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on 25 January 2010
When Berkeley law professor Phillip Johnson published a controversial book in 1991 called Darwin on Trial, it hit a raw nerve, and was severely criticised by many evolutionists. A notable exception was David Raup, former dean of science at Chicago's Field Museum of Natural History, and a committed evolutionist. His verdict on Johnson was: "He's really done his homework. It's phenomenal the way he absorbed the field. Now, many people would say, `He doesn't know anything. That's obvious from the first page.' That's often said without *reading* the first page."
`Reviews' that slate a book and/or its author(s), without discussing any of the book's contents, tell us nothing about the book, but quite a lot about the `reviewers'. They also call into question the meaning of the term "book review"!
"Should Christians Embrace Evolution?" is a book of two equal halves. The first half deals with principles of exegesis of the biblical text, as applied to the early chapters of Genesis. A correct interpretation depends on the correct historical & literary context. This theme is developed in a chapter entitled "The Language of Genesis".
Forcing an evolutionary interpretation upon the Genesis creation account necessarily creates serious conflicts for many other biblical doctrines. Much of the remainder of the first half of the book is an elaboration of this argument.
The evolutionary mode of `creation' does not do justice to the nature & character of God. Any attempt to harmonise the bible's account of the creation of Adam & Eve with human evolution involves unnatural mental contortions. Such ideas also conflict with a proper understanding of the doctrine of the Fall & original sin, as well as its punishment in suffering & death - death is evolution's friend, but according to the Bible, mankind's "last enemy". The doctrine of redemption is consequently distorted. The authority of Christ is also called into question.
The second half of the book includes a selection of relevant scientific topics. Chapter 9 is entitled "Interpretation of scientific evidence", & is a composite of four parts, including homology, the fossil record, chromosomal fusion as evidence for common ancestry, & information & thermodynamics. These topics are given somewhat brief treatment. They deserve to be allotted separate chapters. I find it puzzling that these four topics should be grouped under the heading "Interpretation of scientific evidence", separately from chapter ten (on the relevance to common ancestry of pseudogenes & other non-coding regions of DNA) & chapter eleven (on the origin of life). These two chapters are just as much about interpretation of scientific evidence as chapter nine is!
Space does not afford detailed mention of the scientific arguments in the book. I shall restrict myself to just a couple of examples.
(1) A major finding of the ENCODE project is that about 93% of the human genome is transcribed into DNA. This surprising discovery strongly implies that the bulk of the non-coding segments are in fact functional. The evolutionary concept of `junk DNA' is seriously threatened with extinction.
(2) A fairly substantial chapter assesses some of the well known origin of life theories: polypeptide origin, polynucleotide origin, RNA world, etc, in each case pointing out fatal flaws that are well recognised. A major problem is the origin of complexity & self-organization. Certain fascinating phenomena, such as the Rayleigh-Benard convection (self-generation of vortex cells in fluids), and the Belousov-Zhabotinski reaction (chemical mixtures that generate cyclic colour changes), have been claimed as examples of self-organization that have relevance to biological evolution. This is rather like a child who has just cleared a 3-foot high jump imagining that with practice he/she will eventually be able to jump to the Moon. The failure to find realistic support for evolution from the real world of biology has led some to turn to the virtual world of computing. The irony of resorting to the combination of intelligently designed hardware & intelligently designed software to bolster belief in a non-intelligent origin of life has not eluded many observers. But even here, the level of organization & complexity is minuscule compared to that of living organisms - shades of the juvenile high-jumper.
More in-depth treatment of much of the material can be found elsewhere in the creationist & ID literature.
Chapter 8 is of special interest because it's contributor has no commitment to biblical Christianity. Steve Fuller is Professor of Sociology at Warwick University, but was trained in the history & philosophy of science, in which he obtained an M.Phil. (Cambridge) & a Ph.D. (Pittsburg). Much of his published work is in that area. Fuller likens the authoritarianism of the modern scientific establishment to that of the Vatican in Galileo's day, and expresses surprise that Protestants like Denis Alexander & Francis Collins so readily confer Vatican-like authority on it. Evolutionary theory lacks a precise, unified, inter-disciplinary definition, but expressions of divergence are confined to the technical literature and hidden from the general public. Fuller suggests how this divergence could be exploited by IDists in their conflict with Darwinists.
The book concludes that "No coherent, cohesive theology has yet been offered that would allow Christians to embrace evolution with integrity." On the other hand, "Science has uncovered a great deal of empirical evidence that is challenging the Darwinian paradigm." To the question posed by the book's title, the authors' answer is "an unequivocal `no'".
The inclusion of an index would be highly desirable. A book without an index is like a town without a map.