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Nonsense on Stilts: How to Tell Science from Bunk
Nonsense on Stilts: How to Tell Science from Bunk
by Massimo Pigliucci
Edition: Paperback
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20 of 101 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars Name-calling on stilts, May 24, 2011
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The author places major emphasis on rationality (naming his blog "Rationally Speaking"), consistently urging critical thinking, and warning repeatedly about logical fallacies. Yet, he shows no hesitancy in engaging in perhaps the most widely warned against fallacy in logical debates, that of ad hominem, of personal attacks.

He characterizes his opponents with (p.68) "ego trip", "revenge", (p.70) "pernicious", (p.88) "shame", (p.93) "notorious", (p.154) "vitriolic", (p.166) "blunt creationist propaganda", "mischievous", "blackmail", (p.170) "pompously", "deception", (p.171) "inane", "religious bigotry and intolerance", (p.172) "audacity", (p.173) "religious zealots", (p.181) "subterfuge", (p.185) "buffoons", (p.216) "charlatans, or, worse, criminals", or (p.245) "ideological propaganda". It seems one must be insecure about one's position to resort to such attacks.

And let us indeed scrutinize the author's logic on which he prides himself. Early on (p.13) he is dismissive of "classic Aristotelian logic (where the only values that can be attached to a proposition are true or false)... Yet, any logician (and most people endowed with common sense) knows [sic] very well that the realm of application of Aristotelian logic is rather limited, because many interesting questions do not admit of simple yes/no answers". This is high nonsense (remember the book's title) that "any logician" should laugh at. Aristotelian logic doesn't concern only truth and falsity, but mainly, like any logic, what conclusions follow from given premises, in accordance with his famed syllogistic. Ironically, Aristotle himself questioned the validity of the "law of excluded middle" ("A proposition is either true or false"), contemplating whether it applies to: "There will be a sea-battle tomorrow".

Among fallacies the author lists "appeal to authority" (p.75), saying (p.286), "as anyone who has taken Philosophy 101 should know, an argument from authority is a classic logical fallacy". But then he asks, "how do we tell reliable authorities (experts) from phonies?" Meaning that "experts", as he insists throughout the book, should be listened to, judged by, as concerning global warming, there being "an overwhelming consensus among climate scientists" and "the number of peer-reviewed papers dealing with climate change" (p.151). Yet he writes such as: "The history of science provides several examples where most authorities in a given field endorsed the wrong theories..." (p.295). The fallacy of appeal to authority does not qualify the authority, but cautions against it in logical arguments.

Another fallacy he mentions is "affirming the consequent" (p.76), but he doesn't explain it and how it applies to his example. It doesn't apply. The fallacy states: "(A implies B) does not imply (B implies A)". His alleged example is, "the universe is so large that there must be other civilizations out there...and some of them are visiting us". He admissibly argues that neither other civilizations nor their visiting us follows from the largeness of the universe. Both inferences are then non-sequiturs, related to probability, but not to the fallacy. The fallacy, however, plays an important role in the formation of theories he advocates.

He speaks repeatedly of "the two fundamental activities that...truly characterize a science: systematic observations and the construction and testing of hypotheses" (p.19). Elsewhere (p.303) he alters this to "an investigation of nature, based on the construction of empirically verifiable theories and hypotheses. These three elements, naturalism, theory, and empiricism, are what makes science different..." Whether we speak of theories or hypotheses, their use (compared to induction, conclusions based on invariable observations) partakes in the above fallacy of affirming the consequent (Newton famously said he feigns no hypotheses). A theory or hypothesis, in the so-called "hypothetico-deductive method", is an assumption A that might lead to known phenomenon B, so that A may be true. Of course A needn't be true, since another hypothesis might likewise lead to B.

Thus the theory of evolution is meant to lead to the functionality of organisms, and unfortunately it doesn't even meet the requirement of deduction. From the undirected causes proposed, like random variation and natural selection, it is not shown that life's functionality follows, with numerous questions of probability arising. Our author writes (p.14): "the idea of intelligent design [proposing that organisms are in their functionality produced by an intelligence, more immediately by directed causes]...has made no progress since its last serious articulation by natural theologian William Paley in 1802. Compare that to the stunning advances of evolutionary biology since Darwin's publication of The Origin of Species..." Totally false. Darwinism is endlessly scrambling to explain how the undirected functionality occurred, succeeding in no more than finding ever more particulars active in the process of forming the organism, without demonstrating whether or not the activities are guided. On the other hand, "intelligent design", or presently the idea of guidance alone, is at least as fully a hypothesis as Darwinism, with the advantage that the result unquestionably follows deductively. If the formation of the organism is guided, directed, toward its known functionality, then that result follows.

