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Darwinism and its Discontents [Paperback]

Michael Ruse
4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (15 customer reviews)

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Book Description

April 21, 2008 052172824X 978-0521728249 1
This book presents an ardent defense of Charles Darwin's theory of evolution against its many critics by one of the leading experts on this subject. Offering a clear and comprehensive exposition of the thinking of Darwin, Michael Ruse brings the story up to day, examining important issues such as the origins of life, the fossil record, the mechanism of natural selection, and rival theories such as punctuated equilibrium, the story of human evolution (including the recently found "hobbits," Homo floresiensis), fraud in biological science, literary approaches to evolution, and the philosophical and religious implications of Darwinism, notably a discussion of Creationism and its modern day offshoot, Intelligent Design Theory. Ruse draws upon the most recent discoveries, but writes with a minimum of jargon. His book will appeal to many readers, from professional biologists to concerned citizens who worry that Darwinism is a naturalistic religion that is forced on school children in face of their own deeply held Christian convictions. Openly revealing his own beliefs, Ruse 's aim throughout is to present information and critical tools so that the reader can make informed decisions for him or herself.

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Ruse, a well-known evolutionary historian and philosopher, defends Darwin from all comers, whether religious critics; those who, like Gertrude Himmelfarb, have accused Darwin of being a second-rate scientist; or postmodernist critics who say science is a social construction and not objective truth. Ruse (Can a Darwinian Be a Christian?) expounds on why he accepts evolution as fact. Though he doesn't buy the argument that all science is merely a social construct, he acknowledges that Darwinism holds a mirror up to the times and reflects contemporary thinking, and he looks at the forms Darwinism has taken in philosophy, literature and popular culture. Some readers may think that Ruse, who freely and frequently admits that he isn't a Christian, doesn't quite provide a level playing field on which to confront some of his intellectual opponents, in particular the Christian philosopher Alvin Plantinga and the atheist scientist Richard Dawkins. Still, Ruse's agnosticism keeps him from being doctrinaire ("Perhaps there is a God on the other side... I do not know"). Some readers will struggle with Ruse's occasional philosophic density. Nevertheless, this should interest fans of the philosophy of science and readers caught up in the contemporary debate about evolution. (Aug.)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.


"Anyone who wants to understand evolutionary theory and the fascinating issues that surround it, can find no better place than Michael Ruse's Darwinism and Its Discontents. He discusses the objections raised to evolutionary theory down through the most legitimate to those that are anything but legitimate. His discussions are fair, measured and informed. High school students, undergraduates and the public at large would find this book worth reading."
-David Hull, Northwestern University

"Of all the literally hundreds of books out there that claim to have the true, right or only line on Darwin, Ruse has the beating of them all. He shows the wonder in both the natural world and Darwin's efforts to understand it."
-Allan C. Hutchinson, Toronto Globe and Mail

"Darwinism and Its Discontents is vintage Ruse: clear, incisive, focused on fundamental and controversial topics, written with verve. Michael Ruse is a philosopher, comfortably at home with the biology, and sensitive to the religious controversies."
-Fancisco J. Ayala, University of California, Irvine

"Ruse is unique in his combined knowledge of evolutionary principles, history of science, philosophy, and theology, and he brings them all to bear with clarity and effect in evaluating the present-day status of evolutionary thought."
-Edward O. Wilson, Harvard University

"The enemies of a thorough-going Darwinism are many: fundamentalists who think it a damnable doctrine; social-constructionists who would drain away its blood; and even some evolutionary biologists who balk at taking the last step. Over the years, Michael Ruse has engaged them all with scholarship, intelligence, and wit--his most potent weapon. Now in a more synthetic mode, Darwinism and Its Discontents brilliantly marshals these instruments to disarm the recalcitrant and convince the fair minded. The book displays a humane thinker who yet flexes muscle and moxie."
-Robert J. Richards, University of Chicago

