I have added a short synopsis to each with my personal recommendation. Feel free to interact or add your own suggestions in the comments!
Saving Darwin: How to be a Christian and believe in evolution, by Karl Giberson (2008, 256 p.)
Karl Giberson, a physicist well known for his contributions to the science-faith dialogue (particularly at Biologos), sets out to positively construct a Christian worldview in which evolution (cosmic, geological, and biological) is the primary creative force in God’s providence, and not interventionist, de novo creation. Simultaneously, he defends the historical Darwin as one who was raised in—and enthralled by—the natural theology paradigm explicated by Paley (i.e. intelligent design), but then wrestled deeply with both theological and scientific questions as counter-evidence mounted. Darwin ultimately found himself overwhelmed by the challenge of theodicy, and was deeply hurt in the way that his theory had touched on the well being of the church. His theory was not constructed, therefore, to justify an abandonment of natural theology or Christianity.
Giberson’s autobiographical sketch sounds very similar to my own, and—presumably—to much of his audience’s. I highly appreciate the respectful demeanor in which he approaches the developers of flood geology and creationism. Giberson is a very skilled writer, and obviously passionate not only about science, history, and theology, but about his audience. This book is a must read for anyone seriously interested in the origins debate today.
Farewell to the Yahwist?: The Composition of the Pentateuch in Recent European Interpretation, by Thomas Dozeman and Konrad Schmid (2006, 208 p.)
This book contains a collection of writings from European scholars in higher criticism. Contrary to the classic Wellhausen hypothesis (JEDP), more recent scholarship denies the existence of a continuous salvation history (Creation to Moses/Joshua; i.e. the Yahwist source) before the arrival of the ‘Priestly’ text (P). The individual patriarchal stories (Abrahaam, Jacob, Joseph) and the Exodus story are said, therefore, to have stood alone before the creative mending of P. Evidences cited are the nature of the Jacob story as a rival origins legend to the Mosaic/Exodus one, the contrasting of Jacob/Moses in Hosea 12, the rough literary transition from Genesis to Exodus, and a possible redactional link in Genesis 50:14 that puts Joseph back into Egypt with a single sentence, thereby ‘setting the stage’ for a second Exodus.
According to these authors, the classic formulation of the Documentary Hypothesis saw its end in the 1970’s (despite its continuance in American schools). In fact, the they do not even bother with the so-called ‘Elohist’ source, which they perceive as a weak hypothesis that has already run its course. Left standing, however, were the hexateuchal ‘non-Priestly’ (J) narratives, which earlier scholars perceived as a first Torah (Tetrateuch or Hexateuch, depending) to which E and P responded. But can the non-Priestly text be seen as a unified collection of stories that ran from Adam to Joshua? Not according to this compilation, which argues that it is finally time to bid farewell to the Yawhist properly.
If you are studying higher criticism of the Hebrew Bible, this book is a must (and available for free on GoogleBooks). If everything I’ve said above sounds completely foreign to you, however, I would urge some caution. There is a complex history of research behind this book—not just literary but theological. I recommend reading Richard Friedman’s Who Wrote the Bible? (see below) before this one. Also, this book will likely challenge your view of scripture (even if you disagree with its premises and conclusions). You will start to think like a literary/textual critic and may find it hard to recover. On the other hand, reading this book has been an excellent exercise in understanding the literary relationship of Pentateuchal narratives and challenged me to think harder about them. If you despise higher critical studies altogether, then you may at least enjoy this cautionary note by one author: “In the absence of material evidence and of Carbon-14 dates, anything is conceivable in biblical exegesis.” (p. 61)
Recommended? Not for the faint-hearted; requires some background study.
The Last Word: Scripture and the Authority of God–Getting Beyond the Bible Wars, by N.T. Wright (2006, 160 p.)
All Christians hold the Bible to be authoritative, but how this plays out in practice (both within the church and in culture) depends on varied and nuanced understandings of the biblical text. Wright notes that the Bible is not simply a book of laws and doctrines (though it contains both), but a grand story with many parts. To call upon the authority of the Bible (especially in culture and politics) thus requires one to answer the deceptively deep question: ‘How can a story be authoritative?’
