Living with Darwin

Here’s a hearty, full-throated recommendation for Philip Kitcher’s latest book, Living with Darwin: Evolution, Design, and the Future of Faith. If you’re looking for a short, very readable but substantive book on creationism, intelligent design, and the very real challenge Darwinian evolution poses for any supernaturalistic faith, this is the one. Go out and buy one. Buy a stack and distribute to your friends. (OK, best wait for the paperback edition for that one.)

Normally, I might temper my enthusiasm when reviewing a book so close to my own interests. After all, there’s my ego involved. And I have to admit my reaction is mixed with some nitpicking and envy.

First, the nitpicking. There are a few areas where I’d choose a different emphasis. Kitcher makes much of the “imperfect design” objection to intelligent design, when ID proponents have erected quite a few rhetorical defenses in this area. I wish Kitcher had cited some of the work that shows that ID’ers cannot bypass such questions, as their supposed design-detection tools are all bogus. I especially wish this because some of this work is mine. I like to see my work cited, and this doesn’t do it. (Harrumph.) Then there is how Kitcher explains the Darwinian challenge to supernaturalism almost entirely in terms of the traditional Problem of Evil. I approach this with a different emphasis, and I think my way is better. (Hmph.)

But now the envy kicks in. After all, Kitcher gives an excellent explanation of the basic reasons creationists and ID’ers are wrong and why Darwin poses a genuine problem for supernaturalism in just 160 undersized pages, excluding endnotes. He deals with these issues concisely but with genuine substance. Furthermore, he writes in such a way that you don’t have to be collecting advanced degrees to follow. This is exactly the way an academic should write for an intelligent nonexpert audience. I wish I could have written the book. (Damn.) And in the interest of packing maximum punch into a minimum of space he picks his emphases in such a way that all the nitpicking I could summon up is really beside the point. The imperfect design argument is, I admit, the best way to quickly highlight how ID is empty as an explanation. The Problem of Evil is the best way to hit home when describing the religiously uncomfortable implications of Darwinian evolution. And there are some things Kitcher does that are just plain brilliant. For example, the way he describes ID as “dead science” and avoids falling into the trap of ruling it beyond science because of its not meeting some set of philosophical criteria.

Again, get hold of a copy. It’s the best short book on ID out there. It’s also perfect to give any smart, educated sister-in-law who you might have who might be tempted to think there is something to the ID business but who is not sure.

About Taner Edis

Professor of physics at Truman State University