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Darwin Day Collection One: the Single Best Idea, Ever.

edited by Amanda Chesworth (Albuquerque, New Mexico: Tangled Bank Press); 466 pp; $29.95 paper.

as Darwin Day celebrations on February 12 of each year continue to multiply across the United States and around the world, the Darwin Day Program offers another resource that both defends and celebrates evolutionary theory. Darwin Day Collection One: the Single Best Idea, Ever will undoubtedly be the first of many successful forays where Darwin, his life's work, and the battle over his theory collide in a tangled intersection.

The back cover says that the collection is "specially presented for the enjoyment of all enthusiasts of science and Darwinia ... and all who relish life in its gorgeous diversity." The book begins with an essay "We Are All Scientists"--originally published in 1893--by Thomas Henry Huxley. His essay is an eloquent prelude that artfully explains the scientific method as "nothing but the expression of the necessary mode of working of the human mind." It helps set the tone for the rest of the collection, though it is also an unsettling reminder that a majority of society still regards science as "some kind of modern black art."

A succession of articles bid farewell to four departed scientists, introduce Darwin, discuss the Darwin Day Program, and explore the unintelligible phenomena known as intelligent design. Book reviews and some lighter essays allow readers to come up for air before diving back into the maze of Darwin's gardens, explanations of evolutionary theory and reminders of the importance of science in society. The impact of evolution on popular culture and thought is also the focus of many essays. Contributors to the collection run the spectrum from high school students to atheist activists to such intellectuals as Richard Dawkins, Massimo Pigliucci, and Steven Pinker.

Most of the articles in the collection are introductory in nature and don't assume a depth of knowledge about specific topics. However, they are filled with enough interesting and useful information to captivate the imagination and propel readers to go out and explore the topics in more depth. One area where the collection did seem to lack adequate coverage is in the discussion of modern evolutionary synthesis. Of course, evolutionary theory is discussed throughout the book, although it is only covered in the context of explaining the errors of intelligent design critiques, or discussing how Darwin came upon the theory. The book places very little focus on the current scientific understanding of evolutionary synthesis, or the internal controversy and debates that are taking place. Often the contributors write of the grandeur of evolutionary theory and its vitality as a field of thought swept up in debate. However, it would benefit the reader if this debate were clearly depicted up close.

As the years go on, the collection should serve as a useful cultural barometer regarding the acceptance of evolutionary theory and scientific literacy in society. The back cover cites the book as a collection that is "a celebration of the life, work and influence of Charles Darwin." Nonetheless, articles focusing on intelligent design comprised approximately a third of the collection. Because of the continued resurgence of biblically based explanations of how human beings evolved, intelligent design is a topic that can't be ignored. If the shared vision--held by the Darwin Day Program and the Humanist movement--of a more scientifically literate society comes into being, future readers will surely learn less of the meaningless critiques from creationists and intelligent designers. As the public gains deeper and more meaningful insights into the explanatory power of science, future editions of the anthology can be refocused to explore the wonders of this world that science can unlock for us.

The collection, overall, is an excellent introduction to Darwin, evolutionary theory, and the importance of science in our everyday lives. It is a valuable resource for people interested in these topics, especially if they are overwhelmed by the plethora of information currently available.

Jende Huang is the field assistant for the American Humanist Association. To learn more about the Darwin Day Program, visit
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Author:Huang, Jende
Publication:The Humanist
Article Type:Book Review
Date:May 1, 2003
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