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399 of 425 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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Showing 21-30 of 62 posts in this discussion
In reply to an earlier post on 9 Sep 2009 18:05:36 BDT
Pete UK says:
Thanks, CitizenX. Most eloquently put. Don't waste any more time on this!

In reply to an earlier post on 9 Sep 2009 21:10:08 BDT
CitizenX says:
Right you are, Pete UK. There are better things in life than uselessly swinging away at insubstantial fundamentalist phantoms... Like reading Richard Dawkins, for example! Huzzah!

In reply to an earlier post on 9 Sep 2009 22:55:49 BDT
Stewart M says:
Indeed! CitizenX says it for most of us - the key problem being that many people who run things - like the USA in the very recent past! - ssem to believe in "insubstantial fundamentalist phantoms", which is probably a issue!

In reply to an earlier post on 16 Sep 2009 18:48:59 BDT
Stocks says:
@ Citizen X

That was a damned good read. Many thanks for posting.

In reply to an earlier post on 19 Sep 2009 13:38:38 BDT
Mr. M. Young says:
I won't say anyone is 'misinformed', but I would say that you should honestly look at all the (scanty) 'proof' of evolution in the fossil record. If you say the fossil record entirely supports evoluiton you should give examples. It's like Dawkins saying in 'climbing Mount improbable that 'it has been authoratitively proven that the eye has evolved no less that 24 times...' Says who? Give me the evidence. I want to check it. He didn't say who had 'authoritatively' proven it.
..here's a few of my favourite missing links. Check what I say...Archaeopteryx intermediate to birds from dinosaurs. Really? Mr. Attenborough did a series about birds, in which several chinese fossils were examined, 'sinosauropteryx' was one of them, a small velociraptor-like dinisaur with 'filaments' that were supposed to have become wings.
At the same time (1999) National Geographic published an article on bird evolution from Archaeopteryx to the modern crow in which sinosauroptery xwas included, a nice little neat progression through several 'intermediate' forms....very convenient until you look at the dates of the fossils, most were older or younger than they should have been to be precursors. Sinosauropteryx was significanlty younger for one than its supposed descendant. So are we supposed to believe it?
I think if you look at all the evidence you will find clear evidence of the discontinuity of nature in the fossil record, which we base the science of taxonomy on, every species is more or less very clearly delineated.
I am a scientist, and too am seeking for answers, and I can tell you none of the textbooks I studied from give me any conclusive answers. What they do tell me is how marvelously complicated life is, and wave the magic wand, like Dawkins does, of evolution over the things they can't explain. The problem is, though, that the more we are discovering, the worse it is getting for the evolutionist to explain the processes in small steps, because life in the cellular level is a lot more amazingly intricately unexplianable than we first thought.
Dawkins over the years has become the very thing he tries to knock down, dogmatically fervent ( dare I say religious? I think so, he's more fundamental than the most fundamental religious zealot)) in his zeal for his cause. There is no bending with him and he doesn't really answer the fundamantal problems. When he's on T.V it's asy to see through his arguments, it's what he doesn't tell people that is the problem. I'm not going to give examples of that for the sake of brevity, but I'm willing to engage in intelligent discourse with whoever wants to on the subject. I am particularly in ́nterested in the fossil record, but am versed in most disciplines, and can see the problems of evolutionary theory in all of them, which gives me cause for concern.

In reply to an earlier post on 19 Sep 2009 13:50:43 BDT
Mr. M. Young says:
I'm not on anyone's side here, but you're forgetting one very important thing: the watch existed in the mind of a designer before it was made, right?
Natural selection is a real phenomonen, nobody is denying that, slight changes (almost always degenerative) in the genetic code can confer small 'advantages', and even create a sub-species...but apparently the sub species is always the same kind of animal.
The ID people are therefore not wrong when they say they can't see a path in biological systems, for example blood clotting, because even the world's leading authorities can't see how it could come about in small steps. I'm just starting my scientific career nd am of humble intellect, and I can't either. The I.D people are saying it's too complicated to come around by chance, attribituting it to designm and the evolutionists are waving the magic wand of evolution over it...there's no difference, only facts. Study it for yourself. And that's just the beginning

In reply to an earlier post on 21 Sep 2009 04:42:10 BDT
Last edited by the author on 21 Sep 2009 08:09:07 BDT
Yes the watch did exist in the mind of the designer before it existed. However, that was because the designer had a specific function in mind, i.e. a better timekeeping device, each time you need or want a new function different to timekeeping a designer has to think up a new design. Evolution, or its effects in the wealth of species that has lived and is living, on the other hand, is simply a side effect of the imperfection of self replicating organic molecules, these imperfections being influenced (evolved) by pressure from their environment.

