Friday, March 09, 2007

Book Review: Doubts About Darwin

Doubts about Darwin: A History of Intelligent DesignEvolutionary theory has come under attack, in recent years, by proponents of the Intelligent Design (ID) movement. Thomas Woodward’s book, Doubts About Darwin: A History of Intelligent Design, is a brilliant history of the Intelligent Design movement.
Woodward takes a rhetorical approach in describing the rise and success of ID. The Greek philosopher, Aristotle, divided rhetoric into three categories: logos, ethos, and pathos. Logos refers to the logic of an argument. Ethos is concerned with the credibility of an argument. And pathos relates to the emotional and psychological aspects of persuasion.

In Doubts About Darwin, Woodward looks at the ID movement and evolution within the framework of these three aspects of rhetoric. He shows how evolution is suffering from the burden of inadequate evidence in support of macro-evolution (the evolution of different species) - many of these criticisms coming from atheist or agnostic evolutionary scientists themselves. Proponents of ID, who argue for the possibility of design in nature on the basis of empirical evidence alone, are, according to Woodward, gradually eroding confidence in the alleged factual truth of macro-evolution.

Woodward also describes the high level of credibility of ID proponents such as Phillip Johnson, Michael Behe, and William Dembski. Highly respected scientists who have no religious axe to grind have positively evaluated the writings of the major ID theorists and Woodward tells the story of the increasing credibility of these scholars and how some of the assertions of committed evolutionists are highly questionable when making claims about macro-evolution.

Finally, Woodward charts the highly emotive and biased rhetoric of some highly prominent evolutionists who seem to want to obstruct open inquiry and criticism of evolutionary theory.

I thought I knew quite a bit about the Intelligent Design movement. But until I read this book I didn’t realise how much misrepresentation, distortion, and biased rhetoric has been constructed against the scholars of ID. For example, Woodward’s history makes it clear that ID is not part of scientific creationism that is wedded to a literalist reading of Genesis and a young earth. These are genuine scholars, expert in their respective fields, some of whom are not theists, who are raising serious issues that demonstrate the cracks in the foundation of evolutionary theory. Many of them do not even reject evolutionary theory per se. They are, however, trying to honestly account for the actual empirical evidence and where its examination leads.

Woodward is transparent regarding his own perspective and, despite the fact that he comes from a position favourable toward ID, his history has the distinct mark of objectivity, providing compelling evidence from the writings on both sides of the debate and personal knowledge of important conferences and meetings.

Doubts About Darwin is a gripping tale and Woodward surveys all the major players in the drama along with the arguments on both sides of the debate. A must read for anyone interested in evolution and Intelligent Design.

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