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40 of 42 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Essential reading for anyone interested in ID
Some background. Michael Shermer writes a column in Scientific American called Skeptic. He edits a journal called The Skeptic. He used to be a believer. He once wrote a book called Why People Believe Weird Things. He knows what he is talking about.

So he rightly got annoyed when the intelligent design concept began to make ground and he decided to write...
Published on 8 Dec 2006 by A. D. Crysell

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3 of 12 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars Why Shermer Doesn't Matter
As someone who professes to have insider knowledge of science, Shermer illustrates quite the opposite. This is a book of many contradictions, impoverished intellectual judgement and lacking any rigour or understanding towards Darwin's 'Theory of Evolution', with particular regard to those problems with 'Natural Selection'. Unfortunately, his analogies on this matter are...
Published 21 months ago by Outrider


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40 of 42 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Essential reading for anyone interested in ID, 8 Dec 2006
By 
Some background. Michael Shermer writes a column in Scientific American called Skeptic. He edits a journal called The Skeptic. He used to be a believer. He once wrote a book called Why People Believe Weird Things. He knows what he is talking about.

So he rightly got annoyed when the intelligent design concept began to make ground and he decided to write this thoughtful, intelligent and well written book. It is essential reading as an introduction to the against side in the on-going debate. He is not technical, not deeply scientific or philosophical: he just outlines the salient facts.

Most people reading this book will see the passion of someone who cares deeply about the truth (his earlier book spent much time concentrating on Holocaust deniers) and why the truth matters. He does not waste time praising ID for its insights - he just shows it up for what it is: a vacuous and empty attempt at bring the Christian God back into the classroom in the USA by smuggling it in under the transparent fleece of pseudoscience. Read it for yourself and you too will see. Unless, of course, you are not a skeptic in the proper sense: your mind is made up.
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25 of 27 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Aiming at a vacant target, 15 Jan 2007
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Stephen A. Haines (Ottawa, Ontario Canada) - See all my reviews
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A new cottage industry has arisen in the US - writing books to counter the rise of Christian anti-science in that nation. Michael Shermer has an edge on many of his colleagues in dealing with the version of "creationism" known as "Intelligent Design" - he's been one of their number. This may give him the advantage of a wider outlook, but the question remains whether it makes him more effective in countering the movement. His proposal is conciliatory, but relies on creationists accepting facts, not fantasies or ideologies. It's a difficult task, but Shermer's long experience as a sceptic of fallacious notions supports his efforts. It also provides him with a polished writing style that should convince the most obscurantist holdout.

In his Prologue, Shermer clearly targets his audience - that segment of the US population who thinks the universe is less than ten thousand years old. He portrays the demographics that refine the numbers. So much so that you feel the publisher should have packed bookstores in the American South with extra copies. The author's own epiphany - "the scales fell from my eyes" - during his university days is his justification. If it can happen to him, it can happen with other evangelicals. He uses the history of thinking about natural selection and the various arguments against it to construct a dialogue. He lists the points creationists raise, then counters them effectively. That's not terribly challenging - his "case" after all, is one contending with an empty thesis entirely lacking any supporting evidence.

Evolution is a fact, he contends, and explains the nature of how research has verified Darwin's original concept. He notes the many challenges to detailed processes of natural selection, but insists these minutiae don't refute the theory. In Darwin's time, as now, the prevailing idea was that of William Paley, who argued that Nature's "perfection" indicated a supernatural force lay behind what we see today. Paley's notion became known as "Natural Theology" and retains many adherents because no science is needed to believe in it. It would be pleasant to let that idea exist, says Shermer, except that its proponents don't want the "equal time" typical of the society he lives in, they want all the time. Particularly in public school classrooms. Shermer's rejection of "Intelligent Design" is based partly on the science of natural selection, and his own escape from dogmatic ideology.

