In The Greatest Show on Earth, Richard Dawkins takes on creationists, including followers of 'Intelligent Design' and all those who question the fact of evolution through natural selection.
Like a detective arriving on the scene of a crime, he sifts through fascinating layers of scientific facts and disciplines to build a cast-iron case: from the living examples of natural selection in birds and insects; the 'time clocks' of trees and radioactive dating that calibrate a timescale for evolution; the fossil record and the traces of our earliest ancestors; to confirmation from molecular biology and genetics. All of this, and much more, bears witness to the truth of evolution.
The Greatest Show on Earth comes at a critical time: systematic opposition to the fact of evolution is now flourishing as never before, especially in America. In Britain and elsewhere in the world, teachers witness insidious attempts to undermine the status of science in their classrooms. Richard Dawkins provides unequivocal evidence that boldly and comprehensively rebuts such nonsense. At the same time he shares with us his palpable love of the natural world and the essential role that science plays in its interpretation. Written with elegance, wit and passion, it is hard-hitting, absorbing and totally convincing.
©2009 Richard Dawkins; (P)2009 Random House Audiobooks
As an evolution skeptic, I am often accused of being ignorant and un-enlightened, and admonished to get ‘educated’ on evolution.
This book was recommended to me as the definitive evidence for evolution. I went through it carefully and indeed I became ‘educated’ and ‘enlightened’, but not in the manner I had expected.
• Educated - that there is even less evidence for Darwinian/Macro evolution than I previously thought.
• Enlightened – that Dawkins is more of a salesman/conman of atheism than a scientist. I could hardly believe how little real science this book contains and how much waffle, imagination, speculation, terminology, distraction and useless details.
It was very reminiscent of my experience going through Darwin’s book – On the Origin of Species … both were a struggle to get through, because for every ounce of relevant science there are pounds of utterly irrelevant BS.
In the video promo to the book (on youtube), Dawkins confidently states that “evolution is a fact”. Since the scientific method requires observation, measurement, and repeatability, he shoots himself in the foot right away by also stating that “we can’t see evolution happening, because we don't live long enough”. So, right away, he is stating that macro evolution is not directly observed, that it must be deduced by interpreting the observable data. Indeed Dawkins interweaves a detective story arriving extremely late at the crime scene. There is no direct observation or evidence, just circumstantial evidence which needs to interpreted to arrive at a conclusion. Dawkins boldly states his interpretation and infers that anyone who has a different interpretation is “history denier”. This may be good theatre but it is poor science because the evidence is scanty and can be interpreted differently. For example; the similarity in the forearm bone structure of many creatures does not necessarily mean that they had a common ancestor – it could mean they had a common designer.
Since we teach evolution to trusting students every day, we need to be sure that it is correct because there are subtle but potentially very destructive consequences to this theory. The core assertion of Darwinian/Macro evolution is that from simple and chaotic beginnings, all life forms emerged by an unguided, purposeless process. This leads many to the inescapable conclusion that since we are a product of a random, unguided, purposeless process, then we are also purposeless and of no inherent value. This tends to degrade the self-esteem of students and is contributing to poor self-worth, depression, nihilism, and so on.
Before you dismiss me as a ‘raving creationist’ consider some specific points and judge for yourself if this summary has merit.
Point 1: WHAT EXACTLY IS EVOLUTION?
The scientific method demands clarity and precision in terminology. Dawkins must not be aware of this requirement because he does not specify what he means by ‘evolution’.
There is much diversity in the text books but it can be summarized as follows:
1) ‘Change over time’ - this is silly and useless, as it is stating the obvious.
2) ‘Micro evolution’ is defined as minor changes within a species;
this is real, observable and uncontested.
3) Darwinian/Macro evolution
(also known as 'molecules to man' evolution, or ‘cell to citizen’ evolution)
where the conflict lies.
It asserts that:
a) All living things had a common ancestor.
This implies that our Great….. Great grandfather was a self-replicating molecule or simple cell.
b) That organisms have come into existence by purely natural, unguided processes and specifically WITHOUT the involvement of an intelligent designer.
c) New and complex body parts and systems
(e.g. brain, nervous system etc.)
are created purely by natural forces working over a long period of time.
Since the first two definitions are not contested, I conclude that Dawkins is referring to the third definition of evolution. Hence, he is presenting the evidence that from a simple beginning (a single cell) a citizen emerged by purely natural forces.
Point2: UNDERSTANDING THE TASK AT HAND
Dawkins severely underestimates the size of the challenge.
