242 of 250 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Why Shermer Matters
Every now and then, a student or scientist comes to me and wants to express dislike for the theory of evolution, or to argue in favor of intelligent design. These people are often exceptionally bright, and they've often thought carefully about their positions. I've come to really appreciate their presence in my scientific and academic world, even though I don't agree...
Published on September 6, 2006 by David H. Peterzell PhD PhD
20 of 23 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Darwin does matter, but make this point even more clear!
Mr. Shermer is a lucid writer, and is known for his condemnations of supernatural explanations and the continued beliefs by people in them. This book, while it starts strong seems to back off when the real reason that Darwin matters begins to unfold: that it is not only a theory, but a theory that puts religious explanations such as intelligent design (ID) for the...
Published on June 10, 2007 by John M. Gowan
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242 of 250 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Why Shermer Matters,
Every now and then, a student or scientist comes to me and wants to express dislike for the theory of evolution, or to argue in favor of intelligent design. These people are often exceptionally bright, and they've often thought carefully about their positions. I've come to really appreciate their presence in my scientific and academic world, even though I don't agree with them. I've learned quite a bit from these people about science, spirituality, and life.
And so, because of these people, I really enjoyed this book. The author takes a strong position, and I happen to agree with him, mostly. I didn't learn much that I don't already know because I have studied evolution and I'm already on his side. But I get the sense that I could share this with book with those who don't agree, and have an intelligent discussion about it. I really don't know how this book will fare in the hands of religious people who emphatically dismiss and ridicule Darwin and favor intelligent design, but I appreciate the fact that the author doesn't indulge in insults. He simply teaches the reader about the facts of evolution and the scientific enterprise. "Intelligent Design" simply crumbles away because there's no science to support it. Shermer is attempting to blast unscientific ideas out of your belief system, but more than that, he's painting a flattering picture of the scientific enterprise, and evolutionary theory in particular. If you fall in love with the scientific enterprise, and see that Darwin played by the rules, you'll be in good shape.
Shermer's strategy is interesting. He'll probably never persuade many advocates to abandon their positions on intelligent design. The fundamentalists simply use ID as a vehicle for their entrenched religious beliefs. But if you believe in ID and are a rational scientist at heart, you'll be able put your beliefs under the microscope, while learning facts about evolutionary science.
Much is made about the fact that the author was a born again evangelical Christian who argued against evolution, and then changed his views. The autobiographical content throughout the book is really interesting, and worthy of discussion. My sense is that Shermer does a good job of describing what many fundamentalists believe. He then goes on to explain how he changed his own views, offering his experience to the reader.
Shermer has a background in psychology, and it shows. In places. He thinks a lot about WHY people believe what they do, and he refers various biases and heuristics that define our beliefs. He and the late, great Steven J. Gould wrote a book about these things previously.
Compare WDM to the books that simply preach to the choir, and ridicule the anti-evolutionists. Daniel Dennett, Sam Harris, Richard Dawkins and others blast religion for various reasons. If you get a kick out of people who don't suffer fools easily, then these authors have what you are looking for. Dawkins' newest book, "The God Delusion" will blast away at Intelligent Design. It will probably be another great book by Dawkins. But my guess is that his diatribe will offer nothing to people who are on the fence.
Michael Shermer's "Why Darwin Matters" is a gift to the devotee, skeptic, or scientist who isn't sure about what he believes. Perhaps that is why Shermer matters.
UPDATE, March, 2007: There is a free online video presentation called "Beyond Belief: Science, Religion, Reason and Survival" (Edge: Third Culture). This presentation features Shermer, Richard Dawkins, Sam Harris, and approximatelly 10 other authors/scientists. It is hosted and produced by Roger Bingham (Salk Institute and Science Network). MUST SEE!
108 of 113 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars An Excellent book,
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For several years I have planned to write a book on this topic when I finished my other publishing obligations. However, there is no reason to consider it now -- at least not on the topic of ID versus biological science. Shermer has done such a great job that I shall simply refer it to those who ask me questions realted to evolution, intelligent design, and Darwinian theory in general. It is a small (168 pp plus notes) work, but it covers the major points of evolution VS ID extremely well.
