Why Darwin Matters: The Case Against Intelligent Design
About the Author(s)
Why Shermer Matters, September 6, 2006
Every now and then, a student or scientist comes to me and wants to express dislike for the theory of evolution, or to argue in favor of intelligent design. These people are often exceptionally bright, and they’ve often thought carefully about their positions. I’ve come to really appreciate their presence in my scientific and academic world, even though I don’t agree with them. I’ve learned quite a bit from these people about science, spirituality, and life.
And so, because of these people, I really enjoyed this book. The author takes a strong position, and I happen to agree with him, mostly. I didn’t learn much that I don’t already know because I have studied evolution and I’m already on his side. But I get the sense that I could share this with book with those who don’t agree, and have an intelligent discussion about it. I really don’t know how this book will fare in the hands of religious people who emphatically dismiss and ridicule Darwin and favor intelligent design, but I appreciate the fact that the author doesn’t indulge in insults. He simply teaches the reader about the facts of evolution and the scientific enterprise. "Intelligent Design" simply crumbles away because there’s no science to support it. Shermer is attempting to blast unscientific ideas out of your belief system, but more than that, he’s painting a flattering picture of the scientific enterprise, and evolutionary theory in particular. If you fall in love with the scientific enterprise, and see that Darwin played by the rules, you’ll be in good shape.
Shermer’s strategy is interesting. He’ll probably never persuade many advocates to abandon their positions on intelligent design. The fundamentalists simply use ID as a vehicle for their entrenched religious beliefs. But if you believe in ID and are a rational scientist at heart, you’ll be able put your beliefs under the microscope, while learning facts about evolutionary science.
Much is made about the fact that the author was a born again evangelical Christian who argued against evolution, and then changed his views. The autobiographical content throughout the book is really interesting, and worthy of discussion. My sense is that Shermer does a good job of describing what many fundamentalists believe. He then goes on to explain how he changed his own views, offering his experience to the reader.
Shermer has a background in psychology, and it shows. In places. He thinks a lot about WHY people believe what they do, and he refers various biases and heuristics that define our beliefs. He and the late, great Steven J. Gould wrote a book about these things previously.
Compare WDM to the books that simply preach to the choir, and ridicule the anti-evolutionists. Daniel Dennett, Sam Harris, Richard Dawkins and others blast religion for various reasons. If you get a kick out of people who don’t suffer fools easily, then these authors have what you are looking for. Dawkins’ newest book, "The God Delusion" will blast away at Intelligent Design. It will probably be another great book by Dawkins. But my guess is that his diatribe will offer nothing to people who are on the fence.
Michael Shermer’s "Why Darwin Matters" is a gift to the devotee, skeptic, or scientist who isn’t sure about what he believes. Perhaps that is why Shermer matters.