Creation/Evolution Journal

Book Reviews

Book Reviews
Reviewed by
H. James Birx

Darwin edited by Professor Philip Appleman (New York: W. W. Norton, 1979)

In the flood of recent books on the theory of evolution, the revised and updated second edition of Darwin, edited by Professor Philip Appleman, remains an outstanding introduction to the breadth and depth of thought on this timely subject. This now classic work surveys the relevant evolutionary literature from the scientific opinions of the nineteenth century (for example, Lyell, Hooker, and Huxley) and includes crucial selections from Darwin's On the Origin of Species and The Descent of Man to the more recent views and reactions concerning evolution in sociology, modern philosophy, process theology, and the literature of this century.

As such, Appleman's Darwin is a must for all enlightened readers who wish to obtain a comprehensive understanding of the historical development and impact of the evolutionary framework on the modern worldview. It is a rich, unique, and indispensable source of facts and ideas surrounding the issues of evolutionary thought. In my opinion, no other single book accomplishes this needed task.

For this new edition, Appleman has wisely included sections representative of the latest advances in evolutionary theory and the special sciences: Wilson on sociobiology, Lorenz on ethology and aggression, Leakey on human evolution, Wade on recombinant DNA research, Mead on the process of cultural development, and Gould on the issue of potentiality and determinism in modern biology. Even a selection from the writings of Carl Sagan is included to encompass the emerging science of exobiology.

The writings of Dewey, Randal, and Teilhard de Chardin represent the philosophical and religious views on the subject of evolution. Of particular importance is the attention given to the ongoing creation-evolution controversy.

This volume clearly demonstrates Darwin's influence on seven areas of modern research: evolutionary mechanisms, fossil humans, genetics, society, primate behavior, and the emergence of human intelligence.

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In his brilliant epilogue and postscript (pp. 521-571), Appleman has authored two essays which defend the modern synthesis—or neo-Darwinism. He emphasizes the need for more science and free inquiry within a naturalist and humanist perspective. Special attention is paid to Darwin among the moralists.

Darwin remains significant to a proper conception of humankind's place within natural history. This important book is of great value to the student, teacher, scholar, and general reader. Extensive footnotes, selective readings, and an index are provided.

Darwin for Beginners by Jonathan Miller (New York: Pantheon Books, 1982)

In the paperback, Darwin for Beginners, the talented author, Jonathan Miller, has written a very informative and unusually delightful introduction to the life and thought of Charles Darwin without distorting the facts and controversies surrounding him. With remarkable clarity and attention to detail, Miller shows the awakening of the idea of evolution in the mind of the young naturalist. He points out that the theories of Lyell in historical geology and Malthus in population studies played key roles in Darwin's recognition of the truth of evolution and his subsequent discovery of the principle of natural selection. Miller also shows how the unique experiences and evidence amassed during the global voyage of the H.M.S. Beagle (particularly, its five-week visit to the Galapagos Islands in 1835) were likewise crucial to shifting Darwin's interest from geology to biology and his worldview from the acceptance of special creation to "descent through modification."

Miller does not neglect to present the conservative, religious, and sociopolitical environment of the time, especially the emergence of the creation-evolution controversy, best represented in the 1860 debate at Oxford University between paleontologist Thomas Huxley ("Darwin's Bulldog") and Bishop Samuel Wilberforce ("Soapy Sam"); the former defended evolution in terms of science and reason, while the latter unfortunately misrepresented the facts and misinterpreted the theory. To the reader, it is not surprising that Charles Darwin had hesitated to publish his major work, On the Origin of Species (1859), for a period of twenty years and then even delayed the appearance of The Descent of Man (1871) for over a decade, understanding the great furor his ideas would cause.

This excellent book places Charles Darwin within the nineteenth century, with the final pages devoted to the synthetic theory of evolution in our century and the most recent advances in population genetics. It is profusely illustrated by Borin van Loon, whose excellent drawings are both informative and clever but never distasteful. As an introduction to Darwin and evolution, this little book is of much value.

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Life Itself: Its Origin and Nature by Francis Crick (New York: W. W. Norton, 1981)

Life Itself., Its Origin and Nature is a recent and challenging book about evolution written by Francis Crick, codiscoverer with James D. Watson of the double helix structure of the DNA molecule. Nobel laureate and biologist Crick has written an informative and provocative work that boldly presents an unorthodox speculation to account for the first appearance of organic objects on this planet several billion years ago. This book proposes the hypothesis of directed panspermia, an intriguing idea first developed by Crick and Leslie E. Orgel in a joint-paper published in the space journal, Icarus (1973).

From Aristarchus of antiquity to S. A. Arrhenius in the nineteenth century and J. B. S. Haldane in 1954, some thinkers have maintained the existence of cosmic seeds or spores which have originated elsewhere in outer space but then drifted to earth and started life as we know it on our own planet. Crick explores nature from the submicroscopic world of atoms and molecules to the vast panorama of this galaxy and the universe (that is, from the primeval big bang to human consciousness of today). He seriously offers a variant of the panspermia hypothesis: the evolution of life on this planet began only after an unmanned alien rocket carrying microorganisms (bacteria) from another world in this Milky Way Galaxy was deliberately sent by intelligent beings into deep space billions of years ago and landed in or near the life-sustaining waters of our earth. Crick's directed panspermia hypothesis assumes that there have been intelligent beings in our galaxy and that the astonishing biochemical unity of all complex life on earth, from amoebas and cilicates to plants and animals, is due to a common source such as simple bacteria of celestial origin.

Crick emphasizes the awesome age (perhaps twenty billion years), unimaginable size, and essential emptiness of the material universe. Likewise, he presents those steady physical conditions necessary for primitive living things as we now know them to survive and thrive on a planet: free energy from sunlight, liquid water on the planet's surface, a gaseous atmosphere (made up of simple compounds of hydrogen, nitrogen, oxygen, phosphorus, sulphur, and especially carbon), and a suitable gravity and temperature.

Crick's plausible notion does not actually account for (but merely assumes) the prebiotic origin of life from nonlife somewhere in our galaxy. Nevertheless, it is very unlikely that such an aimless life-carrying spaceship would ever land on earth about four billion years ago at just the right time and in a suitable location to favor the survival of its organic visitors. This viewpoint does, however, raise important questions. Did life first appear here on earth or elsewhere in the cosmos? Is the origin of life an extremely rare event or an almost certain occurrence? Did the nucleic acid emerge first as the DNA molecule, the RNA molecule, or as a simple protein? Or did they all evolve together?

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Finally, more or less reversing his own hypothesis, Crick envisions humans seeding the universe with life (bacteria, of course) and warns that the process should proceed slowly and wisely: we should not take lightly the contamination of our galaxy. One quickly enters the area of cosmic ethics.

Life Itself does give an alternative explanation for the origin of living things from nonlife and, as such, offers some answers to those questions raised by the fundamentalist creationists. First, from a scientific perspective, Crick's book shows that an evolutionary origin of life (even if as improbable as creationists say) only needed to occur once in the universe to eventually spread throughout the cosmos. Second, the book shows that, if there are problems with demonstrating how life on earth could arise by chance within a naturalistic framework (perhaps because our planet is not old enough), the directed panspermia hypothesis offers a possible solution. Third, if we must posit a humanlike "creator" to account for life on earth, there is no reason such a creator could not have been an alien civilization rather than a supernatural being. In short, this book will make enjoyable reading for speculative scientists and any budding panspermists.

This version might differ slightly from the print publication.

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