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By Design or by Chance?: The Growing Controversy on the Origins of Life in the Universe Paperback – Apr 27 2004

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 337 pages
  • Publisher: Augsburg Fortress Publishers; 1 edition (April 27 2004)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1894860039
  • ISBN-13: 978-1894860031
  • Product Dimensions: 14 x 2 x 21.6 cm
  • Shipping Weight: 458 g
  • Average Customer Review: 3.0 out of 5 stars 2 customer reviews
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: #1,892,797 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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Format: Paperback
In the introduction of her exceptionally researched book, Denyse O'Leary asks this bold question about the fate of Darwin's legacy (see review title). Though the presumption might seem unlikely given that Darwinism is the established theory in both mainstream science and the public school system, she reminds the reader that Darwinism would not be the first casuality of changing paradigms in history (Newton --> Einstein). Given the reaction from the Darwinist camp, I'm not so sure this is going to happen any time soon, but the fierce reactions they have given are perhaps an indication that things aren't so solid in evolutionary theory as most of us were taught!
The journalistic style that Denyse uses is appropriate and useful. I found the numerous side-bars extremely relevant, and the notes at the back of the book contain a wealth of information for additional research. Denyse has no problem laying out the controversy from various points of view - clearly demonstrating the implications of Darwinism, Creationism, and Intelligent Design. The book is both historical and contemporary in nature, which makes it a good introduction for those who want a well-balanced introduction. However, it's clearly thoroughly researched and plenty thought-provoking for those who are already familiar with the concepts.
I was personally a bit confused on the ultimate difference between the "post-Darwinist" and the "theistic evolutionist" positions. Surely in this debate, we have to fully clarify our terms. To me, a theistic evolutionist is someone who believes God set evolution in motion and since then, it has happened naturally. This seems to reduce God's role to that of a "first cause", but no longer active in the universe after the creation event.
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Format: Paperback
The question in the title of the book is an important one well worth a serious philosophical and theological analysis in light of modern science. Unfortunately, the reader will have to look elsewhere for that discussion. Ms. O'Leary's book is a rehash of Intelligent Design (ID) propaganda which promotes shoddy science, shallow theology and incompetent journalistic research.
The basic problematic of the book begins in the preface where Ms. O'Leary states: "I began to see clearly that Darwinism is a theory of evolution that explicitly denies design in biology in order to leave God out to of the picture." Although, in the body of the text, she does make some effort to discriminate between the scientific theory of evolution and a philosophy which she, following the ID lead, calls Darwinism, this is so muted that the average reader must be forgiven if they equate the diatribes against Darwinism as an attack on the science of evolution.
The first example of shoddy science shows up in the introduction where a side-bar defines the Big Bang as an explosion. The next page labels a highly improbable event as "impossible" even though it is part of probability that improbable, even highly improbable events can happen. There is the usual ID/creationist confusion of the theory of evolution with theories about the origin of life leading to inappropriate commentary on the Urey-Miller experiments. There is the usual ID/creationist quote-mining of Gould's defence of Punctuated Equilibrium and misrepresentation of what that thesis entails. And this merely scratches the surface.
A shallow theology also runs right through the book. It begins by equating evolution with chance, chance with nature and nature with athiesm.
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Amazon.com: HASH(0xa65aae7c) out of 5 stars 21 reviews
HASH(0xa668fb70) out of 5 stars A CANADIAN JOURNALIST SURVEYS THE RELATION OF EVOLUTION AND CHRISTIANITY June 8 2015
By Steven H Propp - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
Denyse O'Leary is a Toronto-based journalist, author, and blogger. She has also written/cowritten books such as What Are Newton's Laws of Motion?, The Spiritual Brain: A Neuroscientist's Case for the Existence of the Soul, Faith@Science: Why Science Needs Faith in the Twenty-First Century, etc.

