Friday, April 24, 2009

My thoughts on a few books

I was asked, on Topix:
Can you recommend a good book that does a fair job of presenting both sides of the argument? Perhaps one that contains excerpts and articles of both sides?
If no such book exists, perhaps one should be written
My reply [slightly edited] here:
I'm not sure such a book exists, because in my mind there is no 'fair and balanced' way to compare apples and oranges. There are a number of books that present parts of the Creationism/ID argument, but I have found no one book that explains all the pieces and parts. Johnson's "Darwin on Trial", and Denton's "Evolution: Theory in Crisis" do a good job of presenting part of the case for ID. But neither book explains the supposed science behind ID. Behe's "Darwin's Black Box" tries, but all he offers are philisophical arguments. These books tantalize us with scientific claims that none of them seem to bother supporting. I don't recommend anything by William Dembski, he doesn't seem to realize that pulling numbers out of the sky is not mathematics. Wells and West do nothing but parrot other peoples philosophies and add little to the discussion. And anything by Luskin is nothing but pablum to the people that already support ID. He adds absolutely nothing and understands even less. Of all these people only Behe is actually a scientist, a biochemist who teaches at Lehigh University. Johnson and Luskin are lawyers, Dembski a supposed historian of science, and the rest have assorted degrees, but have never worked in science or biology.

Ken Miller and Jerry Coyne offer a lot on the scientific side. Millers "Only a Theory: Evolution and the Battle for America's Soul" and Finding Darwin's God" are great books, as is Coyne's recent "Why Evolution is True" is a near perfect read. Both are biologists, which adds a level of credence to their work that the Discovery Institute wants and has yet to achieve.

If you want to get into the debate itself, Eugenie Scott, especially her "Evolution vs. Creationism: An Introduction" is a great book for getting into this debate on many levels. If you are after something quicker, the white paper "Understanding The Intelligent Design Creationist Movement: Its True Nature and Goals" written by Barbara Forrest is a solid start. Dr. Forrest was a witness for the prosecution during the Dover Trial, and one the defense tried their hardest to have excused. Her testimony did almost as much damage as Behe's own to the defense position.

My favorite book on the Dover Trial is Lauri Lebo's "The Devil in Dover". This is a terrific work that digs into more than just the argument, but how if affected the people involved. Edward Humes "Monkey Girl" is better on the details of the trial, but the personal nature of the characterizations Ms. Lebo describes really brought the trial up close and personal.

One thing I have noticed, and I am sure someone like marksman [a Topix frequent poster supporting Creationism/ID] will disagree, is that the pro-science side presents the Creationist arguments much fairer than the Creationist side presents pro-science arguments. The pro-science side makes much more of an effort to understand the Creationist arguments, whereas the Creationist side usually seems to slant the pro-science position into something they start trying to refute even before they are done presenting it. I see it as a form of intellectual dishonesty that seems to permeate their work -- Quote-mining is a wonderful example of this. Johnson, Wells, and Luskin seem to be pretty prone to quote-mining.
Talk.Origins contains some more info on quote-mining in their "Quote-Mine Project". Well hope you check out some of the books, even the ones on the Creationist/ID side can be interesting. It does make it harder for Creationist/ID Proponents to move the goal posts if you can give them their own words back at them! I do recommend going to a library rather than spending money and supporting the Discovery Institute.

1 comment:

  1. I did hear from 'marksman' like I figured I would.

    "Funny how you claim and belittle the interviewees defining what the opposition says, when what they say are exactly the same claims you make. They may explain the oppositions points, but they explain them correctly, before refuting them."

    This discussion was on him using Lee Strobel's "Case for a Creator" as a source. I had two main criticisms of that book.
    (1) While the book claims to be scientifically neutral, it is not. You cannot claim neutrality when you select only the side of the argument you agree with and let them present both their view and define the opposing view. For example he has multiple sections from several members of the Discovery institute and they present their ideas ..and they also present what is supposed to be the evolution and astronomy side of the argument. That is not neutral by any stretch of the definition.
    (2) Strobel also claims the book is scientifically rigorous, another lie. The book presents nothing but essays from proponents in which they 'argue' with themselves for their particular idea. They never show that this idea is correct or even supported by any evidence. They do not support their own conclusions.

    Bottom line is Strobel starts off with a conclusion and only presents pre-determined supporters of that conclusion. Strobel is nothing more than an apologetic, and this book proves that easy enough.

    Well here is my reply to markie:

    "You need to read more.

    When Johnson, Dembki, and Luskin .. and the like ... quote the 'opposition' they use a quote out of context, or they do what little Bennie Stein does and string a bunch of partial quotes together to make it sound like something different than the author's intent. Little bennie when he used this ... that he attributed as a quote from Charles Darwin:

    "With savages, the weak in body or mind are soon eliminated. We civilized men, on the other hand, do our utmost to check the process of elimination. We build asylums for the imbecile, the maimed and the sick. Thus the weak members of civilized societies propagate their kind. No one who has attended to the breeding of domestic animals will doubt that this must be highly injurious to the race of man. Hardly anyone is so ignorant as to allow his worst animals to breed."

    These are sentences, partial pieces from a longer statement from Darwin. Here is the original:

    "With savages, the weak in body or mind are soon eliminated; and those that survive commonly exhibit a vigorous state of health. We civilized men, on the other hand, do our utmost to check the process of elimination. We build asylums for the imbecile, the maimed and the sick; we institute poor-laws; and our medical men exert their utmost skill to save the life of every one to the last moment. There is reason to believe that vaccination has preserved thousands, who from a weak constitution would formerly have succumbed to small-pox. Thus the weak members of civilized societies propagate their kind. No one who has attended to the breeding of domestic animals will doubt that this must be highly injurious to the race of man. It is surprising how soon a want of care, or care wrongly directed, leads to the degeneration of a domestic race; but excepting in the case of man himself, hardly anyone is so ignorant as to allow his worst animals to breed. The aid which we feel impelled to give to the helpless is mainly an incidental result of the instinct of sympathy, which was originally acquired as part of the social instincts, but subsequently rendered, in the manner previously indicated, more tender and more widely diffused. Nor could we check our sympathy, even at the urging of hard reason, without deterioration in the noblest part of our nature. The surgeon may harden himself whilst performing an operation, for he knows that he is acting for the good of his patient; but if we were intentionally to neglect the weak and helpless, it could only be for a contingent benefit, with an overwhelming present evil."

    When Barbara Forrest or Genie Scott quote a Creationist, they place it in context, provide a reference for where the quote came from, and frequently use multiple reference so that the reader understands not only the words, but the intent of the author.

    Like this:

    Johnson, Phillip E. 1991. Darwin on Trial. Washington, DC: Regnery Gateway.

    Johnson, Phillip E. 2000. The Wedge of Truth. Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press.

    Johnson, Phillip E. 2003.“Intelligent Design, Freedom, and Education.” . 9 May.
    Available at .

    World of difference markie "