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398 of 423 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars If you can make it any plainer that this, please let me know!, 3 Sep 2009
This review is from: The Greatest Show on Earth: The Evidence for Evolution (Hardcover)
Richard Dawkins is probably one of the most well known proponents of Evolution today. He is either held in high regard or subject to considerable loathing, depending on your view of evolution. This book has one clear aim - to present the evidence for evolution in a simple, but not compromised fashion, so that it can be held up against the claims made by those who would deny its importance, or even its occurrence. In this regard the book is an overwhelming success.

In a logical fashion Dawkins steps through such topics as "what do we mean by a theory", dating methods for fossils, missing links (and if there are such things), plate tectonics and its influence on plant and animal distribution, embryology and molecular genetics and evolution. Each chapter adds another layer to the evidence for Evolution. Where other scientific understanding is required it is provided. For example, there is a short description of the classic atomic models needed to understand the dating methods used on geological samples. The best chapters are the final two, and this is not to say the ones before are not of an extremely high standard. The penultimate chapter addresses Evolutionary Arms races, with a clear emphasis on predator prey relationships, while the final chapter unpacks a paragraph from the original version of On the Origin of Species to show how far reaching and advanced Darwin's thinking was at the time of its publication.

Dawkins is clear, if possibly optimistic, in his aim to address this book at those who find evolution difficult, for I doubt they will read this book. He terms these people "the history-deniers" in a clear allusion to the controversies in the study of recent History, where despite incontrovertible evidence people still deny the occurrences of certain events.

In his last book Dawkins addressed religious belief in a way that clearly conveyed his rage, but somehow seem to lack subtly. While this is not the case here, the book does contain more than enough characteristic barbs to delight (or enrage!) readers already familiar with his previous writing. He helps the reader at every stage, even to the point of suggesting you should not read particular sections if you are tired! But it is in one single passage, where he casually mentions that you should see the Redwoods of California before you die, that his passion shines through most strongly and clearly.

Here you see his wonder for a world full of remarkable diversity, all brought about by a process that is deceptively simple - evolution through natural selection. This is a timely book that should be read by anybody who has an interest in understanding the world as it actually is. This is the best single account of the evidence for evolution I have read and it is impossible to recommend it highly enough.

(This review is based on the Australian paperback version, which was released last week).
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Tracked by 3 customers

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Showing 1-10 of 62 posts in this discussion
Initial post: 3 Sep 2009 13:25:07 BDT
Last edited by the author on 5 Sep 2009 01:55:26 BDT
E. K. Thomas says:
I commend you for what appears to be a good review of this book (which I have not read). However I understand that many scientists consider that the process of evolution by natural selection to be inadequate to account for the complexity and diversity of life on earth. Does Richard Dawkins address this and the reasoning behind this? For example all experiments involving Drosophila and induced mutations did nothing to support Darwinian evolution but indicated just the opposite. What does he have to say about the failure of the fossil record to support Darwin's theory? What is the incontrovertible evidence for the evolution from one species to another?

You may gather that I do not believe in the theory of evolution, but that does not mean that I am unwilling to look at the evidence. I have read some of RD's books and others on both sides of the debate, so I am interested to know if he has added anything new to the debate.

In reply to an earlier post on 3 Sep 2009 13:48:57 BDT
"I understand that many scientists consider that the process of evolution by natural selection to be inadequate to account for the complexity and diversity of life on earth."

You understood incorrectly. This "many" you refer to is a total inadequate description of the tiny percentage of scientist who seem to be gathering information in search of proof for their religious funding/guidance/agenda.

Posted on 3 Sep 2009 13:50:07 BDT
Last edited by the author on 3 Sep 2009 14:17:09 BDT
E.K., you are misinformed. The fossil record supports evolution totally. Presumably Dawkins' book addresses this in detail (my copy has yet to arrive) but if not, try Prothero's "Evolution: What the Fossils Say and Why It Matters".

I'm not sure what Drosophila experiments you refer to; obviously induced mutations are harmful more often than they are helpful (but most are neutral). Still, evolution has certainly been demonstrated in the lab using micro-organisms (bacteria etc).

"I understand that many scientists consider that the process of evolution by natural selection to be inadequate to account for the complexity and diversity of life on earth."

Again, you're misinformed. Essentially all professional biologists are in agreement that it is perfectly adequate.

In reply to an earlier post on 3 Sep 2009 13:54:46 BDT
Keith P says:
Completely wrong. The fossil record fully supports the theory. I'd be interested to read why you think it doesn't!