He needs to give credible scientific evidence to prove the Darwinian/Macro evolution equation, which can be stated as follows:
Simple beginning (e.g. simple cell)
+ lots of time
+ lots of natural selection
+ many mutations
+ natural forces (rain, wind, gravity, etc.)
Extremely complex organism
(i.e. human with a brain and blood circulatory system etc.)
This equation is very counter-intuitive because it states that things get better, more ordered and complex over time if natural forces only are applied. This has never been observed.
What we observe every day is the opposite:
things degrade, fall apart, decay and die.
If I don’t attend to my garden, my body, my car etc. – they don’t get better with time – they get worse.
Since we are asked to believe in something which contradicts our observation, the strength of the evidence needs to be suitably strong and beyond refutation (since it is taught as a ‘fact’ in the classroom).
Is the evidence presented by Dawkins up to the challenge? - I think not.
Point 3: DEMONIZE THE OPPOSITION – IGNORE THE SCIENCE
In Chapter 1 Dawkins endeavors to demonize the evolution skeptics by equating them to Holocaust deniers, history deniers, science deniers and flat earthers.
He characterizes them as well funded, uneducated, religious zealots who are out to attack the poor science teacher who is trying to educate students on evolution.
“The plight of many science teachers today is not less dire.
When they attempt to expound the central and guiding principle of biology; they honestly place the living world in its historical context
– which means evolution –
when they explore and explain the very nature of life itself
they are harried and stymied hassled and bullied,
even threatened with loss of their jobs”
This demonizing strategy is an effective debating tool; but is it true and is it good science?
ARE EVOLUTION SCEPTICS “UNEDUCATED” AND “IGNORANT”?
Dawkins’ assertion is patently and provably not true.
There is significant scientific dissent from Darwinism as documented at the Dissent from Darwinism website. This website contains the names of many hundreds of very educated scientists who publicly dissent from Darwinism.
Given that public dissent is very dangerous for their careers, this level of dissent is very significant.
Some notable people who are evolution sceptics and who are clearly well educated include:
• Dr John Sanford (geneticist and inventor of the GeneGun) who said:
“The bottom line is that the primary axiom [of Darwinian/Macro evolution]
is categorically false; you can't create information with misspellings,
not even if you use natural selection.”
• Dr Ben Carson; presidential candidate and ex Director of Paediatric Neurosurgery at one of the world's greatest hospitals (John Hopkins), a ground-breaking surgeon, best-selling author, and recipient of the Presidential Medal of Freedom.
"I think one of the most damning pieces of evidence against evolution is the human genome.
You can see that you have very complex, sophisticated coding mechanisms for different amino acids, and various sequences that give you millions of different genetic instructions -- very much like computer programming, which uses a series of zeros and ones in different sequences, but gives you very specific information about what that computer is to do."
• Former evolutionary professor Dr Richard Lumsden.
(search for him on youtube to hear his story)
• Dr Stephen Meyer who wrote the recent book, Darwin’s Doubt
– The explosive origin of animal life and the case for Intelligent Design
WHO IS BULLYING WHO?
Dawkins’ portrayal of evolution teachers as being victims and bullied is nothing short of pathetic. The truth is, that the exact opposite is true. Teachers who do not bow to the sacred cow of evolution are the ones which are victimized.
This is well documented in the film Expelled – No intelligence allowed.
The teaching of evolution is mandated in the curricula of virtually all public schools in the Western world, and teachers who even question it on scientific grounds are often severely disciplined.
For additional examples of evolution being treated like a sacred cow, download the audio recording of the Kansas evolution hearings from Audible.com and hear for yourself the testimony of teachers who have been harassed for simply questioning evolution.
Point 4: IT WAS BAD UP TO CHAPTER 7 - THEN IT TURNED CRAP
Chapter 8 is titled ‘You did it yourself in 9 months’.
Dawkins spends a really, really long time trying to convince the reader that the human reproductive process is so simple that most women can do it in 9 months,
and that this somehow supports macro evolution.
The stupidity of this chapter is so extreme that it is hard to believe it is in the book.
Dawkins, in his usual imaginative style, completely ignores the fundamental problems that the reproductive process presents for macro evolution and confidently declares:
“this is exactly what evolution predicts” (he does this a lot).
Many people describe the reproductive process as “a miracle” since it is so mind-blowingly complex and intricate. It has a huge number of components that must all work properly; otherwise, you get no baby or a dead baby. Consider just a small number of problems the reproductive process presents for evolution:
• How can a slow and gradual process (as Darwin insists upon) produces a system which has many interlinked components that are all needed simultaneously?
• Why would organisms evolve from asexual to sexual reproduction?
