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Book Review: God, Science, and the Story of the Human Eye

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Six years ago, on December 20, 2005, a judge in Pennsylvania ruled that the counterargument to Darwinian evolution called "Intelligent Design" was not science and the teaching of it as science must be barred in Pennsylvania public schools. We don't hear much about Intelligent Design anymore, at least not in the mainstream media, but it simmers in the American Creationist fringe that continues to argue against Darwinian evolution on primarily religious grounds.

The Pennsylvania trial was something of a circus, essentially a battle of religious rhetoric against experimental science that included an imported British philosopher whose testimony on the Intelligent Design side was essentially an offering of the philosophical fantasy that since all views of reality, including science, are products of the human mind, all views of reality deserve equal treatment in education. The philosophical idea sounds wonderful, but the problem is that so far the only view of reality that allows us to build a bridge that doesn't collapse under the weight of traffic, or that allows us to point a projectile at the Moon and hit the surface of the Moon at an appointed time, or that allows us to identify the gene that causes a particular genetic disease -- the only view that allows us to do these things is the scientific view. Not the Bible, not Creationism, not Intelligent Design, not any religion extant or extinct, not anything except science and its objective methods that allow us to understand the real world around us.

The fundamental rhetorical argument of Intelligent Design was and remains the idea of "irreducible complexity" -- the existence of biological systems with functionally integrated parts that apparently cannot possibly arise by a succession of small changes produced by Darwinian evolution. One of the prime examples of irreducible complexity offered to the public in the mainstream media a decade ago was the human eye, a complicated organ consisting of functionally integrated parts difficult to imagine as step by step products of Darwinian evolution.

Nearly all biologists have been aware there is no difficulty at all in understanding in principle the Darwinian evolution of the human eye -- but the evidence for this understanding has for the most part been buried in biological journals not easily accessible by the general public--and apparently also not by magazine journalists.

Which leads to a just published book -- a most remarkable book -- that needs to be in the library of every school and college, and maybe in every household that can afford it (it's expensive). There aren't many books like this one, transformative books that provide a wondrous experience -- especially for young people -- just by turning the pages of mesmerizing illustrations of the evolution of the eyes that are looking at the book.

A deep majestic event: human eyes looking at a book explaining the evolution of human eyes. (The only event that I know of with more majesty is the human brain contemplating its own evolution.)

The book: Evolution's Witness: How Eyes Evolved.. Ivan R. Schwab. Oxford University Press, 2011.

Life on Earth has an apparent history of 3.75 billion years. Immerse yourself in this book and you will come away with a firmer understanding of what you are and where you've come from and where we all may be going. It's the Grand Trip, isn't it? The voyage of our species on this planet through space and time -- a short voyage for each of us but a long voyage for our species, a voyage so readily dramatized by the story of the evolution of the human eye.

The author and publisher of this book deserve much credit for producing it for the public interest. It's a book for all seasons -- a witness to the evolution of life on Earth.