Wednesday, July 23, 2008


Booking a Table

Michael Ruse is making me hungry.

RedOrbit has Ruse's review, originally appearing in American Scientist, of three books on the philosophy of science that are making my mouth water.

On top of my menu is Evidence and Evolution: The Logic Behind the Science by Elliott Sober. Noting Sober's interest in "more traditional philosophical issues, such as epistemology and ethics," my own area of interest, Ruse says:

... his latest work, Evidence and Evolution: The Logic Behind the Science, shows why he commands our attention. He is interested in the question of evidence for theories, and he shows through a careful analysis of statistical thinking (particularly Bayesian thinking) how one can make informed decisions about claims made in biology.

Of particular interest is Sober's critique of "intelligent design" theory. He brings new ideas to the subject, particularly through the application of probability theory, so that one reads and learns things of value quite apart from the critique as such.
Even better, Ruse indicates there is red meat on a savory bone worth gnawing:

Many (Dawkins, for instance) argue that the design-like nature of the world-the hand and the eye-calls out for an explanation, and Dawkins maintains that before Darwin it was impossible to be an intellectually fulfilled atheist.

... To this day, there is no more withering polemic than that of David Hume, who argues in his Dialogues Concerning Natural Religion that, if there is a God, given the pains of gout, the deity must be a pretty unpleasant chap. However, against Sober and with Dawkins, I am not convinced that Hume shows that there is nothing at all-or rather, Nothing at All. (Hume himself rather admits this at the end of the dialogues.) For my money, no natural selection, then no atheism. But I agree with Sober against Dawkins that, given natural selection, one does not at once plunge into atheism.
The other books reviewed, looking every bit as appetizing, are Re-Engineering Philosophy for Limited Beings: Piecewise Approximations to Reality by William C. Wimsatt and Integrating Evolution and Development: From Theory to Practice, edited by philosophers Roger Sansom and Robert N. Brandon, a collection of essays on evo-devo. But I've already ordered Sober's book and look forward to devouring it.

As long as whetting appetites is the order of the day, John Wilkin's book on the history of the concept of species, arising out of his Ph.D. thesis that we in played patient midwife to over its decade-long gestation, is heading down the stretch towards publication. What's more, John has another, on the evolution of religion, in the works. Drool on.

I've read most of Sober's book, and found it a terrific read. Firstly, he does an excellent job of introducing probability theory in non-technical language; secondly, he shows how to use it evaluating hypotheses. His analysis of the design argument is itself worth the cost of admission.
I've weighed in with some more thoughts at Impure Reason.
Thanks for the confirmation of my good taste. ;-)

I'll try to look over your post tonight.
Thanks for the recommendations.
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