Posted on 3 Sep 2009 19:48:18 BDT
David Groom says:
All,

E.K.Thomas is always making these same kinds of objections on these forums even though he keeps receiving clear and detailed answers to the 'issues' he raises. He never takes any notice of what is written and continues to repeat the same old nonsense, despite it being absolutely clear that the case he makes is obviously flawed. Its as if he's hoping that somebody, somewhere, reading what he says will be taken in by it and will be converted. He is clearly of a religious persuasion and is desperately seeking anything he can use to try and raise objections to the TOE. Sadly for him, he always fails, as is the case here, where there are more than enough people around to continue to refute what he posts.

In reply to an earlier post on 4 Sep 2009 17:27:02 BDT
"However I understand that many scientists consider that the process of evolution by natural selection to be inadequate to account for the complexity and diversity of life on earth. Does Richard Dawkins address this and the reasoning behind this? " Depends on the referrant of "this". "(M)any scientists consider...." by any normal usage of the words "scientist" and "many" is a straight out lie. So no, Dawkins does not address that. If "this" is "inadquate to account" then yes: Dawkins addresses it.

"What does he have to say about the failure of the fossil record to support Darwin's theory?" He has nothing to say on the failure. It does not fail. He has plenty to say on its support of Darwin's theory.

"What is the incontrovertible evidence" Dealt with in Chapter 1. "Incontrovertible proof" is for mathematicians. Everyone else must make do with "beyond reasonable doubt".

In reply to an earlier post on 4 Sep 2009 20:57:06 BDT
Last edited by the author on 4 Sep 2009 21:06:32 BDT
J. Blilie says:
EKT is a frequent troll on many review comments and discussion boards related to science, evolution, and Dr. Dawkins in particular. He is not serious in his inquiry into the evidence for evolution.

In addition to Prothero and of course Dawkins himself (get THIS book and READ it and his 'The Ancestor's Tale'), Jerry Coyne's book on the evidence for EBNS, 'Why Evolution Is True' is excellent and I highly recommend it.

Evolution: What the Fossils Say and Why It Matters
Why Evolution Is True
Why Evolution is True
The Ancestor's Tale: A Pilgrimage to the Dawn of Life

Read up on the evidence and become informed. It's the only path to truth.

There are only a few religiously-motivated cranks who think ID is viable or even science. The fact is that all credible authorities know that evolution by natural selection (EBNS) is a fact. All the data support EBNS and none of it falsifies it. None of it has falsified it through 150 years of the most intense investigation by millions of scientists, using the best methods and instruments ever invented (including all the major discoveries in genetics, microbiology, biochemistry, etc.)

There is no "controversy." There is no evidence to support ID. ID has no theory, no experiments, no data, no results, and no analysis, which are the hallmarks of scientific inquiry.

ID would be welcome in science - if it were science, if it had any of the features of science. Science proceeds by observing the world, hypothesizing connections between the observations (natural laws), and then testing the hypotheses. If a hypothesis is falsified, then it is discarded. The hypothesis that best explains the observations and stands up to repeated attempts at falsification over a lengthy period of time is deemed worthy of the name theory. A theory in science is not a guess, like: My theory is that Arsenal will be league champions. A theory in science is an explanation of natural phenomena (hypothesis) that is falsifiable, consistent with the observed data, and is well tested and agreed upon by knowledgeable consensus. The best theory, the one that best fits the evidence and stands up to many challenges, will be considered to be the best provisional explanation of the data. It is not considered final "proof," because proof does not exist in science, only disproof: falsification of hypotheses.

Is ID science? Absolutely not. I've read Michael Behe and William Dembski and others. ID has no theory, no experiments, no data, no results, and no predictions: the hallmarks of science. They have but a single assertion to make: Biological feature X is too complicated for me to understand how it could have evolved, therefore God had to have done it, QED. This is simply a non sequitur. William Dembski's, Michael Behe's, my, or your lack of intellectual skills or knowledge neither requires nor implies anything about the nature of reality. The only thing they offer is their personal incredulity. Incredulity is not science, it is ignorance. Science dispels ignorance by hypothesis and testing.

The nearest ID has come to science is the publication of some papers (not in established scientific journals of course) that show images of interesting parts of living anatomy and then simply assert that they are too complex to have evolved. We already know that complex structures exist in living things - it's nearly the definition of life, so the images are redundant. The rest is personal incredulity: Which demonstrates nothing except the limitations of the author's intellect or knowledge.

