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Darwin and Design: Does Evolution Have a Purpose? Hardcover – May 27, 2003

3.7 out of 5 stars 12 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews


Ruse examines the concept of 'design' in nature, explaining why it still remains a strong influence despite the scientific revolution, and historically, how it dominated Western thought from ancient Greece (Plato) to the advent and predominance of Christianity...A rich and compelling book. (J. S. Schwartz Choice 2003-11-01)

Anyone who is interested in the 'science wars' controversy or the history of evolutionary thought will find this book fascinating and rewarding. The prose is masterfill--relaxed, colloquial, rich in information, and suffused with flashes of malicious wit and delicious historical tidbits. (Matt Cartmill Reports of the National Center for Science Education)

To anyone interested in the evolution of evolution, I recommend this book. (John Tyler Bonner Natural History)

This has to be the best of Ruse's many books, and it is hard to imagine how a better one could be written on this subject. With an understanding erudition spiced with good-natured wit and occasional sly ribaldry, Ruse moves easily and assuredly among biology, philosophy, history, and theology. (Robert T. Pennock Science 2003-08-22)

Michael Ruse's latest book, Darwin and Design, is an intellectual history of the design argument and its Darwinian solution...His story is a fascinating one, enlivened especially by his accounts of various imaginative attempts before Darwin to solve the design problem without recourse to a deity. (Daniel W. McShea American Scientist 2003-11-01)

About the Author

Michael Ruse is Lucyle T. Werkmeister Professor of Philosophy and Director of the Program in the History and Philosophy of Science, Florida State University. He is the founder and editor of the journal Biology and Philosophy, and has appeared on “Quirks and Quarks” and the Discovery Channel.

Product Details

  • Hardcover: 384 pages
  • Publisher: Harvard University Press (May 27, 2003)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 067401023X
  • ISBN-13: 978-0674010239
  • Product Dimensions: 9.2 x 6.4 x 1.3 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.5 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 3.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (12 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #2,914,828 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By Stephen A. Haines HALL OF FAME on November 2, 2003
Format: Hardcover
Darwin's great insight was the discovery that Nature isn't operating to a plan. For over two millennia, Western European thinkers, whether secular or religious, had contended otherwise. Nature, they claimed, whether divinely guided or not, exhibited the effect of instituted, unwavering patterns - the result of "design". Eyes, hands, the arrangement of flower petals were too complex to have occurred by chance, it was thought. Christian monotheists enshrined this view within religious dogma. Darwin's revolutionary Idea challenged that concept at its roots, thus toppling all established opinion. The Idea, refuting theologians and philosophers alike, became Dangerous. As Ruse points out, the traditional argument is still being used to contest Darwin's great insight into the driving force of life.
In this superbly conceived and crafted survey of the traditions and their overthrow, Ruse again proves his worth both as a scholar and a writer. From Plato through Kant, from Descartes to Darwin, we are provided a tour of how humans have viewed Nature over many centuries. The examples are endless - the eye, the hand, the awesome variety of flowering plants all seem to exhibit something behind their structure. Ruse examines the result of "new" science challenging old dogmas during the Enlightenment. He shows how the reconciliation of evidence with faith became known as "natural theology". In other words, nature's wonders were evidence of the god's plan. Ruse follows the course of the reasoning of the adherents of "nature by design" up to the present. The opening chapters of this book are presented so skillfully it seems he is endorsing the traditional view. Nothing could be more mistaken.
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Format: Hardcover
Another interesting and well written book by Michael Ruse. In this book, Ruse explores the nature and role of teleological thinking about the natural world in the development of evolutionary theory. As well, he investigates the status of teleological thinking related to the natural world in relation to theology. In a shorthand way, this is concise history and commentary on the famous argument from design, one of the classis 'proofs' of the existence of a beneficient deity. Ruse decomposes the argument from design into 2 components, the argument to complexity and the argument to design. The former is a conclusion that aspects of the biological world have elements of goal directed function, analogous to conscious design. The latter argument is then that the existence of purposeful complexity is evidence for a deity.
Ruse provides a nice, concise history of different aspects of these arguments, starting with Plato and Aristotle, and moving through major Christian theologians. He then moves into the major skeptical assaults on the argument from design using Hume as the paradigmatic thinker, and the responses of a variety of thinkers, including the English theologian Paley and Kant.
Ruse provides a nice analysis of how concerns with the argument to complexity and the complete argument from design informed and inspired the search for greater understanding of the living world. This culminates, somewhat ironically, in Darwin and Wallace's discovery of the ideas of evolution and selective forces driving evolution. Not surprisingly, given Ruse's stature as an excellent historian of biology, he provides a really nice concise history of the development of Darwin's ideas and carries the story of the ups and downs of the importance of selectionist ideas into the 20th century.
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Format: Hardcover
This is a well written book, and it has plenty of fascinating material. Ruse begins with a discussion of what "purpose" is. That means understanding that causes precede effects. And it means understanding that objects can have purposes: a watch can have a purpose, namely to tell time. A bread knife can have a purpose, namely to cut bread. And so on.

But what is the purpose of, um, the planet Jupiter? Or of Niagara Falls? We soon see that inanimate objects can be purposeless. And when we look at animate objects, such as eyes or entire creatures, we see that these can fail to have any overall purpose in a Darwinian world.

Ruse then gets to the issue of complexity. Does apparent complexity of some entities show that they have purposes? No. And he shows how Hume argued that apparent complexity in the world may be deceptive.

I wish that Ruse had spent some time on the following argument against design: who designed god? If god didn't need to be designed, why did the observed universe need to be designed? If god needed a designer, was that designer bigger, tougher, and more complex than god or weaker and simpler? And who designed the designer that designed god? But Ruse spares us what I think is actually a good set of questions here.

Ruse then discusses Darwinian evolution and adaptation. And we see some interesting examples. There's a fine discussion of male-to-female ratios at birth and the connection to survival and reproduction. "High ranking" females of some species have more male offspring (consistent with the idea that such offspring will do well in competing for mates) while "low ranking" females have more female offspring (consistent with the idea that almost all females will reproduce).
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