My defense is limited here to "intelligent design", apparently the primary target of our author, but I don't even personally see a need for the argument. That the activities in organisms are goal-directed instead of undirected, with consequences that follow, is observable without recourse to speculation about how organisms are formed. Our author inadvertently referred once to self-preservation (p.69), and he mentioned the struggle for life (p.162), which Darwin often spoke of unaware of its profound implication. The aim of self-preservation, the "struggle" for survival, is goal-directed activity, characterizing every living organism while living. It is responsible for the organism's much talked about adaptation, and hence an enormous mistake is made in attributing the adaptation, namely the form organisms take, to the directionless causes of evolutionary theory.
Comment Comments (51) | Permalink | Most recent comment: May 11, 2013 8:53 PM PDT


A Place for Truth: Leading Thinkers Explore Life's Hardest Questions
A Place for Truth: Leading Thinkers Explore Life's Hardest Questions
by Peter Singer
Edition: Paperback
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars But is truth in place?, April 26, 2011
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At the top of the book's back cover is stated: "Many today pursue knowledge and even wisdom. But what about TRUTH?" And in the Introduction is said (p.17): "If we indeed 'have' the truth, which is what knowing means, then we have the right (and perhaps even the responsibility) to act..."

A slight inconsistency: if the first statement cries for truth, not merely knowledge, how can in the second statement truth (more accurately, awareness of truth) be equated with knowledge? The two are indeed acceptable as equal, but the universally pressing question is, what is the truth? It doesn't only concern the similar question by Pilate, but any certainty about any subject.

In this book it is somehow accepted by most authors that there is a "Christian Truth", and they proceed in corresponding apologetic that that is indeed The Truth and there is no other. It not only makes me feel uncomfortable because I am a Jew (though not a practicing one), but the great emphasis on truth, on knowledge, is usually confined to rigorous pursuits like science, logic, or metaphysics (notwithstanding late philosophical squabbles about the reality of truth).

Accordingly I must take the book's heavy support of one dogma with a considerable grain of salt, although I am by no means averse to the question of a supreme being, having myself reached theistic conclusions by way of reason and experience. This avenue, while in conformity with the universal ways of gaining knowledge, is downgraded by many in the book as of little value. One author, N. T. Wright, states (p.241): "To prove something you have to accept some sort of framework of reference" which one cannot be "assuming to be absolute". He adds: "If there is a God, and if this God is worth talking about with that word God--then this God must be greater than all our frames of reference".

No one claims that God is not greater than any frame of reference, or any other form in which we talk about God. We avail ourselves of these forms, by which we can gain knowledge of matters outside them. And the frames of reference, the methods, by which we gain knowledge are certainly ones we want to be absolute. We make mistakes in science and elsewhere, but our aim is to find ever more reliable means. Accepting an idea on faith alone does not outweigh these.

It is understandable nevertheless that in a search of spiritual certainties, which are difficult to acquire, one gravitates toward established institutions, and is willing to accept them in totality in absence of other firm groundings. But the danger of wide-ranging dogmas is well known, and in my own view it is possible to have a general comprehension of a benevolent higher power, and even look up to wisdom contained in the bible or other expression of religious creeds, all viewable as God-inspired, without rigid adherence to every word.

This is not to take away from numbers of good observations in the book, with my best appreciation going to Rosalind Picard. She has (p.205-6) a wonderful analogy concerning what science does and does not know: "Imagine that aliens discover instructions to build a radio. They find all the parts, put them together and it looks like a radio...and they turn it on... Music comes from a radio... They think they've figured out how music works... The aliens use words like 'emergent' to explain this. (When you hear scientists use a word like 'emergent', ...the way that actually translates literally is 'we haven't a clue how it happens.')...So even if someday we can...produce machines that function like humans, ...it doesn't mean we have fully understood what it means to be human. Reproducing some functionality is not the same as understanding the waves of music, or the waves of life."

