Thursday, September 09, 2004

Larson's Review

Christianity Today has published this review of the pro-ID book Doubts About Darwin, by Thomas Woodward. The reviewer is Edward Larson, whose 1997 book Summer for the Gods is an excellent account of what really happened during the Scopes trial (personally, I found L. Sprague De Camp's 1968 book The Great Monkey Trial to be even better, but it is much harder to find).

Larson's review is not harsh enough for my taste, but he does point out that the book gives the reader no inkling of the fact that ID has made essentially no progress among scientists, either in terms of respect or in funding. However, I think this paragraph might leave readers with a false impression:

As Woodward illustrates, the writings of other key ID proponents have broadened the critique of Darwinism. Unlike Johnson, Behe does not deny the core evolutionary concept of common descent for all organisms, but in Darwin's Black Box he does assert that some biochemical processes (such as the cascade of multiple proteins required for blood clotting) are too irreducibly complex to have originated in the step-by-step fashion envisioned by modern Darwinists. Recalling the old claim that the eye could not have evolved piecemeal because it only functions as a whole, Behe maintains that something intelligent must have designed certain functional systems into organisms.

For his part, Dembski invokes mathematical probability filters (like those used to sift radio signals from outer space for messages sent by intelligent beings) to suggest that life's complexity is more likely the product of design than chance. In Icons of Evolution, Wells debunks various outdated bits of scientific evidence still invoked by some to support evolution theory, such as long-discredited pictures illustrating similarities in the embryonic development of various species and dubious experiments demonstrating the power of natural selection in transforming the peppered moth.

There are a couple of problems here, the most serious one being the suggestion that Wells successfully debunked anything in Icons. Wells' descriptions of recent experiments on peppered moths were vastly more inaccurate than anything the textbooks were describing. As for the “long-discredited pictures”, the embryological evidence for evolution is as strong as ever. All Wells managed to do was point out that a handful of biology textbooks were using outdated photos to make the correct point. In most of these books the photos have been updated with more accurate pictures. Check out Alan Gishlick's magisterial take-down of Wells, available here, for more on this.

Also, it is not possible for something to be “too irreducibly complex”. You are either irreducibly complex or you are not. Larson might also have pointed out that Behe's use of the blood clotting cascade to make his point was especially weak, considering that biologists have uncovered rather a lot of data regarding the evolution of that system.

Larson's review does not explain why ID has been so unsuccessful among scientists. He merely summarizes some of the ID arguments, and then states that scientists want nothing to do with it. He should have said explicitly that scientists reject ID because they find ID arguments unconvincing, to put it mildly. As it stands, his review can be spun to provide support for the idea that scientists are dogmatically opposed to anything that smacks of God.


At 7:22 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

As I remarked elsewhere, I've found Larson to be weak on the science as he tries (too) hard to be the dispassionate historian.



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