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Good source!

http://www.apologetics315.com/2009/10/greatest-show-on-earth-by-richard.html
To wrestle with a blancmange is, in my experience, a mistake. Pink, sickly and smug, the sugary
pudding happily takes any number of blows, absorbs the attack, quivers a bit and comes back
unperturbed as a blancmange.
Creationists have the same talent. For them, evidence is of no interest. I once told someone who used
the enormous gap in the fossil record between the chimp-human ancestor and modern chimpanzees as
evidence against evolution that it had been partly filled: an ancestral chimp half a million years old had
just been found. His face lit up: See, he said. Now there are two gaps!
Richard Dawkinss new book (which he describes as his missing link, presenting as it does the
complete Darwinian case rather than as in his earlier works exploring parts in detail) gives the factrejecters their just deserts. He sets out to polish off their flummery. Dawkins compares creationists to
Holocaust deniers and spoons, with relish, an acid sauce of mockery onto that absurd confection of
half-baked ideas.
In this anniversary year, the polls are depressing. More than two thirds of Egyptians have never heard
of evolution and almost half of all Turks think that men and dinosaurs lived at the same time. Even
those dastardly Lamarckians the French score slightly higher (at 80 per cent) in the belief that humans
evolved from animals than the British do. The early pages of The Greatest Show on Earth exude a
certain exasperation that we have to go through this stuff again. Soon, though, the authors enthusiasm
comes to the surface.
The book is full of evidence, some familiar and some new. Its case is presented in a manner succinct,
clear and sometimes vivid. A meadow full of flowers those sexual advertisements is natures
Piccadilly Circus. Creationists point out the absence of the crocoduck the transitional form between
modern reptile and modern bird supposedly needed if evolution is true but Dawkins retaliates with
the octopard: the ancient shared ancestor, not the living intermediate, of octopus and leopard.
The passage from egg to adult played an important part in Darwins case, as it does here. Dawkins
criticises the simplistic idea of DNA as an instruction manual, and the embryo as a sort of Ikea flatpack that assembles itself through a set of simple (or not so simple) rules.
Fossils, too, are telling evidence for shared descent, but evolution does not need them to make its case,
for we can see it happening before our eyes. I was fascinated to learn that, in 1971, Belgian scientists
transferred a group of lizards from one small island off the Yugoslav coast to another, free of native
members of that species, nearby. During that same summer, a few miles inland in the wild backwoods
of Croatia, I myself was hard at work moving thousands of snails between habitats in the hope of
picking up differences in survival. Thirty-seven years later, the descendants of the transferred lizards
had changed evolved to gain stronger jaws and a modified gut to deal with their new and more
vegetarian diet; but, alas, just a year after moving the molluscs I could find almost none of them (which
proves not that evolution is wrong but that experiments in the wild usually do not work).
In general the prose of Greatest Show is plain, clear and unadorned, but the book is not afraid to soak in
the luxury of the footnote. It is largely free of the atheistical cage-rattling that marked The God
Delusion (although the notes do include George W Bushs death penalty record and a complete Monty
Python song that starts All things dull and ugly/ All creatures short and squat/ All things rude and
nasty/ The Lord God made the lot). Even so, the book stands, as did The Origin of Species, on its
facts. Whether those facts will persuade the confectioners of falsehood I rather doubt. I have only ever
had one useful interaction with such people.
Years ago I taught an evolution course at the University of Botswana, a devoutly Presbyterian place
with a strong creationist tradition. At the end I asked one of the students how he reconciled what I had
said about the immense antiquity of mankind with his belief in a universe 6,000 years old. He gave me
the perfect answer: It is very simple, sir; you evolved but we were created! This book might, just,

change his mind.


Dawkins: The Greatest Show on Earth
Dawkins: The Greatest Show on Earth The Evidence for Evolution?
Richard Dawkins', The Greatest Show on Earth, hopes to convey and document some of the evidence
which compels him to embrace a Darwinian perspective on origins. Dawkins is also author of The God
Delusion and probably todays best known Darwinian apologist. Dawkins, in his new book lives up to
his legendary reputation of creative tale-telling.
Just how strong are Richard Dawkins arguments? Does he present anything new? Do his claims stand
up when subjected to careful scrutiny? Richard Dawkins clearly thinks so. In chapter 1 of his book,
entitled Only a theory? Dawkins remarks:
Evolution is a fact. Beyond reasonable doubt, beyond serious doubt, beyond sane, informed, intelligent
doubt, beyond doubt evolution is a fact. The evidence for evolution is at least as strong as the evidence
for the Holocaust, even allowing for eye witnesses to the Holocaust. It is the plain truth that we are
cousins of chimpanzees, somewhat more distant cousins of monkeys, more distant cousins still of
aardvarks and manatees, yet more distant cousins of bananas and turnipscontinue the list as long as
desired. That didnt have to be true. It is not self-evidently, tautologically, obviously true, and there was
a time when most people, even educated people, thought it wasnt. It didnt have to be true, but it is. We
know this because a rising flood of evidence supports it. 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.
One wonders, of course, how many times Richard Dawkins believes that he has to rephrase the core
contention of his book in order to legitimise it!
Richard Dawkins further remarks:
Imagine you are a teacher of recent history, and your lessons on 20th century Europe are
boycottedby politically muscular groups of Holocaust deniers. The plight of many science teachers
today is not less dire. When they attempt to expound the central principle of biology they are harried
and stymied, hassled and bullied.
Such dogmatic rhetoric and ad-hominen name-calling is highly indicative of the level of Dawkins
argumentation. Nonetheless, it should be noted that no critic of Darwinism seeks the outlawing of the
concept of evolution -- or even common descent -- from the academic environment. Rather, most critics
would argue that the significant criticisms of Darwinism -- which are, as yet, without resolution -should be referenced such that Darwinism is not taught in an uncritical fashion. Richard Dawkins
claim, then, that critics want to torpedo the public education system is a simple point of
misrepresentation.
Dawkins: The Greatest Show on Earth The Origin of Life
Richard Dawkins, in The Greatest Show on Earth, has very little to say concerning the most
fundamental challenge to standard materialistic thinking, namely the problem of lifes origin. In chapter
13 of his book, Dawkins writes:
We have no evidence about what the first step in making life was, but we do know the kind of step it
must have been. It must have been whatever it took to get natural selection started. Before that first
step, the sorts of improvement that only natural selection can achieve were impossible. And that means
the key step was the rising, by some process as yet unknown, of a self-replicating entity.
Dawkins is overlooking or ignoring a host of key points here. As Dawkins himself concedes, natural

selection can only occur in organisms which are capable of reproducing or replicating themselves. But
surely any self-replicating mechanism must exhibit a definable minimal level of complexity, let alone
the necessitude of functional, and thus sequence specific DNA and protein molecules. As theoretical
biologist Howard Pattee explains in his The Problem of Biological Hierarchy: There is no evidence
that hereditary evolution occurs except in cells which already havethe DNA, the replicating and
translating enzymes, and all the control systems and structures necessary to reproduce themselves. In
order to invoke a materialistic pathway which can account for the origin of specified information in
DNA, the naturalist must invoke a process that itself depends upon pre-existing sequence specific DNA
molecules. Yet, the origin of these molecules is precisely what the thesis seeks to explain. And let us
not forget that it is not merely the sequence of base-pairs comprising the information in DNA which is
the chief concern at this point -- but the problem becomes even deeper when confronted with the
paradox of the origin of the genetic code itself.
Dawkins: The Greatest Show on Earth RNA world
Dawkins, The Greatest Show on Earth, proceeds to outline the classic Catch-22 paradox which
concerns the relationship of DNA to proteins. He writes:
The Catch-22 of the origin of life is this. DNA can replicate, but it needs enzymes in order to catalyse
the process. Proteins can catalyse DNA formation, but they need DNA to specify the correct sequence
of amino acids. How could the molecules of the Early Earth break out of this bind and allow natural
selection to get started?
How does Dawkins attempt to resolve this enigma? He continues:
Now for the key point of the RNA World theory of the origin of life. In addition to stretching out in a
form suitable for passing on sequence information, RNA is also capable of self-assemblinginto threedimensional shapes which have enzymatic activity. RNA enzymes do exist. They are not as efficient as
protein enzymes, but they do work. The RNA World theory suggests that RNA was good enough
enzyme to hold the fort until proteins evolved to take over the enzyme role, and that RNA was also a
good enough replicator to muddle along in that role until DNA evolved.
Curiously, Richard Dawkins spends no time in The Greatest Show on Earth attempting to address the
numerous criticisms of the RNA-first model. For example, the formation of the first RNA molecule
would have necessitated the prior emergence of smaller constituent molecules, including ribose sugar,
phosphate molecules and the four RNA nucleotide bases. But both synthesising and maintaining these
essential RNA molecules (particularly ribose) and the nucleotide bases is profoundly problematic, if not
impossible to perform under realistic prebiotic conditions.
Further, naturally occurring RNA molecules possess very few of the specific enzymatic properties of
proteins. Ribozymes can perform a small handful of the thousands of functions performed by proteins.
The inability of RNA molecules to perform many of the functions of protein enzymes raises a third and
related concern with regard to the tenability of the RNA-first model. To date, no plausible explanation
has been advanced as to how primitive self-replicating RNA molecules could have made the transition
into modern cellular systems which depend heavily on a variety of proteins to process genetic
information. Consider the transition from a primitive replicator to a system for building the first
proteins. Even if such a system of ribozymes for building proteins had arisen from an RNA replicator,
that system of molecules would still require information-rich templates for building specific proteins.
To date, there is no materialistic pathway by which specified information can be readily produced.
Read Dawkins: The Greatest Show on Earth Page 2 Now!
Dawkins: The Greatest Show on Earth
http://www.allaboutscience.org/dawkins-the-greatest-show-on-earth-2.htm
Dawkins: The Greatest Show on Earth

(Read Dawkins: The Greatest Show on Earth Part 1 First)


Dawkins: The Greatest Show on Earth How Does Richard Dawkins deal with the Cambrian
explosion?
To Dawkins credit in The Greatest Show on Earth, he does provide a reasonably detailed commentary
on the geological incident known as the Cambrian Explosion (a phenomenon which is curiously
omitted in many popular Darwinian texts) in his chapter on The Missing Link? What do you mean,
missing?. Richard Dawkins makes reference to the famous flatworms known as the Platyhelminthes:
This great phylum of worms includes the parasitic flukes and tapeworms, which are of great medical
importance. My favourites, however, are the free-living tubellarian worms, of which there are more
than four thousand species; thats about as numerous as all the mammal species put togetherThey are
common, both in water and on land, and presumably have been common for a very long time. Youd
expect, therefore, to see a rich fossil history. Unfortunately, there is almost nothing. Apart from a
handful of ambiguous trace fossils, not a single fossil flatworm has ever been found. The
Platyhelminthes, to a worm, are already in an advanced state of evolution, the very first time they
appear. It is as though they were just planted there, without any evolutionary history. But in this case,
the very first time they appear is not the Cambrian but today. Do you see what this means, or at least
ought to mean for creationists? Creationists believe that flatworms were created in the same week as all
other creatures. They have therefore had exactly the same time in which to fossilise as all other
animals. During all the centuries when all those bony or shelly animals were depositing happily
alongside them, but without leaving any significant trace of their presence in the rocks. What, then, is
so special about gaps in the record of these animals that do fossilise, given that the past history of the
flatworms amounts to one big gap: even though the flatworms, by the creationists own account, have
been living for the same length of time? If the gap before the Cambrian Explosion is used as evidence
that most animals suddenly sprang into existence in the Cambrian, exactly the same logic should be
used to prove that the flatworms sprang into existence yesterday. Yet this contradicts the creationists
belief that flatworms were created during the same creative week as everything else. You cannot have it
both ways. This argument, at a stroke, completely destroys the creationist case that the Precambrian
gap in the fossil record weakens the evidence for evolution.
Again, Richard Dawkins is missing the point with regards to the fossil record. Before examining the
underlying fallacy of Dawkins argument, let us take a moment to consider the theological undertones
in the above text. Theological arguments -- by their very nature -- cannot be defended as a scientific
statement, and thus ought to be given no place in scientific discussions regarding evolution. The
subtitle of Dawkins book is The Evidence for Evolution. There should be no need, therefore, to prop
up Darwinism by appealing to theologically-related considerations. The age of the earth and the proper
interpretation of Genesis is the subject of heated debate among Christians -- even among creationists.
While I do believe that this is a very interesting (and important!) issue, it should not be featuring in
scientific discourses concerning the scientific evidence relating to evolution. Moreover, to categorically
place all creationists in the same category is misleading.
Leaving that point aside, let us turn to Richard Dawkins understanding of the Cambrian explosion.
First, even if we were to grant him his premise -- namely, the contention that organisms prior to the
Cambrian were of a non-fossilisable composition (which is plausible) -- this is not the point in
question. Indeed, it is to be expected that non-skeletonized predecessors ought to leave few if any
fossils. If it were the case, therefore, that one evolving line appeared suddenly in the fossil record, once
it reached the stage of being fossilizable, then Dawkins might have a point here. But the real challenge
of the Cambrian explosion is the wide variety of fossilizable forms which appeared at more or less the

same instant in geological time. Every single phyla represented by modern day organisms -- certainly
all those with fossilizable parts -- were included, yet for none is there any clearly identifiable ancestor.
It is explaining the simultaneous and abrupt appearance of those which is one of the leading challenges
in evolutionary biology.
Dawkins argument here is by no means original. Interestingly, over the last century and a half since the
publication of Darwins Origin of Species, paleontologists have discovered many Precambrian fossils,
many of them microscopic or soft-bodied. As Darwinian paleobiologist William Schopf wrote in his
The early evolution of life: solution to Darwins dilemma, The long-held notion that Precambrian
organisms must have been too small or too delicate to have been preserved in geological materials
[is] now recognised as incorrect. If anything, the abrupt appearance of the major animal phyla,
conventionally dated to about 540 million years ago, is better documented now that in Darwins time.
Indeed, as more fossils are discovered it becomes clear that the Cambrian explosion was even more
abrupt and extensive than previously envisioned.
Finally, the critic of Darwinism need not point to the fossil record as the most compelling decisive blow
to Darwinian orthodoxy. Dawkins is free to invoke ad-hoc hypothesis in an attempt to explain away the
gaps and challenges presented by the fossil record at the most crucial points. Nonetheless, the fact
remains that the fossil record simply cannot be used to document anything relating to the common
descent of all life forms -- which is one of the two central claims of neo-Darwinism. To state otherwise
is to engage in circular reasoning.
Dawkins: The Greatest Show on Earth Exaggerations and overstatements
Richard Dawkins' The Greatest Show on Earth, explains in great detail how evolution has occurred
before our very eyes. He makes reference to the replication of the well-known bacterium E. coli as a
means by which we can simulate deep time. He notes that while lizards experience a generation
turnover period of about two years, bacterial generations are measured in hours, or even minutes. He
points to Michigan professor Richard Lenskis experiment where 12 identical lines of E. coli were
cultured to over 44,000 generations (20 years later). The bacteria were grown in a medium which had a
small amount of glucose (a primary carbon source for E. coli) and abundant citrate (a carbon source not
normally utilised by E. coli). Every 500 generations, Lenski would take samples of the bacteria, which
-- as Dawkins puts it -- in essence produced a fossil record of the different tribes. Lenski observed
many changes in the E. coli as they adapt to the culture conditions in his lab. While the fitness of
bacteria had increased, it had come at a cost. For instance, all the tribes had lost the ability to catabolise
ribose. Some tribes had lost the ability to repair DNA. These bacteria may indeed be more fit in a lab
setting, but when placed back into their environment alongside their wild-type counterparts, they would
be at a selective disadvantage.
Dawkins goes on to explain that at generation 31,500, one line of E. coli was found to be able to utilise
citrate. Previous research in The Journal of Bacteriology has shown that wild-type E. coli can utilise
citrate when oxygen levels are low. Under these conditions, citrate is taken into the cell and used in a
fermentation pathway. The gene in E. coli is believed to encode a citrate transporter (a protein which
transports citrate into the cell). In the presence of high levels of oxygen, it is believed that the citrate
transporter does not function or is not produced, even while retaining the enzymes necessary for the
utilisation of citrate. Thus, as it happens, wild-type E. coli already possesses the genes necessary for the
transportation of citrate into the cell and subsequent utilisation of it.
So, what best explains the observations which Dawkins documents in The Greatest Show on Earth? As
Lenski himself proposed in his 2008 paper in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (105,
no. 23), entitled: Historical Contingency and the Evolution of a Key Innovation in an Experimental

Population of Escherichia coli, A more likely possibility, in our view, is that an existing transporter
has been co-opted for citrate transport under oxic [high oxygen levels] conditions. He believes that
this could be the same citrate transporter that is used in low oxygen conditions or indeed a transporter
for another substrate that has been modified in order to transport citrate. The former would infer a loss
of regulation, while the latter would imply a loss of specificity.
Dawkins: The Greatest Show on Earth Does Richard Dawkins have the goods?
Richard Dawkins continues in the same vain throughout his book. One favourable review of Dawkins
new book, published in The Guardian, commented that while The Greatest Show on Earth
demonstrates once again [Dawkins] consummate skill as an explainer, the science covered by the
book mostly rehashed pretty standard stuff. The book fails to address the growing problems of
biological information, the origin of life, how natural selection coupled with chance mutations can
account for the origin of irreducibly complex systems, which continue to defy the Darwinism he
preaches. Darwin called The Origin of Species one long argument for his theory, but Richard
Dawkins has given us one long bluff. The Greatest Show on Earth seeks to defend neo-Darwinism by
appealing to theological arguments, by attempting to explain away the challenge of the Cambrian
explosion by means of invoking ad-hoc conjectures, by exaggerating the evidence for the potentiality
of natural selection, by misrepresenting design arguments, casting down straw-men, and by avoiding
mention of the most sinister threats to the neo-Darwinian model of origins.
The actual evidence shows that major features of the fossil record and cell biology are an
embarrassment to Darwinian evolution. Judged by the normal criteria of empirical science, the data
used to prop up neo-Darwinism is weak. We know today that there are multiple critical facts which
strike hard blows at the conventional understanding of the theory. These are not merely trivial problems
or anomalies that are likely to be solved, but fundamental matters that appear to be without prospect of
solution.
Learn More!