I have not read far enough to tell you whether Wright delivers on this point as promised. But so far, he has been able to formulate the problem with discernment and determination, all the while displaying a heightened intellectual awareness and ecumenical sensitivity. I expect not to be disappointed, and at only 160 pages, it won’t take long to find out!
Recommended? So far, so good.
Echoes of Scripture in the Letters of Paul, by Richard Hays (1989, 254 p.)
This book has forever changed the way in which I will read and study any piece of literature—the Bible most of all. Hays’ classic work on intertextuality and thematic allusion opened a whole new world of biblical studies, into which surprisingly few evangelicals have ventured, but from which none will return. Beginning with the most prolific New Testament author, Hays carefully and masterfully unravels the hidden dialogue between Paul and the holy texts of Israel, which Paul personified and called: Scripture. For Paul, Scripture was not a rigid collection of words on the page—a mere artifact of Israel’s past—, but a living entity that now spoke to the Israel of God, reconstituted around Messiah (e.g. 1 Cor. 10:11).
For those less interested in literary analysis, Hays’ work also delves deeply into the question of how NT authors use OT passages. Since Hays moves beyond cases of explicit citation alone, he is able to add a thoughtful and necessary dimension to this complicated debate and find resolution. Everyone can benefit from his discussion, but especially those frustrated by the flat-footed formulae of Messianic ‘proof-texting’.
If you do pick up this book, be prepared: Hays is a master of language, and so writes 254 of the longest pages you may ever read—not a word is wasted. Also, make sure to carry a Bible alongside, because the book assumes you have it open.
Recommended? A must read for all
Jesus and the Victory of God, by N.T. Wright (1997, 741 p.)
The second volume in his scholarly series on Christian Origins and the Question of God, Wright deals with the historical, political, theological, and psychological questions surrounding Jesus, including his aims and beliefs. Who did Jesus think he was? What did he think he was doing? What did he expect was going to happen? Partly in response to the Jesus Seminar and other historical critical scholarship from the past century, Wright argues that the Jesus of scripture (apocalyptic elements and all) in fact fits nicely into the eschatological milieu of 1st century Judaism in Palestine. Moreover, the Jesus of history (as explicated by the synoptic gospels) perfectly explains the otherwise problematic transition from 1st century B.C.E Judaism to 2nd century A.D. Christianity and Judaism.
Wright further frames the teachings (parables, sermons, etc.) of Jesus in their proper cultural, historical, and canonical context, so as to identify the invitation, challenge, welcome, and summons of Jesus to his followers and to the leaders of Jerusalem. His deeply rooted insight to the gospel narratives is constructive at every turn, and will leave your picture of Jesus’ world much bigger than you imagined.
This book is straightforward, and can be understood by most. But it also assumes many premises that were argued in volume one of the series (NT&PG, see below). For any serious student, they should be read in order. Moreover, at 741 pages (including preface/appendices), this book is a long-term commitment, but worth the wait, in my opinion.
Lastly, some may be put off by Wright’s ‘critical-realist’ approach. But keep in mind that he is writing to several audiences at once: academic colleagues, skeptics, liberal and fundamentalist historians/theologians, and both the amateur and serious student of Christianity. To engage in meaningful discourse with the first, he plays by their rules. Consequently, this book is not simply a pious or devotional discourse on Jesus, but the discerned reader will be able to find such value among it. Also, the book is entirely fitting for Christian and non-Christian alike.
Recommended? Absolutely…and Godspeed if you do!
I love Jesus, and I accept evolution, by Denis Lamoreux (2006, 184 p.)