Science has a long and distinguished track record of demolishing incredulous predictions about what is impossible.

The reaction of a scientist to a difficult problem is typically: let's roll up our sleeves and figure it out! In contrast, ID is capitulation in the face of difficulty: I can't figure it out; it must have been magic! We can apply ID logic to physics: Einstein didn't figure out a unified theory of physics and neither have any of the subsequent brilliant physicists. Let's slap the ID explanation on it - God did it - and call it a day. No one can seriously present this as science.

A classic and iconic story that illustrates the creationist argument is The Reverend William Paley's story of the found watch, which is obviously designed (Paley's Natural Theology.) Its existence is very unlikely and can only be explained by design. The watch Paley describes didn't just spring into being suddenly. Such an event is extremely improbable. We can all agree on this. Similarly, no tornado going through a junk yard is ever going to spontaneously assemble a 747. Paley concludes that the watch must be designed. He infers from this that anything complex must be designed; and he concludes (with all creationists) that (his particular) God caused all of life by special and sudden creation.

Creationists miss the other, equally important point of the watch story: the watch wasn't designed from nothing either. It came into existence through a very long series of experiments: research and development (R&D.) Before this watch, lesser watches had to have been designed. Before the first watch, a long series of clocks had to have been designed. And before clocks, many various geared machines, springs, pendulums, wheels, bearings, etc., each with its own family tree of R&D. Before geared machines: gears and wheels and axels and bearings. Before good springs and good gears/axels/bearings, etc.: metallurgy. Before metallurgy: mining and use of furnaces. Before furnaces: making use of fire, building structures, fired bricks, etc. Before any of that: agriculture and permanent settlements. And so on. I'll not belabor the point, and besides, I don't know all the details. But we do know they trace back tens of millennia at least. And there are many parallel lines of R&D to those mentioned. Paley's watch is a (temporary and arbitrary) point on a long chain of cumulative R&D, which today includes atomic clocks of a precision un-dreamed-of by Rev. Paley. The mechanism for saving the good changes in the designs leading to Rev. Paley's watch, and building upon them, was human trial and results: cumulative R&D. Complex human artifacts cannot spring into existence from nothing, just the same as living things cannot (the creationist is explicitly claiming that living things do.) A more sound conclusion (though still a very bad and false one) to draw inductively from Paley's watch would be that a large number of gods designed and another large number of gods built, over a long period of time, the life we see around us.

EBNS is an analogous chain of cumulative R&D. The changes are essentially always small (else they don't survive) and the method of retaining improvement is natural selection. Any small advantage will, statistically, tend to be better preserved (its possessor is more likely to live to reproduce offspring) than a poorer alternative. The fact of this incremental change is apparent everywhere in the world from vestigial hips in whales* to our "inside out" eye and weird nasal/esophageal/tracheal arrangement to "junk" DNA to our genetic similarity to other apes. Evolution can only work on existing configurations, not invent new ones out of whole cloth.
(* 5% of whales are born with atavistic hind legs that protrude beyond their body wall, sometimes even including bones and toes: remnants of their past as quadrupeds.)

What results would cause a purported "designer" to decide to design the vestigial hips of whales and snakes or the useless vestigial eyes of cave animals out of nothing? Why would a designer give mitochondria their own DNA line completely separate from the eukaryote cell's nuclear DNA? There are literally millions of similar questions to which the creationist can only reply, "God did it." This is neither science nor explanation.

I hope that you investigate the facts about EBNS and ID for yourself. This book would be a great place to start. [Apologies for length.]

SCM: How is spring coming along in VIC?

In reply to an earlier post on 4 Sep 2009 22:58:43 BDT
Last edited by the author on 5 Sep 2009 07:58:11 BDT
E. K. Thomas says:
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In reply to an earlier post on 4 Sep 2009 23:44:22 BDT
Last edited by the author on 6 Sep 2009 23:50:31 BDT
Stewart M says:
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Posted on 6 Sep 2009 23:20:09 BDT
Greg Goebel says:
I liked the item about Dawkins "lacking subtlety". When I read Dawkins I think of the old saying that the more times you run over a dead cat, the flatter it gets.

Mind you, I am a great fan of Dawkins and am looking forward to reading this book, but like it or not -- some people do, some people don't -- the "brilliant Dawkins" and "opinionated Dawkins" are joined at more than the hip. There is a saying that tact is telling someone to go to hell in such a way that they look forward to the trip. Dawkins just tells them to go to hell.
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