Monday, January 7, 2013

The Greatest Show on Earth, Richard Dawkins

Imagine that you are a teacher of Roman history and the Latin language, anxious to impart your enthusiasm for the ancient world- for the elegiacs of Ovid and the odes of Horace, the sinewy economy of Latin grammar as exhibited in the oratory of Cicero, the strategic niceties of the Punic Wars, the generalship of Julius Caesar and the voluptuous excesses of the later emperors. That's a big undertaking and it takes time, concentration, dedication. Yes you find your precious time continually preyed upon, and your class's attention distracted, by a baying pack of ignoramuses (as a Latin scholar you would know better than to say "ignorami") who, with strong political and especially financial support, curry about tirelessly attempting to persuade your unfortunate pupils that the Romans never existed.

Of course, Dawkins goes on to compare this to the creationists refusing to believe in evolution. Yes, he does attack them, but I totally agree with him: evolution is an established fact (or nearly one) from all the evidence we have collected, and the evidence right in front of our eyes. And I really think that anyone who only believes that the world is 6,000 years old is blind, refusing to admit the discoveries the human race has made. You can believe that evolution was created by God for some unfathomable purpose, and that's perfectly reasonable if you're religious, but it's difficult to rationally not believe that evolution does exist. I would agree that there's plenty to be said about this topic, but it is tiresome when there are so many people who refuse to acknowledge even its possibility. Fossil evidence shows that the world is much, much more than 6000 years old.

In The Greatest Show on Earth, Dawkins has written another excellent book defending evolution. He has written against religion before; this book is not about that. Using amazing analogies and examples, Dawkins piece by piece takes apart the creationism arguments, to strip it to the bare truth: evolution is real. All scientific evidence points to it. I know that really religious people can say that mysteriously, God altered the world to look like evolution had happened, but that argument has no basis in fact, or even reasonable conjecture.

Back to the book. Again, I really love the analogies and examples Dawkins uses. They're easy for the layman to understand, but also highly scientific, and rooted in fact. It's not like he's dumbing anything down; he's just showing clearly the evidence. Dawkins provides examples of natural selection over millions of years, and of natural selection that we've seen happen literally in front of our eyes. He also goes over artificial selection to set up explaining natural selection, and time clocks that can be used to date igneous rocks, and thus, fossils. Basically, Dawkins covers many, many ways of looking at how to explain and/or "prove" evolution. He outlines some of the greatest natural/artificial selection experiments: for example, the foxes in Russia (I love that one) and the famous guppies.

I also love the 4 sections of color plates; they really add a lot to the book, and they're also very beautiful to look at. There are some lovely photos there.

I'd actually read the first half or so of the book while in Miami Beach 2 or 3 years ago, but when I left, I had to abandon it. At the time, I didn't really understand the chapter on clocks for dating the age of something. I still don't understand it completely, as it's a mind-blowing and extremely complicated concept but now, having learned a bit of chemistry last year, it does make a lot more sense. And I definitely learned a lot of new things from that particular chapter (and other chapters too, of course).

The last thing I want to touch on is Dawkins's style. He adds humor to the book; it's not just a dry science textbook-like concoction. Instead, it is a highly engaging work that keeps your interest the whole time (I might even do it for my book talk eventually). I would highly recommend this amazing science book, and I think perhaps I'll read Dawkins's The God Delusion soon.

Read The Greatest Show on Earth:
  • if you like Richard Dawkins
  • if you like science books
  • if you are interested in evolution
  • if you are interested in the evolutionism vs. creationism argument (though, by rights, it shouldn't even be an argument at all)
437 pages.
Outstanding Book That Will Stay On My Bookshelf For Rereading (jf I own it)!

No comments:

Post a Comment