Denis Lamoreux, who holds doctoral degrees in dentistry, theology, and evolutionary biology, searches not only for harmony between the world of scripture and of science, but active dialogue. A former young-Earth creationist, Dr. Lamoreux is extremely sensitive to his variegated audience, and articulates the young-Earth position faithfully. As the title indicates, his message is deeply personal, and directed to those struggling with their faith because of the challenge of evolution. He begins with a young boy that asked at a creationist conference: ‘How do dinosaurs fit into the Bible?’ After chronicling his own journey from young-Earth creationism to atheism to what he now terms evolutionary creationism, he ends with a simple answer to the boy’s curiosity: they don’t.
In this book (which is, in some sense, a condensed version of his more scholarly work Evolutionary Creation), Dr. Lamoreux articulates a hermeneutic that is becoming increasingly popular, which he calls the Message of Faith-Incident Principle. He argues that the inerrant Message of Faith has been revealed to us in the incidental vessels of ancient science. As such, the authors of scripture do not explicitly teach false facts about the universe, but work within the ‘science of their day’ so that the message is tangible and firmly understood. Moreover, the Bible can be said to be inerrant in the message it actually ‘intends’ to convey.
Lamoreux’s hermeneutic stands in opposition to scientific concordism, which seeks to show that the Bible accurately describes scientific facts. He offers one of the more compelling cases, I believe, against concordism of any kind. On the other hand, his labeling of certain concepts as ‘ancient science’ may appear repetitive and reductionistic to some. Though my challenge constitutes an informal logical fallacy, I think Dr. Lamoreux’s position is shaky without well defined boundaries. For example, can we dismiss the historicity of the patriarchs by saying the biblical authors relied mistaken, ‘ancient’ versions of history? That question aside, this book is well thought out and offers a healthy challenge to all by one who is deeply passionate about the gospel and the church.
And science, of course!
Recommended? Yes; particularly to YECs, or those who have wavered in faith because of YECism
Already Compromised, by Ken Ham and Greg Hall (2011, 236 p.)
See my 3-part review of this book in previous posts to get my complete thoughts. This book was an easy read that offered insight to the young-Earth mindset, and is available for only a few dollars.
Paul for Everyone: Galatians and Thessalonians, by N.T. Wright (2004, 178 p.)
Part of Wright’s New Testament for Everyone series, this book lives up to its name. Again, one need not agree with Wright to gather valuable insight from this condensed commentary. Wright adds a personal touch to this letter of Paul, never abandoning the nature of the original text: a real letter to a real people in a real time and place. Why does Paul raise the issues that he does? Why does he have to defend his reputation? Where other commentaries treat the letters of Paul as treatises on systematic theology, this well written reflection successfully transplants the reader into Paul’s world and his mission: a deeply personal, practical theology that is rooted in the cross.
Recommended? For everyone
The Psalms: Book IV
Psalms 90–106 comprise what is called Book IV of the collection. I mention it here in part to recommend you reading it as a literary unit, and in light of Paul’s use of the text in Romans 1. Beginning and ending with Moses, these Psalms wrestle with the theodicic challenge of exile, calling an injured Israel to faithfulness by remembering her origins.
In Romans 1:20–23, Paul writes: “For since the creation of the world His invisible attributes…have been clearly seen, being understood through what has been made, so that they are without excuse. For even though they knew God, they did not honor Him as God or give thanks…Professing to be wise, they became fools, and exchanged the glory of the incorruptible God for an image in the form of corruptible man and of birds and four-footed animals and crawling creatures.”
How often have you heard this passage cited simply in the context of natural theology? Though Paul is writing to an audience immersed in a city idolatry and wickedness (i.e. Rome), he structures his cultural critique in terms of Israel’s unfaithfulness in the wilderness. To see what I mean, read Psalm 106 (especially v. 20). Israel knew God by what He had done for them (or ‘made’—same verb) since the creation of the world (from Genesis 1 to that point in Exodus; or Psalm 90 to 106:12). But Israel gave honor “to demons and not to God”, as Deuteronomy puts it, and “exchanged his glory for the image of a four-footed animal” (Ps. 106:20).
