Tower of Babel
The Evidence against the New Creationism

Robert T. Pennock

The MIT Press - A Bradford Book.


[ Review Excerpts | Discussion | Bibliographic Info | Order on-line ]

Review Excerpts

[Listed alphabetically by journal name.]

- Edwin J. Delattre, Dean, School of Education, and Professor of Philosophy, College of Arts & Sciences, Boston University. Advance review

"In Tower of Babel, Professor Pennock has brought the keen eye of a philosopher to bear on the 'new creationism.'  The nature of science, and essential questions of sound educational policy and practice.  His book will be useful and instructive in the preparation of teachers and to school board members, administrators, teachers, and parents."

- Douglas J. Futuyma, Dept. of Ecology and Evolution, State University of New York at Stony Brook, Advance review

"Adopting new strategies and new disguises, creationists continue to assault not only evolutionary biology, but the foundations of all of science as well.  In this clearly written, carefully reasoned, and much-needed analysis, Robert Pennock exposes the flaws in contemporary creationist arguments.  Tower of Babel strikes a strong blow for sound biology, science, and education."

- Ronald N. Giere, Dept. of Philosophy, Center for Philosophy of Science, University of Minnesota, Advance review

"Pennock looks deeply inside today's ever-more-sophisticated creationist movement which promotes 'intelligent-design theory' and attacks 'the dogma of naturalism.'  He provides powerful responses that will be particularly appreciated by biologists and science teachers.  Tower of Babel is a model of socially engaged philosophy."

- David L. Hull, Dressler Professor in the Humanities, Department of Philosophy, Northwestern University, Advance review

"Several very good books have been written responding to the quirky criticisms that biblical creationists tirelessly raise to evolutionary theory.  Robert Pennock's Tower of Babel is the most detailed and comprehensive refutation of these criticisms to date.  It is also a very good read."

- Philip Kitcher, Professor of Philosophy, Columbia University and University of California, San Diego, Advance review

"Robert Pennock has provided a lucid, accessible, sensitive, and complete refutation of the latest emanations from the creationist camp, and all open-minded citizens should be grateful."

- Elliott Sober, Hans Reichenbach Professor and Vilas Research Professor of Philosophy.  Advance review

"Pennock demonstrates that the doctrine of special creation—that separate species share no common biological ancestors but arose independently—flies in the face of reasonable canons of scientific evidence.  He also effectively challenges the allegation that evolutionary theory is not scientific, but is just a philosophical dogma.  The book thus simultaneously illuminates the nature of science and the evolutionary science of nature."

- Charles Goodwin, The Alchemist (June 16, 2000)

"…a profound and important book…; Pennock covers the philosophical implications of the new Creationism in great depth…; The prose is clear and uncluttered, his views thoughtful and respectful to both sides."

- Rob Lightner,

"Pennock's ideas…will be useful to educators and researchers alike.  His sense of urgency is compelling…"

- Peter J. Bowler, American Scientist (Vol. 87, May-June 1999, p. 268-270)

"Pennock offers a cornucopia of arguments…  his book will serve as an invaluable source for anyone seeking ammunition with which to attack creationists in public debate.


"As a resident of Northern Ireland, where separate Protestant and Catholic schools have helped to sustain a sectarian divide with disastrous consequences, I offer heartfelt support for Pennock's warning against the dangers of going down this road."

- Wayne A. Holst, Anglican Journal (Nov. 1999)

"…an exhaustive philosophical unmasking of creationism…  This impressive study provides a field guide for science teachers and other educators… [An] astute and careful investigation…"

- The Assayer (Dec. 2000)

"Pennock has done an excellent job of collecting information about what the new creationists are saying, refuting it, and revealing the agenda behind it."

- John Wilkins, Australasian Journal of Philosophy (July 2001)

"…a lively, readable and current account of the ideas and recent history of creationism…

"Pennock uses August Schleicher's elaboration of Jones' hypothesis [of common descent of languages] to illustrate common difficulties some have with evolution such as the 'missing link' objection and the heuristic issues of a science dealing with past events, particularly the lack of direct observation and the status of (linguistic)  evolution as both factual and theoretical…  The language example is illuminating of evolutionary accounts both in terms of taxonomy… and phylogeny, and of course it is interesting in itself."