Bacteria breed like crazy without sex organs. Why would they evolve sex organs, given that this reduces the likelihood of reproduction?
• How could a vagina and penis evolve together?
One is no good without the other for reproductive purposes.
Dawkins would have us believe that two organisms evolved such that one had a vagina and the other had a penis. This would have had to occur at exactly the same time and in exactly same location.
• How could such a complex and critical process occur slowly and gradually (as evolution requires) when most of the components are needed SIMULTANEOUSLY from the beginning?
Point 5: MICRO EVOLUTION IS OBSERVED – MACRO EVOLUTION IS BELIEVED
Dawkins makes no distinction between Micro and Macro evolution.
It is blatantly obvious that an organism’s ability to adapt to its environment has limits.
This is completely compatible with the Intelligent Design model. What Dawkins needs to do is show evidence that new body parts emerged by purely natural forces.
Dawkins spends endless pages giving evidence for Micro evolution, talking at nauseating length about the variety of dogs, finches and other such animals. However, this does NOT support Macro evolution. It only shows that he does not have any real evidence for macro evolution, so he tries to confuse and deceive the reader by this smoke screen.
Point 6: BACTERIA ‘EVOLVED’ AND BECAME… (WAIT FOR IT) - BACTERIA
Richard Lenski’s experiments are touted as being strong evidence for evolution;
“exactly what evolution would predict”, as Dawkins loves to say.
But what do they really show?
Since bacteria have very short lifespans, Lenski attempted to emulate macro evolution by trying to get bacteria to ‘evolve’ in the lab. Great idea.
The only problem is that it showed exactly the opposite of Macro evolution.
After countless numbers of bacteria generations, what emerged? -- A bacterium.
No new body parts, no limbs or signs of limbs. No emergence of a rudimentary brain, lungs, heart or anything of the sort.
The evolutionist response was predictable:
• Declare that “this is exactly what evolution would predict” and
• Resort to computer modeling.
Computer models will produce whatever the programmers wish them to.
Point 7: “EXACTLY WHAT EVOLUTION PREDICTS”
Dawkins is an expert at creating straw man arguments whereby anything and everything is “exactly what evolution would predict”.
He confuses the reader with irrelevant details and scientific jargon to intimidate them into accepting the final conclusion that this somehow proves that cell to citizen evolution is a ‘fact’. This is a con-man’s trick which works for used car salesmen, insurance salesmen and evolution salesmen.
There are many examples of this:
• The DNA comparison between humans and other animals (Chapter 10).
The DNA molecule is a 4 gigabit code which presents a great problem for Darwinian/Macro evolution because there has NEVER been an observation of natural forces creating a code.
This is intelligent information which is produced by intelligent beings alone.
Can you imagine wind, rain and gravity creating a computer program or a meaningful arrangement of letters which tell a story?
• Fish going to land and back again (Chapter 11).
Most people find it hard to believe that organisms could evolve the ability to fly.
Flight requires many components working together in a complex and coordinated way.
In earlier chapters, Dawkins goes to great length to promote the idea that this is exactly what happened.
Later he claims with boldness (that only a conman could muster) that animals LOSING the ability to fly (e.g. an ostrich) is also ‘evolution’.
* He gives a number of examples of flightless animals with “vestiges” of wings and confidently concludes that those animals could once fly but “evolved” out of flight.
What evidence does he put forward for these wild assertions – none.
He simply invokes his magic genie of natural selection. There must have been some net benefit in those animal losing the ability to fly.
* This would be funny if it was not so serious
It is hard to believe that such utter bollocks are in this ‘science’ book;
– but I am not making this up! Check it out for yourself.
Point 8:. ARE WE “FEARFULLY AND WONDERFULLY MADE” OR NOT?
Dawkins spends a lot of time talking about the “bad designs” that he sees in nature.
The path of the larynx nerve in giraffes and the path of the optical nerves in the human visual system feature prominently.
Dawkins concludes that:
• An intelligent designer must not exist because he did such a bad job.
• The bad design is “exactly what evolution would predict”.
I have a number of problems with this part of the book.
Dawkins is free, loose and arrogant in his conclusions that there are large amounts of “poor design”. The fact is; with all our technology and billions of dollars expended,
humans can still not make one drop of blood.
When Dawkins rubbishes the construction of various creatures, he is inferring that he could easily redesign them before breakfast. This, of course, is totally untrue.
Do you think that Dawkins could create something as simple as a rose?
If Dawkins cannot do it; why should we believe that natural forces (rain, wind, gravity etc.) can?