She wrote in the Preface to this 2004 book, "As a freelance journalist... I have frequently been asked to write on science topics. One such topic was Darwinian evolution and the new, competing theory of intelligent design... I had no clear convictions about it.... I am a Christian [later, she describes herself as an `evangelical Anglican'; pg. 239), but my church does not require any position on evolution... I began to see clearly that Darwinism is a theory of evolution that explicitly denies design in biology in order to leave God out of the picture---at a point in history when, from the science evidence available, it appears that the whole universe is screaming DESIGN!... But the implications of this state of affairs seemed worth a book... Its topic is huge: the slow, sure---and strongly opposed---reorganization of sciences around the theme of design, as opposed to no-design."

She notes that most Christians reacted to Darwin's theory of evolution, and the geological interpretation of the antiquity of the earth, by assuming that the Bible either taught the "Day-Age theory," or the "gap theory." She says, "Christians have fond these assumptions reasonable because the Bible does not give an age for the earth. As Bible scholar P.A. Zimmerman notes [in Darwin, Evolution, and Creation]: `The Bible does not anywhere make an explicit statement in which the age of the earth is given. It tells us how long the Children of Israel were in Egypt, the length of time from the Exodus to the building of Solomon's temple, the duration of the Babylonian Captivity, etc. But nowhere is there a statement of how many years it was from creation to the time of Abraham or any other date that can be correlated with secular history... Any estimate of the age of the earth based on the Bible rests on deductions drawn from information contained in Holy Scriptures. If the deductions are valid, the conclusions are likewise valid. The reverse is true if the deductions are in error." (Pg. 123-124)

She says of the famous/infamous tracks at the Paluxy River in Glen Rose, Texas: "In 1971, Eden Films ... distributed a movie ... called `Footprints in Stone,' Shown in hundreds of schools and churches, this documentary convinced many that dinosaurs and humans had once lived together. In 1980, John Morris... published Tracking Those Incredible Dinosaurs and the People Who Knew Them, promoting the `mantracks,' as Glenrose residents called them... Under pressure from investigators with less emotional investment in the story, a different explanation for the mantracks emerged. It seems that Cretaceous dinosaurs usually walked on their toes, like cats... However, for unknown reasons, they sometimes walked on the entire foot, like humans... When they did so, their tracks resembled human tracks. In 1986, John Morris began to retract the Paluxy claims, and the film was withdrawn." (Pg. 143-144)

She also points out, "Young earth creationists are often ridiculed for the mantracks episode, but other paleontologists have also been the victims of self-delusion in recent years and could do well to take a hard look in the mirror. Consider the feathered dinosaur fraud. In November 1999, National Geographic published an amazing find: a fossil of a feathered dinosaur, dubbed `Archaeoraptor,' appeared to prove that birds evolved from carnivorous dinosaurs.... In January 2000, the prestigious magazine quietly retracted its claim. The fossil turned out to be a composite of different animals cleverly joined---not dinosaur feathers, after all, but horsefeathers." (Pg. 144-145)

In her discussion of Intelligent Design (ID), she acknowledges, "The designer does not have to be God. Intelligent design does not require an omnipotent or omniscient designer; only an intelligent one. This may be the single thorniest problem that intelligent design theory poses. To their credit, the ID advocates do not back away from it... just because a system may show evidence of intelligence does not mean that it is directly authored by God. Intermediaries of self-organization may play a role." (Pg. 212-213)

Of Philip Johnson's infamous "Wedge" strategy, she notes, "[William] Dembski was clearly unhappy with Philip Johnson's `Wedge' and strove to distance himself from it. The street drama of rejection by a Darwinist establishment played well in the 1990s, but it became a liability because `wedges break things rather than build them up.' Design needs to be nuanced as a scientific concept before it can succeed as a social or cultural concept, he warned." (Pg. 229)

