Thursday, February 08, 2007


Pass in Review

American Scientist has three book reviews of interest on the web:

Richard Bellon, a visiting assistant professor in the Lyman Briggs School of Science at Michigan State University, reviews Darwinism and Its Discontents by Michael Ruse; James Robert Brown, a professor of philosophy at the University of Toronto, reviews Why Darwin Matters: The Case Against Intelligent Design by Michael Shermer; and Robert J. Richards, Morris Fishbein Professor of the History of Science and Medicine at the University of Chicago reviews The Language of God: A Scientist Presents Evidence for Belief by Francis S. Collins.

That's about the order of the favorableness of the reviews, with Ruse having the easiest time and, perhaps understandably, Collins being the most roughed up. My favorite part is this account of Ruse's explanation of the power of "consilience" (literally, "jumping together"):

... an idea elaborated by William Whewell, Darwin's favorite philosopher of science. Ruse, following Darwin, agrees with Whewell that the best test of a theory is its ability to unify disparate information within a coherent explanatory framework. Most theories can more or less plausibly account for any single class of evidence. In pure isolation,an evolutionary explanation of the fossil record is not absolutely superior to a creationist one—a situation that, as Ruse notes ruefully, wily creationists like Duane Gish exploit to devious effect. But evolutionary paleontology "jumps together" beautifully with evolutionary explanations of biogeography, morphology, genetics and the like; creationist paleontology wretchedly flies apart from creationist accounts of such collateral phenomena. Evolution, and evolution alone, succeeds in binding together the dizzyingly complex phenomena of life within a common theoretical structure while simultaneously providing scientists with the conceptual tools to expand the boundaries of empirical knowledge. Allow miraculous explanations into science, and creationism's abject failure to offer any adequate consilience would still mark it as an intellectual dead end.
Worth reading all.

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