J. Scott Turner - The Tinkerer's Accomplice

If nothing else, I admire the author's honesty. In the Prologue he discusses how irritating this book is. He even says about the last chapter, "if you have not thrown the book against the wall already, perhaps this is the chapter that will make you do it." (p. 3) While my copy of the book never hit a wall, it did take much effort to get through. In the end, I don't think it was worth the effort.

There were some interesting portions. If I didn't skim some parts, though, I was going to put it down and never pick it up again. I can't imagine too many ordinary people getting very far into, or very much out of, The Tinkerer's Accomplice.

At times the author seems to be trying to poke holes in Darwinism even though in a note on page 237 he says he counts himself "firmly among Darwin's heirs." (p. 237) I don't think he succeeds in offering real alternatives or additions to Darwinism. Sure, organisms modify their environment and systems (organisms and systems within organisms) like homeostasis. In my view, that is all compatible with, and already included in, Darwinian theory. Turner seems to agree when on page 219 he says

Homeostasis, therefore, is the rough physiological equivalent of genetic fitness: a more robust homeostasis will ensure a system's persistence over a wider range of perturbations and further into the future than will a less robustly regulated system.
Despite the difficulty in wading through much of this book, I think Turner could potentially be an outstanding science writer (along the lines of Sagan, Dawkins, Gould, etc.) if he wrote more for a mainstream audience.

from the publisher:
Most people, when they contemplate the living world, conclude that it is a designed place. So it is jarring when biologists come along and say this is all wrong. What most people see as design, they say--purposeful, directed, even intelligent--is only an illusion, something cooked up in a mind that is eager to see purpose where none exists. In these days of increasingly assertive challenges to Darwinism, the question becomes acute: is our perception of design simply a mental figment, or is there something deeper at work?

Physiologist Scott Turner argues eloquently and convincingly that the apparent design we see in the living world only makes sense when we add to Darwin's towering achievement the dimension that much modern molecular biology has left on the gene-splicing floor: the dynamic interaction between living organisms and their environment. Only when we add environmental physiology to natural selection can we begin to understand the beautiful fit between the form life takes and how life works.

In The Tinkerer's Accomplice, Scott Turner takes up the question of design as a very real problem in biology; his solution poses challenges to all sides in this critical debate.