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As the Mis-shelving Follies Continue, Here’s a Challenge for the Corporate Team at Barnes & Noble

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On a recent visit to my local Barnes & Noble, at the Alderwood Mall near Seattle, I found Darwin’s Doubt featured (with face out!) in the Christian Life section. It was right alongside books on Jesus, a Strong’s Bible concordance, and a biography of Pope Francis. How could this be? Mine was not an isolated experience (see our previous coverage here, here, and here). As someone who worked for three years at Barnes & Noble shortly after graduating from college, I know a bit about the inner workings of a chain bookstore. As 2015 begins, I’d like to issue a challenge to the corporate team at B&N: Call it what it is!

Your business is selling books. That’s a noble calling, especially in this day and age. We need a strong, dependable company like Barnes & Noble that can provide us with a great selection of books in a comfortable brick-and-mortar setting. But call it what it is, please! If it’s a book about Wicca, then put it in the Witchcraft & Magic section. If it’s a book about Martin Luther, then shelve it under Christianity. If it’s a guide to building sheds, put it in House & Home, where we’d all expect to find it.

And if it’s a book about one of the enduring mysteries in science, examining several competing theories in genetics and biology that seek to explain the origin of animal form, for goodness sake, put it in the Science section!

Regular readers of ENV will be familiar with the bestselling book Darwin’s Doubt: The Explosive Origin of Animal Life and the Case for Intelligent Design, by philosopher of science Dr. Stephen Meyer. Released in 2013 and now available in an expanded paperback edition, Darwin’s Doubt analyzes all the possible explanations for the Cambrian explosion — the sudden rise of dozens of complex animal forms in the Cambrian geologic era without apparent evolutionary precursors — and builds a case for the theory that seems to best explain the data, the theory of intelligent design.

The book dissects several hypotheses in the fields of genetics, paleontology, and biology that attempt to solve the mystery. It then provides a comprehensive argument for the origin of the key ingredient of the Cambrian explosion, information. Finally, employing scientific methods that Charles Darwin himself used — namely the method of multiple competing hypotheses and an inference to the best explanation — Stephen Meyer presents intelligent design as the theory that best explains this, and other, infusions of information in the history of the natural world.

Flip open to any one of the 540 pages in Darwin’s Doubt and you’ll be greeted by meticulously presented and well-documented science.

Other than some discussion in the closing chapters on how intelligent design differs from creationism and how the implications of intelligent design may be friendly to theism, Darwin’s Doubt is a book about science, from cover to cover. The bibliography contains hundreds of references to scientific papers and books cited. Empirical evidence from multiple fields is presented and explained with the help of diagrams and drawings. An eight-page color insert contains stunning photos of exquisitely preserved Cambrian fossils. This is a trade book on science, expertly written to allow both the intelligent layperson and the trained scientist to understand the subjects and arguments at hand.

So what’s going on here? Who’s putting the book on the Christian Life shelves and why?

As I recall from my past employment history, shelving is done at the local level based on explicit instructions from the corporate office. With a few isolated exceptions, employees are putting books in particular places on particular shelves because they are doing what they are told. Most likely, the person or team who should get the credit for mis-shelving Darwin’s Doubt is the book buyer or book buying team, those responsible for buying titles from book publishers and distributors. One or more people in this department made the categorization decision, based either on a lack of knowledge about the book’s content or a deliberate choice to disregard the content due to personal, or perceived, bias.

Perhaps they didn’t see the suggested categories on the book’s back cover — Science/Life Sciences/Evolution. Perhaps they didn’t scroll down far enough on the HarperCollins website to see a choice of three BISAC (Book Industry Standards and Communications) descriptors set for Darwin’s Doubt — Science/Life Sciences/Evolution, Science/Cosmology, or Science/Life Sciences/Biology.

They could have taken a cue from major competitor Amazon, which lists Darwin’s Doubt in any section of its website where people may purchase or have purchased the book, including Science & Math/Evolution/Organic, Science & Math/Biological Sciences/Paleontology, and yes, even Christian Books & Bibles/Theology/Creationism.

Maybe they looked up the author on YouTube and saw a video of him speaking at a church conference. However, lots of people speak in churches who are not Christian apologists. Digging a little deeper, they would have discovered that Stephen Meyer received his PhD in the history and philosophy of science from Cambridge University and in his latest book does what all good philosophers of science do — synthesizes a body of scientific research and carefully considers which research may best explain the evidence.

Whatever the case, this is a new year, and thankfully it’s not too late to put Darwin’s Doubt on the correct shelf. The matter can still be set right, not by concerned book browsers who may be tempted to engage in some civil disobedience, but by the people ultimately responsible for getting the right books into the right customers’ hands — the corporate-level book buyers.