Richard Dawkins: The Greatest Show on Earth (Yes, I Read that Book)

Well, most of it at least. And yeah, I'll explain why.

So anyway. I did my best not to be horribly biased about this, considering my already biased view that Richard Dawkins is kind of an egomaniacal jackass (a claim which this book seems to both reinforce and, surpisingly, justify a tiny bit--he's kind of Nietzschean at bits, what with self-references, but he seems to be friends with or have taught half the modern evolutionary school, the former including Jerry Coyne, whose book I should probably read since it kept coming up as an excellent discourse upon things he didn't mention).

But it was sort of hard, considering that the title seems to be Richard Dawkins: The Greatest Show on Earth and the author possesses the doubtful name of The Evidence For Evolution (maybe it's an organization?). (Wondering why I read this? I was curious...and the cover was shiny. Blame evolution for my predilection!)

It was definitely to my relief, then, that he opens with saying that he's not going to make a big case of there being no God, even going so far as to mention that Christians actually have a historical tendency to be more tolerant of science and facts than Muslims. (Unfortunately, this gets slightly stomped on when he does stuff like toss in phrases like 'the Genesis myth'--I think it's a myth, too, but there's no need to rub it in.)

Also, I must needs mention that this book is not, technically, written for someone like me. That is, someone with a biology background not just of the basics, but also of a lot of details--especially concerning neural development--in short, there were a number of sections I skimmed.

Who is this geared for, then? Short answer: educated people who, if they are on the fence, are already on the side of evolution but who do not have the scientific background to defend themselves against the morons they might find themselves plagued by. And yeah, I really mean educated. College came back to torment me in the form of Plato's goddamn cave, Platonic forms, and, of all things, Smith's 'invisible hand.' Aaagh! Seriously though, the entire book reeks of an Oxford-style old-fashioned conservative (not politically, but socially). I read this to myself in the accent of a stuffy old British man, think maybe Alan Rickman but not quite as deep. I'm calling him 'Nigel.'

On to the rest--yes, I did learn some interesting tidbits about evolution that I hadn't known before, since I did not take any courses on it. And, above all, I learned a hell of a lot about the dumbfucks known as 'creationists.' Believe me, if this book were written by someone more hip to the times, that phrase would have probably shown up. Dawkins is mean to creationists--and they deserve it, because they are stupid blind asshats to the most simple of facts.

And yeah, those dipshit creationists're mentioned a whole bunch, though sometimes amalgamated into the "intelligent" designists (who are confused blind asshats). Remember, this book is targeted towards those who find themselves inundated by this drivel. (44% of Americans believe in a 6000 year old world created by an intelligent divinity? What. The. FUCK!)

The interesting thing is that the confusion of calling evolution a 'theory' when it's quite obviously a fact is dealt with early on, by the simple expediency of noting that the first definition of the word is in essence a scientific fact (which is of course something that has yet to be disproven and, as Dawkins makes repeated mention of, can easily be disproven if the evidence arises), and that those echinodermata-central nervous system-equipped creationists somehow have just enough brain cells to shift evolution into the second definition of the word, which is essentially a hypothesis. Tricky, tricky. (It's so much easier for them; they don't exactly have to bother with standards. Such are the benefits of having a whole brain whose fiber tracts move at the speed of the visual connections.)

But anyway, like I mentioned, a lot of this book is really written for people who are not scientists. Which means a significant amount of dumbing-down and loose assumptions that, occasionally, he actually seems to contradict later. Ironically, I think biologists would be the ones most able to find faults with this book; with enough education, some of his simplifications are a bit too gross (I didn't bother with all of them; as mentioned, I skimmed a lot in those areas--but I did pick up at least one annoying point related to neural development, which would be the subject I had most experience with in this text).

Otherwise, it is cleverly written, if perhaps a little too inclined to interject random comments (not on the scale of Mary Roach's "Bonk," but still). It's a real shame that, while coming up with a term to describe what evolution, and other scientific facts tend to be, is ("theorum," which makes really no appearance in the most of the rest of it, once the reader's been eased into 'natural selection,' which by the way isn't given full attention until the third chapter), Dawkins does not make an effort to come up with a replacement for ambiguous terms like 'survival of the fittest' or, for that matter, 'evolution' itself. He acknowledges the problem with using these words in a rather oblique way, but doesn't really mention the fact that dropping the pretense to progress and for that matter making any sort of rational sense requires in part some linguistic changes.

What annoyed me most about reading this? Simple.

Because of the stupid douchebags out there who remain unconvinced by a) an overwhelming fossil record and b) the actual live evidence of evolution and the ability to evolve, books about evolution have to be written at the dumbest possible levels. This leaves scientists who, though not evolutionists, and other people who are already aware of the basics bored, and with more questions about snarlier issues than answers.

Now what I really want to know is how he'd fit that totally badass algae-gene-incorporating sea slug into this picture.

P.S. Have fun: count the number of different ways I insult those invertebrate-minded creationists! Not that they'd get it--some of my snipes involve biology.

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