Michael Ruse - Darwin and Design

Theologically speaking, creation through law was superior to creation through miracle, and pragmatically or scientifically speaking it explained much that was otherwise inexplicable--as well as letting God off the hook for much that is distasteful about the world of life. (p. 125)
In this enjoyable, but not earth-shattering, book Ruse becomes more of a historian than a philosopher most of the time. He starts off tracing the philosophical concepts of the arguments to design and to complexity from the Greeks to less ancient times, including the likes of Hume and Kant. The middle two-thirds of the book then lose almost all philosophical elements and focus mainly on the history of the science of biological evolution during the 19th and 20th Centuries. Ruse does a good job of presenting this information, but it isn't anything new for those who are already very familiar with the literature on the subject. Finally, he again waxes philosophical in the last few chapters.

One thing I didn't know was that several prominent evolutionists either bought into the modern arguments for intelligent design (or supernatural manipulation of natural selection of one kind or another) or they retained their religious beliefs. Those included Asa Gray and Theodosius Dobzhansky.

I expected the bulk of this book, given its title and subtitle, to be about the intelligent design folks like Behe and Denton. Such creationists weren't even mentioned until the final chapter. I first saw Ruse on a PBS program called "Firing Line" in December of 1997. Every person on both sides of that debate, with the exceptions of Barry Lynn, Eugenie Scott, and William F. Buckley Jr., were given some time in Darwin and Design.

So what is this book primarily about? It's about the history of evolution in science and how design can be thought of in biology when it isn't a main concern, necessarily, in other sciences. For instance,

Like Paley [in his famous book using the watchmaker argument], Darwin was looking at the organic world as if it were an object of design: he was taking organized end-directed complexity as the absolutely crucial key to unlocking the secrets of the living world and its attributes. Contrivances are human objects created with an end in view, as in "I have invented a remarkable contrivance for getting the corks out of wine bottles." This was Darwin's perspective on the living world, just as it had been Paley's. (p. 121)
There is no reason to think that biology calls for special life forces over and above the usual processes of physics and chemistry. Nor is there reason to think that biology is little more than complicated physics and chemistry... There does seem to be something distinctive about biological understanding--something having to do with purposes and ends in evolution... We treat organisms--the parts at least--as if they were manufactured, as if they were designed, and then we try to work out their functions. End-directed thinking--teleological thinking--is appropriate in biology because, and only because, organisms seem as if they were manufactured, as if they had been created by an intelligence and put to work... Darwinism does not have design built in as a premise, but the design emerges as Darwinism does its work and some organisms get naturally selected over others. (p. 268-9)
Few well-read readers will probably be overly enamored with Darwin and Design. However, if you are new to readings on the history of evolution then this is a decent place to start.

from the publisher:
The intricate forms of living things bespeak design, and thus a creator: nearly 150 years after Darwin's theory of natural selection called this argument into question, we still speak of life in terms of design--the function of the eye, the purpose of the webbed foot, the design of the fins. Why is the "argument from design" so tenacious, and does Darwinism--itself still evolving after all these years--necessarily undo it?

The definitive work on these contentious questions, Darwin and Design surveys the argument from design from its introduction by the Greeks, through the coming of Darwinism, down to the present day. In clear, non-technical language Michael Ruse, a well-known authority on the history and philosophy of Darwinism, offers a full and fair assessment of the status of the argument from design in light of both the advances of modern evolutionary biology and the thinking of today's philosophers--with special attention given to the supporters and critics of "intelligent design."

The first comprehensive history and exposition of Western thought about design in the natural world, this important work suggests directions for our thinking as we move into the twenty-first century. A thoroughgoing guide to a perennially controversial issue, the book makes its own substantial contribution to the ongoing debate about the relationship between science and religion, and between evolution and its religious critics.

Michael Ruse is Lucyle T. Werkmeister Professor of Philosophy, Florida State University. The author of many books, including The Philosophy of Biology and Taking Darwin Seriously, he is also the founder and editor of the journal Biology and Philosophy. He has appeared on "Quirks and Quarks" and the Discovery Channel.