WEIT review: Kevin Padian sucks me back into into the religion/science quagmire

April 1, 2009 • 7:06 am

Kevin Padian, a paleontologist at the University of California at Berkeley, has done pathbreaking work on the evolution of flight, and on other paleobiological issues.  He’s also been a stalwart defender of evolution against creationism, and is the president of the National Center for Science Education.

In the latest issue of Public Library of Science Biology (known as PLoS Biology), Padian has written a  review of Why Evolution is True.  I wish I could say I was pleased with it.  After all, Padian did start the review by praising the book:

First, make no mistake: this is a wonderful book, as far as the explanation of many of the interesting lines of evidence and case histories for evolution go. . . Coyne hits all the right notes, without over-dazzling the general reader with too many molecular complexities or obscure examples. This is a very readable, companionable work that takes its place alongside other fine recent explanations of evolution such as Evolution: What the Fossils Say and Why It Matters, by Donald R. Prothero [3], and Your Inner Fish, by Neil Shubin [4], as well as a great many Web sites that explain the evidence for evolution. It would be an excellent text for a freshman or non-majors course in evolution, or for a local book group.

So why am I grousing?  Because his review is not about the science — or even about the book. Rather, it’s about a book that he wanted me to write but that I didn’t.  Padian spends most of his review calling me to task for not emphasizing strongly enough that evolution is compatible with religious faith.

First, a scientific quibble.  Padian criticizes me for not using strict cladistic terminology:  we should not say, for instance, that amphibians evolved from fish because “fish” is a term reserved for an ancestor and all of its descendants — which is not strictly true because some descendants of early fish became amphibians, and, ultimately, reptiles, birds, and mammals. This is the same criticism that Eugenie Scott leveled at the book in her review in Nature (that’s no surprise, because Scott is executive director of the NCSE and a close associate of Padian).  I can see their point from a cladistic stand, but it’s not necessarily the best way to present evolution to the public.  Under cladistic terminology, no group could have evolved from any other group!  All of us (including Neil Shubin, the discoverer of  the transitional form Tiktaalik) call the aquatic, lobe-finned ancestors of tetrapods “fish”.   It’s common parlance, and not misleading to the public.  What would Padian call those lobe-finned ancestors?  At any rate, I don’t think using common parlance is a serious crime here; in fact, it makes things clearer.  So we can agree to differ on this (see the comments by Greg Mayer and Nick Matzke here).  But that’s not Padian’s main criticism.

Padian says that “truth” (as in the title of my book) “is a personal thing.”   And he complains that I have not explained to the readers what I mean by saying that something is “true”:

Based on the title of this book I would have expected a bit more engagement with the philosophy of knowledge. How do we know something is true, and what do we mean when we say something is true? What could make us abandon our claims, and realistically, would we ever do so?

But Kevin doesn’t seem to have noticed the following passage in the first chapter (page 16):

Because a theory is accepted as “true” only when its assertions and predictions are tested over and over again, and confirmed repeatedly, there is no one moment when a scientific theory becomes a scientific fact.  A theory becomes a fact (or a “truth”) when so much evidence has accumulated in its favor– and there is no decisive evidence against it– that all reasonable people will accept it.  This does not mean that a “true” theory will never be falsified. All scientific truth is provisional, subject to modification in light of new evidence. There is no alarm bell that goes off to tell scientists that they’ve finally hit on the ultimate, unchangeable truths about nature.  As we’ll see, it is possible that despite thousands of observations that support Darwinism, new data might show it to be wrong.

And on p. 222-223, at the end, I show why evolution qualifies as “true” under this definition, and also give examples of possible observations that could disprove evolution.

But his real point is the NCSE’s standing policy of courting religionists, as articulated by Eugenie Scott:  “This is not a problem that you can solve merely by throwing more science at it.”  You have to cater to believers.

