Jerry Coyne, who is to evolutionary thought what the Platte River was to the pioneers (“too thick to drink, too thin to plow”) is mystified by the starred review given to Purpose and Desire by Kirkus Reviews. He commented on Purpose and Desire on his blog Why Evolution is True (or as I like to call it, Why the Sky is Blue). Readers might remember Jerry Coyne from his anti-religious posturing over the Dover PA ID court case. [By the way, Edward Humes’ Monkey Girl is an excellent history of that case: I highly recommend it. Also, Chris Mooney has a thought-provoking critique of Coyne’s commentary on Dover in Discover magazine here. (Even I was asked to comment by The Christian Century: my piece is here. It’s behind a paywall: sorry. Executive summary: I thought the case was a debacle for everyone who touched it, even the side that ostensibly “won.”)]
But I digress …
By way of background, Kirkus Reviews gives a star to books it considers noteworthy, a distinction granted to roughly 10% of the approximately 8,000 books it reviews each year. Getting a starred review from Kirkus Reviews is quite a compliment, and I was quite pleased with mine. Whoever wrote the review had clearly read the book and took the trouble to engage the ideas I laid out.
Jerry Coyne was not pleased. His commentary, Evolution-dissing, teoleogical, Templeton-funded book gets a star on Kirkus [sic] is here. Read the whole thing. It’s quite long, filled with absolute certitude of what the book is about, what it says, and what is wrong with the book, and with me. My favorite diss: that the book is irremediably tainted because the initial writing of it was supported by the Templeton Foundation* (his endearing way of putting it: “prominent biologists continue to swill from the Templeton trough”), and that my acknowledgement of their generosity was like an inadvertent confession of a crime:
Turner himself verifies the source of the dosh: “The writing of this book is funded through the generosity of the John Templeton Foundation.”
Well done, Sherlock.
The commentary rises to hilarity, though, with this little snippet:
Now what Turner’s evidence is for “purpose, intentionality, and striving” I don’t know, and I suppose I’ll have to read this book (emphasis added).
*For the record, the Templeton Foundation supported a wonderful six-month sabbatical at Cambridge University spent in the company of Simon Conway-Morris, one of the world’s great paleontologists, and freedom to wander one of the world’s great libraries.