The Greatest Show on Earth – Dawkins

January 9, 2010 at 18:10 | Posted in books | Leave a comment
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I finished reading the latest from Richard Dawkins. In it he discusses the evidence for evolution. He likens the whole process to a detective coming across a crime scene – what are the clues, where does the evidence point? And, of course, the evidence overwhelmingly points to evolution by natural selection, occurring over a timescale of millions of years. Dawkins piles on layer after layer after layer of such evidence in a well constructed argument; he also takes the time to point out where the evidence flatly contradicts what is asserted by those who deny evolution as the mechanism for how the diversity of life on Earth arose.

Dawkins’ books are usually quite a rattling good read, and this one is no exception. Whilst much of the material was familiar to me, there were lots of interesting new examples, thought-provoking analogies and explanations – for example an excellent description of how the various nuclear dating mechanisms work (as used to work out the age of rocks, and the age of old timbers).

He also takes a number of potshots at the various flavours of religious fundamentalism dedicated to denying that evolution exists. He doesn’t pull his punches, comparing them to holocaust deniers. This is, of course, a bigger issue in the US than in Europe or Australia, although as he points out it is a growing trend especially in English-speaking countries as they become infected by such nonsense. It certainly seems to be happening in Australia, as the rise of profit-seeking mega-churches such as Hillsong attest. It is, undoubtedly, very worrying, not least because not just of the crazy ideas they espouse, but the total closed-mindedness with which they pursue them.

The other interesting thing about the book is how Dawkins’ personality comes through; it seems to come through more strongly in this book than in other books of his I have read. I know that Dawkins is sometimes accused (mostly by his religious critics) of having a ‘strident tone’. I find his tone far from strident, but there is something in there that undoubtedly annoys some people. Dawkins wears his intellect on his sleeve; there is more than a hint of the crusty Oxford don about him, and his delight in intellectualism, the scattering of classical quotes and allusions throughout the text and apparent frustration with those who lack the curiosity or willingness to learn about things is deeply unfashionable. As such, I’ve no doubt some people find him infuriating. There is a certain irony that he hopes the book will be read by people who do not understand or accept the facts of evolutionary history, and convince them of its veracity. However, these are the very people most likely to be put off by his tone…

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