Book Review: Undeniable

Undeniable:  How Biology Confirms Our Intuition That Life Is Designed, by Douglas Axe

I have heard about this book and author for a while, and was pleased to finally be able to read it.  As someone who is generally familiar with the work of Intelligent Design philosophers of science [1], I found a lot of this book to be quite familiar.  This familiarity was in no way a bad thing, but rather it was like the familiarity of home and hearth, of a good friend talking about his own life and bringing complicated matters into a more straightforward language, about someone with genuine populist appeal when it came to scientific elitism and the way that people are often viewed as being unable to grapple with the heart of the philosophy of science.  This is an insightful work, and likely one that is deeply unpopular in certain audiences, but it manages to combine the best of research on no free lunch theorems related to blind searches with an appreciation for the scientific insight of ordinary people.  Coming in at a bit under 300 pages as well, it is the sort of book that could easily and profitably be read by someone interested in science who wants encouragement on bucking the system.

The contents of this book are presented in a winsome and appealing manner.  The author talks about the big questions of science and about whether our intuition can be trusted when we look at creations of undeniable insight and ingenuity.  In discussing scientists as ordinary humans and science as an ordinary human activity, the author shows how internal conflict is often present in relating to science.  Examining the heroic nature of salmon and the bioengineering demonstrated by even the smallest and simplest bacteria.  In discussing common science (as opposed to common sense), the author seeks to rehabilitate the role of sanity checks by ordinary people in the scientific conversation, where contemporary scientists  are often unwilling to have their efforts held accountable to ordinary people without large amounts of higher education.  Throughout the book the author discusses matters such as the distinction between the target space and the possible space and probability with a great deal of skill.  He also talks about his own life and his own experience with awkwardness.  There is a lot of beautiful prose to be found here too, which many readers ought to appreciate.

There are some books which are written to an audience of people who already support a given worldview, and some books which try to engage enemies in polemical discussions.  This book does neither, though, and appears to have been written with a general audience in mind to bring them into a conversation that they may not be aware of.  The author is careful to point out that design inferences can show a great deal of personality behind the creator of the elegant machinery of life and how this makes people uncomfortable who do not want to accept the authority of that creator.  The author wishes to bring a sense of wonder and humility into a view of origin life disputes where little wonder and humility has been shown by those who wish to impoverish life by denying the reality of the mental world of ideas and concepts that we use to understand both what is outside of us as well as what is inside of us.  As a touching example of works that are written well and with undeniable popular appeal, this book is certainly one that deserves to be read among the classics of its genre, not least because it is written by someone who accepts their own humanity and the humanity of those with whom he finds himself in opposition.

[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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8 Responses to Book Review: Undeniable

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