Mark Perakh dies
The physicist Mark Perakh, a notable critic of creationism, died on May 7, 2013, at the age of 88, according to The Panda's Thumb blog (May 12, 2013). After a distinguished academic career in three countries, Perakh turned, in his retirement, to investigating the claims of religiously motivated pseudoscience, beginning with the Bible Code and then focusing on creationism. Among the products of his work were his book Unintelligent Design (Prometheus Books, 2003), two chapters ("There is a free lunch after all: William Dembski's wrong answers to irrelevant questions" and, with Matt Young, "Is intelligent design science?") in Matt Young and Taner Edis's collection Why Intelligent Design Fails (Rutgers University Press, 2004), and reviews and articles in such venues as Skeptic, Skeptical Inquirer, Reports of the NCSE, The Panda's Thumb, and the Talk.Reason website, of which he was a founder and editor.
Unintelligent Design was widely praised, with the reviewer for the Quarterly Review of Biology describing it as "an incisive, rigorous, and very competent critique of the attempts by neo-creationists to force their religious beliefs into the realm of scientific respectability by dressing them up in what purports to be scientific discourse" and adding, "It would be a real service to secondary education in this country if the book was required reading for school board members and teachers considering inclusion of these arguments in their science courses." The book contains three sections. The first offers a detailed critique of "intelligent design" creationism as purveyed by William Dembski, Michael Behe, and Phillip Johnson; reviewing the book for RNCSE in 2004, Jason Rosenhouse commented, "I did not fully appreciate the sheer extent of ["intelligent design"'s] awfulness before reading Mark Perakh's Unintelligent Design." The second addresses various attempts to reconcile the Bible with science, focusing on those by Hugh Ross, Grant Jeffrey, Fred Hereen, Nathan Aviezer, Lee Spetner, and Gerald Schroeder. The third discusses issues in the nature of science and in probability theory, using the so-called Bible Code as a cautionary example. Interviewed by NCSE's Glenn Branch for RNCSE in 2009, Perakh reflected on the inspiration, composition, and reception of his book. "Writing a book gathering my ideas about creationism and its pernicious efforts to undermine genuine science was a natural outcome of my pro-science and pro-reason activity," he explained.
Perakh was born (as Mark Yakovlevich Popereka) on November 2, 1924, in Kiev, Ukraine. After serving in the Soviet Army during World War II, he earned the equivalent of a PhD in physics from the Odessa Polytechnic Institute in 1946. From 1950 to 1973, he conducted research and taught physics in several universities in the USSR, receiving a Diploma of Doctorate of Sciences from Kazan Institute of Technology in 1968. He emigrated to Israel, where he changed his surname to Perakh and was appointed a professor of physics at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, in 1973. He subsequently emigrated to the United States in 1978, where he was a professor of physics at California State University, Fullerton, from 1985 to 1994. During his career, he received a number of prizes and awards for his research, including one from the Royal Society of London, and authored almost three hundred scientific papers and several monographs.