The best books on "the politics of evolution"

David F. Prindle Author Of Stephen Jay Gould and the Politics of Evolution
By David F. Prindle

Who am I?

While growing up as a budding intellectual, two of my passions were social science (in other words, politics), and natural science, particularly biology. For decades, I thought of those as two unconnected fields of knowledge. I studied politics in my professional capacity as a government professor, and I read nature and wildlife studies as a hobby. Then, one day in 2000, I picked up a copy of a book by Stephen J. Gould, a Harvard paleontologist. It struck me that in every sentence he was combining science and politics. It was an on-the-road-to-Damascus moment. Since then, I have studied and written about the politics of evolution.  

I wrote...

Stephen Jay Gould and the Politics of Evolution

By David F. Prindle,

Book cover of Stephen Jay Gould and the Politics of Evolution

What is my book about?

Because of his lucid, accessible writing style, until his death in 2002 Gould was probably the best-known scientist in the country. But he was not only a scientist; he was a passionately committed Leftist activist who infused his scientific writings with political advocacy. I examine and evaluate the way Gould fought the "evolution wars" within the scientific community, while at the same time crusading against the creationist resurgence in American politics. I examine the way his magnetic writing style gave energy to his views, and how he managed to suggest that good science was good politics, and vice-versa. I also evaluate the evidence underlying his scientific claims, in order to decide whether his criticisms of orthodox Darwinism were convincing.

The books I picked & why

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On the Origin of Species By Means of Natural Selection

By Charles Darwin,

Book cover of On the Origin of Species By Means of Natural Selection

Why this book?

This is one of the two or three most influential science books ever published. But unlike the case with other science books, The Origin, published in 1859, is also of profound political importance. Part of this political importance—the implications of Darwin's theory for religious explanations of the diversity of life, which I call "outside" politics—is familiar to all socially-aware citizens. But there is much less awareness of the "inside" politics of evolution—the political implications of controversies within the science of evolutionary biology founded by Darwin. Of course, to understand both the inside and outside politics, you must read much more recent books. But you should begin by reading Darwin.

Darwin on Trial

By Phillip E. Johnson,

Book cover of Darwin on Trial

Why this book?

The clearest and most comprehensive creationist critique of evolutionary biology. Johnson, a retired law professor, marshals every possible argument like a prosecuting attorney, employing reasoning and evidence that is either masterful and convincing, or deceitful and outrageous, depending upon your point of view. To Johnson, the biologists who work in the tradition of Darwin are not scientists, but propagandists in a political movement, using fake data and spurious arguments to bamboozle the public. His purpose is to clear the way for readers to be convinced that a huge, invisible, omnipotent, supernatural designer (no, don't call him God) authored the millions of organisms that have existed on Earth for 3.8 billion years. Is this a scientific critique or a political polemic?

Not in Our Genes: Biology, Ideology, and Human Nature

By Richard Lewontin, Steven Rose, Leon J. Kamin

Book cover of Not in Our Genes: Biology, Ideology, and Human Nature

Why this book?

A Marxist critique of evolutionary biology, authored by a geneticist, a neuroscientist, and a psychologist.  From a perspective about as far from the viewpoint of creationists as it is possible to get, these three scholars argue that the philosophical assumptions, methodology, and social organization of modern biology add up to a politically conservative conspiracy reinforcing capitalism, racism, classism, and misogyny. Although their attack is general, it is most specifically aimed at intelligence testing, which, they argue, is shoddy science in the service of racist ideology.

Hen's Teeth and Horse's Toes: Further Reflections in Natural History

By Stephen Jay Gould,

Book cover of Hen's Teeth and Horse's Toes: Further Reflections in Natural History

Why this book?

Until his death in 2002, Gould, a Harvard paleontologist, was probably the best-known natural scientist in the United States. What was not always recognized was that virtually every line Gould penned proceeded along two tracks, the scientific and the political. A leftist who started his career as a Marxist and developed into a more orthodox liberal, Gould had a genius for combining scientific lessons with political disputation and presenting that combination in lucid, interesting prose. No single book summarizes all of his political/evolutionary views. This one, in which he discusses many fascinating aspects of natural history while demolishing the views of creationists, would be a good place to start reading.

Intelligent Design Creationism and Its Critics: Philosophical, Theological, and Scientific Perspectives

By Robert T. Pennock,

Book cover of Intelligent Design Creationism and Its Critics: Philosophical, Theological, and Scientific Perspectives

Why this book?

The best book of readings on the controversy between "intelligent design" creationism (which is more intellectually respectable than "young Earth" creationism, the adherents of which believe that every word of the book of Genesis is literally true), and secular thinkers. Essays cover the truth of Darwinist theories, the nature of parents' rights to choose what their children are taught, the Constitutional law of education, the epistemological stance of naturalism as an unchallengeable assumption in scientific method, and various other relevant topics. The essays are generally as clear and jargon-free as it is possible to be, given that their authors are scholars.

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