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

JonnyDr's Avatar Comment 1 by JonnyDr

So the reviewer was happy with the book but felt the need to throw in the "bellicose atheist" and straw men arguments to appease Dawkins' dissenters. Disappointing.

Sun, 06 Sep 2009 13:39:00 UTC | #394813

j.mills's Avatar Comment 2 by j.mills

Again with the collapse in the last paragraph.

For want of Victorians, it seems, Dawkins has erected creationist straw men. Unfortunately, thumped straw can never truly resound — however satisfying it may be to thump it.
Have these reviewers never been on the internet?! The creationists bringing court cases, dominating school boards and running for vice-president are hardly strawmen!

Can nobody in the media bring themselves to just agree with Richard?!

Sun, 06 Sep 2009 14:01:00 UTC | #394823

adamd164's Avatar Comment 3 by adamd164

Yes, but McConnachie just seems to have ignored all that so he could toss in a gratuitous jab at Dawkins towards the end. Pretty sad stuff!

Sun, 06 Sep 2009 14:27:00 UTC | #394834

evolvingalways's Avatar Comment 4 by evolvingalways

I agree 100% with Richard all his books make perfect sense it's the ones with little or no education in science that try to put down Richard or anyone who denies their imaginary friend.

Sun, 06 Sep 2009 14:27:00 UTC | #394835

Friend Giskard's Avatar Comment 5 by Friend Giskard

The suggestion that Richard's creationist targets are straw men shows breathtaking ignorance on the part of the reviewer.

Sun, 06 Sep 2009 15:03:00 UTC | #394856

Elles's Avatar Comment 6 by Elles

In light of the apparent necessity for someone to have coined Poe's Law, I'm afraid I believe it's impossible to erect creationist straw men, even in satire.

Sun, 06 Sep 2009 15:38:00 UTC | #394867

Simon Farrell's Avatar Comment 7 by Simon Farrell

How ironic was his criticism at the end. The reviewer claims that Richard is inveighing against a strawman in creationism, which is itself a strawman argument. However, since it contradicts the unopposed statistic given at the beginning of the article that 40% of Americans are creationists, I wondered whether he was merely ignorant of the meaning of 'straw men', thinking it to mean something like 'weak and insubstantial'; easily vanquished by Dawkins and therefore less worthy of recognition as a 'resounding' achievement. (Plus it enabled him to put the 'straw' to good rhetorical use in his last sentence - enough to persuade some writers who will sacrifice accuracy for effect.) But because McConnachie said the creationists had been 'erected', instead of, say, 'chosen', or 'targetted', or 'settled for', in place of the 'Victorians', this generous interpretation fails. His prejudice is revealed in the previous paragraph when he compares Richard Dawkins to Jeremy Clarkson. Richard is indeed highly enthusiastic about biology, but he is not a biology 'enthusiast', any more than Stephen Hawking is a physics 'enthusiast'. Enthusiast implies amateur. Professor Dawkins is an expert. If McConnachie can draw implicit meanings from Richard's book, then so can I from his review.

Why are these reviews so equivocal about endorsing Richard's work, and so depressingly reliable in distorting and misrepresenting his views? My feeling is that their tendentious arguments are in the service of their egos. Richard Dawkins has a great reputation as someone who is formidably intelligent, who tops public intellectual polls etc. and so they want to say 'look - I'll go so far but there I must dissent from him. My thinking is a lot more subtle and even-handed than his, look at how clever I must be to be even smarter than the famous Dawkins.' It's an exercise which surely fails to convince anyone except its author.

Sun, 06 Sep 2009 16:51:00 UTC | #394884

Steve Zara's Avatar Comment 8 by Steve Zara

Comment #412895 by Simon Farrell

I think there is an issue about what kind of creationist those 40% or so of Americans are. Are they creationists through ignorance, probably in the same way that most Americans probably couldn't name all the planets? Or are they truly passionate literalists, insisting that the Bible is the final word?

