Books and Code · A Miscellany

Darwin on Trial, by Phillip Johnson (A Review)


I was reminded about this book the other day as I was listening to a UCSD Anthropology podcast. As a child I was taught the typical anti-evolution Christian ideology. I’ve always been one to do my own research and make up my own mind about things. I finally got around to evolution in college where I minored in anthropology and learned of the ridiculously large body of evidence for this “just a theory”. To be fair, I read this book to get a reasoned opinion from the anti-evolution camp.

Reading this book made me realize just how baseless these arguments are. In that sense, I’d like to rate it higher, however I fear such a rating would be misconstrued. I think that most people who read this book already have an unrational bias against evolution and little-to-no real knowledge of the actual evidence. For those people, I can see how this book might reinforce their ideology. For that, I want to give it negative 5 stars.

Some advice for living: learn some critical thinking skills then apply them to your beliefs. If you’re right, they’ll stand up to actual scrutiny. If you’re wrong, be an adult and admit it. In my experience, those most sure about their opinions are those who regurgitate crap they’ve taken on someone else’s authority.

This review was originally posted on Goodreads. In response to a comment on book recommendations I wrote the following:

My recommendations will be a little idiosyncratic since I will only recommend things I’ve personally read, but here it goes.

I learned the bulk from my college textbooks (and classes), which while effective, are perhaps not the most compelling reading. My memory is a decade old now, but I think the main text was Biological Anthropology by Michael Park. There’s probably better ones.

As for books written for a popular audience, the clearest and most comprehensive case I’ve read is The Greatest Show on Earth: The Evidence for Evolution by Richard Dawkins. However, the problem with recommending this book is that Dawkins is notorious and can be a turn off. Why Evolution is True and Beak of the Finch are also good (though I’ve only skimmed these–who wants to read the same book 5 times?). I’ve also learned a lot from Stephen Jay Gould’s books.

But honestly, I would recommend reading Origin of Species itself in addition to something like the above. (Or at least the first half and final chapter.) While it doesn’t contain all the latest evidence, Darwin is very persuasive in his own right and does address many of the criticisms people are still using against him. It is telling to see what he said 150+ years ago and how discovery has borne him out. Also, it makes you realize how tone-deaf his opponents have been.