She responds (p.210) to Rodney Brooks--who says he has a "completely different way of interacting with [his family], ...which is not part of [his] scientific view. So [he has] multiple views [he operates] under every day"--with: "I don't just call those multiple views, I call those inconsistent views" (considering his scientific one). Dr. Picard also notes (p.208), somewhat in agreement with Berkeley: "You also mentioned there's no evidence for spirit... I've been thinking about how experience is evidence... I think we often forget that human experience really is our ultimate judge of whether something is true or not."

She adds to these profound observations: "I'm curious, too, about your view that we're just this collection of biomolecules that evolution produced, and typical of this view is that evolution operates with random mutation, natural selection. So there's no purpose, there's no meaning, there's no free will" (p.211)... "And instead of me just feeling awe and thinking Why do I feel awe for purposeless, [random], directionless, meaningless stuff, I think, Wow, maybe this is pointing me to this great Mind that exists...I think there's a purpose behind that" (p.213).

This thinking is well justified. We are not just a "collection of biomolecules", "purposeless, random, directionless, meaningless stuff". Our bodies function with well known direction, purpose--namely that of preserving itself. We all know, the medical profession in particular, that we have various systems, the nervous system, the digestive system, etc., which in cooperation with the rest of the body are directed toward the goal of the body's preservation. This purposeful forest is completely overlooked in the search for the particulars in the trees, for the biomolecules in service of those purposes.


Signature of Controversy: Responses to Critics of Signature in the Cell
Signature of Controversy: Responses to Critics of Signature in the Cell
by David Klinghoffer
Edition: Paperback
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62 of 79 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Civil responses to uncivil critics, March 28, 2011
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Notwithstanding the offenses heaped upon opponents of Darwinism, the Discovery Institute, Intelligent Design, and specifically the book of the controversy, "Signature in the Cell", and its author, Stephen C. Meyer, their defenders manage to largely abstain from such offenses and engage more pertinently, especially in the present case, in careful argumentation, absent in many disputes.

There is a strong emphasis on correcting accusations of "Creationism" and other "unscientific" approaches, by highlighting as one of Dr. Meyer's chief forms of argument (in his own words) "the method of inferring to the best explanation", which "necessarily requires an examination of the main competing hypotheses that scientists have proposed to explain a given event" (p.18). This is indeed a dominant, "hypothetico-deductive", scientific method, used by Darwin as well, with probabilistic problems. A drawback is its near fallacy of "affirming the consequent", ((A implies B) does not imply (B implies A)). That is why hypotheses, predicting known occurrences, are always subject to change.

In any event, Dr. Meyer makes in his book "a positive case for intelligent design by showing that the activity of conscious and rational agents is the only known cause by which large amounts of new functional information arise" (p.19). Expressions like "functional information", related to "information-bearing properties of DNA", sound a little too vague to me. "Information" in DNA is admittedly a metaphor, since one can simply speak of causation, and "functional" can likewise apply to causes, functioning in producing certain effects. But the argument is sound, by concerning the functional forms of organisms in the sense that they function to attain certain purposes. And "the activity of conscious and rational agents is the only known cause" of objects in our world that function to attain certain purposes.

We are dealing of course with man-made, inanimate, objects, and it may be questioned whether the same rules apply to the animate, the living. As a matter of fact, the animate is rather decisive in this respect, as I have endeavored to demonstrate, if with listeners not inclined to "think outside the box". The box is the "natural-explanation" mindset, which limits causes (e.g. pp.109-110) to "undirected", "unguided", physical or chemical forces. No one considers "directed" forces as part of nature; they would be relegated to the supernatural. Prominently the former, to be sure, are our own directed, purposeful, actions. But this is dismissed as somehow a result of "blind" Darwinian forces, mysteriously unexplained.

There is much more though to the "directed", "guided", in nature. Not only our actions are directed, but so are the activities of our bodies. They are obviously known to be directed toward the goal of self-preservation, as are activities in all organisms, making them alive. There is accordingly no need to seek unobserved guidance, purpose, in the functional structure of organisms. The guidance is observed in their behavior, aimed at survival, which is correspondingly also responsible for their adaptation, refuting "unguided" natural selection.