Shermer does not talk down to those who claim to understand evolutionary science, but clearly do not. Rather, he presents the various criticisms that have been made against evolution by ID theorists and answers them in a calm and rational manner.
He also presents the logic behind biological/evolutionary science in a masterful manner, directed to anyone with a high school education or above. He invites the reader to think about the arguments as he presents them, and carefully anticipates the traditional misunderstandings that ID theorists and creationists have ragarding science.
I think where Shermer is at his best is in his discussion of the reasoning process behind ID theory and creationism. As a former creationist himself, he understands their manner of thinking. I have many times wondered at the reasoning process used by those who criticize evolution and science in general. How can it be so easy to overlook the vast evidence in support of evolution and yet so easy to swallow the fabricated objections made up by creationist spokespersons? Shermer's view that places the true creationist objection of evolution outside of science makes good sense. The argument has been made before, as have most if not all arguments made in the book. Shermer's ability though is to express the discussion in a clear, fair, and logical manner.
I highly recommend the book to anyone interesting in the topic.
49 of 49 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A Superb, Quite Insightful, Primer on the so-called "Evolution vs. Intellligent Design Debate",
This review is from: Why Darwin Matters: The Case Against Intelligent Design (Paperback)
In "Why Darwin Matters: The Case Against Intelligent Design" Michael Shermer, publisher of Skeptic magazine, reviews succinctly both the overwhelming evidence in support of contemporary evolutionary theory and the pseudoscientific religious nonsense known as Intelligent Design, and then, discusses "the real, unsolved problems in evolution". Shermer, for example, has ample space to describe briefly Ernst Mayr's theory of allopatric speciation, and its relationship to punctuated equilibrium, the evolutionary paleontological theory developed by American invertebrate paleontologists Niles Eldredge and Stephen Jay Gould. But he also devotes ample space to dissecting Intelligent Design concepts like William Dembski's "Law of Conservation of Information", noting its irrelevance to both current mathematical information theory and the transfer and accretion of information - via DNA - in living biological systems. He offers an elegant overview of the origins and history of the so-called "Evolution vs. Intelligent Design Debate", devoting ample time to the existence of the infamous "Wedge Document" and the trial proceedings of the Kitzmiller vs. Dover trial and, of course, the harsh verdict rendered by Federal Judge John E. Jones III against both Intelligent Design and the Dover Area School District board.
Shermer's terse tome is noteworthy for several reasons. First, he recognizes the necessity for engaging Intelligent Design advocates like Michael Behe and William Dembski, among others, in debates between themselves and knowledgeable critics on behalf of genuine science like Shermer, if only to educate public audiences on the nature of scientific inquiry, the ample facts obtained from genuine scientific research, and the disingenuous lies, half-truths, and omissions promoted zealously by Intelligent Design advocates. Second, he makes a most persuasive case explaining why evolution ought to be accepted by conservatives, as the agent ultimately responsible for the origins of morality in humans, and that "survival of the fittest" could be seen as a biological application of Adam Smith's concept of laissez faire free market economics. Last, but not least, Shermer contends that science should be viewed as being complementary towards spirituality, by engendering a "sense of awe" in viewing, for example, distant galaxies; therefore evolution can and should be seen in this very light. For these reasons, Shermer's terse tome deserves a place on the bookshelves of as wide a readership as possible.
23 of 24 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Creationism by an Other Name,
The last few years have seen the explosion of the fight against evolution in the classroom, in the school board, and in the courts. This time it has been not creationism leading the charge, but rather creationism in a new costume: Intelligent Design. Shermer, a former evangelist and creationist, takes up the challenge posed by these anti-evolutionists. The fight is usually framed as science vs. religion, and the author does try to show that this is not a mutually exclusive fight. Evolution's ascendancy does not mean the death of God, though it is true that some leading evolutionists are also strong atheists (Richard Dawkins). A major problem is that evolution is framed in the scientific method, using facts, hypothesis, theories, conclusions and explanations. The intelligent design camp build their case on the negative - `Science can't answer this so therefore it is proof of ID.' This is not how a theory is built.