This matters. If they are of the first kind, then there is the possibility of education.

I have a suspicion that most of these creationists may not be that committed to it. The reason is that the statistic normally quoted is the result of the question "Did God create man pretty much in his present form at one time within the last 10,000 years?". That could include a lot of people who aren't Biblical literalists, as 10,000 years is nearly twice as long as allowed for in the Bible.

If this is the case, then it makes no more sense to call these people anti-evolution than to call someone who can't name the major moons of Neptune anti-astronomy. There could be a vast amount of ignorance, as against resistance, to be dealt with. I do hope so.

Sun, 06 Sep 2009 17:16:00 UTC | #394890

jaytee_555's Avatar Comment 9 by jaytee_555

I think many reviewers feel they must throw in some criticism or other to give the impression that they are thinking people.

Unless, of course, they really ARE that ignorant.

(Ooops! I see the post before this says almost the same thing.)

Sun, 06 Sep 2009 17:23:00 UTC | #394893

GøDL3ZZ's Avatar Comment 10 by GøDL3ZZ

What really trips me out is how these 'Creationists' really believe that our kind has been here for 10,000 years... 10,000 years... really??? Almost as if they are blindfolded intellectually... evidence evidence evidence...its here, there everywhere when you really hop on this side of the fence with no "blindfolds" aloud... they just gotsta take a peep...that easy.

Sun, 06 Sep 2009 18:35:00 UTC | #394911

Simon Farrell's Avatar Comment 11 by Simon Farrell

Comment #412901 by Steve Zara

It would be very interesting to find out exactly how many of the '40-percenters' are defiant anti-evolutionists and how many are simply ignorant and would be receptive to a scientific education. Even if the latter group represented the majority of those who positively answered the "Did God create man pretty much in his present form at one time within the last 10,000 years?" question, that would still not justify the 'straw man' charge.

I've not yet received my copy of The Greatest Show on Earth so it's difficult to comment with any authority, but it seems that Richard has three objectives in mind with this book:
1. Expose and destroy the vacuous arguments used by those who espouse creationism.
2. Educate the ignorant and misinformed about the facts of evolution, the huge range of evidence and testing methods in support of it, and the beauty and wonder one experiences in understanding (what's true).
3. Equip atheists and those who would defend a naturalist world-view, but feel that they have insufficient knowledge and lack confidence, to argue against creationism, whether holding their own against resolved anti-evolutionists, or educating their family and friends, colleagues and peers, those who are uninformed and unpersuaded by what (little) they know of evolution, and who are vulnerable to indoctrination by the aforementioned creationists.

It's an important undertaking, even if the inveterate IDers are relatively few in number (we hope).

Sun, 06 Sep 2009 18:51:00 UTC | #394913

Steve Zara's Avatar Comment 12 by Steve Zara

Comment #412924 by Simon Farrell

When I get into a cynical mood, I think that the only way to persuade some people to listen to what Richard is saying about evolution is find some link between a good science education and significantly increased income.

Sun, 06 Sep 2009 18:59:00 UTC | #394918

JackR's Avatar Comment 13 by JackR

"Creationist straw men"? What, specifically, is he referring to when he says this? Why is he not giving examples and backing up that accusation?

Sun, 06 Sep 2009 19:23:00 UTC | #394922

BigginHillbilly's Avatar Comment 14 by BigginHillbilly

Apropos of Steve Zara's comment - I wonder how many of that 40% perhaps live in communities where they would be stigmatised if they said otherwise. I like to think things are slowly changing in the States, especially among the younger generation. However, I worked briefly in the City of London a year or so ago and met young Muslim men who found the idea of humans being related to apes truly hilarious - something of a shock to say the least.

Sun, 06 Sep 2009 20:18:00 UTC | #394936

j.mills's Avatar Comment 15 by j.mills

BigginHillbilly said:

...met young Muslim men who found the idea of humans being related to apes truly hilarious
Yeah? If you want a real laugh, next time tell them they're related to pigs...