Three points here:

1.  The Dover decision rested on throwing science at Judge Jones, not convincing him that you could believe in evolution and God, too.  You don’t have to be a believer to refute creationist claims or to show that they were inspired by religious belief.

2.  You can’t solve the problem without throwing science at it. That’s what I was trying to do. That’s what I was trained to do. So I’m trying to solve the part of the problem that I’m capable of addressing without hypocrisy.

3.  Twenty-five years of hard work by scientific organizations like the NAS and NCSE, involving pushing religion/science accommodationism, have had no perceptible effect in changing the public’s acceptance of evolution.  It stays at about 40-50%, no matter what. Yes, court cases are won, but minds don’t seem to be changed.  I have pondered this long and hard, and have concluded that these figures won’t budge much until the United States becomes, over what will be a long period, a more secular nation: much like the countries of western Europe.

What should I have written, according to Padian?  That “truth” is philosophical, not objective, and that we should recognize and respect the philosophical “truths” of the faithful:

Creationists—people who deny evolution because it conflicts with their religious precepts—often tell us that whether we accept a naturalistic or a supernatural explanation of the world around us is a philosophical choice: a belief. They’re not wrong. That first decision—what kind of “knowledge” is going to be privileged in your mind—is ultimately a question of belief, a leap of faith, a decision about truth, if you care to use the term at all. . . . .

. . . Coyne does a very good job in this book of presenting the actual evidence for evolution. He is less complete on the philosophy and methods that underlie science, particularly in specific disciplines. And one would have liked to see more
about dealing with people who are apprehensive about the “truth” of evolution.

But this is something I’m incapable of doing.  I can’t tell people that faith and science are compatible, because I don’t believe it, and I don’t want to be a hypocrite.  Nor do I want to pander to religion.  And I’m not so sure that it is a “philosophical” choice” or a “belief” “to “accept a naturalistic versus supernaturalistic explanation of the world around us.”  Is it a philosophical choice to take antibiotics when you have an infection, rather than calling on a shaman or Christian Scientist?  (I bet you do take antibiotics, Kevin–is that a philosophical choice?)  And is it a “philosophical choice” to say that AIDS results from drug-taking and a dissipated lifestyle rather than from a virus?  Is it a “philosophical choice” to believe that the world is 6,000 rather than 4.6 billion years old?  Well, if these are philosophical choices, one of them works and the other one doesn’t.

The postmodernist claim that accepting scientific rather than spiritual truths is simply a matter of taste is a claim of breathtaking inanity.  Science helps us understand the world — it works.  Religion can soothe us, but I don’t see it coughing up equivalent truths, nor have I heard a convincing argument for what “truths” faith presents to us, as opposed to those revealed by secular reason alone.  Somehow I can’t believe that in his heart Padian accepts this philosophical equivalence, but maybe I’m wrong.  What exactly is his position vis-a-vis the supernatural? Can cancer be cured by both shamans and chemotherapy? Is he perhaps saying that books defending evolution should go easy on those religious views from which he himself isn’t fully emancipated?

Finally, Padian makes the following statement:

All these are worthy and sensible statements. And yet Coyne begins his last chapter with the statement of an audience member to him after his public lecture: “I found your evidence for evolution very convincing—but I still don’t believe it.” Well, nothing says that our job is to convince people of the “truth” of evolution—I don’t think it’s my job—but we would like people to understand it.

This is a remarkable admission. Does it mean that The National Center for Science Education doesn’t care if Americans accept evolution?  All that money and work, just so people can understand a theory they reject?