Allow me to also mention the matter of reviews and accompanying items on Amazon (p.53). I understand too well the feelings generated by "abusive 'reviews' making...little pretense of having turned a single page", etc. I fare much worse then what I see concerning Dr. Meyer's book. Overlooking the attacks on him, he is a well-respected member of a large constituency widely sharing his views. I have myself a book featured on Amazon, and of 4 "reviews" only one writer saw the book, with a favorable result. The other writers were displeased with my reviews and comments, of which I do many, regarding other books. They engage in the nastiest behavior, including "tags" that are meant to characterize my book and have nothing to do with it. Ironically, they associate me with the Discovery Institute, although I am a totally independent thinker, as may be gleaned from the above.
Comment Comments (7) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Jul 8, 2013 5:00 AM PDT


The 'New' Atheism: 10 Arguments That Don't Hold Water
The 'New' Atheism: 10 Arguments That Don't Hold Water
by Michael Poole
Edition: Paperback
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1 of 3 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Clever and careless, March 18, 2011
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The author ends the book wittily with: "If God has the same status as tooth fairies and Father Christmas, as Dawkins appears to think, is it necessary to spend so much money trying to persuade people that God doesn't exist?", in a good suggestion that the existence of God is a much more profound concern than playful imaginary characters.

He also makes the worthwhile point that acceptance of evolution does not imply the absence of a Creator, as the "New Atheists" seem to think. But his arguments leave much to be desired. A major issue is that he does not offer a sensible argument for the existence of the Creator or God, aside from a Christian apologetic, which many, especially non-Christians, find unsuitable.

Let us, however, examine his logic. He defends the possibility of God alongside evolution by adducing several times (e.g. p.29) the "fallacy" of "the excluded middle". This is not a fallacy, but a logical law, "either A or not-A". He may have had in mind the fallacy of "undistributed middle", which amounts to "(some A is B) does not imply (all A is B)". Presently one could say, "(Some cause of evolution is natural selection) does not imply (All the cause of evolution is natural selection)", meaning that God could be behind the whole thing.

But I see Dr. Poole faulty also in his holding "the views of mainstream cosmology and biology" (p.10). In favor of natural selection, he says (p.54) it shows "a much simpler explanation of the mechanisms of adaptation (arguably employed by God) than treating each living thing as being separately equipped". Simpler? Darwinism requires for adaptation innumerable, admittedly counterintuitive, random mutations, and then the "blind" forces of nature allowing organisms with favorable mutations to survive and letting others perish. How much simpler is the "intuitive" idea that organisms all adapt to the environment by purpose?

He summons to his aid Darwin, quoting (pp.73-4) him approving a letter received: "it is just as noble a conception of the Deity to believe that He created a few original forms capable of self-development into other and needful forms, as to believe that He required a fresh act of creation to supply the voids caused by the action of His laws". Just where does "self-development" occur by Darwin? On the contrary. As noted, by him all adaptation occurs as a result of external forces. If instead "the action of His laws" "created...original forms" that adapt into "other and needful forms" internally, no "fresh act of creation" is needed.

Dr. Poole then erroneously quotes Mark's Gospel as if supporting Darwinism: "A man scatters seed on the ground... the seed sprouts and grows... All by itself...the soil produces corn - first the stalk, then the ear, then the full grain in the ear". This is not the action of unguided, purposeless, natural forces. It is exactly guided, purposeful, action Darwinian evolution denies.

In fine I turn to Dr. Poole's treatment of the Intelligent Design (ID) movement (pp.75-6). He erroneously again describes it as about "irreducible complexity", that "some living things are so irreducibly complex that a single missing part would stop the organism [sic] functioning". But this is merely one argument among others by ID that organisms are intelligently designed. His treatment of that argument warrants some attention though. He disparages its "biology, logic and theology", saying: "Dawkins gives a brilliant account of the evolutionary development of the eye, at least forty times, independently", and: "ID supporters overlook how intermediate organisms in the evolutionary process may fulfil different functions from later ones".

The critics overlook that the different functions cannot occur in different organisms. The changes must occur in the same linage, because the theory requires tiny incremental changes, each useful, in the same organism for the accidental adaptation to work, and it is of course ridiculous that all the little changes should miraculously change the functions of the whole, for instance that the eye without a needed component performed another function and so on backward. Hence the argument is entirely valid.