Those looking for a "journalistic overview" of the creation/ID/evolution controversy will be pleased with this book; but those looking for detailed arguments (particularly "scientific" ones) critically addressing one or both sides may want to look elsewhere.
105 of 156 people found the following review helpful
HASH(0xa60f1f0c) out of 5 stars Burying the real issues in a pile of chaff June 7 2005
By Gail Turner - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Paperback
The question in the title of the book is an important one well worth a serious philosophical and theological analysis in light of modern science. Unfortunately, the reader will have to look elsewhere for that discussion. Ms. O'Leary's book is a rehash of Intelligent Design (ID) propaganda which promotes shoddy science, shallow theology and incompetent journalistic research.
The basic problematic of the book begins in the preface where Ms. O'Leary states: "I began to see clearly that Darwinism is a theory of evolution that explicitly denies design in biology in order to leave God out to of the picture." Although, in the body of the text, she does make some effort to discriminate between the scientific theory of evolution and a philosophy which she, following the ID lead, calls Darwinism, this is so muted that the average reader must be forgiven if they equate the diatribes against Darwinism as an attack on the science of evolution.
The first example of shoddy science shows up in the introduction where a side-bar defines the Big Bang as an explosion. The next page labels a highly improbable event as "impossible" even though it is part of probability that improbable, even highly improbable events can happen. There is the usual ID/creationist confusion of the theory of evolution with theories about the origin of life leading to inappropriate commentary on the Urey-Miller experiments. There is the usual ID/creationist quote-mining of Gould's defence of Punctuated Equilibrium and misrepresentation of what that thesis entails. And this merely scratches the surface.
A shallow theology also runs right through the book. It begins by equating evolution with chance, chance with nature and nature with athiesm. No supporter of modern evolutionary theory would agree that evolution is a matter of chance. Indeed a side-bar on page 172 quotes "arch-villain" Richard Dawkin' statement from Climbing Mount Improbable to the effect that designoid objects are not accidental but the product of a non-random process.
But the more significant theological error is to assume that a deity cannot or will not use natural, random processes to achieve its goals. There is nothing inherently atheistic about chance processes or natural processes. But the ID and creationist movements have convinced millions of sincere believers that there is. The effect of this theological error is that Christian organizations spend millions on combatting the wrong target: setting their sights on the science of evolution itself, rather than on the philosophies of materialism, naturalism and scientism which mistakenly claim to be the logically necessary conclusions of evolution.
Finally, there is the matter of journalism. Here I can offer some kudoes. Ms. O'Leary does a fine job of recounting the social history of Darwin's theory--of how it came to be associated with materialism, and of the key role played by the evolution=atheism propagandists such as Huxley and Mencken, Dawkins and Sagan. Her analysis of the film Inherit the Wind in comparison to the actual event of the Scopes trial is superb. Her brief history of the rise of creationism is also excellent.
But in contrast to these virtues, her recounting of evolution and science is appallingly bad. For example, the only mention of dinosaur-bird transitional forms is Archeoraptor, the hoax which embarrassed National Geographic. There is not a single mention of the dozens of legitimate finds of feathered dinosaur fossils. In this context, such an omission amounts to the very suppression of evidence which she alleges against supporters of evolutionary theory. She has uncritically accepted a perversion of Gould's punctuated equilibrium thesis when correct information is readily available. Twice she quotes, and once alludes to, Gould's comment on lack of transitional fossils, when a simple reading of the primary literature would indicate that Gould was speaking of transitional fossils at the species level, not transitional fossils in general.
One of the most striking features of the book is that it nowhere deals with the actual science of evolution. The focus is rather on the conflicting philosophies that have gathered around the science. Unfortunately, the implication is that the philosophies establish the truth of the science. This is simply not the case, and, ironically, it is a creationist scientist, Kurt Wise, who points this out. Unfortunately, while Ms. O'Leary is willing to accept that a creationist can still do good science, she does not accept the corollary that "Darwinists" can also do good science, in spite of their belief system.
There are many important matters that do need to be discussed in scientific, philosophical and theological circles around design and chance. Now and again Ms. O'Leary touches on them. But the serious weaknesses of this book preclude it as a significant contributor to this important discussion.
24 of 38 people found the following review helpful
HASH(0xa60f1dd4) out of 5 stars A Quagmire of Viewpoints Jan. 12 2006
By J. Aubrey - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Paperback
I received this as a gift due to my interest in intelligent design as a response to the theoretical shortcomings of Darwinism. But I'm not looking at ID to confirm religious or philosophical beliefs. Unfortunately, the author spends most of her time dealing with those issues.