Two good pieces on evolution in Newsweek

March 29, 2009 • 9:09 am

I’m not used to seeing good critical science reporting in popular magazines, but this week’s Newsweek is a welcome exception. It contains two pieces of note.
The first is Jeremy McCarter’s analysis of Dennis Dutton’s new evolutionary-psychology book, The Art Instinct, a book that has been getting a good deal of press in the US (not so much in the UK, where it was published; I think the US is more susceptible to the wiles of evolutionary psychology). At any rate, Dutton pushes the argument that the instinct for making art is a direct adaptation selected in our ancestors because helped them acquire mates. In other words, the sonnet is just a 14-line penis. That’s a somewhat harsh caricature, but the book is in that genre of evolutionary psychology that provides intriguing stories and speculations backed up by almost no hard evidence. When I read such things, I keep telling myself “All this is as plausible as anything else.” McCarter was a student of Stephen J. Gould, and it shows in his analysis, which is remarkably critical (and on the mark) for a science-book review:

Dutton is not the first person to extend the tools of evolutionary psychology (which is what this field of inquiry is called) to humanity’s obsession with making and enjoying art. But in “The Art Instinct,” he uses a synthesis of existing approaches to propose a new “Darwinian esthetics” —a way of thinking about culture that’s informed by natural history. As a professor of the philosophy of art (at the University of Canterbury, New Zealand) and the editor of Arts & Letters Daily, the go-to site for the world’s procrastinating intellectuals, he represents an important conduit between the frequently combative fields of science and the humanities. Quite apart from its timeliness for Darwin’s bicentennial, the book deserves a look because it’s the latest in a long, long line of attempts to bring art and science together in a way that doesn’t leave one—or both—with a black eye . . .

All in all, it’s a lovely vision. I just wish somebody could convince me that it’s true.

Because, really, who knows? In his lucid and authoritative new book, “Why Evolution Is True,” Jerry A. Coyne, a biologist from the University of Chicago, decries the “scientific parlor game” of trying to find Darwinian explanations for every form of behavior. Human life in the Pleistocene is so remote that even when researchers add the knowledge gained from observing hunter-gatherer tribes active today to the fossil record, the resulting picture of our ancestors’ ways is hopelessly blurry. “The fact is,” said Coyne when I called to talk to him about the arts, “you cannot give me a human behavior for which I can’t make up a story about why it’s adaptive.”

When the book departs from theory to consider actual art and actual human beings, the strain of yoking evolution to creativity grows even more visible. According to Dutton, moderns and postmoderns are wrong to think that people can be taught to enjoy any kind of art, no matter how ugly or obscure it might be. Our human nature ensures “not only that some things in the arts will be difficult to appreciate but that appreciation of them may be impossible.” . . .

After all, evolutionary psychology has received its sharpest criticism from no less a Darwinian than Stephen Jay Gould. Until his death in 2002, he stood as one of the great champions and evangelists of science, as well as one of the most exacting critics of its tendency to overreach. He was also my teacher. When I tried to pinpoint why Dutton’s book left me unsatisfied, his lessons kept coming to mind.

According to Gould, life’s history needs to be understood not just as the result of natural forces explicable by science, but also of contingency: strange, unplanned events that change the course of everything that follows. (If not for a freak asteroid impact 65 million years ago, Gould used to say, mammals might still be small, furry creatures scurrying around a dinosaur-centric world.) No outcome of life’s history struck him as more contingent—or, consequently, more wonderful—than the human mind, a tangle of “mental machinery jury-rigged in the immensity of evolution.” He called higher mental functions like the arts “spandrels,” an architectural term for the triangular space formed when two arches meet at right angles. Though their rich decoration can make them appear to be the point of a particular design (in the domes of some medieval churches, for instance), they’re really an inadvertent byproduct of how arches work. The arts, likewise, may be one of the many adaptively useless byproducts of a complex brain that evolved to perform other tasks.

Okay, I may not be unbiased here (and thanks, Jeremy, for the book shout-out), but I am critical of books that tell the public seductive adaptive stories about why we behave as we do, but fail to back them up with evidence. It’s misleading. Maybe I should write The Science Instinct, contending that the brainiest geeks in our savannah-dwelling ancestors were particularly attractive to females.

