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The Greatest Show on Earth by Richard Dawkins - Comments

j.mills's Avatar Comment 1 by j.mills

The fact is that both continuous and discontinuous change happens in fossil lineages, and this poses interesting questions about what species mean, questions that Dawkins simply ignores.
Haven't finished the book yet, but RD has certainly mentioned the variability in rates of evolutionary change, and Fortey's query as to "what species mean" (presumably "what 'species' means") is neither new nor relevant to RD's topic.

This is hardly a hostile review, but Fortey sounds a little po-faced therein. He is of course right that this book (like any) will not 'convert' all who could benefit from it; but it's a sufficient and worthy goal to convince some who have hitherto not understood the science.

Sun, 06 Sep 2009 13:54:00 UTC | #394820

crusader234's Avatar Comment 2 by crusader234

Sun, 06 Sep 2009 14:10:00 UTC | #394829

FatherNature's Avatar Comment 3 by FatherNature

There's a certain glee when he admits to being "the devil's disciple" ...Suffering and pain ....are merely there to service the genes. Anything else is "Sentimental, human nonsense. Natural selection is all futile."

These quotes smell, at best, like something taken far out of context. References please.

Sun, 06 Sep 2009 14:17:00 UTC | #394831

EoghainOKeeffe's Avatar Comment 4 by EoghainOKeeffe

Richard Fortey wrote: "He gets his teeth into an argument, locks on and shakes it until submission is the only option. There's a certain glee when he admits to being "the devil's disciple" or the high priest of "ultradarwinism"..."

When did Richard Dawkins ever claim to be "the devil's disciple"? If Richard Fortey is referring to Dawkins' book 'The Devil's Chaplain' then he must not have realised that Dawkins wasn't referring to himself.

Sun, 06 Sep 2009 14:29:00 UTC | #394837

Jos Gibbons's Avatar Comment 5 by Jos Gibbons

Fortey declares that RD has missed his target, even though this time he really did only focus on creationists. What more does Fortey want? Apparently, “kidney-jabs at creationists and allied trades” are off-limits, and so we must defend evolution without attacking those who by definition are against evolution. How do you even do that? Maybe Fortey should show us how.
Fortey asks, “isn't it hard to escape the language of the pulpit?” My answer would be “Yes, because people like you keep bringing it up!” Many people have irritatingly used a “I know you are, but what am I?” way of describing RD, but this guy is the first one I know to explicitly give away how much he’s enjoying doing it!
And heaven forfend Dawkins spend a couple of sentences suggest reformations for taxonomy. No, it’s much better for Fortey to offer his counterargument with greater verbosity, and then throw in the “Darwin said so!” argument. (Why does RD keep getting an argument from authority like that?)
What was really bizarre, however, was the argument from the ibis. If evolution’s speed varying is really a big deal worth bringing up here, does “5,000 years (tops) has done nothing discernible to ibises” provide a good example? That’s not even one thousandth of the time since the human-chimp MRCA.

Sun, 06 Sep 2009 14:40:00 UTC | #394846

Chris Hagan's Avatar Comment 6 by Chris Hagan

It strikes me that Prof. Fortey is somewhat irked by Dawkins poking fun at his own field of palaeontology, specifically the confusion in taxonomy, and is begrudging Dawkins as a result.

Sun, 06 Sep 2009 14:50:00 UTC | #394849

Koreman's Avatar Comment 7 by Koreman

Off topic, Buzz Aldrin v.s. moon landing hoaxer:

Sun, 06 Sep 2009 14:51:00 UTC | #394850

Carl_Barker's Avatar Comment 8 by Carl_Barker

This book really is needed. I recently conversed with 2 old friends from highschool. Both graduated near the top of our class. Both are subscribers of intelligent design by a "flawed creator". Is this Rick Warren stuff? These recent conversations increased my anxiety about the current zietgeist in the US.

Sun, 06 Sep 2009 15:03:00 UTC | #394855

Friend Giskard's Avatar Comment 9 by Friend Giskard

he admits to being "the devil's disciple" or the high priest of "ultradarwinism"

EDIT: Koreman. Loved the Aldrin clip. Now we see why Armstrong, with his cooler head, was chosen to pilot the LEM in.

Sun, 06 Sep 2009 15:06:00 UTC | #394858

MechaTengu's Avatar Comment 10 by MechaTengu

It's a fine book, marred by the corny/cheesy, incredibly ungainly coining of "theorum" (sic).

Sun, 06 Sep 2009 15:21:00 UTC | #394860

Apathy personified's Avatar Comment 11 by Apathy personified

First, I'll admit that i haven't read the book yet, however at no point in this review did Richard Fortey satisfactorily explain which target(s) had been missed.

RD is very aware that many creationists/ID'iots are only capable of having their minds altered by blunt objects rather than rational debate and scientific facts - that's something no author has any control over.

I think an important point here is that the book is ultimately a popular science book that aims to give a comprehensive overview, so it is never going to go into the specifics of all the areas of science that contribute to our understanding of evolution.

I respect Richard Fortey, but i think this article smacks of being rushed to print too soon after reading the book.

