June 8, 2007

Skybreak, Ardea. The science of evolution and the myth of creationism: Knowing what's real and why it matters. Chicago: Insight, 2006. 338pp.

The whole raison d'etre of this book is to counter creationists' arguments against evolution. Nothing less than completely uncompromising and hard-hitting, this is a great book. It dissects all the worthless creationist arguments one by one, first presenting their point of view and demolishing it with solid scientific argument. Make no mistake, this book strongly advocates a point of view; it sets out a position and defends it. It identifies positions that it disagrees with and challenges them.

Based on a series of essays in the radical left wing magazine Revolutionary Worker, this is certainly a polemic but it thankfully avoids the highly polarizing post-modern rhetoric of many leftist critiques of science and instead clearly distinguishes the human practice of scientific research and development and the pursuit for how nature really works. She clearly spells out her position than on page 52 when she says, "All ideas are not equally true: some ideas much more closely correspond to the way things really are than other ideas." And how about, "The challenge we face is not so much to ascertain that material reality exists, but to figure out, and consistently apply, methods of scientific investigation which can best minimize our subjective distortions, and systematically uncover what's actually real." (p. 278)

Some of the things I liked about this book? It might be strident and determined, but it's definitely not dry and humourless. Take a look at page 210, where she talks about a "supposedly highly educated Supreme Court Justice, who presumably went to both college and law school, unquestioningly repeating something that is so patently false that it would cause a high school student to totally flunk a basic biology test" or on page 234, "Many creationists like to claim evolution can't be tru because it would violate the Second Law of Thermodynamics: Wow, are you impressed yet? This sure sounds scientific doesn't it? Only one problem: they don't know what the hell they're talking about!"

I also like that it engage creationist nonsense on virtually every page. There are a plethora of extensive, fantastic side bars on topics like "What does the science of evolution tell us about human 'races?'" and "Social Darwinism is not based on science and has nothing to do with Darwinism" and "Are humans still evolving?" In other words, the material is presented so you can quickly find a chapter or side bar to support most any point in a discussion with a creationist. The chapters are organized so that Chapter 1 provides an overview, Chapters 2 and 3 general principles, Chapters 4 and 5 on speciation, Chapter 6 on proven evidence for evolution, Chapter 7 on the evolution of humans and Chapter 8 the capstone chapter, 120 pages demolishing very specific creationist theories and positions, along with a handy taxonomy of creationists. The table of contents is extensive and detailed, making it very easy to find the information you need very quickly, as is the index.

This is a lively, entertaining and even important book. I would highly recommend it for all academic collections: college, university and even high school and middle school. Anyone that passionately cares about science and rationality could do worse than have such a book in their personal collections as well. It could come in handy during arguments at contentious dinner parties or family gatherings, for example.

(Book supplied by publisher.)

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