399 of 425 people found the following review helpful
If you can make it any plainer that this, please let me know!,
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 51-60 of 62 posts in this discussion
In reply to an earlier post on 5 Jul 2011 13:00:13 BDT
E. K. Thomas, it's not a strange thing to say. If one accepts (a) the validity of the scientific method, and (b) that an overwhelming majority of scientists are NOT deliberately, maliciously trying to trick us, there is no debate. So I'm intrigued as to why some people think either (a) or (b), or both, are false. (I have some theories of my own but I'd be more interested in yours.)
Your reply is interesting in that you side-step the question; for example I was questioning your use of the term "propaganda", which implies that somehow the scientists benefit, in an underhand way, from communicating their findings - but how do they benefit? And why would they do this? You don't say.
All the best
In reply to an earlier post on 9 Jul 2011 22:37:28 BDT
Hi muddy- funster,
Thanks for your post. I've been a bit busy recently and haven't had much time to reply.
Regarding the validity of the scientific method, it depends on what particular aspect you are talking about. There are so many scientific disciplines; astronomy, biology, botany, chemistry, genetics, forensics, geology, physics, medicine, etc. etc. I don't have much knowledge concerning the scientific methods used in most of these and so I cannot comment. In regard to those matters that are related to evolution I would certainly question the validity of certain scientific methods. For example in respect of radio-metric dating the inconsistencies are so numerous and are sometimes based on unproven assumptions that it becomes very difficult to accept that any of the results are valid.
Again in regard to evolution itself since the supposed changes from fish to amphibian to reptile etc. are talked about in millions or even billions of years, then observation and repeated experiments are not possible. What we are left with is a belief system.
Regarding what the majority of scientists' actions, motivations etc. are I have no way of knowing. I do believe that for many who are involved in research which needs funding, if they openly state that they do not accept evolution they are likely to have their funding withdrawn and may even put their jobs in jeopardy. Why should this be? I can only think that the alternative to evolution is something many would rather not consider. If this earth and universe was created by an almighty God, then there is purpose and meaning to our existence and we become answerable for our actions. For many they prefer to deny that God exists and believe that we are just the accidental products of random chemical reactions and evolution provides a convenient alternative and a hoped for cop out.
Since this discussion comes under a review of one of Richard Dawkins' books, it does seem a very strange thing that since he doesn't believe in the existence of God (at least that is what he says) that he should write a 400 page polemic (The God Delusion)about someone he doesn't believe exists. What motivates a scientist like him? Why the anger and rage against a non-existent god and against religion in general and Christianity in particular? Did he have some traumatic experience in childhood? What makes him give up that which he loves (science ) to pursue his time and energy on that which he hates (God and religion)? I wish I could meet with him on a one to one basis and calmly talk about these things.
I would be interested to know what your thoughts are on these issues.
In reply to an earlier post on 11 Jul 2011 20:58:22 BDT
Hi E.K. Thomas, some branches of science necessarily don't involve direct experiments (archaeology, cosmology etc) - do you think these are "belief systems"? Interestingly evolution is NOT one of them, as conclusive experiments have indeed been done, both in laboratories and in the field - Dawkins explains several at length in chapter 5 of TGSOE - what makes you think they haven't?
How do you explain that many people believe in both evolution and God: a minority of scientists (Robert Winston is a high-profile example) and a majority of religious leaders, such as the Pope and the Archbishop of Canterbury? Why is the Pope wrong?
Finally, if "belief systems" are not to be trusted, then why trust religion?
As for why Dawkins is angry - he is probably fed up with people thinking they have beaten his arguments, without trying to understand them first.