From the rest of the letter to the Romans, there is no doubt that Paul envisions the Christian experience as a sort of ‘personal Exodus’. Paul thus warns believers that they are not immune to the temptation of idolatry because of their covenant status. But he guards against that temptation in an appeal to their knowledge of God’s glory in and through their own Exodus, wherein Christ has freed them from bondage to the law (whether Torah or the ‘law to themselves’). At the end of their trial is an inheritance, indescribable, but identified as new creation (Romans 8).
Recommended? Divinely so
Global Geomorphology, by M.A. Summerfield (1991, 560 p.)
Yes, I do read about rocks (though mostly in articles rather than books). In any case, I decided to reread this book to brush up on how the surface of the Earth is shaped. It serves as a thorough, but simple introduction to process geomorphology, in which landscapes and weathering features are described in terms of the geologic process that created them (over against the idealistic concepts of William Morris Davis).
Recommended? Well written; great for the intermediate geology student
Russian Graded Readers 1-5, by George V. Bobrinskoy and Otto Ferdinand Bond (1961)
Perfect for the beginning student of Russian, or the intermediate student that wishes to brush up on some vocabulary and literary colloquialisms. The reader may also familiarize him/herself with well known Russian stories. The authors take several Russian classics—Lermontov, Gogol, Pushkin, and others—and abridges them in elementary Russian. New vocabulary is listed at the bottom of each page with the English meaning. I have yet to find a more efficient ‘Russian reader’ than this 50-year-old work.
Recommended? Если Вы изучаете русский язык, читаете эту книгу!
Noah’s Ark and the Ziusudra Epic: Sumerian Origins of the Flood Myth, by Robert Best (1999)
An adventurous tale, to say the least. Mr. Best draws from his exhaustive personal study of Sumeriology and history to construct a scenario that could best explain the various flood accounts: Atrahasis, Ziusudra Epic, Epic of Gilgamesh, Moses of Khoren, and Genesis 6–9. He considers the textual transmission of the text, including the literary interdependence between some accounts, to unravel the legend from the myth. See his website for more details.
Best’s methodology does not appear to be well received in academia, who might wish to see more falsifiable aspects to such a hypothesis. Best does not try to prove or disprove the story of Noah, however, but rather to construct the most likely scenario if indeed the texts derived from an eyewitness account. If you’re interested in the question of the historical Noah, you’ll find value in this book, which I came across shortly after I finished my own articles on the same. At some points, Best ventures too far beyond the evidence, and lends too much credence to the factual details of each story (even Genesis). Trying to separate myth from history is a dangerous exercise, and typically undermines both. But his work is not without valuable contribution. His discussion on the genealogy of Genesis 5, for example, is perhaps the most thoughtful and convincing I have come across.
Recommended? A healthy thought experiment, but for a limited audience
Chemical Cycles in the Evolution of the Earth, by C. Bryan Gregor, Robert M. Garrels, Fred T. Mackenzie, and J. Barry Maynard (1988, 288 p.)
A classic text on geochemical cycles and the ‘big-picture’ problems facing geochemists in the late 80’s. Also a useful reference for any geochemist today, since it contains some of the most recent (and best) estimates on elemental fluxes in major Earth processes.
The Chickens are Restless, by Gary Larson (1993, 112 p.)
Everyone needs a break. For me, The Far Side is nostalgic.
Recommended? Only if you enjoy a laugh
Environmental Isotopes in Hydrogeology, by Ian Clark and Peter Fritz (1997, 352 p.)
A focused study on the application of isotopes to ground and surface water systems. Very clear, well referenced book that goes beyond introductory texts on stable and radiogenic isotope studies. Works well as a companion text to those already studying isotope geology, or alone for climatologists and hydrogeologists wishing to expand their methodology. On the other hand, this book overlaps a bit with more generalized works, so you may want to save some money checking it out of the library instead.
Recommended? For a very specialized audience
Inspiration and Incarnation: Evangelicals and the Problem of the Old Testament, by Peter Enns (2005, 208 p.)