He has difficulty distinguishing between observable science and science fiction in his head. The way he states that billions of year ago, animal A was descended from animal B which was the cousin of animal C and so on is nothing short of laughable.
With boldness, bluster and a good dose of scientific jargon, the average person yields to his power as they are unable to distinguish the few facts from the large amounts of fiction.
I thought he was going to present scientific evidence – not musings and imaginations.
Point 9:. THE MAGIC GENIE OF NATURAL SELECTION
“Natural selection”, “survival of the fittest” etc. is another way of saying that some organisms are more suited to the environment than others, this is stating the obvious. However Dawkins takes it to a new level; he may not believe in the Christian God but he does believe in the magic genie of natural selection.
According to Dawkins, this magic genie is so wise and powerful that it can do virtually anything.
• It enabled fish to grow legs and turn gills into lungs
so they could migrate from sea to land.
• Later, it did the exact opposite:
animals ditched their lungs for gills and legs for fins and went back into the water.
Dawkins infers that because this magic genie takes a really long time to do things,
that it is not really magic.
Dawkins is hypocritical in that he belittles people of religious faith, but he has incredible faith in the magic genie of natural selection. Naturally, he would claim that he has ‘evidence’ but his evidence is weaker and less convincing than the faith of the religious people he condemns.
Dawkins is a self-appointed ambassador for natural selection. He tells us what this genie is trying to achieve (as well as why). He speaks about the way that it works, as well its moral attributes. In addition to this, he declares it an “improbability pump”. He assigns all of these attributes not on the basis of observation or evidence, but imagination.
He fully admits in the book promo that Macro evolution is NOT observable – hence, he believes in something that he cannot see.
He is definitely very imaginative – but is it science?
Point 10: PEER REVIEW - JONATHAN SARFATI’S (The greatest HOAX on earth)
For a more detailed critique of the book, I highly recommend Jonathan Sarfati’s publication The Greatest Hoax on Earth?
Refuting Dawkins on Evolution
Richard Dawkins again brings out the intellectual goods and explains Darwin's 'Fact of Evolution' in terms anyone can understand, but at the same time doesn't dumb it down. If you don't believe in evolution before reading this, you will after.
"Simple and elegantly written"
Really enjoyed the listen - not the best for passing a commute if you are prone to get distracted (needs decent level of attention). Well written and a great book o give anyone who disputes the 'theorum' of evolution.
"Joy to listen to"
Superb narration from Richard and Lalla.
Here is a book from an author that knows his stuff.
I found a second listening was needed to clear up some points I didn't quite understand first time around.
"Great Book, well read but no diagrams!"
This is a detailed account of evolution, presenting the evidence to support the reality that evolution is a fact not a 'theory', and presented in Richard Dawkins' usual passionate style. In the foreword, a set of diagrams that should be downloaded to accompany the audio and referred to, is mentioned but these are nowhere to be found! The book would have been five stars but the audio is only three because such a detailed account depends on having diagrams to refer to. Therefore buy the printed book if you want the complete information.
"Enjoyed this book very much."
Clearly explained, and well narrated by both, it expanded my understanding of evolution by natural selection in technical but easy to follow language. Dawkins' books always makes me stop and think; so being able to pause the book, ponder on a topic and assimilate my own thoughts, then replay a part, is a great way for me to really absorb the information. Another superb book by the author and Audible.
"I wish everyone would read this"
A great book that is very good at getting the point across. I just which everyone could be aware of its content and message.
How refreshing to hear all the evidence for evolution laid out so thoughtfully and narrated so eloquently.
I wish I had heard this fifteen years ago when I was a teenager growing up in a young Earth creationist family, struggling to understand why the real world didn't fit my nonsensical religious worldview.
However I'm grateful that, unlike my ancestors in previous centuries, I now have the privilege of being enlightened before I make important life decisions, thanks to centuries of dedicated scientists and those who educate us in their work, like Dawkins in this work.
Fantastic book with compelling argument and evidence. a must read for all. Richard Dawkins explains everything with scientific facts yet words it simply for all to understand
"the greatest show on earth"
Well worth listening to and it has some snippets of awe-inspiring delight, such as Belyaev's Silver fox experiments or Lenski's E. Coli research. Both of which have truly jaw-dropping conclusions. Remember to download the pdfs that accompany the audiobook.
My only problem is Dawkins irritating method of illustrating complex points with stories. This, in itself is a useful way of making a point, but its the way he does it. He gives you the parameters of the story, tells the story, and then tells you that the parameters he used to illustrate his point to begin with are not consistent with the point he was trying make in the first place. It made me giggle more than once, but don't let that take too much away from what is a very pleasurable listen.
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