If Thomas Henry Huxley was famously "Darwin's bulldog", then Richard Dawkins is probably best
described as "Darwin's pit bull". He gets his teeth into an argument, locks on and shakes it until
submission is the only option. There's a certain glee when he admits to being "the devil's disciple" or
the high priest of "ultradarwinism", and his admission has an undeniably macho swagger about it. Real
men (and women) take the toughest line on natural selection. Suffering and pain in nature and
humanity are merely there to service the genes. Anything else is "Sentimental, human nonsense.
Natural selection is all futile." There is something bracing about belonging to this most astringent and
clear-sighted set. Deluded theists! Wishy-washy agnostics! Welcome to the Fight Club. One is
reminded of lines by Dawkins's favourite poet, WB Yeats: "Cast a cold eye / On life, on death. /
Horseman, pass by."
The greatest story is, of course, the story of evolution. This latest addition to the Dawkins canon is his
summary of the vast array of evidence supporting the science. Palaeontology, embryology, anatomy,
genetics, artificial breeding and geography are all grist to his evolutionary mill. Dawkins's writing
demonstrates once again his consummate skill as an explainer. He never makes assumptions about prior
knowledge; when he chooses an analogy it does actually cast light on the thing to be explained (some
scientists seem to find this extraordinarily difficult); and occasionally he coins a brilliant phrase. Those
who have already climbed Mount Improbable with him or contemplated the blind watchmaker will not

be disappointed, even though some of the same ground has been re-ploughed for a new crop.
The science covered is, it must be said, pretty standard stuff. The Galpagos islands were Darwin's
natural laboratory, and here they appear once again. The dramatic detour taken by the laryngeal nerve
in mammals, the convergence between the wings of bats and extinct pterodactyls, the discovery of a
whole gallery of human ape fossil "links", the deciphering of the human genome, the development of
the human embryo they all line up in what would be termed in an American university "Evolution
101". Steve Jones went through a lot of the same menu a decade ago in Almost Like a Whale. But the
topics are all laid out with that combination of clarity and verve that is Dawkins's hallmark, and
pursued to his customary conclusion: "There is no architects's plan, no architect."
His second agenda is as always kidney-jabs at creationists and allied trades wherever the chance
arises. All rationalists must be scared by the statistic that fewer than one in five Americans believes that
mankind descended from an ape without God's guiding hand. Maybe even "Evolution 101" is having a
hard time these days. However, I am not sure whether Dawkins is rehearsing his arguments here to
stiffen the backbones of those involved in the debate with "intelligent designers", or whether he really
thinks that the scales will fall from their religious eyes, cauterised by his searing arguments. Indeed,
one wonders whether this book will do more than preach to the already converted (isn't it hard to
escape the language of the pulpit?). One sympathises with Dawkins's attempt to talk evidence with
convinced creationists he reproduces a dialogue with one Wendy Wright ("Concerned Women of
America") that would have most rational souls tearing out their hair. But still he plugs away at the
fundamentalist opposition, courageously getting nowhere.
Perhaps it is this very determination to give no ground that occasionally introduces irritating holes into
his science. When the Egyptian tombs were opened at the end of the 18th century, the great French
naturalist Baron Cuvier identified mummified remains of a bird held sacred by the Egyptians an ibis
identical in all respects to the living species. It was not on the way to being an ibis for all its thousands
of years of antiquity it was an ibis. No scientist worth his or her salt doubts the genetic continuity
between species all down the complex evolutionary tree of life, nor that the selfish genes are battling it
out in a continuous way, but it does seem to be a fact that many species remain morphologically similar
for long periods of time, whatever is going on in the genome. According to the eminent historian
Martin Rudwick, Cuvier used lack of change in the ibis as a refutation of his contemporary Lamarck's
"transformationalist" views. The science of stratigraphy has worked very well since the time of Darwin,
and depends upon fossil species retaining identity of shape through appreciable periods of geological
time. There's a whole new science built around computerised correlation of rocks based on first and last
appearance of species, which Dawkins seems not to know about. If the fossil record were a kind of
slippery morphological soup then it would not work at all. The fact is that both continuous and
discontinuous change happens in fossil lineages, and this poses interesting questions about what species
mean, questions that Dawkins simply ignores.
Then there is the occasional cheap shot. Dawkins has a go at the business of taxonomy, regretting that
the name of our ancestor Australopithecus has priority over the "better name" Plesianthropus. There is a
"rule" that says that the first published name takes priority. "I'm still mischievously hoping," writes
Dawkins, "somebody will uncover, in a dusty drawer in a South African museum, a long-forgotten
fossil . . . but bearing the scrawled label 'Hemianthropus-type specimen 1920'. At a stroke, all the
museums in the world would immediately have to relabel their Australopithecus specimens and casts . .
." Well, actually, they wouldn't, because this supposed name Hemianthropus would have no status at all
in the scientific world unless it was properly published somewhere. In which case we would already
know about it. If in my museum career I had paid attention to all the scraps of paper in drawers I would

have done little else but fret. I hope this does not look like nit-picking. The naming problem in human
anthropology is mainly due to vaingloriousness on the part of scientists. The rules have sorted problems
out; Dawkins's ultimate hero Darwin was on the original committee to set up these nomenclatural rules,
responding to the chaos in scientific naming of organisms that bedevilled scientific research in the early
19th century. It does Dawkins no credit to snigger at taxonomy.
Richard Fortey's Dry Store Room No 1: The Secret Life of the Natural History Museum is published by
HarperPerennial.One Long Bluff: A Review of Richard Dawkins The Greatest Show on Earth
September 29, 2011 Posted by Jonathan M under Darwinism, Evolution
9 Comments
Richard Dawkins The Greatest Show on Earth hopes to convey and document some of the evidence
which compels him to embrace a Darwinian perspective on origins. Dawkins is also author of The God
Delusion and probably todays best known Darwinian apologist. Dawkins, in his 2009 book, The
Greatest Show on Earth, lives up to his legendary reputation of creative tale-telling.
Just how strong are Richard Dawkins arguments? Does he present anything new? Do his claims stand
up when subjected to careful scrutiny? Richard Dawkins clearly thinks so. In chapter 1 of his book,
entitled Only a theory? Dawkins remarks:
Evolution is a fact. Beyond reasonable doubt, beyond serious doubt, beyond sane, informed, intelligent
doubt, beyond doubt evolution is a fact. The evidence for evolution is at least as strong as the evidence
for the Holocaust, even allowing for eye witnesses to the Holocaust. It is the plain truth that we are
cousins of chimpanzees, somewhat more distant cousins of monkeys, more distant cousins still of
aardvarks and manatees, yet more distant cousins of bananas and turnipscontinue the list as long as
desired. That didnt have to be true. It is not self-evidently, tautologically, obviously true, and there was
a time when most people, even educated people, thought it wasnt. It didnt have to be true, but it is. We
know this because a rising flood of evidence supports it. 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.
One wonders, of course, how many times Richard Dawkins believes that he has to rephrase the core
contention of his book in order to legitimise it!
Richard Dawkins further remarks:
Imagine you are a teacher of recent history, and your lessons on 20th century Europe are
boycottedby politically muscular groups of Holocaust deniers. The plight of many science teachers
today is not less dire. When they attempt to expound the central principle of biology they are harried
and stymied, hassled and bullied.
Such dogmatic rhetoric and ad-hominen name-calling is highly indicative of the level of Dawkins
argumentation. Nonetheless, it should be noted that no critic of Darwinism seeks the outlawing of the
concept of evolution or even common descent from the academic environment. Rather, most
critics would argue that the significant criticisms of Darwinism which are, as yet, without resolution
should be referenced such that Darwinism is not taught in an uncritical fashion. Richard Dawkins
claim, then, that critics want to torpedo the public education system is a simple point of
misrepresentation.
The Origin of Life

Richard Dawkins, in The Greatest Show on Earth, has very little to say concerning the most
fundamental challenge to standard materialistic thinking, namely the problem of lifes origin. In chapter
13 of his book, Dawkins writes:
We have no evidence about what the first step in making life was, but we do know the kind of step it
must have been. It must have been whatever it took to get natural selection started. Before that first
step, the sorts of improvement that only natural selection can achieve were impossible. And that means
the key step was the rising, by some process as yet unknown, of a self-replicating entity.
Dawkins is overlooking or ignoring a host of key points here. As Dawkins himself concedes, natural
selection can only occur in organisms which are capable of reproducing or replicating themselves. But
surely any self-replicating mechanism must exhibit a definable minimal level of complexity, let alone
the necessitude of functional, and thus sequence specific DNA and protein molecules. As theoretical
biologist Howard Pattee explains in his The Problem of Biological Hierarchy: There is no evidence
that hereditary evolution occurs except in cells which already havethe DNA, the replicating and
translating enzymes, and all the control systems and structures necessary to reproduce themselves. In
order to invoke a materialistic pathway which can account for the origin of specified information in
DNA, the naturalist must invoke a process that itself depends upon pre-existing sequence specific DNA
molecules. Yet, the origin of these molecules is precisely what the thesis seeks to explain. And let us
not forget that it is not merely the sequence of base-pairs comprising the information in DNA which is
the chief concern at this point but the problem becomes even deeper when confronted with the
paradox of the origin of the genetic code itself. For further discussion of the origin of life and the
genetic code, please see my articles here and here.
The RNA World
Dawkins The Greatest Show on Earth, proceeds to outline the classic Catch-22 paradox which
concerns the relationship of DNA to proteins. He writes:
The Catch-22 of the origin of life is this. DNA can replicate, but it needs enzymes in order to catalyse
the process. Proteins can catalyse DNA formation, but they need DNA to specify the correct sequence
of amino acids. How could the molecules of the Early Earth break out of this bind and allow natural
selection to get started?
How does Dawkins attempt to resolve this enigma? He continues:
Now for the key point of the RNA World theory of the origin of life. In addition to stretching out in a
form suitable for passing on sequence information, RNA is also capable of self-assemblinginto threedimensional shapes which have enzymatic activity. RNA enzymes do exist. They are not as efficient as
protein enzymes, but they do work. The RNA World theory suggests that RNA was good enough
enzyme to hold the fort until proteins evolved to take over the enzyme role, and that RNA was also a
good enough replicator to muddle along in that role until DNA evolved.
Curiously, Richard Dawkins spends no time in The Greatest Show on Earth attempting to address the
numerous criticisms of the RNA-first model. For example, the formation of the first RNA molecule
would have necessitated the prior emergence of smaller constituent molecules, including ribose sugar,
phosphate molecules and the four RNA nucleotide bases. But both synthesising and maintaining these
essential RNA molecules (particularly ribose) and the nucleotide bases is profoundly problematic to

perform under realistic prebiotic conditions.


Further, naturally occurring RNA molecules possess very few of the specific enzymatic properties of
proteins. Ribozymes can perform a small handful of the thousands of functions performed by proteins.
The inability of RNA molecules to perform many of the functions of protein enzymes raises a third and
related concern with regard to the tenability of the RNA-first model. To date, no plausible explanation
has been advanced as to how primitive self-replicating RNA molecules could have made the transition
into modern cellular systems which depend heavily on a variety of proteins to process genetic
information. Consider the transition from a primitive replicator to a system for building the first
proteins. Even if such a system of ribozymes for building proteins had arisen from an RNA replicator,
that system of molecules would still require information-rich templates for building specific proteins.
To date, there is no materialistic pathway by which specified information can be readily produced. For
further discussion of the RNA world, please see my articles here and here.
The Cambrian Explosion
To Dawkins credit in The Greatest Show on Earth, he does provide a reasonably detailed commentary
on the geological incident known as the Cambrian Explosion (a phenomenon which is curiously
omitted in many popular Darwinian texts) in his chapter on The Missing Link? What do you mean,
missing?. Richard Dawkins makes reference to the famous flatworms known as the Platyhelminthes:
This great phylum of worms includes the parasitic flukes and tapeworms, which are of great medical
importance. My favourites, however, are the free-living tubellarian worms, of which there are more
than four thousand species; thats about as numerous as all the mammal species put togetherThey are
common, both in water and on land, and presumably have been common for a very long time. Youd
expect, therefore, to see a rich fossil history. Unfortunately, there is almost nothing. Apart from a
handful of ambiguous trace fossils, not a single fossil flatworm has ever been found. The
Platyhelminthes, to a worm, are already in an advanced state of evolution, the very first time they
appear. It is as though they were just planted there, without any evolutionary history. But in this case,
the very first time they appear is not the Cambrian but today. Do you see what this means, or at least
ought to mean for creationists? Creationists believe that flatworms were created in the same week as all
other creatures. They have therefore had exactly the same time in which to fossilise as all other
animals. During all the centuries when all those bony or shelly animals were depositing happily
alongside them, but without leaving any significant trace of their presence in the rocks. What, then, is
so special about gaps in the record of these animals that do fossilise, given that the past history of the
flatworms amounts to one big gap: even though the flatworms, by the creationists own account, have
been living for the same length of time? If the gap before the Cambrian Explosion is used as evidence
that most animals suddenly sprang into existence in the Cambrian, exactly the same logic should be
used to prove that the flatworms sprang into existence yesterday. Yet this contradicts the creationists
belief that flatworms were created during the same creative week as everything else. You cannot have it
both ways. This argument, at a stroke, completely destroys the creationist case that the Precambrian
gap in the fossil record weakens the evidence for evolution.
Again, Richard Dawkins is missing the point with regards to the fossil record. Before examining the
underlying fallacy of Dawkins argument, let us take a moment to consider the theological undertones
in the above text. Theological arguments by their very nature cannot be defended as a scientific
statement, and thus ought to be given no place in scientific discussions regarding evolution. The
subtitle of Dawkins book is The Evidence for Evolution. There should be no need, therefore, to prop
up Darwinism by appealing to theologically-related considerations. The age of the earth and the proper