After Ken Ham’s debacle with the homeschool convention, I figured I had to find out who Peter Enns was. If you have never read anything by Enns, this is probably not the best place to start. He is a brilliant thinker that will continue to add much to Old Testament studies. But I&I is fairly nuanced and assumes you are already familiar with the background discussion. I’ve mentioned before on this blog: it’s not so much what Peter Enns says as how he says it that raises flags among evangelicals. He is bold and blunt. Proceed with caution. But if you are able to grasp Enns’ message in this book, it will serve you well in your biblical studies pursuits.
Recommended? Eat your veggies first
Isotopes: Principles and Applications, by Gunter Faure and Teresa Mensing (2004, 928 p.)
I won’t bore you with details: this the standard text for isotope geochemists. Expanded from Faure’s earlier work, this book covers everything from cosmic evolution and planetary geology to radiometric dating to magmatic systems and more.
Recommended? If you like counting neutrons, this book is for you!
Ancient Near Eastern Thought and the Old Testament: Introducing the Conceptual World of the Hebrew Bible, by John H. Walton (2006, 368 p.)
Wow. One can get lost in ancient near eastern studies—it is a big world. Walton may only scratch the surface in this book, which makes good use of comparative cultural and literary studies, but he scratches all the right places. For those with reservations about using ancient literature to elaborate the meaning behind the biblical text, I can sympathize. But a careful reading of Walton’s work will calm your doubts, and preserve the grandeur of scripture in the otherwise chaotic, literary world of the Ancient Near East.
Recommended? Deep reading, requires some commitment, but worth it
Principles and Applications of Geochemistry, by Gunter Faure (1998, 625 p.)
Originally published more than a decade prior, Gunter Faure remains authoritative on all things geochemistry. Well written and easy to understand. Suitable for aspiring petrologists, geochronologists, sedimentologists, climatologists, and even hydrogeologists. Also works as a great reference for later research.
Recommended? If you ever had to draw a phase diagram from scratch, and actually enjoyed it, then this book is for you!
New Testament and the People of God, by N.T. Wright (1992, 535 p.)
Any brief synopsis will hardly do justice to this classic text on New Testament studies. Wright lays out his historiography and methodology in detail, interacting with historians and theologians from the past centuries. He defines his ‘critical realist’ approach, and applies it faithfully to the biblical text. Who were the people of God, according to both Jewish and Christian thought from the 1st century? What were their symbols, praxis, and beliefs?
Wright begins with a seemingly simple question: “What do we do with the wicked tenants?” How do we understand parables, and apply them properly? Who was Jesus critiquing in this odd tale and why? Are cultural and historical studies any help? As it turns out, the pursuit is almost more instructive than the answer itself.
Recommended? You won’t be disappointed
Principles of Stable Isotope Geochemistry, by Zachary Sharp (2006, 360 p.)
A clear and concise treatise on the applications of stable isotopes (i.e. not radioactive or produced from radioactivity) to geological problems, ranging from sedimentary geochemistry to meteoric cycles and diagenesis to paleothermometers. Instructive and informative; a great reference too!
Recommended? Okay, it’s a textbook…but it reads like an adventure novel (almost)!
Elements of Petroleum Geology, by Richard Selley (1997, 470 p.)
An exhaustive overview of the theory behind finding conventional hydrocarbon resources. Includes sections on geophysical techniques (and how to interpret them), drill and rig architecture, and the future of non-conventional exploration methods.
Recommended? Not quite on the popular level, but a very practical text
Petroleum Geology (Developments in Petroleum Science), by R.E. Chapman (1983, 434 p.)
Fascinating to see how petroleum exploration was developing alongside technology. Otherwise, the text is superfluous to more recent contributions.
Recommended? Useful for understanding the history of petroleum geology
Who Wrote the Bible?, by Richard Elliot Friedman (1997, 304 p.)
A well written introduction to and overview of the documentary hypothesis and its developments since Wellhausen. Friedman’s approach is respectful to the nature of the text, and departs with past scholars on several points (e.g. he rejects charges of ‘pietistic fraud’, and very late dates for the authorship of J, E, and especially P). He argues that P was constructed while the first temple yet stood, for example, rather than during or after the Babylonian exile.
