Paul McBride reviews “Science and Human Origins” – SPOILER ALERT, it’s not great

Auckland University of Technology PhD candidate Paul McBride has admirably published a 6-part review of the Discovery Institute’s latest self-published book, Science and Human Origins, which I previously drew your attention to for – yes – trying to argue that the human race could have originated from a literal Adam and Eve. It’s well worth reading in its entirety, but for those without the time or the patience for bad science, the bottom line is:

I have been left wondering why the Discovery Institute, or intelligent design advocates in general, or biblical literalists feel a need to try and accommodate science when they have a belief in a supernatural entity capable of breaking natural laws. In the case of this book, it has left them needing to make all kinds of awkward criticisms of fields in which the authors clearly lack expertise. A lawyer is not the right guy to challenge the world’s palaeoanthropologists, nor the world’s geneticists. Certainly, he shouldn’t be trying to take them all on at once. It will end with him trying to smear the reputation of scientists rather than engaging with their ideas. Accusations that the entire field of palaeoanthropology is driven by personal disputes and that Francis Collins is a bad Christian are simply not compelling reading in a book that is putatively about scientific argument.

[...]

ID tries to straddle some in-between place, where it claims to disprove scientific consensus in a number of different fields, and then attributes the lack of a shifting consensus towards ID to bias and brainwashing. But, as this book amply demonstrates, the real problem is that ID fails to engage with much of the modern literature in those fields.

This book also demonstrates ID’s difficulty with separating itself from Christianity in practice. The introduction, and four of the five chapters are framed in a Christian context. Concern over how Christian beliefs have been impacted by science, and the role of Christians who accept mainstream science are at the fore. Even issues like stem-cell research appear, given no context. The thrust of the whole book is to claim human exceptionalism, disprove our common descent with apes, and search for a real-life Adam and Eve. None of this is part of a secular programme to genuinely investigate the world. This is particularly clear because the authors are happy to create doubt about what they call Darwinism, rather than create positive cases for an alternative to it. This is an obvious echo of the Wedge Strategy on which the Discovery Institute was founded. 

Science and Human Origins has to be described first and foremost as being anti-evolution rather than pro-intelligent-design, or pro-science. If it offers solace to those seeking evidence against evolution for their faith, the solace should be as incomplete as the arguments made in the book.

So no real surprises there. The Discovery Institute is yet to publish – in a book, paper or otherwise – a sufficiently positive account of intelligent design, and while this book was never really held up as doing specifically that, it quite clearly falls back on the old, related argumentative strategy of trying to randomly punch as many holes in the mainstream account of evolutionary biology as possible, without pulling back and showing how the supposed flaws they expose support their own alternative, ID-based view.

The functionality of junk DNA, the inability of selection to produce new protein functions and the lack of a complete fossil record of recent ancestors of Homo sapiens – all things claimed in Science and Human Origins – do nothing to support the version of ID that the Discovery Institute explicitly puts forward, and until they realise this, they won’t be able to take even the first few steps towards true scientific legitimacy. Plus, as Paul notes, the scientific literature they claim to have engaged with in order to support these anti-evolutionary arguments is nowhere nearly done justice, which just adds another layer of hopelessness to the whole situation.

This reminds me, I need to get my Signature in the Cell review done soon, or a DI fellow will yell at me on the Internet again…

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