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Evolution and Belief: Confessions of a Religious Paleontologist 1st Edition

3.2 out of 5 stars 5 customer reviews
ISBN-13: 978-0521193832
ISBN-10: 0521193834
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Editorial Reviews


"Evolution and Belief is a great read. There is a lot of serious science, there is sensible thinking about religion, and above all there is a humility before the big questions that comes from strength of intellect and purpose. I recommend it strongly."
Michael Ruse, Florida State University, author of The Philosophy of Human Evolution and Science and Spirituality: Making Room for Faith in the Age of Science

"Rob Asher writes as a scientist who is also religious, as a great many are. His brief in this book is to show other believers how science is done and how real religious faith should not see it as a threat. The main thing, though, is that this is a really good book on evolution, particularly the evolution of mammals, with many wonderful insights that will be new to readers."
Kevin Padian, Museum of Paleontology, University of California, Berkeley

"Written from a theistic perspective, Asher's account is a richly detailed and authoritative source book on the evolution of mammals. He carefully distinguishes between cause and agent, explaining that evolutionary theory treats the "how" but appropriately leaves the question of "why" to the philosophers and theologians."
Owen Gingerich, Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics, author of God's Universe

"Robert Asher's Evolution and Belief offers a sure-footed, faith-friendly, and articulate presentation of the evidence for evolution as good as any in print. Asher, a respected paleontologist and religious believer, writes as an insider from both perspectives. He charts a most helpful course between his atheistic colleagues who wrongly suppose that evolution rules out a Creator, and his fellow believers attracted to the uninformed pseudo-science of the Intelligent Design movement. Along the way he provides an up-to-date primer of the current state of evolutionary theorizing sprinkled with tactful demolitions of the standard arguments against Darwin's Theory. I highly recommend Evolution and Belief as a balanced and most helpful contribution to this important conversation."
Karl Giberson, author of The Anointed: Evangelical Truth in a Secular Age

"This excellent book may not convince the creationists, nor in a different respect will it convince Dawkins. But the message is, surely, that an evolutionary biologist does not have to be a militant atheist. Asher is a good scientist and writer, and a religious man. I only wish I had space to discuss further dimensions of his book here. So, I recommend that you read it instead."
Euan N.K. Clarkson, Times Higher Education

"Asher does a fine job supporting evolution, particularly the Darwinian idea of natural selection ... Recommended."
L. T. Spencer Choice

"... the author's thorough command of fossil and genetic evidence is the most impressive strength of the book."
John R. Schneider, The Quarterly Review of Biology

"One of life's joys is that of finding things out and discovering their marvelous order. Darwin experienced a full measure of this joy. Asher effectively communicates the joy of seeing how much of biology makes sense in the light of evolution."
Evolution: Education and Outreach

Book Description

Addressing key questions at the intersection of religion and science, this book summarizes some of the latest, compelling evidence that Darwinian natural selection explains how biodiversity has evolved. Asher draws on his own experiences as both paleontologist and religious believer, arguing that modern science does not rule out religious belief.

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 324 pages
  • Publisher: Cambridge University Press; 1 edition (March 26, 2012)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0521193834
  • ISBN-13: 978-0521193832
  • Product Dimensions: 6 x 1.1 x 9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.5 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (5 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #602,586 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Hardcover
The author insists that a natural cause does not eliminate God as the First Cause, because both causes can co-exist. For example, one can understand the function of a light bulb with or without believing in the existence of inventor Thomas Edison. At the same time, he discounts any teleological explanations for living things because of such things as pseudogenes.

Asher's strength is his ability to describe evolutionary processes in lucid detail. He also surveys the fossil record, focusing on mammal-like reptiles, whales, DNA-based phylogenies, origins of biological novelty in evolution, and more. EVOLUTION AND BELIEF can serve as an excellent textbook in a college biology class.

The book is supported by many footnotes from an extensive bibliography of up-to-date works.
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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
You know you're in for a workout when there are 21 end notes in the Prologue. However, Asher's book is basically layman-friendly, except for his habit of introducing new terms without defining them.

Asher's purpose in writing this book is to make two points: (1) "that evolution is true as a mechanism that explains how living things on our planet have been derived from similar living things that came before them," and (2) "that understanding how evolution works does not address the potential `who' and `why' behind it." His book succeeds in making both points, emphasizing that "evolutionary biology is about explaining natural cause, not divine agency."

For the most part, his book is a well-written survey of current research in mammalian evolution, including, for instance, a six-page table of 137 "fossil animals known to mix anatomical features present in living groups, along with citations documenting current ideas on their place in the vertebrate Tree of Life," in order to counter the common creationist claim that transitional sequences are rare at best.

Asher also includes a three-page table listing 38 peer-reviewed, scientific publications from 2009-2010 "of cases in which genetic and phenotypic `novel information' is shown to be linked to natural processes," in order to counter the common creationist claim that evolutionary biology cannot account for novel information. He also has a detailed discussion of an example of misrepresentation of the scientific literature in the anti-evolution biology textbook "Explore Evolution."

Asher points out that the young-earth creationist pronouncement, "I don't believe in evolution because God did it" is just as wrong as the atheist pronouncement, "I don't believe in God because evolution did it.
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Format: Hardcover
By now we have seen many books, aimed at a popular audience, explaining how the facts support the idea that all life on earth evolved from a common ancestor, and how the mechanism for evolution is almost certainly natural selection.The peak time for such books was about seven years ago. I could speculate that was because, during the George W. Bush administration, religious conservatism was also at a peak, and popular science writers felt they needed to fight back against a "War on Science." Or it could be a complete coincidence.

I admire how well the authors of these books present reams of very complicated evidence, from disparate fields of study, in a clear way. Some of this evidence was cited by Darwin himself 150 years ago. Some evidence is new, based on molecular biology and other fields of study Darwin never dreamed of.

Apart from presenting the facts, any given author may push a particular philosophical "frame." One particular sub-type of those books, particularly those by Richard Dawkins, argues that the Theory of Natural Selection allows one to be an intellectually-fulfilled atheist. Therefore, to take this another step, it almost requires one to become an atheist. I have some sympathy for this viewpoint, but it can be taken too far, especially if one considers it a license for the author to tell people in the target audience how foolish and irrational their beliefs are. This probably works against author's purpose of reaching the audience and perhaps changing their mind.

Another particular sub-type of those books are those that argue that:
Evolution is obviously "true".
Believing in evolution and having a belief in a personal god are not contradictory.
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Format: Hardcover
It should be old news by now that there are good reasons to believe that science and religion are complementary, not contradictory. But I guess there are plenty of ultraconservative Christians out there who haven’t heard the good news yet, so maybe this book will help in that regard.

Asher’s bottom line is that science generally focuses on “how” questions, while religion generally focuses on “why” questions, and therefore evolutionary theory neither confirms nor denies the existence of a deity. This is hardly a new idea. Richard Dawkins has been saying pretty much the same thing for decades. Why so many Christians seem to have such a hard time understanding that is a real mystery.

In addition to Asher’s philosophical arguments, he also describes some of the scientific evidence for evolution. Asher’s evidence is plentiful, skillfully presented, and well worth reading, though I think there are a couple of bloopers. He sometimes seems to conflate evidence for common descent with evidence for natural selection, and his discussion of punctuated equilibrium makes it appear that it is a problem for Darwinian gradualism, when in reality Darwin himself repeatedly stated that his view was that evolution did not always proceed at the same tempo. Indeed, Darwin's own words in describing evolution are a pretty good description of what we now call “punctuated equilibrium.”

Despite the occasional blooper, however, the wealth of detail still makes it well worth reading.
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