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on 15 February 2004
This book is an interesting, intelligent read. It explains why it is so easy to confuse evolution with teleological stories of progress. It also traverses the boundaries between religion and science, and shows why science is not always as objective as it might seem. At the same time, Midgley is definitely not in the creationist camp. The last reviewer has clearly not read any recent philsophy of science, and has not understood the simple principle that science is not created or interpreted in a social vacuum, but is socially, culturally and historically situated knowledge. Midgely explains this clearly and with interesting examples. I would advise you read the book for yourself and be inspired!
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on 31 July 2012
This is not a book about science or even really about evolution, it is about the use of scientific thinking in non scientific ways. (If you doubt Midgeley's acceptance of evolution see the quote at the start of the book - it is actually dedicated to Darwin). Reading this in 2012, some of the references seem old and with one or two major exceptions are not books that I think have a significant influence now. It might be helpful to have newer references, but the flaws and habits Midgeley criticises are evident in many modern scientific texts. You can be a proactive supporter of science, whilst still being critical of the language and thinking of some scientists. I give the book 5 stars as it was good to read and thought provoking - surely the signs of a good book?
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VINE VOICEon 8 August 2011
Mary Midgley is a vigorous opponent of scientism, reductionism and the hypocrisy of peddlars of science as truth. She identified the metaphysical pretentions implicit in the writings of Richard Dawkins, reducing him to fulminating against her having discovered the king had no clothes. Dawkins was not the only advocate of scientism reduced to intellectual nakedness by Midgley's brilliant analysis. Writing about Nobel prize winner Harry Kroto's claim that, " Science is the only philosophical construct we have to determine TRUTH with any degree of reliability" she pointedly asked, "Is it a scientific statement? No. Can it be relied upon as true. No?" Midgley's analysis showed the hypocrisy of scientists when they embark on philosophical and political crusades based on an inability to distinguish between fact and belief.

This came to a head in 2008 when Kroto, along with Dawkins and other anti-theist scientists, forced the resignation of Michal Reiss as Director of the Royal Society because Reiss was a clergyman who suggested science shouldn't dismiss pupils' views about creationism or intelligent design but should explain how such views were incompatible with science. The attacks on Reiss were not motivated by what he said but what he represented - dissent from the proposition that science and atheism are two sides of the same coin. It was an example of fundamentalist scientism at its worst and roundly condemned by all those, including Robert Winston, who value freedom of thought over imposed conformity. Although "Evolution As A Religion" was written two decades before the Royal Society revealed itself as the authoritarian dispenser of metaphysics under the guise of science, Midgley had already identified the scientism of Dawkins et.al.

Midgley argues that Marxism and evolutionism have been the two great faiths of modern times. Both expressed themselves as secular and social religions. Marxism in action undermined faith in its self-proclaimed role as the liberator of the working classes. Evolutionism gradually became "the creation myth of our age" in the form of Neo-Darwinism. This myth relies on its symbolic appeal rather than a description of its truth or falsity. The violent social and political environment of the past two-hundred years (Midgley doesn't mention the French Revolution but it remains the focal point for the modern world) has resulted in a "number of the elements which used to belong to traditional religion...........regrouping themselves under the heading of science, mainly around the concept of evolution." T H Huxley's prime aim was for science to supplant religion. J D Bernal, a recipient of the Stalin Peace Prize, argued the "aristocracy of scientific intelligence" would give rise to societies run by scientists. William Day used the same argument fifty years later suggesting that within10,000 years a scientific elite would emerge as a different species and rule those specimens of humanity which had been left behind. Such thinking came into contemporary Neo-Darwinist thinking via Social Darwinism, Marxist determinism and the enforced eugenics of the inter-war period. Bernal and Day presented their world view as if it was science. It wasn't.

The evolutionary model based on the inevitability of progress did not come from Darwin but an earlier generation. It served as weapon to bolster the image of scientists as superior beings. It gave support to the implicit racism of Imperialism and support for free market economies. The impact of Nazism and human experimentation reduced that image to one of the mad scientist producing the equally insane Boys from Brazil. Biological science cannot predict the future. Pretending it can is a delusion. Claims that science corrects dogma is denied by scientists' own dogmatic approach to science as superior to religion which is essentially a metaphysical standpoint not a scientific one. Science is laden with unacknowledged values although the sociobiologist E O Wilson presented materialistic science as a viable myth in competition with religion. Francis Crick claimed that science would produce a new set of beliefs about the nature of humanity. Religion was criticised for not being science and despised for raising questions about scientific impartiality in the pursuit of a world view which fails by its own standard of proof. It was scientific orthodoxy which rejected Galileo's heliocentric view of the world. It was also scientific orthodoxy which initially ignored Lynn Magulis's Gaia hypothesis until the paradigm shift so superbly described in Kuhn's "Structure of Scientific Revolutions" took effect.