"Ruse, a well-known evolutionary historian and philosopher, defends Darwin from all comers, whether religious critics; those who have accused Darwin of being a second-rate scientist; or postmodernist critics who say science is a social construction and not objective truth...this should interest fans of the philosophy of science and readers caught up in the contemporary debate about evolution."
-Publishers Weekly

"Darwinism and Its Discontents is Ruse's most comprehensive look at Darwinism to date...He negotiates the terrains of history, philosophy, and theology well enough to offer cogent versions of the central issues and their multiple sides...For an introduction to the mainstream Darwinian view and its wider context, one might not find a better entrée than Ruse's account."
-Horace L. Fairlamb, University of Houston-Victoria, symploke

"Ruse is a skilled writer able to present the most intricate details of evolutionary theory in an understandable way. He is more than well-informed...this book offers a good selection and a relatively fair picture of standard criticisms of Darwinism...It should be read by anyone wishing to be introduced to or reminded of the 'state of the art' of the 'Darwin wars'. --Tomislav Bracanovic, University of Zagreb: Philosophy in Review

Product Details

  • Paperback: 326 pages
  • Publisher: Cambridge University Press; 1 edition (April 21, 2008)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 052172824X
  • ISBN-13: 978-0521728249
  • Product Dimensions: 9.1 x 5.9 x 0.8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 14.4 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (15 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,557,090 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews
30 of 31 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Good, Balanced Defense of Evolution from Critics. October 1, 2006
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
At a time when Richard Dawkins and Sam Harris are releasing books that are very anti-theistic in nature, a book like "Darwinism and It's Discontents" is timely, indeed. It's point is to offer a staunch defense of evolution and evolutionary theory (in the process, doubting that creationist theories hold any water), but at the same time, doing so in a way that does not NECESSARILY equate (as Dawkins does) evolution with atheism. In other words, this is truly a book defending evolution AS evoluiton, rather than getting into the ancillary (so Ruse thinks) theological debate.

And defend evolution he does - using very jargon-free and clear arguments and evidence. Each chapter addresses a particular "beef" that some have with evolution - is evolution really a scientifica theory?; Is it proven by the physical evidence?; Could it have produced life from non-life (abiogenesis)?; What, if anything, are the moral implications of evolution?

All of these, and more, are very well explored. Now that I have trotted out the questions, let me give a preview to the answers found in the book (though you will still have to read it to get Ruse's arguments for them):

Is evolution a scientific theory? Yes; while it started out more as a philosophic speculation, it has since become a very testable (verifiable and falsifiable) theory that can also be considered, in a sense, fact.

Has physical evidence shown evolution to be true? We all know that on a micro level, hardly anyone would deny this. But, says Ruse, we also have evidence of transitional forms, archeological evidence that fits perfectly into the evolutionary paradigm, and strong evidence as to how evolution physically works.

Can evolution produce life from non-life?
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15 of 15 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Know Evolution by the Opponents It Keeps October 18, 2006
Everyone knows that there are religious objections to Charles Darwin's ideas about evolution. Those who make them are the loudest of objectors to natural selection these days, but there have, in fact, been other sorts of objections, from philosophers, from students of social studies, from literary authors, and even some from biologists and those within the community of evolutionary studies. None have made much of a dent in the overall understanding of evolution, according to _Darwinism and Its Discontents_ (Cambridge University Press) by Michael Ruse, an authority on the history and philosophy of Darwinian evolutionary theory. It has not mattered much that the theory has spawned many objections; Ruse starts his book by quoting Daniel C. Dennett, who says that Darwin would get his award for the single best idea that anyone has ever had, and Ruse agrees. Nonetheless, this is a brisk if academic examination of who has been making the objections and why. Since evolution has yet to fall, and is still the cornerstone of biological understanding, learning what its detractors think can only increase our admiration for its power.

