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Book Review : The Greatest Show on Earth: The Evidence for Evolution

While everyone’s all agog over Dan Brown’s new thriller, this new gem of a book, also hot off the presses, has also quietly reached our shores in hopes of enlightening more than a few eager minds. And as you may have read before on this site, our generous sponsors are giving away two copies of this book:  http://filipinofreethinkers.org/2009/09/18/the-filipino-freethinker-and-wtf/

If you guys want to know what’s in store in Dawkin’s new book, read on:

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Richard Dawkins has done it again, coming up with another hard-hitting and relevant book that manages to both entertain and to inform. If you enjoy info-tainment, getting your fill of scientific trivia while enjoying an engrossing read, this is one book that should not be missed.

One-third Origin of Species version 2.0, one-third National Geographic, and another third CSI, this is the book Dawkins was meant to write as he delves deeper into his field of expertise, evolutionary biology, while building a ironclad case for theory of evolution.

The prose is clear and easy to understand, there are no technical jargons that will cause your eyes to glaze over. It’s not so much a biology textbook but rather an insider’s look at playing detective with history. And it is this very analogy that Dawkins uses as a framework for his book. We are placed in the shoes of detectives who arrive late at the scene of the crime.  We examine the remains and other pieces of evidence using cutting-edge science and deductive reasoning to recreate history as it unfolded millions of years ago.

No background knowledge of the scientific procedures is even necessary to appreciate the intricacies of the work being done. Everything is explained in the book so much so that if this is the first book you’ve picked up since your last highschool textbook, you’ll have no problem following the discussions. He delves into such varied fields as carbon dating, enzyme production, embryology, and myriad other biological mysteries, giving brief but thorough layman’s explanations for each concept presented.

The supporting evidence for evolution are presented in a gradual, clear-cut manner, starting with various examples of observable evolution-in-action in nature. From mutating strands of E.Coli germs, we are then introduced the concept Artificial Selection done throughout the ages by man on domesticated plants and animals. We see it in the varied breeds of dogs and even orchids that hobbyists breed for their unique characteristics. This then leads to Natural Selection wherein Mother Nature herself takes the reigns in culling the weak and letting those with beneficial mutations prosper.

But it won’t be a Dawkins book if it didn’t have the sharp but honest observations and criticisms about people who, in this day and age, are still living under a rock, adamantly ignoring the mounting pile of evidence supporting evolution. He coined them “history-deniers” – the new nickname of Creationists.

“If the history-deniers who doubt the facts of evolution are ignorant of biology, those who think that the world began less than ten thousand years ago are worse than ignorant, they are deluded to the point of perversity. They are denying the facts not only of biology, but also that of physics, geology, cosmology, archeology, history and chemistry as well.”

That’s quite a mouthful, but Dawkins was never one to pull his punches. Whether it be the Creationists who still insist that the story of Noah’s ark is literally true, those who still clamor for the missing link, defend irreducible complexity, or even those who are demanding to see the fronkey and crocoduck fossils (yes Kirk Cameron, that means you), Dawkins dismantles each and every recurring Creationist excuse with trademark British flair.

But his crowning achieving is totally demolishing the last bastion of Creationism… the so-called concept of Intelligent Design aka.“God did it”. He then proceeds to prove that there can never be a master blueprint, no choreographer, no conductor, no central leader.

“This pattern of major design flaw, compensated for by subsequent tinkering, is exactly the thing that we should not expect if there really were a designer at work. We may expect mistakes as in the Hubble mirror but we do not expect obvious stupidity as in the case of the retina being installed back to front. Blunders like this come not from design but from history.”

(His observation makes me wonder if Microsoft also made use of Un-intelligent Design when developing Windows, mired such as it is with legacy problems.)

To prove his point, he takes us of a tour of the human body, pointing out anatomical defects and inefficiencies to highlight the point that “the human body have organ designs full of compromises, not the most efficient design but nature does not have the luxury of having a clean start, it has to build up from existing designs in a post-hoc manner.” Problems with your back or your sinuses? Blame Un-intelligent Design!

Another shortcoming of Intelligent Design can be summed up in Dawkins’ comment on the genetic arms race of predator versus prey:

“If we are going to postulate the creator of the cheetah, he has evidently put every ounce of his designing expertise into the task of designing a superlative killer. But the very same designer has equally evidently strained every nerve to design a gazelle that is superbly equipped to escape from those very same cheetahs. For heaven’s sake, whose side is the designer on? Does the designer’s right hand not know what his left hand is doing? Is he a sadist who enjoys the spectator sport and is forever upping the ante on both sides to increase the thrill of the chase?”

It’s a mad romp across time and continents, looking for clues to help trace evolution’s legacy and present-day effects on just about every species of plant and animal. A worthy successor to The Origin of Species, and I’m sure Darwin would agree.

 
DISCLAIMER: The opinions in this post do not necessarily represent the position of the Filipino Freethinkers.

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