Friday, September 8, 2017

Book review of the month

Adam Rutherford, a geneticist who tweets at @AdamRutherford, has posted on Amazon a brief review of AN Wilson’s new Charles Darwin: Victorian Mythmaker. He gives the book one out of a possible five stars, and heads his review “Deranged: literally the worst book I have ever read about Darwin and evolution”. 
I am a scientist who has studied evolution and genetics for many years. I have also extensively written about Charles Darwin. Singularly, I have never come across a more incoherent, inconsistent, deranged attempt to analyse Darwin as a man and his science. If AN Wilson has indeed researched this book for 5 years, as he has claimed, he has managed to do something impressive, which is to draw conclusions which are so comprehensively bonkers as to fall into the category of ‘not even wrong’. This book is littered with errors, both trivial and fundamental, ones that could easily be fact-checked. But Wilson seems not to care. His understanding of evolution, of genetics, and of science in general is comically egregious – based on this book, he would fail GCSE biology catastrophically. The anti-Darwinian arguments presented here are not even as cogent as those presented by Young Earth Creationists.
* To associate Darwin with Hitler’s policies is at best misguided and at worst intellectually dishonest: Darwin’s scientific ideas have little to do with the political ideas of Social Darwinism, and the deranged policies of Nazism drew from distortions of the works relating to Norse mythology, the Bible and a host of other sources.
*To suggest Darwin did not credit others who thought on evolution before him is not borne out by the fact that he lists more than 38 who did just that, in the Origin of Species itself.
*To assert that there are no transitional fossils is not supported by the fact that there are literally millions of transitional fossils.
*To suggest that genetics does not support Darwinian natural selection is contrary to the view held by every biologist in the world that genetics fully reinforces natural selection.
The only valid criticism I can find herein of Darwin is that he might have been flatulent, which can be attributed to a serious disease that he picked up on his travels on the Beagle.
And so on. I can’t for the life of me work out how a serious writer could draw these conclusions about someone who has been studied for more than a century, on a subject that millions of people have spent millions of hours and millions of £££ testing. I can only conclude that AN Wilson is not a serious man.
The pagination is excellent. I like the picture of the bat on the back cover.
Fun fact: the original version of the review had “batshit” instead of “bonkers”, and Amazon refused to publish it. This is the genetically modified version.

So here is David Bowie live in 1995 with “I’m Deranged from that year’s album 1. OutsideGail Ann Dorsey on bass, obv.


Anne Else said...

Thank you - a brilliant review!

Stephanie said...

I listened to some of the Kim Hill interview last weekend with Mr Wilson. It didn't seem she had read your post or that of Adam rutherford. No evidence of her killer style, which I was looking forward to after having read this previously. A damp squib, with Wilson boring on as only a old fart Brit can.