interpretation of Genesis is the subject of heated debate among Christians. While I do believe that this
is a very interesting and important issue (I personally strongly favour the view that the earth is very
ancient), it should not be featuring in scientific discourses concerning the scientific evidence relating to
evolution. Moreover, to categorically place all Darwin-skeptics in the same category is misleading.
Leaving that point aside, let us turn to Richard Dawkins understanding of the Cambrian explosion.
First, even if we were to grant him his premise namely, the contention that organisms prior to the
Cambrian were of a non-fossilisable composition (which is plausible) this is not the point in
question. Indeed, it is to be expected that non-skeletonized predecessors ought to leave few if any
fossils. If it were the case, therefore, that one evolving line appeared suddenly in the fossil record, once
it reached the stage of being fossilizable, then Dawkins might have a point here. But the real challenge
of the Cambrian explosion is the wide variety of fossilizable forms which appeared at more or less the
same instant in geological time. Every single phyla represented by modern day organisms certainly
all those with fossilizable parts were included, yet for none is there any clearly identifiable ancestor.
It is explaining the simultaneous and abrupt appearance of those which is one of the leading challenges
in evolutionary biology.
Dawkins argument here is by no means original. Interestingly, over the last century and a half since the
publication of Darwins Origin of Species, paleontologists have discovered many Precambrian fossils,
many of them microscopic or soft-bodied. As Darwinian paleobiologist William Schopf wrote in his
The early evolution of life: solution to Darwins dilemma, The long-held notion that Precambrian
organisms must have been too small or too delicate to have been preserved in geological materials
[is] now recognised as incorrect. If anything, the abrupt appearance of the major animal phyla,
conventionally dated to about 540 million years ago, is better documented now that in Darwins time.
Indeed, as more fossils are discovered it becomes clear that the Cambrian explosion was even more
abrupt and extensive than previously envisioned.
At any rate, as discussed in some detail here, the Ediacaran fauna are not generally thought to be
ancestral to the modern phyla which appear explosively in the Cambrian radiation. The presence of
these organisms, therefore, should offer no comfort to Darwinists. As Peter Ward has observed in On
Methuselahs Trail: Living Fossils and the Great Extinctions, [L]ater study cast doubt on the affinity
between these ancient remains preserved in sandstones and living creatures of today; the great German
paleontologist A. Seilacher, of Tbingen University, has even gone so far as to suggest that the
Ediacaran fauna has no relationship whatsoever with any currently living creatures. In this view, the
Ediacaran fauna was completely annihilated before the start of the Cambrian fauna. (p. 36)
Moreover, many phyla (such as the brachiopods and arthropods) couldnt have evolved their soft parts
first and then added the hard parts (such as the exoskeleton or shell) later their survival depends in
large measure upon the ability to protect or shield their soft parts. Soft and hard parts had to arise
together. Finally, the critic of Darwinism need not point to the fossil record as the most compelling
decisive blow to Darwinian orthodoxy. Dawkins is free to invoke ad-hoc hypothesis in an attempt to
explain away the gaps and challenges presented by the fossil record at the most crucial points.
Nonetheless, the fact remains that the fossil record simply cannot be used to document anything
relating to the common descent of all life forms which is one of the two central claims of neoDarwinism. To state otherwise is to engage in circular reasoning.
Exaggerations and Over-Statements
Richard Dawkins The Greatest Show on Earth, explains in great detail how evolution has occurred

before our very eyes. He makes reference to the replication of the well-known bacterium E. coli as a
means by which we can simulate deep time. He notes that while lizards experience a generation
turnover period of about two years, bacterial generations are measured in hours, or even minutes. He
points to Michigan professor Richard Lenskis experiment where 12 identical lines of E. coli were
cultured to over 44,000 generations (20 years later). The bacteria were grown in a medium which had a
small amount of glucose (a primary carbon source for E. coli) and abundant citrate (a carbon source not
normally utilised by E. coli). Every 500 generations, Lenski would take samples of the bacteria, which
as Dawkins puts it in essence produced a fossil record of the different tribes. Lenski observed
many changes in the E. coli as they adapt to the culture conditions in his lab. While the fitness of
bacteria had increased, it had come at a cost. For instance, all the tribes had lost the ability to catabolise
ribose. Some tribes had lost the ability to repair DNA. These bacteria may indeed be more fit in a lab
setting, but when placed back into their environment alongside their wild-type counterparts, they would
be at a selective disadvantage.
Dawkins goes on to explain that at generation 31,500, one line of E. coli was found to be able to utilise
citrate. What Dawkins does not give us, however, is a rebuttal to the numerous pertinent comments
which have been given by ID proponents with regards to Lenskis work. Michael Behe, for example,
discusses Lenskis work on pages 140-142 of his book, The Edge of Evolution, and more recently
in a peer-reviewed article in the Quarterly Review of Biology. Behe has also been keeping tabs on
Lenskis work over on his Uncommon Descent blog. Please also see Casey Luskins excellent recent
blog entry on this topic on Evolution News & Views.
The case of the citrate transporter seems, to me, to be a weak one because it has been documented that
wild-type E. coli can already use citrate under low-oxygen conditions. Under these conditions, citrate is
transported into the cell (Pos et al. 1998). The gene in E. coli specifies a citrate transporter. In the
presence of high levels of oxygen, it is thought that the citrate transporter doesnt function or is not
produced. Thus, wild-type E. coli already possesses the genes necessary for the transportation of citrate
into the cell and its subsequent utilisation. Indeed, Lenski et al. (2008) note that A more likely
possibility, in our view, is that an existing transporter has been co-opted for citrate transport under oxic
[high oxygen level] conditions. Such a scenario could take place by a loss of gene regulation (meaning
that the gene is no longer expressed exclusively under low oxygen conditions) or a loss of transporter
specificity.
Do Dawkins Claims Regarding the Fossil Record Follow Logically?
In The Greatest Show on Earth, Dawkins spends considerable portions of his book expounding the
fossil record. For example, in chapter 6 concerning the so-called missing links in the fossil record, he
writes,
Creationists are deeply enamored of the fossil record, because they have been taught (by each other) to
repeat, over and over, the mantra that it is full of gaps: Show me your intermediates!' They fondly
(very fondly) imagine that these gaps are an embarrassment to evolutionists. Actually, we are lucky
to have any fossils at all, let alone the massive numbers that we now do have to document evolutionary
historylarge numbers of which, by any standards, constitute beautiful intermediates. We dont need
fossils in order to demonstrate that evolution is a fact. The evidence for evolution would be entirely
secure even if not a single corpse had ever fossilized. It is a bonus that we do actually have rich seams
of fossils to mine, and more are discovered every day. The fossil evidence for evolution in many major
animal groups is wonderfully strong. Nevertheless there are, of course, gaps, and creationists love them
obsessively.

Richard Dawkins as a neo-Darwinist is evidently seeking to demonstrate, and thus uphold, the
central tenets of Darwinism. But the central claim of neo-Darwinism is that natural selection, coupled
with chance mutation, can mimic what would normally be ascribed to intelligence. The most important
issue which we have at hand, therefore, is whether or not life could have evolved by natural processes.
The theory of intelligent design merely claims that certain natural phenomena exhibit features which
are best attributed to intelligence. The concept of common descent is crucial to the Darwinian
paradigm, but its falsehood is by no means critical to the design thesis. To the design hypothesis, as a
scientific model, it is a secondary issue whether the various forms of life were created independently or
by modification of previously existing forms. While the latter model rejects the theory of evolution as
an overall paradigm, it is nonetheless consistent with common descent. Thus, even if one were to
concede that the fossil record supports common descent a notion which I challenge it would not
by any means prove neo-Darwinism.
What About the Missing Link?
Richard Dawkins defines the concept of the missing link as the alleged gap between humans and the
rest of the animal kingdom. He spends much of the rest of his chapter on the fossil record taking on
some of the pseudoscientific claims made by some in the name of creationism, for instance, the weak
(to put it mildly) argument, Ill believe in evolution when I see a monkey give birth to a human baby.
There are plenty of well-meaning creationists out there who utilise this level of argumentation but to
suggest or imply that such reasoning is mainstream is very misleading indeed. There are many
sophisticated and well-informed critiques of Darwinian orthodoxy in the scientific literature. Richard
Dawkins should be responding to them, rather than the under-informed laypeople, who, perhaps should
be spending less time teaching apologetics, more time getting their facts straight! (For the record,
Darwinists do not believe that humans are descended from modern monkeys, but that modern monkeys
and humans shared a common ancestor.).
In the proceeding chapter (chapter 7), Richard Dawkins outlines several fossil organisms which he
deems to be feasible intermediates between humans and the common ancestor we share with
chimpanzees. One example to which Dawkins alludes is Lucy. Dawkins remarks,
The most famous fossilis Lucy, classified by her discoverer in Ethiopia, Donald Johanson, as
Australopithecus afarensis. Unfortunately we have only fragments of Lucys cranium, but her lower
jaw is unusually well preserved. She was small by modern standards, although not as small as Homo
floresiensis, the tiny creature the newspapers have irritatingly dubbed the Hobbit, which died out
tantalisingly recently on the island of Flores in Indonesia. Lucys skeleton is complete enough to
suggest that she walked upright on the ground, but probably also sought refuge in trees, where she was
an agile climber. There is good evidence that the bones attributed to Lucy really did all come from a
single individualThe conclusion from studies of Lucy and her kin is that they had brains about the
same size as chimpanzees but, unlike chimpanzees, they walked upright on their hind legs
Indeed, Lucys skeleton is very incomplete. Only 40% was found, and a significant percentage of the
known bones are rib fragments. As Dawkins notes, very little useful material from the skull was
recovered. Ironically, Lucy still represents the most complete pre-Homo known hominid skeleton to
date. Dawkins assertion that There is good evidence that the bones attributed to Lucy really did all
come from a single individual is highly precarious. Given the fragmentary nature of many of the
bones and the highly incomplete nature of the skeleton, the argument seems highly suspect. Consider,
for example, Lucys femur or the pelvis, the most prized parts of her skeleton. It is an extremely

difficult case to state that all Lucys bones are clearly from one individual of one species, and it
requires some heavy assumptions.
Leaving the fragmentary nature of Lucys skeleton aside, let us assume for the moment that Lucy was a
fully bipedal ape would that necessarily qualify her as a human ancestor? Given that the much earlier
fossil record from the Miocene yields bipedal apes that supposedly evolved upright-walking completely
independently from the line that supposedly led to humans, it would seem that the answer is
emphatically no.
Even if we concede that Lucy walked upright, there is strong evidence to suggest that her mode of
locomotion was, in significant ways, very different from that of modern humans. For example, it is
almost certain that A. afarensis and other australopithecines were not adapted to a striding gait and
running, as humans are. It doesnt seem very advantageous, and therefore likely, to use bipedality as
ones primary mode of locomotion if one cannot use it to quickly run from predators.
As Richard Leakey and Roger Lewin write in their book, Origins Reconsidered In Search of What
Makes us Human:
We were sent a cast of the Lucy skeleton, and I was asked to assemble it for display, remembers Peter
Schmid, a paleontologist at the Anthropological Institute in Zurich. When I started to put [Lucys]
skeleton together, I expected it to look human, Schmid continues. Everyone had talked about Lucy as
being very modern, very human, so I was surprised by what I saw. What you see in
Australopithecus is not what youd want in an efficient bipedal running animal, says Peter. The
shoulders were high, and, combined with the funnel-shaped chest, would have made arm swinging very
improbable in the human sense. It wouldnt have been able to lift its thorax for the kind of deep
breathing that we do when we run. The abdomen was potbellied, and there was no waste, so that would
have restricted the flexibility thats essential to human running.
Richard Dawkins contention, then, that [Lucy] walked upright on [her] hind legs, as we do
ignores large volumes of skeletal evidence that Lucy did not in fact walk upright. The only real reason
to discard Lucys clear anatomical evidence that she climbed trees and knuckle-walked is the Darwinist
preference for her to be a fully-bipedal ape that was on her way toward evolving into a modern human.
But this is circular.
What About Bad Design?
In chapter 11 of The Greatest Show on Earth, Richard Dawkins alludes to a number of systems which
he regards to be badly or unintelligently designed. The point he makes is a rather elementary logical
fallacy design does not have to be perfect; it just has to be good enough. The fact remains that living
systems exhibit clear marks of the action of an intelligent agent, even if the design is somewhat less
than perfect. As an analogy, consider Microsoft office software. Microsoft office applications often
possess certain imperfections, but no-body would infer that the programming script was the product of
undirected mechanisms. Ultimately, Richard Dawkins is here depending upon the utilisation of
theological arguments in order to support his case. The theory of intelligent design states that certain
features of the natural world exhibit indicators of intelligent design. Questions relating to the identity or
skill of the designer are questions for theologians and philosophers to address, and thus stand
independently from biological or scientific concerns.
Nonetheless, let us take one of Richard Dawkins examples of bad design, as presented in The Greatest

Show on Earth, subject it to scrutiny and see how it holds up. If it can be demonstrated that there exists
functional reasons for the relevant instances of apparent bad design or if new evidence suggests a
pattern of degenerative evolution (that is to say, evidence of decay of an otherwise rational and
beneficial original design), then the argument would no longer hold water.
On page 353-355 of The Greatest Show on Earth, Richard Dawkins alludes to the often-cited example
of the inversion of the vertebrate eye retina as an instance of bad design. However, recently identified
functional reasons for this design challenge the old Darwinian claim. Biologist George Ayoub has
shown, for example, that the vertebrate retina provides an excellent example of what engineers call a
constrained optimisation, in which several competing design objectives are elegantly balanced to
achieve an optimal overall design.
Light at various wavelengths is capable of inducing degenerative effects on biological machinery. The
retina is clearly designed with the inbuilt purpose of withstanding the toxic and heating effects of light.
The eye is well equipped to protect the retina against radiation from the outside world. Besides the
almost complete exclusion of ultraviolate radiation by the cornea and the lens together, the retina also
serves a crucial role in protection against such damage for example, producing substances with
combat the damaging chemical by-products of light radiation.
The photoreceptors, therefore, need to be in direct contact with the retinal pigment epithelium, which
plays an essential part in sustaining them. The retinal pigment epithelium, in turn, requires to be in
direct contact with the choroids. Both of these are required in order to satisfy the nutritional
requirements and thus prevent overheating the retina from focused light (as a consequence of the heat
sink effect of bloodflow).
If, conversely, the human retina were wired the other way as Dawkins proposes that it should be,
these two opaque layers would need to be interposed in the path of light to the photoreceptors , which
really would be bad design!
Conclusion: Does Richard Dawkins have the goods?
Richard Dawkins continues in the same vein throughout his book. One favourable review of Dawkins
book, published in The Guardian, commented that while The Greatest Show on Earth demonstrates
once again [Dawkins] consummate skill as an explainer, the science covered by the book mostly
rehashed pretty standard stuff. The book fails to address the growing problems of biological
information, the origin of life, how natural selection coupled with chance mutations can account for the
origin of irreducibly complex systems, which continue to defy the Darwinism he preaches. Darwin
called The Origin of Species one long argument for his theory, but Richard Dawkins has given us one
long bluff. The Greatest Show on Earth seeks to defend neo-Darwinism by appealing to theological
arguments, by attempting to explain away the challenge of the Cambrian explosion by means of
invoking ad-hoc conjectures, by exaggerating the evidence for the potentiality of natural selection, by
misrepresenting design arguments, casting down straw-men, and by avoiding mention of the most
sinister threats to the neo-Darwinian model of origins.
Another point which is worth mentioning is that one should not be so taken with the evidence that is
consistent with evolution that we think we can ignore the evidence that contradicts it. And this isnt a
balancing act weighing whether there is more evidence for or against the theory. We know from
common experience that even a small amount of clearly contradictory evidence outweighs a large body
of consistent evidence. A common thread running throughout Richard Dawkins book (The Greatest
Show on Earth) is the analogy of weighing up incriminating evidence in a court of law. But in a court

