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The Greatest Show on Earth: The Evidence for Evolution by Richard Dawkins

Thanks to Adam for the link.

blankRichard Dawkins is angry, and a little scared. Some 40% of Americans believe that God created human beings “pretty much in their present form at one time within the last 10,000 years”, while in Britain the situation is “slightly less extreme, but not much more encouraging”. The “infectious” idea of creationism, Dawkins fears, is on the rise. With this book, he wants to arm people who know such “history deniers” but who “find ­themselves inadequately prepared to argue the case”.

What bothers Dawkins most is that to deny evolution isn’t just to choose one version of creation over another, it is to deny “physics, geology, cosmology, archeology, history and chemistry as well”. It is also to deny what is happening “before our very eyes”. Over only a few generations, for instance, guppies placed in streams full of aggressive predators have started reaching sexual maturity more quickly, so as to breed before they die; lizards transported from one Croatian island to another in 1971 have already evolved a stronger bite to cope with a new, chewier, plant-rich diet; most obviously, and most alarmingly, bacteria are surviving antibiotics in ever-increasing numbers.

Such examples answer the chief ­objection put by those who would deny evolution: that there just hasn’t been enough time in the world for it all to happen. We can’t see ourselves evolving in real time, of course, but we can see what our ancestors left behind. Long before the primitive ape decided to walk, it appears that “we land vertebrates” were “aberrant lungfish”; our present-day lungs are a modification of a pouch in the gut of our distant fishy forebears. (Rather gleefully, Dawkins notes in passing that we are more closely related to trout and tuna than they are to sharks.) Our appendixes may now be useless, but this wasn’t always the case: they are an evolutionary vestige of the ­caecum, a bit of bowel our vegetarian ancestors used to ferment the indigestible. Evolution can even explain the oddity that is our vestigial hackles (we call them goosebumps): they rise, it appears, because our ancestors puffed up their body hair to frighten off rivals or predators. We lost most of the hair, but not the hackles.
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