All the best
In reply to an earlier post on 15 Jul 2011 22:59:50 BDT
Thanks for your post. I'll try to answer your points consecutively. You are right in pointing out that not every branch of science depends on repeated experiments, but most including archaeology and cosmology do utilise observations and thus deduce certain facts from them. Hence I agree they are not belief systems. The same applies to most branches of science as far as I know. However the theory of evolution in respect of molecules to man or fish to amphibians etc. has never, nor can ever be observed. In this sense it is a belief system. Dawkins demonstrates this over and over in his books. For example in TGSOE he refers to certain symbiotic relationships and states that they "co-evolved". He offers no evidence for this but on the basis of his belief in evolution he states it as if it is a fact. He offers no explanation as to how this could possibly have happened, thus ignoring and avoiding the enormous difficulties such a position creates.
I borrowed TGSOE from the library and so I cannot refer to chapter 5 which you mention. I'll have to have a look in the library or in a bookshop or perhaps you could remind me what that chapter was about.
Regarding those who say they believe in God and evolution. I have to admit that the two gentlemen you refer to -the Pope and the Archbishop of Canterbury - are not people whose opinions I respect especially in matters of theology. I recall John Humphreys asking various people how they could know that God exists. The Archbishop of Canterbury gave a hopelessly muddled answer that must have left John Humphreys more confused than before. Anyway regarding believing in evolution it is contrary to the clear teaching and doctrine of the Bible and when I have listened or read the views of those who hold such beliefs, I am amazed at the theological gymnastics that they get involved in to try to justify their thinking.
You write, "Finally, if "belief systems" are not to be trusted, then why trust religion?"
I don't agree that belief systems are necessarily wrong or untrustworthy. Every day we demonstrate belief systems based on things such as experience, observation, scientific facts or even simple trust in another person. Contrary to Richard Dawkins concept of faith (without evidence or even contrary to evidence) faith as far as Christians are concerned is based on fact. There are both scientific and spiritual reasons why I believe in God which I'm happy to share with you if you are interested.
Finally if Dawkins is angry for the reason you suggest, then he is a hypocrite because he certainly doesn't study matters of philosophy or history or religion before he makes his arguments. However perhaps we are misjudging him and he has his reasons which I suspect are personal.
By the way you have asked me a number of questions but you haven't made clear your own position or thinking. If you have the time and inclination I would be interested in hearing your views.
In reply to an earlier post on 19 Jul 2011 19:02:03 BDT
E.K. Thomas, please re-read the book, especially Chapter 5.
My position, for what it's worth, is that science works, scientists are not systemic liars, and the evidence for this branch of science in particular is overwhelming.
Hope this helps
In reply to an earlier post on 19 Jul 2011 22:32:30 BDT
Stewart M says:
Hi there muddy-funster.
If you feed trolls they only get stronger!
In reply to an earlier post on 23 Jul 2011 00:56:01 BDT
TGSOE was out on loan from our local library but I have asked for it to be reserved for me when it comes back in. I shall read chapter 5 (whatever it is about) and come back to you. It would be helpful for me to know what the point you want to make is.
You say your position is that science works. I have no problem with that; I benefit from science every day. I would agree that scientists are not generally speaking systemic liars. However I do believe that sometimes a paradigm can develop which becomes accepted even though evidence emerges which contradicts that. I believe evolution is the prime example. Why has it been necessary to have a number of hoaxes to bolster the evolution theory? Consider Haeckel's embryos, Piltdown man, Nebraska man and a number of others. Richard Lewontin a geneticist and evolutionist observed:-
"We take the side of science in spite of the patent absurdity of some of its constructs, in spite of its failure to fulfill many of its extravagant promises of health and life, in spite of the tolerance of the scientific community for unsubstantiated just-so stories, because we have a prior commitment, a commitment to materialism. It is not that the methods and institutions of science somehow compel us to accept a material explanation of the phenomenal world, but, on the contrary, that we are forced by our a priori adherence to material causes to create an apparatus of investigation and a set of concepts that produce material explanations, no matter how counter-intuitive, no matter how mystifying to the uninitiated. Moreover, that materialism is an absolute, for we cannot allow a Divine Foot in the door."