Darwin, after _The Origin of Species_, wrote specifically about the descent of humans, turning to sexual selection as well as natural selection. His fellow discoverer of evolution, Alfred Russel Wallace, insisted that many human features, including our big brains, could not have come from natural means, but Darwin was sure that humans were part of nature's processes. People accepted evolution overwhelmingly, but they rejected Darwin's explanation of evolution by natural selection, finding that some force beyond simple adaptation (whether natural or divine) was necessary.
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19 of 20 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Adjudicating points of contention March 1, 2007
In a previous book, Can a Darwinian Be a Christian? (2001), Michael Ruse reconciled the ways of Christianity to the fact of evolution. He did so by allowing for a largely symbolic reading of the Bible and by defining Christianity as a system of belief about matters beyond the reach of Darwinism, such as our having souls and being made in the image of God and being given heavenly or hellish eternal life in realms not subject to biological evolution.

Here Ruse adjudicates various disputes between Darwinism and its critics and among Darwinians themselves on such matters as natural selection (especially this), punctuated equilibrium, group selection, drift, reductionism, etc. Unfortunately I don't think he adds much that is new to the discussion, and his torturously "correct" navigation between believers and non-believers left this reader annoyed. Spill the beans! For example, state it clearly: Christianity that relies on a literal interpretation of the Bible is incompatible with Darwinism. Period. Add: Those who appreciate the fact of biological evolution cannot accept that man was made in a Christian God's image or that a personal God is, and has been, shaping events on this planet.

Ruse writes from the point of view of a historian of evolutionary science and as someone sympathetic with what I might call progressive Christianity, a Christianity that knows that the world was not made in six days and that the earth has been around for a few billion years and that God does not have a belly button or even an alimentary canal or a need for either. Ruse is an expert on Darwinism and its contemptuous history and he understands the major issues very well.
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Most Recent Customer Reviews
Michael Ruse (born 1940) is a philosopher of science who teaches at Florida State University, and has written/edited books such as Debating Design: From Darwin to DNA, But Is It... Read more
Published 14 months ago by Steven H. Propp
5.0 out of 5 stars Well Done
I have read a lot of books about Darwin from many perspectives. This is one of the best, most well-written, clear, concise, and informed of all the choices out there. Read more
Published on January 9, 2012 by D. Shank
2.0 out of 5 stars Doesn't make a very good case
I will admit I haven't finished this yet but I'm not very impressed with the argument.
The author expects to use 'theoretical skeletons' as a basis for factual findings. Read more
Published on November 22, 2010 by Bonnerauthor
5.0 out of 5 stars Darwinism -- For laity and scholar alike
There is much to be learned from this book. It is extremely well annotated. Michael Ruse quotes others liberally, giving credit where credit is due. Read more
Published on February 4, 2009 by H. Rosenberg
3.0 out of 5 stars interesting survey
The book is a survey of people in various walks of life who object to Darwinism. It is interesting overall and brings up a lot of topics. Read more
Published on March 9, 2008 by Walter G. Kjellander
5.0 out of 5 stars Quite A Substantive Introduction to Darwinism and its Impact
I found this to be quite a useful discussion of Darwin which gets much more into the underlying scientific and philosophical dimensions than do other introductory books. Read more
Published on April 18, 2007 by Ronald H. Clark
5.0 out of 5 stars Truth Over Ideology
What a satisfying book! For a while it seemed that we were stuck with two extremes: (1) Creationist/ID efforts to discredit Evolution or (2) rabid scientists (like Dawkins &... Read more
Published on March 4, 2007 by Avid Reader
3.0 out of 5 stars Postdarwinism and its discontents
It has been a vintage year for Darwin books, the second for Mr. Ruse. The more there are, the less they seem to convince. Read more
Published on January 21, 2007 by John C. Landon
5.0 out of 5 stars It Won't Convince Those Who Simply Refuse to Consider
The current issue of Newsweek magazine ways that about have of the people in the United States believes that the universe is 6000 years old. Read more
Published on November 13, 2006 by John Matlock
5.0 out of 5 stars Excelente libro de divulgaciòn
Excelente trabajo de Ruse en el cual explica como el la teoria de la evoluciòn deja sentado que es un hecho comprobado.
Published on November 3, 2006 by Julio Riveron
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