Midgley, whose rejection of Christianity was accepted matter-of-factly by her clergyman father, does not advocate a religious viewpoint. She acknowledges that "the more anthropomorphic a creed is, the more the notion of an arbitrary, personal will enters into thoughts of creation.... that notion is hostile to science." Science assumes a sense of order penetrable to the human mind. Yet science (as in the scientific method) also uses imagination. Midgely quotes T H Huxley's thoughts on the relevance and power of the imagination "within the limits laid down by science." As she points out science is populated by "narrow-minded, conformist sceptics". Bertrand Russell, in his debates with Copleston, refused to accept the universe had a reason for existing and therefore it was pointless to look for one. His successors have no such inhibitions, equating the universe with scientific discovery. Such claims lose the "vastness and mystery" of the universe and with it the "awe and reverence" which are essential factors in understanding mankind's perceptions of - and the place of humans - in it. Julian Huxley had no hesitation in describing this as a religious or spiritual experience.

Midgley regards evolutionary biology and related fields as selective research extrapolated to the whole biosphere where it is "supported" by computer simulations. The result is the imposition of a reductionist framework which denies the validity of other approaches. The late Harold Wilson was told, "never trust the experts". Midgley has put that advice into practice for which she deserves five stars. One suspects it will retain its validity long after the fashionable idea that science is truth is dead and buried.
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on 1 December 2009
Mary Midgley, a philosopher, applies her extremely sharp mind to the idea that evolution, as it is expounded in the popular science press by eager biologists, can in some ways be interpreted as a religion. By religion we mean of course the standard ones such as Christianity, Buddhism, Islam etc.

Rather than actually laying out in a strictly defined way the characteristics which make up the religious view, something which is very difficult given the vast differences in the previously mentioned cases, she approaches the subject by analysing some of the typical `literature' in the popular science press on evolution which express their views in a highly dogmatic fashion: for example Richard Dawkins, Edward O. Wilson, Jacques Monod and so on. Gradually she lays bare the inherent faults in each of these texts by noting how not only that in most cases they state views which are not supported by strict science but in fact express metaphysical views which have the ring of science with all of its evidential weight. At times she shows that these opinions portray the same faults as those they wish to get rid of eg: the religious, vitalistic, animistic or metaphysical view.

Midgley has the ability to analyse very carefully what is stated and see things the general public could easily skip past in their enthusiasm. This book demolishes all of these pseudoscientific fantasies although its writing style is sometimes heavy going and is not really suited to the lay public. This book is, I believe written more for the interested scientist who has already read some of the foregoing literature and wishes to get a deep analysis of these things to fathom their relevance. This she does does ably although one feels that throughout she does not express a clear and direct point of this analysis but rather a series of essays on several subjects which have some sort of coherent structure. This is the only problem with this book and one feels that no real definite conclusion has been reached.

Nevertheless, Midgley is worth reading for her truly impressive ability to seek out faults which often lie hidden in the material she analyses and are quite subtle and not at all obvious until she points them out. It's good someone has done this to provide a clear head in all the plethora of the popular science literature, which in general, is not up to any sort of serious study of the state of science as it is today. In this case there is no chance one can easily dismiss her analyses as the wafflings of creationists or vitalists.
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on 4 June 2016
I was looking forwards to this book, having used "Science as Salvation" for a couple of assignments, and hoped it would explain how evolution and Darwinism function as religion substitutes for their adherents. For those that don't get this, and want to squeak that science deals with facts not superstition, and therefore isn't a matter of faith, beleif, and therefore religion at all, one needs to look at the 'peformative' definition of religion, and grasp how evolution functions in the same way by providing people with their morality, a guide for living, and their hope (ie that science will discover all possible facts and make the world a better place). Yes, the contents are different, of course, but that's not the point, its *how* and *why* they are used. Try seeing Prof Dawkings as 'high priest', "The God Delusion" as bible, telling people how wonderful science, evolution and "The God delusion" are as evangelism, and how if we all became atheist scientists the world would be wonderful as eschatology: that's what evolution as religion is.

This book does not do that at all. Midgeley spends far too much time taking on an obscure work by Jaques Monod that no lay-people and followers of 'scientism' have actually heard of. It doesn't get to grips with how similar in their cartesian dichotomous "We're right, everyone else is wrong, everyone else must think like us" militant athesits are in their attitude (obviously not beliefs, but *attitude*) with both fundamentalist Charismatic / Pentecostal Evangelical Christians and, embarassingly for the atheists, ISIS: remember, similarity in 'bunker mentality' attitude, hatred of the opposition, etc, not beliefs. It's this area that desperately needs exploring.

I have given the book away, having read it only once.
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on 22 January 2010
This was my first encounter with midgley's work, and I have gone on to purchase several of her books since. This book is superb. A clearly written challenge, not to the theory of natural selection (as one reviewer seemed to think) but to particular uses of evolution in some more recent popular science books.

