Notable Book Reviews
The current issue of Quarterly Review of Biology has a couple of book reviews that are worth looking at.
First, Christoph Adami rips into Hubert Yockey's new book Information Theory, Evolution and the Origin of Life. Yockey will be familiar to devotees of evolution/creationism disputes because of his endorsement of various probability arguments against naturalistic explanations of the origin of ife. Yockey's arguments are considerably more sophisticated than the ones offered by the creationists, but they are no less wrong for that.
Anyway, Adami is very unimpressed with the present volume:
These are only mild idiosyncrasies compared to the author's serious departures from accepted scientific standards of conduct. To begin with, at least half of the (poorly edited) book is a nearly verbatim copy—including typographical errors—of the author's previous volume, Information Theory and Molecular Biology (1992. Cambridge (UK): Cambridge University Press). This information is disclosed nowhere in the current book. The parts that are new to this volume are a mixture of historical and philosophical notes on origin-of-life research and researchers (in a section entitled The Life of Walther Löb, we learn the names and ages of the four daughters of the electrochemist at the time of his death), and reiterations of the same points already put forth in the older material. Even worse, some literature sources are either changed to conform or falsified. The sequence data for much of the presentation in Chapter 6—unchanged since its 1992 inception—is ostensibly from the Protein Information Resource 2003, but checking with the 1992 book reveals that the source is a 1986 paper. Despite its appearance as rigorous by the use of mathematical jargon, many derivations in this book (all of them already present in the 1992 version) are deeply flawed either mathematically, or by the use of inappropriate biological assumptions, or both. What is most surprising is that such a volume could pass an impartial peer review process. Cambridge University Press would do well to examine the circumstances of this and the previous book's approval and editing process. (Emphasis Added)
Phony rigor to disguise mathematical emptiness? Small wonder creationists like Yockey so much.
The comments about peer review are also well-taken. Passing peer-review is a necessary condition for meriting serious consideration from knowledgeable people. Sadly, it is far from sufficient.
There is also this review, by philosopher Evan Selinger, of Michael Ruse's The Evolution-Creation Struggle.
Ruse provides a historical framework for understanding the current and seemingly interminable clash between proponents and detractors of evolution. In a manner reminiscent of Paul Feyerabend, Ruse even wants to examine the seemingly dogmatic (if not downright fundamentalist) position on evolution that some of its staunchest proponents take. He declares, “[e]volutionism— making evolution into something more than a science—is the cause of the trouble” (p 281). To articulate such a proposition is to create some conceptual space for symmetrical inquiry—and this, in turn, provides a diplomatic opening from which to get beyond the denunciatory platitudes that often render discussions of the topic incendiary and redundant. (Emphasis Added)
Selinger gives Ruse a mostly positive review, but I would like to address that bold-face sentence. I have blogged about this recently, but it bears repeating. If the trouble being referred to here is the widespread rejection of evolution and acceptance of various forms of creationism, then I suspect Ruse is wrong. And if he's right then the implication is that religious believers are so emotional and irrational that they can't be expected to base their opinions on an understanding of the basic facts of biology. Rather, they just hear some snide remarks from Richard Dawkins or E. O. Wilson, and run screaming to the other side.
As for denunciatory platitudes, here are a few more. There is a simple fact that people like Selinger never get around to discussing. In the evolution/creation dispute, the evolutionists are arguing from more than a century's worth of meticulously collected scientific data while the creationists are arguing almost exclusively from ignorance, religious extremism, and sleazy rhetoric. Selinger can talk all he wants about conceptual space and symmetrical inquiry, but the fact remains that there is nothing of any substance at all in creationist arguments or literature. Surely that fact needs to figure prominently in any philosophical analysis of this conflict.