Bayard Taylor has a knack for explaining issues for teens and college students, and doing it clearly, with a refreshing sense of humor. He did it previously with Blah, Blah, Blah, an excellent guide to worldviews (and yes, that’s its title, or at least part of it). He has done it again with The Late Great Ape Debate, a tour of five prominent views of origins. What he does with these five views may be regarded as heretical by some—especially by mainstream evolution proponents. He lets the readers decide for themselves.
Actually that may be a bit overstated. The book is an introduction to these five views, not an exhaustive description. It’s an orientation, providing readers a way for to find their way around in the debate, to recognize the various views for what they are when they see them or hear them. There is not enough information in the book for the reader to come away with an educated, strong opinion on which view they ascribe to themselves, but there’s plenty for them to get started with.
Taylor does not tell us where he himself stands until very late in the book, except that as a Christian he quickly rejects naturalistic evolution, the view that natural processes with no guidance or intervention from God produced life, the universe, and everything (to borrow a phrase from elsewhere). The other four views (theistic evolution, young earth creationism, old earth creationism, and intelligent design) he maps on to a taxonomy showing how they each treat scientific evidences and Biblical interpretation. Briefly he sets forth pros and cons for each. Near the end, as I said, he lets us know what he himself thinks, but he also lets us know his own wife doesn’t necessarily agree with him. That, as much as anything else, underscores his approach: we can disagree on these things and remain friends—but we ought to at least know what we’re talking about!
That’s one of the three main features I found most valuable about this book. It gets the reader started, prepared to evaluate some of the debate, wise to what’s going on under the surface in various approaches, without hammering on one interpretation in particular. Like Taylor, I’m convinced that naturalistic evolution is completely wrong, for we have multiple independent reasons to be confident that God has directed natural history. Also like Taylor, I have a definite position of my own in the controversy; but also like him, I know the whole story has not been told yet, and new information might lead to new interpretations. No matter what, it behooves us all to be aware of the various positions and their implications.
It’s particularly important in a contentious atmosphere to understand others’ positions accurately. Taylor does us all a terrific service by straightening out one of the most significant distortions of the all: the astonishingly tendentious version of the Scopes trial presented in the play and movie, Inherit the Wind. Scene by scene, character by character he compares the fiction with the reality. The book is worth reading for that alone.
That’s the second of the three features of this book I appreciated the most. The third is its enjoyable readability, especially for high school and college students. Taylor has a flair for a phrase. The chapter on Inherit the Wind he titles “Inherit the Spin.”. Section headings like “To Go Ape or Not To Go Ape—That Is The Question” spice up the reading throughout. Sure, it’s not on the order of a professional journal presentation, but that’s not what it’s for.
It’s almost graduation time. This would be a great summer reading gift for a recently graduated senior heading off to the worldview bazaar known as college. (Coupling it with Blah, Blah, Blah would make it even better.) But it doesn’t have to be a graduating senior: anyone could profit from the excellent overview this provides for a difficult debate.
The Late Great Ape Debate by Bayard Taylor, 2008. Cincinnati, OH: Standard Publishing. 196 pages plus endnotes. Amazon Price US$11.04.
“Engaging … exhilarating! … This might be the most surprising and refreshing book you’ll read this year.” — Lee Strobel
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