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Ayala, F. 2007. Darwin's gift to science and religion. Washington: Joseph Henry Press

Inside flap summary

With the publication in 1859 of On the Origin of Species by Means of Natural Selection, Charles Darwin established evolution by common descent as the dominant scientific explanation for nature's diversity. This was to be his gift to science and society - at last, we had an explanation for how life evolved and proliferated on Earth.

Scientists agree that the evolutionary origin of animals and plants is a phenomenon beyond reasonable doubt. They place it beside such established concepts as the roundness of the Earth, its revolution around the Sun and the molecular composition of matter. In other words, it is a fact that evolution occurred.

Yet as we approach the bicentennial celebration of Darwin's birth, the world finds itself divided over the truth of evolutionary theory. Consistently endorsed as "good science" by experts and overwhelmingly accepted as fact by the scientific community, it is not always accepted by the public - and out schools continue to be battlegrounds for this conflict. From the Tennessee trial of a biology teacher who dared to teach Darwin's theory to his students in 1925 to Tammy Kitzmiller's 2005 battle to keep intelligent design out of the Dover district schools in Pennsylvania, it's clear that we need to cut through the propaganda to quell the cacophony of raging debate.

With the publication of Darwin's Gift to Science and Religion, a voice at once fresh and familiar brings a rational, measured perspective to the science of evolution. An acclaimed evolutionary biologist with a background in theology, Francisco Ayala offers lucid explanations of the science, reviews the history that led us to ratify Darwin's theories and makes a convincing argument for uncoupling science and religion - different ways of knowing the world - thus providing a clear path forward for a confused and conflicted public.


Chapter of contents

1. Introduction
2. Intelligent Design: The original version
3. Darwin's revolution: Design without designer
4. Natural selection
5. Arguing for evolution
6. Human evolution
7. Molecular biology
8. Follies and fatal flaws
9. Beyond biology
10. Postscript for the cognoscenti


Extract, pages 177-179

"Science is a way of knowing, but it is not the only way. Knowledge also derives from other sources, such as common sense, artistic and religious experience, and philosophical reflection. In the Myth of Sisyphus, the great French writer albert Camus asserted that we learn more about ourselves and the world from a relaxed evening's perception of the starry heavens and the scents of grass than from science's reductive ways. The anthropologist Loren Eiseley wrote: "The world without Shakespeare's insights is a lesser world, our griefs shut more inarticulately in upon themselves. We grow mute at the thought - just as an element seems to disappear from sunlight without Van Gogh."

"Astonishing to me is the assertion made by some scientists and others that there is no valid knowledge outside science. I respond with a witticism that I once heard from a friend: "In matters of value, meaning, and purpose, science has all the answers, except the interesting ones."

"The validity of the knowledge acquired by nonscientific modes of inquiry can be simply established by pointing out that science (in the moden sense of empirically tested laws and theories) dawned in the sixteenth century, but mankind had for centuries built cities and roads, brought forth political institutions and sophisticated codes of law, advanced profound philosophies and value systems, and created magnificent plastic art, as well as music and literature. The crops we harvest and the animals we husband emerged millennia before science's dawn, from practices established by farmers in the Middle East, China, Andrean sierras, and Mayan plateaus. We learn about the human predicament reading Shakespeare's King Lear, contemplating Rembrandt's Self-Portraits, and listening to Tchaikovsky's Symphonie Pathétique or Elton John's Candle in the Wind. We thus learn about ourselves and about the world in which we live, and we also benefit from products of this nonscientific knowledge. We humans have systems of morality concerning the consequences of our actions in regard to others, and derive meaning and purpose from religious beliefs.

"It is not my intention here to belabor the extraordinary fruits of nonscientific modes of inquiry. I wish simply to state something that is obvious, but at times becomes clouded by the hubris of some scientists. Successful as it is, and universally encompassing as its subject is, a scientific view of the world is hopelessly incomplete. Matters of value and meaning are outside science's scope. Even when we have a satisfying scientific understanding of a natural object or process, we are still missing matters that may well be thought by many to be of equal or greater import. Scientific knowledge may enrich esthetic and moral perceptions and illuminate the significance of life and the world, but these concerns are outside science's realm.

"I reiterate my convictions by quoting the words of Freeman Dyson, a distinguished scientist and writer whom I much admire: "As human beings, we are groping for knowledge and understanding of the strange universe into which we are born. We have many ways of understanding, of which science is only one... Science is a particular bunch of tools that have been conspicuously successful for understanding and manipulating the material universe. Religion is another bunch of tools, giving us hints of a mental or spiritual universe that transcends the material universe." "


Profile of Francisco Ayala

Francisco Ayala is University Professor and the Donald Bren Professor of Biological Sciences at the University of California, Irvine. In 2002 President George W. Bush awarded him the National Medal of Science. Dr Ayala has made singular contributions not only to his field of evolutionary biology but also to education, philosophy, ethics, religion and national science policy. He was a chief witness in the creationist trial in Arkansas in 1981 that prevented religion from being taught as science in the classroom. A member of the National Academy of Sciences since 1980, Dr Ayala has been called the "Renaissance Man of Evolutionary Biology" by The New York Times.


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