Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Book Review: Living with Darwin

It has taken awhile for me to write this review, mostly due to lack of time. Philip Kitcher’s book, contrary to the title, is mostly about the intersection between Creationism and science. His main thesis is that it is incorrect to call Creationism in its various forms pseudo science or non-science, because so many historical scientists were Creationists of one sort or another. He would prefer to classify it as dead science, because it has been widely recognized as being incorrect and has been discarded because it was contradicted by the evidence.

He divides Creationism into three basic groups and then devotes an entire chapter going back over the reasons that scientists decided that the particular theory was incorrect. Young earth creationism was discarded in the 1830s due to advances in the field of geology. This was later confirmed by the discovery of radiometric dating, so that we now know that the earth is over 4 billion years old. Next the view of special creation (typical view point of most old earth creationists) was discarded in the 1870s with the publication of Darwin’s “Origin of the Species.” The last form of creationist is the non-adaptionist. An example of this would be most of the more “technical” writings of the Discovery Institute. Their belief is that natural selection is not a strong enough force to explain the diversity of life or complexity of certain structures. This view was discarded by scientists in the 1930s with the advent of the modern synthesis. To be quite honest, I see the last two viewpoints as being shades of the same.

In total he only devoted one chapter to the implications of “Living with Darwin” and I wish he would have spent more space discussing this. This is the discussion that those who are religious should be having. God, if he exists, created using an evolutionary process. Now what does that mean for us today. I think Philip is correct that most traditional notions of God are incompatible with the evidence we have. However he seems to be open to the existence of a god.

Overall the book is quite readable and I think that the most effective evidence-for-evolution book retraces the course of science and could be thought of a history of science book. In this type of book the arguments and counter arguments of scientists are presented and it is clear that the side that one had the most evidence on their side.

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