Uncommon Dissent Hardcover – 30 Jul 2004
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Top Customer Reviews
"Uncommon Dissent" offers some balancing arguments against the neo-Darwinian theory of evolution and its application. In these well-written, varied and thought-provoking essays, (and an interview), you won't find ad hominem attacks, straw man fallacies or religious bigotry, but soundly reasoned points that highlight genuine areas of challenge for Darwinism.
The authors come from a range of philosophical backgrounds and have areas of expertise including: biology, chemistry, biochemistry, philosophy, mathematics, physics, politics, physiology, theology, genetics, molecular biology, engineering, biophysics, and law – so there's a lot of bases covered.
The foreword invites you to subject these essays to "searching critique". If you honestly do this and are still a convinced Darwinian then good for you; your worldview has withstood serious intellectual scrutiny. On the other hand, you may agree with the authors that Darwinian theory is flawed, (in whole or in part), and that it's time to seek an alternative worldview. Well there's plenty here to get you started on your search – and you can keep your intellectual integrity intact.
Don't be tempted to skip the introduction: it's a good read in itself and you'll also see why the term "Darwinism" is used.
Several of the writers in this volume seem to be suffering from an acute form of paranoia, bordering on hysteria (Most notably, the leading Intelligent Design "savant" William Dembski, but his friend Michael Behe seems to have caught this too.Read more ›
And it is simply false that there is no detailed account of actual evolutionary processes (of which natural selection is only one), unless, again, by 'detailed' you mean 'complete'.
The only relevant argument against 'Darwinism' (this locution is objectionable also: it makes it seem like the thousands of very intelligent, highly-skilled biologists out there are merely members of some cult!) is whether there is, in principle, any reason why some natural functioning is beyond the purview of explanatory theory. If the paradigm looks to have the resources to deal with any potential functioning, no matter how complex, then it really does provide a far more satisfactory explanation than the notion of design.
I'm sorry, but if you're looking for reasons to believe what you want to believe, you'd be better off just sticking your fingers in your ears or maintain that God sent Darwin here to test your faith, and whilst evolutionary theory appears to be incredibly explanatorily powerful, this is just because God wanted to make sure you weren't going to let a few facts interfere with your prejudices.
Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)
Besides the great look, feel, and organization of this volume from ISI, readers will get a bracing charge from the sheer controversy inside. Challenges to Darwin have long been stock material in religious bookstores, but since the publication of "Darwin on Trial" well over a decade ago, the critiques have become increasingly sophisticated. "Uncommon Dissent" captures much of the best critical material.
Although many of the chapters are worth special mention, the best is the last, which is a reprint of a famous Commentary essay by David Berlinski. His arguments are rhetorically devasting and come from a non-religious point of view. As much fun as his piece is to read, the letters written in response to it and his responses to them constitute a spectacular battle of the brainiacs with Berlinski returning fire magnificently.
If you are interested in the "evolving" controversy over biological origins, "Uncommon Dissent" is an indispensable addition to your collection.
Particularly enjoyable for me were the essays that don't deal with ID or Darwinism as such, but with the related issues, such as argumentation tactics and intellectual culture. Edward Sisson analyses the rhetoric and argumentation tactics of the anti-ID/pro-Darwin crowd and shows how they are often invalid and unfair. Frank Tippler takes on the peer review system (which is often used as club to beat on ID), and shows how it is both historically anomalous and is used to enforce ideological correctness. Dembski does a nice job of showing how, often, supposed scientific refutations of ID cited by its opponents amount to little more than intellectual bluffing. When the bluff is called there is nothing behind it. Rob Koons has an excellent essay on why the burden of proof should lie with those who wish to deny the basic human intuition towards accepting design. He also lays out nicely how the Darwinian crowd has actually done very little in terms of meeting this burden of proof, whatever their claims may be.