"[I]s it fair to place the 'new [intelligent design] creationists'… in the same boat as the rest? Here we have respectable philosophers such as Alvin Plantinga, Paul Nelson and William Dembski, along with scientists like Michael Behe, and a professor of law at Berkeley, Philip Johnson, all arguing a sophisticated line based on a seemingly good knowledge of history, probability theory, epistemology, biochemistry, information theory and many other fields.  Pennock amply demonstrates that they are in that boat, and how their arguments swerve from being philosophical to explicitly or implicitly theological."


"Philosophers and historians of science will find [Tower of Babel] replete with anecdotes and examples illustrating the misuse and abuse of science by the general public and intellectuals alike."

- Tim Tokaryk, HMS Beagle (June 25, 1999)

"Pennock offers a calm but insightful voice."

- Bryce Christensen, Booklist (March 1, 1999)

" By disentangling the scientific issues from the religious and philosophical ones, Pennock has made a valuable contribution to a too-often-overheated debate."

- Philip Johnson, Books & Culture (Sept/Oct. 1999, p. 30-31)

"Robert Pennock's book is an all-out attack on the "new creationists," a.k.a. the Intelligent Design Movement… an informal group of which I am currently the most prominent representative.   It is an honor to be the main subject of a book-length attempted demolition by a professor of philosophy…   What Robert Pennock is defending is not science, but a nineteenth-century to philosophy that has survived so far because materialists have seduced the leaders of biology into their philosophical camp."

- John Wilson, Books & Culture (Nov./Dec. 1999, p. 40)

"In Tower of Babel: The Evidence Against the New Creationism, Robert Pennock takes a step in the right direction, toward genuine engagement with his opponents.  I don't think he gets all the way there, but he has made a start."


"What is novel about Pennock's argument is that he has noticed a seeming anomaly. Christians who reject evolution because they believe it conflicts with the account of creation in Genesis rarely trouble to consider the implications of the Tower of Babel story for the study of language.  Once said, this seems painfully obvious… but it had never struck me before I read Pennock's book, and it seems a point well taken."

- Richard B. Isaacman, Bridges: An Interdisciplinary Journal of Theology, Philosophy, History and Science (2000, Vol. ?, p. 155-157)

"Pennock seeks first to have the reader understand who the creationists really are, and succeeds beautifully in a thorough and often amusing tour that is never condescending to either the reader or subject.… [He] spends much of the book cogently demolishing the creationists' arguments and arming the reader for any creationist encounters he may have.   It is unsurprising to learn that many of the scientific arguments for creationism are based upon misunderstanding, selective use of data, and a great deal of definitional slight of hand.… The author piles example upon example, and adduces the proper counterargument in each case."


"Pennock has performed a service by elucidating the nature of this particular threat and equipping as the reader to counter it, both from a philosophical and a scientific perspective.… Every philosopher of science, and every scientist should read this book." [Boldface in original]

- E. B. Hazard, Choice  (Vol. 37 No. 1, Sept. 1999)

" Essential reading for all social and natural scientists (especially secondary and college teachers), and also concerned pastors, seminarians, and seminary professors."

- Kathleen L. Housley, Christian Century (Oct. 13, 1999, p. 973-974)

"…brings fresh insight to a debate that shows no signs of ending."

- Robert Semeonoff, Church Times (3 Dec. 1999)

" By showing how [creationist arguments] might be applied in less theologically loaded situations, he is able to demonstrate their inconsistencies and underlying fallacies in a very engaging way."


"As well as dealing thoroughly with the vexed question of whether morality is dependent on the existence of God, Pennock shows that the logical move from acceptance of evolution to rejection of God is based on fallacious arguments.  Indeed, taken to their conclusion, they can lead to the very atheism that creationists are so anxious to avoid."

- The Complete Review (unknown date)

"A very important book, highly recommended."

- Allan Steel, Creation Ex Nihilo Technical Journal (Vol. 14(2), 2000, p. 41-46)

 "A useful outcome from this book would be if creationists who read the book find valid criticisms, they can then correct any relevant errors (though it requires a lot of endurance to get through the second half of the book).  Since the book is poorly written, and aimed at a more academic audience, it is unlikely to make much impact on the general public.  As it does not present any substantially new arguments for evolution or against creationism, it should not be considered as a threat to creationists."

- Evolution and the Nature of Science Institutes Book News.  (1999)

"An excellent resource, especially valuable for any teacher of Biology.… Using strong parallels between biological evolution and the evolution of languages, Pennock utterly destroys the anti-Darwinian efforts of Johnson and Behe, pointing out the many subtle fallacies and other errors in their arguments."

- David Smillie  (April 11, 2000)

"Pennock's gentle, rational approach to the conflict is a welcome respite from the volleys of abuse that usually characterize the debate.... [A]n important book."

