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83 of 97 people found the following review helpful
HALL OF FAMEon 25 December 2004
It is a strange paradox that the nation producing the most Nobel Prize winners also has spawned the loudest voices denouncing science and its revelations. Unlike those who object to weapons research or who claim science doesn't address life's daily problems, the objections are even more fundamental. The disaffection is a reaction to science's exposure of humanity being an integral part of Nature - "Darwinism". The active American crusaders in this assault can be counted on the fingers of one hand, but they have been prolific and boisterous in their assertions. And they are declaring war on education. They want changes based on religious grounds. Shanks' counterattack on these destructive forces carefully examines and dissects the arguments asserting life has supernatural origins.
The campaign, which has gone through several aliases - "Christian creationism" and "creation science" are but two - has settled on the bizarre cognomen of "Intelligent Design". This concept rests on a view of today's life. It is then projected back in time and found too difficult to explain. According to ID, we can't get there from here. Life is too complex to have built up from simple beginnings and must be the work of an anonymous "designer", which, of course, means something spiritual. Shanks is direct in his condemnation of this notion. Quite apart from the vapid logic of ID's idea is the failure of its adherents to provide a shred of evidence for their thesis. It is a shambles of inconsistent views, he demonstrates, often contradictory and its adherents often at cross-purposes. Shanks' granting it the status of a "theory" is the one shortcoming in this book.
After a brief outline of ID's ancient roots and its proponents in the Muslim world - a novel point overlooked by most scholars - Shanks outlines his themes. He divides his topics into the realms of biological and cosmological ID views. The biological is, of course, ID's challenge to Darwin's natural selection concept. It's difficult to comprehend how anyone could reject the mass of evidence supporting Darwin's idea that have accumulated since "Origin" was published, but Shanks demonstrates how ID publicists attempt to refute or ignore it. ID has used the laws of thermodynamics as a bludgeon against natural selection, but Shanks explains the flaws in its arguments. He deftly exposes the inconsistencies and self-contradictions that ID spokesmen have produced. Michael Behe's circular debates with Shanks and his colleague Karl Joplin are revealed to be as mistaken as they were in his sadly best selling book. The works of Behe's cohorts Phillip Johnson and William Dembski are carefully dissected and their mistakes exposed in raw vividness. They engage in much special pleading, but Shanks counters with gifted eloquence.
Perhaps the most far-reaching attempt to project ID is what has become known as the "anthropic principle". This idea has caught the imagination of those who recognise evolution has produced the human species. However, as any cognitive scientist will concede, humans have a unique place in nature. Our level of consciousness and linguistic abilities lead us to view ourselves in ways different from other animals. Frank Tipler and John Barrow have proposed that human evolution, unlike any other species, isn't destined to go extinct. Instead we will continue to evolve indefinitely. Shanks, who describes this idea as a "grotesque science fantasy", is understandably dismissive of something so counter to biological reality.
The main thrust of ID has always been the introduction of the supernatural as the driving force of life. Shanks repeated theme is the failure to provide supportive evidence for this claim. While there are those who contend deities aren't discernible, Shanks nods to their concerns, but demonstates lucidly that the processes of the universe and life are measureable. It is these very topics which the ID clique is attempting to overthrow in American public schools, a tactic Shanks seeks to block. ID's thesis that "materialism" erodes "moral values" are exposed in Shanks' conclusion. This device is no more than a scare tactic that characterises Darwin and all evolutionary biologists, paleoanthropologists, cosmologists and other researchers as "agents of Satan" in Henry Morris' terms. It is hoped that this book will provide an effective counter to such depictions. [stephen a. haines - Ottawa, Canada]
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84 of 103 people found the following review helpful
