Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Enlightening and Interesting Defense of Darwinism

With the 150 year anniversary of the Origin of Species, we have been deeply rewarded with a couple of first class books in defense of the biological sciences which has Darwin’s elegant theory as the base of those sciences. It is unfortunate that books of these types are needed, but to those of us who find biology interesting at a novice’s level, we get to be rewarded as excellent writing scientists such as Richard Dawkins and Jerry Coyne grace us with an interesting and passionate exposition of the evidence for evolution and the profound power it has in explaining so much of the natural world in which we live.

Richard Dawkins in his book, "The Greatest Show on Earth", starts off comparing deniers of evolution to hypothetical deniers of ancient roman society or to the less hypothetical deniers of the holocaust. Dawkins points out that those who deny evidence do so for ideological reasons and are unlikely to be swayed by his book. It is the author’s intent to give enough ammunition to those not snared by superstitious or nonsensical ideologies that they can confidently oppose such ideas in the public contest for the hearts and minds of the public as a whole.

Like Darwin, Dawkins starts with a lot of evidence from the world of artificial selection to show what can be done through different selection pressures and does a good job of connecting artificial selection to natural selection and explaining what selective pressures occur in the natural world from both “natural selection” and its subset “sexual selection.”

Likening it to uncovering a crime, Dawkins goes through the evidence bit by bit and shows that the evidence is overwhelming except to those who have been blinded by dogma or disinterest. Dawkins gives some great examples to show how Darwin’s theory has been used to direct new findings in the study of genetics, paleontology, etc. Such examples as bipedal African apes, or four limbed “Titkaalik” fish, show the power of understanding Darwin’s theory, and how you can look for evidence and find exactly what you hypothesized you would find.

For those of us who already accept the reality of evolution, the book provides additional interesting insights that Dawkins’ previous books such as “The Selfish Gene” and “The Ancestor’s Tale” got our minds salivating for. Though it is unfortunate that a defense of Darwin’s elegant theory is necessary in a world where tribal bronze-age dogmas die hard, for those of us enamored by the incredible wonder and beauty of the natural world, such a defense is deeply rewarding and awe-inspiring.