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God, the Devil, and Darwin: A Critique of Intelligent Design Theory

3.5 out of 5 stars 29 customer reviews
ISBN-13: 978-0195161991
ISBN-10: 0195161998
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Editorial Reviews

From Booklist

University professor Shanks is an impassioned defender of evolution. He is animated by the progress he believes evolution's critics are making in injecting creationism into American society, particularly into schools. His opponents' recent books, rarely reviewed in the press, provide Shanks' sounding board here, especially titles by Phillip E. Johnson, Michael Behe, and William Dembski. Collectively, they are the leading lights of the so-called intelligent-design theory, which front-rank Darwinist Richard Dawkins, in the foreword, indicts as "pernicious nonsense which needs to be neutralized before irreparable damage is done to American education." Although Dawkins may be crediting intelligent-design advocates with undue influence, Shanks zealously prosecutes the case against them. He focuses on their main precepts, such as claims that biochemistry possesses an "irreducible complexity" and, therefore, a nonmaterial component, or that thermodynamics refutes evolution. For communities with curriculum concerns about creationism versus evolution. Gilbert Taylor
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved


"A cogent and well-argued alarum.... Shanks deftly skewers the scientific pretensions of intelligent design creationists."--Science


Product Details

  • Hardcover: 296 pages
  • Publisher: Oxford University Press (January 8, 2004)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0195161998
  • ISBN-13: 978-0195161991
  • Product Dimensions: 8.3 x 1.1 x 5.8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 15.5 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 3.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (29 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,712,254 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Hardcover
After introducing his book by situating intelligent design theory in the context of resurgent religious fundamentalism, Shanks discusses traditional design arguments for the existence of God and early critical reactions (e.g., those of Hume and Kant) to them. This discussion provides background for the rest of the book.
In chapter 2 Shanks examines Darwin's response to the traditional biological version of the argument from design, as well as his views of religion. Shanks also presents key developments in evolutionary biology since Darwin, including the impact of genetics and recent research bringing together issues in evolution with issues in developmental biology.
In chapter 3 Shanks attends to the Second Law of Thermodynamics. He contends that errors about the meaning of the Second Law pervade creationist writings. He also argues that non-equilibrium thermodynamics has revealed how natural mechanisms can result in self-organization, by which physical systems organize themselves into complex, highly ordered states. Thus, Shanks contends, in addition to evolutionary mechanisms studied by biologists, there are other natural sources of ordered complexity working in the universe.
Supernatural science is the subject of chapter 4. Shanks emphasizes that, typically, scientists do not reject the possibility of supernatural causation; they do not presently take it seriously because of a lack of convincing evidence. To sharpen the issues here, Shanks examines some recent attempts to introduce supernatural causes into medicine, namely, with respect to the efficacy of prayer as effective therapy. He points out that such studies are relevant because they are serious attempts to gather evidence in favor of supernatural causation.
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Format: Hardcover
Professor Shanks has done somebody a real service here in painstakingly demonstrating the utter intellectual poverty of so-called "intelligent design theory." Just who that person is I don't know. Perhaps it's a US congressman. Most people I know either haven't a clue about the subject, or are rationalists and are well aware that the intelligent design argument is scientifically vacuous and actually a religious power play, or they are religious true believers themselves and uncritically accept the notion that the universe was designed by a supernatural being whom they call God.

In other words, all the close and detailed analysis done by Shanks in this book--and trust me, he really addresses the question in the most thorough way--isn't about to persuade anybody one way or the other. Most people won't--and could not even if they tried--read it. It is entirely too finely meshed in technical detail about matters of no particular interest to them: cosmology, quantum mechanics, probability theory, biochemistry, thermodynamics, etc. Yet the book had to be written just for the record, one might say. All the pseudoscience served up by the creationists and the intelligent designers needed to be answered thoroughly, and Shanks has done that in a most impressive manner.

Shanks takes the intelligent designers seriously and presents their arguments, and then, piece by piece, refutes them. Frankly, I believe he gives them more attention than they deserve. After all, how seriously can one take a man (leading intelligent design theorist, William Dembski, for example) who writes: "My thesis is that all disciplines find their completion in Christ and cannot be properly understood apart from Christ" (quoted on page 157)? I mean, isn't it enough to just quote such a person?
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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
First, the good. Shanks does an effective job of accurately summarizing the scientific the arguments supporting evolution by natural selection. He does this in ways that are mostly accessible to readers whether they have a background in sciences (biology, chemistry, or physics) or not. Likewise, the reader can see the weaknesses of ID as so much arm-waving. He does this by grounding his arguments in the scientific method of hypothesis testing, so that there can be no (real, substantial) argument that scientists are rejecting ID out-of-hand because they don't like it. The new ingredient to Shanks' book is the philosophical grounding of his arguments. He argues that arguments for ID are based on the metaphors we use to understand abstract ideas like the development of organisms and other complex systems, and makes an effective case that the "life as a machine" metaphor obstructs our understanding of, and critical thinking about, how life could evolve.
Now for the not-so-good. It seems that any good argument should define what it is arguing for and against. Shanks never tells us as much, unless one consults the glossary (to which the text does not refer). This could potentially weaken further arguments through the very mis-interpretation he spends much of the book lamenting. (So for example, biological evolution is change in allele frequencies of a population over time.) It's also clear that Shanks is well-versed in the philosophical foundations of the anti-science of IDers, but his descriptions and explanations are muddled in a way that suggests he has not spent enough time (or had a good enough editor) reviewing how the common person knows what she knows.
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