- Series: A Bradford Book
- Hardcover: 440 pages
- Publisher: The MIT Press; 1 edition (March 19, 1999)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 026216180X
- ISBN-13: 978-0262161800
- Product Dimensions: 5.9 x 1.1 x 8.8 inches
- Shipping Weight: 1.6 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
- Average Customer Review: 70 customer reviews
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #2,011,288 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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Tower of Babel: The Evidence against the New Creationism 1st Edition
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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
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.
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The book provides a general history of 20th Century "creationism", its programme and its proponents. The later "Intelligent Design" movement, which declares itself a "science" instead of a religious concept, Pennock declares a sham. Its influence is far too great, yet built from shoddy materials. Tracing the ideas and publications of such figures as Henry Morris and his followers, Pennock describes the propaganda techniques of the Institute for Creation Research and the recent wave material camouflaged under "scientific" or "legal" disguises. Pennock pores over their material, pinpointing their fallacies and exposing their tactics. He shows how evidence is ignored or twisted, explaining how ideology governs speeches, publications and strategy. Through it all, he shows how the Christians are as much at war with each other as they are with "materialism", the label they apply to Darwinian scholars.
Pennock adopts the unique method of showing how the evolution of languages repeats the biological pattern. From an original, lost language, modern tongues evolved in different environments. It continues to evolve today. It's a fitting analogy, one which teachers should note and apply in the classroom. It's appropriate that a scholar of Pennock's stature should thus ally science with the humanities. As he points out, much of the assault on biological evolution could easily be applied to farming, home life and law.
The author examines some of the renowned figures of the IDC cabal with a penetrating gaze. Pennock charitably skims over Michael Behe's ignorance of evolutionary process to focus on lawyer Phil Johnson. Johnson's legal training prompts him to address all questions in absolutes and to create straw men as easily demolished targets. Pennock simply dissects Johnson's writings to demonstrate not only false assumptions, but contradictions so severe as to inspire the reader to wonder how he maintains his academic position. According to Pennock, Johnson's works betray a messianic mentality from which he institutes a project to redeem American society. It's to Pennock's credit that the term "demagogue" doesn't appear in the text. One can only admire his forbearance.
Pennock's patience must have been stretched in undertaking the research to produce this book. He has debated Darwin's defamers, suffered through the morass of creationist publications and endured the assault on evidence unashamedly displayed at the creationists' museum. It can hardly be beaten as an exercise in mental self-flagellation. Yet, this book results in a mine of information, reasoned analysis and fine exposition. Every science or humanities teacher in North America would do well to consider keeping a copy close at hand. It's an invaluable resource. [stephen a. haines - Ottawa, Canada]
It doesn't, much. Pennock (and some of his readers) seems to be under the impression he has written a book full of evidence against ID. In fact, very little shows up. He takes Philip Johnson, not Behe or Dembski, as his chief protagonist, and in a sense he is Johnson's doppleganger. What the book mostly offers is arguments on various philosophical issues related to old and new "creationism," along with quite a bit of sophisticated name-calling and mud-throwing. (Much of which could easily be tossed back.)
Something about Philip Johnson's writings had bothered me; perhaps it is a "post modern" lack of seriousness about the truth, as Pennock claims. But I wish Pennock himself had focused on the more substantial ID arguments. Given the subtitle, the book seemed like a long series of digresssions, along with weak and highly questionable arguments from analogy.
Pennock begins with a heavy caricature of "creationists." He offers us an extended, disparaging, and I think weak metaphor about the "evolution of creation." At first I wondered if Pennock could't tell the difference between changes wrought by natural forces and those brought about by intelligence; but in the last few pages of the book, after he has squeazed the last drop out of the metaphor, he tosses it and admits that new creationist "mimes" appear "by design."
After this introduction, Pennock goes on to suggest an analogy between the evolution of language and of the species. This is interesting but cannot really be construed as evidence for anything; for one thing, Genesis doesn't even say all languages were created at Babel, and for another (as Johnson points out in reply, and despite the Amazon reviewer) proponents of ID don't start with the Genesis account, anyway.
Pennock's claim that ID is determined by theology is weak even given the evidence he choses to focus on. But if you read the autobiographical accounts of say Hugh Ross or Michael Behe, this is quite false: for better or for worse, Behe and others did NOT come to ID through religion, but through science. Pennock repeatedly obscures that plain historical fact. His attempts to show that ID is "really religious," which distract us again into politics and education, become tedious if the real issue is (as it is for me, and the cover led me to believe it would be for Pennock) scientific evidence. The author is, I think, cheating. (The Amazon reviewer, as usual, proves himself incapable of providing a balanced review of a book on religion. He readily accepts Pennock's claim that ID is "more about biblical innerrancy than scientific evidence.") Also, if ID is the issue Pennock wants to pursue, as the subtitle further suggests, he is just mucking up the issue again by wasting several chapters on Henry Morris and other "Young Earth Creationists."
Pennock also spends a lot of time and energy describing the "evolution" of creationists tactics, and of language. Aside from the limits of these analogies, which Pennock admits late in the game, another problem is that anyone can play that game. One could equally well describe the increasing sophistication of evolutionary explanations, from ancient Greece on, in terms of "evolution" or "design;" another distraction from issues of substance. So, too, his protracted argument about the New Age Raelian sect. Pennock shows that the Raelians and creationists both argue against evolution; so what? Stalin and (I guess) Hitler both believed in evolution: does that make it false?
Yet again, Pennock takes on creationism in the classroom. He goes so far as to say people who disbelieve in evolution are "ideologues" who should not teach kids. This seems a little unfair, given that the university as an institution was invented by "creationists," and that thousands of excellent schools around the world were founded by these folks.
A few months ago I substituted in a middle school biology class in which a film on evolution and the Galapagos was being shown. The film calmly showed how the booby chick murdered its sibling, explaining the wisdom of this evolutionary strategy. If any child of a Columbine aura happened to be sitting in on that class, would Dr. Pennock feel entirely at ease with the possible implications he might draw? Would it really be so terrible, at a point like this, for students to be affirmed in any faith they may have that gives even non-scientific reasons not to "go and do likewise?"
Finally, when Pennock got to actual scientific arguments (which took a while), I found myself only mildly impressed. I am not sure he quite gets Dembski's concept of complex specified information, or the argument against the prebiotic assembly of proteins, etc. (See Rana and Ross, Origins of Life, in particular.) Pennock's "wrong number" reply does not answer Dembski's real argument on the point.
His computer analogy was well stated and emotionally persuasive, but one needs a stronger basis than argument from analogy. Also, one might conclude from that example that organisms ought to all "devolve" into simple bacteria.
In addition, Pennock's assumptions about faith and reason (274-5) misunderstand Christian thinking on the subject. I can state that emphatically, because I just completed a historical study of what key Christian thinkers have said on the topic. (...)Anyone who agrees with Pennock that it is a Christian virtue to "hold on to faith come what may" (like the reviewer who says "religious belief is a matter of faith not proof") does not I would suggest understand the mainstream, nuanced Christian view on this issue.
Most of Pennock's logical points seem reasonable. (Though he mistates what is and is not ad hominem on page 363.))
All in all, I found the book worth reading, though often misleading. Pennock did not deliver what he promised, but provided a good challenge to Johnson, in particular. Hopefully other evolutionists will offer more scientific substance; I will continue to look.
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