Tuesday, June 28, 2011

A roundup of book reviews touching on Intelligent Design

For the past few years, partly inspired by the not-so-gentle prodding of certain militant atheists, I have been attempting to read up on the Intelligent Design controversy.  Following is a list that I don't claim is comprehensive, but it might be a good starting point for those interested in finding out more.

First of all, I think it's important to recognize that no one writing in this field is coming from a place of neutrality.  Darwin, Dawkins, Gould et al. have their agenda; so do the authors I read.  Like it or not, everyone has his mind made up before writing a book or article on this subject.  I chose to read authors who were at least open to the idea of a Designer, and I'm guessing most readers of this blog will appreciate the same.  Remember, I'm not an expert scientist or debater in any sense of the word, but these sources were helpful to me as an average homemaker trying to make sense of current debates.

I'll start with a general recommendation for World Magazine, my go-to source for anything relating to Christianity and Culture.  It regularly tracks the controversy and provides more current information than I'm able to.  And the movie with Ben Stein, Expelled: No Intelligence Allowed, is a good visual jumping-off point.  It introduces some of the major players, and highlights the issue of academic freedom and censorship (blacklisting of those who have published I.D. works is almost universal, it seems, even to guilt by association).

Darwin's Black Box: The Biochemical Challenge to Evolution, by Michael Behe of Lehigh University (at least once his Wikipedia entry has been hacked to read "pseudoscientist" rather than "biochemist") is the book that started the I.D. ball rolling and has received a lion's share of the media attention.  Behe introduced the concept of irreducible complexity, the huge stumbling block for evolution at the cellular level.  In fact, Behe accepts the evolution of species from a common ancestor, but demonstrates the impossibility of evolution at the microscopic level.  It would be intellectually dishonest to dismiss him as yet another "creationist" as many have tried to do.

Icons of Evolution by Jonathan Wells is an eye-opening journey through standard science textbooks and the mythology they cultivate.  As a teacher, this was the book that angered me the most and inspired me to read further.  Literally, multiple generations have been acculturated by their supposedly neutral science textbooks to accept such unproven or outright fraudulent concepts as "the tree of life", "Haeckel's embryo drawings", or "the evolution of the peppered moth."  It's outrageous that we should offer second-rate propaganda to our young minds as science, and then take legal action against those who question it.  This is not a book advancing the I.D. argument as such.  Read it and you will want to remove your children from the public schools, but look elsewhere for an explanation of the movement.

Signature in the Cell: DNA and the Evidence for Intelligent Design, by Stephen C. Meyer, is a groundbreaking recent book in the field.  If you can make it through the lengthy book, I found that the writing style and scientific explanations were actually easier to follow than Behe's book, which occasionally broke into technical-ese that I couldn't follow.  This work addresses the question of the origin of life from the standpoint of DNA (Behe's deals with things like flagellar motors of bacteria, not the genetic code).  When you think about it, we can't even talk about the human genome without using language that is itself an argument for I.D.: the "genetic code," "genetic information," "sequencing," "mutation" (from what? Maybe a "pattern?")  This book sets the standard now; it will be interesting to see what evolves in the coming years of the I.D. movement.

If I (decidedly not a scientist) made it through these three books, it should prove they are reasonably accessible to the intelligent reader: but if you're looking for a quick summary of the basics, you could do a lot worse than this surprising source: the last four chapters of Godless: The Church of Liberalism, by Ann Coulter.  (Warning: read at your own risk if you are a Democrat, particularly if you also have a blood pressure problem).  I think I've mentioned before how much I like her writing style.  As a lawyer, she can lay out the case against evolution and the case for I.D. like no scientist ever could, and, as a bonus, I averaged at least one LOL per page.  Your mileage may vary.

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