Prof. Richard Dawkins, one of the worlds most famous atheists, has published a new book- “The Greatest Show on Earth” subtitled “The evidence for evolution”. (UK 1st edition Bantam Press, £20, 467 pages plus 32 pages full colour photos, as well as line drawn illustrations, bibiography and full index)
“Another Dawkins book? What can he add?” you may ask. He has his sights set firmly on the evidence, and delivers broadside after broadside into forces of what he calls “history deniers”- in a way a title more satisfying than calling them ‘science deniers’ or ‘Creationists’. That gives an indication of his target. He isn’t ‘going after God’ as such, though he makes it clear where his thoughts on the subject lie, but rather those who deny evolution to be true.
He starts this assault with the first chapter title- ‘Only a theory’, one of the Creationist mantras. Similarly Chapter 6 is “Missing Link? What do you mean missing.
The text as a whole is written in an easy to read style, suitable for the layman, and he assumes no prior knowledge. Indeed at a couple of points he warns that the following explanation is complicated, and if the reader is tired they may wish to stop at that point until they are more awake. Although this is a book of biology, he takes time for a ‘beginners guide to carbon dating’ as well as dendrochronology (using trees to date events), to show how we are able to sort fossils into ages.
He explains a number of different experiments showing how we can see evolution happening- from man forced evolution in dogs, to how certain dog like traits emerge in foxes when selected for breeding only on the basis of freindliness- you get dog ears and tail, even though the researchers never selected for this. He also shows how labatory experimentation has been confirmed and repeated in the wild. Plus he describes an expriment where E.coli have evolved an ‘irreducably complex’ trait, thus nailing that particular lie from the ‘Designers’.
On the way through he is not afraid to take a swipe at scientists, and how they can add to the confusion, giving hostages to fortune for those who wish to mislead the public. Taxonomy is one of his favoured targets, pointing out if we did have a complete fossil record at what point would we be able to say Austrolopithicus became Homo? Each child must have been close enough to the parent to be the same, but at some point the difference between long dead ancestor and newly born baby must be big enough to warrant a new name!
The photos, like the text is full of ‘WOW!” factor, and many are beautiful in their own right as pictures.
The whole book is an easy read, Dawkins moving it along with a pace that a number of best selling fiction writers could learn from. It assumes no prior knowledge, but for those already familiar with evolution is not basic. Indeed, I found it was clarifying things that I ‘knew’, and may even have been ‘obvious’ but could not have articulated as well. He also pays credit to other books, such as Coyne’s “Why Evolution is True”, not covering subjects too deeply where it has already been done well, and letting you know what to read.
This is very much an ‘everyone’ book- not just for those who already know evolution to be true. It will cover those gaps left by the time pressured teaching of biology in schools, and any literate teen could read it. In addition it would be a great book to lend to freinds who are open-minded enough to explore evolution, even if they never understood it beyond the soundbite culture of how it is presented in the modern media.
Go on, give your money to RD, not Dan Brown!
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