Sun, 06 Sep 2009 20:47:00 UTC | #394943

Chrysippus_Maximus's Avatar Comment 16 by Chrysippus_Maximus

Agreeing 100% with anyone about anything non-trivial is frightening.

Sun, 06 Sep 2009 21:53:00 UTC | #394952

zeerust2000's Avatar Comment 17 by zeerust2000

It's a bit much to call creationists "straw men". What about the 40% we hear so much about? Creationism is far from a spent force.

Sun, 06 Sep 2009 22:02:00 UTC | #394954

SaintStephen's Avatar Comment 18 by SaintStephen

8. Comment #412901 by Steve Zara on September 6, 2009 at 6:16 pm

There could be a vast amount of ignorance, as against resistance, to be dealt
with. I do hope so.
I hope so, too, Steve. Maybe my personal story can shed some light on why there seems to be so much (ignorant) resistance in America regarding the theory of evolution.

I've always been a "searcher," (props to Bob Dylan), and I gave Christianity a very good effort, including attending bible-study classes at Riverbend megachurch in Austin, Texas, all the way up until nearly the year 2003. I am also a mechanical engineer with a degree from a top university, and have always had a high level of curiosity for science and mathematics.

During this time, I was certainly aware of the theory of evolution, and even accepted it as a fact. I knew virtually none of the details, however, and no fire was lit in my heart -- because I didn't really think evolution could "fill the hole in my soul." I even remember attempting to refute my older brother Bill (a longtime, passive atheist), Samuel Johnson-style, by grabbing his seatbelt one day while we were riding in my car and saying "Well who do you think made this, then? Huh?" (To Bill's eternal glory, I believe his muted response was "Toyota?")

The answers I sought were directly under my nose, particularly with the advent of speedy internet connections, but for some reason I still needed more than what I saw in evolutionary theory. I didn't believe in the divinity of Jesus (which was a continual problem in my discussions with other Riverbend members), but I definitely believed in some sort of personal, all-powerful being who was "testing" all of us on planet Earth. It was a test... yes, this was the only thing that made sense at the time. I was in cognitive dissonance, without a doubt.

I'm going to claim that two things essentially changed the game for me, although more factors were probably involved. The first one was primarily The God Delusion; in particular Richard's argument that something as complex as the universe could not possibly have a creator that is more complex. I had never heard this line of reasoning before, and although I know this argument doesn't work for everybody, for me it was simple, elegant, and utterly persuasive. Prior to this, I suppose I hazily accepted the "Turtles all the way down" koan as a suitable explanation for who created the creator.

The second thing was the idea of high fidelity replicators with random mutation -- aka Natural Selection, which I found in The Blind Watchmaker. Again, I had never, ever been exposed to this kind of model, even though it had been around for decades. Now this was very COOL! I love computers and software, and Richard's METHINKS IT IS LIKE A WEASEL analogy was, once again, utterly persuasive for me. This is definitely what lit the fire inside me. Reading Dan Dennett's Darwin's Dangerous Idea only cemented Dawkins's ideas more firmly, and went one crucial step further in extending those ideas to the beginning of life -- and time -- itself. I had my answers, and I would never be the same again.

Sorry about being long-winded, and I don't know if what inspired me to change my mind will work for others, particularly the poor and uneducated. What I sensed in the people from Riverbend church for instance, (although few of them could be considered poor or uneducated), could perhaps best be called "defensiveness" on behalf of their God. Shields went up immediately whenever I innocently asked someone how they could possibly believe that a Jewish carpenter was the son of God. Isn't it just an allegory... a parable? Maybe Jesus was just a genius-level philosopher, way ahead of his time. No. No way. They would simply brook no discussion on this matter. Faith, my son, faith. You're almost there. "Fake it until you make it."

