Thursday, September 30, 2010

Review - Why Darwin Matters: The Case Against Intelligent Design by Michael Shermer

Short review: Intelligent design is crap. Michael Shermer explains why it is crap.

And Intelligent Design
Are worthless junk

Full review: It is almost unbelievable that there would be a need for this book in 2010. Given the last 150 years of study in the field of biology and other sciences, and the numerous converging lines of evidence that uniformly support the notion that Darwin's theory of evolution by natural selection is the one that best describes how the wide variety of flora and fauna came to exist on the Earth, the fact that there is a noticeable segment of the population that still adheres to the magical world view propped up by Bronze Age mythology is somewhat stunning. The idea that some alleged academics who should know better have trumped up a half-baked theory that is little more than Bronze Age mythology dressed up in fancy clothes is even more perplexing.

We live in a world in which the inexplicable is seemingly commonplace and as a result Why Darwin Matters: The Case Against Intelligent Design is, unfortunately, a book that is necessary. The book itself, however, is anything but unfortunate, and serves as a powerful antigen to the insidious lies and disinformation spread by groups such as the Discovery Institute and their willing accomplices in dishonesty such as Michael Behe, Michael Egnor, and William Dembski. In his book, Shermer first lays out the basic facts concerning Darwin's theory and the science that has followed from it and then turns to flaying the rotten flesh off of the arguments made by Intelligent design advocates to reveal the utter lack of intellectual muscle or bone supporting them. Ray Comfort and his ilk should truly fear this sort of book, because it exposes the utter foolishness of their positions in exacting detail.

The amount of time Shermer spends explaining Darwin's theory and the evidence supporting it is fairly brief, which some readers may find disappointing. But giving yet another comprehensive explanation concerning why Darwin was correct and marshaling the overwhelming evidence that has been amassed that supports this conclusion is not the point of the book. There are literally dozens, if not hundreds of books one could turn to for just such an explanation, many of which were written by much more qualified experts on Darwinian theory than Mr. Shermer. The main thrust of this book is to expose the shoddy thinking behind the creationist fairy tale that goes by the name of Intelligent Design.

Shermer systematically walks the reader through the genesis and promotion of the Intelligent Design theory. First he examines why there are people who, despite the solid scientific basis for the theory of evolution, there are some people who simply refuse to accept it as valid. This section is made particularly powerful because Shermer is connect the thinking of such people with his own thought processes when he was a younger man and an ardent conservative Christian who rejected the theory of evolution. He then turns to evaluate the Intelligent design hypothesis (one cannot call something so weak and poorly founded a "theory" using the language of science), and examines both the arguments made against the theory of evolution and the relatively small number of arguments made in favor of Intelligent Design. In a step-by-step manner, Shermer lays out the arguments made advocating the creationist/intelligent design position, and then clearly and effectively demonstrates why they are completely without foundation.

After destroying the intellectual foundations (such as they are) of Intelligent Design, Shermer turns his attention to the tactics used the its proponents, noting that the primary reason one can tell that they are not advocating science is the way they go about promoting their hypothesis. Rather than, as an actual scientific movement would, conducting research and publishing papers in scientific journals to convince other experts in the field of the correctness of their views, they spend their time engaged in political advocacy, subverting school boards, and trying to get the court system to declare their religiously based ideas to be valid fodder for classroom science. Fortunately for science education, the "cedesign proponentists" movement (a term covering both creationists and Intelligent Design advocates in the wake of revelations concerning the creationist/intelligent design textbook Of Pandas and People in the Kitzmiller v. Dover trial) has been singularly unsuccessful in the modern era in convincing the U.S. courts to accept their religious nonsense as anything other than religious nonsense.

Finally, Shermer turns his attention to the question of whether science and religion can coexist peacefully, and why Christians should not only not fight against the theory of evolution by natural selection, but should embrace it. As a humorous coda, Shermer provides a rewritten account of the Genesis creation story that accords with the somewhat loony world view promoted by creationist chuckleheads like Ken Ham and Kent Hovind, exposing their buffoonery via a sharply worded satire.

This book is, unfortunately, going to be of almost no value in convincing an ardent cdesign proponentist of the error of their ways. Many people who hold such views are simply immune to logic and reason. Conversely, those who are already firmly in the reality based camp of people who accept the truth of the science revealed by the last fifteen decades of study will also find this book of limited utility, although it would serve useful as a means of arming themselves against the silly arguments they will encounter when dealing with the anti-Darwin lobby. The book is probably most useful for people who are, in effect, fence-sitters, undecided or merely uninformed on the issue who could be swayed by rational argument and evidence. For such people, this book would serve as an excellent first step in examining the evidence and forming an educated opinion. For all but the most ardent of cdesign proponentists, this book is an excellent resource, and well worth reading.

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