Law Religion Culture Review

Exploring the intersections of law, religion and culture. Copyright by Richard J. Radcliffe. All rights reserved.

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Book Review: The Greatest Show on Earth: The Evidence for Evolution (2009) by Richard Dawkins.

Like a "fronkey", The Greatest Show on Earth represents a hybrid.

It's neither fully a science text nor a screed.

It's not a dispassionate, objective science text because it contains so much rhetoric and surprisingly few supporting notes. For example, Dawkins crows: "Evolution is a fact. Beyond reasonable doubt, beyond serious doubt, beyond sane, informed, intelligent doubt, beyond doubt evolution is a fact." (p. 8.) Dawkins continues: "Evolution is a fact, and this book will demonstrate it. No reputable scientist disputes it, and no unbiased reader will close the book doubting it." (9.) When a lawyer overargues a case, it makes another wonder what is being omitted or obscured. Here, we might start with a definitional problem. If Dawkins means "microevolution" (changes within species), I doubt he would receive much argument from advocates of "intelligent design" or even creationism. But if he means evolution in the sense of common descent from a nondivine single source (which he seems to), the "evidence" isn't as compelling as promised.

Conversely, it's not merely a screed because it provides Dawkins' "summary of the evidence" for "evolution" (vii). Dawkins usefully illuminates how various "clocks" are used to measure time in millions of years. (Chapters 4 and 10). Dawkins additionally explains the fossil record and its interpretation. There's also discussions about genetics and plate tectonics that edify.

Especially given Dawkins' complaints about having his prior writings used against him, I found this passage from The Greatest Show on Earth puzzling. "Every fossil that might potentially be intermediate is always classified as either Homo or Australopithecus. None is ever classified as intermediate. Therefore there are no intermediates." (202.) Some form of that last sentence is likely to be extracted and used against Dawkins.

A populizer of Darwinism, Dawkins remains at the vanguard of debate as to the origin of human life. Thus, it's a good idea to read his books, regardless of one's biases.

Labels: ,