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Scott Turner’s Darwin-Skeptical Purpose and Desire Wins Praise from the New York Times

David Klinghoffer | @d_klinghoffer

Scott Turner

David Dobbs in the New York Times Book Review notes something amazing – the fruitfulness of Darwin studies, expressed in the yearly crop of books about Darwin and his theory.

Books about Darwin, according to the global library catalog WorldCat, number about 7,500, with production ever rising. This cascade started with 22 books about Darwin published in 1860, the year after his “On the Origin of Species” appeared, averaged about 30 a year for almost a century, ballooned to almost 50 a year after World War II, and reached 100-plus in the 1980s. Currently we get about 160 a year — a Darwin tome every 2.3 days.

In this onslaught, a book has to be special to get noticed, especially if it highlights Darwinism’s failure as an explanation of life. So it is gratifying to see that our favorite new Darwin-skeptical work, Purpose and Desire: What Makes Something “Alive” and Why Modern Darwinism Has Failed to Explain Itmakes the cut, with a basically favorable notice from the Times reviewer. Yes, you read that right:

Even with a book population so large, most years bring notable additions, and so it is in 2017. This year’s offerings include a friendly takeover attempt in the biologist J. Scott Turner’s PURPOSE AND DESIRE (HarperOne, $27.99), which argues that today’s mechanistic neo-Darwinism needs to find room for the “agency” — the desire — that Turner insists drives every organism and, by extension, evolution itself. I’m not buying, but it’s a good read and a strong pitch.

A “notable” addition to the Darwin literature, a “good read and a strong pitch” — agreed, though we’d go further. If Turner is right, his argument would change everything and open the door wide for a variation of design theory to walk on in. But David Dobbs isn’t “buying” it. Why not? Alas, he doesn’t elaborate there.

But this is progress, and quite a nice achievement, considering the source. Only the Wall Street Journal is more obsessed with promoting the wonders of Darwinism. (Not an issue of the Weekend Journal seems to go by without an article praising evolutionary insights.) Congratulations to Dr. Turner!