Book of the Month June 2018

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I have been reading criticisms of Darwin for a long time, meaning that I know my onions (allium cepa), and House of Cards acquits itself very well in the genre, making a fine contribution to our growing library. I am very happy to commend it as my selection for June’s book of the month.

Tom Bethell, a veteran journalist, does a really fine job assessing the current landscape. He reproduces arguments carefully and accurately, critiques them ably, and gives the biographical and historical background as needed.

I really enjoyed his treatment of convergent evolution. Never mind the stupefying odds against something like the eye evolving, the doctrine of convergent evolution tries to deal with the fact that the eye has to have evolved like something over forty distinct times. Not all eyes are related, in other words. How come this impossible thing keeps happening?

Even funnier is the antipodean angle on convergent evolution that Australia gives us—with the difference between marsupial and placental critters. Any way you cut it, you have a profound mystery. The land masses supposedly broke up about 100 million years ago, and yet we have the same basic animals running around, only with two different gestation systems.

“Despite this long separation, marsupials in Australia and placentals in North America often resemble one another in overall shape and way of life” (p. 117).

We have marsupial mice and placental mice. We have marsupial flying possum and placental flying squirrels that resemble one another. We have marsupial moles and placental moles, but the marsupial moles, be it noted, have their pouches upside down to keep the dirt from getting in. A marsupial wolf, now extinct, resembles the placental wolf. And to top off the list, we used to have marsupial saber-toothed cats and placental saber-toothed cats. Any way you analyze it, something was converging on the same design in the most unlikely ways possible.

As a journalist, Bethell does a good job discussing the rise of Intelligent Design, along with the indignation of the establishment scientists, who do not want to discuss it. Some of the ID arguments are TKOs, and so reluctance to discuss is perhaps not all that surprising. I did notice, however, that Bethell passed by one of the ID conceits (i.e. that it is not necessarily creationism) without offering the obvious criticism of it.

“Intelligent design theory then, does not identify a designer, any more than we can identify the designer of Stonehenge” (p. 157).

The obvious objection to this is that if any designer less than God is discovered, i.e. a designer that is some part of this cosmos, that designer himself exhibits a design that needs to be accounted for. And unless you have the appetite for a “turtles all the way down” approach to the topic, Intelligent Design needs to just admit that it is creationism.

But this is a rare stumble. Bethell is careful, meticulous, and thorough. If you love this topic, you should love this book.