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115 of 149 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Dawkins does it again, September 22, 2009
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This review is from: The Greatest Show on Earth: The Evidence for Evolution (Hardcover)
Evolution is an inescapable fact, and we should celebrate its astonishing power, simplicity and beauty, as Richard Dawkins notes in this marvelously titled book, the latest addition to his already impressive list of books on evolution.

Do we really need yet another "evidence for evolution" book? Well, yes we do. If only because of the alarmingly large number of educated people (especially in the United States) who hold virulent anti-evolution sentiments and prefer a supernatural, "intelligent design" explanation for the key questions in biology. But will the "history-deniers" read Dawkins? Leaving creationists and ID proponents aside, many people misunderstand evolution as a long chain of events that shape simple forms into more complex ones, rather than the branching and extinction of lineages. Therefore, open-minded readers should welcome yet another popular book on evolutionary biology, particularly if it has such a breadth and is so very well written as Dawkins'. As a teacher and communicator of science, Dawkins remains unsurpassed.

The "Greatest Show on Earth" is an ambitiously large survey of evolutionary biology; more than 400 pages (plus many color photos) one long argument for why evolution is a firmly-based scientific explanation, a fact. Even for those who accept the evidence for evolution, Dawkins' book is a stimulating and refreshing read; not least because of its conversational yet authorative tone (although Dawkins can't help but to lash out at religion here and there, it certainly is not an anti-religion book like "The God Delusion"). As one reviewer noted: if Charles Darwin would want to know how his theory had fared in the 21th century, this is the book he should read. My own first recommendation, however, would be Jerry Coyne's Why Evolution Is True. The latter book is equally well written and informative, but more concise and focused. What's more, Coyne is less polemical than Dawkins (BTW, Dawkins praises Coyne's book in his first chapter).

Dawkins covers the science in a rather standard fashion. The Galápagos islands, transitional fossils, embryology, artificial breeding, anatomy, etc., it's all there. Which is fine, of course. But those who are looking for a primer on the latest insights into evolutionary biology won't find it here. I would have liked to see more emphasis on the awesome power of molecular genetics in demonstrating evolution as an established fact. After all, the evidence in molecular biology is even more compelling than the fossil record (but, admittedly, more difficult to explain to lay persons). As an accompanying book, I would therefore recommend Sean Carroll's The Making of the Fittest: DNA and the Ultimate Forensic Record of Evolution, which focuses on how DNA directs the evolutionary process.

I'm puzzled why Dawkins chose not to mention the new insights into the molecular evolution of the eye. He discussed eye evolution at length in "The Blind Watchmaker" - as did Darwin in "The Origin of Species" - and it remains a favorite topic of the ID crowd. But astounding genetic findings have revolutionized the eye evolution field: the animal eye, from fruitfly to man, was "invented" only once during evolution. Darwin would have been thrilled! Dawkins could have scored a strong point here. A missed opportunity.

That being said, one can only hope that this book will convert at least some creationists and ID advocates; that the scales will fall from their religious eyes. But I have my doubts. To quote biologist Tom Tregenza: The fact that Darwin's theory makes so many predictions, none of which has ever been falsified, makes it easy to make a further prediction: it is only a matter of time before the ID proponents make it a fundamental tenet of their ideology that the pattern of life has been made that way specifically to fool biologists. In which case, evolutionists can take comfort in knowing that the creator specifically had THEM in mind at every step of the process.
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Showing 1-10 of 25 posts in this discussion
Initial post: Sep 22, 2009 11:26:54 AM PDT
The Labor of Sisyphus, WHM, to persuade fools... but somebody has to do it. Good review. Is there anything in THIS Dawkins that I wouldn't already 'know' from previous Dawkinses?

In reply to an earlier post on Sep 22, 2009 12:08:14 PM PDT
WHM says:
Not really, GB, since you're familar with previous Dawkinses as well as Sean Carrol. I'm curious whether this book will sell equally well in the US as in the UK, where it went straight to the top of the best sellers list within a week.

In reply to an earlier post on Sep 22, 2009 1:39:04 PM PDT
J. Blilie says:
GB: Probably nothing new factually as you are well-informed. However, Dawkins' books are always such a joy to read, I will be reading it for pure entertainment if nothing else. There's also a new book out by Jon Krakauer (more reading candy):

Where Men Win Glory: The Odyssey of Pat Tillman (Hardcover)

Posted on Sep 24, 2009 10:29:06 AM PDT
[Deleted by the author on Nov 12, 2009 9:22:18 PM PST]

In reply to an earlier post on Sep 25, 2009 11:58:42 AM PDT
Last edited by the author on Sep 25, 2009 12:48:12 PM PDT
WHM says:
Y.P., you are right that genes (DNA) are the "basic units" for evolution. That's not an hypothesis, it's a fact. But, strictly spoken, isolated DNA taken out of the cell does not contain any "information". Genes can do their work only in concert with numerous other molecular players within a given cellular context.

Well, this very brief answer probably doesn't anwer your question... For further reading I wouldn't recommend Dawkins but Sean Carroll's The Making of the Fittest: DNA and the Ultimate Forensic Record of Evolution.

In reply to an earlier post on Sep 25, 2009 12:07:31 PM PDT
Ditto that recommendation of Sean Caroll!

In reply to an earlier post on Sep 25, 2009 12:09:33 PM PDT
WHM says:
BTW, Y.P., I know your are a string theory professional. Talking about evolution and intelligent design, how about this book by Susskind? The Cosmic Landscape: String Theory and the Illusion of Intelligent Design :-)

In reply to an earlier post on Sep 25, 2009 10:13:15 PM PDT
Y.P. says:
WHM and GB, Thanks for the information. I am disappointed that I phrased the question so badly. (What did I mean by the "basic units" anyway!) Worse, I don't think I can say it clearly now in a few words. So I will not bother you with it for the time being. Apologies!

As for Intelligent Design, I am grateful that some people are fighting it as I got very tired of hearing it. That said, as far as I can read from Amazon's info of Susskind's book, I don't think it's a book for me. "Anthropic Principle" is not science. It's more like philosophy or theology. (It's not science because it's not falsifiable, according to Lakatos.)

In reply to an earlier post on Sep 26, 2009 9:12:02 AM PDT
YP - Fools rush in where physicists fear to tread, but isn't there a bit of an issue about the falsifiability of string theory also?
The anthropic principle is not only bunk; it's ancient bunk. Why waste breath or paper on it?
I've 'sworn off' trying to reason with IDers. WHM, you'll know who I mean. You did yeoman service, and all for naught.

In reply to an earlier post on Sep 26, 2009 10:20:03 AM PDT
Y.P. says:
Indeed, there are some issues of verifying the "prediction of the string theory" within the limit of the current technology. That's why there are plenty of detractors of the theory. However, the theory itself is "in principle" falsifiable, if that makes sense to you.

By the way, I don't really work on the string theory per se, but rather mathematics inspired by the string theory and its fusion with other branches of mathematics. Being a mathematician, I simply research on where my fantasy takes me, and needn't fear the dire consequences my theorems could cause to the mankind. -- I still remember in my graduate school years, I had been constantly asking myself why I was wasting myself on something "unhelpful to the mankind" just for my own "pleasure?" I finally resolved that it is the best thing. The miraculous advances of modern medicine and technology, although quite useful to many individuals, COULD cause the ruin of the mankind. At last, I had my peace of mind.
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