I just finished reading “The Greatest Show On Earth, the Evidence For Evolution,” the newest offering by Richard Dawkins, the author of “The God Delusion” and other works. In the preface, Dawkins said that his reason for writing TGSOE was to lay out all of the evidence for evolution, from all the scientific disciplines, and, speaking as a non-scientist I would have to say he has done exactly that!
While reading along, I had the feeling I was observing a master puzzle-person assembling a vast jig saw puzzle, with a few clues here and a few clues there, slowly but surely building a seamless wall of evidence with fact after supporting fact, at the end leaving no doubt about the truth of evolution by natural selection. Dawkins made it clear from the very beginning that this was not an anti-god book, for as he said, he has already done that! Throughout the book, he refers to the anti-evolution folks as “the history deniers,” a term which I feel is stronger then merely assigning them to one of two opposing (and possibly equal) camps, and places them in the category of those who choose to disbelieve what science considers undeniable fact.
Dawkins takes us on a purposeful romp through many different scientific disciplines, demonstrating how they all work together to prove the wonderful truths of evolution. We have an exploration of nuclear physics, which, supported by biology and geology provides the clocks by which we measure the vast expanses of geologic time. We learn that the fossil record, much maligned by the history deniers, is only one of the evidences for evolution, and not even the strongest, even though it is rich and nearly un-assailable.
Dawkins recounts the DNA evidence, which tells us exactly how closely we are related to every other living thing on earth. He goes into great detail explaining how DNA controls the development of an embryo, how various organs are constructed. We also learn that various constructs within our bodies are actually evidence for evolution. For instance, there is a nerve, called the recurrent laryngeal nerve that runs from our brains to our larynx (voice box). You would think it would go directly, but it actually takes a turn around one of the major arteries leaving the heart, and returns to the larynx after a journey of almost a foot.
All mammals have this same recurrent nerve, and in the case of the Giraffe, it’s journey takes it almost fifteen feet our-of-the-way, resulting in an animal that seems to have a very robust larynx but is only able to vocalize short grunts. This recurrent nerve makes no sense whatsoever if we were “intelligently designed,” but makes perfect sense if you take into consideration that our ancestors had no necks and gills!
If we had no fossils, no DNA and no chemical evidence for evolution, we could still make an excellent case for Darwin with the evidence provided by the distribution of species, taking into account the former and present positions of the continents. Dawkins shows us why this often-overlooked evidence is important, and how it fits into the overall scheme.
All in all, I think this book is one of the best of its kind, and certainly meets the expectations of the writer. I recommend it highly, as it is accessible, readable and extremely comprehensive. Dawkins does a very good job, even in areas where he isn’t a recognized expert, in laying out ALL the evidence for what is certainly the foundation of all biology. I have mentioned only a few of the areas he covers, he managed to teach me a great deal in a few short days, and I need some time for some of the lessons to sink in. Certainly a wonderful addition to the genre.