The popular science and science fiction book review site
Subscribe to this blog
Follow by Email
Search This Blog
Scientists Confront Intelligent Design and Creationism – Andrew J. Petto & Laurie R. Godfrey (Eds.) ***
When I get a book to review that is a collection of essays by academic authors, I have to confess it tends to sink to the bottom of the review pile. Often this is the mark of a cheaply assembled book in the sense that there is no attempt to avoid overlaps, so there’s lots of repetition, and frankly the writing standard (even from well established authors) can be a trifle dull. So it was a very pleasant surprise to discover that this book, which is in that worrying format, is in fact well edited to avoid overlaps, and is almost entirely very readable.
I have really agonized over the rating to give this book. Considering the topic, it is relatively easy going, and I think everyone should be interested in understanding just what is going on when creationists and their intelligent design offspring take on evolution. So from those two points the book was really deserving of 5 stars. Yet in the end, it is an academic assault on creationism and intelligent design – which isn’t a bad thing, but doesn’t make for true popular science. I am really interested in the subject, and so found in fascinating, but I don’t think it’s ever going to appeal to the kind of person who will buy, say, Bill Bryson’s A Short History of Nearly Everything – and it’s for that reason alone that it gets the three stars.
The book is divided into three sections. The essays in the first section look at what intelligent design and creationism are, in the second the different scientific tacks taken by these two movements in attacking evolution and “Darwinism” are covered, and in the third, aspects of the theory of science itself that are relevant to the argument are covered. What we see time and time again is the false logic that is used in trying to attack evolution. It’s quite frustrating when the arguments veer off into something that’s more a matter of philosophy than science. Somehow, the advocates of creationism feel they can blame everything from socialism and communism (both arguably influenced by early Christian ideas like owning goods in common) to the breakdown of society on evolution. Part of the book is dedicated to explaining why this apparently bizarre connection is made.
A lot more is concerned with how the idea that the Bible is inerrant leads to various strange scientific beliefs, which are put above the observed reality – plus the remarkably solid peer-reviewed support for the various mechanisms of evolution (as the book points out, the creationists and ID supporters tend to attack “Darwinism”, an approximation to the 100+ year old idea of evolution, rather than modern scientific detail), compared with the almost non-existent academic science in “creation science” and intelligent design.
Anyone with a real interest in the subject who has heard a little about intelligent design, which sounds quite rational when described by one of its supporters, will find this is a valuable tool for understanding what is really happening, and the difference between science and the attempts to attack science. I ought to stress this isn’t an anti-religious book like Dawkins’ The God Delusion, which we haven’t reviewed as it’s technically theology rather than science. Most Christians would find nothing in here to be uncomfortable with. Instead they would have a better understanding of why some of their fellow Christians mistakenly attack one of the most elegant and effective theories in science.
Only a couple of weeks ago, reviewing a 1960s SF book, I bemoaned the fact that science fiction novels of ideas are less common now. Although it is correctly labelled a space opera, Ancestral Night delivers ideas with aplomb.
Let's deal with the space opera aspect first. Elizabeth Bear provides some excellent adventure scenes in space, and we've the usual mix of huge spaceships and interesting aliens. Main character Haimey Dz is an engineer on a ship that salvages wrecks - but, as we gradually discover - she also has a forgotten past. A major feature of the storyline (one that seems to link to the medieval idea of the lost wisdom of the past) is ancient technology from a long-dead race with capabilities, notably manipulating spacetime mentally (Bear has yet to point out that the travel technologies used here could manipulate time as well as space), which fit well with Arthur C. Clarke's magic definition.
I particularly liked the (surely intentional) nods to the much-misse…
Physicists have a habit of dabbling in biology and, perhaps surprisingly, biologists tend to be quite tolerant of it. (I find it hard to believe the reverse would be true if biologists tried to do physics.) Perhaps one reason for that tolerance is Schrödinger’s lecture series and book What is Life?, which had a huge impact on molecular biology and with a reference to which, not surprisingly, Paul Davies begins his fascinating book.
At the heart of the The Demon in the Machine (we'll come back to that demon in a moment) is the relationship between life and information. In essence, Davies points out that if we try to reduce life to its simple physical components it is like trying to work with a computer that has no software. The equivalent of software here is information, not just in the best publicised aspect of the information stored in the DNA, but on a far broader scale, operating in networks across the organism.
This information and its processing gives life its emergent compl…
At first glance this might just be another 'What AI is good at and not so good at' title. And in a way, it is. But, wow, what a brilliant book! Marcus du Sautoy takes us on a tour of what artificial intelligence has achieved (and possibly can in the future achieve) in a range of fields from his own of mathematics, through game playing, music, art and more.
After a little discussion of what creativity is, we start off with the now very familiar story of DeepMind's AlphaGo and its astonishing ability to take on the hugely challenging game of Go. Even though I've read about this many times before, du Sautoy, as a Go player and mathematician, gives a real feel for why this was such a triumph - and so shocking. Not surprisingly he is also wonderful on what mathematicians actually do, how computers have helped them to date and how they have the potential to do far more in the future. After all, mathematics is by far the closest science to game playing, as it has strict rule…