Reviewing “Replacing Darwin” – Part 1: Introduction and the Introduction

Reviewing “Replacing Darwin” – Part 1: Introduction and the Introduction

I managed to get my hands on a copy of the latest book that the creationists at Answers in Genesis (AIG) have churned out. What sets this one apart from most of their content is that it’s written by someone with an impressive qualification in the field – a PhD in Cell and Developmental Biology, from Harvard University, no less. Unfortunately, Nathaniel Jeanson decided to throw away his opportunity for a prestigious career in science. Upon graduation in 2009, he moved from the hallowed halls of Harvard to the somewhat less prestigious “Institute for Creation Research”, before settling at AIG more recently.

With his PhD from Harvard, Jeanson is surely one of the top scientists on the AIG payroll, so it’s no surprise that his new book is being promoted hard by his employers. It certainly has an ambitious goal: to literally replace “On the Origin of Species” and act as the new springboard for the next few centuries of life sciences research. Not only that but it “features the latest creationist research” and “comprehensively rebuts and replaces the evolutionary model for the origin of species”. Promises, promises.

So, given that this book is undoubtedly the pinnacle of what the modern “scientific creationism” movement has to offer – the culmination of decades of “research” by AIG, ICR, etc – I think it’s worth checking out. I’ll try to do a chapter-by-chapter review over the next *unspecified timeframe*. I’m basically writing this post to lock me into doing this, giving me an incentive to actually deliver because otherwise I just won’t get around to it when I have so many more worthwhile things to be getting on with.

Here’s a look at the contents for a preview of what’s to come:

Introduction — Why Now?
Chapter 1 — Inevitable
Part I — A Field Is Born
Chapter 2 — The Secret of Life
Chapter 3 — Cracking the Code
Color Plate Section
Part II — All Things (re)Considered
Chapter 4 — The Riddle of Geography
Chapter 5 — The Riddle of Ancestry
Chapter 6 — A Stitch in Time
Part III — Dawn of a New Era
Chapter 7 — Turning the (time)Tables
Chapter 8 — A Preexisting Answer
Chapter 9 — From DNA to Visible Traits
Chapter 10 — On the Origin of New Species
Afterword
Endnotes
Acknowledgments
Glossary

Since the first chapter is short and basically just fluff, I’ll quickly go through it now.

 

Chapter 1 – Inevitable

This introductory chapter is only 9 pages long (in epub pages, equivalent to about 4 in physical book pages), and relatively inoffensive in terms of content. It summarises some of the basic pre-history of evolutionary biology: how Linnaeus began to classify organisms; how species seemed to fit their environments; and how this led to the inference that species were fixed and created specially in such a way to match their environment (i.e Paley’s Watchmaker argument). This is the appropriate time to bring up Darwin, and Jeanson does, but strangely leaves out what was surely his biggest contribution to the thinking at the time.

The text moves straight from species “matching” their environment to saying (paraphrasing) “Darwin came along with some new information and eventually proposed universal common ancestry of all life on earth”. Surely the appropriate thing to mention here is how Darwin’s concept of natural selection explained why organisms seemed to “match” their environments – they had been moulded by their environment through selection, not by the hand of a creator. This wasn’t to say that a creator wasn’t involved, just that the species-specific adaptations were arrived at naturally through variation and selection. Jeanson doesn’t reject this fact since it’s just the process of microevolution, so it’s a curious point to skip over at this point in the historical overview. He does mention it in a later chapter, so it’s not left out of the book, but a sentence about it here seems appropriate.

The chapter also introduces the main thesis of the book: that Darwin, living as he did in the 19th Century, had an extremely limited amount of information to work with, and that in the time since then our knowledge has changed. Nothing too controversial in that simple statement, but Jeanson takes it a step further to propose that this new knowledge completely overturns Darwin’s conclusions and, of course, young earth creationism is actually correct instead of evolution. Jeanson doesn’t state that last part in this chapter, but that’s the subject of the book, and you’ll have to stick with this review series to see how he reaches this astounding conclusion.

 

Comments and queries are welcome.

-RM

15 thoughts on “Reviewing “Replacing Darwin” – Part 1: Introduction and the Introduction

    1. I was hoping that you would have tackle or comment on the question that this book covers very closely , namely mtDNA , but alas you didn’t … in fact you cover everything but this , why ??

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      1. I do intend to complete the review at a later date – I’m acutely aware that so far I haven’t touched on the final third of the book, which as you say is really the most important part.
        The only reason I’ve had to put it on hold is that it requires much more work on my part to thoroughly address the arguments, and at the moment I’m busy enough with my graduate work that I don’t have the spare time and/or headspace for it. I’d much rather hold off for a few months and give it my full attention to really do it justice rather than churn out a half-assed response quickly.