Professor Shanks has done somebody a real service here in painstakingly demonstrating the utter intellectual poverty of so-called "intelligent design theory." Just who that person is I don't know. Perhaps it's a US congressman. Most people I know either haven't a clue about the subject, or are rationalists and are well aware that the intelligent design argument is scientifically vacuous and actually a religious power play, or they are religious true believers themselves and uncritically accept the notion that the universe was designed by a supernatural being whom they call God.
In other words, all the close and detailed analysis done by Shanks in this book--and trust me, he really addresses the question in the most thorough way--isn't about to persuade anybody one way or the other. Most people won't--and could not even if they tried--read it. It is entirely too finely meshed in technical detail about matters of no particular interest to them: cosmology, quantum mechanics, probability theory, biochemistry, thermodynamics, etc. Yet the book had to be written just for the record, one might say. All the pseudoscience served up by the creationists and the intelligent designers needed to be answered thoroughly, and Shanks has done that in a most impressive manner.
Shanks takes the intelligent designers seriously and presents their arguments, and then, piece by piece, refutes them. Frankly, I believe he gives them more attention than they deserve. After all, how seriously can one take a man (leading intelligent design theorist, William Dembski, for example) who writes: "My thesis is that all disciplines find their completion in Christ and cannot be properly understood apart from Christ" (quoted on page 157)? I mean, isn't it enough to just quote such a person? He's a true believer and all his "arguments" are merely attempts to justify his belief in a supernatural being and supernatural causation. No amount of counter argument from logic or scientific experiment or from the multitudinous conclusions of the various sciences is going to sway him one iota.
But of course Shanks is not aiming his arguments at Dembski or his colleagues. Rather, like the good teacher he is, Shanks wants it spelled out for his students and for students everywhere just how absurd and wanting is the case for intelligent design. He is writing for those not yet entirely corrupted by religious propaganda and as yet innocent of the weight of the scientific evidence.
Why, one might ask, are the religious fundamentalists so intent on attacking Darwinism? Is it because they are uncomfortable with being closely related to apes, as were the Victorians? They probably are, but the real reason is that "Darwin's theory of evolution can be viewed as a sustained refutation of the argument from design..." (p. 24) Before evolution it was a mighty mystery as to how species arose, and any argument was as good as another, with the hoary argument from design being especially agreeable; and therefore pronouncements from the clergy held not only psychological, social and political sway over the masses, but intellectual sway as well. Darwinism changed all that, with the result that the Church lost an enormous amount of power and prestige--power and prestige that it has been desperately trying to regain ever since.
Noteworthy is the fine introduction by Richard Dawkins who has fought long and hard himself against the stupidities of the creationists and intelligent designers. Note well his sharp and decisive tone: "Intelligent Design 'theory' is pernicious nonsense which needs to be neutralized before irreparable damage is done to American education." (p. x)
That really is the bottom line. All that we have learned from science and rationalism is under attack from the forces of ignorance, mostly right-wing religious fundamentalists who would substitute their authoritarian mumble-jumble for reality in an attempt to seize the reigns of political power and usher in a return to the Dark Ages with themselves at the throne. Professor Shanks is to be commended for his efforts to prevent such a catastrophe, as unlikely as such a catastrophe might be.
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4 of 5 people found the following review helpful
on 6 February 2008
Many theists recognize the danger in using a 'God of the gaps' approach. As science fills in those gaps, 'God' gets squeezed out of the picture. The proponents of Intelligent Design already seem to be in the position of being squeezed out of existence. Their position is easily seen to be quite sterile and representing little more than a destructive attack on good science. So there is a bit of a question mark over how much time and effort needs to be devoted to countering something which is so lacking in substance.

