Tuesday, March 24, 2020

Why Darwin Matters- A Book Review by Sutton




   Michael Shermer

Reviewed by

   Geoffrey W. Sutton

My answer to Shermer's book title framed as a question, Why Darwin Matters?, is that it matters a great deal. Psychological scientists often refer to evolutionary theory in their articles and textbooks thus psychologists, and those in similar professions, need to know the basics of evolutionary theory to understand and critique the way the theory is employed in the understanding of human behaviour.

Shermer begins his work with a biographical event.
"I became a creationist shortly after I became a born-again evangelical Christian in high school ..." (p. xx). 
Those interested in the integration of Christian faith and science will find this book a quick and useful review of the major points involved in the evolution-intelligent design (ID) controversy that has primarily involved biologists perhaps because the evolutionary psychology sections of various textbooks within my discipline are beneath the radar screen of ID proponents.

Why Darwin Matters is organized into nine chapters (153 pages) followed by brief end sections for an epilogue, coda, and an Appendix. Shermer provides an extensive notes section (pp. 169-184) followed by a brief bibliography, acknowledgements,
and an ample index.

The first chapter adumbrates the basic theory of the Origin of Species followed by five principles (e.g., descent with modification) discovered since Darwin, which the author attributed to Ernst Mayr. In chapter two, Shermer identifies and responds to five reasons people resist evolution (e.g., fear that evolution degrades our humanity). "Why do you believe in God?" is the question leading to a discussion of God qua designer. Shermer cites data from a recent study that identifies the seven strongest predictors of belief in God (e.g., parents' religiosity, lower levels of education). At this point I wondered if he were suggesting that intelligent people must reject various beliefs if they do not wish to be considered uneducated.

In chapter four, Shermer presents the Evolution-ID debate as he has come to know the crucial
points that either side makes in the public forum. This section is quite detailed with lists of various lengths, which the author employs to methodically address each thrust and parry. In the next chapter, Shermer presents examples of how science is under attack (read the teaching of evolution in American schools). The prime and proximate example is the Dover Pennsylvania decision handed down December 20, 2005 (since I read the book, the Public Broadcasting System presented the Dover story in a two-hour television program on their NOVA series).

Chapter six contains Shermer's perspective on the Real Agenda of the ID theorists. A key point here is the reference to an article by ID leader, Rob Johnson who wrote of creating a wedge issue out of evolution to lead to further debates about the existence of God and the question of sin.

In chapters seven and eight, Shermer suggests models whereby science and faith might achieve a rapprochement on the matter of evolution. His view is that science cannot contradict religion. He follows these chapters with a list of problems that yet remain a puzzlement to evolutionary theory (e.g., where did modern humans evolve?).

Why Darwin Matters is a quick read that will help readers catch up on the basics of the theory of evolution and understand the problems with intelligent design from the perspective of a scientist.

Find the book:  Why Darwin Matters 

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