The Science of Evolution and the Myth of Creationism, Knowing What's Real and Why it Matters
By Ardea Skybreak
Reviewed by Don Lichtenberg
Insight Press, Chicago (2006), 338 pp.ISBN 0-97602360-5-2 (paperback, $24.95), ISBN 0-9760236-7-9 (hardcover).
The author of this book studied biology, but left before completing her Ph.D. dissertation because she "felt a compelling need for revolutionary change in the world." She understands the theory of evolution quite well and firmly believes it. According to her, there is no doubt about the scientific correctness of the theory, and those who would deny it are no more credible than those who believe in a flat earth.
Skybreak begins by describing Darwinian evolution, including mutations of genes and the idea of natural selection. She discusses the evidence in favor of evolution and the lack of any evidence against it. Later she points out that the evidence of Darwin's time has only increased in subsequent years, in large part because of our increasing understanding of DNA and our discovery of more fossils of intermediary species. Of course, the fossil record will never be complete, and some creationists use these gaps as evidence for the work of God. But "God of the gaps" is a poor argument, as God's role continually diminishes as more scientific evidence is accumulated. Skybreak has no quarrel with people believing in God or having religion, so long as they do not use religion to try to refute established science.
The author devotes chapters to the evidence for evolution and describing how evolution leads to entirely new species of plants and animals, including the evolution of the human species. She points out that Homo sapiens first appeared in Africa about 200,000 years ago. I did not count the number of times she offered this information, but I have the impression it was about half a dozen times throughout the book. She also repeated many other facts more often than I thought necessary, but I can understand that repetition reinforces memory.
Skybreak blasts creationists, both those who advocate a young earth (of about 6000 years) and those who admit an old earth but support intelligent design. She calls the latter people "Intelligent Design Creationists." Both kinds of creationists, she says, make "an assault on all of science in the name of god" [Skybreak consistently writes god rather than God]. She goes overboard when she says about the young-earth creationists, "These people will do anything in their power---distort the truth, spread outright lies, and even threaten and intimidate---to try to force people to accept and submit to a literal interpretation of the Biblical story of Creation, although all the scientific evidence which has accumulated over the past century and a half shows this doesn't hold water." My own opinion is that although some creationists may lie and intimidate, most of them are are telling the "truth" according to their beliefs. The power of faith in many people is much stronger than their understanding of science.
She also refutes the views of those advocating intelligent design. Here, the creationist argument is more subtle. Intelligent design proponents admit that the earth is 4.5 billion years old and life a few billion years old. However, they argue that some parts of living creatures have "irreducible complexity," and so couldn't evolve. For example, take away the optic nerve and the eye would not be functional. How could something like the eye evolve, they ask, if it would not be useful if any part of it was missing? The author refutes these claims by pointing out the evolutionary advantages of an animal having even a slight ability to detect light or motion with a primitive eye. She further remarks that parts of present complex systems might have had different functions when they first began to evolve. She gives other examples. Of course, an argument against evolution does not constitute scientific evidence for intelligent design.
The author rightly points out that "Social Darwinism," which has led to subjugation of supposedly inferior people and euthenasia, is not scientific and has nothing to do with Darwinian evolution. However, she occasionally lets her social activism intrude into her discussion, as when she briefly discusses Karl Marx and quotes a sentence of Mao Tsetung. The views of these people have little to do with evolution, and mentioning them detracts from the book.
In my opinion, the continuity of argument of the book is hurt by interruptions, in double column on gray paper, which describe certain points in more detail than in the regular text. I think the presentation would have been smoother if these sections had been woven into the narrative.
Skybreak concludes that "while the science of evolution is on solid scientific ground, the attacks on evolution are not going to stop...the Christian Fundamentalist movement in the United States today is well organized, well funded, and powerfully 'connected,' right up to the highest levels of government...There continues to be a pressing need to actively defend science."
Despite the flaws of this book, the author presents a well-reasoned defense of the science of evolution and a cogent attack on creationism. I therefore recommend the book to those who need to be convinced of evolution as well as those who want arguments to defend it against those who condemn it.
Department of Physics, Indiana University
Bloomington, IN 47405
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