Sun, 06 Sep 2009 15:23:00 UTC | #394861

kraut's Avatar Comment 12 by kraut

"There's a certain glee when he admits to being "the devil's disciple" or the high priest of "ultradarwinism", and his admission has an undeniably macho swagger about it. Real men (and women) take the toughest line on natural selection. Suffering and pain in nature and humanity are merely there to service the genes. Anything else is "Sentimental, human nonsense."

This statement alone shows that it is not worth my time reading that review, I can gain nothing from it, as what he says here is not supported by anything that Dawkins ever stated.
My guess is another prof. pissed off at Dawkins success, halfway in bed with the local clergy, and afraid of lifting the bedsheets because of the bad smell this companionship releases.
There is a large gap between the truthful statement that nature does give a rodents ass about suffering, and the conclusion that Dawkins draws it is up to us to create a live-able society.
I myself conclude that this reviewer lacks in mental capacity to understand what he is reading/listening to or he willfully misrepresents - typical for an accomodationist.

Sun, 06 Sep 2009 15:55:00 UTC | #394870

carbonman's Avatar Comment 13 by carbonman

How much evolutionary change does Prof Fortey expect to see in a mere 30 centuries or so? And what does he mean by the idea of 'on the way to being an ibis'? Moreover, RD has addressed the issue of apparent sudden changes in the fossil record time and time again, skilfully debunking 'punctuated equilibria' in TBW 20-some-odd years ago. Can this review really have been written by a palaeontologist? Perhaps he was having a bad day.

Sun, 06 Sep 2009 16:09:00 UTC | #394873

brian thomson's Avatar Comment 14 by brian thomson

No comments on the Grauniad site? I think the phrase Fortey was looking for was "Devil's Chaplain": which was the title of of one of RD's books, of course, based on a quote something Darwin said.

Sun, 06 Sep 2009 17:03:00 UTC | #394888

blakjack's Avatar Comment 15 by blakjack

This from one of my favourite writers, Simon Barnes, is worth reading:

Barnes has got it wrong this time but in all fairness, Dawkins is often too dogmatic (in the same way that religious zealots behave) and is in danger of losing credibility.


Sun, 06 Sep 2009 17:43:00 UTC | #394898

Jos Gibbons's Avatar Comment 16 by Jos Gibbons

Comment #412909 by blakjack

"Dogmatic" describes how you think, not how you behave. Either give an example of something RD believes on insufficient evidence, or I shall remain unimpressed.

Sun, 06 Sep 2009 18:00:00 UTC | #394902

SaintStephen's Avatar Comment 17 by SaintStephen

15. Comment #412909 by blakjack on September 6, 2009 at 6:43 pm

This from Simon Barnes:

And it is not the place of science to tell us that Christ did not die for our sins. Science deals in fact; religion deals with belief and faith. Throughout history, when science has revealed facts that contradict religious belief, belief has shifted its ground. These days, nothing remains but faith — but faith is unshakable, at least by science.

And it is not the place of science to tell us that religious fairy tales aren't true. Science deals in fact; religion deals with fairy tales and nonsense. Throughout history, when science has revealed facts that contradict religious nonsense, those espousing the nonsense have slithered back into their holes. These days, nothing remains but utter, unsubstantiated nonsense — but (and I'm living proof) religious nonsense is unshakable, at least by science.
Please slither back into your box seat at the football game, Mr. Barnes, and leave the heavy lifting to people far, far more capable of comprehending the issues -- like Richard Dawkins.

Sun, 06 Sep 2009 18:01:00 UTC | #394903

SaintStephen's Avatar Comment 18 by SaintStephen

7. Comment #412860 by Koreman on September 6, 2009 at 3:51 pm

Off topic, Buzz Aldrin v.s. moon landing hoaxer:
Awww... no kick in the nuts? Buzz, you're getting soft in your old age.

Sun, 06 Sep 2009 18:20:00 UTC | #394906

hfaber's Avatar Comment 19 by hfaber

Is there a fellow Dutch atheist who knows when the Dutch translation of The Greatest Show on Earth will be published?

Sun, 06 Sep 2009 18:29:00 UTC | #394907

Rodger T's Avatar Comment 20 by Rodger T

Is this the best Fortey can do , muster up a little self-righteous indignation at a tongue in cheek remark about taxonomy?

I don`t suppose he has any evidence that TGSOE is factually incorrect.

A little hysteria at the bursting of bubbles,its getting harder and harder for the religious to keep the faith under the onslaught of observable facts.

Sun, 06 Sep 2009 18:32:00 UTC | #394909

Steve Zara's Avatar Comment 21 by Steve Zara

Comment #412920 by Rodger T

I don`t suppose he has any evidence that TGSOE is factually incorrect.

What a strange comment.

Fortey is a good fellow. He is a respected paleontologist. A review does not have to be a either a hagiography or a savage rejection.

It is to be expected that some people will have honest disagreements with Richard.

Sun, 06 Sep 2009 18:43:00 UTC | #394912

GBile's Avatar Comment 22 by GBile


Again the only thing you have to offer to this discussion is your dislike of 'Theorum'. How about some real comments on Dawkins book.

