Science in Christian Perspective

Book Reviews



From: JASA 16 (December 1964): 123-124.

To one who wishes to keep up with thought in disciplines or emphases other than his own, the publishing houses of Prentice-Hall, Inc. (Englewood Cliffs, New Jersey) and Holt, Rinehart and Winston (New York City and elsewhere) are in my opinion making a real contribution by the publication of their neat and attractive series of summaries of the current status of various subjects. Prentice-Hall has several series under the general title of "Foundations of . . .", for example, their FOUNDATIONS OF PHILOSOPHY SERIES with more than a dozen titles (some yet to be published) such as Philosophy of Mathematics (Barker), Philosophy of History (Dray), Philosophy of Natural Science (Hempel), Metaphysics (Taylor) and their FOUNDATIONS OF MODERN BIOLOGY SERIES with about the same number of titles like The Cell (Swanson), Heredity (Bonner), Animal Diversity (Hanson) and Man in Nature (Bates). Holt, Rinehart and Winston's MODERN BIOLOGY SERIES parallels the latter series with such titles as Cell Structure and Function (Loewy and Siekevitz), Genetics (Levine), Animal Structure and Function (Griffin) and Ecology (Odum). Published in sturdier-than-usual 6 x 9 paperbacks with sewed fasicles, these books are usually somewhat over 100 pages long and sell for under $2. As you can see the authors are top-notch and apparently plan to keep their books quite up-to-date through frequent revisions, some of which are already appearing. The main objective of these series is to supplement beginning courses with more advanced or up-to-date material than may appear in the regular text and to give an adequate introduction to each of the specialties indicated by the titles. As such they provide a concise and readable review and survey of the present status of each emphasis. Several of the emphases are pertinent to the concerns of ASA and it is hoped that further reviews of some of them will appear from time to time.

The particular emphasis at this time is on Jay M. Savage's EVOLUTION, 1963, one of the Holt, Rinehart and Winston series. In a recent review in Science (143:1318, 1964), Slatis summarily dismisses this book as "catastrophically bad", deplores the genetic background laid therein, misunderstands and hence wrongly accuses Savage of grave error on page 41 and suggests that "no instructor should lead a student into this morass." Perhaps his most pertinent assessment, however, is that, "There is a tendency to state opinions and theories as if they were facts." (This is different?) I do not agree with Slatis that this book is that bad. If his last-quoted statement is remembered as the book is read, a good short account of many of the current approaches to evolutionary studies is given. In fact, some of the weakness from Slatis's point of view becomes instructive from the point of view of the critical ASA member as he reads, because here he can get a grasp of what J. M. Savage, "Mr. Average Evolutionist," is thinking, and of the presuppositions upon which he bases his investigations and his theories.

Inasmuch as I think each of you should read this book, I shall refrain from doing a precis of it, but rather shall make several comments which I hope will drive you to the source for verification. Savage's Preface is very important to our understanding of both Savage and his book, and, as I have previously indicated, the tenor of the field today.

(1) Savage approaches "evolution" as a subject, a subject fundamental to the proper understanding of biology.

(2) Savage treats "evolution" as a fact. "No serious biologist today doubts the fact of evolution, the development of all living organisms from previous existing types under the control of evolutionary process." (page v.) This is reminiscent of that old adage upon which most of us cut our biological eyeteeth, "Omnia viva ex vivo."

(3) Savage makes a distinction between the fact of and the theories of "evolution." "The concern here will be with what is known about the process of evolution and a survey of the several theories proposed to explain the process." (page v.)

(4) The concern of Savage is mainly, if not completely, with the changes observed to be taking place within or between populations of the same species or of closely similar species. "The present book is unique among discussions of evolution at the college level in its emphasis on the two crucial unsolved problems in the understanding of the evolutionary processes: (1) By what means do isolating mechanisms develop to prevent genetic exchange between related populations of organisms and lead to the origin of species? (2) What processes are responsible for the origin of major evolutionary changes above the species level? The ultimate solution of these problems is left, hopefully, to readers of this book." (page vi.) When one turns to chapter 10 on EVOLUTION ABOVE THE SPECIES LEVEL, it is interesting to find that except for a few lines on page 106, Savage is still referring to what might conceivably take place at the species level.

This book suffers, as will any short survey, for want of extended example and illustration. I am, nevertheless, amazed at the amount of material Savage compresses into 126 pages of well-illustrate. d indexed discussion of the genetic basis and diver;ent data observed in natural populations. This readable presentation requires no technical background on the part of the reader. Following each chapter are listed several well-chosen source references for further information on each phase.

It seems to me that one of our tasks as creationists is to distinguish in a positive manner between created fact and limited and hence often distorted explanation so that we may assess both the facts and the explanations. Savage, in realizing the difference, has helped us on our way.

Another series of books which is proving a continuing delight for both me and my children is the periodically published LIFE NATURE LIBRARY. Presenting its 16th, 17th, 18th, and 19th volumes (The Land and Wildlife of-Eurasia, by Francois Bourlifte, noted French mammalogist; Australia, by David Bergamini; South America, by Marston Bates; and Tropical Asia, by S. Dillon Ripley) so far this year (1964), previous volumes have dealt with the sea, forest, desert, mountains, poles, earth, and universe, and with various groups of organisms such as insects, fish, reptiles, birds, mammals, and plants in addition to summary volumes on ecology and evolution. Superb and usually well-chosen photos, many of them in color, and sharp and helpful marginal sketches explain points in the succinct, readable text. The format made famous by Life of about twice as much space devoted to pictures as to text is not always appropriate to the subject matter, and hence captions sometimes stretch a bit to make photos relevant if they do at all. Half or more of the photographs have been used previously by Life, but the text and sketches are new. To say the text is authoritative is perhaps dignifying these popularizations beyond their scope, but most are written by authors of note and of some scientific status (Bourli6re, Bates, Fritz W. Went, Roger Tory Peterson) backed by Life's board of editors. The text then is dependable but coverage varies from volume to volume, some giving a coherent survey of its subject and others merely cataloguing certain interesting facts.