The second piece is by the ever-intriguing Christopher Hitchens, who writes on this week’s shenanigans by the Texas Board of Education. He argues that a version of “equal time for creationism” may apply, but not in the science class:

So by all means let’s “be honest with the kids,” as Dr. Don McLeroy, the chairman of the Texas education board, wants us to be. The problem is that he is urging that the argument be taught, not in a history or in a civics class, but in a biology class. And one of his supporters on the board, Ken Mercer, has said that evolution is disproved by the absence of any transitional forms between dogs and cats. If any state in the American union gave equal time in science class to such claims, it would certainly make itself unique in the world (perhaps no shame in that). But it would also set a precedent for the sharing of the astronomy period with the teaching of astrology, or indeed of equal time as between chemistry and alchemy. Less boring perhaps, but also much less scientific and less educational . . .

Perhaps dimly aware that they don’t want a total victory, either, McLeroy and his allies now say that they ask for evolution to be taught only with all its “strengths and weaknesses.” But in this, they are surely being somewhat disingenuous. When their faction was strong enough to demand an outright ban on the teaching of what they call “Darwinism,” they had such a ban written into law in several states. Since the defeat and discredit of that policy, they have passed through several stages of what I am going to have to call evolution. First, they tried to get “secular humanism” classified as a “religion,” so that it would meet the First Amendment’s disqualification for being taught with taxpayers’ money. (That bright idea was Pat Robertson’s.) Then they came up with the formulation of “creation science,” picking up on anomalies and gaps in evolution and on differences between scientific Darwinists like Richard Dawkins and Stephen Jay Gould. Next came the ingratiating plea for “equal time”—what could be more American than that?and now we have the rebranded new coinage of “intelligent design” and the fresh complaint that its brave advocates are, so goes the title of a recent self-pitying documentary, simply “expelled” from the discourse.

It’s not just that the overwhelming majority of scientists are now convinced that evolution is inscribed in the fossil record and in the lineaments of molecular biology. It is more that evolutionists will say in advance which evidence, if found, would refute them and force them to reconsider. (“Rabbit fossils in the pre-Cambrian layer” was, I seem to remember, the response of Prof. J.B.S. Haldane.) Try asking an “intelligent design” advocate to stipulate upfront what would constitute refutation of his world view and you will easily see the difference between the scientific method and the pseudoscientific one.

Anyway, don’t just read these quotations: read both articles in their entirety. Good job, Newsweek!

WEIT reviewed in Current Biology

March 24, 2009 • 10:48 am

I must be on a roll — another review of WEIT, and a good one, by Tom Tregenza in the latest issue of Current Biology.   Tregenza works at the University of Exeter, where he (like me) studies speciation, as well as sexual selection and mimicry in cephalopods.

From his review:

Like many biologists, I occasionally panic that if the appeal of religious dogma can prevail over such a well-supported and rigorously tested theory as Darwin’s, then it can only be a matter of weeks before we’re all wearing sandals and the next breakthrough in oncology is expected to come from making offerings to a parsnip with a resemblance to the Virgin Mary. At such times, I vow that I will drag myself out of my ivory tower and try to explain what I do to the (surely fairly rational?) man in the street. Similarly, reading the manifestos of those seeking election to offices of the European and American Evolution Societies, there is universal agreement that evolutionary biologists need to do more to explain their work to the public. The fact is, however, that we’re still not very good at delivering on these good intentions. So, it is terrific to see a biologist of Jerry Coyne’s standing writing a book with the specific aim of explaining to any reasonably bright reader just why the theory of evolution is no more in doubt than the theory that tides are caused by the moon.

Coyne acknowledges the existence of religious accounts of biology, but by and large, doesn’t get sucked into addressing the arguments put forward by the religious proponents of intelligent design. This allows the book to stand as a scholarly, yet delightfully readable account of the state of the art, avoiding the tedious and fatuous debates beloved of the proponents of ‘intelligent design’. . . .