If there is a flaw in this book, it's Shermer's own experience in dealing with his target in personal debate. He has been on platforms with the vocal promoters of the various forms of creationism. He shares taxis, gossips in the pubs, and puts up articles. By his own admission, however, he has won over none of those pleasant drinking companions. Their mind-set is obviously impervious to logic, rejects the long stream of data still flowing from the field and laboratory and expresses itself with crusading zeal of its desire to dispense with science and establish a theocracy based on their own version of Christianity. Perhaps, of all the works recently published on the fallacies of creationism, this one is the most frightening in what it reveals of US society. Shermer's book is desperately needed, yet will not be read by those who need to understand they're living under false premises. [...]
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8 of 10 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A Superb, Quite Insightful, Primer on the so-called "Evolution vs. Intellligent Design Debate, 8 Aug 2008
By 
John Kwok (New York, NY USA) - See all my reviews
This review is from: Why Darwin Matters: The Case Against Intelligent Design (Paperback)
In "Why Darwin Matters: The Case Against Intelligent Design" Michael Shermer, publisher of Skeptic magazine, reviews succinctly both the overwhelming evidence in support of contemporary evolutionary theory and the pseudoscientific religious nonsense known as Intelligent Design, and then, discusses "the real, unsolved problems in evolution". Shermer, for example, has ample space to describe briefly Ernst Mayr's theory of allopatric speciation, and its relationship to punctuated equilibrium, the evolutionary paleontological theory developed by American invertebrate paleontologists Niles Eldredge and Stephen Jay Gould. But he also devotes ample space to dissecting Intelligent Design concepts like William Dembski's "Law of Conservation of Information", noting its irrelevance to both current mathematical information theory and the transfer and accretion of information - via DNA - in living biological systems. He offers an elegant overview of the origins and history of the so-called "Evolution vs. Intelligent Design Debate", devoting ample time to the existence of the infamous "Wedge Document" and the trial proceedings of the Kitzmiller vs. Dover trial and, of course, the harsh verdict rendered by Federal Judge John E. Jones III against both Intelligent Design and the Dover Area School District board.

Shermer's terse tome is noteworthy for several reasons. First, he recognizes the necessity for engaging Intelligent Design advocates like Michael Behe and William Dembski, among others, in debates between themselves and knowledgeable critics on behalf of genuine science like Shermer, if only to educate public audiences on the nature of scientific inquiry, the ample facts obtained from genuine scientific research, and the disingenuous lies, half-truths, and omissions promoted zealously by Intelligent Design advocates. Second, he makes a most persuasive case explaining why evolution ought to be accepted by conservatives, as the agent ultimately responsible for the origins of morality in humans, and that "survival of the fittest" could be seen as a biological application of Adam Smith's concept of laissez faire free market economics. Last, but not least, Shermer contends that science should be viewed as being complementary towards spirituality, by engendering a "sense of awe" in viewing, for example, distant galaxies; therefore evolution can and should be seen in this very light. For these reasons, Shermer's terse tome deserves a place on the bookshelves of as wide a readership as possible.
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4.0 out of 5 stars Evolution is not Darwin, and vice versa, 12 April 2011
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This review is from: Why Darwin Matters: The Case Against Intelligent Design (Paperback)
There are a range of books from both science and from creation(isms) explaining their position and what is really required is a book that tries to speak beyond the converted as it were. In this goal Shermer's is as good as any although Kenneth R. Miller's position as a noted biologist, debunker of intelligent design and a person of faith positions him in prime real intellectual real estate in being able to really get people thinking and re-thinking about the issues of design, meaning and purpose.

I bought the book and it was good value. A criticism I have with Shermer is that along with a lot of evolutionary minded thinkers situational, contingent (and especially regarding humans) cultural factors are underplayed in the assertion that evolution is the process that can provide the dominant narrative for all life, including human life. Since 1859 there has been no accepted theory of culture from the evolutionary presective despite 10+ schools trying to generate such a theory of the social world of humankind. While this remains the case humans (in a very real sense) will be beyond the complete grip of the evolutionary model. Evolutionary theorists Boyd & Richerson have said that a failure for evolutionary theory to account for culture would undermine the entire Darwinian revolution. I think this is a gross over-exaggeration. The theory of evolution is the telling theory of biological and botanical evolution in the nature setting. Darwin noted several times that natural selection was much diminished in civilised societies but evolutionary theorists are quite defensive at the notion that evolutionary theory (strong in the nature setting) is another partial theory of the social world of humankind.

So on the one hand we have evolutionary minded thinkers and theorists like Shermer, Dawkins, Dennett, & Co asserting that Darwin(ism) can explain it all and on the other hand we have this other position of intelligent design stating that evolutionary theory is not the whole story in the state of nature. What we can say for sure at this time is that evolutionary theory is not the whole story when it comes to the social world of humankind. In Shermer's 'The Mind of the Market' he calls consciousness the hard problem, and culture 'the really hard problem' and yet all too often he and others slips into the overly defensive of Darwin mode. Shermer undermines his own argument slightly, and notably when he writes:

"Darwin matters because evolution matters. Evolution matters because science matters. Science matters because it is the preeminent story of our age, an epic saga about who we are, where we came from and where we are going."

If Shermer had omitted the first five words then I'd agree, but he didn't and in naming the book the title he does he (like others) over personalises his/other's position to levels it doesn't need to be. When we align and associate a theory so intimately with a person, any person then this can only result in an emotional connection over and above any cognitive connection which is what the debate and argument should be concerned with. There is something noteworthy when you are accusing the other side of being too stubborn in allegiance to the idea of a personal God, when Shermer is (again, like others) often stubborn in allegiance to their personalisation and reification of evolutionary theory as 'Darwinism'.