That organisms do not adapt accidentally through small incremental changes is in fact demonstrated by an obvious phenomenon totally overlooked in the disputes. Our bodies adapt to circumstances in a goal-directed way utilizing all their resources simultaneously. For example, to an injury the body responds with all available means to effect healing. This means more significantly that organisms are not solely governed by undirected natural forces, as evolution presumes, but are subject to directed forces, or design, distinguishing life.
Comment Comments (2) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Jan 16, 2012 11:26 AM PST


Delusions of Gender: How Our Minds, Society, and Neurosexism Create Difference
Delusions of Gender: How Our Minds, Society, and Neurosexism Create Difference
by Cordelia Fine
Edition: Hardcover
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7 of 45 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Delusions of victimization, March 15, 2011
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In the second half of the 20th century arose the unassailable civil rights movement, centering on the atrocious and explicit segregation of races as unequal in merit. And as often happens, when an initially justified idea is gotten hold of, it tends to be generalized and carried to excesses in areas where it didn't belong.

Prominently this happened in the women's and gays' "liberation" movements, the "victims" adopting a "me too" attitude. The present book concerns the first of these, the Introduction concluding: "No one knows whether males and females could ever enjoy perfect equality. But of this I am confident: So long as the counterpoints provided by the work of the many researchers presented in this book are given an audience, in fifty years' time people will look back on these early-twenty-first-century debates with bewildered amusement, and wonder how we ever could have thought that that was the closest we could get to equality."

Perhaps the author is groundlessly "confident". But more critical is the ideal that "males and females could ever enjoy perfect equality". Exactly what perfect equality? And would they enjoy it? Apparently the equality advanced "by the work of the many researchers presented in this book" implies mainly that males and females are perfectly equal doing any work whatsoever. At one point (p.178), after, "In the early twentieth century, [then quoting] 'genius was considered an innate quality which would naturally be manifested if it were possessed'", she astonishingly writes: "No one now, I should think, would agree with this". Later (pp.184-5): "what you believe about intellectual ability--whether you think it's a fixed gift, or an earned quality that can be developed--makes a difference to your...performance", and: "when students are encouraged to see math ability as something that grows with effort...grades improve and gender gaps diminish".

Then anyone, it seems, could with effort come up with Newton's "Principia". It always seemed to ignorant me that intelligence is something one is born with and that emerges without effort. But we must trust "the many researchers presented in this book". It may not sound fair, but I took note that the researchers are predominantly women, and it is difficult, in view of the preconception of "perfect equality", not to have doubts about the objectivity of those researches.

It appears that the larger picture of worldwide and timeless experience that people greatly differ in their capacities, that men and women are inclined toward different interests, is more substantial evidence than what seems unreliable probing into multifaceted behaviors of particular individuals.
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Saving Leonardo: A Call to Resist the Secular Assault on Mind, Morals, and Meaning
Saving Leonardo: A Call to Resist the Secular Assault on Mind, Morals, and Meaning
by Nancy Pearcey
Edition: Hardcover
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11 of 16 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Appealing but upsetting, February 9, 2011
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While this reviewer sympathizes with the author's displeasure regarding much of contemporary culture, it is disconcerting that she supposes to have the complete answer to all concerned troubles, and wishes to instruct others correspondingly as to how to go about living their lives.

The author blames that culture and other problems in history on secularism, and wants to correct them not merely by directing people to God, or to biblical authority, but to Christianity in particular. As a Jew I find this difficult to swallow, especially when she approvingly quotes someone (p.277) as saying the Church looks forward to the end of time when "every knee shall bow and every tongue confess that Jesus is Lord". In this connection she admits, e.g. (p.112): "This is not to say that the resurrection can be proved from some neutral standpoint. Ultimately worldviews are at stake". She indeed indicates that everyone must have a worldview, arguing "it is possible...to challenge the secular worldviews".

Well, one can at least attempt to be neutral, objective. I agree with the author that many scientists start with the premise of a materialist or like worldview, but "two wrongs don't make a right", especially when at stake is an all-encompassing view of our entire existence. The author thus tries to fit all human behavior into two neat categories of lower story and upper story, and in the process engages in numerous inaccuracies. She devotes much to art (the book is a visual feast, with wonderful reproductions), and since my life has been steeped in particularly visual art, let me point out at least two glaring errors. She writes (p.114): "Initially people were shocked by Millet's paintings because they accorded such dignity to humble figures". This is completely backwards. People were shocked by Manet's nudes, part of modernity. They adored Millet's humble peasants, with moderns condemning it as sentimental. An opposite mistake is her understanding of modern architecture. She writes (pp.161-2) as its intent: "Toss out historical styles like Greek columns and Gothic spires!...Toss the entire past onto the junk heap and start over again from scratch". However, the general idea was not destroying the past, much of it greatly admired, but to adapt designs to contemporary technology, rather than imitate the old. The slogan was "form follows function". Her denigration of the Bauhaus is unfortunate, since the styles introduced a refreshing new spirit in architecture and interiors. The trend did not stress (p.164) "uniformity at the expense of individuality". On the contrary, the emphasis was on indicated change with circumstances.