This said, Niall Shanks has produced an excellent overview of the deficiencies of Intelligent Design. The first chapter of his book considers the historical roots of the 'argument from design' which are traced back to ancient Greece. He then examines how our thinking moved towards seeing organisms in a mechanistic way using crude mechanical analogies such as seeing the lungs as bellows etc. From here we can easily see how much of current ID theory tends to rest on a very mechanical perception of life.

The second chapter considers Darwin's response to the illusion of design. On a personal level, I found this slightly less interesting as my background is not in the biological sciences.

The third chapter is devoted to thermodynamics and has some interesting material on self-organizing systems which was particularly well covered.

The fourth chapter turns to more philosophical considerations. In particular, he examines the difference between the methodological naturalism which would be employed by scientists and the philosophical naturalism which a scientist may (or may not!) adopt.

The fifth chapter examines biochemistry and it isn't surprising that Michael Behe gets quite a bit of attention. He looks at Behe's metaphor of a mousetrap and points out the dangers of using this mechanical analogy when dealing with living organisms.

The final chapter considers cosmology and the anthropic principle before we move to the conclusion where he wraps things up with a discussion about morality and values.

I read this book in parallel with Mark Perakh's 'Unintelligent Design.' Both books are excellent and, if you are interested in this area, highly recommended.
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37 of 50 people found the following review helpful
on 11 June 2005
An exceptionally thorough rebuttal of 'stealth creationism'. Shanks tackles 'Intelligent Design' arguments in physics, biochemistry, and cosmology. He exposes them as attempts to smuggle in an interventionist God by the backdoor. At times perhaps a little too caught up in an academic debate with old ID foes, the author nevertheless manages to engage the general reader's attention throughout. It might not interest a reader wanting purely to explore cosmological issues, such as the fine-tuned universe, but there is enough such material for those prepared to wait for the later sections of the book. And Richard Dawkins writes the introduction, if that makes any difference either way.
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20 of 49 people found the following review helpful
on 22 March 2006
I waited a month to get a copy of this book and was very keen to read it. Frankly, I wish I hadn’t bothered. I have had a long standing interest in the theory of evolution and the alternatives. Thus, I have read a number of books on the topic on both sides of the argument. Unfortunately, this has to rate as one of the worst books I have personally read for a long while. Whatever you might think about the anti-evolutionary bunch some of the books like “Evolution: A Theory in Crisis” and “Darwin’s Black Box” are good solid science books, well written, well thought out and make a clear well argued point. Many of the books are long on hard facts and detailed technical descriptions while still remaining readable. Even if you don’t accept the arguments you can see that they are reasonable positions to take. As a hard nosed science type I was very interested in this book as it seemed to promise to take on the anti-evolution arguments head-on. In short, it simply didn’t. It waffled and prattled around the edges. Although it would be unreasonable to call it ‘fact free’ it certainly seemed avoid ‘hard facts’ and detailed technical examples and descriptions. It tried to refute a number of points made by various other authors but to my way of thinking failed badly and (more importantly to me) didn’t even try to take on the main substantive points. All the rebuttals seemed mainly philosophical in nature and hollow with references to other publications. As an example, instead of giving hard-nosed examples of how things (did or could of) evolved the author seemed to prefer to pick minor faults in other authors books. In short, I personally found it very unconvincing from a scientific point of view and see it more as scientific philosophy than hard science.
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25 of 85 people found the following review helpful
on 8 March 2006
Richard Dawkins has been the Charles Simonyi Professor of the Public Understanding of Science at Oxford University for quite a few years now. And he regularly lectures on evolution in the USA.
Yet that same period of time has seen a decline in the number of UK students wanting to study the sciences at university, and a significant rise in various forms of opposition to evolutionist ideas, particularly so-called Intelligent Design.
Whilst I DON'T want to make a direct link between these two facts it does appear that we can learn a lesson here - and one which the authors of this book have noticeably failed to grasp:
However good the case for evolution may be, and however flawed the opposing arguments may be, the "war of words" is NOT being won by the defenders of evolution theory.
Hey, guys, wake up and smell the coffee - YOU AREN'T MAKING CONTACT! And this book, written in a manner that is virtually guaranteed to re-inforce every reader's existing viewpoint, be it pro or anti, is nothing but a waste of perfectly good trees.
Like so many other books on the subject, the authors depend on allegedly "rational/factual" arguments to make their case. But what they overlook is a simple fact known to every psychologist - people don't make decisions based on reason, they make them on the basis of "gut instinct", for want of a better expression, then they rationalize their choice later - if necessary.
So, if you already believe what the authors believe, then you'll believe what's in this book. If you don't, you won't. And like it or hate it, THAT is a genuine "fact".
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