If you like studying the debate surrounding the authorship of the Pentateuch, this is a scholarly book that is accessible to the public, and therefore a must read. If you disagree with the premises and conclusions of higher criticism, you will still find some value in this book, if nothing else by understanding the evidence raised against traditional paradigms.
Recommended? Yes, but with caution to those unfamiliar with the topic
Paul in Fresh Perspective, by N.T. Wright (2009, 195 p.)
A fascinating, concise discussion on the biblical texts that define Paul’s mission and teachings. For those with reservations, this book is not an explication or defense of the New Perspective. Rather, it unfolds Paul’s worldview and shows how Paul can use Hebrew scripture and Roman political culture to explain who Jesus Messiah is, as well as the mission of the church. Everyone can benefit from the discussion.
Recommended? Don’t engage in NT studies without it
Кот в Шляпе, by Доктор Сьюз
A Russian translation of the childhood classic “Cat in the Hat”. This was a Christmas present that I thoroughly enjoyed. The translation is very colloquial and difficult to grasp, but that’s not a bad thing for someone who wants to learn Russian as Russians speak it!
Why Evolution is True, by Jerry Coyne (2010, 304 p.)
The title says it all. Coyne, an evolutionary geneticist at the University of Chicago, presents his best case for modern evolutionary theory. The book flows very well and is accessible to the non-biologist. On the other hand, Coyne interposes rhetorical jabs at proponents of intelligent design and creationism between the lines without really engaging in their arguments. Granted, I don’t think Coyne believes their arguments are worth refuting, but that would only make his style less appropriate. Moreover, if you are familiar with the origins debate or have a background in biology, then you have very likely heard 90%+ of his arguments already. Most of it can be found online for free—sometimes even without the tiring rhetoric (and if you enjoy his rhetoric, check out his blog instead). This is a good book that could have been great with a dose of humility and compassion.
Recommended? Save your money; buy a latté instead and skim over the book at Barnes and Noble
The Greatest Show on Earth, by Richard Dawkins (2009, 480 p.)
Dawkins presents the beauty of evolution within a paradigm that makes a mockery of beauty. Many of my critiques of this book are the same as for Coyne’s, but Dawkins goes a step further. He devotes an entire chapter to why you’re an idiot for rejecting evidence from radiometric dating. Then he demonstrates his utter lack of knowledge regarding geology and isotopic systems. Great job! If it weren’t for the color photos in the middle of the book, I would have probably stopped reading in chapter 3. But I had to see those photos…they were beautiful.
On the other hand, this book contains useful information on biological evolution, and how to present it with passion and excitement. Christian biologists should take a note here, and find the means to discuss evolution as a beautiful theory. Evolution may have replaced the natural theology of Paley et al., but it did not replace God’s glory in nature.
Recommended? You gotta see those pictures!
Oxford Russian Grammar And Verbs, by Terence Wade (2002, 256 p.)
That’s right, I read a book on grammar. Of course, it also works as a great reference. Well structured and informative. But what do you expect? It’s Oxford!
Recommended? Why not?
The Lost World of Genesis One: Ancient Cosmology and the Origins Debate, by John H. Walton (2009, 192 p.)
I would defer you to part 3 of my review of Already Compromised to get my thoughts on this book. Walton recovers the lost world in which Genesis was written, and simultaneously takes the text seriously as God’s word. Careful readers from all perspectives of the origins debate should be able to gain from this book.
A Biblical Case for an Old Earth, by David Snoke (2006, 224 p.)
Snoke does a decent job in detailing the classic reasons (biblical and scientific) for rejecting a literalistic, young-Earth reading of Genesis. I was less impressed, however, by the positive construction he offers in its place. Nonetheless, a good exercise in biblical studies that broadened my thinking.
Recommended? Somewhere down the line
It’s Still Greek to Me: An Easy-to-Understand Guide to Intermediate Greek, by David Alan Black (1993, 192 p.)
