesis, the two absolute central basis of the Bible, and it is in the Genesis that it states clearly that God created the world and all living things. Then evolution comes along and turns this completely upside down, hence it must be bad for Christianity. This is quite the normal argument (although I regretted not having writing down or recording his sermon… but I think next time I will be much better prepared).