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.