Evolution: ‘Theory’ is fact


Book review:

The Greatest Show on Earth: The Evidence for Evolution
By Richard Dawkins
Free Press, N.Y., 2009

In recent years, especially since the publication of his seminal "The God Delusion," Richard Dawkins has become known, somewhat unfairly, as an anti-Christian, hate-mongering atheist. Of course, he is one of the leading polemicists of the so-called "New Atheists" movement, but "polemicist" does not equate necessarily with "hate monger" or "intolerant thug." Anyone who's seen his slate of Channel 4 shows will know that Dawkins, even when confronted with the most outrageous or offensive ideas, will say little more than, "Yes, I must admit that I am a bit frustrated."

The point that all the New Atheists make is this: There is disagreement over religion, and between religions, so there should be discussion, and everyone should respect each other, and themselves, enough to be up for good debate. In doing so, they've given atheism a better name (now it is the fastest growing demographic in the U.S. Census). But they've also helped Christians and other religious groups, who are often insultingly portrayed as closed-minded or ignorant (something none these authors would say). Dawkins and the others have given religious people the opportunity to debate their ideas in public. Even some of the most fundamentalist religious organizations have taken up the chance for a debate, and have shown themselves to be far more thoughtful and intelligent than is the stereotype.

Much hay has been made (including by sales-happy publishers) about Dawkins comparing creationists to Holocaust-deniers. While this sounds inflammatory, anyone who reads the actual passage can see that Dawkins is not making any sort of moral judgment, but a point about the nature of truth and fact. We know that the Holocaust occurred; there is no question about it. It is appallingly stupid, offensive and, more to the point, irrational to deny the fact. In the same fashion, it is just as irrational to deny evolution. Perhaps a bold statement, but not as grave an insult to creationists as one would assume at first glance.

Such is the context for Dawkins's latest work, "The Greatest Show on Earth: the Evidence for Evolution."

Extreme right-wing Christians have said this book is simply another example of the author's supposed intolerance. Even the New York Times review accused Dawkins of getting "his knickers in a twist" for insisting that evolution is indeed a fact. When Dawkins argued, in an interview with Bill O'Reilly, that "intelligent design" should not be taught in classrooms, O'Reilly accused an incredulous Dawkins of "fascism."

All of this is exactly the reason that Dawkins felt the need to write this book, a fun and entertaining, not to mention iron-clad, argument that evolution is fact. According to Dawkins, such a fight is necessary because "intelligent design" proponents "control school boards, they home-school their children to deprive them of access to proper science teachers, and they include many members of the United States Congress ..."

Imagine, he suggests, that you are a teacher of Roman and Greek history. But instead of being able to take your time talking about the contributions of those two empires, and their influence on modern states, you have to take up limited classroom time defending the notion that the ancient Romans and Greeks even existed, that Latin wasn't invented at some point during the Victorian period. This, Dawkins says, is the situation in which many biology teachers find themselves today.

Though known now as an outspoken atheist, Dawkins makes clear that, in this book, his argument is not with religion. In fact, he makes the point that the archbishop of Canterbury (the prelate of England's state-sponsored religion), the pope, most mainstream Christian organizations, as well as Jews and Muslims, all accept the fact of evolution. In the book, he calls upon the leaders of all these groups to use their power to help advance real, scientific education. It's part of a basic, democratic education. Perhaps some Catholics may disagree with Dawkins as to why evolution occurred - maybe God directed it, maybe there was no guidance given - but surely there can be unity around the fact that it did occur, and it occurred the way Darwin described more than a century ago. Evolution is a fact. And that scientific fact, the information that we know, is what should be taught in science classrooms. Leave the rest to philosophy and theology classes.

Dawkins spends a good deal of time discussing the meaning of the word "theory," and how preposterous it is to say evolution is "just a theory." If you're prepared to say that evolution is "just a theory," then you'd better be prepared to say the same about gravity. There are two definitions of theory: one is roughly equivalent to "hypothesis;" the other is "a proven hypothesis, a system of ideas ... a statement of what are held to be general laws, principles or causes of something known or observed." Obviously, evolution falls into the latter definition.

Dawkins takes the reader along for a fun ride as he shows the preposterousness of the idea of some "missing link," or why, out of all the fossils that have been found, the discovery of one single fossil in the wrong place-his example is that of a rabbit fossil in Precambrian rock-would completely disprove evolution.

Dawkins' wry, tongue-in-cheek, but also entirely serious, description of certain absurdities in the development of mammals as an argument against "design" leave the reader laughing as well as enlightened.

Anyone with a thirst for good writing would do well to read "Greatest Show." Dawkins himself, in a footnote description of another writer, sums it up the best: "It is the kind of writing that makes me want to rush out into the street to share with somebody-anybody - because it is too good to keep to oneself."

