Reviewing Ayala and Kitcher

My reviews of Phillip Kitcher’s Living With Darwin and Francisco Ayala’s Evolution and Intelligent Design are now available over at Skeptic’s website. Enjoy!

I should probably mention that I wrote this review some time ago, and in the meantime Ayala has published a slightly more detailed book on the same subject, entitled Darwin’s Gift. I got about fifty pages into it before being sidetracked by other reading. I’ll withhold final judgment until I’ve read the whole thing, but my impression is that the new book gives me no reason to revise my opinion of Ayala’s arguments.


  1. #1 Blake Stacey
    October 10, 2007

    A very nice double review; I enjoyed it.

  2. #2 Dave Carlson
    October 10, 2007

    I’ll second that. Nicely written, Jason.

  3. #3 John Farrell
    October 10, 2007

    I noticed you mentioned John Haught in your review. What have you read by him? He looks (to me) more interesting than McGrath….

  4. #4 Russell Blackford
    October 11, 2007

    Good work, Jason. If I get some time, I should do a proper review of Kitcher’s book somewhere. Meanwhile, my initial thoughts are posted here …

    …if you’re interested.

  5. #5 Christophe Thill
    October 11, 2007

    “The second point is that science is a powerful and successful way of acquiring knowledge about the universe, but it is not the only way: other valid ways of acquiring knowledge about the universe include imaginative literature and other forms of art, common sense, philosophy and religion.”

    I think that this statement by Ayala is highly significant and typical. We could, and perhaps should, spend hundreds of hours and thousands of pages dissecting it, and refuting all the fallacies it contains.

    But if I had to give a very brief outline, in a few words, I’d say this:
    If we hear this kind of things all the time, if it looks logical, or even true, or even obvious, to so many people, it can only be because of the confusion surrounding the word “knowledge”.

    Just another case of the “language disease” that, according to Wittgenstein, affects philosophers. So we should not discuss them, but cure them.

  6. #6 Jason Rosenhouse
    October 11, 2007

    Blake and Dave-

    Thanks for the kind words. Glad you liked the review.


    Haught is a big improvement over McGrath. I’ve read his God After Darwin, and even reviewed it for Skeptic here.

    That’s the only book of his I’ve read cover to cover, though I read a good chunk of his Q and A book (alas, I forgot the title) and a few of his essays. He defends “process theology,” and is a big fan of Teilhard de Chardin. God After Darwin is not light reading and certainly provides food for thought, but in the end — surprise! — I don’t find his arguments persuasive.


    Thank you for the link to your review. I enjoyed reading it, and it looks like we came to the same conclusions. You mentioned at one point that Dawkins had responded to Kitcher at his site. Do you have the link handy, by any chance?

    And I’ll get on that meme post as soon as I can. 🙂


    I agree completely. I’m a big fan of art and imaginative literature, but it is not clear to me what “knowledge” we can say we obtain from them.

  7. #7 John Farrell
    October 13, 2007

    God After Darwin is not light reading and certainly provides food for thought, but in the end — surprise! — I don’t find his arguments persuasive.

    That’s progress, though. Finding someone unpersuasive is better than finding them moronic.


  8. #8 Blake Stacey
    October 16, 2007

    I believe that Russell Blackford was referring to this podcast interview of Kitcher and Dawkins’ subsequent response:

    So, Philip Kitcher, what I should have done is add the following sentence at the end of every chapter of The God Delusion: “Oh, and by the way, we need a National Health Service.” I strongly believe in universal health care, I wish I wish it was available in the United States, I wish the British National Health Service lived up in practice to its theoretical ideals and I’d gladly pay more tax to that end. But, however strongly I believe in human welfare, my book is actually about something else. It is about religion, especially whether religious beliefs are true, and not about the best way to run a society.

  9. #9 James McGrath
    October 20, 2007

    Thanks for sharing your double-review. I actually reviewed Ayala’s and Behe’s books in a double-review on my blog, which was a different sort of experience. I just finished reading Kitcher’s book recently and enjoyed it, although I felt he tried to squeeze in too much in his attempt to include the whole of the Enlightenment, historical criticism of the Bible, and so on in his final chapter.

    Some of my posts about these books are at the following addresses. I’d be interested to know what you make of my assessment of them as a religion professor rather than a scientist.

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