Any book refuting creationist arguments is welcome, and more so for a book that covers so many fallacies as this one. So that warrants three stars.
However, I felt there were problems with the book. While certainly wide-ranging, it does not go into sufficient detail (perhaps to conserve book length.) Often an argument against a creationist position requires its utter destruction, that ends with creationism not just rebuffed but lampooned, and there are few cases where a simple statement can pull this off. Rather than developing the good counter arguments, the author seems to take a by-the-numbers approach, which leads to some weak, insubstantial or unnecessary points being brought up (and yes, they do exist, even when taking on creationists).
I am aware that this is a handbook, and is intended as a quick reference guide for any non-creationist who feels threatened by a seemingly good argument that they can't refute or just wants to get one up over the evangelist two dorms down, but the book would have benefited from a more proseful, hardhitting, persuasive style. As it is the book is often uncompelling, and it is not difficult to imagine the more "talented" creationists weaving together counterarguments to the unsatisfactorily stated points raised through misrepresentation, logical fallacies, pseudo-scholarship and so on (whereas better presented books are responded to by ignorance). Indeed, looking at creationwiki, this is already taking place.
While I believe that there are other, better books currently available which delve into the legal and philosophical issues presented by Intelligent Design and other flavors of creationism (e. g. books written by Scott, Forrest, Kitcher and Pennock), Mark Isaak has created a useful "handy-dandy" reference guide which offers a succinct rejoinder to every absurd creationist claim, covering a wide spectrum of subjects from philosophy to astronomy, and of course, biology. As such it is an invaluable guide for anyone seeking not only to rebut creationist claims, but equally important, to understand the philosophical and religious rationale behind these claims. However, I am quite skeptical that mere refutation of absurd creationist claims like "Evolution is just a theory" or "there are dinosaur and human footprints side by side in some Texas river bank" may be succinct to persuade most creationists, who truly are fundamentalist religious zealots, whether they are Young Earth Creationists or IDiots (Intelligent Design Advocates). And yet I recognize that Isaak's clear, concise, well-written tome is an invaluable resource too for educators and probably deserves to belong on the bookshelves of school administrators and school district superintendents (or chancellors) around the country.
Isaak has built up this list of claims and responses on the talkorigins.org website with feedback from a number of creationist-watchers.
Isaak covers the major arguments from creationists, with point-by-point refutations. He highlights distortions, falsehoods, fallacies that creationists use. Sometimes these are absurd to the highest degree, others are more subtle and so are the responses. It is a good indication of the breadth of arguments used by creationists.
The list is not complete -- there is a law of infinite regress that however ignorant one claim is, there is always another creationist who can say even more stupid. However, with clearly laid-out reasoning and links to resources, one can learn principles to derive new responses to creationist inanity (and perhaps submit them it to Isaak for inclusion online)
By its very nature this material is defensive, so one must go elsewhere for positive understandings of science (i.e. buy other books as well!)
Unfortunately, though this does not detract greatly from the book, some of the more subtle and complex metaphysical arguments where there is genuine disagreement between philosophers are glossed over, perhaps to increase the "debating strength" of the rebuttal rather than its actual logical strength. This is no more clearer than the assertion that religion and science are compatible -- to my mind at least they are not. Science, based upon naturalism, has progressed our understandings of the Universe to levels that ancient peoples would fail to comprehend; religion has produced a few beautiful paintings and music and many, many wars.
The growth of Creationism and its equally ill-conceived offspring, Intelligent Design (ID) has been particularly prevalent in the United States. This modern day manifestation comes out of various fundamentalist religious outlooks that go back five centuries to the extent adherence to biblical literalism is almost a tradition. Intelligent Design differs to Creationism only in so much its claims are centred around trying to show that God was the designer of life, the entity that designed DNA in all creatures and then made its workings happen. At its heart is a mendacious attempt use pseudoscience to pervert real science and then use the result to promote their concept of the Christian God. Both Creationism and ID are financially supported by religious contributions and have a well resourced publications arm. In the US it is their intention to lever this disguised theology into the science classroom, attempts which so far have failed. At stake is the future of science education.
Science is the principal arena of human discovery that has made our modern world what it is. Everything we take for granted from medicine to televisions are the result of endeavours of scientists. It is easy to forget that the beginnings of modern science came out of the Dark Ages and mediaeval thinking dominated by strict adherence to religion and biblical literalism. Slowly, and in the face of much hostility and church sponsored violence, scientific enquiry progressed. Galileo's trial at the hands of the Inquisition is one of the most examples, whilst the Scopes Monkey Trial in 1925 in the US a more modern example. Both however share the same problem at their heart and that is the attempt by the religious to prevent science contradicting their long cherished beliefs that God made the universe and everything in it and that we all should bow down and worship this God in grateful thanks. It should be remembered as well that the current Pope said in 2007 that he thought Galileo had been given a fair trial and it is Vatican policy to oppose contraception as a means to counter the spread of AIDS.
The method at the heart of scientific enquiry is essentially a simple one: to explain how nature works on nature's own terms without recourse to supernatural explanations. This immediately removes God-did-it scenario from the answers. Consequently, in the eyes of the highly religious, modern science has been cast as an atheist discipline with liberalism at its heart, dedicated to disproving God assumed existence.
The defeat of modern science therefore has for these people become an imperative. Many of them are totally ignorant about science but they have been told by their church that their religion is under threat. Since the option of the Inquisition is no longer available in western society, they make all manner of well rehearsed and apparently convincing, but frequently baseless arguments against science, disparage the work of scientists that conflicts with their religious ideas, and when all else fails, openly lie and misrepresent scientific arguments to make it look like the arguments favour religion. Uppermost for condemnation in the minds of creationists is the work of Charles Darwin and his theory of evolution. The ideas that humans evolved from apes, that all life had a common ancestor and that there is no purpose or reason for our existence come in for their scorn and attempts at ridicule.
This book is an excellent resource against the myriad of anti-scientific and pseudoscience arguments put forward by creationists. It is organised into ten sections, Philosophy and Theology; Biology; Palaeontology; Geology; Astronomy and Cosmology; Physics and mathematics; Miscellaneous Antievolution; Biblical creationism; Intelligent Design; Other Creationism. The most common arguments and statements that are employed against science are numbered and categorised in a simple to use list and then each is followed by a succinct and scientifically sound rebuttal. There is also a web resource provided where the latest mutations of creationist arguments are dealt with in a similar way.
This book will not replace a good science education, but it will offer the means to prevent the worst and most glib-sounding antiscience arguments and biblical arguments having an unopposed ride. At stake is your child's education, their future career choices and just possibly, the future course of medicine and scientific research.