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Tower of Babel: The Evidence Against the New Creationism (A Bradford Book) Paperback – February 28, 2000
"Enlightenment Now: The Case for Reason, Science, Humanism, and Progress"
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The face of creationism has been through some major plastic surgery in the past decade or so. The leading proponents of "intelligent design theory" have left the ranting flat-earth types behind and found respected positions in the academic world from which to launch attacks on mainstream science. Philosopher of science Robert T. Pennock has explored all sides of the ongoing debate, which remains (despite the protestations of many creationists) more about biblical inerrancy than scientific evidence. His book Tower of Babel examines the new directions antievolutionists have taken lately, but goes beyond a mere recounting of recent history by proposing a new avenue of counterattack: linguistics.
The parallels are striking once we look closely: Genesis proclaims that God created all human languages at one stroke, while modern scientific thought proposes linguistic evolution similar in form to genetics. Best of all for scientists, though, linguistic change is much more rapid than biological change, and we have actually observed what might be called "speciation events" to have occurred historically in languages. While not meant to supplant traditional arguments against creationism, Pennock's ideas certainly supplement them and will be useful to educators and researchers alike. His sense of urgency is compelling; he sees the future of scientific education and freedom at stake and argues strongly for a separation between private beliefs and public knowledge. --Rob Lightner --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.
From Publishers Weekly
According to University of Texas philosopher Pennock, creationism has been evolving, changing from an unsophisticated attack on biological evolution to a more refined and polished assault on the nature of science itself. Rather than offering sophomoric arguments and forged archeological displays, he contends, the new creationists are attempting to promulgate a philosophical construct, theistic science, that is both more subtle and more insidious. With great insight and good humor, Pennock catalogues the wide range of creationist beliefs, dissects their main arguments and highlights what he sees as their internal inconsistencies. He focuses most of his attention on explicating the alleged weakness of the premises of theistic science and its reliance on an "intelligent designer," contending that its incorporation of miracles into its explanatory sphere undermines all aspects of science. In clear, direct prose, Pennock uses the basics of linguistic evolution to go after the foundation of the new creationism while employing sound philosophical arguments to demonstrate that an evolutionary worldview is neither immoral nor the first step toward the acceptance of atheism. With the new creationists claiming that an evolutionary perspective is responsible for virtually all of the world's ills and their desire to make amends by restructuring public education and the legal system, the stakes are huge. Pennock's response, thoughtful, thorough and respectful, deserves to be widely read.
Copyright 1999 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.
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He wrote in the Preface to this 1999 book, "In the battle over the teaching of creationism in school science classes, creationists unite against their common foe---but what about the great confusion within the Tower? I will call attention to this confusion but I do not mean thereby to follow the creationists' own fallacious strategy and urge that we should reject creationism simply because creationists find fault with the details of each other's views... The point is to look at what each side... offers in the way of arguments and evidence for its particular point of view and against its rivals... I do not mean to attack the sincerity or intentions of creationist believers... Indeed, as a member of the Society of Friends (Quakers) ... I believe strongly in the freedom of religious belief (or unbelief)." (Pg. xi, xviii)
About the 2nd Law/Entropy argument of creationists, he says, "even if the earth WERE a closed system, evolution would still be possible since... some objects in the insulated box may (at least temporarily) decrease in entropy though the system AS A WHOLE moves towards equilibrium. Thus in neither case is there a contradiction between evolution and the second law." (Pg. 80)
He critiques Philip Johnson: "...it is usually difficult to pin him down to any specific positive view... When he equates scientific naturalism with 'scientism' he is repeating the name-calling led by antiscientific cultural relativists... When he describes the scientific community as a 'priesthood' that 'guards the door' of knowledge, he is making the central postmodern point that knowledge is simply that story whose authors have the power to suppress other stories." (Pg. 210-211)
Against Michael Behe, he says, "Behe tells us that he cannot imagine any way around the apparent irreducibility in his examples, but even just upon reviewing his book other biologists have been able to suggest some specific biochemical pathways that might work. Only future research will tell. Thus, it is simply premature to say that these systems are irreducibly complex... [Still] it at least seems possible from a conceptual standpoint to suppose that such systems could exist..." (Pg. 266-267) He adds, "Although Behe derides Darwinists for not having given specific explanations for the visual cascade or the bacterial flagellum, his own 'explanation' of each complexity he describes is the same---an (unidentified) intelligence designed it that way. Such an explanation is vacuous." (Pg. 274)
This book will be of considerable interest to anyone studying the Creation/Evolution or Intelligent Design controversies.
However, Pennock does take an approach that is too rare in these discussions: that creationism of any stripe is harmful to serious theology as well as to public education, science, and the hope to have an informed citizenry. It is not his main focus but it resonates in much of the book.
I teach English at a community college in Missouri. My colleagues and I believe in the idea of helping our students become informed citizens so that they understand and participate in our democracy in thoughtful ways. Nothing interferes with the notion of being informed in this area more than the many fundamentalist/evangelical churches around here. When we discuss these issues in class, I find that the majority of students are full of misinformation and misunderstanding due to the affect that anti-evolutionists have had on public school teaching. Most students are thoughtful and interested, but woefully uneducated. They will listen and read and try to grasp evolution or other science, but they struggle, understandably enough.
Here's the kicker. What really gets them interested is to learn that evolution is not "anti-Christian." When I talk to them about my own mainstream Protestant upbringing, when they realize that the vast majority of Christian denominations accept evolution and see no incompatibility, when they realize that they are being lied to and used by extremists, they are very interested. Because of the prominence of fundamentalism in this area, and because of the loudness of creationist rhetoric, and because public school science teachers are afraid (or simply poorly educated themselves), most students don't realize what a fringe movement (dangerous, but fringe) creationism is and *what a threat it is to mainstream, serious Christianity*. That gets their dander up, and it is an issue Pennock discusses more than most scientific repudiations of creationism. (It may also suggest a profitable avenue to take in future refutations. Many theologians have spoken out against creationism and anti-evolutionism, but so far as I know not in particularly organized, mainstream, popular forums.)
Beyond that, I will merely attest to the overall excellence of thought, writing, and evidence in Tower of Babel that many reviewers have commented on. The linguistic analogy is terrific (and Pennock clearly states that there is no exact correspondence between linguistic and biological evolution) and the examinations of creationist rhetorical strategies is first rate. I've read a lot of evolution books and anti-creationist material. There is a lot of good stuff out there, but if you can only read one, this is it.
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