NOTE TO READERS: This review was subjected to a negative vote campaign beginning December 29, 2007. There is a small cadre of Amazon reviewers and cohorts who vote down any review that is not a uniform attack on a book advocating intelligent design. Their express purpose is to try to dissuade people from reading the book. This is a juvenile tactic which undermines Amazon's whole voting system. Please keep in mind that the huge number of negative votes given to the bulk of reviews on this page do not reflect upon either the author or the book. Review follows.
Despite living a century before Karl Popper, the great philosopher of Science, Darwin understood that any genuine scientific theory had to include the possibility of falsification. He therefore suggested in 1872 that if any complex organ (or organism) existed which could not have evolved from successive small steps or "modifications" that his theory would "ultimately break down." The bulk of this book by Geoffrey Simmons is an attempt to do just that. In it he quickly surveys the plant and animal kindoms and finds numerous instances of living organisms with traits so unique and highly adapted that, he argues, they could not have evolved in short successive steps.
Repeating the many examples Simmons offers would be beyond the scope of this review, but in general Simmons suggests two versions of his critique to Darwin's theory. The first is the lack of fossil antecedents. In his discussion of bats, for example, Simmons notes that bat fossils can be found over a period of 50 million years but each fossil shows clearly defined bat characteristics, including echolocation abilities and unique tendons that allow bats to easily hang upside down. There are, he notes, no obvious predecessors which perhaps occasionally fell (darn those unevolved tendons) or flew into cave walls (better sonar next time...). Similar points are made about the dragonfly.
Simmons's second critique, far more common than the first, is that it is impossible to imagine successful intermediate steps for some plant and animal traits. He notes that many species are so highly adapted that they have symbiotic relationships with other plants or animals. Since these behaviors and accompanying physical characteristics are so closely bound together, one has a hard time imagining just how these relationships could have evolved independently. One example of this is the Mojave Yucca and the Yucca Moth. Although it is not mentioned in this book, the relationship between the two is characterized in popular literature as a "mystery" of the desert. But this is only a mystery if one assumes Darwin's hypothesis of slight modifications. Other examples Simmons offers include resident bacteria within humans that allow us to utilize vitamin K.
As I read through the book, I found myself wondering, "How would a biologist who accepted the theory of evolution respond to all this?" Having read some of the popular literature from this perspective, I can imagine 3 quick responses with varying degrees of effectiveness. As to the fossil record, at least a few Darwinists will respond that only a small portion of fossils are preserved. We could easily find a bat predecessor tomorrow and pointing to the lack of fossil predecessors in some species is simply a "Designer [not God] in the Gaps" hypothesis. (Simmons correctly notes there is nothing specifically Christian in the design argument, though many Darwinists will disagree--their views on this matter reflect more their ignorance of theology than their knowledge of biology.) This is a fair point, but it must be noted that they are placing their faith in a "Darwin in the gaps" hypothesis. More to the point, however, if Darwin is correct, we should expect to find mostly intermediate fossils since successive slight modifications would leave more intermediate than modern fossils, even if only a small portion of all fossils are preserved. We emphatically do not find this, and that point suggests the weakness of this argument. But other arguments raised by Darwinists could be more effective. It should be noted, for example, that natural selection as understood by Darwin and his followers is supposed to explain adaptation. Simmons, they might argue, is vindicating their own thesis in pointing to several dramatic adaptations. Moreover, Simmons does not "deny" natural selection as such. He merely suggests it is not fully sufficient to account for all the variation and uniqueness we find in the natural world. Readers can decide for themselves how effective Simmons's examples are in his chapter on adaptation. I personally found them persuasive, but am willing to consider alternative interpretations.
But perhaps the most powerful argument a defender of Darwin could offer would be to take the opposite approach to Simmons altogether. Where Simmons has pointed to hundreds of examples of uniqueness among plants and animals in the natural world, a Darwinist (not a term they like, but much nicer and more accurate than the descriptions they make of ID theorists) might point to similarities in the animal kingdom. The human genome, they note, is very similar to that of a chimp (90-98%, depending on which source you read). Indeed, our genome shares about half the DNA sequences of a banana. Positive proof, they might argue, for a single tree of life. But then again, it could be DNA sequencing is not a very useful measure. Here again, readers will have to decide for themselves how persuasive the argument from similarity is against the evidence marshalled by Simmons.
In the end, however, I enjoyed the book. Written for a popular audience, this book offers a whirlwind tour through the natural world and its many wonders. Whether or not you find evolution convincing as an explanation for all, or merely some, of what Simmons describes, this is a fun read. So if you want a popular introduction to one aspect of intelligent design, or if you are simply curious about the amazing diversity to be found in life on this planet, this book is a worth your time in reading it.