of law, no matter how much evidence appears to incriminate someone, it would be entirely outweighed
by a reliable alibi that the accused was in a totally different location at the time of the crime. The same
is true of science. Even a small amount of attestable data that clearly contradicts evolution is sufficient
to demonstrate that it is false, despite a much larger body of evidence that is consistent with it.
The actual evidence shows that major features of the fossil record and cell biology are an
embarrassment to Darwinian evolution. Judged by the normal criteria of empirical science, the data
used to prop up neo-Darwinism is weak. We know today that there are multiple critical facts which
strike hard blows at the conventional understanding of the theory. These are not merely trivial problems
or anomalies that are likely to be solved, but fundamental matters that appear to be without prospect of
solution.
The Greatest Show on Earth: The Evidence for Evolution is a 2009 book by British biologist Richard
Dawkins, which was released on 3 September 2009 in the UK and on 22 September 2009 in the US[3]
It sets out the evidence for biological evolution, and is Dawkins's 10th book, following his best-selling
critique of religion The God Delusion (2006) and The Ancestor's Tale (2004), which traced human
ancestry back to the dawn of life.
The book is published in the United Kingdom and Commonwealth nations by Transworld,[4] and in the
United States by Free Press.[5] In its first week of release, it topped The Sunday Times' Bestseller list,
with more than twice the sales of its nearest competitor.[6] An audiobook version has also been
released, read by Dawkins and his wifeThe Greatest Show on Earth, Chapter 1
Posted on October 10, 2009 by John C. Snider
Chapter-by-chapter thoughts on Richard Dawkins The Greatest Show on Earth: The Evidence for
Evolution
Dawkins calls young earth creationists, history deniers. Similar to holocaust deniers, the history deniers
deny evidence of evolutionary history regardless of how strong the evidence. This gave Dawkins a
reason to write this book - to explain the vast evidence of evolution and its theory, natural selection,
through time. Since over 40 percent of Americans do not accept evolution, this book serves to educate
them about that evidence.
Unlike Dawkins last book, The God Delusion, this book does not push atheism over religion. Instead
Dawkins returns to teach science. It does, however, address the creationists because they have created
religious propaganda and political tools to prevent the teaching of evolution in schools and have spread
falsehoods about evolution to the public. (Go to this site for an example of a typical gross
misunderstanding of evolution spread by creationists: http://www.scienceprovesit.com. Notice there's
no email address for replies.)
Surprisingly, most religious leaders, as Dawkins explains, accept evolution (albeit, with the condition
that a god started it all) but they don't spend the time to explain it to their congregations. Thus the
problem of misunderstanding evolution gets spread from misinformed creationists and intransigent
believers who do not understand science because no one has ever taught it correctly to them. In
Dawkins past science books, he provides explanations for the theory of evolution but without going
into detail about how scientists gather evidence. This book addresses the evidence from fossil,
geological, DNA, and natural clocks used to determine times (tree rings, radioactive clocks, and
molecular clocks).
To deny natural selection amounts to denying the facts of life and its millions of years of its history. It
gets worse. Dawkins points out that if you deny the facts of evolution you also have to deny the tools
that has established them - the sciences of which include biology, physics, geology, cosmology,

archaeology, history and chemistry. Moreover, one would have to dismiss the lines of evidence that
include: fossil, homologies, DNA, distribution in time and space, and evidence by experiment.
No doubt everyone has heard the clarion cry from creationists: "No one has ever watched evolution
happening before our eyes" (I wonder if they also deny that grass grows because, lets face it, no one
actually sees grass growing before our eyes either do we?). Dawkins brilliantly dispels the "no one ever
watched evolution" misconception by using an analogy of a detective coming upon a scene of a crime
after the event and making interferences. You don't have to actually see the crime to come to a
conclusion as to how the crime happened.
Step by step, Dawkins takes us through the "criminal" evidence starting with (like Darwin in his Origin
of Species), domestication of animals called artificial selection. Anyone can understand artificial
selection, and as Dawkins says, "Natural selection is the same, with one minor detail changed." Some
creationists actually accept evolution of this kind calling it microevolution (as opposed to
macroevolution) without realizing that all of evolution works this way. Creationists think that new
species would have to come from macroevolution which they claim never happens. Apparently they
think scientists believe that a species must macro jump into existence by chance. They don't understand
the scientific meaning of macroevolution (coined by the Russian entomologist, Yuri Filipchenko in
1927). Macroevolution to the scientist means the compounded effects of microevolution over time.
Today, biologists rarely use the term because it can mislead one to think it works differently than
microevolution as if it meant a different kind of evolution.
The book also covers the "missing link" misconception. Apparently some people think that once one
finds these illusive links that evolution will prove itself without realizing that we already have these
links. Lots of them. Dawkins explains that all fossils represent missing links. Every fossil and, indeed,
every living life form gives evidence of either a transition between two forms or, in the case of modern
species, a transition between a previous specie and a specie in the future not yet determined by natural
selection (which may or may not occur depending if it survives or goes extinct). Amazing as it may
seem, Dawkins reports that we don't even need these missing links to determine evolution: "[W]e don't
need fossils in order to demonstrate that evolution is a fact. The evidence for evolution would be
entirely secure, even if not a single corpse had ever fossilized."
I enjoyed Dawkins explanation of the epistemological barrier to evolution. He asks, "why did it take so
long for Darwin to arrive on the scene? What delayed humanity's tumbling to that luminously simple
idea?" The barrier came in the form of Plato's language of essentialism, a belief that limited humans for
thousands of years. As a philosopher once observed, "You don't need to take drugs to hallucinate;
improper language can fill your world with phantoms and spooks of many kinds." The evolutionary
view of life, Dawkins explains, proves radically opposite that of essentialism. Once you clear your head
of unnecessary beliefs, it leaves open to Darwin (or a Wallace) to explore new scientific territories.
Creationists also continually misunderstand the concept of entropy claiming that life forms contradict
the Second Law of Thermodynamics. Dawkins gives about the best explanation I've yet seen as to why
living things don't contradict the Second Law. It further embarrasses the creationists because it shows
that they don't understand physics any more than they do biology.
Some people have argued against Dawkins because he calls those who don't subscribe to evolution as
ignorant, fatuously ignorant, or ridiculous. "Who, exactly, is supposed to read this book? Is Dawkins
preaching to the choir or trying to convert the uninformed?" they ask. Thomas Jefferson once wrote,
"Ridicule is the only weapon which can be used against unintelligible propositions." Dawkins,

however, doesn't ridicule through ad homenims but rather, indirectly by explaining the evidence.
Imagine a group of workers (say 100) inside an industrial building with no windows where five of them
claim that it's not raining outside. These five people have convinced everyone that it's not raining
except for one person. This one person (lets call him Darkins), notices a sound on the roof that
resembles raindrops falling on the roof. He decides to investigate further and walks outside (despite the
rule that workers shouldn't leave their work stations). Low and behold, Darkins discovers that it's
pouring rain. He goes back inside and tries to convince the people that it's actually raining outside. A
few skeptics listen to Darkins and walk outside to see the claimed evidence for themselves.
Unfortunately, the five rain deniers continue to convince 40 percent of the other people that it's not
raining. Darkins tries to explain the rain to them and implores them to look at the evidence. They
accuse Darkins of being angry, shrill, and strident. The stubborn rain deniers don't even want to
consider the rain theory because they find the no-rain hypothesis more comforting and they don't want
to drive home in a pouring rain, and besides, their "god" favors the no-rain hypothesis. How dare
anyone contradict us! However, when the work day ends the people leave the building to go home only
to discover that it's raining cats-and-dogs. Instantly, all of them are convinced that it's raining except
the five original rain-deniers. Not only do the rain-deniers look ridiculous, the other people who once
believed them feel deeply embarrassed for them.
The moral of the story: Although the diehard rain-deniers may never accept the rain theory, anyone
who has a scintilla of reason and has the will to look at the evidence can see the rain for themselves.
Well, this book provides the rain of evidence against the creationists and, indeed, the evidence makes
them look absolutely ridiculous.

A few quotes from the book:


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.
Why did it take so long for a Darwin to arrive on the scene? . . . For Mayr, the culprit was the ancient
philosophical doctrine of - to give it its modern name - essentialism. The discovery of evolution was
held back by the dead hand of Plato.
Indeed, psychologists studying the development of language tell us that children are natural
essentialists.
Darwin gave so much prominence to domestication at the beginning of On the Origin of Species.
Anybody can understand the principle of evolution by artificial selection. Natural selection is the same,
with one minor detail changed.
The theological mind takes a delight in the niceties of dietary laws and the ingenuity required to dodge
them. In South America, capybaras (sort of giant guinea pigs) were deemed to be honorary fish for the
purposes of Catholic dietary laws on Fridays, presumably because they live in water. According to the
food writer Doris Reynolds, French Catholic gourmets discovered a loophole that enabled them to eat
meat on Fridays. Lower a leg of lamb into a well and then 'fish' it out. They must think God is awfully
easily fooled.

If the history-deniers who doubt the fact of evolution are ignorant of biology, those who think the world
began less than ten thousand years ago are worse than ignorant, they are deluded to the point of
perversity. They are denying not only the facts of biology but those of physics, geology, cosmology,
archaeology, history and chemistry as well.
Animals generally can't digest cellulose without the aid of bacteria or other micro-organisms, and many
vertebrates set aside a blind alley in the gut called the caecum, which houses such bacteria and acts as a
fermentation chamber (our appendix is a vestige of the larger caecum in our more vegetarian
ancestors).
Just think what you might see in three of four decades if you followed the evolution of bacteria, whose
generations are measured in hours or even minutes, rather than years!
[W]e don't need fossils in order to demonstrate that evolution is a fact. The evidence for evolution
would be entirely secure, even if not a single corpse had ever fossilized.
J.B.S. Haldane famously retorted, when asked to name an observation that would disprove the theory
of evolution, 'Fossil rabbits in the Precambrian!'
It would be so nice if those who oppose evolution would take a tiny bit of trouble to learn the merest
rudiments of what it is that they are opposing.
When we say that 'fish' emerged on to the land, we have to remember that 'fish' like 'reptiles', do not
constitute a natural group.
To an evolutionist, as we just saw in the example of reptiles and birds, a 'natural' group of animals is a
group all of whose members are closer cousins to each other than they are to all non-members of the
group.
If we had a continuous and unbroken fossil record, the granting of distinct names to species and genera
would become impossible, or at least very problematical. It is a fair conclusion that the predominate
source of discord among paleoanthropologists - whether such and such a fossil belongs tin the
species/genus or that - is deeply and interestingly futile.
Let us hear the conclusion of the whole matter. There is no overall plan of development, no blueprint,
no architect's plan, no architect. The development of the embryo, and ultimately of the adult, is
achieved by local rules implemented by cells, interacting with other cells on a local basis. What goes on
inside cells, similarly, is governed by local rules that apply to molecules, especially protein molecules,
within the cells and in the cell membranes, interacting with other such molecules. Again, the rules are
all local, local, local. Nobody, reading the sequence of letters in the DNA of a fertilized egg, could
predict the shape of the animal it is going to grow into.
[M]ost, if not all, of the millions of evolutionary divergences that have populated the Earth with such
luxuriant diversity began with the chance separation of two subpopulations of a species, often, though
not always, on either side of a geographical barrier such as a sea, a river, a mountain range or a desert
valley.
It is almost too ridiculous to mention it, but I'm afraid I have to because of the more than 40 percent of

the American population who, I lamented in Chapter 1, accept the Bible literally: think what the
geographical distribution of animals should look like if they'd all dispersed from Noah's Ark. Shouldn't
there be some soft of law of decreasing species diversity as we move away from an epicentre - perhaps
Mount Ararat? I don't need to tell you that that is not what we see.
Nevertheless, strong as the fossil evidence is, I again want to emphasize that it is not the strongest we
have. Even if not a single fossil had ever been found, the evidence from surviving animals would still
overwhelmingly force the conclusion that Darwin was right.
Just as the vertebrate skeleton is invariant across all vertebrates while the individual bones differ, and
just as the crustacean exoskeleton is invariant across all crustaceans while the individual 'tubes' vary, so
the DNA code is invariant across all living creatures, while the individual genes vary. This is a truly
astounding fact, which shows more clearly than anything else that all living creatures are descended
from a single ancestor.
Given that a cave salamander lives in perpetual darkness so has no use for eyes, why would a divine
creator nevertheless furnish it with dummy eyes, clearly related to eyes but non-functional?
[J]ust as we should expect if the survival of the fittest, rather than design, underlies the world of nature,
the world of nature seems to take no steps at all to reduce the sum total of suffering.
Natural selection cares naught for any comfort. Why should it? For something to happen in nature, the
only requirement is that the same happening in ancestral times assisted the survival of the genes
promoting it. Gene survival is a sufficient explanation for the cruelty of wasps and callous indifference
of all nature: sufficient - and satisfying to the intellect if not to human compassion.
If animals aren't suffering, somebody isn't working hard enough at the business of gene survival.
Even if it were true that evolution, or the teaching of evolution, encouraged immorality, that would not
imply that the theory of evolution was false. It is quite astonishing how many people cannot grasp this
simple point of logic. The fallacy is so common it even has a name, the argumentum ad consequentiam
- X is true (or false) because of how much I like (or dislike) it consequences.
When creationists say, as they frequently do, that the theory of evolution contradicts the Second Law of
Thermodynamics, they are telling us not more than that they don't understand the Second Law (we
already knew that they don't understand evolution). There is no contradiction, because of the sun!
We are surrounded by endless forms, most beautiful and most wonderful, and it is no accident, but the
direct consequences of evolution by non-random natural selection - the only game in town, the greatest
show on Earth.

by John C. Snider 2009


Im sitting down to read Richard Dawkins latest bookThe Greatest Show on Earth: The Evidence for
Evolution (pub. by Free Press, Sep 2009, 470 pp hdcvr, $30)and I thought Id try something a little
different. Instead of writing a lengthy review of the whole book, Im going to write a (hopefully) brief
blog entry summarizing my thoughts on each of the 13 chapters. If you havent yet started this book,

heres a great opportunity to read it at the same time as others and add your comments to each chapter
discussion. Also, let me know if you like or dont like this approach: if I get a good response, I may
blog about other books in a similar fashion.
So here we go
Preface
Dawkins brings up a couple of things: first, he notes (laments?) that in all the books hes written, hes
never laid out the explicit evidentiary case for the theory of evolution; second, he explains that the
books title comes from a t-shirt he was given on which was written Evolution, The Greatest Show on
Earth, the Only Game in Town.
On the first point, he neednt beat himself up too much. Biology, like all sciences, needs to be
summarized and brought up-to-date for general audiences from time to time to reflect the latest and
most complete understandingand as Dawkins points out, since 2009 is Darwins 200th birthday and
The Origin of Species 150th anniversary, this is as good a time as any.
On his second point, herein is one of my minor quibbles with this book. Although I agree that life is
the greatest show on earth (without which our planet would be just another planet, different from any
other only in the particulars of weather, chemical make-up and geological activity), this books title
inevitably makes me think its about the Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus.
Chapter 1: Only a theory?
Dawkins begins by laying out the challenge facing biology today: that a significant percentage of the
population (40% of Americans, give or take, depending on which poll you read) do not believe that
human beings evolved from previous forms, or that the earth is any older than 10,000 years. To
highlight how ridiculous and infuriating this can be, Dawkins makes two comparisons, one to a
fictitious faction that causes trouble for history teachers by denying that the Roman Empire ever
existed, and another, all too real faction that denies the Holocaust ever took place.
Im not so crazy about the latter comparison: Holocaust deniers are an insipid lot, usually driven by
anti-Semitism or some other form of cultural hatred, while evolution deniers generally strike me as
simply uneducated, or at worst willfully uninformed. They dont seem to be motivated by hatred, so I
would hesitate to throw Creationist Christians in the same pot with neo-Nazis.
I do, however, like the former comparison: for one thing, the fact that linguists can find traces of the
now-dead Latin in modern-day languages like French, Spanish, Italian and English makes for a nice
comparison with the fact that biologists find traces of long-extinct ancestors in the DNA of modern
animals and plantsincluding human beings. To deny the existence of the Roman Empire is very much
like denying evolution.
Dawkins also tries to engage in some semantic gamesmanship, which brings me to another quibble.
Dawkins says hell be referring to evolution deniers as history deniers, which seems odd. Wouldnt
they be prehistory deniers? Using such a pejorative term seems odd given that he says the historydeniers themselves are among those that I am trying to reach in this book. He also says hell refer to
them as 40-percenters, in reference to the American poll numbers. This seems odd to me as well,
since it implies a static state of affairs. This book runs the risk of quickly sounding out of date: poll