To conclude: in my honest, honest opinion, I don't believe Richard's verve and enthusiasm for the natural world is an effective "replacement," so to speak, for what religious people believe they're losing. It's a tough crowd. Replacing God with Richard Dawkins's "glory of Nature" is just a non-starter for theists and believers. We have seen this time and time again in the articles (and recent TGSOE reviews) posted on

I'll be here all week. Thank-you, and good-night.

Mon, 07 Sep 2009 06:00:00 UTC | #394990

SaintStephen's Avatar Comment 19 by SaintStephen

Only yesterday I was trying to define what God actually means to me. I am still trying to pin it down.
Godspeed, my son. Fake it until you make it.

Mon, 07 Sep 2009 06:55:00 UTC | #394997

PERSON's Avatar Comment 20 by PERSON

There may be people who need God. What they don't need AFAICS is faith that he really exists outside their and other peoples' heads.

Mon, 07 Sep 2009 07:18:00 UTC | #394999

SaintStephen's Avatar Comment 21 by SaintStephen

21. Comment #413014 by PERSON on September 7, 2009 at 8:18 am

There may be people who need God. What they don't need AFAICS is faith that he really exists outside their and other peoples' heads.
Interesting POV. In what sense do you mean who need God? And are you proposing that these same people would be content with believing that he only exists "inside" their heads?

Mon, 07 Sep 2009 07:44:00 UTC | #395002

gos's Avatar Comment 22 by gos

19. Comment #413010 by thomas guihen

It is simply not true to state that a theist cannot contemplate - the possibilty at least - of pantheism. Only yesterday I was trying to define what God actually means to me. I am still trying to pin it down. The best I have managed to come up with so far is that I definitely don't believe in the Biblical definition. The slaughther of innocents sees to that. I am drawn towards the idea of pantheism if not pantheism itself. I still believe in a supreme diety but that may simply be through force of habit than anything else.

Have you considered polytheism?

Seriously, doesn't a group of sometimes cooperative, sometimes antagonistic deities, each with tremendous power over the world, but not omnipotent, make a lot more sense of the world we can see than an omnipotent, omniscient, benevolent god?

In this worldview, evil is not a problem: Some of the deities aren't very nice at all, and they influence the world, too.

Ditto, the sometimes uncaring nature of reality: They were looking the other way, just then.

And doesn't evolution, with its enormous suffering and kludged designs, make much more sense if you believe that it was designed and set into motion by a bunch of bickering egotists, rather than an omniscient, benevolent one?

Think about it :)

Mon, 07 Sep 2009 10:40:00 UTC | #395015

Jos Gibbons's Avatar Comment 23 by Jos Gibbons

Comment #413048 by thomas guihen

"Obvious" reasons? Do you mean how you were brought up?

I half-agree with you that monotheism is simpler. OK, maybe not half. Fewer gods is simpler provided they're allegedly causeless; that's why you should go with 0. If, however, you discover a new animal, you assume there are others of the same species, so it supposes on whether the gods have a sensible explanation for existing or not.

And what's wrong with Greek and Italian hypotheses, racist?

"I guess I will always have some irrational belief anyway." One advantage of non-belief is getting out of this issue.

Mon, 07 Sep 2009 13:27:00 UTC | #395037

nalfeshnee's Avatar Comment 24 by nalfeshnee

Comment by gos:

Seriously, doesn't a group of sometimes cooperative, sometimes antagonistic deities, each with tremendous power over the world, but not omnipotent, make a lot more sense of the world we can see than an omnipotent, omniscient, benevolent god?

Excellent comment (and ranked as such). Exactly the argument I would subscribe to. Polytheism is several degrees harder to "disprove" than monotheism, and for some of the reasons you state.

Not that monotheism is in fact actually practised, by and large.

Sorry Thomas, but if you believe in a single deity then you can't follow any of the world's major religions. You may well have your own private monotheism (unknown to me), but Judaism, Islam, Christianity (in all its forms known to me) are all pantheisms with the minor gods replaced by angels and demons. And simply innumerable numbers of saints, in the case of Catholicism.

