I’m currently reading, and enjoying, Richard Dawkin’s new book, The Greatest Show on Earth: the evidence for evolution. Apparently, he was inspired to write it when he realised that, in spite of the fact that the evidence for evolution is overwhelming, many people don’t know that.
The book lays out the evidence in an easy-to assimilate way. Dawkins has had to be careful: he has been maliciously misquoted in the past by having short statements repeated out of context by creationists. (Apparently their ‘Christian’ morals don’t extend to honesty. And intellectual rigour is antithetical to creationism.)
As well as elucidating the scientific evidence, Dawkins tackles some of the muddle-headed ideas often thrown up by those who can’t cope with, or are scared of, evolution. For example, he carefully repeats that mankind is not descended from chimps, or any other kind of ape in existence today. We simply have a common ancestor – as we do with every other living thing.
Some of the other accusations thrown at evolutionists are more bizarre – almost to the point of cretinism, in my opinion. “I’ll believe we’re descended from monkeys when a chimp gives birth to a human” is one. This is so phenomenally stupid it’s hard to know where to begin. Dawkins makes a good stab at it, though. He also deals with the alleged ‘missing link’ (it isn’t missing), the lack of weird hybrids like the crocoduck in the fossil record (evolution doesn’t work that way so they should be missing) and the accusation that fossils show no intermediate stages (flat wrong on two counts: 1. There are plenty of fossil sequences that show steps along the evolutionary path; 2. Virtually all fossils are intermediate stages).
Then there’s the rallying cry of anti-evolutionists everywhere (or ‘history deniers’ as Dawkins rightly calls them): “what about the gaps in the fossil record?”.
Why wouldn’t there be gaps? What else could you expect? Fossilisation is a random happenstance relying on special conditions. Only a portion of the world’s rocks are capable of fossilising animals and plants during the rock’s formation. Special conditions must apply – conditions that don’t occur everywhere (a forest, for example, is not a good environment for creating fossils). Then the plant or animal has to be in the right place at exactly the right moment. Then we have to find the fossil. Untold millions must have been destroyed in the intervening period, by natural and human activity. Many more will be in strata where they will never be found. The fossil collections we have represent just a small fraction of the fossils that have been formed over the millennia.
Let’s consider an analogy. How many humans have lived and died? How many millions have been carefully buried, with clothes and grave goods in specially prepared ground? And yet how few do archaeologists find?
We’re lucky to have any fossils. And yet, the tens of thousands – or it is millions? – that we’ve been fortunate to find still paint a detailed and consistent picture. And they all fit beautifully with the theory of evolution. Indeed, ever since Charles Darwin published On the Origin of Species, with his brilliant insight into the most important evolutionary mechanism – natural selection – every important discovery and advance, such as DNA, has fitted perfectly into the overall evolutionary picture.
(I’ll be dealing in more detail with some of the anti-evolutionary ‘arguments’ in my occasional series, Lies Believers Tell.)
All the arguments against evolution stem from one source. Ignorance. The very basis of these arguments is false because they rely on assumptions that simply are not true.
Creationists are the worst offenders. (Let’s remember that many religious people have no problem with evolution.) They listen only to each other. They repeat the same baseless lies and distortions because they don’t want evolution to be true. They prefer their ignorance because, however disconnected it might be from reality, it allows them to indulge in their bronze-age fantasies.
And this, sadly, is why I think Dawkins’ book won’t reach the people who need it most. Where truth and faith collide, the faithful will stick their fingers in their ears, incant loudly and give themselves up to ignorance.