She does touch on whether ID is science and the evidentiary and theoretical problems with natural selection as the be-all and end-all explanation of life. But those subjects are not treated in any kind of depth. I was disappointed she didn't explore the mathematical models making it highly improbable that natural selection (chance) can explain the complexity of many life forms, particularly at the molecular level.

I'm a layman but I'm inclined to believe that ID does have scientific implications and that the scientific establishment is overly defensive. It will not do to dismiss all ID proponents as closet creationists.

Bottom line: I didn't come out of it more confident of my grasp of of the subject matter than I did going in.
1 of 3 people found the following review helpful
HASH(0xa6525270) out of 5 stars Scientific facts interpreted in support of Intelligent Design Sept. 22 2012
By Dr. H. A. Jones - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Paperback
By Design or by Chance by Denyse O'Leary, Augsburg Books, Minneapolis, MN, 2004, 352 ff.

The author of this book, who describes herself as a journalist working in Toronto, Canada, says she set out on this project with no particular religious viewpoint to present. However, it's very difficult to present this subject objectively. O'Leary admits to being a Christian, so belief in a Creator Designing God is almost a given. Atheists, which I suspect would include a majority of scientists and philosophers, would begin from an assumption of the non-existence of a designing, creating deity and would interpret the data accordingly and in a different way to the author.

The author leaves us in no doubt that, for her, the evidence she presents supports the idea that there is some designing purpose behind the universe. Although the interpretation of the facts is therefore strongly biased, there is still much interesting information here. The book is well written and makes a highly readable case for ID through the agency of the God of western religion. The clarity of presentation is helped by good typographic design with highlighted Boxes and Tables dispersed throughout the text.

O'Leary argues that an eternal universe would dispense with the need for a Creator God, and that without God there would be no basis for morality - though neither conclusion follows from the premise! This does not have to be the God of Christianity, though clearly to create such a structure as the universe would require god-like qualities. The book espouses the cause of so-called `young earth creationism' as advocated by evangelical Christians in North America, of whom O'Leary is apparently one. O'Leary continually brackets Darwin (a troubled agnostic) with Freud and Marx, both of whom were avowed atheists, in order to discredit him. We can see where the book is going from the opening chapter.

Part One sums up the `best arguments' for creation by design and by chance, and includes discussion of the Big Bang and Steady State theories of creation, the Anthropic Principle and the Multiverse models. Michael Behe and, surprisingly, physicist Paul Davies are called in to support design. If you want coherrent arguments for theism I would suggest you read the books by Swinburne, Mackie or Flew. Part Two is about Darwinian evolution. O'Leary says quite correctly that human existence and relationships cannot be reduced to pre-twentieth century materialist physics, and that even Darwinist biology does not provide all the answers.

The fact that a fern has more genes than we do tells us that the whole answer to human intelligence is not written in our genes: modern epigeneticists would agree. However, O'Leary states that `Believing in Darwinism is not the same as believing in evolution' - but evolution by the spontaneous emergence of complexity, which is the predominant current NeoDarwinist theory, certainly does not negate Darwinism. It is also nonsense to suggest that Darwinism is simply a form of atheism. To regard Darwinism (based on experimental observation and reason) as a religion (which is based on the man-made and often mythical texts of scripture) is quite untenable. Darwin says nothing about the origins of life: he simply presents a mechanism by which it developed, a mechanism that has been verified experimentally countless times over during the past century.

