Published September 2000 in The Humanist Inquirer

Truth and Falsification

by Barry Loberfeld

Niles Eldredge, The Triumph of Evolution: and the Failure of Creationism, W.H. Freeman and Company, 2000, 223 pages, $24.95.

To my mind, the most interesting part of the Yankees-Red Sox mini-series in June was when the commentator informed us that a certain Boston player (who shall remain nameless) once said in an interview that he didn't believe in dinosaurs because they weren't in the bible. When asked to account for all those bones that we keep finding, he responded that those were "man-made." Too bad he wasn't also challenged to explain crude oil.

Now one might think that the notion that secular humanists are doing the work of the Devil (in whom they don't believe) by constructing fake skeletal remains in order to undermine people's faith in scripture, is the ultimate madness. But one would be wrong. No, that honor belongs to Pat Robertson's 700 Club, which (back in '93, in an attempt to counter the popularity of Jurassic Park) told its viewers that dinosaurs were the dragons of medieval myth. Forget about asteroids; their extinction was at the hands of chivalrous knights. (See, you really can't think of anything crazier, can you?)

The name Niles Eldredge is already familiar to those who have been following the evolution-creationist "debate." He is easily one of the most important figures in the field of evolutionary theory. The tremendous knowledge of biological reality that he brings to this book is without a doubt one of its two great strengths. The other is the plain fact that it was written in 2000. Most of the books that attempt to refute creationist inanity date back to the early 80s. Since then, creationism itself has evolved in order to adapt to its intellectual environment. Eldredge's wider perspective allows him to explode creationist contentions old and new.

Perhaps the feature of this book that will interest most is the author's belief that there need not be any "culture war" conflict between science and religion. Science cannot tell us about God because it cannot get Him under the microscope, so to speak. But, Eldredge continues, this does not mean that science presumes the rejection of God: "The penchant of some scientists ... to agree with creationists ... that the naturalism of science indeed implies that the Judeo-Christian God does not exist, strikes me as crass and rather stupid." Does it now? Eldredge himself points out that science doesn't so much "prove" things as it disproves -- falsifies -- them. What is evolutionary theory but the falsification of creationist (i.e., "Judeo-Christian") claims? When religion identifies itself with specific statements about the natural world, it indeed submits itself to scientific inquiry -- and conclusion.

In addition to being a great scientist, Eldredge is a wonderful writer. In this book you encounter, not pages of jargon, but a man who is speaking to you. It is, simply, a crucial work that is as entertaining as it is educational. And it is those who think we needn't concern ourselves any more with this issue who will benefit from it the most.