This book, written by a Research Leader at the Natural History Museum, in London, is basically scientistic propaganda, with a twist. It is also at least twice as long as it needed to be in order to achieve it's alleged purpose.
It is likely to worry scientists, creationists, Christians and evolutionists (and any combination thereof). And so it should.
From the scientific side, after an interesting an quite well-written opening chapter the book slides slowly and inexorably downwards, become by stages rambling, and dissociated until it becomes little more than a shopping list of Latin names with brief descriptions. And even then it lacks a solid basis.
For example, in the section on what the author imagines is creationism (because of course all creationists think exactly alike), we are told that the author was responsible for choosing the themes for the Natural History Museum's evolution gallery. This, he says, was fun. But then he had to "wad[e] through the public's perception of what the gallery should contain", which was "a more serious experience."
Surely the evolution gallery, like the rest of the museum, is there for the edification of the general public. So why isn't it equally fun to learn their views?
The problem seems to be that the public, despite the many decades that the Museum has been around, despite the best efforts of Richard Dawkins and co., still aren't convinced by the "evidence" that is being presented to them. (Parker says that "under 48 per cent of Britons believe in evolution, 39 per cent believe in creationism or intelligent design by God".
Parker clearly has little idea of the variations of opinions amongst what he calls "creationists", as in this quote from a sidetrack into the subject of a painting in the Vatican, by Raphael, demonstrates:
"The 'Disputation' could represent the creationists, with their supernatural belief that every phrase in the Bible is literally true as it is written!" (page 287)
But not all creationists are literalists, certainly not in regard to the entire Bible (surely there aren't too many people who don't realise that the 'Song of Solomon' is a poem, for example). So yet again we have to doubt the seriousness of the author's commitment to accuracy.
One might think this rather strange that the author has not researched the book as carefully as possible to help to maximise it's persuasiveness. But no, straight after telling us about his role in selecting themes for the evolution gallery the author writes:
"Fact [sic] - humans and chimps share 99 per cent of their genes. This statement should shake the earth beneath those already troubled by the words 'Darwin' and 'evolution'. But this really is fact, no bones about it."
Trouble is, this isn't a fact at all. Nor does Parker explain why anyone should feel the earth shaking beneath their feet, even if it were true.
The real fact is that a decade or so ago it was said that chimp and human DNA had a similarity of 98.5 per cent. Not a massive difference, but more important than it might seem.
Then, in the mid-2000's, a different kind of comparison was carried out, and the similarity dropped to somewhere between 94 per cent and 96.2 per cent, depending on which report you read.
Of course it might seem that this makes our DNA remarkably similar to that of chimpanzees, until you realise that studies of mouse DNA reveals a 97.5 per cent similarity with human DNA, and even the DNA of bananas is 50 per cent similar to that of humans.
So why couldn't Parker get his figures right in 2009, and why didn't he explain what he thought was so earth shaking about them? Could it be that scientists are no longer convinced that just comparing genetic similarity is such a big deal? Or did he simply not have the necessary information?
The second basic flaw in the book is the author's fairly profound lack of knowledge of even the book of Genesis.
That is to say, on at least four occasions (pages 91, 226, 251, 303) he makes some version of this claim:
"... a direct [i.e. literal] translation of the Bible reveals a rapid, seven-day creation." (page 91)
But this simply isn't true.
The Hebrew word "yom", translated in the King James Version of the Bible as "day" is now understood to have - as do many words in many languages - multiple meanings. In the case of "yom" there are a dozen or more related meanings, mostly to do with periods of time but ranging from "a 12 hour day" (that is, whilst the sun is up), through to an unspecified period of time that could last years, centuries, millenia or more.
With a basis like that it is hardly surprising, I suppose, that the book only ever deals with "Young Earth" creationists, as though they were the only kind around.
To write a book like this, which pretends to offer a reasoned commentary on Genesis 1, on the basis of such poor scholarship surely has little or nothing to do with any kind of scientific approach. And again it is hardly surprising to find, near the end of the main text, that the author pleads for everyone to ignore the Bible other than as a collection of possibly interesting metaphors, because it will, he seems to think, only lead us to destruction:
"It would be extremely sad, and also perilous ... if we were to continue to allow irreversible carnage to the natural world. And if we keep going as we are, that is what will happen.
"Don't think that the Bible will solve this. No amount of prayer will correct our current behaviour towards the environment. And don't think scripture tells us that everything will be alright - any biblical passages that seem to suggest this should not be read in this literal way. ... If we are to save our planet's wildlife. and ultimately our planet itself, we must turn to science." (page 277)
Which, much as I respect all the excellent work by scientists, is yet more twaddle based on ignorance of what the Bible actually says. There are NO passages that tell us that it doesn't matter what we do because everything will work out fine. On the contrary, the message of the early chapters of Genesis are based 100% on ecologically responsible behaviour. The statement that mankind has been given "dominion" over the rest of creation is a misleading translation. In fact the phrase is that mankind has been given STEWARDSHIP of our planet and all it contains. That means that, according to Genesis, we are responsible to God for the maintenance of the planet. It is every human being's duty to look after the environment and all of the creatures living in it.
Taking Genesis literally, human beings are not the result of a series of random events. We have free will, but we also have a purpose - to care for our world and everything in it. We also have science, but we violate both our free will, and our scientific skills and discoveries whenever we fail to carry out our duty to the planet and all of it's inhabitants, our fellow humans, the animals (in the broadest sense), and even plants, trees and vegetables, etc.
Although Parker ultimately claims that the ordering of the events in Genesis 1 was arrived at either by a quite remarkable fluke, or "the product of divine inspiration", his overall message is nothing more significant than something like: "My book proves that faith and science don't need to be in conflict".
That's not much of a conclusion after more than 300 pages of what I perceived as being rather blatant, self-promotion and propaganda, based - it would seem - on a rather poor understanding of some of the most basic elements covered in the book.
BTW, one of the features of the creation story that critics tend to find particularly ludicrous is "the serpent". It is interesting then, that the author of Genesis made a very precise, seemingly scientifically verifiable claim in the course of the account - that the serpent in the Garden of Eden apparently had legs, because it was cursed to thereafter crawl on it's belly.
How, one wonders, could someone writing only 2,500 years ago (approximately) have known that the ancestors of modern snakes - mesosaurs, a kind of lizard - did indeed move about on four legs? Another "fluke" - or what?