The author really gravitates herself toward a depressing sameness in her desire for biblical values expressed in all art. Although I too object to recent goals to without justification shock, by which art is redefined from its meaning as aesthetic creations, these creations can be of immeasurable variety, without imposing on them a straightjacket of further demands. The author's demand, or at least desire, is that everything people do conform somehow to the Christian faith and abandon secularism. The United States was established aware of the dangers of imposing religious dogma, and it is still questionable that a solution to worldly problems be found in adopting such a dogma, although it may contain many guiding principles.

The author enumerates contemporary problems I agree with. She begins with (p.8) how a "Hank the Cowdog" story "had been subverted by the forces of political correctness. Marriage? A trap for women. Family? An outmoded and oppressive social institution. Children? A barrier to women's career aspirations". She lists other forms of objectionable political correctness in the book (e.g. p.241), and a question can be, is their explanation exclusively secularism? The role of family, of mother and father and offspring, is written into nature itself and found in similar form among animals as well. So the corruption of these concepts can be attributed to false ideas whether about nature or ones transcending nature. Perhaps responsible is just carrying the idea of the victimized too far.

In my view God exists, but his creation offers enough ground to explore and gain knowledge of, without forcing preconceived worldviews on it by which we should be expected to abide.


Making Sense of Evolution: Darwin, God, and the Drama of Life
Making Sense of Evolution: Darwin, God, and the Drama of Life
by John F. Haught
Edition: Paperback
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10 of 30 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars A Christian's capitulation to Darwinism, January 11, 2011
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The author speaks (p.132) of "many intellectuals who have swallowed evolution in one big gulp as though it can provide a fundamental grasp of what life is all about". And he objects that "Darwinian naturalists...present[s] us with a forced option: one must choose evolutionary RATHER THAN [my capitals replace italics] theological explanations...or vice versa". That is to say, he, throughout the book, advocates that along with the Darwinian explanation can exist a theological explanation, the two in different layers. He nevertheless likewise "swallowed evolution in one big gulp".

He did so by not only embracing evolution as adaptation from common ancestry, which many other theologians find unobjectionable, but also as resulting from the Darwinian mechanism (p.32): "Natural selection means that nature blindly selects for survival only those organisms that just happen accidentally to have the variations that allow them to survive and reproduce in their respective habitats". Darwin himself is quoted (p.11): "The old argument from design in nature, as given by Paley, which formerly seemed to me so conclusive, fails, now that the law of natural selection has been discovered [how interesting that Darwin refers to his theory as a discovery]. There seems to be no more design in the variability of organic beings and in the action of natural selection, than in the course which the wind blows".

"The old argument from design" continues of course in today's "intelligent design" advocacy, and the reviewed book's author spares no words in degrading it: "narrow idea of God" (p.xii), "spurious" (p.21), "design-obsessed frame of mind" (p.57), "shallow coherence" (p.62), "triviality", "preposterous" (p.63). In conformity with Darwinian doctrine he writes (p.42): "Think of the Creator as bringing into being a world that can in turn give rise spontaneously to new life...and eventually to human beings... The divine maker of such a self-creative world is arguably much more impressive--hence worthier of human reverence and gratitude--than is a 'designer' who molds and micromanages everything directly". "Much more impressive"? A maker of a spontaneously running world who afterward sits back and cares no more? This is out of keeping with our vision of an omnipotent and omniscient being, responsible for every part of our formation and overseeing our lives.

The concept of intelligent design has indeed a more solid foundation than our author's proposal of an unobserved theological layer beneath that of spontaneous evolution. He writes (p.135): "I freely admit that...I am looking at life from the perspective of Christian faith and hope. I cannot scientifically prove that evolution has its ultimate explanation in a God of promise and fidelity...However, I am at least confident that there is no contradiction between a Christian theological setting and the discoveries of evolutionary science". No contradiction hardly makes it true, but it makes it a surrender that emaciates it from significance. In contrast, "intelligent design" sees its justification in actual functionality in the living, those of concern, and bases its argument for a designer on the experience of other functionalities.

