Book Review: How To Think About Evolution

How To Think About Evolution & Other Bible-Science Controversies, by L. Duane Thurman

Originally published in 1977, little has happened in the last forty years to diminish the value or the refreshing nature of this book when one examines the continuing and wearisome science wars that have taken place over this republic.  What the author says about the sorry state of rhetoric among many evolutionists during his day is certainly true nowadays, and just as there have been many unfounded extrapolations from small-scale microevolution to a theorized macroevolution, there has been brutal and unfriendly hostility between people holding different views of creation [1].  Evolution was a theory in crisis when the author wrote and it remains a theory in crisis today.  This book is likely not to please those who have little regard for science at all, nor is it going to please extremists among evolution-minded people who dislike how the author exposes the weakness of many of their positions and assumptions, but for those who appreciate turning critical theory towards the underpinnings of naturalism and evolution, and who tend to keep an open mind towards unknown and possibly unknowable details about the origins of life and the universe, this book is likely to be viewed with a great deal of fondness.  It is not a book that tells its readers what to think as much as how to think, and how to interact with others with graciousness but a firm commitment to equity and fairness, something in short supply when it comes to debates over various flavors of scientific faith.

The contents of this short (less than 150 page) book are divided in a thoughtful manner into seven chapters.  The first chapter gives a discussion of the quarrel between creationist and evolutionary views up until the author’s time–no doubt if this book were revised and expanded this section would be longer and would include the intelligent design viewpoint and its important insights as well as the unseemly involvement of evolution supporters seeking the shelter of corrupt courts in the absence of scientific truth and its ability to compete in the intellectual marketplace.  The second chapter discusses various tools for sharpening the thinking of readers in critical theory through analysis, definition, the use of logic to recognize assumptions, and look at the conflict between worldviews and the reasons and nature of conflicts.  The third chapter looks at science and its methods, pointing out that much that passes for evolutionary science is in fact faith-based in nature, on the same level of factuality as the creationist views that evolutionists tend to treat with scorn and contempt.  The fourth chapter looks at the factual side of evolution in rather small-scale areas of microevolution before the fifth chapter looks at the theoretical or even speculative area of macroevolution  and the problems involved with the origin of life and the fragmentary nature of the fossil evidence.  The sixth chapter examines the different views of creation and some of the strengths and weaknesses of each view, in rather brief form, and the seventh chapter urges upon the reader an approach to controversy that involves hearing others out and recognizing where others are coming from, and the book is a striking example of fairness as well as gently expressed criticism of a great deal of the extremism that passes for discussion.  The author asks, rather pointedly, if we prefer to win debates or get at the truth of a given matter, and all too many people, especially those inclined to write about a problem, are more interested in winning debates.

Although the specific facts of various court cases and voter-supported efforts to rein in excessive and one-sided views of evolution are likely to fade in importance with time, there are a lot of aspects of this work that have endured and that remain extremely important even after four decades since this book was published.  Evolution is still a theory with all of the excellence of craft of the emperor’s new clothes, and those who support it are often unable in public to admit the ambiguities of definitions or to make clear distinctions between that which is proven, that which has been proven false, and that which is speculative and perhaps even unprovable.  Our public discourse about evolution and many other subjects would be far greater if we were honest about what was fact, what was interpretation, what was speculation, so that we would be better able to engage in genuine discussion with respect and honesty.  A theory or worldview that cannot be discussed with openness and honesty, where the many problems with it cannot be openly acknowledged and wrestled with, is not a theory worth holding to.  This book is a gracious and gentle but also forceful defense of freedom of thought and critical thinking that demonstrates that those with great intellectual skill do not need to hold to the superstitions of evolutionary thought and that a great deal of the shrillness of its advocates results from its intellectual bankruptcy.

[1] See, for example:

About nathanalbright

I'm a person with diverse interests who loves to read. If you want to know something about me, just ask.
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6 Responses to Book Review: How To Think About Evolution

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