numbers change, and in a few years only 30 percent of the population might be Creationists.
In addressing the oft-used dismissal by Creationists that Evolution is only a theoryeven scientists say
so, Dawkins tries to sidestep the issue by coining a new term: theorum. If the Creationists insist on
conflating theory (as in a vague explanation) with scientific theory (as in a hypothesis that has been
accepted as accounting for known facts), then Dawkins suggests we cease talking about theories and
instead talk about theorums. He borrows from the mathematical theorem (which can, in fact, be
proven using the rules of math) and creates the term theorum to define something in science that has
been supported by massive quantities of evidence [and] accepted by all informed observers.
Good luck with that one, Richard. Words are tricky things, and aside from the fact that working
scientists arent likely to start talking about theorums, as soon as the Creationists get wind of this effort
theyll sing from the rooftops about how scientists are running away from the word theory like
Democrats run from the word liberal and now call themselves progressive. This theorum initiative
reminds me of the effort from a few years ago to redefine atheists as Brightsan effort that has more
or less evaporated and is, ironically, embraced by Dawkins. Since scientists would presumably get
bogged down in explaining what theorum means, theyre not saving any breath by not having to
explain what a scientific theory means. So lets just drop this theorum business and move on to
Chapter 2.
The Greatest Show on Earth, Chapter 2
Posted on October 11, 2009 by John C. Snider
Chapter-by-chapter thoughts on Richard Dawkins The Greatest Show on Earth: The Evidence for
Evolution
by John C. Snider 2009
Chapter 2: Dogs, cows and cabbages
In Chapter 2 Dawkins tackles another of the common criticisms that evolution deniers like to whip
out: that scientists cant even agree on a concise definition of species. This is true to some extent, but
Dawkins maintainsand I think hes right on this onethat our ability to conceptualize species is
hobbled by our intuitive categorical thinking. Dawkins reminds us of Platos Forms: the Greek
philosopher theorized that idealized versions of everything exist in some higher realm. Somewhere
theres the Ideal Dog, of which every real and individual dog is an imperfect manifestation.
Of course, there is no Ideal Dog; there are only populations of dogs, each varying in different degrees
from the rest of the population. So when we think about evolution, its better to think in terms of the
normal curve along which individuals exist within the overall population. It is then a little easier to
see two populations of the same species slowly diverging, gradually losing their overlap until, after
many, many generations, they no longer overlapand a new species is born. (At least I think this is
what hes saying: I must embarrassedly admit I havent had any formal biology education since high
school!)
I also like Dawkins Hairpin Thought Experiment. The idea here is to pick any given animal in
existence today (Dawkins uses a rabbit), and form an enormously long line, starting with the rabbits
mother, then grandmother, and on and on, a vast conga line of bunnies stretching back into deep time.
Eventually, Dawkins points out, youll start to see creatures that look less and less rabbity and more
unfamiliar. At some point, you stop examining this lineage and make a hairpin turn and begin
following another line of progeny from the ancestral pre-rabbit-mammal, and if you know which

daughter to follow, slowly, slowly you will find your way by increments to the modern leopard! (It
should go without saying, of course, that rabbits and leopards, like all living things, share a common
ancestor.)
Dawkins also spends some time discussion how human-guided breeding of animals to create various
extremes (like chihuahuas, or any other pure breed you could name) illustrates how unguided breeding
(through natural selection) can lead, over great swaths of time, to the incredible diversity of flora or
fauna we see today. I suspect this point may be lost on those who see human-guided breeding as the
only way such extremes could have come about: it would have been nice had Dawkins continued the
analogy to show how some random environmental factor blindly acted on a population to create some
species or other. Maybe he will later in the book.
The Greatest Show On Earth by Richard Dawkins: CHAPTER 2 'Dogs, Cows and Cabbages?'
The Softeningup Process
In this chapter, we are still not got going to discuss any scientific evidence for evolution or common
ancestry, instead RD is going to take us on a journey, which he calls the softening-up process. He is
following the lead of Darwin before him, in the Origin of the Species, and he explores aspects of
artificial selection, in a number of creatures, and in particular, those mentioned in the chapters title.
If human breeders can transform a wolf into a Pekinese, or a wild cabbage into a cauliflower, in just a
few centuries or millennia, why shouldnt non-random survival of wild animals and plants do the same
thing over millions of years? p42
Throughout this chapter RD seeks to convince us that the process that man has been using to mould
various things around us, has been going on in a similar way in nature for millions of years. One type
of organism has slowly but surely, little by little, transformed into a completely different organism.
Just as Darwin did, RD repeats here, many of the amazing transformations that man has been able to
achieve by artificial means. And as you would expect, mans best friend , plays a prominent part in
this illustration, as it is familiar to almost everyone. RD asks us in this chapter, why since we have seen
the great variability in dogs and cabbages; couldnt nature have done the same in the rest of the living
world, over millions of years?
It is in this chapter, we get our first introduction to the term, genetic mutation. Mutations are the
random changes in genes that constitute the raw material for evolution by non-random selection p35
This then, is a summation of the neo-Darwinian view which RD promotes in this book. Interestingly, I
think RD answers this question on the same page as the quote above. In nature, large mutations
seldom survive, but geneticists like them in the laboratory because they are easy to easy to
study...achondroplasia, (short legs in a dog) a classic example of a large mutation that would be
unlikely to survive in nature. pP35
This is like the classic experiments that were done, and no doubt are still being done on fruit flies.
As we are told here, beneficial mutations are the raw material for evolution and we are told that they
have made lots of mutated in the fruit flies. Unfortunately, none of these mutations were beneficial to
them. One of the classic examples was the four winged fruit fly which is in so many text books,
telling of the evidence of evolution. Most of these text books do not mention that the mutant fruit flies
do not exist outside of the lab, nor that these extra wings are non functional wings. RD though, is

aware of these things, and as wisely he does not use these as examples of evolution in action as others
before him have done. Indeed, the poor old fruit fly, which is so well known to us as evidence, hardly
gets a mention in this summary of the evidence of evolution.
Instead of using the scientific experiments done to fruit flies, RD prefers to continue his softening-up
process by using a thought experiment.
If large mutations could not survive in nature- he then offers us the thought that it was not by large
mutations, but by a vast amount of very small mutations over millions of years that all these changes
happened.
On the evolutionary view, there really is a series of intermediate animals connecting a rabbit to a
leopard, every one of whom lived and breathed, every one of whom would have been placed in exactly
the same species as its immediate neighbours on either side in the long sliding continuum p24 We
dont know exactly what it looked like, but it follows from the evolutionary view that it definitely had
to exist. P25
So, once again, we will forgo any actual scientific evidence, and begin our journey into the deep
recesses of our common ancestry by going on a virtual journey back in time, with our minds eye, and
use our imagination to see how things may have been, or in RD view, how they things definitely did
occur. His view, of course is simple and plausible. So he asks the question; why did it take thousands of
years, until Darwin, to work this simple idea out?
Perhaps it was religious indoctrination that held us back. Or perhaps it was the daunting complexity of
a living organ such as an eye, freighted as it is with the beguiling illusion of design by a master
engineer. Probably all of those played a role p21
Obviously, even though he is playing down his negative views of religion, he cant resist the odd dig at
the negative effects that he believes it has played in the progress of science. Though, to be fair, he does
not concentrate on this aspect, but suggests that a long held view of the immutability of species
played the major role in holding back his more accurate view.
He goes on to show us that, Nowadays we know that genes are lengths of DNA code...Genes dont
blend; they shuffle. P29 There is no intrinsic tendency in gene pools to increase or decrease in
frequency. But when there is a systematic increase or decrease in frequency with which we see a
particular gene in the gene pool, that is precisely and exactly what is meant by evolution. P33
In these quotes RD is explaining that we have now learnt that there are variations from organism to
organism of the same species, and that this is due to genes in the DNA code He is also reverting to a
more familiar definition of evolution and it is even one which creationists themselves actually agree
with- change over time. This is not something that is in dispute, both sides agree that there are
variations within the species. It is the range and extent of this variation that is the heart of this matter.
Gene pools, on the other hand, are continually added to, for example by mutation, while at the same
time non-random death subtracts. P37
RD and evolutionists in general, contend that mutations add to organisms and natural selection
subtracts. Creationists agree that natural selection subtracts, but dispute that mutations actually add to
an organism. In a later chapter, RD presents an experiment, which he contends shows mutations in the
process of adding. I will offer a different and alternative explanation at that time.

In the meantime, he reminds us of two computer programs which he helped to design, which
illustrate his premise of evolution by small steps, and he tells us that it is explained more fully in
another book. These computer programs, though they are no doubt appealing and show how things
could happen, they are only speculative and they still rely on a designer to write the rules in the first
place, so they are in reality nothing more than illustrative of how things could happen, and in no way
evidence of how things did happen in the past.
To conclude my review of this chapter, I will comment on one further quotation. If so much change
can be achieved in just a few centuries or even decades, just think what might be achieved in ten or a
hundred million years. P37
This chapter has focused on artificial selection, both in living organisms, and in computer programs.
He has introduced us to mutations and the gene pool. He has helped us use our imagination to take
a thought experiment, in his quest to soften us up. We have been given the ability to imagine how
thing may have happened, but he has yet to present us with any actual scientific evidence to show us
that his viewpoint is the actual way that it happened.
On to Chapter 3!
The Greatest Show on Earth is available at Amazon.com and Amazon.co.uk.
The Greatest Show on Earth, Chapter 3
Posted on October 12, 2009 by John C. Snider
Chapter-by-chapter thoughts on Richard Dawkins The Greatest Show on Earth: The Evidence for
Evolution
by John C. Snider 2009
Chapter 3: The primrose path to macro-evolution
As I had hoped/suspected, Dawkins turns his attention from artificial selection to natural selection.
Unfortunately, I have a slight problem with the way he introduces it. He starts by pointing out that
there is evidence that plants (namely flowers) have influence the evolution of insects and birds, and
vice versa. But he falls into a trap that has plagued many an evolutionary biologist speaking to general
audiences, and that is in the unintentional implication of intent in the effect one species of plant or
animal has on the evolution of another.
Properly speaking, things dont evolve, they are evolved. Giraffes dont evolve long necks in ahapter 5
desperate attempt to reach the utmost branches; rather, proto-giraffes with incrementally longer necks
held an inherent survival advantage over their shorter-necked kin, and over the millennia what we think
if as giraffes were evolved out of that iterative, unintentional process.
So, when talking about the relationship between flowering plants and insects, and the evolutionary
relationship between them, Dawkins doesnt, for example, say that plants whose flowers happened to
have sugar-bearing nectars naturally attracted insects, and so gained an inherent survival advantage
over their less-sweet kin who had to rely solely on the wind to pollinate them. Instead, Dawkins talks
about plants using a bribe of food, which to me sounds too much like intent on the part of the plant,
as if they were nervous debutantes plotting how to attract a suitor, when in fact its just mindless,
unguided happenstance. Dawkins even describes flowers [guiding] bees in to land by little runway

markings, painted on the flower in ultraviolet pigments, when actually, he should have been more
explicit that flowers which happened to have certain kinds of markings were favored by bees, and so
over the years those plants gained a survival advantage. Instead, it sounds like flowers have a night
crew out painting a runway.
Thats not to say Dawkins is peddling intentional evolutionfar from it. Its just I think he could have
been a little clearer in spelling out how its a blind, unguided process that nonetheless can be shown to
yield certain results. (I should say I particularly liked Dawkins skeptical approach to the urban
legend about how the Heikea japonica crab developed its uncannily face-like carapacea folktale that
apparently suckered both Sir Julian Huxley and Carl Sagan.)
Dawkins goes on to discuss sexual selection, although he (perhaps wisely) doesnt get bogged down in
what scientists think about why, for example peahens like a certain kind of peacock. But the fact that
peahens have specific proclivities has undeniable shaped, or colored, the peacock we see today.
Overall, not a bad chapter, but I still think Dawkins, although he comes around to it in the end, could
have been a little clearer in explaining the unguided nature of evolution.The Greatest Show on Earth,
Thoughts on The Greatest Show On Earth chapter 3 The Primrose Path to Macro-Evolution
Submitted by craig on Mon, 25/06/2012 - 11:34pm
Articles:
Creation and Evolution
In chapter 2, Richard Dawkins talked about artificial selection. In chapter 3, he moves on to natural
selection. The title of the chapter is the intriguing The Primrose Path to Macro-Evolution, which led
me to believe he would discuss my criticism of the previous chapternamely, where new genetic
information comes from. But no, the chapter doesnt go there, but goes in a direction I didnt expect. As
far as I can tell, his objective in chapter 3 is to make one main point: natural selection is essentially the
same mechanism as artificial selection, even though the selecting agent doesnt consciously choose to
do so. Oh, and ipso facto, evolution is true.
The first few sentences sum it up nicely:
Chapter 2 showed how the human eye, working by selective breeding over many generations, sculpted
and kneaded dog flesh to assume a bewildering variety of forms, colours, sizes and behaviour patterns.
But we are humans, accustomed to making choices that are deliberate and planned. Are there other
animals that do the same thing as human breeders, perhaps without deliberation or intention but with
similar results? Yes, and they carry this books softening-up program steadily forward.
That leads into descriptions of various plants and animals and their interdependencies, with the
assertion that these plants and/or animals have been working essentially the same magic as artificial
selection. But this time, its all-natural (with no artificial flavours, colours or preservatives added).
I say assertion because the chapter is distinctly unlike the previous chapter, lacking evidence to
support the ideas. Rather than making direct observation of naturally-selected changes, Dawkins
observes the interdependencies between creatures and asserts natural selection drove them to that point.
I suppose he is expecting that by naturally following on from the previous chapters discussion on
artificial selection, the validity of the next step (natural selection) is carried by the philosophical and
intuitive appeal of the idea.

