67 of 72 people found the following review helpful
Gerald J. Nora
- Published on Amazon.com
Dembski and Ruse's anthology grew out of a common desire to help clarify and understand the Intelligent Design (ID) debate; Dembski, a mathematician and philosopher, is one of the chief proponents of Intelligent Design, whereas Ruse, a prominent philosopher of biology, is a strong proponent of neo-Darwinism. This collection is noted for its balance and respectful tone among its many eminent contributors, both of which are generally lacking in one of the most hotly-debated topics in modern science.
Contributors from across the spectrum of positions regarding evolution, religion, and Intelligent Design were grouped into four main sections and an introductory session , which contains the editors' introduction and two brief essays on the history of the Intelligent Design movement. While those two essays are by opponents of ID, they do a good, respectful job of encapsulating some of the chief events and players in the movement.
Part I brings us to the meat of the debate, with several powerful critiques of ID. It begins with a historical piece on Darwinism's impact and development by AAAS president Francisco Ayala. Also notable is a critique of the ID movement's use of the bacterial flagellum, whose "irreducible complexity" the ID movement holds
cannot be explained by gradual evolution. This piece was written by a practicing Catholic named Kenneth Miller--I was gratified that the ID vs. Darwinism debate was not being cast a purely science v. religion debate, and that in fact that there are
religious believers represented in this collection with a broad spectrum of perspectives and positions.
Part II is on "Complex Self Organization", with good articles by physicist and scientific popularizer Paul Davies and historian of science Paul Barham. Stuart Kauffman's article, which begins this section, is actually the introductory chapter of his book "Investigations", and so mentions many things but never discusses
anything in depth, being just an introduction. While quite disappointing, the other contributors in this section develop Kauffman's ideas as they explore whether biochemistry can generate complex systems (such as proto-cells and metabolic
networks) without intelligent intervention. This may be, conceptually speaking, the richest chapter in the anthology.
Part III, "Theistic Evolution": Various religious contributors propose philosophies that reconcile evolution and religion. Many of these contributors are as critical of ID as they are with the ultra-Darwinists like Dawkins. Of particular note is Michael Roberts' critique of ID and the fossil record of life on Earth.
Part IV, "Intelligent Design": finally, the ID theorists themselves, including Dembski and Behe, get the floor. Dembski and Behe's articles didn't overwhelm me with their persuasiveness, but did help me get a clearer idea of what they have to say. The strongest piece here is probably Baylor's on entropy and biological polymers, and the problems such calculations raise for the emergence of early life.
If one is looking for polemics against either position in this debate, or a knock-down argument one way or another, this book will disappoint you, as it seems to have done with a couple other reviewers. As with many debates, the debaters seem to talk past each other at points, but the book is full of citations, and has given me a good springboard for investigating controversies in evolution and the philosophy of biology. The book also presents a range of opinions and directions for future inquiry, rather than some artificially polarized argument with no room for a middle ground. For those reasons, plus the very civil tone amongst the debaters regarding an issue that can get both sides so worked up, I can give this collection five stars. I do not see a better survey of this debate being publish for some time.
20 of 25 people found the following review helpful
Fritz R. Ward
- Published on Amazon.com
This book has quite a bit to recommend it. Most books that attempt to survey the debates between the Darwinian thought, the dominant paradigm in evolution, have a clearly defined axe to grind, but this volume includes an equal number of essays by both defenders of Darwinian orthodoxy and ID theorists. Significantly, it also includes chapters dealing with more nuanced perspectives, including theistic evolution and some of the preliminary work of theorists who suggest an as yet undiscovered "law" of complex organization. This latter group is an important, but often overlooked, set of Darwin critics. Nonetheless, for most readers, and certainly the bulk of reviewers, it will be the debate between the ID theorists and the defenders of NDE that commands the most attention.
The first two essays of the book, by Michael Ruse and Agnus Menuge provide a broader context for the debate. Ruse reviews the use of design arguments throughout history and explains why Darwin's 'Origin of Species' was apparently so devastating to most of them. Menuge's essay reviews some of the recent literature on the debate, in particular Barbara Forrest's influential Creationism's Trojan Horse written with Paul Gross. The latter, like many "critiques" of intelligent design was more a misrepresentation and ad hominem attack than a thoughtful study.
Perhaps the most interesting exchange in this volume is between Kenneth Miller and Michael Behe. Miller attempts to undermine Behe's claim that the flagellum is an irreducibly complex structure. Accepting Behe's argument that such structures have multiple components, and his claim that if any one of those components are missing, the structure ceases to function, Miller proceeds to argue that the flagellum is not irreducibly complex. In particular, he claims the Type Three Secretory System (TTSS) found in some pathogenic bacteria is in fact subset of the materials used to build the flagellum, and since the TTSS is "functional" this in an of itself dismisses with intelligent design, or at the very least, with the concept of irreducible complexity. Behe responds to this, and other criticisms of a similar nature, by noting that Miller has not, in fact, addressed his argument. The flagellum is irreducibly complex because it ceases to function "as a flagellum" if any one part is removed. That portions of a flagellum might have other uses is hardly to the point. Referring back to his famous mousetrap analogy, Behe notes that any given piece of a mousetrap might have some other use: the base, for example, could also be used as a paperweight. But these alternate uses do not mitigate the problem of having all the pieces come together, in a precise and orderly fashion, in order to gain a new function that was neither present beforehand, nor could be subject to natural selection since missing multiple portions renders the function to be selected useless. In short, by pointing to the TTSS, Miller is pointing to yet another irreducibly complex system, and using it to "explain" the flagellum. This reviewer found Miller's arguments very powerful on a rhetorical level, but Behe's response convincing. I had a similar reaction to the essays by Robert Pennock and Stephen Meyer.
