A valuable, clearly presented tool in a key modern controversy.

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WHY DARWIN MATTERS

THE CASE AGAINST INTELLIGENT DESIGN

A leading skeptic takes on the religious right.

Skeptic magazine publisher Shermer (Science Friction, 2005) begins with his own discovery of how robust a theory evolution is. An evangelical Christian through his high-school and college years, he learned in a statistics class that the search for scientific truth is guided by probabilities and logic, not rhetoric and persuasion. Evolution is supported not by rigid doctrine (as creationists often claim) but by converging lines of evidence from various independent disciplines: geology, botany, genetics, paleontology, comparative anatomy, etc. After a brief history of the controversy aroused by Darwin’s theories, Shermer offers a detailed list of creationists’ favorite “refutations” of evolution. Perhaps the strongest is the much-touted anthropic principle, which argues that several critical values of physics are so fine-tuned for the development of life that the universe must have been designed specifically for that purpose. Shermer notes that the universe is not, as far as we can see, teeming with life, let alone intelligent life; a careful observer might question the efficacy of the implied design. It’s more likely that we are predisposed to see design where there is none than that such an enormous structure has been reared to bring about so little. Other arguments against evolution also fall short: When creationists demand “missing links” that demonstrate historical evolution and are answered with a fossil fulfilling its criteria, they typically demand still more linking forms. In short, they reject the rules by which science plays, while demanding that their own claims be afforded the status of science. Shermer offers calm, generally civil answers to the major questions about evolution, squarely faces controversy, generally forgoes cheap shots at the opposition, and provides a cogent blueprint for rationalists faced with debate against creation science or intelligent design.

A valuable, clearly presented tool in a key modern controversy.

Pub Date: Aug. 8, 2006

ISBN: 0-8050-8121-6

Page Count: 224

Publisher: Times/Henry Holt

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 15, 2006

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An authoritative, engaging study of plant life, accessible to younger readers as well as adults.

THE INCREDIBLE JOURNEY OF PLANTS

A neurobiologist reveals the interconnectedness of the natural world through stories of plant migration.

In this slim but well-packed book, Mancuso (Plant Science/Univ. of Florence; The Revolutionary Genius of Plants: A New Understanding of Plant Intelligence and Behavior, 2018, etc.) presents an illuminating and surprisingly lively study of plant life. He smoothly balances expansive historical exploration with recent scientific research through stories of how various plant species are capable of migrating to locations throughout the world by means of air, water, and even via animals. They often continue to thrive in spite of dire obstacles and environments. One example is the response of plants following the Chernobyl nuclear disaster. Three decades later, the abandoned “Exclusion Zone” is now entirely covered by an enormous assortment of thriving plants. Mancuso also tracks the journeys of several species that might be regarded as invasive. “Why…do we insist on labeling as ‘invasive’ all those plants that, with great success, have managed to occupy new territories?” asks the author. “On a closer look, the invasive plants of today are the native flora of the future, just as the invasive species of the past are a fundamental part of our ecosystem today.” Throughout, Mancuso persuasively articulates why an understanding and appreciation of how nature is interconnected is vital to the future of our planet. “In nature everything is connected,” he writes. “This simple law that humans don’t seem to understand has a corollary: the extinction of a species, besides being a calamity in and of itself, has unforeseeable consequences for the system to which the species belongs.” The book is not without flaws. The loosely imagined watercolor renderings are vague and fail to effectively complement Mancuso’s richly descriptive prose or satisfy readers’ curiosity. Even without actual photos and maps, it would have been beneficial to readers to include more finely detailed plant and map renderings.

An authoritative, engaging study of plant life, accessible to younger readers as well as adults.

Pub Date: March 17, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-63542-991-6

Page Count: 176

Publisher: Other Press

Review Posted Online: Dec. 8, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1, 2020

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Loads of good explaining, with reminders, time and again, of how much remains unknown, neatly putting the death of science...

A SHORT HISTORY OF NEARLY EVERYTHING

Bryson (I'm a Stranger Here Myself, 1999, etc.), a man who knows how to track down an explanation and make it confess, asks the hard questions of science—e.g., how did things get to be the way they are?—and, when possible, provides answers.

As he once went about making English intelligible, Bryson now attempts the same with the great moments of science, both the ideas themselves and their genesis, to resounding success. Piqued by his own ignorance on these matters, he’s egged on even more so by the people who’ve figured out—or think they’ve figured out—such things as what is in the center of the Earth. So he goes exploring, in the library and in company with scientists at work today, to get a grip on a range of topics from subatomic particles to cosmology. The aim is to deliver reports on these subjects in terms anyone can understand, and for the most part, it works. The most difficult is the nonintuitive material—time as part of space, say, or proteins inventing themselves spontaneously, without direction—and the quantum leaps unusual minds have made: as J.B.S. Haldane once put it, “The universe is not only queerer than we suppose; it is queerer than we can suppose.” Mostly, though, Bryson renders clear the evolution of continental drift, atomic structure, singularity, the extinction of the dinosaur, and a mighty host of other subjects in self-contained chapters that can be taken at a bite, rather than read wholesale. He delivers the human-interest angle on the scientists, and he keeps the reader laughing and willing to forge ahead, even over their heads: the human body, for instance, harboring enough energy “to explode with the force of thirty very large hydrogen bombs, assuming you knew how to liberate it and really wished to make a point.”

Loads of good explaining, with reminders, time and again, of how much remains unknown, neatly putting the death of science into perspective.

Pub Date: May 6, 2003

ISBN: 0-7679-0817-1

Page Count: 304

Publisher: Broadway

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 1, 2003

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