There is in fact more conclusive evidence of design, purpose, in life, contrary to Darwin's above contention. He often spoke of a struggle for life, apparently metaphorically in view of his denial of design, but the struggle, the aim at survival, is an actual purpose of life, overlooked in the insistence that all reality must be explainable by mechanical forces. The here-discussed author consistently downplays the significance of design and a designer, yet he inadvertently admits the same, emphasizing a "creator, cosmic purpose" (p.18), that "the universe has a purpose" (p.131), that "Matter has always been pregnant with life, mind, and 'spirit'" (p.145). Notwithstanding my critique, I marked the book three stars for the evident earnestness of the author's efforts.


Am I a Monkey?: Six Big Questions about Evolution
Am I a Monkey?: Six Big Questions about Evolution
by Francisco José Ayala
Edition: Hardcover
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7 of 54 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars Customary clichés, December 22, 2010
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The Introduction begins with: "Darwin completed the scientific revolution by extending to the living world the notion that the workings of the universe can be explained through natural laws", proceeding shortly afterward with, "More important yet [than evolution] is that Darwin discovered natural selection, the process that explains the 'design' of organisms".

By "natural laws" the author, as prevalent, means the undirected (contrasted with goal-directed) laws of physics and chemistry by which "the workings of the universe" are generally explained, and he credits Darwin with, having "discovered" natural selection, explaining by those laws "the 'design' of organisms". One question can be: If organisms are instead found subject to goal-directed laws, are those laws not "natural"? Another question can be: Has Darwin really "discovered" natural selection?

Or did he contrive it? It happens that the latter is the case, for a simple reason that has escaped researchers by "not seeing the forest for the trees". The concentration has been on the "design" (put inside quotes by Dr. Ayala) of organisms, inasmuch as organisms are evidently so formed as to serve the purpose, the goal, of their survival. And the well-known Darwinian contention is that this functional form results not from goal-directed forces but from undirected ones represented by "natural selection". But consider the mentioned function of survival. Organisms are not only formed to serve that function, but they also act in that direction. Like our bodies, live organisms are actively striving toward their preservation, survival. This is goal-directed and applies to all "the living world" mentioned at the start. This live activity, aiming at survival, can correspondingly be held to be as "natural" as any other worldly occurrence.

Furthermore, each organism is, in its aim at preservation, known to individually adapt to circumstances within its capabilities, as do our bodies adapt to the demands of the environment by strengthening corresponding functions. The upshot is that it is this goal of adaptation, not the accidental adaptation of Darwinism, which is responsible for the functional changes in organisms.

To argue for the accidental, rather than aimed at, functionality of organisms the book's author engages in the familiar downgrading of the organisms' design. He complains (p.52): "From a designing or engineering perspective, it seems incomprehensible [a favorite word of Darwin] that a turtle and a whale should swim, a dog run, a person write, and a bird or a bat fly with forelimbs built of the same bones organized in similar structures. An engineer could design better limbs for each purpose". Hurray for the engineer! Aside from engineers likewise being the purported result of aimless forces, it should be interesting to see them design live creatures with the same wondrous capabilities. Dr. Ayala also complains (pp.76-77): "Consider the human eye. The visual nerve fibers...form the optic nerve, which...creates a blind spot, a minor imperfection but an imperfection of design, nevertheless". How so, with the blind spot not perceived by us?

The author regardless ends with an apologetic for faith in a God who oddly would be a purposeful Creator of the world but not purposing the nature of his creations. The apologetic also presents dubious defenses against criticisms "that God could have created a different world, without catastrophes" (pp.79-80): "But that would not be a creative universe, where galaxies form, stars and planetary systems come about, and continents drift. The world that we have is creative and more exiting than a static world." Or: "a world of life with evolution is much more exiting; it is a creative world where new species arise, complex ecosystems come about, and humans have evolved".

Too bad that humans of previous ages or those of lesser interest in the formation of the universe have not seen how more "creative" and "exiting" this world is than one without catastrophes. Perhaps a better explanation of misfortunes in the world is in understanding them as conditions that challenge our responsibilities for our choices in life.
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Intelligent Design Uncensored: An Easy-to-Understand Guide to the Controversy
Intelligent Design Uncensored: An Easy-to-Understand Guide to the Controversy
by William A. Dembski
Edition: Paperback
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3 of 8 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Crystal clear, December 16, 2010
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The authors live up to their promise of "An Easy-to-Understand Guide to the Controversy". The arguments for Intelligent Design are almost irresistible, chief among them that design offers the best explanation for the organism's structure, in keeping with reliance on explanation in science in general and evolution in particular, namely what hypothesis is most likely to predict actual findings.