Also very interesting and encouraging is the fact that, contrary to the (bogus) claims regularly made by Darwinists, the contributors to this book do not display a uniformity concerning religious beliefs. They run the spectrum from evangelical Christians like William Dembski and Nancy Pearcey to completely irreligious folks like David Berlinski and Christopher Michael Lanagan, who proposes the idea of a non-supernatural, teleological universe. Also of particular interest in this regard is the section of the book in which Michael Behe, Michael Denton, and James Barham tell their personal stories regarding how they came to question the truth of Darwinism. Of these three, only Behe seems to hold to any kind of serious tradititional religious belief.This spectrum of varying beliefs gives the lie to claims often made by the anti-ID crowd that ID is nothing but religious creationism is disguise, and that IDers are nothing but rabid fundamentalists who wish to overthrow America and establish a theocracy. Such claims reveal more about the anti-religious fervor of many Darwinists than they do about intelligent design.
The interview with Marcel Schulzenberger, and Berlinski's "The Deniable Darwin" are both fun reads, and particularly fun are the critical responses to Berlinski's article by many in the mainstream scientific community and his responses to their criticisms. This part of the book also reveals Berlinski's sense of humour in contrast to the often humorless, mean spiritedness of many of the most prominent Darwinists like Richard Dawkins and Daniel Dennett. In fact, for an excellent example of the difference in substance and tone between the output of IDers as opposed to that of Darwinists, I highly recommend reading this book alongside of Niall Shanks' "God, the Devil, and Darwin." The one is thoughtful, substantial, and well reasoned while the other amounts to little more than a mean spirited, often dishonest, polemic. Shanks' book also provides an excellent example of what Edward Sisson discusses in his chapter of the book.
I'm not overly hopeful about the ultimate success of ID, given our present cultural and intellectual climate, but books like this show that even if ID does fail in the end, it won't necessarily be because it's proponents have failed to make an impressive, well-reasoned presentation of their perspective. Highly recommended.
Uncommon Dissent is divided into four sections: (1) A Crisis of Confidence, (2) Darwinism's Cultural Inroads, (3) Leaving the Darwinian Fold, and (4) Auditing the Books. The oddly-numbered sections contain three essays each; the even ones contain four each. Section 1 deals with the question of why an increasing number of people question Darwinian premises and conclusions. Section 2 deals with the effect that these premises and conclusions have had and are having on society and culture, largely through the offices of public and higher education. Section 3 deals with the intellectual transformations of three contributors (Behe, Denton and Barham) who have embraced and rejected Darwinism at different times in their lives. Finally, Section 4 - in my opinion, the section of greatest scientific and philosophical interest - deals with the internal and external consistency of Darwinism, offering more detailed analyses of the profoundly circular relationship between Darwinian premises, models, and conclusions.
The highlights of the book will be different for everyone. For me, they are too numerous to list here. A few of my favorites: an interview with world-class mathematician Marcel-Paul Schutzenberger, whose intelligence positively glitters off the page as he succinctly explains the mathematical failings of Darwinism vis-a-vis the critical dependence of biological science on various branches of applied mathematics (Section 1); an eye-opening expose on the failings and inequities of peer review by physicist Frank Tipler (Section 2); the wars fought between religious faith and scientific orthodoxy in the minds and careers of Michael "irreducible complexity" Behe and Michael Denton (Section 3); and every one of the essays in Section 4. Of particular interest to me in Section 4 were Roland Hirsch's evaluation of findings from the Human Genome Project, and an uncommonly penetrating discussion in Chapter 13 (Christopher Langan) of problems and potential solutions in the modeling of causal processes.
Finally, I think it appropriate to caution potential readers against overly pejorative, polemical or dismissive reviews. The kind of person who could write that kind of review regarding this kind of book is the kind least likely to have given it a fair reading, or having read it, to have fairly evaluated its contents. Accordingly, the complaints and motives of anyone impugning the contributors' intellectual honesty or denying the scientific relevance of their analyses should be viewed with suspicion. Not only do some of its authors write eloquently and with stunning honesty regarding their personal intellectual journeys, but the book also contains original and deeply-thought analyses of the models, methods and reasoning processes commonly employed by Darwinian scientists. Such analyses are both original and scientifically relevant; if they are not classified as "science" in the most restrictive sense of the word, then the word should be rethought, and in fact this point is one of many that the book convincingly makes.