Again in respect of the latest "scientific" theory - global warming, there was an article posted this week by Melanie Phillips of the Daily Mail, in which she posts the following:-
"There is no consensus on man-made global warming. There are in fact hundreds of scientists at the very least, amongst them some of the most distinguished in their field, who are sceptical about the theory. Some of them, such as the meteorologist Professor Richard Lindzen of MIT, have testified to the outright fraud and intimidation used to support the climate change scam. Some have been subjected to professional ostracism, loss of grant funding, vilification and even death threats because they have stood up for scientific evidence against the gross perversion of science involved in what is probably the most intellectually corrupt episode in scientific history. Such wholesale intimidation means that without a shadow of a doubt many more scientists are climate change sceptics than are registered in public debate."
I'm not suggesting that all science is by any means deliberately deceitful, but this is an up to date example of how scientists can have an agenda which has motives other than the search for truth.
Posted on 24 Jul 2011 13:53:56 BDT
OK, so you've answered my original question - as a biblical literalist, no amount of evidence-based reasoning will change your mind. I'm going to follow SCM's advice and leave the discussion here. Bye.
In reply to an earlier post on 26 Jul 2011 21:14:18 BDT
Last edited by the author on 26 Jul 2011 21:44:49 BDT
Thank you for your recent post.
You make two judgments against me which I think are unfounded and untrue.
First you refer to me as a biblical literalist. This would suggest to me that you lack knowledge of the Bible. It is composed of 66 books. These include history, poetry, philosophy, prophecy, doctrine and both personal and pastoral letters. The Bible uses simile, metaphor, allegory, parables and symbolic imagery. These latter are found especially in the books of Daniel and Revelation. For example in Revelation chapter 12 we read of a woman clothed with the sun with the moon under her feet. In chapter 13 we read of a beast with 7 heads and 10 horns. Nobody would interpret these literally as they are clearly symbolic. Likewise when Jesus speaks of himself as the true vine, or the bread of life, He is not speaking of Himself in physical but spiritual terms.
Secondly you write," no amount of evidence-based reasoning will change your mind." In our discussions you have asked most of the questions and I have answered as best I can. You have offered no evidence supporting the theory of evolution for me to consider. Indeed in this particular thread I have stated that there is very little if any fossil evidence to support evolution. While there have been a number of negative and a few insulting responses to this, nobody has pointed me to the evidence to counter this. I have read several books written by evolutionists and a considerable amount of evolution literature and searched a number of websites at the suggestion of various evolutionists in these Amazon discussions. In addition I have visited the natural history museum in London and like Sir Colin Patterson a former senior palaeontologist there, found no transitional fossils. So when you charge me with ignoring evidence I am wondering if the boot isn't on the other foot. At your suggestion I have even ordered TGSOE from the local library so that I can read again chapter 5.
Without wishing to be disrespectful, your response comes across as very weak and leaves me with the impression that you cannot support your position with scientific evidence.
Nevertheless I wish you well. Take care.
In reply to an earlier post on 7 Aug 2011 18:18:55 BDT
Last edited by the author on 7 Aug 2011 18:43:39 BDT
I have now obtained TGSOE from the library and have carefully read through chapter 5 again. I have no problem with this as the experiments demonstrate micro-evolution or adaption within species. We see this around us all the time. The e-coli are still e-coli; the guppies are still guppies.
Richard Dawkins states that new information was added to the genome (in the case of e-coli.) He provides no evidence for this. My understanding is that when bacteria acquire resistance to antibiotics (which he mentions in this chapter) that this results from a loss of information. Perhaps this was also the case for the e-coli; I don't know and he doesn't say.
From these experiments, to extrapolate evolution from fish to reptile to bird etc. is totally unsupported by any evidence in the world around us or in the fossil record. On the other hand the evidence of intelligent design is everywhere to be seen, except of course to those who refuse to face the facts.
Have a good day.