Photo: Richard Dawkins (picasaweb.google.com/lh/photo/CaNfTfbvYz3rwnxGM9a-hQ  Creative Commons license)


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  • "The point that all the New Atheists make is this: There is disagreement over religion, and between religions, so there should be discussion, and everyone should respect each other, ..."
    When Dawkins compares Christians to drug use by calling us "faithheads" (ie. equating us to "crackheads"), and says we are worse than child molesters ("The God Delusion") he is neither giving not asking for respect.

    Posted by D. Heighton, 08/17/2012 8:07am (3 years ago)

  • it's the fraud. piltdown man, java man, lucy! science for fame and fortune. coming ice age, oh yeah they all flipped to global warming.

    Posted by george rasmussen, 06/06/2012 11:09pm (4 years ago)

  • While I don’t think Atheists are all Intolerant, it is really irritating to me to see someone claim that Dawkins is unfairly maligned. I know this topics is about Evolution but anyone who has read Dawkins knows full well that he isn’t tolerant and he isn’t simply asking for civil debate. He outright wants to convert others to his own brand of Atheism, which really for all intents and purposes is just another Religion. No I am not saying lack of belief in a god is a Religion but come on, Dawkins clearly doesn’t “lack belief” and is on about more than just not believing in God. He wants us to basically subscribe to Secular Humanism, and is himself a Secular Humanist.

    His tone is not “Let’s have an open discussion shall we?” its “You are stupid for believing in those things. Rational people believe these other things instead. I believe the other things because I am rational. You are not Rational.” That isn’t facilitating any sort of discussion t all, it’s a proclamation of superiority.

    Or how about Chapter one of “The God Delusion” in which he lists a litany of global evils ( many just standard staples that Historically weren’t anywhere near as bad as people think, like the Crusades, or simply Historical Myths like Galileo or Flat Earthers) caused by Religion, only to say that Atheism shouldn’t be blamed for the evils of, say., Communism as those acts were done in the name of Communism and not Atheism. That’s just daft. when the Soviet Union lined Priest and Bishops against the Wall and shot them specifically for beign Religious, or imprisoned people for the same, its clear that the Atheism inherent in Stalinism did lead them to it.

    No, I am not saying all Communists are like that, but every belief system has been usurped by those willing to use Violence to meet their ends, and its just Hypocritical for Dawkins to try to brush this aside. This is especially True given his “We aren’t here to count heads” remark when its obvious that he is, in fact, here to count heads, so logn as it’s the other camps head toll.

    Have people been motivated to do violence because of Religious beliefs? Sure, but Atheists driven by a specifically Atheistic Philosophy are just as capable of great violence. Religion also motivates a lot of good, and the idea that this is just good people doing good things and it takes Religion to make a good person to bad things is just an excuse.

    In the name of anything great terror can be done. In the name of Pascifism we can kill. All Great Causes have seen tyrants emerge who use force to secure them. Saying this is unique to Religion is just not feasible, and leaves open the door for a lack of diligence. Once we allow ourselves to think “it can’t happen as I’m not Religious”, we let ourselves become Monsters and justify our own actions.

    It doesn’t matter how Calm Dawkins is when he is confronted by other beliefs, his attitude is still one of condescension.

    Let’s also not forget that his arguments are specifically designed to attack Theism and other related Ideas. He doesn’t debate, he says “This idea is stupid, and here is why.“ I read the God Delusion, and a few other things by him and that is the attitude I get off him. Even listening to hi on Tele he’s got he same attitude.

    It doesn’t help that his core basis for his arguments is based itself on assumption and nonsense. Let me explain by just two points.

    He also boasts about not learning Theology, though, which is daft. If a Creationist openly admitted to not having studied Evolution but said he didn’t need to know about it to debunk it, he’d rightly be called an idiot, yet somehow Dawkins can proclaim that Theology is all bunk without even cracking a “Theology for beginners” book? He also assumes, stated publicly and quoted by many of his devotees, that Theologians may come up with complex Theologies, but the intricacies don’t’ matter as they never try to demonstrate God’s existence; Its just assumed. Well, he’s wrong.

    Virtually all Theologians DO question God’s existence at some point. Dawkins entire point is based on a fundamental error. You can’t read Rene Des Carte or Paul Tillich and conclude they never asked that question. Heck, Aquinas, who Dawkins did not understand but nevertheless tried to refute, questioned God’s existence in the Middle Ages. Augustine did too. Its just stupidity to say they never do and just start with the assumption that God exists and this or that tenet is True and it all goes unquestioned.

    Or how about how he, and many others, misdefine Faith? One problem Dawkins has with religion is that it hinders Reason. This is because Religion rests on Faith, and Faith is belief without Evidence. Reason would always demand we have evidence, so thus Religion is Anti-Intellectual and asks us to suspend Reason. The problem with this, aside from the fact that much of what Dawkins believes in is unproven and believed without Evidence, is that Faith is not belief without evidence. It’s rooted in the Latin Word Fidese meaning to Trust, and Historically no writers, even the writers of the New Testament or the Hebrew Scriptures, understood “Faith” as “Belief without Evidence”. Dawkins thus claims something that is not True and us that as a primary reason to oppose Religion.