For FSM's sake, Calvinism is about as hardcore as you can get, and even Calvin stated categorically that angels exist.

Monotheism – if you pardon the crudeness – my arse.

Mon, 07 Sep 2009 13:34:00 UTC | #395040

Quetzalcoatl's Avatar Comment 25 by Quetzalcoatl

thomas guihen-

If you truly are interested in evaluating the likelihood of the existence of various gods, then that evaluation can only be accomplished on the basis of analysis using reason and rationality.

Recognising that you have irrational beliefs is all well and good, but the real test is whether you shy away from examining said beliefs critically, preferring to believe in them because they comfort you. I can remember similar statements being made by you when I challenged you about the existence of the soul.

The question is, are you willing to truly question your beliefs, if that questioning means that you might end up discarding them?

Mon, 07 Sep 2009 13:39:00 UTC | #395042

Mark Jones's Avatar Comment 26 by Mark Jones

The rejection of a dualistic belief system fairly early on in Christian history, has led to the most serious flaw in its internal consistency - its inability to explain evil. Many believers have been convinced to give up their monotheism by the failure of theodicy. Marcion set up the Christian god in opposition to the god of Judaism, which at least allowed for a consistency when explaining the good and evil in the world that an omnipotent deity cannot provide. Marcionism was unsuccessful in the evolution of Christian belief, however.

Of course, *consistency* in a belief system doesn't guarantee its truth value, but *inconsistency* guarantees its falsity.

Mon, 07 Sep 2009 13:49:00 UTC | #395045

Jos Gibbons's Avatar Comment 27 by Jos Gibbons

Comment #413063 by thomas guihen

I assume (even though you don't say so) that this was only a response to my post.
(1) The time issue doesn't help. It's not as if the history of religion has gradually seen an increase in its accuracy as time passed. Science, yes, as seen by crucial experiments, new technology etc. By contrast, the only reason Jesus is the one whose birthday we celebrate on December 25 is all the other religions with a birthday contender were exterminated by the post-Constantine Church.
(2) I like your frank honesty about not minding having irrational beliefs. I don't like your not minding it, though. But even if I let you have your irrationality, it's a bit cheeky of you to try discussing something with others without signing up to rationality while you do it - otherwise, how can we know HOW to discuss?

Mon, 07 Sep 2009 13:56:00 UTC | #395046

Steve Zara's Avatar Comment 28 by Steve Zara

Comment #413056 by Jos Gibbons

Actually, I think infinite polytheism is simpler than monotheism. If there is a God-generating process, why should it stop at 1?

So, for me, it has to be either zero or infinity gods.

Mon, 07 Sep 2009 14:00:00 UTC | #395047

Jos Gibbons's Avatar Comment 29 by Jos Gibbons

Comment #413067 by Steve Zara

I can imagine a deity species, analogous to doormice, but they are neither zero nor infinite in number. The zero-or-infinite dichotomy does, however, seem applicable to a species without natural cause, which is where the doormouse analogy fails. But of course, "not having an explanation that makes sense" is precisely what motivates people like us to choose the 0 option.

Mon, 07 Sep 2009 14:37:00 UTC | #395059

Jos Gibbons's Avatar Comment 30 by Jos Gibbons

Comment #413080 by thomas guihen

You can hardly accuse me of forcing anything on you. In any case, there is a factor besides harm or lack thereof that motivates me to my concern. My challenge stands: if you're being irrational, there's no way a discussion can work at all. Discourse can no more be played without its rules than can chess. You're free to opt out of discourse too if you want - indeed, I'd say you're more free to do so than you are to opt out of rationality. The trouble is, you've NOT chosen to opt out of discourse: you've chosen to embrace it.

Mon, 07 Sep 2009 14:42:00 UTC | #395060