It is true that the U.S. is overwhelmingly religious, and a majority of theses religious citizens are some form of Christian. It is unfortunate that for many the mindset is already established that it is "God vs. Science" in the fight. A recent study published in Science showed that only 40% of Americans believe in evolution and an equal 39% did not (the other 21% were not sure). In light of this, Shermer's book is extremely timely as the supporters of ID (and creationism) continue to wage a fight to discredit evolution. Shermer picks apart the ID theory's components point by point. He also admits that there are still outstanding questions today in evolution. No one is prefect. But this slim tome readably and succinctly brings the arguments under the spotlight, compares them and finds Intelligent Design wanting. If you are of a set mind on creation, then this book will not sway you. But if you are open to ideas, especially that it is not God vs. Science, then the arguments presented here may open eyes. Our education system needs to be aware of what the fight really is about.
34 of 38 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A good Introduction to the debate,
I have to disagree with the first reviewer. I think "Why Darwin Matters" is a good introduction to the debate between Creationism/Intelligent Design and Evolutionism. For a lay reader of the subject, I think Shermer, like in his other books, outlines many of the issues and arguments in the debate and explains his and others' positions.
While there are many other issues that we as human beings need to address, our understanding of evolution is seriously critical to understanding our place in the universe and how we're all connected. Most of us simply lack the scientific literacy to grapple with the theories of evolution, and thus we accept simple myths like Creationism because it doesn't require us to think deeply and long about how the forces of nature work and have produced us.
Shermer attempt to break down what we should be learning in high school, in as few pages as possible. This book could have easily been three or four times longer, but I think his goal is to outline the issues that will lead us to further investigation so we can learn for ourselves.
21 of 23 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Shermer defends science,
In this tidy volume, Michael Shermer effectively makes the case for evolution and against intelligent design. Although there is nothing especially novel in this book, Shermer's treatment is factual and concise. And if he is repeating what already has been said before, it's a message that bears repeating again and again.
The truth is there is no scientific controversy over Darwin's theory of evolution by natural selection. As Shermer notes, there are certainly disagreements and quarrels over some of the details and there still are unanswered questions. However, both the theory and the facts of evolution are accepted by virtually every scientist working in any field and the consensus approaches unanimity among scientists working in the biological sciences.
Of course, as Shermer also notes, the advocates of ID aren't much interested in advancing the cause of science anyway. What they are really after is to advance the cause of their theology. Their kind of science is the sort practiced before the modern scientific revolution when scientists were expected to conform their opinions to the teachings of the church.
This is neither the best book on evolutionary theory nor the most thorough deconstruction of intelligent design. However, it is a cogent presentation that deals directly with the fundamental issues and does so with clarity and skill.
As long as the ID crowd continues to stoke the religious and political controversy they aim to provoke, we will need books like this one to reveal the reality behind their pretensions. Intelligent design is not so much an attack on evolution as it is an attack on science itself.
"Why Darwin Matters" is an easy book to read and serves a worthwhile purpose, exposing the claims of the ID movement as self-serving shams and defending science by demonstrating why it matters.
24 of 27 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A Skeptic's Rational, Surprisingly Thoughtful Dismantling of Intelligent Design,
Having just read David Quammen's intriguing biography, "The Reluctant Mr. Darwin: An Intimate Portrait of Charles Darwin and the Making of His Theory of Evolution", I picked up Michael Shermer's book to see how he would address the relevance of the evolution pioneer's findings today. The scientific community has completely embraced Darwin's theories of transmutation, even though it took him years of research validation and soul-searching to publish them to the world. However, the rest of the country is fairly split on the creation versus evolution debate, and the author eloquently shows how both schools of thought have developed and continue to justify their legitimacy.