- L. Russ Bush, Faith & Mission (unknown date, pp. 113-114)

" Creation verses evolution is a long-standing debate that often results in angry diatribes rather than dispassionate discussions of issues.  Therefore, I greatly appreciate the tone Pennock brings to this book, though, of course, my sympathies lie with the 'intelligent design' theorists rather than with Pennock's evolutionary theories."


"Pennock's reasoning (though common) is faulty.  Naturalism offers no hope that reason is anything more than a useful survival technique…. Only if there is an intelligent design to the universe is it possible for free and responsible and intelligent minds to truly to understand the universe…  The existence of intelligent grammatical language is very significant for theistic philosophy, but it is surely no more than an anomaly for nationalistic science.…  I will not attempt to define and support an alternate Creationist theory of linguistic development, but I will suggest that language clearly is a result of intelligence in a way biogenesis is not claimed to be by naturalistic science.  Moreover, true Creationist theory has no need to deny all horizontal variation of languages or species.  Macroevolution remains an unproven biological and/or linguistic hypothesis…"

- Wesley R. Elsberry, Friends Journal (Nov. 1999, p. 34)

"Tower of Babel   advocates a robust science that works for everyone and opposes the substitution of bad theology posing as science in our classrooms.  I recommended highly as a detailed overview of a complex and controversial topic."

- Rex Buchanan, Geotimes (July 2000)

"…a thorough, comprehensive book, one that examines these issues in great depth.… If ever a book came along at a propitious time, this is the one."

- Institute for First Amendment Studies. (Nov. 8, 1999)

- Names Tower of Babel its Book of the Month

- Phil Gasper, International Socialist Review (June-July 2000, p. 68)

"…a comprehensive analysis and refutation of the ideas of [the 'new creationists'.… My only major reservation is that Pennock is far too concessionary concerning the relation between science and religion.  While Darwinism obviously contradicts a literal reading of the book of Genesis, Pennock maintains that there is no essential conflict between scientific and religious worldviews, provided the two are kept separate.  This seems to me to be nothing more than doublethink—an attempt to avoid the materialist conclusions to which Darwin's theory so clearly points.  But that said, Tower of Babel  will be an extremely useful resource for anyone who has to confront the arguments of the creationists in their school or community.  The 'new creationists' have developed a barrage of fallacious arguments against evolutionary theory.  Pennock's book provides the tools to refute them."

- SHG.  Jewish Book World (Unknown date, p. 53-54)

"This articulate and clearly written volume provides the reader with an au courant assessment of the ongoing creationism-evolution debate… [A] scholarly treatise!"

- Jansine Anderson, The Journal of Religion (Vol. 80, No 4)

"He is able patiently to lead us through his dense research on the intricacies of various creationist positions at the same time that he disputes them.…; Pennock's courtesy when describing creationist views is exemplary."

- Keith Parsons, The Journal of Scientific Exploration (Winter 2003)

"Pennock’s book is long… [y]et it is not a heavy tome, except in the quality of the thought invested in it. Pennock writes with a light touch and his text is enlivened by wit, pithy expression, and felicitous phrasing. It is a book that will fortify and encourage those alarmed by the recent inroads of [intelligent design creationism]. Creationists will react with anger, not because the book is in any way unfair or harsh—quite the contrary. The book will discomfort them precisely because it tells the truth."

- Timothy Sandefur, Laissez Faire City Times (Vol. 4 No. 47)

"After reviewing—fairly, perhaps too charitably—the arguments of intelligent design theorists, Pennock moves on to a powerful analogy for evolution: language."

"Pennock's book is a nice addition to the already formidable list of creationist-debunking literature [by] Richard Dawkins, Martin Gardner, Michael Ruse, Philip Kitcher, Stephen Jay Gould and many others…"

- James Birx, Library Journal  (March 15, 1999, p. 106)

"Informative and clearly written… [an] important book… an up-to-date and excellent presentation."

- Jim Karpen, Magill Book Reviews (unknown date)

"Pennock uses his philosopher's critical skills to examine creationist approaches…  While not critical of religion itself, Pennock clearly explained his conviction while religious perspectives are antithetical to the methods of science."

- Andrew Porter, Metanexus (Oct. 28, 2002)

"[A]mong the best books on the scientific and cultural aspects of the creationism controversies in America in the last two decades."

