Evolution Controversy, The: A Survey of Competing Theories Paperback – Jan 1 2009
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From the Back Cover
In the debate surrounding evolution, it is often difficult to cut through the competing agendas to gain an unbiased understanding of the scientific issues involved. Most books on the topic are one dimensional, attempting to sway readers to join a particular camp. Thomas Fowler and Daniel Kuebler, however, take a different approach to the subject in The Evolution Controversy.
Instead of advocating a particular position, the authors present various sides in the evolution debate, leaving aside the profound philosophical and religious issues involved in the controversy in favor of a balanced and critical examination. Not only do they trace evolution's development from the ancient Greeks to the present but they also summarize and critique four leading schools of thought: Neo-Darwinism, Creationism, Intelligent Design, and Meta-Darwinism. Numerous diagrams, tables, and comparison charts are included to help readers understand, learn, and master the content. In addition, a technical glossary covers terms from abiogenesis to vestigial structures, and a helpful bibliography includes books, articles, Web sites, and organizations for further research.
About the Author
Thomas B. Fowler (ScD, George Washington University) is senior principal engineer at the Center for Information Technology and Telecommunications at Noblis, formerly known as Mitretek Systems, a not-for-profit consulting firm working in the public interest in Falls Church, Virginia. He is also an adjunct instructor at George Mason University and Christendom College.
Daniel Kuebler (PhD, University of California, Berkeley) is assistant professor of biology at Franciscan University of Steubenville in Steubenville, Ohio. He has written a number of articles for scientific journals as well as for the National Catholic Register.
Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)
Reading through reviews, it looks like some people criticize this book because of its inclusion of ideas by people they disagree with, or its failure to stake a position that agrees with their own (or to even stake a position at all). I think some have misunderstood the authors' intent in writing this book. Some perhaps did not actually read the book's content all the way through. Before you buy this book and then complain that it wasn't what you would prefer in a book on evolution, read the following. (And before you review the book, please read it first.)
WHAT THIS BOOK IS AND IS NOT:
This book IS:
- an information resource on a controversy
- an attempt at a neutral survey of the available evidence, various arguments, and sides in a current controversy
- a starting point for those wanting a better grasp on the issues at stake
- an attempt at proposing criteria to be used by thoughtful readers in analyzing arguments for themselves
- an attempt to focus discourse on the scientific aspects of a scientific question
This book IS NOT:
- an argumentative discourse on what side in the controversy is right or wrong
- an apologetic work on Darwinism
- an apologetic work on Creationism
- an apologetic work on Intelligent Design
- a condemnation or dismissal of Darwinism, Creationism, or Intelligent Design
- an attempt to claim that all sides in the controversy have equally valid positions
- an attempt to deny the possibility that any particular side can be right
- a Christian book
- an atheistic book
If you are seeking a book which takes a strong position on the evolution controversy, a book which tells you what you ought to conclude, a book which supports your own views on the controversy, a book which champions Darwinism and discredits Creationism,a book which champions Creationism and discredits Darwinism, or a book which exposes Intelligent Design as a Creationist trojan horse, this book is NOT what you are looking for. There are other books that would suit you better.
If you seek a broader grasp of the evidence and questions at stake in the controversy and the arguments made by opposing sides, so that you can better understand the claims, news, and discourse that you encounter on the subject and make conclusions for yourself, you found the right book.
I was uncertain how to rate this book. It's a very good intro to the subject; however, if you know something about the evolution controversy, large parts of it will sound very repetitive. So for beginners (only?):
1) It's written in a wonderfully civil style, which is a nice thing indeed, given that in most books on the subject and reviews of them one finds mostly an exchange of rancorous epithets, and no consideration at all for the genuine arguments the other side is trying to make (especially, I regret to say, from the naturalist camp): it has become an ideological and power contest, somewhat like string theory in physics.
2) It is written for the complete layman: it explains for example the conditions an hypothesis should fulfill to qualify as a scientific theory.
3) It has a systematic, if somewhat superficial, procedure for rating the competing theories.
4) It gives a (to my knowledge) unbiased presentation of Darwinism (oops! I meant the Neo-Darwinian Synthesis) with some of its variations -which it calls meta-Darwinism-, YEC and ID, separating to its credit the last two, although I think the conceptual difference could perhaps have been presented better, or more forcefully (although I admit nothing is easy in this controversy, where practically everybody has its slightly nuanced opinion on the facts of the matter). For me for example it was a surprise to learn that at least some YECs are trying to formulate scientific accounts of how the geological and fossil scenario came about. There's even a theory of physicist Walter Brown/CSC that the book says makes 31 falsifiable predictions, some or which have been verified. Prior to reading this, I had thought all YECs to be a nutty bunch. Now I must revise my opinion, even if the available evidence continues to be heavily slanted against their (alas multiple and incompatible) contentions, and if the concept of an inerrant sacred book strains credibility if you don't already belong to the faithful.
I was also very surprised to learn that the Director of the NCSE advises evolutionists not to debate creationists.