If we go back in history the effect that the "Newtonian" view had on the understanding of the physical world was a factor in it taking over 300 years to sophisticate further his theory of gravitation by Einstein. Applying this to the present argument over culture and the position of intelligent design, there is surely a position required that can chart the underlying principles of how culture works beyond evolutionary theory without undermining the science position and being accused of intelligent design by the back door. Dawkins and Dennett themselves have in the last few years in interviews and lectures acknowledge that humans are "the first intelligent designers on the tree of life" so 'design' is not the central question in understanding culture, as it was in understanding nature. That question concerns meaning to unlock and deepen our awareness of the social sciences, arts and humanities.

Knowledge matters and what we do with it. Proponents of ID have a right to express their view but this should be done in the religious education class, not the science class. For Shermer & Co there should be an admission that despite considerable attempt(s) evolutionary theory remains short on explaining culture, and therefore what it is to be a human being. All the while this goes on there are millions, even billions of people around the world who find some scientific explanations of humankindness unsatisfying while they receive something more satisfying through their religious faith.

So in terms of knowledge and what we do with it, evolution matters much more than Darwin matters but when it comes to selling books, 'Darwin Matters' grabs an audience more I guess. So read this, and read other books related to this and if you can even a book from the other side(s) of the argument. If we all keep reading and thinking then hopefully we won't have to wait 'the Newtonian period' of 300 years to understand the seeming social gravitation of meaning that evolutionary theory can't explain. Shermer is currently working on a book called 'The Believing Brain'. You can bet it's a book about humans, but keep this in mind. He won't be referring to the accepted evolutionary theory of culture and mind because there is none. There will be a lot of metaphor and evolutionary-like language but the central idea that humans engage with the world not through the prism of biology but belief underlines how different culture is from nature and how we have to understand that emergence from the evolutionary process some (including Shermer) have.

That matters too.
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5.0 out of 5 stars Great to assist you dispelling ID folk, 22 Aug 2014
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Easy to read, highly informative for the amateur.

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3 of 12 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars Why Shermer Doesn't Matter, 10 Feb 2013
This review is from: Why Darwin Matters: The Case Against Intelligent Design (Paperback)
As someone who professes to have insider knowledge of science, Shermer illustrates quite the opposite. This is a book of many contradictions, impoverished intellectual judgement and lacking any rigour or understanding towards Darwin's 'Theory of Evolution', with particular regard to those problems with 'Natural Selection'. Unfortunately, his analogies on this matter are equally inadequate and contradictory in the extreme, using the Wright Brothers and how early flight evolved to the Jumbo jet, to illustrate how nature also evolves. The odd thing is he denies nature as having being designed, so why use the Wright brothers as an example of evolution or design. His examples of the proof of evolution are not strong either, using how a species adapts to an environment to illustrate change of specification. This is a mad book and also an odd platform from which to illustrate his objection to religion, particularly Creationist beliefs. In doing this he marks the political divide between the philosophy of science and that of religion, subdividing it further, yet without justification, other than if you are on a crusade as double agent - wrecking science by leaps of imagination and justifying religion's position, which he sees as under attack. The problems involving both camps are not made clear and Shermer does not see fit to elaborate, maybe because he cannot see the blindingly obvious vulnerability of Science or Creationist philosophies. Like most other things in the book, the complexity of both these areas are flippantly glossed over. This is not a book for beginners interested in the ongoing debate concerning the ever changing views on the Theory of Evolution and this is because it lacks any in-depth scientific understanding of the debate. For the well informed, it is just a dreadful insult to the intellect.
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7 of 25 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars Why Shermer is mistaken, 17 July 2010
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This review is from: Why Darwin Matters: The Case Against Intelligent Design (Paperback)
I am puzzled by the positive reviews of Dr Shermer's book because it seems to me to be full of "Aunt Sallys" and faulty reasoning. Perhaps one of the most egregious examples of the latter is on page 83, where he refers to a computer program which supposedly simulates the effects of natural selection on the ability of a monkey to type the first thirteen letters of Hamlet's soliloquy TOBEORNOTTOBE. In this program the letters typed into the system were 'selected' for or against and it took an average of only 335.2 trials to produce the required sequence.
The obvious fallacy here is that the desired outcome was programmed into the computer at the start so that letters could be selected "for or against" this target. This bears absolutely no resemblance to the supposed process of evolution by means of random genetic mutations and natural selection, in which there is NO preconceived target against which the mutations can be 'selected.'
Dr Shermer states in his Prologue that during his studies he "mastered one of the languages of science: statistics." If this is so, it beggars belief that he did not spot the elementary statistical fallacy at the heart of his example.
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Why Darwin Matters: The Case Against Intelligent Design
Why Darwin Matters: The Case Against Intelligent Design by Michael Shermer (Paperback - 24 July 2007)
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