- Christopher Dwedney National & Financial Post (May 15, 1999)

" The bulk of the book consists of Pennock carefully examining, and then logically refuting, every one of their claims.  That he does so without his tongue in cheek gives his arguments a moral evenhandedness.… [He] marshals his arguments lucidly, demonstrating an extraordinary knowledge of science and philosophy in his meticulous rebuttal…"

- Frederick Crews, The New York Review of Books (Oct. 4, 2001)

"…comprehensive and consistently rational the best book opposing creationism in all of its guises."

- James Wing, Perspectives on Science & Christian Faith (Unknown date)

" An excellent reference on the defense of science and scientific methodology in general, and of theory of biological evolution particular.…  Readers of this book should appreciate the elaboration by this philosopher–author on the proper use of logic, inference, and argumentation that is essential in scientific research.

- Joseph Poulshock, Philosophia Christi (Series 2 Vol 1 No 2, 1999)

"Pennock's epistemological snobbery drastically misconstrues the nature of theistically influenced knowledge. For in the same way that Christ's resurrection maximally points to God's activity in a publicly testable fashion through historical and eyewitness accounts, ID theory attempts to point minimally to the Designer's activity—also in a publicly verifiable manner, through exquisitly complex natural systems."

- RPM, The Presbyterian Layman (Nov./Dec 2000)

"[A] rigid defense of Darwinian evolutionary orthodoxy.… Written with more passion than precision, this book unintentionally testifies to the unsettling power of the book that proclaims, "In the beginning God created the heavens in the earth."

- Publishers Weekly (Feb. 15, 1999)

- Starred review.

"With great insight and good humor, Pennock catalogues the wide range of creationist beliefs…  [T]houghtful, thorough and respectful, deserves to be widely read."

- Reports of the National Center for Science Education (Nov/Dec 1999)

- Reprint of review from Scientific American.

- Paul Morris, Restoration Quarterly (Jan. 2004)

- "A spate of books have been published over the last five years dealing with evolution and religion responding to Philip Johnson's controversial 1991 work Darwin on Trial.  Miller, a biologist and Pennock, a philosopher of science, have produced the best of the lot.... Pennock's book is very closely argued and very satisfying..."

- Fintan R. Steele, Science.  (Vol. 286, 19 Nov. 1999, p. 1484)

"Pennock is at his best in analyzing and refuting their argument that creationism is simply another theory like evolution, one ignored by scientists who fear losing their influence in the modern world.… Pennock's  discussion of the evidence supporting evolution is also thorough and well articulated…  [His] restraint, patience, and thoroughness in taking on creationist arguments stand in marked contrast to recent authors who too glibly poke fun…"

- Ernest Lucas, Science & Christian Belief (Vol 13, No. 1 April 2001, 83-84)

"…deserve[s] to be widely discussed."

- Burton Horn, Science Books & Films.  (Dec. 1999)

"…thorough and lucid.

- Eugenie Scott, Scientific American (August 1999, p. 92-94)

"…systematically reveals the philosophical problems inherent in intelligent-design creationism."


"[T]he Argument from Design and science as materialism are easy sells to the public, which is more concerned (as Pennock wisely points out) with existential issues of meaninglessness and purpose than with empirical scientific evidence.  One of the strengths of Tower of Babel is that it specifically addresses these existential issues… Pennock presents a particularly thoughtful discussion of why neither science nor evolution renders life meaningless."

- Secular Web (unknown date)

"Pennock compares the views of the new creationists with those of the old and reveals the insubstantiality of their arguments."

- Wolf Roder, Skeptic (Vol. 8, No. 4, 2001, p. 65-66)

"Pennock covers a great diversity of topics… He examines or reviews most of the issues of creationism, both the old style and the new guise of intelligent design.  His writing is rich in examples, metaphor, and analogy.  It is clear and easy to read, and I recommend it to all interested in both creationist claims, in who is making the claims, and why."

- Kendrick Frazier, Skeptical Inquirer (July/August 1999, p. 71)

"…compares the view of the new creationists with those of the old and reveals how their arguments fail the tests of logic and evidence."

- Mark Newbrook, The Skeptic (Vol 20, No 1, pp. 55-57)

"Pennock's book is thorough, scholarly and insightful, his presentation of the issues is clear, and he is particularly impressive… in drawing fine but crucial distinctions between claims, standpoints and arguments."


"Pennock's main case [regarding the parallel of biological and linguistic evolution] I find very clear and persuasive indeed.  Indeed, Pennock has much to say that is of great interest to philosophically-inclined historical linguists (some of which follows up the important work of Lass) – and indeed to anyone interested in these matters."

