Tuesday, July 31, 2012

A Review of Wayne Talbot’s Book The Dawkins Deficiency

Wayne Talbot’s recently published book The Dawkins Deficiency: Why Evolution Is Not the Greatest Show on Earth (Deep River Books, 2011) is definitely worth reading if you’re a layman -- and who isn’t when you’re talking about evolution and related fields? Mr. Talbot’s modest goal is to critically examine new atheist Richard Dawkins’ book The Greatest Show on Earth: The Evidence for Evolution (Free Press, 2009) and “comment on the validity of his assertions as evidence and what, if anything, such evidence proves” (xvi).

Judging from the title, you might expect this book to be a Bible thumping zealot’s response to a misguided attempt to question the authority of the Bible, and you’d be completely off base. Talbot does an excellent job of presenting well reasoned, impersonal arguments that will appeal to a general audience. As he states on page 37,
My goal is not to disprove evolution theory, my goal is to evaluate the truth of the claim that the evidence for it is incontrovertible, that evolution theory has been scientifically proven, and that the book under review provides that evidence.
And again on page xix:
In this book, I do not advance an alternate explanation of origins. Dawkins opens the door to discussion on both Creationism and Intelligent Design, and I do seek to correct his assertions and arguments where I believe he has it wrong, but I am not herein advocating any particular theory of origins despite my personal views. The issue is the validity of the theory of evolution; the alternatives can be argued elsewhere.
He lets you know right up front where he’s headed:
While I am not attempting to disprove evolution theory, I am claiming that there are numerous problems with the general theory—that much of the science is predicated upon unproven assumptions which have led to numerous errors; that there is a substantial body of scientific evidence that throws doubt on the theory; and that there is more unexplained than explained. The major proof points for the theory, namely, abiogenesis (chemical evolution), and that genetic mutation and natural selection have the development power claimed for them, have not been scientifically demonstrated, and there is inadequate substantive evidence for their assumed capability (xix).
Talbot has a background in Information Technology, which allows him to look at things from a slightly different perspective than other authors in areas such as irreducible complexity. He demonstrates a thorough understanding of evolution’s complexities, yet does a good job of explaining things without losing the average reader in the process. By comparison, this book is an easier read than Michael Behe’s book Darwin’s Black Box, but no less helpful. The author systematically goes through Dawkins’ book, covering the majority of the chapters. While there are a few spots where having Dawkins’ book in hand would be helpful, there’s no need to have a previous familiarity.

If you’re familiar with logic, you will appreciate Talbot’s analysis of things, and if not, this is a good learning opportunity to hone your reasoning skills. He demonstrates over and over Dawkins’ logical fallacies, including category errors, appealing to the law of the excluded middle, unwarranted generalization, circular arguments, affirming the consequent, and appeal to consequence. Don’t worry, all of these errors in logic are laid out in an easily understandable fashion.

In the book, Talbot points out numerous areas where Dawkins’ position on various facts have been proven by the scientific community to be in error. Some of these include his claim that embryological development proceeds by the application of local rules without reference to a master plan, that single-point mutations are heritable, that ontogeny repeats phylogeny, and that the untranslated regions of the genome serve no purpose. The author’s reasoned conclusion to Dawkins’ missteps:
This leads me to conclude that the author is simply holding onto disproved assumptions because they conveniently fit the observed phenomenon when interpreted within the paradigm of evolution. Far from being evidence of evolution, it presents as evidence of desperation (138).
He deconstructs so many of Dawkins’ arguments in fact, that this book can serve as a useful reference to debunk many of the now fashionable pro-evolution arguments. And since many of the arguments you see in the media are by laymen who have been schooled by Dawkins and others like him, this is a helpful addition to your bookshelf. It also illustrates the one weakness of the book, there’s no index, which makes it difficult to reference valuable points that you know are in there somewhere.

Other major topics that Talbot reviews include Dawkins’ refusal to address evolution’s complete silence on how life arose from non-life, and evolution’s inability to explain how the immaterial information and coding system of the genome could have arisen by chance. He keenly points out that
In evaluating the evidence presented in Richard Dawkins’ book, we need to separate substance from style. The author claims that evolution is a scientific theory; thus, we must determine the validity of the theory based on the scientific evidence alone. Railing against Theists, Creationists, and Intelligent Design proponents is simply theatre; it is not evidence of anything other than the author’s trenchant atheistic polemic, and should, perhaps, even score against him in terms of his willingness to engage with alternate ideas and scientific evidence (253).
Another strength in the book is Talbot’s weaving in quotes by evolution supporters questioning their own theory, such as this one by Richard Lewontin:
“We take the side of science in spite of the patent absurdity of some of its constructs, in spite of its failure to fulfil many of its extravagant promises of health and life, in spite of the tolerance of the scientific community for unsubstantiated just-so stories, because we have a prior commitment, a commitment to materialism. It is not that the methods and institutions of science somehow compel us to accept a material explanation of the phenomenal world, but, on the contrary, that we are forced by our a priori adherence to material causes to create an apparatus of investigation and a set of concepts that produce material explanations, no matter how counter-intuitive, no matter how mystifying to the uninitiated. Moreover, that materialism is an absolute, for we cannot allow a Divine Foot in the door (8).”
The author concludes on page 265:
The theory may be true; at some point in the future research may uncover evidence that does prove to be substantive, in which case we can then deal with it, but as of now, based on the evidence presented, the case is not proven, and evolution ought to be described as a hypothesis only. It most certainly does not deserve the eminence of the appellation: scientific theory. …There is substantive scientific evidence that directly refutes Dawkins’ inferences, and as scientific proof, this must hold sway.
Dawkins, in his book, comments that “Evolution is a fact, and this book will demonstrate it. No reputable scientist disputes it, and no unbiased reader will close the book doubting it” (9). It seems unlikely that any reputable reader, after reading The Dawkins Deficiency, will close it without thinking that Richard Dawkins has failed to demonstrate that evolution is a fact. Wayne Talbot’s book is definitely worth a read.

You can visit Mr. Talbot's website, talbot-on-evolution.com, or his facebook page here.

The Dawkins Deficiency is available from major book distributors for $15.99, and less than that online. The Kindle version is available for $9.99.

ISBN-10: 1-935265-98-9
ISBN 13: 978-1-935265-98-6

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Thanks for putting us on to this book, Scott. I've always considered Philip Johnson's "Darwin on Trial" as the most devastating critique of Darwinism--this looks like a good companion piece. The lack of an index is unfortunate--in fact, a major deficiency, but it looks like a good read, anyways.

I like the Lewontin quote. Here's one of my favorites, by George Wald of Harvard, in his "Origin of Life" (1955):
“Time is in fact the hero of the plot… given so much time, the ‘impossible becomes possible, the possible probable, and the probable virtually certain. One has only to wait: time itself performs miracles.”

Joe Strieter