5) It has references to Internet links to several sites for each position discussed.
6) It's easy to read.
1) It doesn't make sufficiently clear that the controversy is really between a naturalist world-view (Darwinism and meta-Darwinism) and one that admits/requires -although not necessarily, see below- some type of divine intervention (YEC's and IDers).
2) It doesn't emphasize enough that science, by its very nature, cannot take into account teleological explanations. In that sense, science is justified in rejecting non-natural explanations: even if true, they are beyond its scope, and if scientists try to build a picture of reality, it MUST by definition be a strictly natural one.
3) It gives short thrift to Christian (and by extension also theist) evolutionism, implicitly equating it with a God-of-the-gaps approach. Really, if a Supreme Being exists, He could perfectly well have planned the laws and initial conditions of the Universe to produce life and humans, without any further intervention from His part (admittedly some Jewish's, Christian's and Moslem's conceptions of God present some problems with this view, better examined in a book on philosophy of religion). Also, I think it doen't mention that alternative when speaking about the ID movement, although I dimly seem to recall it's presented as a possibility in one of Behe's writings.
4) Some assertions are wrong (as for example Note 127 on page 233 of the PB edition, on Aspect's test of whether a hidden-variables quantum theory can be local) or wrongly stated, leaving open the doubt of what else might be.
5) It neglects to mention, when speaking of ID, the possibility that some intelligences might require a simpler substratum than our own carbon-based one (as for example suggested in Hoyle's science fiction classic "The Black Cloud"), and that therefore the infinite regress -who designed our designer, and who him, and so ad infinitum- might be avoided. Probably it's an outlook nobody in the ID camp actually holds, and for that reason it isn't mentioned, but it's an hypothesis certainly germane to ID in its less theistic (or atheistic, although I doubt anybody in the ID camp would accept the idea) form.
All in all, a good book. The less you know about the problems discussed in it, the more you'll like it and profit from it. You'll also probably become a convinced naturalist after having read it, since the evidence presented implicitly (and I would say ovewhermingly) favours that position, although in a neutral way (nominally, in the end, you'll have to make up your mind).
The Evolution Controversy addresses this dilemma primarily from the scientific point of view. It provides an impartial examination of the several schools of scientific thought regarding human origins. It covers the presuppositions of each school, the explanatory scope of their respective theories, the data marshalled both for and against, the legitimate inferences to be drawn, the predictive success of each theoretical model, and the degree to which each theory is falsifiable, which is an important criterion for valid scientific work.
Daniel Kuebler is a professor of biology at Franciscan University of Steubenville and Thomas B. Fowler is a physicist, a senior information technology engineer, and a philosopher. Their combined authorship gives them a strong claim to be able to treat the complex topic they have chosen.
The first part of the book provides a history of evolutionary thought, a brief review of the available evidence, and an explanation of the principal points in dispute. The second part dispassionately examines the evidence and inferences, strengths and weaknesses of the four major scientific schools of thought in contemporary debates over evolution. These schools are Neo-Darwinism, Meta-Darwinism, Creationism, and Intelligent Design.
The two Darwinisms tend to be identified with mechanistic or even atheistic scientists, though this is not necessarily the case. Neo-Darwinism is the prevailing school of scientific thought, a modification of Darwin's original theory which posits that random genetic mutations coupled with natural selection is the sufficient and exclusive engine for the evolution of everything from lifeless matter to man. This depends on a very old earth and vast stretches of geological time. The Meta-Darwinian school accepts much of Darwin's theory but believes it is insufficient by itself to explain certain features of the evolutionary record, such as relatively explosive periods for the appearance of new life-forms. Therefore this school argues that various other contributing causes have also been at work.
The other two schools of thought tend to be associated with people of Faith, but again not necessarily so. Creationism, which is sometimes but not always tied to the theory that the earth is actually very young, posits that God must have created the basic categories of living beings, but accepts certain forms of evolution within these broad categories. For the past half-century, Creationists have sought to provide purely scientific evidence for their position. Finally, Intelligent Design argues that the irreducible complexity of some features of nature make it impossible for random processes and natural selection to have produced them. The theory seeks to provide a means of effectively identifying those things which clearly possess such complexity. In other words, the Intelligent Design schools seeks to provide actual scientific evidence for the necessity of design.
The third part of the book covers the public policy implications of the evolution controversy and provides a convenient summary and assessment of the controversy as it currently stands.
With respect to most past discussions of evolution, The Evolution Controversy is a critical missing link. The authors demonstrate a masterful command of both scientific evidence and legitimate inference; they have no particular axe to grind; and they are able to explain the strengths and weaknesses of the various schools of thought with a dispassionate clarity which serves three vital purposes. First, it is a tour de force of education about origins theory. Second, it gives a wonderful example to all sides of how legitimate scientific inquiry ought to proceed. Third, it provides a much-needed model for teachers of biology who would like to do a more even-handed and, in fact, better job of presenting the science of origins.