- Taxon (Vol. 48, August 1999)

"…an outstanding work on recent developments in this highly charged field."

- Tom Bowdan, Tech Directions (2000)

"Tower of Babel is a great book…"

" Creationists should read Pennock's book, for it separates the project of science from what it is and what it isn't; examines Creationist arguments in detail and often sympathetically (although he sometimes shows exasperation for Phillip Johnson and his ilk, who seem dangerously close to intellectual dishonesty); provides abundant evidence for his claims (supported by abundant acknowledged sources); and demonstrates the theologically perilous implications Creationist arguments have."

- Elisabeth Piedmont-Marton, Texas Observer (Dec. 22, 2000)

"…deserves a much wider audience than science teachers…  extremely important and scrupulously researched…"

- Mark Doughty, Theological Studies (unknown date. p. 167-169)

"…a powerful rebuttal of the anti-evolutionary outlook…"


"As P. points out repeatedly in this thorough work, the creationists set up a false dichotomy: Darwinism versus creation-science.  There are other possibilities.  John Henry Newman probably had it right when, in the very first years of evolutionary theory, he declared that 'Mr. Darwin's theory need not be atheistical, be it true or not; it may simply be suggesting a larger idea of Divine Prescience and Skill.'"

- Niles Eldredge, Times Literary Supplement, London, England (Feb. 18, 2000, p. 9)

"One of the great strengths of Tower of Babel is that, …Pennock, as a philosopher, he is able to demonstrate in clear and unambiguous terms the status of biological evolution as a thoroughly legitimate scientific theory."


"Pennock uses the analogy of the historical development of human languages to discuss the very essence of what biologists and scholars in general mean by the term 'evolution' – a nicely turned gambit that extends his treatment of biological evolution and principles… in a clear and comprehensible fashion."

- Tom Danehy, Tucson Weekly (Aug 26, 1999)

"…wonderful and invigorating…"

- Rosemary Bray McNatt, UU World (Vol XVI:4 Jul/Aug 2002)

"... if you can only read one book on this subject, make it Robert T. Pennock's Tower of Babel.... Pennock does a masterful job of unpacking the arguments used by intelligent design creationists... We liberal religious people...are well served by Pennock's calm and thoughtful view "

- Michael Behe, The Weekly Standard (June 7, 1999, p. 35-37)

"Unfortunately, whatever merits exist in Pennock's analysis, they are obscured by biased rhetoric.  His term 'creationist' for instance, is one that readers will typically take to mean biblical literalism: a 'young earth' created as recently as 4004 B.C., Adam and Eve, Noah's Ark, and all the rest.  But Pennock applies 'creationist' to writers who believe none of this.  His actual opponents turn out to have doctorates in things like embryology, biochemistry, the philosophy of science, and mathematics from places like the University of Chicago, Cambridge, and Berkeley."


"Pennock… is preternaturally uninterested in scientific objections to evolution.…  Of the problems I pointed out in my 1996 Darwin's Black Box, for example, he remarks, 'Behe will no doubt complain that I have not addressed the biochemical details of his real examples, but as we have noted, the evidence is not yet in on those questions.'  But several of the biochemical systems I discussed have been well understood for forty years. For Pennock, the evidence will never be in if it points to intelligent design."

- Danny Yee, Yee's Book Reviews (26 Dec. 1999)

"Pennock finds different ways of approaching familiar ideas and addresses topics often ignored by anti-creationists.…  Pennock doesn’t just give the usual separation of religion and state spiel, but sets [the political conflict created by creationism in the education system] in the context of the underlying philosophy of public education."



  • I have also edited an anthology that functions as a companion volume: Intelligent Design Creationism and its Critics: Philosophical, Theological & Scientific Perspectives (Cambridge, MA: The MIT Press. 2001). This book compiles representative articles from many of the leaders of the intelligent design movement (Philip Johnson, Michael Behe, William Dembski, Paul Nelson and Alvin Plantinga) and critical responses.
  • Bibliographic Information

    Tower of Babel: The Evidence Against the New Creationism
    Cambridge, MA: The MIT Press - Bradford Books.

    Hardcover edition published 1999.
    - ISBN 0-262-16180-X

    Paperback edition published February 2000.
    - ISBN 0-262-66165-9

    Library of Congress number: QH366.2 .P428

    Order on-line

    The MIT Press

    Order Tower of Babel from the MIT Press.


    [ Review Excerpts | Discussion | Bibliographic Info | Order on-line ]

    Created 7/15/01. Updated 3/17/04.
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