As those familiar with the evolution controversy are already well aware, the Darwinism-versus-ID debate is politically supercharged. As in all politically-charged debates, those with the heaviest axes to grind are often the first to leap onto their own side of the balance in hopes of flinging the other side right off the beam. Obviously, this is not how scientific or public opinion should be shaped; meaningful opinions are formed not through the preemptive closing of minds by those whose minds are already closed, but only after close attention has been paid by all concerned to all sides of the debate. It would be well to remember this before giving much weight to the opinions of people who are plainly attempting to discourage a fair hearing for the opposition, especially when some of "the opposition" do not so clearly fit that description.
This book is worth every one of the five stars I'm giving it. If I had to choose one book from the entire library of books written on the "anti-Darwinian" side of the evolutionary debate - and after reading chapter 13, for example, I'm not so sure that "trans-Darwinian" wouldn't be a better descriptor - this would be it. It offers the clearest writing, the greatest variety of perspectives, some of the deepest insight, and holds the reader's attention like few others in the genre. Very highly recommended.
One quick note that should give you an idea on how well-informed this book was - the two negative reviews of Uncommon Dissent on this site as of the date of this post are quite amusing because they are both jam-packed with arguments that fall in line with the tired rhetoric that is actually discussed in-depth several times in the book. This rhetoric includes such classics as "Creationists are stupid", "Most scientists believe, and so should you", and then the classic straw men that evolutionists love to build of anyone who questions their precious theory as an uninformed religious zealot. God forbid anyone ever question evolution, and if they do, you are well within your rights to dismiss them instead of actually listening to their arguments. This line of reasoning (namely that disagreement isn't allowed) and defending a position is simply stunning and has no place in the world of academia. One of the reviews even takes Johnson's quote about science studying the purpose of the universe completely out of context and deceptively changes the meaning of it to make his quote seem mindless when it clearly wasn't. I don't say any of that to be mean-spirited, but it should be very telling to anyone who is considering buying this book that the critics who come out of the woodwork on these sorts of things can't help but to use the same empty arguments, even when criticizing a book that predicts exactly what those empty arguments will be.
The fact of the matter is that there are plenty of intellectuals who are skeptical of evolutionary claims and aren't hampered by religious fanaticism, even though the Richard Dawkins' of the world don't want to believe it. Naturalists need evolution to be true much more than religioius zealots need for it to be untrue, and this book explains that and many other concepts in a very clear and concise manner. As someone who is unconvinced of evolution as a means of explaining the creation of life on this planet not because of pre-conceived religious ideas or wishful thinking, but because of the inability of the evolutionist camp to defend it's ideas and come out from behind the curtain, I would highly recommend Uncommon Dissent.
Not holding steadfastly to the rudiments and rigid conventionalist doctrines of religion, Berlinski is aptly positioned to offer his critique without regard to, or an invested interest in, any theistic-based paradigm. This comes as a refreshing introduction of the now ever so growing controversy over biological origins. Berlinski decries the suggestion that Darwin's theory of evolution is like theories in the serious sciences (e.g., quantum electrodynamics). Quantum electrodynamics is accurate to 13 unyielding decimal places. Darwin's theory makes no tight quantitative predictions at all. And this is just from one chapter alone.
Then you have the late Marcel-Paul Schutzenberger (chapter 3), another agnostic and a former attendee of the 1967 Wistar Institute conference. He is by no means amenable to the creationist plot, for he is in the business of quantifying the probabilistic outcomes of empirical data, which is what he did to the Darwinian model. So why are we seeing some reviews here saying this is a creationist book? As if these were the only non-theistic objectors, then you have agnostic Michael John Denton contributing a masterful piece in chapter 9 detailing the inadequacy of explaining the origins of natural order in terms of mechanistic processes.
From what I have read so far, the book is packed with information that is not tied at all to any favorite religious propaganda, but with bonafide doubts and uncertainties borne out by strict scientific and philosophical thinking.