BOOK: Trying Biology: The Scopes Trial, Textbooks, and the Antievolution Movement in American Schools

A new book about the Scopes Trail in 1920s America was recently published:

Adam R. Shapiro, Trying Biology: The Scopes Trial, Textbooks, and the Antievolution Movement in American Schools (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2013), 200 pp.

In Trying Biology, Adam R. Shapiro convincingly dispels many conventional assumptions about the 1925 Scopes “monkey” trial. Most view it as an event driven primarily by a conflict between science and religion. Countering this, Shapiro shows the importance of timing: the Scopes trial occurred at a crucial moment in the history of biology textbook publishing, education reform in Tennessee, and progressive school reform across the country. He places the trial in this broad context—alongside American Protestant antievolution sentiment—and in doing so sheds new light on the trial and the historical relationship of science and religion in America.

For the first time we see how religious objections to evolution became a prevailing concern to the American textbook industry even before the Scopes trial began. Shapiro explores both the development of biology textbooks leading up to the trial and the ways in which the textbook industry created new books and presented them as “responses” to the trial. Today, the controversy continues over textbook warning labels, making Shapiro’s study—particularly as it plays out in one of America’s most famous trials—an original contribution to a timely discussion.

A review in Times Higher Education by Simon Underdown, here.

Shapiro started a blog to accompany this book, here.

BOOK: Evolving Out of Eden: Christian Responses to Evolution

This looks to be an interesting perspective on the issue of evolution and creationism. One of the coauthors set out to write a book about reconciling evolution with his fundamentalist Christian faith, and in the end came out a nonbeliever. Edwin A. Suominen has a guest post over at Friendly Atheist about “How I Lost My Christian Faith While Writing a Book on Evolution.” He sent me a copy of the book (thank you!). Here is the description:

Evolving out of Eden: Christian Responses to Evolution, by Robert M. Price and Edwin A. Suominen (Valley, WA: Tellectual Press, 2013), 352 pp.

It is now beyond any scientific dispute that all life evolved by a natural process of random mutation and DNA crossover, genetic drift, horizontal gene transfer, and natural selection. We are the highly refined but happenstance products of blind experimentation carried out in a design laboratory that has been running itself for billions of years. We are first cousins to the chimpanzees, descendants not of any biblical Adam but of lumbering hairy ancestors who were building fires and hand axes in Africa hundreds of thousands of years ago. Accepting this has been especially difficult for Christianity, because evolution challenges many foundational doctrines. Concerned believers are walking a troubled middle path between Genesis and genetics, threatened with the loss of a cherished faith on the one hand or their intellectual integrity on the other. Numerous science-savvy theologians have emerged to help them on their way, a whole cottage industry of guides working to establish their own different trails through the hostile territory outside Eden’s comforting fairyland. Writing with the combination of high criticism and low humor that fans have come to love from Robert M. Price, he and co-author Edwin A. Suominen survey the apologetic landscape and offer their own frank reckoning of evolution’s significance for Christian belief.

It’s refreshing to see that the evidence for evolution can indeed convince some. You can check out the website for the book, as well as a Facebook page.

Darwin quote-mining in latest book from the Discovery Institute

UPDATE (6/11/13): I was informed by a friend that the Discovery Institute’s Casey Luskin, coauthor of the book I discuss in this post, responded to my critique, in Critics of Discovering Intelligent Design Ignore the Textbook’s Text. I will respond to his claims within the body of my post, in bold.

One would perhaps think that after being shown on multiple occasions that a quote they decided to cherry pick from a historical figure’s work in fact does not convey what they want that figure to have said in the past, said cherry picker would decide to stop using that quote in a vain attempt to discredit that historical figure. The tactic of quote-mining Charles Darwin is something I’ve posted a lot about before, and it continues to astound me that creationists – no, sorry, intelligent design advocates – no, wait, yes, creationists – time and time again slap history in its face. But that’s how creationists work: they say something they think supports their view, and will never reconsider even in the face of evidence against it.