Natural wonders
Starting with the section Insects were the first domesticators, Dawkins introduces the reader to some
of the interdependencies in nature, such as the mutual dependency between flowers and the animals
that pollinate them. I certainly give him credit for interesting and entertaining reading, and I appreciate
his knowledge of the natural world and its scientific discoveries.
The first topic is sunflowers. As Dawkins points out, the sunflowers we see today have been
significantly altered by artificial selection, for food, dyes and decoration. The Russians bred the huge
sunflowers, apparently, and native Americans before that had done their own artificial selection.
But before that again, sunflowers, like all brightly coloured flowers, owed their very existence to
selective breeding by insects.
Show us your evidence
The chapter is full of these assertions. What evidence does he put forward to support such statements?
Very little that I could find in this chapter. Wait, I found something here that might qualify as evidence:
Darwin found an orchid from Madagascar, Angraecum sesquipedale, that had an 11-inch tubular
nectary. He made the prediction, from evolutionary theory, that there must exist a moth with an 11-inch
proboscis, in order to pollinate the flower. Lo and behold, years later, the predicted moth was
discovered. Hooray for evolution!
The objection which seems a worthy one is this: wouldnt creationism naturally make the same
prediction?
Evolutionists predict, creationists predict, we all predict survivors
Like Dawkins, creationists marvel at the interdependency of creatures in nature, as well as the complex
mechanisms employed by plants and animals to achieve their business. It is no surprise to creationists
that flowers should depend on insects, and insects depend on flowers. (One might even argue that such
interdependency is more expected to be produced by divine creation than by evolution, though that is
mostly a philosophical and theological argument.) Creationists could call such harmonious cooperation
in nature the greatest show on earth, giving credit to divine providence. But the point is that both
creation and evolution seek to explain the same thing, which is populations and ecosystems that work
well, that are stable, in which each population of creatures has robust qualities that give it excellent
chances of survival. Isnt it marvelous, Dawkins says, describing the wonders of insects and flowers.
Isnt it marvelous, also say creationists. So the prediction of a moth that pollinates the orchid simply
is not a smoking gun for evolution. To point out a plant or animals compatibility with its environment
as evidence for ones theory (be it evolution or creation) is circular reasoning.
So Dawkins describes the wonders of insects and flowers, amidst the assertion that the cooperation
both drives, and is driven by, natural selection.
Dawkins description of natural selection has an intuitive appeal to it. It sounds more than plausibleit
even has a sense of inevitability about it. Its also a natural follow-on from artificial selection, so
putting these ideas in sequential chapters makes sense. So the idea seems intuitively powerful. In one
sense, the chapter seems odd in that it contains little evidence that the life has indeed come about by
this mechanism (rather than by an alternative, e.g. divine creation). Dawkins relies on the inherent
appeal of the intuitive power of the idea! At this point, I have two main objections.
That which explains everything explains nothing
The idea of natural selection, as explained here, seems almost limitless in its capabilities. So much so,

that the Dawkins seems to think that describing how natural selection could have made insects and
flowers what they are, functioning in a harmonious eco-system, is sufficient to win us to the theory. As
I said before, to point out creatures excellent features as evidence for evolution is circular reasoning. A
scientific theory needs to make testable predictions: if it is true, such-and-such is the way we expect the
world to appear. If the facts contradict the prediction, then this would be evidence against the theory.
But that is missing from the chapter.
Evolutionists sometimes criticise divine creation as being non-scientific because attributing something
to Gods doing is not a testable hypothesis. There is much that could be said about this. At this point Id
like to point out that Dawkins has done much the same thing in this chapter: attributing much to natural
selection, without a testable hypothesis. How did this happen? Natural selection did it. That is the
mantra of the chapter, and it ironically echoes the atheist accusation against creationistsHow did
this happen? God did it.
The primrose path leads to a giant leap
The chapter contains the same gloss as the previous chapter, and relates back to chapter 3s title: is this
really the path to macro-evolution? How far can this process go? The chapter starts with a well-defined
starting point (artificial selection) and segues into natural selection, but then tries to take a huge leap
into the chasm, apparently hoping to muster up sufficient momentum to carry the reader all the way
to... macro-evolution. But far from being hurled irresistibly all the way to the destination of macroevolution, I feel prodded towards the likelihood that natural selection can confer certain robustness to
populations of organisms.
Humans indeed select intelligently, and I agree that intelligence doesnt fundamentally change the
underlying genetic mechanism of selection, compared to natural selection. Same as in chapter 2, I
expect that natural selection can be as successful as artificial selectionit is limited by the available
gene pool. A populations gene pool confers a measure of variety which can give a population
robustness to better cope with a varying environment. I see Darwins finches as a great example of
natural selection in the short term. The environment changed, and selection worked with the gene pool
to achieve a beneficial result. Are there any limits to what this can achieve? Yes, the extent of the gene
pool represents the extent of possible evolution in the short term.
Dawkins doesnt really talk about any possible limitations of evolution by selection of a gene pool. He
seems to prefer an optimistic view: macro-evolution is simply the short-term change we see in artificial
selection, multiplied by lots of time:
The difference between any two breeds of dog gives us a rough idea of the quantity of evolutionary
change that can be achieved in less than a millennium. The next question we should ask is, how many
millennia do we have available to us in accounting for the whole history of life? If we imagine the
sheer quantity of difference that separates a pye-dog from a peke, which took only a few centuries of
evolution, how much longer is the time that separates us from the beginning of evolution or, say, from
the beginning of the mammals? Or from the time when fish emerged on to the land? The answer is that
life began not just centuries ago but tens of millions of centuries ago.
Dog breeding seems to represent a best-case scenario for natural selection, blessed by dogs gene pool.
Can it progress that easily, indefinitely? Even Dawkins says, while discussing canaries:
Domestically bred songs are longer, louder and more frequent than the wild ancestral type. But all these
highly prized songs are made up of elements that occur in wild canaries, just as the habits and tricks of
various breeds of dogs come from elements to be found in the behavioural repertoire of wolves.

What if the dog breeder tries to be ambitious, and aims for breeding a catbut the genes for meowing
or grooming just arent there? Or using my previous example of the blue rose, what happens if an
aspiring breeder discovers that, unlike their previous easy successes in rose breeding, the blue rose is
stubbornly elusive. How much time would they need then, persisting in artificial selection, to finally
achieve blue? Likewise what if a changing environment would metaphorically demand a rose to be
blue? If nature is not exceedingly patient, surely the creature must instead face extinction.
But what if... although blue is too difficult a path to take, there exists some other evolutionary path that
takes the population in a useful direction? Perhaps Im just being too picky? What if the trick is finding
an easier, more fruitful path forward?
Thou shalt mutate
But still, gene pools arent infinite. No matter what path we might choose, shuffling those genes,
eventually there must be boundaries. Despite the wonders of dog breeding, gene pools are most
definitely finite. The gene pool of the Cambrian creatures surely did not contain the genetic information
for fur, mammary glands or feathers. Shuffling genes doesnt get you anywhere; mutations would be
needed.
So if Dawkins is really going to talk about the path to macro-evolution, he cant just talk about
sufficient bucket-loads of time. He must elaborate on the questions of mutations, the creation of new
genetic information, the difficulty (or otherwise) of finding a plausible winding path of gradual genetic
change to a complex new feature. Therein lie numerous essential questions.
But for now, the book will focus on the element of time by the truckload. The next chapter is all about
time, and how much of it evolution has to work its magic.
Chapter 4
Posted on October 14, 2009 by John C. Snider
Chapter-by-chapter thoughts on Richard Dawkins The Greatest Show on Earth: The Evidence for
Evolution
by John C. Snider 2009
Chapter 4: Silence and slow time
Oooh, the colors! The Greatest Show on Earth boasts four sections of full-color illustrations, which is
very cool (and probably explains the books $30 cover price). Anyway, the first section of illustrations
is bound into the middle of Chapter 4.
How do we know the earth is 4.6 billion years old? Creationists, of course, claim its as little as 6,000
years old, and they have all sorts of clever-sounding-but-not-so-clever-actually arguments. One of their
most common plaints is that carbon-14 dating is rife with inaccuracy. Dawkins reminds us, however,
that carbon-14 (which has a half-life of about 5,700 years) is useful primarily in determining the age of
things that are less than, say, 60,000 years old. In other words, carbon-14 is not used to determine the
age of 10o-million-year-old dinosaur fossils.
But of course, any dating system using so-called radioactive clocks (which rely on our knowing the
half-lives of various elements), has some inherent measurement error, and is subject to some
guesswork. Nonetheless, Dawkins points out that scientists rely on a number of different dating
systems, from which we can triangulate (or quadragulate or quintagulate?) a pretty accurate estimate of

4.6 billion years. The fact that the various dating systems converge on that number is a pretty good
indication that the scientists know what they are doing.
What I find totally kick-ass is that we dont have to rely on fancy-schmacy radiochemistry to know that
the earth is well over 6,000 years old. Dawkins gives a summary of the technique of
dendrochronology (i.e. dating objects based on a well-established timeline found in, of all things, tree
rings). Trees form rings on an annual basis, and the thickness of each ring is an indication of the
overall weather conditions for that year; e.g. a warm, rainy year will yield thicker rings, and vice versa
for a dry year. Historians are able to establish characteristic tree ring fingerprints based on historical
weather records, and thus are able to, as Dawkins puts it, daisychain their way back through time,
lining up ring patterns for trees that grew in overlapping time periods, extrapolating back to a time well
before human beings kept written meteorological accounts. In this way, one can theoretically establish
an unbroken tree ring record stretching back many thousands of yearswhich scientists have done,
going back to 11,500 years. So much for the 6,000 year old earth!
Finally, Dawkins decimates the plausible sounding, but ultimately ridiculous Creationist explanation
for the stratification of the fossil record. Ill let you read that for yourselves, but I think anyone in a
live debate with a Young Earther will be well-equipped to destroy the Noahs Flood argument once
youve read this chapter.
Oh, and remember back in Chapter 1 Dawkins insists his audience includes the so-called historydeniers? (A specious argument, I believe, since its hard to imagine reaching out to a selected
demographic by insulting them.) Dawkins convinces me he isnt serious about reaching these people,
since he opens Chapter 4 by calling Creationists worse than ignorant and deluded to the point of
perversity. Make no mistake, I do think theyre ignorant and deluded, but if I were trying to reach out
to them I wouldnt say it to their faces!
On to Chapter 5!Thoughts on The Greatest Show On Earth chapter 4 Silence and Slow Time
Submitted by craig on Sat, 15/09/2012 - 1:54am
Articles:
Creation and Evolution
Chapter 4 turns to the topic of time. Here Richard Dawkins is targeting young-earth creationism and its
denial that Earth has an ancient history. Ancient time is essential for evolution to be believable. On the
other hand, Christians are divided over whether the earth and universe is young or old, depending on
Scriptural interpretations.
Young-earth creationism context
I took a personal interest in young-earth creationism myself, and investigated it over several years.
Eventually, I concluded that the scientific evidence strongly supports an old earth and universe. I think
young-earth creationists might consider me heretical for saying I was convinced by the scientific
evidence (they would say I should trust the infallible word of God over the investigations of fallible
humans). I do have a high regard for the scientific method, and I reckon it is founded on principles
which are fully harmonious with the Biblical revelation of Gods creation and His character. So I
expect that it is possible for humans to discover truth through the scientific method, with certain key
caveatsmost importantly, that the scientific method isnt compromised with a priori presumptions of
only naturalistic explanations.
Christians uphold the authority of God-inspired scripture. However, that doesnt mean that scientific
evidence is ignoredthe scientific evidence may be convincing even to the point that Biblical

interpretations must be questioned, and I believe it has on the point of the age of the earth. Such cases
have occurred already, and history demonstrates that the flaw has been not with the Bible but with
human interpretations of itgeocentrism for example. In the case of geocentrism, history may also
demonstrate that the flaw originated not with a Biblical interpretation, but with human ideas that were
erroneously attributed to the Bible. In the pursuit of the truth, if the Bible is true, growing scientific
knowledge and growing understanding of Biblical revelation should converge harmoniously.
Argument for ancient time
Dawkins is targeting the young-earth world view in this chapter. Dawkins argument for ancient time in
chapter 4 is founded on these three things:
tree ring dating (dendrochronology)
radioactive clocks
the nature of the fossil record
He also mentions molecular clocks, but those arent discussed until chapter 10.
Tree-ring dating
Trees grow annual rings, and the rings allow us to count years. Of course, a single tree generally lives
for only hundreds of years (with a few spectacular exceptions). But tree rings can vary between years,
due to various environmental effects. So a particular time period can apparently leave a distinct
fingerprint on the tree rings of that time. Trees that live in an area at times that overlap may be
correlated by the fingerprint on their rings. By finding a suitable overlapping sequence of old trees or
tree timber, it can be possible to construct an overlapping sequence of ring patterns winding back over
thousands of years. After that, given another tree or timber from the area, it is possible to inspect its
rings and match it to the database of ring patterns, to date its history down to the year.
According to Dawkins, that method allows us to date as far back as 11,500 years. That isnt especially
remarkable for evolutionary time scales, but it does fly in the face of the time scales favoured by
young-earth creationistsespecially when you consider the young-earth estimated date of the Flood at
2438 BC. Old-earth creationists propose longer timelines, and/or a non-global (but universal for
humanity) Flood. So in that sense, the most interesting thing about tree-ring dating is not what it says
about evolution, but what is says about various creationism theories.
Dawkins doesnt present the hundreds of years of dendrochronology as an argument against
creationism, but rather just as a general warm-up of the broad concept of scientific dating using natural
clocks of various sorts. He moves on to radioactive clocks, and that is evidently his primary
argument for millions of years. Nevertheless, the dendrochronology does present young-earth ideas
with some troubling implications. That is, if relatively newer trees can can take us back 11,500 years,
then what does that imply about the fossilised forests? There is at least an implication of ancient time
well beyond the usual young-earth dating of 6,000 to 10,000 years.
Dawkins briefly mentions other similar annual-layer dating methods, such as varves in river or lake
beds, and coral growth patterns. The apparently annual varves of the Green River shale number about 6
million. That was among the evidence that I found quite compelling to support an old earth.
Radioactive clocks
Dawkins presents the case for millions of years using the evidence of radioactive clocks. He provides
several pages on the underlying principles of atomic structure, radioactive isotopes of elements, nuclear
(rather than chemical) reactions, and half-lives. After that, he explains potassium-argon dating in

particular, where an igneous rock can solidify from a molten state with no argon present and some
amount of radioactive potassium-40. From that, an igneous rock of today can be dated by measuring its
ratio of potassium-40 to argon-40. There are other radioactive elements used for dating, although he
doesnt go into so much detail to explain them.
The radioactive clocks alone are evidence of an ancient earth, regardless of any association with fossils.
But Dawkins also explains their connection with dating fossils. It cant be done directly, since
radioactive dating only works for igneous rocks (dating when they solidified from molten state),
whereas fossils are found in sedimentary rocks. However, fossil ages can be deduced by:
The worldwide phenomenon of identifiable layers (and layer sequences) of fossil-bearing sedimentary
rocks, bearing fossils characteristic to the layers
The presence of layers of igneous rocks overlying and underlying sedimentary rocks, in various
locations around the world
In no single location is there a complete set of fossil layers of the famous geologic column, with
accompanying igneous rocks to date all the layers. But through the world, there are apparently enough
layers to discern a consistent pattern of fossil layers. And in various places, there are enough
interspersed igneous rock layers to enable the fossil layers dates to be indirectly inferred by
association.
Initially, I could sympathise with young-earth creationists skepticism: Is the data and the method solid
enough to support the conclusion? Im not an expert, but the young-earth creationists have had years of
opportunity to argue about weaknesses in the data and the method. From what Ive heard, their
arguments are weak, and the case for old age is compelling.
Young-Earth Objections, and Isochron Dating
One argument against radioactive dating Ive heard is, But you must consider the assumptions. That
is, radioactive dating involves three assumptions:
The starting ratio of elements is known
There has not been contamination of the samples due to elements leaking in or out
The rate of radioactive decay has remained consistent over time
In this chapter, Dawkins doesnt mention an elaboration of radioactive dating, known as isochron
dating. I think its a pity he doesnt cover it, because isochron dating seems to significantly strengthen
the case for radioactive dating. The method uses multiple samples to generate multiple data points.
Statistical analysis of the multiple data points enables a statistical measure of the confidence in the
calculated age, pretty much eliminating the doubts about the first two assumptions above. The method
raises radioactive dating to another level of sophistication and confidence.
As for that last assumption, young earth creationists propose that the rate of radioactive decay could
have been significantly faster in the past, which could explain how the ages calculated from radioactive
dating could be systematically too old. Where is the evidence that supports it? If such a hypothesis
were true, it would have some significant implications for the laws of physics, and the history of the
earth and universe. Young-earth creationists would have to elaborate an alternative theory of physics
that elegantly incorporates a varying decay rate; it would have to be supported by evidence and not
beset by problems. For example, it would have to explain how stars could have maintained stable
nuclear burning as astronomers see them, despite a vastly faster radioactive decay rate in the past. They
would also need to offer a good explanation of how such a vastly faster radioactive decay rate would
not have caused destructive heating of the earth, since radioactive decay releases heat.

