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Darwin, Then & Now Review by Josiah Wright, son of Dr. Anne Margaret Wright

By Richard William Nelson
1663 Liberty Drive
Bloomington, IN 47403

History can be a funny thing, can't it? The books are filled with one curious incident after another, abounding in perplexities and ironies galore. For instance, did you know that Charles Darwin himself was not only originally slated to be ordained as an Anglican minister and that on his famous voyage of discovery aboard the H.M.S. Beagle, he was specifically commissioned to "find scientific proof that Genesis was literally true"? Funny thing, history.

As illustrated by Dr. Richard William Nelson, the story of evolution has been a long and convoluted one, full of missteps and outright stumbles since the days of Darwin. The book Darwin, Then & Now is a rather ambitious--and fascinating--attempt to chronicle this history from a critical perspective, examining the development of (and challenges to) the theory of Darwinian evolution. Beginning with a brief biography of Darwin, from the rambunctious Cambridge lad to the respected naturalist, Darwin, Then & Now spends the majority of its time on the theory itself. The book is more or less topically arranged, covering such items as "Natural Selection" and "The Fossil Record" in historical fashion, drawing heavily from Darwin's own work and, in each case, using modern scientific knowledge to illuminate the deficiencies of Darwinian theories.

As might be expected, Darwin, Then & Now is not a book one picks up lightly. While Nelson's style is engaging and informative, the complexity of the subject matter ranges from simple historical fact to semi-technical scientific evidence. While the average parent or teenager shouldn't have any difficulty with the book, younger students might be daunted by the nuances of evolutionary theory. That being said, while the book is not specifically intended for educational purposes, portions could easily be adapted for homeschooling from, say, early high school and up, especially for students with a scientific bent--or those who just love a good book.

Personally, I was quite pleased with Darwin, Then & Now, both as a critical Christian reader and as a lover of science. In an academic climate of pronounced hostility, Nelson tackles this controversial topic with refreshing ease and dignity, coolly and persuasively demonstrating the fallibility of Darwinian evolution. His case is greatly strengthened by the presence of an immense bibliography, with citations to back up every contestable detail--from the Haeckel embryology debacle to the modern debate over premolecular biology and the origin of life. The strength of both the argument and its presentation are, in my humble opinion, of the finest caliber, and they should prove to be of great value to conscientious parents and students who finds themselves trapped in the "science war" that rages in our professedly anti-Christian world.

However, there are a few points on which I felt the work could be improved and which detract (if only slightly) from the potential of this otherwise fabulous resource. Most notably, the structure of Darwin, Then & Now is, if not disorganized per se, at least somewhat difficult to discern. In other words, it reads much more like a collection of related papers discussing various aspects of a single topic rather than a unified whole. Contributing to this feeling is the fact that there is no discernible conclusion; the text merely comes to a halt after the section on "positive evidence." And there is very little in the way of a thesis. In fact, an unsuspecting reader might very well get several chapters into the book before realizing that Nelson intends to critique the theory of evolution at all, rather than simply document its development.

In conclusion, I found Darwin, Then & Now to be a fascinating resource for studying the increasingly important topic of evolutionary theory, and I trust that others in the homeschool community will find it to be as valuable as I have. I would highly recommend it for young adults and up or for anyone interested in exploring Darwin's world-shaking theory from a critical point of view.

Product review by Josiah Wright, son of Dr. Anne Margaret Wright, Senior Product Reviewer, The Old Schoolhouse® Magazine, LLC, December 2010