THE SCIENCE OF DISCWORLD III:
Reviewed by Steven H Silver
In the first Science of Discworld book, Ian Stewart and Jack Cohen tackled cosmology. The second book, Science of Discworld II: The Globe looked more at cultural aspects of science. In The Science of Discworld III: Darwinís Watch, the authors pick up the gauntlet dropped by American fundamentalists, and they explain why evolution is a science while intelligent design is a religious belief. Interspersed between their explanations, Terry Pratchett has provided a story of the wizards of Unseen University and their forays into our own world.
In this visit, the wizards find themselves in a world in which Charles Darwin does not write The Origin of Species, but rather writes The Ology of Species, thereby postponing both scientific and social advancement from the Victorian period. The wizards, as a Discworld version of Sam Beckett from "Quantum Leap" with HEX as their Ziggi, must set right what went wrong.
Even broken into small segments between the much longer science portions, Pratchettís story is a riveting look at the scientific process and the role luck plays in scientific and paradigm development. Seemingly minor and unrelated tasks the wizards must perform allow Darwin to come to the conclusions which led him to develop his theory as well as realize the weaknesses the theory had at the time it was first published.
Stewart and Cohen do their usual excellent job of integrating Pratchettís story with their own scientific explanations. However, they seem to allow more personal bias into their explanation than usual with this book. The most obvious target of their (not necessarily unwarranted) scorn are the American Christian fundamentalists who are trying to promote intelligent design/creationism as a science while attacking a version of evolution which is several decades out of date. However, even while supporting the scientific method of questioning established scientific doctrine, the authors belittle nearly all of those who question the current scientific orthodoxy.
The scientific portions of the book also seem to jump around a little more than they did in the two previous books. While the theme of evolution recurs throughout these explanations, the authors frequently go on tangents which donít seem to be directly tied to anything previously discussed in the book. These tangents donít necessarily tie into anything at a later point either, indicating that it may have been better to leave them for a potential Science of Discworld IV.
Despite these weaknesses, the book does cover a very topical portion of science in an easy to understand, not to mention enjoyable fashion. While many of those who espouse intelligent design are unlikely to pick up any book which offers an objective look at science, many people who donít see a problem with introducing the concept to science classes and letting it fall on its own lack of merits, will come away from The Science of Discworld III: Darwinís Watch with an understanding of why there is no place in the science curriculum for evolution or intelligent design. As well as being entertained by the writings of Pratchett, Stewart and Cohen.