But in this book the design theorists do not always have the last word. The essay by Elliot Sober stands on its own as the most powerful critique of design I have ever read, and none of the other authors, nor indeed the reviewers, seem to have fully taken cognizance of it. In brief, Sober argues that the detection of design requires not one but two filters. The first may well resemble one that Dembski has proposed in his book The Design Inference but the second is the unspoken assumption that we would recognize the motives of a designer. Of course, we all make design assumptions all the time, as Dembski notes in his own essay. But implicit in those assumptions, according to Sober, is the recognition that we know, if not the motives, at the least the general methods of the designer. We know this because the designers we have encountered in our own lives are human, and therefore much like ourselves. But what can we assume to know about a designer of life and how s/he(it) would, or would not, operate? Frequently advocates of intelligent design point to the SETI project as an example of how design inferences can be applied to a foreign intelligence. But Sober is skeptical that anything, even something as apparently universal as a series of prime numbers, would necessarily be recognized by a truly foreign intelligence as evidence of design. And there is little reason, he adds, for assuming that we would recognize the purposeful designs of other alien intelligences, much less of God.
The interesting thing about Sober's argument is that it apparently undermines not just intelligent design, but also one of the main arguments for Darwinian Evolution. This is the argument from "imperfect" or flawed designs. Darwinians frequently complain that the presence of "flaws" in the designs we observe, for example the panda's thumb, is evidence against intelligent design. But this argument, which is as old as The Origin of Species itself, and which is made repeatedly in Darwinian apologetics, from Philip Kitcher's recent Living with Darwin to the essay by Francisco Ayala in this volume, presumes more about that nature of a designer than any ID theorist every has. There is no reason to suppose a designer would chose "perfection" as an object of design. If Sober is correct, identifying non-human design is nearly impossible, because the task requires more knowledge of the designer than we can ever have. And his analysis applies not only to ID, but to a major component of the argument for evolution.
As someone who is frankly sympathetic to ID, I am at a loss as to how anyone could respond to Sober's argument. Certainly neither Ayala, Pennock, nor Dembski attempted to do so in this volume. It would seem to me that both ID theorists and their critics make an implicit assumption that a designer is, in some sense, like us. But this begs the question, on what basis do they make such assumptions? And the answer would be, on the basis of the western Judeo-Christian-Islamic monotheistic tradition, which states explicitly that God made man in the image of himself. This understanding of God so permeates our culture that even those, like Richard Dawkins, who loudly proclaim their atheism, seem bound by it. The central disagreement then between ID theorists and their most responsible critics, involves how God is like us, and how He is not. And indeed, rereading this volume from that perspective, one quickly realizes that the many, if not most, of the arguments made by the group supposedly opposing the intrusion of religion into science are theological in nature. So perhaps Sober's greatest contribution to this volume, besides his express purpose of cautioning those who would use design arguments indiscriminantly, is in highlighting just how many of the supposedly scientific arguments of our day are permeated by religious thought. This thoughtful essay alone is worth the price of the volume.
3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
Steven H Propp
- Published on Amazon.com
Editor William Albert Dembski (born 1960) is a key figure in the "Intelligent Design" movement, who is a professor at the Southern Evangelical Seminary and a senior fellow of the Discovery Institute. He has written/edited many other books, such as The Design Inference, Intelligent Design, The Design Revolution, Uncommon Dissent, etc. Michael Ruse (born 1940) is a philosopher of science who teaches at Florida State University, and has written books such as The Darwinian Revolution, The Evolution-Creation Struggle, Darwinism and its Discontents, Mystery of Mysteries, etc.
The General Introduction to this 2004 collection states, "There are of course already books that deal with Intelligent Design and with the arguments of the critics... We believe, however, that there is virtue in producing one volume, containing arguments from both sides, in which each side puts forward its strongest case... The reader then can quickly and readily start to grasp the fundamental claims and counterclaims being made." (Pg. 4) Besides Dembski and Ruse, contributors include Francisco Ayala, Kenneth Miller [Finding Darwin's God], Robert Pennock [Intelligent Design Creationism and Its Critics], Stuart Kauffman, Paul Davies, John Polkinghorne, Keith Ward, Richard Swinburne, Michael Behe, etc.
One essayist notes, "critics press the case that ID has not generated significant scientific journal articles or data... If what counts as science depends on the verdict of peer review, then, it is claimed, ID has yet to establish a track record. In response, proponents of ID have made a number of points. First, they argue that it is not so much new data as the interpretation of existing data that matters. The scientists within the ID movement... have published articles in scientific journals (which do not mention ID); and they have published peer-reviewed work (which does mention ID) outside of scientific journals." (Pg. 44-45)
Pennock points out, "Kenneth Miller asked Dembski and Behe ... during a debate... and neither was willing to take a stand on even one specific point in time at which ["insertion of design"] supposedly occurred. The pattern of vagueness and evasion regarding the specific theoretical commitments or possible tests of ID is pervasive... If ID is to have even a shot at being a real scientific alternative, one should expect to see some precise, testable... hypotheses that answer the obvious questions: what was designed and what wasn't; and when, where, how, and by whom was design informaton supposedly inserted?" (Pg. 133)
Behe observes, "A common misconception is that designed systems would have to be created from scratch in a puff of smoke. But that isn't necessarily so. The design process may have been much more subtle. In fact, it may have contravened no natural laws at all... If quantum events such as radioactive decay are not governed by causal laws, then it breaks no law of nature to influence such events. As a theist like [Kenneth] Miller, that seems perfectly possible to me." (Pg. 357-358)
This book should be considered "must reading" for anyone seriously studying the Intelligent Design movement.