The controversial nature of evolutionary theory is a great example of what happens when one has no clear conception of their theology, science, or both in terms of their epistemology and what what one can learn from them. This is a very well-written introductory book on the evolutionary theory. Lyons did a great job at explaining the theory to a lay audience and starts off the book with why it’s scientific as opposed to the Intelligent Design proponents. What I really appreciated the most was her pointing out to the reader when evolution is being validated as science, when it’s being used to propose hypothetical stories about our origin and underlying bases for our behaviour, and when it’s being heavily influenced by social, gender, and psychological factors to generate various propositions about humans.
The only problem I have is the overall materialist assumption taken for granted throughout the book. Just as Lyons points out that the social, gender, and psychological factors have a great deal of influence upon certain proposed evolutionary explanations, the overall stories being put forth are also influenced by philosophical assumptions about the nature of the knower, the nature of the known, and the nature of the tool of knowing. Although Lyons does indicate in a couple of places her awareness of this, she doesn’t grant this issue much importance. Given how polarizing this theory can be for some people, where it’s being outright rejected on the basis of religious belief in spite of the overwhelming scientific evidence for it, a new approach that clearly defines where the science stops and the philosophy starts is desperately needed.
The theory of evolution, just as much of modern science for that matter, is unfortunately hijacked by materialist atheists to support their theological and philosophical conclusions in a way that gives the impression to many Christians and Muslims that atheism is a logical conclusion for anyone who accepts it. This is most definitely not the case and it doesn’t need to be. The problem is not with the science or the theory of evolution per se. The problem is with how it’s being presented in an atheistic formulation. Lyons makes a very good attempt at presenting the science and the evidence. It would’ve been helpful if she made more of an effort at pointing out to the reader when the science is turning into a philosophical worldview. This line is quite blurry and it’s where many people get lost. She shows promise in several occasions throughout the book, but she never takes it all the way. It makes me wonder if that has more to do with fear of undermining the whole theory. Evolutionary theory is typically presented with more flavour through proposed scenarios. This is understandable given how much we like stories and being told dry scientific data is not all that appealing. If this is in fact the case, we can safely assume that a rejection of the theology being promoted by materialists is being misdirected towards the science of the theory of evolution.
As an introduction to the subject, it’s a good book for anyone looking to understand the basics of it. I would just call the readers to use the points Lyons gives about when science is being influenced by external human motivations, and be aware of the one human motivation she doesn’t mention explicitly: theological worldview. After all, although the evidence is what it is, the process of interpretation is replete with biases. Of course any interpretation must be subject to the overall rigour of the scientific method, but there are many occasions where this is not possible. An example of this is human behaviour, which is impossible to find historical confirmation for since behaviour doesn’t fossilize. In such a situation it becomes a matter of competing theories based on observations of other animals’ behaviour. In this Lyons also reminds the reader that such an approach is not definitive, but it’s the best we have given our methodological restrictions. But this is a subject for another book to tackle.