A converted agnostic, Shermer opens his book with a lucid explanation of scientific theory and the historical context in which Darwin introduced his groundbreaking theory. The major points of evolutionary theory are covered thoroughly, and as a counterpoint, the author explains the foundations of the Intelligent Design (ID) philosophy, which President Bush has stated should be taught in schools as part of a science curriculum. Interestingly, ID was borne out of a renowned watchmaker argument made by theologian William Paley in 1802. He assumed that if you found a watch on the ground, you would immediately conclude that the complexity of its inner workings must mean it has a maker. Translated to a broader scale, the world must have had a designer - God - since it is so complex.
To their credit, Paley and Darwin were both searching for an explanation of the world around them that was attuned to their personal sensibilities. While Paley took his religious values to heart with a top-down approach, Darwin started from the bottom with natural selection. Factions developed with the religious community obviously embracing Paley's arguments, while the scientific community took much longer in supporting Darwin's philosophies. The most intriguing parts of the book focus on why people could not accept evolution. Using William Jennings Bryan's unspoken positioning statement during the Scopes Trial of 1925, Shermer shows how creationists strongly asserted that evolution implies that there is no God. This was the argument that consumed Darwin's wife and a major reason why he delayed publication of his theories. There was great fear in moving toward atheism and the possibility of a life without morality or meaning. Accepting evolution would somehow degrade our humanity and leave us immoral, and that is why many today are still intent on rejecting it as a basis of our existence.
As a natural skeptic, the author does a solid job of dismantling the logic behind the ID argument and argues, for example, the plausibility of a supernatural creator and how the burden of proof is on creationists. Famous lawsuits provide the basis for some of Shermer's most interesting discussion points, as he goes into the 1987 Louisiana case that asked for balanced time for creationism and evolution and the recent Kitzmiller v. Dover case that banned ID from being added to the classroom curriculum. The numerous legal cases highlight the primary argument of the ID's agenda, which is to shift the argument between creationism and evolution to one that between the existence and non-existence of God. With this well-written book, Shermer successfully explains why evolution is considered science and intelligent design is not and defends science from those people who want to change its very definition to suit their religious needs. Yet, his most lucid finding is the ability to believe in God and accept evolution concurrently.
21 of 24 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Excellent primer on the Theory of Evolution.,
This is an easy book to read on a fascinating topic. The author remains well focused on the theory of Evolution. But given this theory's huge impact, the author gets to study the linkages between many scientific fields. As a result, the scope of the book is very broad.
Shermer with Sulloway developed a fascinating model that predicted whether one believes in God. It includes seven variables including: education (-) (the more education the less likely one believes in God); family size (+); conflict with parent (-); and age (-) among other variables. This model worked well in predicting religiousness among people I know.
Despite the fact that virtually no scientists question Evolution 42% of Americans believe in Creationism. The percentage differs greatly even among Christian groups: Evangelicals (70%) vs barely above 30% for both Protestants and Catholics. The percentage also differs along political and geographical axis. Republicans are more likely to be creationists than Democrats. And Southerners are more likely to be creationists than either Northeasterners or Westerners.
The theory of Evolution is well supported by a wide body of scientific disciplines. Shermer explains "convergence of evidence." This is where scientific laws are confirmed by more than one scientific discipline. Evolution is confirmed by so many different convergences of evidence drawing on data from geology, paleontology, botany, zoology, biogeography, anthropology, physiology, and genetics among others. Each science points to the conclusion that life evolved. For creationists to disprove evolution, they need to unravel all these independent lines of evidence.
Shermer draws an interesting link between Darwin's theory of Evolution and Adam Smith economic theory. The underlying common concept is one of competition (natural selection in nature vs free market competition in economic societies). In the endnotes, Shermer reveals that Darwin had checked the consistency of his theory vs Adam Smith's.
The author describes the interesting properties of Complex Adaptive Systems that can evolve in response to external changes. These include Consciousness, Language, Law, Economy, and Life. Thus, many different domains do evolve over time without the intervention of an Intelligent Designer. Life is just the one domain Darwin focused on.
Shermer does an excellent job at reconciling the apparent opposites of the theory of evolution and the second law of thermodynamics (Entropy). "As long as the sun is burning, life may continue evolving... As soon as the sun burns out, entropy will take its course and life on earth will cease."