It is my desire to add some more thoughts, as I have done in other reviews. Author Dembski makes good attempts to formulate a design test, by which it is reasonable to infer an intelligent designer behind a phenomenon, as exemplified by man-made products. He is seeking a certain pattern in objects, and one pattern that has perhaps not been paid enough attention to is that those objects exhibit a clear function, a purpose they appear designed for. And organisms certainly disclose that pattern indisputably. The design argument has, as with William Paley, always been predicated on the phenomenon that biological forms are exquisitely so constructed as to serve certain functions, survival in general.

The book's authors describe well how Darwinism's "survival of the fittest" led to tragedies of wanting to dispose of the "unfit" in human societies, whether by sterilization or worse. These are obviously abhorrent on moral grounds, and there is more to it. Even though today's Darwinists, too, recognize the unacceptability of such results, they persist in believing that to, as Darwin put it, "let the strongest live and the weakest die" is somehow an inevitable law of blind and uncaring nature, as determined by natural selection.

Overlooked is another phenomenon besides the wonderfully functional structure of biological forms. It is that organisms are not once and for all structured as they are, and thereafter are at the mercy of natural selection, which weeds out the unfit and selects the fit. That other phenomenon is the organism's actual striving for survival, the individual organism's behavior aiming at self-preservation, in utilization of its mentioned functional form. It is the kind of activity engaged in by our bodies, as in developing resistance by inoculation. This is to say that each organism adapts to the environment at all times, rather than being inherently fit or unfit, as Darwinism would have it. They perish or survive at any time depending on particular circumstances, not because they are or are not favorably constructed by accident.

Taking account of this purposeful adaptation to the environment as circumstances make possible also informs us that directed activity, rather than only undirected, "blind", forces, does exist in nature, obviating speculation as to whether organisms result only from those forces. Life is an existence directed at survival, and one can draw the conclusion regarding a purposeful, intelligent, being behind it accordingly.
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Against All Gods: What's Right and Wrong About the New Atheism
Against All Gods: What's Right and Wrong About the New Atheism
by Phillip E. Johnson
Edition: Paperback
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Brief but illuminating, November 12, 2010
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The authors make frank admissions of their restricted knowledge, but a good case for reliance on faith in all life's endeavors where knowledge is absent.

Phillip Johnson writes (p.33): "Scientists in particular have to be men and women of faith... To be successful, scientists have to learn not to allow difficulties to destroy their confidence... Yet there is a limit. Sometimes repeated failure is a sign that reaching a goal by the means one has been using truly is impossible... Alchemists had faith that they could transform base metals to gold, but their persistence after lifetimes of failure made them seem ridiculous rather than heroic. I sometimes think of alchemy when reading of the constantly unsuccessful efforts of modern scientists to determine how nonliving chemicals combined by natural means on the early Earth to form the first living cells."

Correspondingly, he writes (p.34): "many scientists today have an absolute faith in naturalism". "On this assumption every natural phenomenon, like the origin of life, for example, is securely known to be explicable on the basis of natural causes accessible to scientific investigation--some combination of chemical laws and chance, to be more specific."

I may add further thoughts here. "[C]ombination of chemical laws and chance" is itself confusing, inasmuch as "chance" is equally the expression of such laws. However, science's presumption of "natural" causes as confined to physical or chemical laws consists of an enormous oversight. The very subject of life concerned here exhibits a natural phenomenon unexplained by only physical or chemical laws, which are understood as undirected and therefore excluding the possibility of goal-directedness, purpose, in nature. That phenomenon, which in fact distinguishes life, is the property of being directed at the goal of self-preservation, in contrast to the lifeless. It is a characteristic totally overlooked in the disputes, perhaps because it is right under our noses, and I have been trying to call attention to it though it remains a blind spot.

Author Reynolds is exceptionally candid in saying about themselves as authors (p.113): "Both of us have our doubts..." Perhaps their arguments are too narrow, by concerning Christians versus atheists. It would be more inclusive to speak about theism opposite atheism. Then there is no need to defend a particular faith, but a general concept of God as one who has goals, purposes, for his creatures. The preceding should help in this direction.


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