Origins & Science
Phillip E. Johnson and Denis O. Lamoureux, et al. (Regent: September 1, 1999)
In this provocative book, evolutionist Denis O. Lamoureux — a charismatic evangelical Christian who holds PhD degrees in both theology and biology — challenges some of Johnson's ideas about how Christians ought to respond to theories of biological evolution. Johnson, in turn, responds to his criticisms. The debate is assessed by several scientists, including well known contributors to the origins debate: Michael Behe, Michael Denton and Howard Van Till. Rikki E. Watts and Loren Wilkinson conclude the book by offering biblical and theological insights to the discussion.
Michael Denton (Adler & Adler:Dec 1, 1996)
In a penetrating account of features of the natural world that mutation and natural selection are simply inadequate to explain. From biochemistry to the fossil record, Denton systematically demolishes the "fact" of evolution as a sufficient explanation for the world as it is. Denton doesn't deny that evolution occurs; he is, for example, sanguine about the "horse series." He claims, however, that evolution, taken as mutation and natural selection, is no more than a partial answer. His his explication and analysis of the avian respiratory system is as convincing as anything in Mike Behe's book. Some have tried to explain away problems in evolution as owing to the paucity of human imagination, but Denton doesn't merely ask, "How could this have evolved?" e.g., the feather, avian respiration, etc. He argues positively that certain features cannot have evolved, that intermediate forms are not just difficult to imagine, they are impossible.
Richard Morris (W.H. Freeman: May 2001), 262 pages.
Evolution is a fact: of that there can be no dispute. But, writes Richard Morris in this lively overview of modern biology, scientists have been arguing about most other aspects of Darwinian thought for generations, and the battle is growing ever fiercer with the advent of "evolutionary psychology" and other new approaches. Following the biologist Ernst Mayr, Morris identifies at least five subtheories in the theory of evolution: "evolution as such," or the idea that evolution takes place at all; "common descent," the notion that all life originated in a common ancestor; "multiplication of species," or the splitting of one species into two or more species over time; "gradualism," the idea that evolutionary change happens slowly over a long period of time; and "natural selection," the idea that favorable genetic characteristics prevail over less desired ones. These subtheories are widely debated these days, with controversial scientists such as Stephen Jay Gould advancing ideas of "punctuated equilibrium," whereby change happens suddenly and often catastrophically; Gould's nemesis Richard Dawkins advancing orthodox Darwinism under the "selfish gene" metaphor; and other scientists turning up bits and pieces of evidence of environmental determinism and parallel evolution in nature that alternately undermine and support Darwinian thought. The arguments among these contemporary scholars are lively, often acrimonious, and amply fueled — after all, Darwin himself puzzled over whether natural selection was the driving force of evolutionary change. Morris offers an evenhanded account of the many schools of thought at work today, and his book will be of great interest to students of the life sciences. ~ Gregory McNamee of Amazon.com
Richard Dawkins (Oxford University Press: May 25, 2006), 384 pages.
Inheriting the mantle of revolutionary biologist from Darwin, Watson, and Crick, Richard Dawkins forced an enormous change in the way we see ourselves and the world with the publication of The Selfish Gene. Suppose, instead of thinking about organisms using genes to reproduce themselves, as we had since Mendel's work was rediscovered, we turn it around and imagine that "our" genes build and maintain us in order to make more genes. That simple reversal seems to answer many puzzlers which had stumped scientists for years, and we haven't thought of evolution in the same way since. Why are there miles and miles of "unused" DNA within each of our bodies? Why should a bee give up its own chance to reproduce to help raise her sisters and brothers? With a prophet's clarity, Dawkins told us the answers from the perspective of molecules competing for limited space and resources to produce more of their own kind. Drawing fascinating examples from every field of biology, he paved the way for a serious re-evaluation of evolution. He also introduced the concept of self-reproducing ideas, or memes, which (seemingly) use humans exclusively for their propagation. If we are puppets, he says, at least we can try to understand our strings. ~ Rob Lightner of Amazon.com
Larry Arnhart (State University of New York Press: May 1, 1998), 332 pages.
This book shows how Darwinian biology supports an Aristotelian view of ethics as rooted in human nature. Defending a conception of "Darwinian natural right" based on the claim that the good is the desirable, the author argues that there are at least twenty natural desires that are universal to all human societies because they are based in human biology. The satisfaction of these natural desires constitutes a universal standard for judging social practice as either fulfilling or frustrating human nature, although prudence is required in judging what is best for particular circumstances. The author studies the familial bonding of parents and children and the conjugal bonding of men and women as illustrating social behavior that conforms to Darwinian natural right. He also studies slavery and psychopathy as illustrating social behavior that contradicts Darwinian natural right. He argues as well that the natural moral sense does not require religious belief, although such belief can sometimes reinforce the dictates of nature.
Michael Ruse (University of Chicago Press: Oct 15, 1999)
Originally published in 1979, The Darwinian Revolution was the first comprehensive and readable synthesis of the history of evolutionary thought. Though the years since have seen an enormous flowering of research on Darwin and other nineteenth-century scientists concerned with evolution, as well as the larger social and cultural responses to their work, The Darwinian Revolution remains remarkably current and stimulating.