By the way, most changes or mutations in a species' DNA are mainly neutral, for even individuals have large numbers of mutations compared to their 'parent DNA' that has little or no effect on their viability as individuals. Additionally, one or more 'mutations' can be neutral in one environment and be passed on to offspring but later prove beneficial in a different environment, and vice versa of course. As for blood clotting, we do have some idea about how it came about, and guess what, it isn't the IDiots who are discovering how it works or evolved, but genuine scientists looking for answers rather than the IDiots who simply throw their arms up in the air and say 'it's too complicated for me to understand so it must be goddidit'. When it is explained to them, like their claim about the eye being irreducibly complex, that they are wrong and we have actual examples of all the steps necessary for the evolution of the eye existing in different organisms alive now they move on to another. Then when we show that, say, the bacterial flagellum is similarly not irreducible complex, they again move the goalposts and move on to something else.

Yet all the while, never doing any actual science themselves, never putting forward any hypothesis themselves, beyond goddidit. All they do is nitpick on things they don't know about and think we don't know about, only to often discover later, that we actually do already know or have a good idea. A classic example of this was Behe in the Dover trial, were he was shown literally a stack of evidence, some of it actually about blood clotting, that had been published in peer reviewed journals and even text books, that refuted all his claims for irreducible complexity and he admitted under oath that he had not read any of them. The judge in his summing up wiped the floor with him and his 'evidence'. And sadly, for the IDiots at least, Behe, along with Dumbski, is routinely trotted out as one of their star 'scientists'. (By the way, if anyone thinks that my play on ID with the use of the term IDiot to describe the Discoveroids is rather harsh, then I suggest they google the wedge document and read it when they will likely find that I am being quite gentle in simply labelling them as IDiots.)

The difference with us on the other hand, is that we are quite happy with saying that we don't know how a particular thing works or came about, but give us time, we are still working on it. And remember, scientists have only been working on the theory of natural selection for ~150 years. Yet, in that time, while we are a long way from knowing how everything works or how everything came about, all of the evidence to date, from a whole range of scientific disciplines, supports the theory of evolution. The only honest disagreements amongst real scientists is on details rather than the theory itself.

BTW, after posting the above I realised that I hadn't commented on the book so this edit will correct that oversight having just finally found the time to finish it. Anyone the least bit interested in a broad layman's overview of the theory of evolution will not be disappointed. This book is more than up to Richard Dawkins' usual high writing standard and I can highly recommend it to one and all.

In reply to an earlier post on 21 Sep 2009 13:59:10 BDT
andygardener says:
j. blilie. thanks, that was a very interesting and well crafted reply.

In reply to an earlier post on 21 Sep 2009 14:19:22 BDT
Last edited by the author on 21 Sep 2009 14:51:39 BDT
R. J. Hole says:
While on the subject of ID, shouldn't it be called UD (unintelligent design)? Either Jehovah, Elohim, whatever you call him, must have been a bad workman or he was not the designer. As solutions to problems the ones found by evolution can be dumb and cruel. For an obvious example read about the Designer's cure for Malaria: a lottery, if you win you resist Malaria, if you lose you get Sickle Cell Anaemia. Was that a joint project between God and Lucifer?

Who designed the Alsatian dog, or the seedless grape? The answer is no one. Max von Stephanitz had a hand in the forced evolution (aka breeding) of the Alsation dog but he couldn't claim to have designed it unless he really was god. Seedless grapes only exist by being propagated by humans. It is a known fact that humans have guided evolution for their own benefit thus producing cute pets, meaty cows, nutritious grass to feed the world, and now even GM crops. Intelligent people looking at the evidence for evolution find it fairly self-evident. The evidence for selection either by fitness or by sexual preference is more difficult to explain in a convincing way but I don't think this is the problem with the doubters. From what I can tell they mostly (the creationists for sure) do not believe life has evolved so don't even get as far as thinking about how it happened.

In reply to an earlier post on 21 Sep 2009 18:28:42 BDT
Last edited by the author on 21 Sep 2009 18:34:06 BDT
M. Young:
You obviously haven't read the book, because Dawkins answers your points!
Regarding the "missing links", he explains why it is actually a meaningless term, and he admits that Archaeopteryx is a bad choice of intermediate fossil. He also explains why gaps in the fossil record prove nothing - for example flatworms are completely absent from the fossil record, but that does not mean they could not have evolved!

It is strange that creationists like to attack the fossil evidence for evolution in the belief that it is an embarrassment for scientists - it isn't. It isn't the only evidence either - there are many other kinds of evidence but creationists avoid them because they are so strong, and any creationist explanation is so laughable. Read the book and find out for yourself!

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