Most books that teach the basics of evolutionary biology are fairly genteel in their treatment of creationism—they don’t endorse it, of course, but they either ignore it, or more frequently now, they segregate off a chapter to deal with the major claims. There are also whole books dedicated to combating creationist myths, of course, but they’re not usually the kind of book you pick up to get a tutorial in basic biology. In my hands I have an example of a book that does both, using the errors of creationism heavily to help explain and contrast the principles of evolutionary biology—it’s fascinating. This is what we should do if we were to “teach the controversy” in the classroom; it’s not what the other side wants, because teaching it honestly would mean the creationists would be the comic relief and endless whipping boy of the course, as they should be.
The book is The Science of Evolution and the Myth of Creationism(amzn/b&n/abe/pwll) by Ardea Skybreak. It’s very good, but right up front I’ll mention its flaw, and one reason few scientists write books from this perspective: the frequent comparisons with creationism mean we’re also hoping the book will someday be hopelessly obsolete, if ever we can get those myths treated like the jokes they are. Scientists who are not engaged in the culture war are going to regard the book rather quizzically, since it does raise up nonsensical issues frequently; it really requires a peculiarly modern American context to make it all work. It’s one of those books that, the more it is read, the less relevant its approach would become.
But it does work in that context. Skybreak covers all the key concepts, but does so in a passionate, refreshingly aggressive way. She doesn’t hesitate to call a stupid idea stupid, and back up the charge with the evidence. If your interest in evolution isn’t simply academic, this is an excellent book to simultaneously inform and instruct, and supply the reasoning to deal with creationist foolishness. It’s also refreshing to see a book that isn’t timid about pointing out that fundamentalist religion is the source of the problem, and that isn’t afraid of offending creationists. It makes for an invigorating read, and I recommend it highly.
It’s not too late to order it for Christmas! It’s perfect for that person who wants to learn some solid biology, but also wants to be an activist for good science.
I do feel obligated to mention one thing that didn’t disturb me at all, but some readers might be concerned about. The book began as a series of articles in The Revolutionary Worker. There are a few hints of sympathy for socialist ideals in a few of the sidebars and endnotes, a sympathy I share (perhaps with significant reservations not held by the author), but otherwise, this is not an ideological work. Read it for the good science and the healthy slams against creationism without reservations about the source.