If I was being picky, I might comment that his explanation of the difference between selection favouring traits that act for the good of a gene (ubiquitous), or for the good of the species as a whole (very rare) might have warranted more than a couple of pages (since this is a distinction that is frequently misunderstood). But in general, this is a book that is a pleasure to read, and that even professional biologists will find energising and exciting. The fact that Darwin’s theory makes so many predictions, none of which has ever been falsified, and the prospect of the mountain of supporting evidence becoming ever higher, makes it easy to make a further prediction: it is only a matter of time before the religious proponents of intelligent design make it a fundamental tenet of their ideology that the pattern of life has been made that way specifically to fool biologists. In which case, evolutionists can take comfort in knowing that the creator specifically had them in mind at every step of the process.

Anthony Grayling reviews WEIT, and another book too

March 23, 2009 • 11:02 am

The distinguished British philosopher Anthony Grayling has reviewed WEIT at “The Thinking Read,” over at Barnes and Noble.  Very nice review–I am “chuffed.”

. . . . .
Everyone who reads Coyne’s book with attention will acquire this understanding. It is a model of expository clarity and intellectual rigour, a point for other science writers to note; all that readers need note is how accessible it is, and how fascinating. Moreover in it Coyne carefully and conclusively refutes efforts by “intelligent design” creationists to contest evolutionary biology. This, given the state of the debate over biology, is by no means the least important aspect of his book . . .
Coyne shows science carefully, responsibly, testably, profoundly at work on the glory that is the natural world. It starts with no prejudices (it is not trying to prove that there is no Fred, having decided at the outset that this is its aim), but is open and self-critical. What you see in Coyne’s account is science as the enterprise that seeks to understand, and always stands ready to revise itself in the face of contrary evidence. It is a beautiful process, and the results are literally wonderful. Coyne’s book is a testament to this. It seems almost coincidental to say that it is also a brilliant introduction to evolution which should be required reading: in its blaze of illumination the ID case melts like summer snow.

On another note, Grayling (a vociferous atheist) has just ripped the accommodationist theologian John Polkinghorne a new one over at The New Humanist for Polkinghorne’s ludicrous attempts to harmonize religion and science. A sample:

So let us dwell instead on the “truth but in different domains” manoeuvre.

To get this to work you have to cherry-pick which bits of scripture and dogma are to be taken as symbolic and which as literally true – so: Genesis is symbolic, the resurrection of Jesus literally true – the chief criterion being convenience, with the resurrection as a bit of necessary dogma whose violations of biological laws you just have to shrug your shoulders over. But you only do the cherry-picking and reinterpreting to the religious sources; science is not so easy to treat in this way. The rule appears to be that where science and religion directly conflict – about the origin of the universe, let us say – the religious tale (Genesis) gets turned into symbol, thus sidestepping the possibility of direct and testable confrontation. And indeed there is no possible test of religious claims; again conveniently, “God will not be tested.”

Moreover, as Beale-Polkinghorne exquisitely show, they can by this technique of evasion, rewriting, special pleading, Jesuitry and speciousness provide a religion-consistent answer to every question and every objection: which reminds one of Popper’s telling remark, “A theory that is consistent with everything explains nothing.”

Thus in short, on the religious side of things you make up truth as you go along, by interpreting and reinterpreting scripture to suit your needs and to avoid refutation by confrontation with plain fact; and thus it is that Beale-Polkinghorne can claim that both science and religion seek truth. I would call this dishonest if I did not think it is in fact delusion, which – since a kind of lunatic sincerity is involved – it rather palpably shows itself to be. And it happens that “lunatic” is appropriate here, for the painful experience of wading through this book gave me an epiphany: that religious faith is extremely similar to the kind of conspiracy theory that sufferers from paranoid delusions can hold: the faithful see a purposive hand in everything, plotting and controlling and guiding – and interpret all their experience accordingly.