Stephen Jay Gould (Belknap Press: Mar. 21, 2002)
The culmination of about 25 years of research and study, this book traces the history of evolutionary thought and charts a path for its future. After Darwin wrote The Origin of Species in 1859, scientists created a synthesis of genetics, ecology and paleontology to explain how natural selection could produce change and form new species. Gould thinks that this "modern synthesis" has hardened into a dogma stifling the science. Gould claims that an obsession with "selfish genes" and simplistic versions of natural selection blinds researchers to the significance of new discoveries about how evolution really works. The rules by which embryos develop, for example, create constraints that channel the flow of evolution. Asteroid impacts and other catastrophes can send evolution off on unpredictable trajectories. And selection, Gould contends, may act not just on individuals or their genes, but on entire species or groups of species, and in ways we've only begun to understand. This book presents Gould in all his incarnations: as a digressive historian, original thinker and cunning polemicist. It is certainly not a perfect work. Gould gives short shrift to the tremendous discoveries spurred by "Darwinian fundamentalism," while he sometimes overplays the importance of hazy theoretical arguments that support his own claims. But even Gould's opponents will recognize this as the magnum opus of one of the world's leading evolutionary thinkers. ~ Publishers Weekly
Ernst Mayr (Basic Books: Oct. 15, 2002), 336 pages.
At age 97, Ernst Mayr is one of the most influential scientists of the 20th century, and here he delivers yet another valuable addition to the field of evolutionary theory. Mayr, who was also a curator at the American Museum of Natural History for two decades, guides lay readers through evolutionary thought from the book of Genesis and creationist theory through Darwin's theories and "soft" evolution and on to more contemporary, inclusive concepts. He takes readers on a whirlwind voyage from the scala naturae (the Great Chain of Being, in which everything in the world was accorded a position in a developmental hierarchy) to Mayr's own work, which builds on Darwinian theory and environmental factors. No one but Mayr could explain evolution so well, and though the text is peppered with many scientific terms, overall the author is triumphant in his goal to teach "first and foremost... biologist or not, [anyone] who simply wants to know more about evolution." While many authors suggest their tomes are the authoritative source, Mayr remains humble, reminding readers that "many details remain controversial." And the combination of his expertise, his elegant prose and the sheer pleasure of so many enthralling facts (the 145-million-year-old Archaeopteryx is a near perfect link between reptiles and birds, for example) means that studying the fossil record has rarely been so absorbing. Appendixes answer FAQs and respond to various objections to evolutionary theory, while a glossary offers entries from acoelomate to zygote. ~ Publishers Weekly
Thomas S. Kuhn, pub. 1962 (University of Chicago Press: Dec 15, 1996) 226 pages.
There's a "Frank & Ernest" comic strip showing a chick breaking out of its shell, looking around, and saying, "Oh, wow! Paradigm shift!" Blame the late Thomas Kuhn. Few indeed are the philosophers or historians influential enough to make it into the funny papers, but Kuhn is one. The Structure of Scientific Revolutions is indeed a paradigmatic work in the history of science. Kuhn's use of terms such as "paradigm shift" and "normal science," his ideas of how scientists move from disdain through doubt to acceptance of a new theory, his stress on social and psychological factors in science — all have had profound effects on historians, scientists, philosophers, critics, writers, business gurus, and even the cartoonist in the street. Some scientists (such as Steven Weinberg and Ernst Mayr) are profoundly irritated by Kuhn, especially by the doubts he casts — or the way his work has been used to cast doubt--on the idea of scientific progress. Yet it has been said that the acceptance of plate tectonics in the 1960s, for instance, was sped by geologists' reluctance to be on the downside of a paradigm shift. Even Weinberg has said that "Structure has had a wider influence than any other book on the history of science." As one of Kuhn's obituaries noted, "We all live in a post-Kuhnian age." ~ Mary Ellen Curtin of Amazon.com
Richard Dawkins (W.W. Norton: Sep. 19, 1996), 400 pages.
Oxford zoologist Dawkins (The Selfish Gene, The Extended Phenotype) trumpets his thesis in his subtitle almost guarantee enough that his book will stir controversy. Simply put, he has responded head-on to the argument-by-design most notably made by the 18th century theologian William Paley that the universe, like a watch in its complexity, needed, in effect, a watchmaker to design it. Hewing to Darwin's fundamental (his opponents might say fundamentalist) message, Dawkins sums up: "The theory of evolution by cumulative natural selection is the only theory we know of that is in principle capable of explaining the evolution of organized complexity." Avoiding an arrogant tone despite his up-front convictions, he takes pains to explain carefully, from various sides, why even such esteemed scientists as Niles Eldredge and Stephen Jay Gould, with their "punctuated equilibrium" thesis, are actually gradualists like Darwin himself in their evolutionary views. Dawkins is difficult reading as he describes his computer models of evolutionary possibilities. But, as he draws on his zoological background, emphasizing recent genetic techniques, he can be as engrossing as he is cogent and convincing. His concept of "taming chance" by breaking down the "very improbable into less improbable small components" is daring neo-Darwinism. ~ Publishers Weekly