The author reviews well several notorious legal cases involving the teaching of creationism in public schools. In each cases, the judges (even religious ones) have differentiated between science (theory of evolution) and religious beliefs (creationism-Intelligent Design) and sided with Darwin. Shermer mentions there are 78 pending legal clashes between Intelligent Designers and Evolution in 31 different States. These legal actions are funded by the religious conservative The Discovery Institute.
The Appendix divulges a taxonomy of different types of creationists. Shermer asks if creationists were to win a legal case what type of creationism would they teach in school? After you have read this appendix you'll realize how ambiguous this question is.
I was surprised to find out that Intelligent Design is a Trojan Horse to dismantle much of what religious individuals call "materialist" sciences. He quotes Dembski "intelligent design should be viewed as a ground clearing operation that gets rid of the intellectual rubbish that for generations has kept Christianity from receiving serious consideration."
Chapter 9 mentions the main unresolved issues that evolutionary biologists work on. Contrary to what creationists often suggests, none of those issues question the essence of Evolution. They simply reflect the upcoming nuances and refinements of a theory over time following the ongoing course of the scientific method.
If you enjoy this book, I strongly recommend any of Michael Shermer's books. I have read a majority of them, and enjoyed them all. He is a very clear and entertaining writer rendering scientific topics accessible. I also recommend Richard Dawkins' "The God Delusion" and Sam Harris "The End of Faith" that nicely complement this book.
20 of 23 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Darwin does matter, but make this point even more clear!,
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Mr. Shermer is a lucid writer, and is known for his condemnations of supernatural explanations and the continued beliefs by people in them. This book, while it starts strong seems to back off when the real reason that Darwin matters begins to unfold: that it is not only a theory, but a theory that puts religious explanations such as intelligent design (ID) for the universe in dire straights. The most disappointing chapter is Chapter 7 (entitled "Why Science cannot contradict Religion". He offers us three possible relationships between science and religion and chooses what he calls the "separate world model". He places God "beyond the dominion of science" which is (in my opinion) misleading. Mr. Shermer is an ex-Christian which may explain his bowing out of the fight in the thick of things. That being said, this book is an easy read that tries to appeal both to the skeptic and the faithful, and is a good choice for those who are interested in warming up to this newest variation in Creationism and its relationship to science. Its arguments against ID, while valid, are many times incomplete. There are other books (such as ID's Trojan Horse) that are much more indepth in their study of deceptive practices of ID.
11 of 13 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Rigorous Defense of Evolution Against Intelligent Design,
This review is from: Why Darwin Matters: The Case Against Intelligent Design (Paperback)
Going into this book, I was a fence sitter. I felt that Intelligent Design (ID) had no business being considered a scientific pursuit, but it seemed that they had a lot of good arguments against evolution. I have never been a strong proponent of evolution, but this book has changed that. It was spectacular.
As the book began, it sounded like Shermer was not going to actually deal with any of ID arguments. Instead, he had a very demeaning tone which sounded as if was just going to summarily dismiss them without even addressing any of their issues. Fortunately, this fear quickly disappeared as Shermer rigorously addressed every point put forward by the ID camp. As I read, I found myself thinking "Yes, but what about the transitional fossils" or "what about, the Cambrian explosion." But sure enough, every point was addressed and answered clearly and succinctly.
It really is amazing that this book is not even 200 pages. That is one of its strengths. Authors are rarely adept at getting to the point (myself included). Most 600+ page non-fiction books I have read could easily have been half the size. Shermer displays his skill at presenting the facts clearly, yet doing it in very few words. As a result, the ideas are not lossed in superfluous text.
Anyone who has wondered at all about the evolution/ID debate should definitely read this book. I would not recommend starting with this book though. Since it answers the issues presented by the ID movement, one should familiarize oneself with those arguments first. Then, once you are thoroughly confused, read Why Darwin Matters to be enlightened.
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Why Darwin Matters: The Case Against Intelligent Design by Michael Shermer (Paperback - July 24, 2007)