Post Author: Bill Pratt
I just finished reading a book called Evolution by Donald Prothero, a paleontologist. The book’s main purpose is to chronicle the fossil evidence for the evolution of animal life. Prothero, as an expert in this field, seems to do a reasonable job of this throughout the book, although every tenth sentence seems to be a dress down of creationist, religious fundamentalism (back to that point at the end). Still, he is extremely knowledgeable about fossil evidence, no doubt.
One thing that bothered me about the end of the book, however, is Prothero’s wholehearted and devoted worship of science. I can almost imagine him bowing at an altar, it’s so overdone. Read on to see why.
At the very beginning of his volume, he gave me hope that he understood the limits of science when he explained, “Science helps us understand the natural world and the way it works, but it does not deal with the supernatural, and it does not make statements of what ought to be, as do morals and ethics. . . . When science tries to proscribe morals or ethics, it falters.” Sounds good.
But then we fast-forward to the conclusion, literally the last 2 pages, where he quotes three of his favorite science prophets. First we hear from the Prophet Michael Shermer, who testifies, “Darwin matters because evolution matters. Evolution matters because science matters. Science matters because it is the preeminent story of our age, an epic saga about who we are, where we came from, and where we are going.” Science, it seems, is an epic saga.
Next Prothero quotes from the Gospel of the Prophet Carl Sagan: “The universe is all that is, or ever was, or ever will be. Our contemplations of the cosmos stir us. There’s a tingling in the spine, a catch in the voice, a faint sensation as if a distant memory of falling from a great height. We know we are approaching the grandest of mysteries.” Tingling in the spine?
And finally, a reading from the Book of Darwin, speaking on his theory of evolution. “There is grandeur in this view of life, with its several powers, having been originally breathed into a few forms or into one.” Evolution is full of grandeur.
After having heard from the Holy Trinity, I almost expected Prothero to burst into a hymn of science thanksgiving. What place does all of this have in a book about fossils? When all is said and done, Prothero is not just trying to teach about fossils; no, he is all about recruiting us to his religion, the religion of science. After all, religions tell us who we are, where we came from, and where we are going. This, according to Prophet Shermer, is what science does for us.
For Prothero, it seems that science is the answer to every question worth asking. After 358 pages of berating religious fundamentalists, it turns out he is one, too.