In such books, evolution is used as a religion, e.g. it is deified, anthropomorphised, and intervention by 'speeding up' human evolution via genetic engineering is the basis for hopes and future dreams. These works can badly mislead their readers through there choice of metaphors and analogies, often have a poor grasp of social science, and promote personal ideologies as scientific Reason. In some cases they promote perculiar dreams about the genetic modification of personalities to produce a more desirable social world. But, Midgley asks, to become what kind of person? A nietzchean superman? a passive individual? Their is a real danger in the sociobiological dreams to 'make a desireable world' through genetic modification. Who is this world desirable to? who is it for? Surely the personal ideological desires of scientists do need to be highlighted. This is what Midgley has done. She examines and challenges the works of writers such as Day, Glover, Dawkins, Monod and E.O Wilson.
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on 17 October 2004
In this book, Mary Midgley tells us that the theory of evolution is not only a scientific theory, but also a political one. The new middle-class plutocrats of the Enlightenment needed a 'creation myth' that would explain why they deserved to rule. The answer was Darwin's theory: the survival of the fittest. They were there because they were the best. This new myth was needed to replace the old one of the aristocracy - the myth of Divine Grace - that is, that they were there because it had been ordained by God.
This does not, as Midgley points out, mean that evolution is not 'true'(we are perfectly aware now that there are no 'objective' ideas anyway) or that Darwin was consciously motivated by a need to provide a new political ideology. Evolution is an explanation of natural development that provides many functions. Midgeley is saying that its mythological function is at least as important as its scientific one.
This is a timely and important book. We are, unfortunately, still locked within the 'survival of the fittest' myth. There are modern political ideologists such as Richard Dawkins, masquerading as 'socio-biologists', who are trying to persuade us that we are naturally selfish. Midgley dismisses this view with a disdainful flourish by pointing out that the word 'selfish' has negative connotations in every known language: the idea that we might have evolved to value a negative quality simply does not make sense. ('He is a good man - he's so selfish.')
Writers like Dawkins are dangerous - they use mythology and try to persuade us it is science. They try to convince us that if we behave selfishly it is all right - we can't help it - it is 'in our genes.' They try to convince us that life in Western society is a race in which we all start equal, and those who are the best, win. What we are not told that those who win generally start way in front of the rest.
Midgely, with her 'Ockham's Razor' mind, is showing us that while myths provide a useful function for a time, they eventually wear out. The 'evolution myth' was useful in providing the middle-class with a rational explanation for their dominance, but it is now past its sell-by date.
Midgeley's arguments are sharp and need some concentration, but it is well worth the exercise. I found this book an absolutely thrilling read.
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on 17 October 2004
In this book, Mary Midgley tells us that the theory of evolution is not only a scientific theory, but also a political one. The new middle-class plutocrats of the Enlightenment needed a 'creation myth' that would explain why they deserved to rule. The answer was Darwin's theory: the survival of the fittest. They were there because they were the best. This new myth was needed to replace the old one of the aristocracy - the myth of Divine Grace - that is, that they were there because it had been ordained by God.
This does not, as Midgley points out, mean that evolution is not 'true'(we are perfectly aware now that there are no 'objective' ideas anyway) or that Darwin was consciously motivated by a need to provide a new political ideology. Evolution is an explanation of natural development that provides many functions. Midgeley is saying that its mythological function is at least as important as its scientific one.
This is a timely and important book. We are, unfortunately, still locked within the 'survival of the fittest' myth. There are modern political ideologists such as Richard Dawkins, masquerading as 'socio-biologists', who are trying to persuade us that we are naturally selfish. Midgeley dismisses this view with a disdainful flourish by pointing out that the word 'selfish' has negative connotations in every known language: the idea that we might have evolved to value a negative quality simply does not make sense. ('He is a good man - he's so selfish.')
Writers like Dawkins are dangerous - they use mythology and try to persuade us it is science. They try to convince us that if we behave selfishly it is all right - we can't help it - it is 'in our genes.' They try to convince us that life in Western society is a race in which we all start equal, and those who are the best, win. What we are not told that those who win generally start way in front of the rest. Well what does it matter? It's all in the genes.
Midgely, with her 'Ockham's Razor' mind, is showing us that while myths provide a useful function for a time, they eventually wear out. The 'evolution myth' was useful in providing the middle-class with a rational explanation for their dominance, but it is now past its sell-by date.
Midgley's arguments are sharp and need some concentration, but it is well worth the exercise. I found this book an absolutely thrilling read.
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on 14 December 2016
A deep, deep misunderstanding of both science and religion from a self-taught pseudo-philosopher, who was essentially a religious apologist, expressing nothing more than epistemological relativism. Her “work” has been very, very well rebutted by many people and it’s not difficult to find these comprehensive rebuttals. She was a hypocriful contrarian, and very funny to hear this book described as a scourge of pretension. It’s largely reflective of her other work, so if you’re credulous enough to believe that morality ought not be informed by science and reason, but rather subjective relativism and misrepresentation of the facts, you’ll probably get all giddy over this. If you’ve any sense you’ll not give it another moment’s thought. A child could quite adeptly deal with her arguments here.
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on 29 March 2009
It beats me why Prof Midgley needed a whole book.

I could easily do "Why Evolution is Science" in 200 words.
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