I just finished reading Massimo Pigliucci’s Denying Evolution: Creationism, Scientism, and the Nature of Science. I highly recommend this book as one of the best refuations of creationism out there. Also, he gives a very nuanced view of what science can and can not elucidate. While it won’t change the minds of any die-hard creationists, it is a good book for those on the fence (or those who simply want to learn about science and evolution).
One point Massimo makes is that creationists are not stupid-this is something many angry blue-staters seem to ignore. Rather, they are biblical literalists and they fully understand the implications of accepting (and denying) evolution. He concludes with the observation that “Darwin has made a compelling case for scientists, but not yet for the general public, that our species is neither the pinnacle of creation nor the direct handcrafted job of a god….Perhaps in another century or two, few people will find it strange to be the cousins of chimpanzees and bonobos. Until then, we need to fight not in defense of a particular theory, but for the privilege of attempting to understand the universe.”
It’s going to be a long fight.
UPDATE: This morning, the Wall Street Journal published a story about an evolutionary biologist who teaches at a fundamentalist college:
those experiences haven’t stopped Prof. Colling — who received a Ph.D. in microbiology, chairs the biology department at Olivet Nazarene and is himself a devout conservative Christian — from coming out swinging. In his new book, “Random Designer,” he writes: “It pains me to suggest that my religious brothers are telling falsehoods” when they say evolutionary theory is “in crisis” and claim that there is widespread skepticism about it among scientists. “Such statements are blatantly untrue,” he argues; “evolution has stood the test of time and considerable scrutiny.”
His is hardly the standard scientific defense of Darwin, however. His central claim is that both the origin of life from a primordial goo of nonliving chemicals, and the evolution of species according to the processes of random mutation and natural selection, are “fully compatible with the available scientific evidence and also contemporary religious beliefs.” In addition, as he bluntly told me, “denying science makes us [Conservative Christians] look stupid.”
Prof. Colling is one of a small number of conservative Christian scholars who are trying to convince biblical literalists that Darwin’s theory of evolution is no more the work of the devil than is Newton’s theory of gravity….But Prof. Colling has another motivation. “People should not feel they have to deny reality in order to experience their faith,” he says. He therefore offers a rendering of evolution fully compatible with faith, including his own…
He finds a place for God in evolution by positing a “random designer” who harnesses the laws of nature he created. “What the designer designed is the random-design process,” or Darwinian evolution, Prof. Colling says. “God devised these natural laws, and uses evolution to accomplish his goals.” God is not in there with a divine screwdriver and spare parts every time a new species or a wondrous biological structure appears.
Unlike those who see evolution as an assault on faith, Prof. Colling finds it strengthens his own. “A God who can harness the laws of randomness and chaos, and create beauty and wonder and all of these marvelous structures, is a lot more creative than fundamentalists give him credit for,” he told me. Creating the laws of physics and chemistry that, over the eons, coaxed life from nonliving molecules is something he finds just as awe inspiring as the idea that God instantly and supernaturally created life from nonlife.
Prof. Colling reserves some of his sharpest barbs for intelligent design, the idea that the intricate structures and processes in the living world — from exquisitely engineered flagella that propel bacteria to the marvels of the human immune system — can’t be the work of random chance and natural selection. Intelligent-design advocates look at these sophisticated components of living things, can’t imagine how evolution could have produced them, and conclude that only God could have.
That makes Prof. Colling see red. “When Christians insert God into the gaps that science cannot explain — in this case how wondrous structures and forms of life came to be — they set themselves up for failure and even ridicule,” he told me. “Soon — and it’s already happening with the flagellum — science is going to come along and explain” how a seemingly miraculous bit of biological engineering in fact could have evolved by Darwinian mechanisms. And that will leave intelligent design backed into an ever-shrinking corner.
The Mad Biologist: I’ve never understood why Biblical literalism is such an issue. Revelation may be divine, but the humans to whom experienced revelation were not. Literalism posits that man hasn’t learned/discovered/had revealed anything in two millenia. If God had spoke and said “e=mc^2″, no one would have understood him 2000 years ago…