Sunday, March 18, 2007

Book review: Deception by Design

Lenny Flank, Jr: Deception by Design - The Intelligent Design Movement in America (Red and Black Publishers, 2007)

Normally I don't buy self-published or vanity-press books, but in this case I made an exception, given it's subject.

The book is an introduction to the history of the Intelligent Design movement in the US, starting off with the creation of the Christian fundamentalist movement at the Niagara Bible Conference in 1897 and ending with the Judge Jones ruling against the teaching of ID, and what followed from that. It also deals with some of the more common Creationist and ID objections to evolution.

The book is probably not bad as an introductionary book to the subject (some of the parts of the early history of the Creationists were new to me), but it is somewhat lacking in focus. It also shows clear signs of lacking an editor. Several pieces of information is repeated (do we really need to be told twice that Kent Hovind got his degree form a diploma mill?), and the general flow of the book doesn't quite work.

I also came across some pretty glaring errors in the book, mostly due to Flank's somewhat limited idea of what Europe is. For example, on page 34 he writes:

For 1500 years, the Roman Catholic Church was the only religous authority in Europe. the Papal organization had also come to enjoy a significant secular political influence, as well. By the beginning of the 16th centruy, the Catholic Church was the most powerful (and wealthy) organization in Europe.

I am sure that the early Christians would be suprised to hear that they were the only religious authority in Europe, as would the many other religious groups who continued to exist for centuries after the foundation of the Roman Church. Also, so would the Islamic Ottoman Empire, which was founded in 1299, and had territories on the European mainland since 1359.

Even among Christians, the Orthodox Church had existed since 313, and definitely split from the Roman Catholic Church in the 11th century.

Flank would have been somewhat right if he spoke only of Western Europe, and about the five centuries since the millenium.

sources - what sources?

Even with the mistakes and lack of editing, the book might be worthwhile as an introduction, but if it is intended as such, there is one major issue. The book contains many quotes and references to research, and is mainly lacking sources, thus making it impossible to verify the quotes or easily find more material about the subject. At the end of the book there is a "sources and reading list", but it doesn't link the material in the book together with specific works.
Given how often we complain about ID and Creationist quote-mining, I find it incredible that Flank in general hasn't sourced the quotes he uses, so people can look them up themselves.

The book also lack an index, which could be handy.

Do I recommend the book?

Overall, I'm not too impressed by the book. On top of the issues I mentioned above, the book is only 243 pages long, including a 10-page appendix, containing the Wedge Document and a 7 page "source and reading list" that is all but useless.

Given the fact that I paid $21.11 for the book (and this was a special offer), I find the book overpriced. Especially considering that the book is published by a vanity press.

So, if you are really interested in the subject, it might be worth buying as a suplement to your other books, but otherwise I would suggest finding a different book on the subject, or that you just read TalkOrigins.

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