Almost as a follow up to The Selfish Gene, I wanted to read this for a little bit of balance. It’s been a fair while since I’ve engaged much with the creationism-evolution wars as they can be pretty exasperating. While I favour good science over second-rate rhetoric, some of the pro-science writers I have read come across a little too strident and ungracious. So it was with some trepidation that I approached this book.
The book is quite decidedly broken into two halves. The first 5 chapters are very much focused on biology. This section is a real page turner. Although the proof reader wasn’t up to their job, as there numerous typos throughout, the writing style of the author shines through. Miller gives a stout defence of evolution, building very much on his expertise as a biology professor.
He looks at some of the schools of thought that are opposed to the acceptance of the evidence for evolution and provides a cutting critique into creationism and intelligent design. Along the way, we are given some great examples of how evolution has occurred throughout at the ages, and how the theory has developed, with some interesting pages on Stephen Jay Gould (much missed) and the theory of punctuated equilibrium. Unlike some writers, Miller does not resort to name-calling or insulting those who object to evolution. Instead, he is quite gracious, doesn’t disparage their intelligence and simply shows them why they are mistaken. If this approach were more widely adopted, then I think that much debate on internet message boards and discussion forums would be far more civilised than they are now.
The pertinent question that is then asked by Miller is this: Why does evolution raise the hackles so much? Or rather, why do some choose to become creationists or ID advocates in the face of the evidence in favour of evolution? This marks a sea change in the tone of the book where Miller then steps away from strict biology and veers more into sociological and religious territory. His great expertise in the former is thus contrasted with his lesser expertise in the latter two, which, though interesting, do not make for as good a reading as the first half of the book.
Having drawn out and exposed the fallacy that a correct understanding of evolutionary biology would necessarily entail an atheistic outlook on life, Miller spends the rest of the book giving his reasons for why he thinks that not only is evolution perfectly compatible with a belief in God, but that his understanding of God fits particularly well with evolutionary understanding, rather than being something dissonant which requires a lot of reconciliation.
The 2nd half of the book does drag on a little bit. I hadn’t expected this from the early chapters, but by the end I was really just wanting to get it finished, as there was little being added by way of meaningful discourse.
That final criticism stated, they are relatively minor in light of the book as a whole. As an antidote to creationism/ID it is scientifically acute, gracious and incisive. As for being an apologetic work for christianity, it is fair, but doesn’t quite the mustard. But it still well worth reading.