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    1. Well, reading through it I couldn’t find any faults – I’ve since converted to YECism and now worship at the alter of AIG.

      Just kidding, unfortunately I’ve been really busy with work so I’ve had to put this off for a long while in order to really do it justice when I do finally get around to tackling it. My best guess is that I’ll start to get back into the review process in late July, so look out for the remaining parts around late July/August.

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      1. I’ve resd through these reviews a couple of times now. Huge respect for the work you’re doing. Looking forward to the rest of it 🙂

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  1. Hey, thanks for the detailed work. You drill all the way down to the hard data. Look forward to future installments.

    You may be aware of this already, but AIG apparently let someone named Stefan Frello (creationist critic from Denmark?) post a critical essay of the book on the AIG online journal. This gave Jeanson an occasion to write a response claiming that Frello’s criticisms fail, and thus Jeanson’s case is all the more established. One of Jeanson’s responses is here:
    https://answersingenesis.org/theory-of-evolution/no-replacement-of-darwin-response/

    I am no biologist, so I don’t know if Frello was unskilled or not. It seems like he gave Jeanson a lot of unnecessary openings. Anyway, perhaps worth your while to peruse that debate. I found it interesting that Jeanson proudly acknowledges that he deliberately hid a lot of his technical meat in the footnotes, to allow less-diligent critics to hang themselves by neglecting the footnotes and focusing on the text of his book.

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  2. I just saw the dialog ~ Sept 2018 at Peaceful Science regarding responses to Replacing Darwin, so obviously you are aware of Frello and also Mays rebuttals. I think you called it exactly right on several counts there. I believe the shorter, high level summary critiques of YE creationist claims have a place (in that more lay people are likely to read them), but you have to parse each sentence to see how it might be twisted against you. And such a rebuttal will always be open to the charge that you didn’t fully engage all their arguments. Because a current YE creationist layman who reads such a critique will always run back to AIG or similar site to find a soothing rebuttal there to said critique, the impact of such critiques is limited.

    Your current tome grinds through everything, at such a level of detail, that I don’t think it can be accused of not engaging Jeanson’s arguments. So that is a huge plus. Now, how to make it more accessible….I think you had the right idea to add a summary after your are finished. If I may, I’d like to offer a few suggestions for that. Here is a layout which might be most effective: First, recap the overall logic flow of the book — assign numbers to and state the key premises of the book, and also state how Jeanson logically argues from those to reach his one or two main conclusions. Then go through and state the key errors in the premises, e.g. “Jeanson says the mutation rate is xxx but it is actually yyy, as shown by zzz” . You can give some key quantitative numbers (eg. mutation rates). But you don’t have to bog down with giving all the literature referencs and the nuances In interpreting. Because you have already done that in your chapter by chapter reviews, you can simply reference where in those reviews you came up with those numbers. So anyone who wants to chase down your numbers can do so, and this format would show any reader that you know what you are talking about.
    Another suggestion is to keep the tone of the summary emotionally neutral. Any sarcasm would turn off YE creationist readers right away.

    Every several years, the YE creationist folks come up with the latest book which purports to demolish “Darwinism”. John Sanford’s Genetic Entropy (2005) was their go-to book 10-15 years ago, cited by all the creationist bloggers. I did not see a thorough critique of it on line, so I took it upon myself to do a chapter by chapter rebuttal, on my Letters to Creationists blog at https://letterstocreationists.wordpress.com/stan-4/ . So I respect what you are doing here. (I also wrote the piece on dinosaur soft tissue that you reference in one of your chapter reviews). You may never know the impact your work has — the folks most likely to leave comments are those who already agree with you, and hard-core YE creationists who will not change their minds no matter the evidence. But there are wavering, wondering folks (mainly devout Christians with some education, who aren’t sure what to believe on creation) on the fringes for whom exposure to such rebuttals can help sway in the right direction.

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    1. Hi Scott, thanks very much for the feedback, I really appreciate it.
      Certainly when it comes to writing the final summary of the book, I will take care to recap the logic flow of the book and highlight which of the stepping stones Jeanson uses to reach his ultimate conclusion are fatally flawed. I always do my best to avoid sarcasm, but sometimes I really can’t resist when it feels absolutely appropriate. I am very conscious of how the way I write will be received by readers with different viewpoints, and I strive to be as fair and neutral as possible to avoid turning anyone off.
      Your letterstocreationists blog has been on my radar for years now, and I sure I’ve subconsciously drawn some inspiration from reading your long-form style of critiques. I can only hope my work will come to have a similar impact on the discourse as your blog.

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