The Greatest Show on Earth: The Evidence for Evolution by Richard Dawkins
By JAMES MCCONNACHIE - TIMESONLINE
Added: Sat, 05 Sep 2009 23:00:00 UTC
Thanks to Adam for the link.
Richard Dawkins is angry, and a little scared. Some 40% of Americans believe that God created human beings âpretty much in their present form at one time within the last 10,000 yearsâ, while in Britain the situation is âslightly less extreme, but not much more encouragingâ. The âinfectiousâ idea of creationism, Dawkins fears, is on the rise. With this book, he wants to arm people who know such âhistory deniersâ but who âfind Âthemselves inadequately prepared to argue the caseâ.
What bothers Dawkins most is that to deny evolution isnât just to choose one version of creation over another, it is to deny âphysics, geology, cosmology, archeology, history and chemistry as wellâ. It is also to deny what is happening âbefore our very eyesâ. 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 Âobjection put by those who would deny evolution: that there just hasnât been enough time in the world for it all to happen. We canât 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 âwe land vertebratesâ were âaberrant lungfishâ; 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 wasnât always the case: they are an evolutionary vestige of the Âcaecum, 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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