By the way, where I live a 'MechaTengu' is an 'annoying, obnoxious loudmouth'. Maybe you should use an other nickname?

Sun, 06 Sep 2009 18:56:00 UTC | #394916

EoghainOKeeffe's Avatar Comment 23 by EoghainOKeeffe

Richard Fortey is definitely not somebody who would be concerned about any religious 'bubble' being burst! Fortey is a fantastic science writer in his own right. I recently read his book 'Life: An Unauthorised Biography' and it stands proudly alongside Richard Dawkins work.

I do think Fortey misrepresents Dawkins in the opening paragraphs of the review but, overall, I'm sure that Fortey would find more to agree with than to disagree with when it comes to Dawkins work.

Sun, 06 Sep 2009 19:02:00 UTC | #394919

BadScooter's Avatar Comment 24 by BadScooter

17. Comment #412914 by SaintStephen on September 6, 2009 at 7:01 pm

Spot on. Isn't it amazing that even today, in 2009, you're still not allowed to rationally question faith and spirituality. One day...

Oh and OT, how do I quote comments?

And Stephen, sure no kick in the nutz but that right hook looked solid!

Sun, 06 Sep 2009 19:42:00 UTC | #394927

Estragon's Avatar Comment 25 by Estragon

I am personally affronted that our cherished taxonomical traditions have been so irresponsibly attacked!

Sun, 06 Sep 2009 19:50:00 UTC | #394929

God fearing Atheist's Avatar Comment 26 by God fearing Atheist

There's a certain glee when he admits to being "the devil's disciple" or the high priest of "ultradarwinism", and his admission has an undeniably macho swagger about it.

Reference please?

Perhaps it is this very determination to give no ground that occasionally introduces irritating holes into his science.
There's a whole new science built around computerised correlation of rocks based on first and last appearance of species, which Dawkins seems not to know about.

Doesn't this depend on evolution being true? If so, then bringing it up in a book that lays out the evidence for evolution would be begging the question. First demonstrate evolution, then use marker species to line up rock strata.

The fact is that both continuous and discontinuous change happens in fossil lineages, and this poses interesting questions about what species mean, questions that Dawkins simply ignores.

Naughty Prof. Dawkins. Perhaps he was bored with the subject post "The Blind Watchmaker", chapter 9?

Then there is the occasional cheap shot.
"I'm still mischievously hoping," writes Dawkins,

How can I tell from "mischievously" that RD is not being serious? Science is littered with nomenclature that is regretable in retrospect. Dawkins fires a cheap shot, Fortey fires one back. Jolly good. Looks like Fortey can't find anything more substantive to criticise in his limited column inches which is good.

I hope this does not look like nit-picking.

It does.

It does Dawkins no credit to snigger at taxonomy.

Again, if Fortey used about 15% of his column inches on this Dawkin's book must be cool!

Yet again the wisdom and tactics of the battle with IDiots comes up. I don't think RD or anyone else will convince the most extreme 10-20% of the population, the battle should be to engage them in a debate which sways the middle ground - the other 60-70% (assuming 20% are already persuaded by evolution)

Sun, 06 Sep 2009 19:55:00 UTC | #394930

SaintStephen's Avatar Comment 27 by SaintStephen

24. Comment #412938 by BadScooter on September 6, 2009 at 8:42 pm

Scooter... directly above the (white) box where you type in your posts, there is a dark blue link that says:

[Comment Posting Guidelines]

Click on it, and the truth shall set you free.

Sun, 06 Sep 2009 20:01:00 UTC | #394933

BadScooter's Avatar Comment 28 by BadScooter

27. Comment #412944 by SaintStephen on September 6, 2009 at 9:01 pm

Ah.. If people only opened their eyes eh?


Sun, 06 Sep 2009 20:16:00 UTC | #394934

j.mills's Avatar Comment 29 by j.mills

Coming back to this "what species mean" business (though I'm still not entirely clear what that phrase means...), I note that RD does spend a few pages on this actually - circa p190-194; so I don't really know what Fortey's complaining of, but it doesn't seem to be something that need bother the general reader anyway.

Sun, 06 Sep 2009 20:44:00 UTC | #394942

Mark Smith's Avatar Comment 30 by Mark Smith

The review seems pretty positive as reviews go. Another case of editors giving misleading (sub)titles to things? The article subtitle is 'Richard Dawkins's latest broadside just misses its target.' But I can't find anything within the review itself that says this.

Saying that, the review doesn't make many clear criticisms at all. It's got something about 'irritating holes [in] his science'. But it turns out the example of such a hole is a failure to address 'interesting questions about what species mean'. Seems to me this is an interesting and important philosophical question, but not necessarily relevant to the science Dawkins wants to explain and hardly a 'hole in the science'.

And I haven't read the book yet, but I doubt very much that Dawkins has taken 'a cheap shot' at the business of taxonomy or 'sniggered' at it. Dawkins's other writings seem to me to respect taxonomy. Of course respecting something doesn't mean you can't occasionally say it might have done something better, and that seems to be what he has done in the example given.

Sun, 06 Sep 2009 21:08:00 UTC | #394946