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Scientists Confront Intelligent Design and Creationism

February 19th, 2009 by jimm wetherbee in Reading EKScursions

Scientists Confront Intelligent Design and CreationismScientists Confront Intelligent Design and Creationism, edited by Andrew J. Petto and Laurie R. Godfrey (W. W. Norton & Company 2007) QH366.2 S43 2007.

For all of its nearly four-hundred pages of dense reading (at least for a layperson such as myself) Scientists Confront Intelligent Design and Creationism is akin to four movements that don’t makeup a symphony. As one of the contributing authors noted, it takes more than semester at the undergraduate level for one to really understand the science behind evolutionary theory, let alone sort of presentations most of are exposed to after high school. As collection of essays, one might think of Scientists Confront as a series of presentations.

This is a shame because most of the articles themselves are highly engaging but taken as a whole one is left with the feeling no reader would be inclined to revise any opinion over evolution. Young earth creationists will find some biological or geological anomaly that wasn’t addressed, the intelligent design advocate will insist that aspects of life really are irreducibly complex and those few who haven’t made up their minds will find the case made by the contributors in this volume no more compelling than their opponents.

It is not so much that the editors have taken on too much. Sahorta Sarkar’s Doubting Darwin? does an admiral and much more concise job of laying out the case for evolutionary theory. While Scientists Confront provides some brilliant essays (I particularly liked “Logic and Math Turn to Smoke and Mirrors” and “Human Emergence,” both from “Part Two: Scientific Perspectives,” the strongest section of this collection), the book has a tendency to obscure certain aspects of evolutionary theory (such a cladistic analysis or neutral mutation) and make them seem more radical (and so somehow more resistant to intelligent design or creationists criticism in some obscure way) than theories of natural selection and mutation (again, Sarkar rewards the reader by not shying away from such topics). Worst of all, Scientists Confronts’ efforts at explaining why intelligent rational human beings (some of whom are biologists) would have doubts about evolution border on pop sociology and psychobable.

Herein lies the central problem with Scientists Confront, it does not make the case for evolution to general reader who—while not a partisan on the subject—has read the books of a Michael Behe or William Dembski and find that intelligent design advocates may be on to something. In some ways it marginalizes these readers, but who else would one wish to persuade with such a collection?  No creationist would read it. It lacks the detail for a convinced advocate of intelligent design, and evolutionary theorists require no convincing. If you have read The Design Inference, No Free Lunch, Darwin’s Black Box, or The Edge of Evolution, by all means read Scientists Confront Intelligent Design and Creationism, but read Doubting Darwin? first.

Jimm Wetherbee