Isochron dating of meteorites quite consistently gives a result of 4.5 billion years. That calculation also
correlates with ages calculated from non-isochron radioactive dating methods. Considering the results
of radioactive dating and isochron dating, it seems that a sufficient body of data has been amassed that
it cant be plausibly dismissed, despite some known flaws and limitations. The evidence it presents for
an old earth and universe does seem quite consistent and convincing.
Objecting to Flood Interpretation of Fossil Record
After talking about radioactive dating methods, Dawkins criticises the young-earth creationist
interpretation of the fossil record being due to the flood. I couldnt agree more with Dawkins on this
point. I find the young-earth creationist flood geology to be especially scientifically untenable. The
fossil record shows distinct creatures in their distinct layers. Flood geology attempts to attribute this to
the varying ability of various creatures to escape the rising flood waters. This theory doesnt stand up to
scrutiny, for several reasons. Firstly, as Dawkins says, if the fleeing flood waters hypothesis were
true, we would expect to see some sort of statistical distribution (eg Gaussian distribution) of creatures
in the geological layers, according to their varying ability to flee the flood waters, but not an absolutely
clean separation. Secondly, we wouldnt expect plants and pollen to be separated into such distinct
layersyet they are.
Geology shows evidence of geological processes that require significant amounts of time to lay down
each of the various layers, as well as different environmental conditions in different time periods (e.g.
wet and dry; desert, flood and oceanic). The sheer depth and volume of geological strata is also beyond
the plausibility of young-earth flood geology.
The Conflict Between Science and Young-Earth Creationism
The exploration of young-earth creationism has been an interesting journey for me, which eventually
led to me being convinced by the scientific evidence that young-earth creationism is not true. Rather, I
conclude the earth and universe are old, for many of the reasons outlined in this chapter of Dawkins
book.
Ken Ham, the famous young-earth advocate, argues passionately that Biblical authority is at the crux of
the clash between science and creationism. And he evidently sees it as a clash of ideologies, a battle of
authority between God and fallen humanity. Ken Ham observes that many young people who grow up
in a church have a crisis of faith when they reach the university level, and the majority end up leaving
the faith. He reckons the solution is to stand up for the authority of the Biblical revelation, defending it
against the misguided efforts of scientific discovery that are contrary to God.
I see the situation profoundly differently to Ken Ham. I see the scientific method not as something to
be fought against by Christians, but as a method that is fully harmonious with the Biblical revelation
about Gods character, and therefore something Christians should embrace. If the Bible is true,
Christians should be able to do science and see how scientific evidence is in harmony with the Biblical
revelation. If there is a conflict, then we take a closer look at our interpretation of both the scientific
data and the Biblical text.
In the case of Ken Ham and other young-earth creationists, I appreciate in principle their desire to
defend the reliability and authority of the Bible, but I reckon they crucially misinterpret both the
Biblical text and the scientific data, at a high price. As long as they continue to insist on their young
earth interpretation of the Bible, in the face of such strong scientific evidence for an old earth, they
actually contribute to the phenomenon of young people abandoning their beliefs. If a young person is

led to believe that the young-earth Biblical interpretation is the only interpretation, no wonder they
have a crisis of faith when they see compelling scientific evidence for an old earth.
HuffPo covers AAI 2009!Rifqa Bary to return to Ohioor Sri Lanka
The Greatest Show on Earth, Chapter 5
Posted on October 15, 2009 by John C. Snider
Chapter-by-chapter thoughts on Richard Dawkins The Greatest Show on Earth: The Evidence for
Evolution
by John C. Snider 2009
Chapter 5: Before our very eyes
This chapter is both a necessary step in covering the gamut of arguments in favor of evolution and the
step that will least impress dyed-in-the-wool Creationists. Dawkins does a good job of explaining
some ingenious experiments that demonstrate just how rapidly evolutionary change can occur. He
describes a decades-long (and still ongoing) experiment involving E. coli bacteria, and another
involving wild guppies in South America. Both experiments show conclusively that natural selection
exerts powerful influence on the development of species.
Heres the problem: the cleverest Creationists have already embraced so-called micro-evolution; that
is, change within a species, or change into species still very closely related. The Creationists made
quite a big deal out of rapid evolution in discussing Darwins finches in the recent documentary film
The Voyage that Shook the World. Their argument, in short, was that the incredible variety of birds we
see today could be the results of rapid evolutionary expansion from only a few species left over after
Noahs Flood. (Yes, its a stupid argument, but one that has at least a whiff of plausibility.) So, while
Dawkins is right to lay out this evidence, it wont in and of itself be much of a convincer. Snarky
Creationists would only be shut up (and maybe not even then) with an experiment that demonstrated
the emergence of radical new features like, say winged mice, or grasshoppers with spines.
Dawkins warns the reader not once but twice in this chapter, not to read it while tired or sleepy. Now,
to me this seems like an awkward way to apologize for a boring passage to come, but I didnt find it
either boring or all that difficult to understand, so I think this warning would have been better left out.
Finally, I had to laugh aloud when reading Dawkins complain about reading a pamphlet in his doctors
waiting room warning that bacteria were clever and could learn to cope with antibiotics. The same
guy who in Chapter 3 talked about plants offering bribes of food to bees and of flowers having
strategies to attract insects has little room to criticize some medical writer talking about clever bacteria!
On to Chapter 6!Thoughts on The Greatest Show On Earth chapter 5 Before Our Very Eyes
Submitted by craig on Wed, 26/12/2012 - 1:22am
Articles:
Creation and Evolution
In chapter 5, Dawkins continues with a point that he began in chapters 2 and 3: we can see evolution in
action even on a short time-scale; if such changes can occur on such a short time-scale, then an ancient
earth gives evolution the time it needs to work its wonders. Dawkins presents several cases of change
within a short time (just a few decades). He includes the famous Lenski long-term E. coli experiments.
Elephants Tusks

Data from the Uganda Game Department (published in 1962) shows a declining trend in tusk weight in
Ugandan elephants. Between 1925 and 1958, average tusk weight declined from approximately 54
pounds down to 38 pounds. Dawkins is hesitant to definitively interpret it as an evolutionary change,
since as he says, it could be due to other environmental factors. But as he says:
We must seriously entertain the possibility that it is a true evolutionary trend, in which case it is a
remarkably rapid one. We must be cautious before concluding too much. It could be that we are
observing strong natural selection, which is highly likely to result in changes in gene frequencies in the
population, but such genetic effects have not so far been demonstrated. It could be that the difference
between large-tusked and small-tusked elephants is a non-genetic difference. Nevertheless, I am
inclined to take seriously the possibility that it is a true evolutionary trend.
It seems reasonable to be cautious. But if it is a genuine evolutionary change, Dawkins says he would
expect natural selection to result in changes in gene frequencies in the population. As Ive said in my
response to previous chapters, changes in a populations gene frequencies can produce rapid change in
the short term, yet that alone is not sufficient to drive the large-scale changes that evolution proposes to
explain the history of life. For several chapters, Dawkins has demonstrated the ability of natural
selection to select the more favourable genes existing in the population. For evolution to explain lifes
history, more than that is requirednamely, mutations that produce viable alternative or additional
genes. If natural selection is only varying the frequency of a populations existing genes, then it cant
create something genuinely new.
Lizard Islands
The next logical step in the explanation of evolution, as far as I can tell, would be to demonstrate the
role and effectiveness of mutations as a key mechanism to drive evolution. The Lenski experiments,
coming up, finally make some inroads into that topic, but first Dawkins offers another case study. Yet
again, his main point seems to be simply evolutionary change can happen quickly, without providing
further insight into evolutionary mechanisms beyond adjusting a populations gene frequencies.
The case study is of lizards on a Croatian islet called Pod Kopiste. The neighbouring Pod Mrcaru had
none, until experimenters in 1971 introduced 5 pairs of Pod Kopiste lizards onto Pod Mrcaru. In 2008,
scientists visited the islands to compare the two lizard populations on these islands.
Pod Mrcaru had a healthy population of the lizards, presumably descendants of the 5 originally
introduced pairs. The scientists observed marked differences between the two lizard populations. The
Pod Mrcaru lizards had a more vegetarian diet, and accordingly showed stronger skeletal and muscular
features to support that diet.
But what seems most dramatic is the appearance of a caecal valve in the Pod Mrcaru lizards. Caecal
valves are apparently useful in vegetarian digestive systems.
Now, the fascinating thing is that, although caecal valves dont normally occur in Podarcis sicula and
are rare in the family to which it belongs, those valves have actually started to evolve in the population
of P. sicula on Pod Mrcaru, the population that has, for only the past thirty-seven years, been evolving
towards herbivory.
This evolution of a caecal valve seems to be a most significant event, which raises some big questions.
Dawkins speaks as though this appearance of a caecal valve was an inventive process. But it seems too
convenient, too much to be coincidence, that the feature so quickly arises which is recognisable from
many other species. There could be a variety of biological mechanisms that could explain the change.
What genetic changes were needed to produce the caecal valve in these lizards? Were mutations

needed? Of all the genetic recipe that is needed to make a caecal valve, maybe it was already present
in some latent state in the original 5 lizard pairs DNA, and natural selection was able to select the
genes for that capability when the environment demanded it. Were genetic changes even necessary?
Perhaps no genetic changes were necessary, but rather it could be explained purely by gene expression
during development varying in response to environmental conditions.
Even from an evolutionary perspective, there are several possible scenarios, with different implications
for the ease at which a caecal valve can evolve. It could be explained as a vestigial ancestral feature,
which could be fortuitously re-enabled when the environmental conditions favoured it. In that case,
that scenario might be relatively easy and less remarkable. On the other hand, if the lizards previously
possessed no latent capacity for caecal valves, then their advent is much more remarkable, and much
more favourable evidence for evolution as the explanation of lifes history.
One creationist explanation is that creatures have been given certain in-built capacity for variation in
response to the environment, bestowed by the providence of a wise Creator. Yes, natural selection
would act to drive the variation, but the scope of change would be limited to the designed genetic
capacity for latent features.
In the end, the tale of the lizards of Pod Mrcaru raises more questions than answers. I hope scientists
can study the DNA of the lizard population, compared to the ancestral Pod Kopiste lizards, and gain
more insight into the genetic differences that explain their physical differences.
Lenski Experiments and Mutations
Dawkins tells the tale of the famous Lenski experiments next. I thought this was the highlight of the
chapter, with the really significant data to ponder. I wont try to recap the technical details here, since it
is too much to cover briefly. So you will need to read it yourself, and I will just record my own
commentary here.
The Lenski experiments make a compelling case for useful mutationsmutations that dont kill an
organism, but give it improved fitness. Previously, I had been skeptical that mutations could be
beneficial, since in human populations they usually seem to endow a person with cancer, if anything,
and practically nothing else noteworthy. But this presentation of the data from the experiments
convinces me that mutations can be beneficial. Having said that, I think it simultaneously points to
some problems with evolution.
Distressing creationists?
Dawkins indulges in a bit of gloating at creationists:
As we shall see, the Lenski experiments are distressing to creationists, and for a very good reason.
They are a beautiful demonstration of evolution in action, something it is hard to laugh off even when
your motivation to do so is very strong. And the motivation for dyed-in-the-wool creationists is very
strong indeed.
Even young-earth creationists agree that evolution happens. They make a distinction between
microevolution and macroevolution, saying that microevolution undeniably occurs (since we can
observe it as Dawkins has described), but it doesnt extrapolate to explaining the entire history of life.
Old-earth creationists make a similar distinction between small-scale and large-scale evolutionary
change, although differ on technical details of the micro/macro distinction. So why does Dawkins say
the Lenski experiments are distressing to creationists? Surely he is not unaware of their stance.

As I said, the new detail that the Lenski experiments bring to the topic is the efficacy of mutations.
Young-earth creationists talk about the ineffectiveness and destructive nature of mutations. My
previous writings have echoed this, though I now have to reconsider it. So perhaps Dawkins means that
the Lenski experiments drop a bomb-shell on creationists mutations are bad argument. For me, this
is one point that the book has forced me to reconsiderI cannot deny that in this experiment, mutations
have given positive benefits to the organisms.
Evolving fitness
Firstly, experimenters observed a general increase in fitness, as measured by comparing bacteria to
frozen samples of an earlier generation of bacteria. In terms of observable changes, an increase in
average body size was seen in all the bacteria populations.
What does this tell us about the efficacy of mutations? For one thing, it demonstrates that at least some
percentage of mutations were beneficial. But not only that:
But perhaps even more interesting is that sometimes a pair of tribes seem to have independently
discovered the same way of getting bigger. Lenski and a different set of colleagues investigated this
phenomenon by taking two of the tribes, called Ara+1 and Ara-1, which seemed, over 20,000
generations, to have followed the same evolutionary trajectory, and looking at their DNA. The
astonishing result they found was that 59 genes had changed their levels of expression in both tribes,
and all 59 had changed in the same direction. Were it not for natural selection, such independent
parallelism, in 59 genes independently, would completely beggar belief. The odds against its happening
by chance are stupefyingly large. This is exactly the kind of thing creationists say cannot happen,
because they think it is too improbable to have happened by chance. Yet it actually happened. And the
explanation, of course, is that it did not happen by chance, but because gradual, step-by-step,
cumulative natural selection favoured the sameliterally the samebeneficial changes in both lines
independently.
It shows that the 59 changes could occur in a gradual fashion, each individual change providing a
significant enough increase in fitness to warrant the change sticking around. I really want to know:
Does the data indicate that the changes happened in the same order in both populations? Or, maybe a
small number of independent sub-sequences of changes in the same order? If so, that indicates there
was one (or a small number of) very specific path of improvement by which the 59 genes could change
in the same way. It also implies that the individual changes werent independently compellingly
advantageousthat could be verified by comparing with the DNA of the other tribes, to see how many
of the 59 changes they also exhibited.
So this demonstrates that
Mutations can be beneficial.
Practical pathways of gradual improvement could be demonstrated.
A specific pathway or set of changes could be compelling enough (according to fitness) to happen
twice in two tribes.
Functional change
Secondly, Dawkins describes a remarkable event in one tribe, in which it suddenly developed the
ability to digest citrate, a nutrient present in abundance but which the bacteria could not normally
process. This mutant bacteria was able to grow explosively given its new ability to utilise this food
source.
Dawkins says of Lenskis reasoning:

Was it, in other words, just another mutational step, like the ones that seemed to be demonstrated in the
small steps of the fitness graph on page 125? This seemed to Lenski unlikely, for an interesting reason.
Knowing the average mutation rate of each gene in the genome of these bacteria, he calculated that
30,000 generations was long enough for every gene to have mutated at least once in each of the twelve
lines. So it seemed unlikely that it was the rarity of the mutation that singled Ara-3 out. It should have
been discovered by several other tribes.
Further experimentation indicated that this ability was more difficult to achieve because it relied on
two mutations to workbut the first mutation wasnt beneficial on its own. The first mutation had to
occur purely by chance, with apparently no immediate fitness benefit. But then the bacteria was
primed for the second mutation to deliver the beneficial change.
The magic moment turned out to be approximately generation 20,000. Thawed-out clones of Ara-3 that
dated from after generation 20,000 in the fossil record showed increased probability of subsequently
evolving citrate capability. No clones that dated from before generation 20,000 did.
Dawkins is thrilled to describe the experimental work that deduced the circumstances of this twomutation change. I also admire the detective work they used to achieve understanding, but I dont see it
as marvellous evidence for evolutionary theory. Dawkins says it ...undermines [creationists] central
dogma of irreducible complexity. It does? What did I miss? On the contrary, it seems to highlight a
significant limitation. Unlike the previously observed improvements, this one lacked a path of gradual
stepwise improvement, so faced a more significant barrier to improvement. It happened, but with a
significantly reduced probabilityonly happening once out of the 12 tribes. Isnt this a demonstration
of the reality of irreducible complexity? That is, if any feature requires more than one mutationsay n
mutationsin order to succeed, the probability rapidly drops as n increases. It succeeded for n=2, but
what would the chances be for n=3 or higher?
Limitations
The Lenski experiment demonstrates the scope for beneficial mutations, something that I had not
previously thought feasible. On the other hand, it also seems to demonstrate two key limitations of
evolution.
One limitation is irreducible complexity, despite Dawkins claim to the contrary. Was the jump to
citrate utilisation a dramatic break-through that smashes the irreducible complexity theory? Initially it
sounds dramatic and impressive, but really the step was a fairly small step, yet still difficult. The
bacteria apparently already had some potential to process citrate, but only if it was in a low-oxygen
environment. Ive heard that the barrier to processing it is not a barrier of metabolisationthe
metabolisation capacity is already there in the cellbut a difficulty of simply transporting the citrate
across the cell membrane. So the bacteria was already so close to being nearly there, and yet it was
held up by a two-mutation barrier. Irreducible complexity made a two-mutation development necessary,
but statistically unlikely.
So I agree evolution can work, to the degree that lifes complexity can come about entirely by gradual
change. So the key question now is: Can all of the complexity of life be achieved by paths of gradual
change? How can we qualify and quantify the answer to that question? I suppose geneticists would
have to understand the number of genetic changes required to achieve any new feature of a critter,
and the size of the barriers that could be encountered along the crucially necessary path of gradual
change. Doesnt science have a long way to go to quantify that? And so evolution involves faith. Faith
that gradualism works, that every creature thats ever lived can exist along a plausible path of
gradualism, including all the amazing far-out ones. But of course, evolution is the only game in town.