    I’m sorry, but Dawkins ideas are bigoted and he is intolerant. Worse, even if he’d never want to pull the Trigger on someone, his words can inspire others to.

    Atheists should distance themselves from him, not embrace and support him. He does no one any good because of his Childish arguments and pathetic need to feel smug and superior and refusal to engage people in what they really believe in and why.

    If you want a real Philosopher who is an Atheist, try Michael Ruse or Peter Singer, not a hack like Dawkins.

    Posted by JesusHorus@Yahoo.com, 01/17/2012 11:35pm (4 years ago)

  • Evolution has not been DISPROVED. In science and empiricism there are only theories that have not been disproved and have evidence backing them. Evolution is one of the most rational and understandable explanations for life. I have a new respect for atheists.

    As for religion, I am a believer in a necissary cause for every effect. From the history of the universe (from the big bang to today) there has been a systematic cause and effect chain. The questions are (what caused the start of this chain?) and (why is the universe finite in this certain form?) The unknown reason (cause) behind these questions is what I refer to as God. This God doesn't have a white beard, didn't break his own rules to make man, or has a specific book. This God is a testament to my faith in that there is an answer to my questions.

    Posted by David Humeful, 12/26/2011 8:42pm (4 years ago)

  • To Nathaniel:

    Yes, there actually is "proof" for evolution, scientific proof. The strength of science is that unless the study or experiment can be replicated, it is scientifically worthless. If you look into the huge body of evidence for the *fact* of biological evolution, and if you are a reasonable person, able to overcome your personal prejudices and preconceived assumptions, there is enough evidence to convince even you of this fact. Scientific proof is proof that's able to convince reasonable people, not proof that's able to convince everybody.

    Posted by Ed LaBonte, 08/16/2011 1:22pm (4 years ago)

  • Is there truly proof for any of this, and by any of this I mean evolution or religion. How many of you who read this were there when apes evolved into man or when God created the heavens and the earth. To say there is "proof" of either one of these is absolutely preposterous. Everything you are arguing about is based on faith. Faith that the research you read is real and these people are actually intelligent enough to find proof of what they say. Faith that there is God who started human kind and the rest of the world. None of us can know for sure what happened millions or thousands of years ago, depending on what you believe. So to those who say there is proof of evolution, reconsider your argument on the basis that this research may be faked or a mistake may be made. We are in fact human, known quite well for the mistakes we made. Those of you who argue God, remember that there is no proof of that either. Everything you believe could just as well be flawed. All I ask is that each and every one of you consider the validity of your argument before you make it. You weren't there, so you don't know.

    Posted by Nathaniel, 08/06/2011 5:55pm (5 years ago)

  • To Todd:
    This is a myth made by people who don't want to give other reasons for disproving evolution. please research this if you wish.

    To Zachariah Logan:

    I am sorry but if a book was written about the proof of evolution then please read the book before saying there is no proof for evolution.

    To Otto Baylock:

    To say that Evolution is true does not mean that one is an atheist. Many people who believe in a higher power agree that Evolution is scientific fact. Charles Darwin's own wife was deeply religious. Their is much proof for evolution, and I hope that you realize that you can still trust scientific knowledge to explain at least parts of the universe.

    To FaithbasedinitiativeBS:

    To say that Charles Darwin's Origin of Species was racist would show extreme ignorance. You obviously have not read the Origin of Species, because not only are Europeans and Africans the same species, We are also Apes. Homo Sapiens is a species of ape that evolved on the plains of southern Africa. Yes we are descended from apes, but we will not see these apes today, because we are those apes, just with more evolved characteristics such as brain size. So please "do some research before you write dumb shit". Thank you.

    Posted by John, 07/26/2011 9:43pm (5 years ago)

  • If evolution is fact why did Darwin disavow his theory of evolution shortly before his death?

    Posted by Todd, 07/16/2011 1:48pm (5 years ago)

  • to Jonathan Mayer:

    The part where you are wrong about fossil evidence is that there is fossil evidence for evolution....

    Posted by John, 06/28/2011 5:05pm (5 years ago)

  • to Zachariah:

    Giraffe necks increased in length as the height of the trees increased. The trees needed to grow higher to prevent their seeds from being eaten before they matured, so the evolved to grow taller, and the giraffes grew longer necks (ones born with genetically longer necks lived and reproduced.) second, a giraffe's blood doesn't fall down its neck because it has a heart to pump the blood and veins/ arteries to move the blood around. If you are going to say there is no proof, read the book first please?

    Posted by John, 06/25/2011 3:52pm (5 years ago)

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