WEIT reviewed in Christian Science Monitor and Nature

March 16, 2009 • 1:39 pm

This past week two reviews of WEIT have appeared, one in the Christian Science Monitor, which includes an attached podcast (click under the cover icon), and one by Eugenie Scott in the scientific journal Nature. Both are pretty positive, I think, though, that the Nature review is quite tepid. I suspect that one reason for this is that I have angered the National Center for Science Education (Genie Scott is its executive director) by claiming that science and faith are largely incompatible. The purported compatibility of these areas is a keystone of the NCSE’s strategy for selling evolution in the public schools, and the organization has a history of being diffident towards scientists who question such religious accommodationism, either in principle or as a tactic for getting evolution into the schools. The NCSE even has a “faith project” for demonstrating that faith and religion are compatible. My own view is that an organization designed to defend the teaching evolution should do just that and only that, and should stay away from religion completely.

There is one issue Genie Scott brings up that I want to respond to. She says this in her review:

A book for the public must simplify, but there lurks the possibility of subsequent distortion. Many people misunderstand evolution as a great chain in which simple forms evolve into more complex ones, rather than the branching and extinction of lineages. Amphibians did not evolve into reptiles, and reptiles did not evolve into mammals and birds. Rather, a population of early tetrapods — four-legged vertebrates — gave rise to a diverse group of organisms that included ancestors of modern frogs and salamanders, and to a separate branch characterized by having an amniotic egg. A primitive amniote gave rise to reptiles and birds on one branch, and mammals on another. Given that the branch leading to mammals preceded that leading to reptiles, it is misleading for Coyne to use the outmoded term ‘mammal-like reptiles’ instead of ‘non-mammalian synapsids’.

Well, this is a dispute about whether the common ancestor of mammals and reptiles could be considered a reptile, which many cladists don’t since the group “reptiles” must include ALL the descendants of a common ancestor. But if the common ancestor has many diagnostic characters of a reptile, then why not call it one? If you followed Scott’s line of reasoning, you could not say that the ancestor of modern amphibians was a fish, since the category “fish” must include the ancestral fish and ALL of its descendants. But everybody calls early lobe-finned fish “fish.” This criticism, I think, is pretty trivial.

WEIT reviewed in The Bookbag

February 25, 2009 • 8:42 am

The Bookbag is a newish but (I think) fairly popular book-review site in the UK. It just reviewed WEIT and (to my delight) gave it a great review and five stars out of five. An excerpt:

The main gist is in fact remarkably similar (if very much developed in detail) to the evidence of evolution I learned at school twenty-five years ago. What makes Why Evolution Is True an instant classic is Jerry Coyne’s supremely lucid, graceful presentation and the fluency of argument informed by the variety of sources form Darwin himself to the cutting edge of modern research.

Coyne’s delivery is elegant but by no means a dry lecture: passionate and erudite, he maintains just the right balance between academic and accessible. He never talks down to his readers, but explains clearly pretty much anything that goes beyond the very basics of biology. . ..

This book should not be needed, and yet it seems necessary. It will not persuade the hard-line creationists, because creationism, as Coyne repeatedly (and rightly) states, is a matter of belief, not science. For those who are uncertain, or for whom the support of evolution theory is more a question of general ‘it makes sense’ acceptance, for those looking for arguments to enlighten the unconvinced and argue with the opposition, Jerry Coyne’s book is indispensable.

I get to brag here because it’s my blog!

Times of London reviews WEIT, and a Darwin MOVIE

February 15, 2009 • 7:30 pm

An alert reader has called my attention to a (very nice) review of my book in the Times of London on Feb. 12. It also reviews three other Darwin books (including Desmond & Morris’s book and one by the old man himself), and also calls attention to an upcoming Darwin movie that will be called “Creation”:

A fictionalised version of the great naturalist appeared in Tarsem Singh’s eccentric fantasy The Fall in 2006. Clad in a furry red coat and riding boots, Darwin found himself in the company of an African prince and Alexander The Great. But film fans will have to wait until later this year for a meaty, historically accurate exploration of his life. Adapted from Annie’s Box, an acclaimed book by Randall Keynes, Darwin’s great-great-grandson, Creation will link the death of Darwin’s daughter, Annie, to the writing of On the Origin of Species.