Taking Darwin’s words out of context was the purview of young earth creationists. The tactic is now practiced increasingly by intelligent design creationists, especially those at the Discovery Institute. They have a new book that just came out, Discovering Intelligent Design: A Journey into the Scientific Evidence, a sort of textbook for intelligent design. On Amazon, you can view some of the contents, and I found myself doing so a few days ago. The index showed several entries for Darwin, and while not all of them were viewable, two that were use quotes from the naturalist.

On page 27, one will find atop the page this quote: “A fair result can be obtained only by fully stating and balancing the facts and arguments on both sides of each question.” This quote comes from On the Origin of Species, and I’ve shown several times why it is erroneous to use it the way they do. The Discovery Institute uses this quote to get people to think that the subjects of evolution and intelligent design should be taken up equally, and that Darwin would have supported that. Darwin is not stating that all sides are equal concerning debate over evolution, but rather that he cannot properly offer all the facts he has in support of evolution in On the Origin of Species, which was much shorter than the book he really wanted to write (he was, as you probably know, pushed to publish sooner when he received a letter from Alfred Russel Wallace outlining the same idea about natural selection). Context matters, and it surely does with this quote.

Luskin writes, “There’s one other accusation of ‘quote-mining’ by ‘The Dispersal of Darwin’ — but it’s so weak and bizarre as to be hardly worth mentioning. He charges that when we quote Darwin’s statement, ‘A fair result can be obtained only by fully stating and balancing the facts and arguments on both sides of each question,’ despite all appearances to the contrary, that’s not what Darwin really meant.” Luskin thinks that Darwin asking his readers in the mid-nineteenth century to understand that he was not able to include all his facts in On the Origin of Species (he did plan on publishing a fuller account later, but that did not happen) equates to Darwin hypothetically advocating for equal treatment of intelligent design “theory” today is erronous. Darwin was not referring to both sides as being evolution versus special creation. As it was pretty clear to Darwin that explaining the diversity and distribution of life on earth through special creation was not viable, his “both sides” was in reference to the how of evolution, the mechanism. And for him, it was natural selection, and he argued for it in Origin. Others agree that the Discovery Institute’s use of this Darwin quote in order to advocate for intelligent design is misguided. See “Misguided Missal” from John Pieret, “Obtaining a fair result” from historian of science John Lynch, and “Nope, Still A Quote Mine” by Jeremy Mohn.

On page 95, when discussing mutation, the authors throw out this quote from Darwin, also from On the Origin of Species: “If it could be demonstrated that any complex organ existed, which could not possibly have been formed by numerous, successive, slight modifications, my theory would absolutely break down.” How convenient for them to not include Darwin’s next sentence: “But I can find out no such case.”

Luskin claims that they “quoted Darwin correctly” here, and that I failed to note that they did share Darwin’s next sentence. “Evidently, the critic hasn’t read Discovery Intelligent Design carefully,” Luskin writes. He ignores the fact that immediately after quoting that passage from Origin of SpeciesDiscovering Intelligent Design explicitly notes that Darwin said he could find no such case.” I guess I missed the continuation of the quote when I looked at that page on the Amazon preview. Here is that page:  Discovering Intelligent Design  A Journey Into the Scientific Evidence  9781936599080   Gary Kemper, Hallie Kemper, Casey Luskin  Books

I wonder why Luskin claims that they immediately noted that Darwin could find no such case. Following the quote, two paragraphs ensue before they state “As committed evolutionists, both Darwin and Coyne claimed they could not envision any organ that could not be built by random mutation and natural selection.” Why do they not include Darwin’s own words “But I can find out no such case” with the rest of the quote? Because, by leaving it out and separating the clarifying statement until further down on the page, creates for the reader, Luskin is surely well aware, doubt in Darwin’s mind. Ending the quote with “my theory would absolutely break down” does more to cast negativity toward evolution than to provide the full quote. Yes, they provide Darwin’s clarification later, but it won’t correct the impact that “my theory would absolutely break down” will have on young minds who are from the beginning encouraged to doubt Darwin. This is misquoting Darwin, Luskin. You intentionally left out Darwin’s own words in order to make it seem that he doubts his own ideas. 

If I were to see a copy of the book in person, I wonder how many more quote-mines I would find. It’s no wonder that some have dubbed the Discovery Institute the Dishonesty Institute. To all who love history and appreciate the accurate portrayal of historical figures, I apologize that there are organizations out there who think they are doing credible science and credible history.

