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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  • Evolution like every THEORY is flawed. now what do Creationism and Evolution have in Common? No Proof. At all, you can't go out and dig, and find a dino-bird, just like you can't shoot God an email.

    Why do I think Evolution is false? Well, for starters, lets define what I think about evolution is false. for one. People who are native to colder places tend to be hairier. Like people where it's really hot, tend to be darker, Let's call that Adaption. But for one. What did Giraffes eat before they had long necks? and Biology is tricky, were one thing won't work without the other. One organ won't worn with out an other type of organ, (just an illustration) for example, when A giraffe drinks, all the blood in it's neck (pumping to the brain) would suddenly fall to the brain, why doesn't it? a little muscle in the neck. Now you could say, that muscle developed while the Giraffe's neck was growing (evolutionary wise) but two solutions to two different problems at once, is that not a sign of intelligent design?

    Posted by ZachariahLogan, 03/30/2011 7:44pm (5 years ago)

  • I observe gravity every day. I have observed changes within a single kind of species (i.e., microevolution). However, I have never seen one species become another species (i.e., macroevolution).

    Posted by James, 02/02/2011 8:36pm (5 years ago)

  • Personally, I don't believe in evolution as fact without irrefutable evidence towards it as fact. I know, and can prove, gravity as fact, or that individuals need air to breath, or water to drink to remain alive. But to say that evolution is without the shadow of a doubt true, that is something I can't support. I believe myself to a spiritual person who, after personal experiences, answers to a higher power and can think of no higher insult to the higher powers to say that 'God(s) don't exist.' But, I will not push my personal beliefs onto another, but will help you understand your own beliefs, or relay my own, if so asked.

    Posted by Otto Blaylock, 12/20/2010 6:03pm (5 years ago)

  • Socialist Communist and their supporters are the dregs of societys' malinformed masses. Jehovah God created heaven and earth.

    The USA has demonstrated the merits of Creation and of being a Nation Under God that enjoys His blessings, in spite of those who persue Lucifer.

    May Jehovah God bless you so that you may see the error of your ways.


    Posted by FORREST, 11/15/2010 11:24am (5 years ago)

  • ...the second law of thermodynamics...look it up.

    Posted by Dan, 10/11/2010 3:07pm (5 years ago)

  • My issue with evolution is, where does it start?

    Posted by DP, 10/04/2010 3:17am (5 years ago)

  • Dawkins' theories are a religion. His atheism informs his "science." Read Antony Flew's "There Is a God." One review, "A fascinating record …it will come as a most uncomfortable jolt to those who were once his fellow atheists." -- Nicholas Wolterstorff, Yale University. He systematically dismantles Dawkins and his theology.

    Posted by ejeff, 07/15/2010 8:04pm (5 years ago)

  • Question: If "there should be discussion, and everyone should respect each other, and themselves, enough to be up for good debate," then why would Dawkins insist that intelligent design should not be taught in schools?

    There is proof of neither; both belief systems are based on some form of faith. Period. Why can't they both be discussed in the classroom, where careful thought, discussion, and debate are supposed to be learned and practiced?

    Sounds like an agenda is at work to me.

    By the way, theory, by scientific definition, is NOT fact. It's a well-educated guess at best. Law, and only scientific law, is fact. Let's try not to confuse the two.

    Notice that Dawkins and others will attempt to call evolution a fact, but they know better than to call it a Scientific Law. It's because they know they can't.

    Posted by Chel, 06/25/2010 9:33am (5 years ago)

  • I find this subject very interesting, has everyone read darwin's Origin of species? If you all have and still believe this than you are a RACIST!! Read his work he says in his own words that blacks are the species between the rest of the human race and the apes and monkeys. This man is a fool with an idea, how can any logical thinker believe that africans are a step above monkeys. Please I implore you do some research before you write dumb shit about believing a maniac!!

    Posted by FaithbasedinitiativeBS, 06/12/2010 1:08am (5 years ago)

  • I have to start by saying we cannot just say that by referring to evolution as a fact and to call evolution just a theory is wrong, there is a difference between evolution and gravity, we all feel gravity and its force it has upon us, evolution has nothing to back it up except theorys and a small number of unidentified bones. Darwin actually took his theory back on his death bed, and to make this ancient subject as a basis of a book and waste money touring and discussing a theory is foolish. Evolution is easily disproven, the fact that its the biggest other theory besides creationism is the only reason i believe this THEORY is so widely worshipped, i should call it an idea its not even a theory a theory has to have a basis in which this one does not. This is all I am going to say about that, it is propaganda and most supporters of it know its hogwash except for the people who are so bent on disproving the mere existance of god so they flock to the evolution IDEA!!, this is a free country,, for now, the land where anyone can believe any crazy idea any crazy fool says.

    Posted by FaithbasedinitiativeBS, 06/10/2010 3:38pm (5 years ago)

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