A very strange review of WEIT on Huffington Post

February 12, 2009 • 9:38 pm

Stuart Whatley has reviewed the book on Huffington Post, here. It is favorable, but is strange in one respect: Whatley seems to require that if the fact of evolution dismantles some peoples’ consoling religious or spiritual beliefs, then the onus is on evolutionists to provide for those people a substitute belief system. Whatley get into this point by talking about creationist arguments:

Though a majority of biologists have refuted these arguments from a scientific standpoint, what matters to rejecters of Darwinism is not that it is bad science, but that it gets away with adopting the appellation of “science” at all–they require no further confirmation to be satisfied. It is for this reason that Coyne’s book may have little effect on those who hold such concrete beliefs.

Tragically, this is even admitted in his Preface, when Coyne writes that, “for those who oppose Darwinism purely as a matter of faith, no amount of evidence will do–theirs is a belief that is not based on reason.” And while Coyne and his colleagues have been forced to address Intelligent Design’s scientific claims head on, they are also obliged to offer commensurate psychological/spiritual rewards for accepting Darwinism over creationism. (My emphasis)

This is undoubtedly their most daunting challenge. Belief in a designer has all the appeal to mystery and security and lazy axiomatic explanation that gave rise to religion in the first place. Darwinism offers the beauty of nature and the pursuit of knowledge. But in the fight for many peoples’ visceral convictions, it is abjectly outgunned. Naturalists can attempt to substitute for their inherent metaphysical bankruptcy until they turn blue, it surely will not satisfy the truly faithful.

Nevertheless, Coyne concludes with a plea to his reader to not give in to the misconception that “accepting evolution will somehow sunder our society, wreck our morality, impel us to behave like beasts, and spawn a new generation of Hitlers and Stalins.” This may be demonstrably true on a broad societal basis, but it is difficult to see how most individual believers, who just aren’t satisfied by the beauty of nature alone, will ever embrace Darwinism entirely–even if it is an indisputable fact. This is unfortunate, but it is certainly no fault of Coyne’s.

This is a common reaction, but I really don’t get it. My job in that book was convincing people that evolution is a scientific fact, not to devise a way to make Darwinism itself satisfy peoples’ “psychological and spiritual needs”. I recognize that this may undermine or dispel peoples’ psychological comfort. But am I then obliged to tell people how Darwinism itself offers commensurate rewards? I can’t, because for those not caught up in the wonder and majesty of evolution, it won’t give much consolation. I hoped to offer a taste of this wonder, but I am not foolish enough to say that The Origin will replace the Bible. Were Galileo and Copernicus obliged to show people how accepting a heliocentric solar system would give them spiritual comfort?

We find our comfort where we may. All I aimed to do was tell people what is true. Presumably people would prefer to construct their ideology and psychology around the plain facts of the world, but maybe I am wrong.

Richard Dawkins reviews WEIT

February 11, 2009 • 1:30 pm

Well, I have to admit that I’m thrilled (or “chuffed”, as the Brits say). Richard Dawkins has reviewed Why Evolution is True in the Times Literary Supplement (here), and it’s a rave (and long–ca. 3000 words). I didn’t expect Richard to do a review at all (he rarely reviews books), much less to like the book so much. It’s really nice. And, as a bonus, Richard characteristically gives a discussion of what “truth” is in science, and how it is distorted by creationists and relativists.

Richard has now posted his review on  his website, and the comments are accumulating.   Nice original drawings there of the “bee ball” I talk about on WEIT and an amusing rendition of “God’s balls,” one of the more amusing parts of Richard’s review.