Finally, while I am said to have ignored the text, Luskin apparently could not figure out who I am, as to him I am an “anonymous critic.” My identity is there, clear as day on my “about” page and in the link to my Twitter page. I am not trying to hide who I am. And I allow comments on my blog, unlike at Evolution News & Views. 

NOTE: Larry Moran at Sandwalk has already taken the authors to task for how they define evolution in the book, here. And a little more about the book from The Sensuous Curmudgeon, here.

Some recent Darwin in the news…

On Darwin and evolution:

io9: The inspiration behind Darwin’s evolutionary theory, seen from space

Popperfont: How are we ever going to evolve if you people keep pushing us back into the ocean?

Editorial: Evolution: Education and Outreach goes open access!

Genetics: Charles Darwin’s Mitochondria

SAGE Open: Desmond and Moore’s Darwin’s Sacred Cause: A Misreading of the Historical Record

The Friends of Charles Darwin: Darwin and Wallace: the lost photograph

Millard Fillmore’s Bathtub: Darwin’s death, April 19, 1882

The Friends of Charles Darwin: 19th April, 1882: the death of a hero

Darwin and Gender: The Blog: Reviewing Uncle Charles’s new book

Sandwalk: Darwin Doubters Want to Have their Cake and Eat it too

Why Evolution Is True: The death of Annie Darwin Cliff swallows offer Darwinian lesson in evolution

CultureLab: Timing was everything when Darwin’s bombshell exploded (review of Peter Bowler’s Darwin Deleted)

Publishers Weekly: Darwin Deleted: Imagining a World without Darwin (book review)

Literary Review: The Evolution of a Theory (review of Peter Bowler’s Darwin Deleted)

Until Darwin: Science & the Origins of Race: Note: Louis Agassiz “Against the Transmutation Theory” from Methods of Study in Natural History (1886)

From the Hands of Quacks: “Nothing to be Done:” Letter from Charles Darwin to Syms Covington, 1859

Science Observed: Darwinism Today – (not) a theory of everything

Sedges Have Edges: Darwin’s monsters

On Alfred Russel Wallace:

NPR: He Helped Discover Evolution, And Then Became Extinct

Communicate Science: Alfred Russel Wallace: Back in the picture

Nature Plus (NHM): A Conference about Wallace and his Collections

Library Art and Archives blog (Kew): The self-taught naturalist – Alfred Russel Wallace and Kew

“History” from intelligent design creationists:

Evolution News and Views: What Would a World Without Darwin Look Like? (review of Peter Bowler’s Darwin Deleted)

Evolution News and Views: More on Darwin Deleted: What Is Bowler’s Beef?

Evolution News and Views: Intelligent Design 101: Louis Agassiz, the First Thorn in Darwin’s Side

Evolution News and Views: On Alfred Russel Wallace, NPR Gets It Right, Sort Of…

Evolution News and Views: Did I Too Conveniently Omit Mention of Alfred Russel’s Wallace Interest in Spiritualism?

BOOK: Am I a Monkey?: Six Big Questions about Evolution

Am I a Monkey?: Six Big Questions about Evolution, by Francisco Ayala (Baltimore, MA: Johns Hopkins University Press, 2010), 83 pp.

Despite the ongoing cultural controversy in America, evolution remains a cornerstone of science. In this book, Francisco J. Ayala—an evolutionary biologist, member of the National Academy of Sciences, and winner of the National Medal of Science and the Templeton Prize—cuts to the chase in a daring attempt to address, in nontechnical language, six perennial questions about evolution:

• Am I a Monkey?• Why Is Evolution a Theory?• What Is DNA?• Do All Scientists Accept Evolution?• How Did Life Begin?• Can One Believe in Evolution and God?

This to-the-point book answers each of these questions with force. Ayala’s occasionally biting essays refuse to lend credence to disingenuous ideas and arguments. He lays out the basic science that underlies evolutionary theory, explains how the process works, and soundly makes the case for why evolution is not a threat to religion.

Brief, incisive, topical, authoritative, Am I a Monkey? will take you a day to read and a lifetime to ponder.

The National Center for Science Education has a free preview of Am I a Monkey?, here.