The only naturalistic explanation, that is. Meanwhile, my gut feel is of incredulity. Yes, a gut feel, but
at some point we have to be persuaded for or against, and its not looking so great from they way Im
seeing it.
Of course, lets not forget what is surely the biggest ever case of irreducible complexitythe origin
of life itself. For evolution cannot even begin to work any magic until mutating, self-replicating life
exists. (Yes, I have heard, But evolution doesnt claim to explain the origin of life. Yet, were not just
talking about evolution. Were also talking about the origin, meaning and purpose of life, as given by
Christianity on one hand, and secular humanism on the other.)
Time, give us more time
The second limitation exposed by the Lenski experiments, is time. Dawkins titles the section Fortyfive thousand generations of evolution in the lab. He says at the start of the section:
The average generation turnover of those lizards is about two years, so the evolutionary change
observed on Pod Mrcaru represents only about eighteen or nineteen generations. Just think what you
might see in three or four decades if you followed the evolution of bacteria, whose generations are
measured in hours or even minutes, rather than years!
And then later:
If we assume that the probability of a gene mutating during any one act of bacterial reproduction is as
low as one in a billion, the numbers of bacteria are so colossal that just about every gene in the genome
will have mutated somewhere in the world, every day. As Richard Lenski says, Thats a lot of
opportunity for evolution.
In that case, my question is: given how little the bacteria changed in 45,000 generations and colossal
numbers, this seems to thoroughly demonstrate the infeasibility of evolution. In 45,000 generations, the
bacteria were still essentially E. coli, with variations, and a demonstrated difficulty in accomplishing a
fairly rudimentary mutation to modify its capability to process nutrients.
Compare that with the fossil record: In the so-called Cambrian explosion, dozens of never-before-seen
complex life forms simultaneously burst onto the scene. Trilobites appeared, with complex eyes. They
must have also had the necessary visual processing in their brains to make sense of the signals coming
from those eyes. Given the evolution that E. coli have demonstrated they can achieve in 45,000
generations and colossal numbers, how many generations would it take for trilobites to evolve from
whatever their imagined ancestor might be? In the previous chapter, Dawkins talked about ancient time
over 4 billion years. Surely, even that isnt nearly time enough.
Rifqa Bary to return to Ohioor Sri LankaThe Greatest Show on Earth, Chapter 7
The Greatest Show on Earth, Chapter 6
Posted on October 16, 2009 by John C. Snider
Chapter-by-chapter thoughts on Richard Dawkins The Greatest Show on Earth: The Evidence for
Evolution
by John C. Snider 2009
Chapter 6: Missing link? What do you mean, missing?
Okay, now the rubber hits the road. As Dawkins points out, we would know evolution was true even if
we never found a single fossil. Nonetheless, given that there are fossils, the predictive power of the
theory of evolution can beand has beenthoroughly tested.

Dawkins addresses head-on the oft-heard (and completely wrong) criticism of Creationists that there
are no transitional fossilsthat we havent found the missing link. (As if the discovery of any one
transitional form would convince the Creationists once and for all!) Scientists have, in fact, found
numerous transitional forms, including Eomaia (a very, very early mammal), Eusthenopteron (a fish
with finger-like bones in its fins), and of course Tiktaalik roseae (a fish/amphibian hybrid). Dawkins
also discusses the ampleand sometimes mind-bogglingly complicatedfossil records of whale and
turtle evolution.
Its hard to see how a Creationist could have a decent retort to the information supplied in this chapter,
although I saw Kent Hovind oncewith a straight faceprotest that all we know about fossils is that
the critter died, and we dont know if that critter had any babies. Strictly speaking, this is true, but it
ignores the fact that the entirety of the fossil record confirms the predictions of evolutionary theory.
Perhaps the most amusing thing in this chapter is that Dawkins mocks the notion of the crocoduck
without deigning to name his Creationist nemesis Ray Comfort. (If youve been watching the
interviews Dawkins has been giving in support of this book, youll know he wears a special tie
emblazoned with the infamous crocoduck!)
On to Chapter 7!
The Greatest Show on Earth, Chapter 7
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Chapter-by-chapter thoughts on Richard Dawkins The Greatest Show on Earth: The Evidence for
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Chapter 7: Missing persons? Missing no longer
I am not a biologist, nor am I an anatomist, much less a paleoanthropologist. So when a scientist shows
me a reconstructed skull and breathlessly talks about its similarities or differences to a human skull, or
a chimpanzee skullwell, to some extent Ill just have to take his word for it.
In Chapter 7 Dawkins provides an overview of what scientists know about human evolution, and about
the sometimes bitter arguments over identification and classification. It is these argumentsover
whether a fossil fragment is homo sapiens, or homo habilis, or something else entirelythat the
Creationists seize upon, and mischaracterize as controversy over evolution. Which is ironic, since
Creationists also accuse scientists of being smug know-it-alls. So which is it?
Dawkins also illustrates, via an interview he conducted with Wendy Wright, president of the
conservative Concerned Women for America, how willfully blind the Creationists are, and how tightly
they cling to their talking points. Wright insists that there is no material evidence on museum display
of human evolution, that its all based on illustrations. This is, of course, preposterousbut again,
laypeople like Wright and myself can only rely in the learned opinions of specialists. Whom one
believes is based on a process of triangulation: do the claims match with what I already know, and do
the specialists have reputations for excellence and credibility? I conclude yes; Ms. Wright evidently
concludes no. What can you do?
On to Chapter 8!

The Greatest Show on Earth, Chapter 8


Posted on October 18, 2009 by John C. Snider
Chapter-by-chapter thoughts on Richard Dawkins The Greatest Show on Earth: The Evidence for
Evolution
by John C. Snider 2009
Chapter 8: You did it yourself in nine months
One of the most frequent objections to evolution voiced by Creationists is the sheer implausibility of a
process that accidentally yielded, from a single-celled ancestor billions of years ago, the breathtaking
complexity of the human body. Creationists also like to talk about the stunning mysteries of
procreation: how can a baby, with all its intricate pieces and parts, so perfectly develop from the union
of sperm and ovum without the guidance of Divine Agency?
I admit to having my moments of speechlessness when pondering the mindboggling complexity of
things. Even a single cell is, as one Creationist put it, more complicated than a city.
What is impossible to grasp in its entirety, Dawkins points out, is easier to grasp if one breaks it down
into smaller pieces. It also helps to keep in mind that, just as evolution is an unguided process, so is the
development of a living organism. There is no blueprint, no computer program, that tells DNA how
and when to build a jellyfish, or a daisy, or a man. It happens as a synergistic outcome of molecules
and cells doing what they do at a local level, following basic chemical or physical rules, and the totality
of local actions and interactions becomesyou, or me, or whatever other individual you care to name.
Dawkins goes into some detail about how cells divide and how they know to differentiate to become,
say, a nerve cell, or a muscle cell. He also spends some time talking about how much scientists know
about cell development from the study of the worm C. elegans, which has exactly 959 cells in its entire
body, each of which has been exhaustively identified and profiled. Although the human body has
trillions of cells instead of only 959, the principles of cell development are the same, and much useful
information has been derived which has yielded significant benefit for medical science.
(By the way, for an excellent conversation about C. elegans research, listen to episode #59 of the Brain
Science Podcast, in which Ginger Campbell interviews Guy Caldwell of the University of Alabama.)
On to Chapter 9!
The Greatest Show on Earth is available at Ama
The Greatest Show on Earth, Chapter 9
Posted on October 18, 2009 by John C. Snider
Chapter-by-chapter thoughts on Richard Dawkins The Greatest Show on Earth: The Evidence for
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Chapter 9: The ark of the continents
Dawkins points out that geography has a profound impact on evolution: the landscape can either allow
species to interact, or it can prevent them from interacting. In the latter casewhat Dawkins calls

islands (be they actual islands or metaphorical ones)it can lead to new species branching off from
existing species.
Not only is there undeniable (except to the most die-hard Creationist) geological evidence of the drift
of the continents and the great age of the earth, interpretation of the fossil record supports the idea as
well. Perhaps most devastating to a Young Earther who believes all animals spread over the earth
4,400 years ago when Noah released them from the Ark is the fact that kangaroos can only be found in
one place: Australia. No kangaroosliving, dead or fossilizedhave been found in a trail from Mount
Ararat in Turkey down across India and Asia leading to Australia. Similarly for any number of species,
the best explanation for which lies in deep geologic time. Dawkins finds is laughable (as do I) the idea
that South America and Africa might have separated mere thousands of years ago and sped thousands
of miles apart in forty days and forty nightsbut thats what some Creationists would have you believe.
On to Chapter 10!5 Responses to The Greatest Show on Earth, Chapter 9
James Sweet says:
October 19, 2009 at 3:25 pm
Perhaps most devastating to a Young Earther who believes all animals spread over the earth 4,400 years
ago when Noah released them from the Ark is the fact that kangaroos can only be found in one place:
Australia. No kangaroosliving, dead or fossilizedhave been found in a trail from Mount Ararat in
Turkey down across India and Asia leading to Australia.
Oh, thats no problem!
It is possible that volcanoes in the Mount Ararat region were able to transport the smaller animals over
much greater distances than the animals could get just by walking.
I mean, is the idea of a kangaroo being launched (safely!) from Mt. Ararat to Australia really any less
plausible than any other part of YEC?
The Greatest Show on Earth, Chapter 10
Posted on October 19, 2009 by John C. Snider
Chapter-by-chapter thoughts on Richard Dawkins The Greatest Show on Earth: The Evidence for
Evolution
by John C. Snider 2009
Chapter 10: The tree of cousinship
Homology. The fact that, say, mammals all share the same basic body plan, and that each species is
more or less a variation on a theme, could either be evidence of shared ancestry, or evidence or a shared
Creator. Dawkins points out that bats and humans (for example) share the same skeletal structure,
nearly bone for bone; the differences in the relative proportions.
Shared ancestry, no matter how difficult it may be to conceive the infinity of incremental
happenstances needed to arrive at the current diversity of the biosphere, is a far more parsimonious
theory than a Creator (for then wed have to explain why the Creator was so wasteful, roundabout,
clueless and arbitrary in his designs). Why make fish swim using side-t0-side motions of the tale, but
make dolphins go up-and-down? Why give whales vestigial limb structures, when a clean design
would dictate leaving them out altogether? And while were at it: if the Creator wanted to make it
crystal clear that humans are a special creation, why not make us using something entirely different

from DNA?
I admit I didnt grasp this chapter as firmly as I should have, partly because Im not read-up on biology
in general, and partly because I was reading this chapter in the waiting room of an auto repair show,
and the man and woman sitting across from me would not shut up. Nonetheless, its clear that
scientists can comfortably conclude, by triangulating from a number of sources, that humans share a
common ancestry with all living things on this planet.
On to Chapter 11!
The Greatest Show on Earth, Chapter 11
Posted on October 19, 2009 by John C. Snider
Chapter-by-chapter thoughts on Richard Dawkins The Greatest Show on Earth: The Evidence for
Evolution
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Chapter 11: History written all over us
Creationists will find it increasingly difficult to explain away the evidence presented in the later
chapters of this book. In Chapter 11, Dawkins shows how our bodiesand those of our animal
cousinsshow not only common ancestry, but the wondrous and inefficient ways in which we have
evolved.
Two examples, really, deliver a death-blow to the idea of intelligent design: the existence of eyes in
blind, cave-dwelling creatures, and the nonsensical routing of the so-called vagus nerve (which, in
humans and other animals, goes way out of its way, from the brain, down into the chest cavity, through
a tight U-turn and back up to the larynx). What possible explanationother than the whimsy or
ineptness of the Creatorcould explain these things in terms of Intelligent Design? And these are just
two examples!
On to Chapter 12!
The Greatest Show on Earth, Chapter 11The Greatest Show on Earth, Chapter 13
The Greatest Show on Earth, Chapter 12
Posted on October 19, 2009 by John C. Snider
Chapter-by-chapter thoughts on Richard Dawkins The Greatest Show on Earth: The Evidence for
Evolution
by John C. Snider 2009
Chapter 12: Arms races and evolutionary theodicy
More bad news for the Creationists. Not only is the Creator apparently whimsical and ineptHe is also
heartless and cruel!
Dawkins provides several examples of needless suffering in nature that cannot be readily explained visa-vis an intelligent designer, but which are understandable in the light of uncaring evolution. Dawkins
uses the classic case of the Ichneumon wasp, which paralyzes a caterpillar so it can lay its eggs on it:
the wasps larvae, when they are born, bore into the paralyzedbut presumably unanesthetized
caterpillarand consume it from the inside, even eating its vital organs last! What Creator with human-

like sensibilities would conceive of such a thing?


Many Creationists argue, of course, that all the pain and suffering and general badness in the world is
the result of the contamination of the world by the sin of Adam and Eve, which is both preposterous
and completely unscientific (not to mention downright misanthropic).
On to Chapter 13!
The Greatest Show on Earth, Chapter 13
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Chapter-by-chapter thoughts on Richard Dawkins The Greatest Show on Earth: The Evidence for
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Chapter 13: There is grandeur in this view of life
Well, here we are: the big finish. Dawkins chooses to close his book by taking the last half of the last
paragraph of Charles Darwins magnum opus On the Origin of Species and offering his own
ruminations one each phrase. Its a little awkward, to be honest; in the end, it comes across like the
overly-detailed commentaries offered by fundamentalist evangelicals, where they provide whole essays
on the meaning and context of each word in a Bible verse.
To be fair, Dawkins doesnt slavishly praise Darwins every word. For example, he objects to Darwins
claim that the higher animals are the most exalted object which we are capable of conceiving.
Dawkins argues instead that human achievements, from great art to great architectureeven love itself
might better fill that position.
Dawkins also carefully hews to the original (i.e. first edition) wording of the text, noting that the phrase
by the Creator was only placed in later editions, presumably because Darwin was feeling public
pressure for the godless nature of his theory. Fair enough, but I cant help but wonder had it been the
other way aroundhad Darwin included by the Creator in his first edition and removed it from
subsequent editionswhich text would Dawkins have used?
Dawkins wraps up his commentary by speculating on how abiogenesis (how life could have arisen
from inanimate matter) might have occurred. He notes that, while DNA needs certain enzymes to
catalyze, RNA (a kindred molecule) has both replicative and enzymatic capabilities, and therefore may
have been the precursor for DNA-based life. I dont claim to understand, except in the crudest sense,
how this all works, but it I find it interesting that scientists are able to speculate in a meaningful way as
to the chemical steps that might have lead to life on earth.
Appendix: The history-deniers
Although he covered it at the beginning of the book, Dawkins tacks on this appendix to discuss in more
detail the overall views of the public, both in America and in Europe, toward evolution by natural
selection. As he pointed out in Chapter 1, roughly 40 percent of the American public denies evolution,
and in Britain its around 20%. Depending on which European country you look at, anywhere from 7%
(Iceland) to 51% (Turkey) discount the theory of evolution. So weve got our work cut out for us.
Overall, The Greatest Show on Earth is a worthy addition to the Dawkins oeuvre. Its not his best

book, and sometimes he is his own worst enemy when it comes to his stated goals of public outreach.
In retrospect, he might have been more effective had he started out by quoting the disheartening poll
results but avoiding name-calling, and just launched into the business of convincing readers by the
power of his evidence. Still, Dawkins bite is part of what makes his books sell, so perhaps a watereddown Dawkins would not be nearly so interesting. If nothing else, he keeps the debate in the news, and
in that regard, at least, he performs an invaluable service.