Part Three is devoted to Creationism and Part Four is specifically on Intelligent Design. If you have the religious belief that the God of Christianity created and designed the universe, and that the Earth is 10,000 years old or less (like O'Leary), then no amount of commentary or rational argument on these sections will persuade you otherwise. It reduces to the question of whether you regard the Bible as fact (like O'Leary) or fiction (like an increasing number of enlightened theologians). Eastern mystical belief or even atheism can include the concept of a spiritual energy as the source of creation and participant in `design'.

The book ends with a generous Notes section of some 80 pages and a detailed Index.

The Coherence of Theism (Clarendon Library of Logic and Philosophy)
The Miracle of Theism: Arguments For and Against the Existence of God
There Is a God: How the World's Most Notorious Atheist Changed His Mind
21 of 34 people found the following review helpful
HASH(0xa6525420) out of 5 stars Understanding the Origins Debate Sept. 6 2004
By Mark Scheel - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Paperback
Reading Denyse O'Leary's By Design or by Chance was a particular treat for me because I myself have written on the same subject during the evolution/education debate in Kansas in 2000 and have met and interviewed many of the luminaries she quotes in her pages. Having followed some of the literature of the evolution/creationism/intelligent design debate since then, I was familiar with the context of her subject and the direction this controversy has taken. I must say, I've never seen a clearer and more comprehensive, yet accessible, discussion of the who, what, when, where, why and how of the topic offered in such an entertaining and palatable presentation than By Design or by Chance puts forward. It's both an excellent starting point for the novice as well as a handy resource for the professional seeking additional facts. It quite literally is a book with something for everyone.

O'Leary begins with an overview of the historical speculations on how the universe began and the origin of life in that universe. Was the universe always there, or did it have a finite beginning? What is the Big Bang theory and how was it initially received? What does science say about origins? What does religion say? How have both shaped the prevailing views over time within our culture?

The book next specifically addresses the question of life and how it came into being and changed. Did all life come from a common ancestor? What roles do natural law and chance play? Exactly who was Darwin, what did he believe and what were his major contributions? How did theists initially receive his views? When did creationism arrive on the scene and what precisely does it advocate? What are the different varieties of creationism? Along the way a number of historical misconceptions or inaccuracies are exposed and dispelled such as the "myths" surrounding the infamous Scopes Trial and the distortions promulgated by the film Inherit the Wind.

Finally, the focus turns to intelligent design theory. What is it and what does it say? How does it differ from the 18th-century views of the Anglican theologian William Paley? Who is Phillip Johnson, and how did he, in the late 1980s, launch the intelligent design movement? What are the contributions of its greatest advocates such as William Dembski, Michael Behe and Jonathan Wells? What do the concepts of "irreducible complexity" and "specified complexity" pertain to? Why is information theory a center piece and a quantum leap forward from Darwin's day? Having clearly established itself as a "third way," why does intelligent design incur the enmity of both Darwinists and creationists? Is intelligent design the wave of the future?

Throughout, O'Leary's great strengths are to make the complex understandable, the mountainous manageable, the presentation logical and the reading experience pleasurable. The format consists of well-placed internal headings, handy sidebars and charts. The reference notes, which are copious, are placed conveniently and unobtrusively at the end. The layout is pleasing to both the eye and the comprehension. If I were forced to offer some criticism, the best I could do would be to note the absence of illustrations and photos, but perhaps those additions would have been cost-prohibitive.

I thoroughly enjoyed every page of O'Leary's work. Although familiar with the subject, I came away with a number of new facts in my arsenal. At a time when a plethora of new books are appearing on this subject, By Design or by Chance may well turn out to be one of the cornerstones in broadening public understanding of what's at stake in the origins debate. I give it my highest recommendation.

Mark Scheel

prose editor Kansas City Voices magazine

author of A Backward View: Stories and Poems


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