Most people have a tendency to draw conclusions about evolution based on certain philosophical and even theological insights. This is not necessarily a bad thing, but it is a very incomplete thing. It is much more satisfactory also to have a firm grasp of what the various scientific schools have to offer. Because Fowler and Kuebler are able to group their technical information around the precise points at issue in each theory, the reader is never lost in the details; rather he finds himself able to go far more deeply into the topic than before.
The quarrel over evolution is a centerpiece of modern culture. The Evolution Controversy enables non-specialists, perhaps for the very first time, to gain the fascinating education necessary to begin to resolve the issue.
The cast of characters here are two schools of scientists and two schools of (let's just be honest here) Christian apologists.
The scientists in this story consist of (1) hardcore neo-Darwinians who emphasize the ultimate predictive power of selection and mutation over time, and (2) "metas" who are essentially scientists who criticize the prevailing neo-Darwinian synthesis in particular areas and want to expand the synthesis in some sense.
The distinction is a familiar one for those used to tabloid accounts of controversies and debates over evolution, but I think it is in some ways a manufactured appearance that overemphasizes their differences and conceals their greater commonalities. Biologists don't really fall neatly into Darwinists and Critics, since the "metas" really believe they are Darwinists who have specific technical points about particular theories within the Darwinian synthesis. In general they share to varying degrees the central defining characteristics of the "hardcore" Darwinists, the appreciation for the power of selection as an explanatory principle. When they propose new principles, these are generally additional simple natural principles, "cranes" rather than "skyhooks" to use Dennett's catchy metaphor.
The apologists are those that promote the literal Creation account, and those that argue that evidence of design in nature is evidence a (seeming unavoidably humanoid) designer. The schools are laid out fairly well, I think, compared to other non-scholarly accounts I've seen. And that is perhaps the greatest strength of this book. The authors here don't simply pretend that evolutionary science is some sort of giant atheist propaganda scheme, as some apologist authors have done. However that's perhaps faint praise.
Let's face it, though, the notion that the Biblical Creation account, is a "competing theory" in any sense with just about about anything else is tough to get past for many of us, whether we believe it or not. You pretty much either buy it or you don't, I think, in the sense that Creationism intends. Any story placing it alongside textbook science on equal footing seems very suspect from the start, even when the authors are clearly trying hard to be even handed.
"Intelligent Design" and its humanoid Creator or equivalent alien being doesn't fare any better, in spite of its greater sophistication and more veiled Biblical foundation. That's because it clearly always comes back to a Creator with intentions toward us, rather than just the obvious fact that nature is not random. The leap from seeing a wondrous world before us to inferring a detailed account of the Creator is a big kidney stone to embed in anything like a scientific theory. Even a reconciliatory account should appreciate this important distinction between evidence for design and evidence for all manner of assumptions about a Creator. Stripped of the putative Creator, Intelligent Design is just a subset of the usual scientific project of looking for patterns in nature, looking for particularly sophisticated patterns, but not neccessarily making any special inferences about the properties of a creating intelligence.
It is the argument for a Creator, as a "skyhook" explanation, not the existence of design, that is the distinguishing issue between the two main camps here, and this important point in particular is obscured by the definitions used in this book. The distinction of "supernatural" that the authors rely upon to distinguish the apologists from the scientists would be meaningless unless it revolved around an intentioned Creator. There is a red herring here about the supposed duality of nature and supernature, when in actuality the issue is over whether we think there is meaning in the world that comes from a deity.
Ultimately, for me, the argument here for equal consideration for these "competing theories" is the usual one. It comes down to the standard theological argument that the premises of "metaphysics" are unprovable, therefore we can't reject miracles and supernature out of hand, and so textbook science is based on faith of a sort. The argument just doesn't wash for me, it seems to me that we have to make important distinctions between different kinds of "faith" epistemologically.
The difference between this book and most reconciliatory accounts is that the authors do give more credit to the explanatory and predictive power of evolutionary dynamics than most. They seem to have more scientific and mathematical sophistication than many other religious authors.
Still, if you cut to the chase here, the authors depend heavily upon the common intuition that a scientific worldview can never quite capture the depths of reality, and the common perception that "evolution" can't be the final answer.
For me, explaining the properties of living things through the existing traditions and ideals of science, which hold principles like selection in very high esteem, seem far more promising than any theological story, and far more compatible with the evidence of our most detailed and systematic observations.
I realize that theological explanations like Creationism and Intelligent Design will always have a stronger intuitive hold on us, at least initially, than the details of complex mathematics required for powerful predictive theories. So it may be that books like this are important to educate people as to the real value of the scientific theories, without rejecting their frequently cherished and often more intuitive beliefs about prior design by a caring designer in nature.
Further reading on the critics of Darwinism:
Darwinism and its Discontents
A classic philosophical discussion of the predictive power of selection, evolution as a kind of engineering:
Darwin's Dangerous Idea: Evolution and the Meanings of Life
Further thoughts on the relationship of Darwinism and Christianity:
Can a Darwinian be a Christian?: The Relationship between Science and Religion
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