I read Niall Shanks’s book God, the Devil, and Darwin when it first came out in 2004, and I was disappointed. While there was the occasional interesting argument in the book, overall it was weak on new ideas and strong on rhetorical attacks. Frankly, I expected better from something published by Oxford University Press. 

I recently came across a couple reviews of the book which are worth reading. Del Ratzsch has a well-thought-out and detailed review, where he argues for the following take:

In his straining eagerness to denigrate anything associated with ID, Shanks inflates the rhetoric, misconstrues history, blurs important distinctions, and seriously skews the views of various ID advocates.

Also, Neil Manson makes similar points:

IDT certainly merits severe criticism, on social and political grounds as well as philosophical ones. But do we really need to be told page after page that IDT proponents are “extremist” and “fundamentalist”? 

In his discussion of Christian morality (pp. 232-3) did he really need to drop references to “pedophile priests,” “twisted televangelists,” white supremacists, and Adolf Hitler? If you want to read this sort of thing, buy a copy of Hillary’s Scheme: Inside the Next Clinton’s Ruthless Agenda to Take the White House. I expect better from a philosophy book.

I’m glad that people whose work I respect, like Ratzsch and Manson, were also bothered by the tone of Shanks’s book. 

And setting aside tone, there are philosophical problems too. For example, as Ratzsch trenchantly points out:

it seems ironic that after belaboring ID advocates for providing no mechanism for the allegedly designed cosmic fine tuning, Shanks reveals that he thinks that the (apparent) fine tuning was a result of ‘blind chance or luck’ — a view which would itself seem to be a bit short on specific mechanism. 

Here’s how Ratzsch concludes his review:

As indicated at the outset, I do think that ID has some worrisome and signicant shortcomings, and I think that as discussion both professional and lay continues to heat up both in the U.S. and elsewhere, that a rigorous, accurate, penetrating, careful and balanced critique of ID would be enormously valuable. Unfortunately, this book isn’t it.

I hope that my forthcoming book (Seeking God in Science: An Atheist Defends Intelligent Design) goes some way toward living up to Ratzsch’s desiderata. My book provides some critique of intelligent design, as well as some critique of the unfair attacks on intelligent design that emanate from people like Shanks.

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