A couple of weeks ago I posted a capsule review of several books I'd recently added to my library, including one called ABUSING SCIENCE: The Case Against Creationism, by Philip Kitcher. Well, I've finished said book, and I thought I'd comment about it at somewhat greater length.
ABUSING SCIENCE has apparently become a classic rebuttal of creationist claims in the twelve years since it was published, because I've seen it referenced in bibliographies of a couple of more recent books on the subject. And not without reason. The other books of this sort that I've read tend to focus either on how strong the case for evolution is, or on the anti-evolution arguments used by creationists and how to rebut them. A few consider the question of whether or not creationism is science, but as the creationists have gotten better at concealing the religious basis for their claims, it's become correspondingly harder to produce a simple argument as to why creationism isn't science.
But Kitcher sees beyond these simple arguments. After giving a thumbnail sketch of evolutionary theory and its history in Chapter 1, in Chapter 2 he points out that there is a much deeper issue involved in the creationism _vs_ evolution debate. That's the entire question of "what _is_ science?". Is science huge collections of data, tables of numbers, etc.? Is it the process of collecting that data? Is it a way of thinking about the world? Is it a method of solving problems? Or what?
The question of "what is science" is very much part of the C-E controversy, because one of the creationists' ploys is to say "if creationism is banned from science classes because it is religion, then evolution should also be banned because it also amounts to religion. There is no proof of evolution; evolutionists accept it on pure faith." Is evolutionary theory science, or is it religion? Kitcher contends that it is indeed science, and proceeds to show that in ways that are just about impossible to argue or find fault with. He defines what makes a good scientific theory with painstaking clarity, and shows step by step that yes, evolution does indeed qualify just as much as does motion physics, or chemistry, or geology, or astronomy.
The rest of the book is a steady, relentless attack on all of the positions usually taken by creationists. Kitcher is one of the finest science-explainers I've ever read (and I'm comparing him to such greats as Asimov and Gould). He says a lot of things that I've often thought in reply to creationist arguments, but could never put into words. And he says them in ways anyone can understand.
Transitional fossils, dating, natural selection, mutation, he deals with all those and more. He gives a couple of pages to what "random" really means in the evolutionary context, and explains how the creationist argument against "evolution by random mutation" is flawed because it confuses two fundamentally different kinds of randomness. He exposes similar flaws in other creationist positions, showing how creationists repeatedly commit basic blunders in understanding and interpreting the ideas of evolutionary theory. In many of these cases, I recognized his arguments right away as simple, clear explanations of why creationist arguments ring false to me, but I'd never been able to say just why they ring false to me.
In the section on transitional fossils, Kitcher refers to something I'd not heard of before. In answer to the old saw about "no transitional fossils between therapsids and mammals," he correctly says that the difference between fossil therapsid and fossil mammal is defined primarily a difference in the lower jaw joint. Then he refers to "animals -- one of which is aptly named _Diarthrognathus_, or 'double jaw joint' -- _in_ _which_ _both_ _the_ _reptilian_ _and_ _mammalian_ _jaw_ _joints_ _are_ _present_." (Underlining denotes italics in original.) If this is true (and I have no reason to doubt it), it's the most devastating disproof of the "no transitional fossils" claim I've ever seen, even more crushing than _Archaeopteryx_.
Next, Kitcher spends a chapter going through standard creationist 'theory' and looking at it to see how it holds up under the same scrutiny he's just applied to evolutionary theory. His answer: it doesn't hold up at all. Over and over, he takes a creationist position, draws simple, logical conclusions from it (always supported by quotes from creationist writers, usually Morris or Gish), and shows that it leads either to an absurdity, a logical fallacy, or a conclusion directly contradicted by the facts. He shows that to be taken seriously, creationist 'theory' actually requires a thorough rewriting of at least five different major scientific fields: biology, geology, paleontology, physics, and astronomy.
Finally, he deals with the most devious creationist tactic of all, the repeated claim that "we only want equal time, so the kids can decide for themselves." His answer to this, supported by all the arguments he's built through the book up to that point, is that creationism is _not_ science and does _not_ belong in a science classroom. "It is educationally irresponsible," he says, "to pretend that an idea that is scientifically worthless deserves scientific discussion." (ABUSING SCIENCE, p.174)
All told, a truly fascinating book with a great deal to offer. Well worth the time and trouble to find and read. I don't know if it's still in print; I found this copy in a used bookstore. The local library also has a copy, and since the Dayton library system generally isn't very good, I figure any good library should have at least one copy somewhere in the system. The full cite on the book is:
ABUSING SCIENCE: The Case Against Creationism
c. 1982, The MIT Press
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