If you’ve studied either Classical or Koiné Greek, then you probably reached a breaking point at one time. When will it end? I highly recommend this profound, and sometimes humorous work to rejuvenate your spirits. You will remember that Koiné Greek was an actual language once spoken to express deep thoughts and emotions, and not simply a form of punishment for M.Div. candidates.
Recommended? On the library of every student of biblical Greek
The Language of God: A Scientist Presents Evidence for Belief, by Francis S. Collins (2007, 294 p.)
I picked up this book after seeing Collins on the Colbert Report, mostly to understand the goals and results of the Human Genome Project. It did answer my questions, mostly, but not in the detail I expected. Collins spends a lot of time relaying past arguments by C.S. Lewis and others for the existence of God, and explaining how one reconciles Christianity with an old earth in which life evolves. Not bad for an introduction to the origins debate; excellent if you want to know who Francis Collins is. But in the end, this book mostly offers small portions on a very large plate.
Recommended? A good value
Radiocarbon dating, by Willard Libby (1952)
The classic text on the radiocarbon (C-14) dating method. Willard Libby is a brilliant scientist, whose work was seminal for many scientific disciplines.
Recommended? For the technical audience that enjoys stepping inside the mind of a genius
I'm impressed, very impressed!
“Next time, on Season 2 of Man vs. Book…”
Great list. Great to see you read Walton. I'm really looking forward to his academic followup due out this October.
How specifically does Richard Dawkins err in his explanation of radiometric dating in “The Greatest Show on Earth”? I just read that chapter, but I don’t know enough geology to identify his error(s). Could you elaborate on that, please? Thanks. 🙂
Hi Brad, I tried to find my copy of Dawkins’ book, but concluded that it must be in a box in storage at the moment… 😦 So not having immediate access to the chapter (I did read it about 4+ years ago), I’ll do my best to remember. Keep in mind also that he may have updated the chapter in a later edition, which you probably have.
One error that he made (though inconsequential to his point) was in stating that 13-Carbon was radioactive and too short-lived to matter in radiometric dating. In fact, 13-Carbon is a stable isotope that never decays. He also described plants as taking in isotopes of carbon at the same rate (or in the same ratio as the atmosphere). In fact, plants discriminate against heavier isotopes, which is why carbon dating requires a correction factor to be made, depending on the type of material. These minor blunders were somewhat blown out of proportion by a handful of creationists like J. Sarfati, who used it (almost justifiably) to discredit Dawkins as a commentator on radiometric dating.
Another point, more important I think, is that Dawkins highly over simplified Potassium-Argon dating. If I recall correctly, he made it seem as though all argon was always expelled from cooling bodies of lava. In fact, there is always some argon retained in the lava (in equilibrium with the atmosphere) and frequently excess argon is retained, causing samples to appear much older than they actually are. To combat this, otassium-argon dating utilizes some very complicated calibration techniques and depends somewhat on other dating methods for its accuracy (or at least to calibrate standards for analysis). Researchers struggled for decades to produce accurate K-Ar dates, and though we can be confident today in those dates, the method is not so simple.
Normally, I wouldn’t give Dawkins a hard time for this, because his explanation is suitable for an introductory audience learning how geologists date rocks. But he buried the discussion in a rhetorically charged argument, essentially stating that you have to be a moron not to accept the accuracy of these dating methods. Since he is not an expert in geochronology, and apparently made little effort to consult experts (initially) to write the book, he ignored a number of problematic details within the methods that creationists had already picked up on before Dawkins was born. He obviously was not familiar with standard young-Earth objections to radiometric dating, which I suppose is fine, unless you’re trying to convince creationists that they’re stupid. 😉
Don’t get me wrong, I think the book was good overall, and he effectively made his point that the evidence for biological evolution was substantial. But due to his rhetoric, the book was ineffective toward anyone that didn’t already agree with him.
Thanks very much. That’s helpful, and it all appeared in my later edition too, surprisingly. I had noticed Dawkins’ peculiar statement about 13-Carbon, but I didn’t realize the other details.