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Showcasing the evidence for evolution - Comments

The Truth, the light's Avatar Comment 1 by The Truth, the light

I must admit I've felt a slight tinge of unconfortableness when RD has talked about the proof for evolution, but given that most people use the colloquial forms of 'theory and 'proof', I don't see it as a problem now.

Wed, 07 Oct 2009 05:05:00 UTC | #403972

CHeard's Avatar Comment 2 by CHeard

The Truth, the light: Dawkins writes in The Greatest Show on Earth that the evidence demonstrating the fact of evolution fits the colloquial usage of "proof," though only mathematicians, Dawkins says, really have the right to talk about "proving" their theorems. He's very clear on this point and it shouldn't be a stumbling block for a Greatest Show reader.

By the way, Greatest Show is a very good book—I just finished the audio version on my commute home this evening. Though much of the book confirmed things I already knew, I am not a biologist of any stripe, and I learned some interesting new things.

Wed, 07 Oct 2009 05:55:00 UTC | #403984

drjam's Avatar Comment 3 by drjam

Richard is hardly a Rottweiler. A more congenial commentator I have yet to meet - but one does get exasperated with the uneducated questions he gets asked. He should be given a Knighthood - or has he already got one?

Wed, 07 Oct 2009 06:37:00 UTC | #403992

Stafford Gordon's Avatar Comment 4 by Stafford Gordon

Evolution is as much a fact as gravity; to paraphrase the Stonewall posters, Evolution exists, get over it.

Wed, 07 Oct 2009 06:49:00 UTC | #403993

RichardNevin's Avatar Comment 5 by RichardNevin

I first heard of Prof. Laurence D. Hurst from quotes of his fascinating research in Matt Ridley's "The Red Queen", so I was interested to hear what he thought of RD's and Carl Zimmer's recent books.
I thought that he made some interesting criticisms about omissions from both books, for example, that neither book had suggested that research in evolutionary biology is ongoing. But I would have liked him to counter these criticisms with recognition of the fact that RD at least has covered this elsewhere (for example, in numerous interviews and debates).
More personal perhaps is his criticism of RD for writing that 95% of our genome is effectively junk. I had the pleasure recently of attending one of Laurence Hurst's lectures on his current research, which just happens to centre on the importance of synonymous mutations (a sub category of silent mutations) and apparently redundant genes!
I have only just started reading "The Greatest Show on Earth" and I must say that overall his review has made me keener than ever to get stuck into it.

Wed, 07 Oct 2009 08:43:00 UTC | #404013

SilentMike's Avatar Comment 6 by SilentMike

I got this sentiment from reading the article:

To each his own style. The more the merrier.

I agree with that sentiment.

Wed, 07 Oct 2009 09:43:00 UTC | #404019

bachfiend's Avatar Comment 7 by bachfiend

"Darwin's Rottweiler?" In my experience Rottweilers are large slobbery friendly dogs. I just had my hardcover copy of "the Greatest Show on Earth" delivered today. The trouble is that I listened to the abridged audiobook (I wish I could get the unabridged version) and read the Kindle version weeks ago. Oh well, I suppose I can get RD to sign it in Melbourne next year in March. (I'm not planning on mentioning that carbon 13 is actually stable and that wombats have their pouches facing backwards as the "default position" (even the thylacine had a backward facing pouch) not to keep dirt out of the pouch when burrowing as that IDiot Geoffrey Simmons suggested in "Billions of Missing Links" (I think it's kangaroos which have reversed the pouch).

Wed, 07 Oct 2009 10:04:00 UTC | #404022

GalacticAtom's Avatar Comment 8 by GalacticAtom

Comment #422204 by drjam

No, RD doesn't have a knighthood. I don't know if no honour has been offered, or whether has turned them down. If none has been offered, it is a disgrace.

Better than a knighthood would be a life peerage, to help counter the presence of bishops in the House of Lords.

Wed, 07 Oct 2009 10:21:00 UTC | #404025

Roger Stanyard's Avatar Comment 9 by Roger Stanyard

drjam - I would like to see Richard awarded a knighthood just to see the consequential "outrage" from fundamentalists and demands that every known nutter also be awarded one.

The mind boggles at the idea of Sir Ray Comfort, knighted for his contributions to science. Or Lord Paul Garner, BSc, BNP; how about Baron Ken Scam of Cretinism? Lord Monty White of Obscurity? Earl John Mackay of Necrophilia?

Wed, 07 Oct 2009 11:20:00 UTC | #404035

britbloke's Avatar Comment 10 by britbloke

As the brilliant comedian and atheist Tim Minchin said, "If the creationists believe that evolution is 'only a theory' and not true, maybe they also believe the same about the theory of gravity and might just float the f**k away".

Wed, 07 Oct 2009 12:24:00 UTC | #404048

Moq's Avatar Comment 11 by Moq

The more books about evolution and science in general, regardless of approach, the merrier.

Wed, 07 Oct 2009 13:32:00 UTC | #404067

bentleyd's Avatar Comment 12 by bentleyd

I'm not much of a royal-watcher. You Brits correct me if I'm wrong, but isn't the Queen considered the head of the Church of England, and the 'Keeper of the Faith'? Would she grant a knighthood to the author of The God Delusion? We've all heard Hitch's (recent American, Ex-Brit) rantings about the royal family. I think Richard wisely avoids the issue.

Wed, 07 Oct 2009 14:33:00 UTC | #404089

Mr DArcy's Avatar Comment 13 by Mr DArcy

What on Earth would Richard want with a knighthood? He's already had the world's highest honour as guest of the Simpsons.

Wed, 07 Oct 2009 16:46:00 UTC | #404122

God fearing Atheist's Avatar Comment 14 by God fearing Atheist

12. Comment #422301 by bentleyd


But if he gets a high enough gong he will get a seat in the Lords! It could be quite amusing to have Dawkins arguing across the floor of the upper house with the Bishops!

Wed, 07 Oct 2009 16:58:00 UTC | #404126

Jos Gibbons's Avatar Comment 15 by Jos Gibbons

Comment #422334 by Mr DArcy

I have seen every single episode of The Simpsons. He has not even been mentioned in it, let alone appeared. He was impersonated in South Park, while one of his books' covers had a cameo in an episode of Family Guy. You were probably thinking of one or both of those. (I'm betting on the former here.)

Wed, 07 Oct 2009 18:29:00 UTC | #404145

GalacticAtom's Avatar Comment 16 by GalacticAtom

Comment #422301 by bentleyd

Yes, the Queen is "Supreme Governor of the Church of England" and "Defender of the Faith", but honours are awarded to people of all faiths and none. Most are chosen by the government, not the Queen personally.

Among the few honours which the sovereign awards personally is the Order of Merit (OM), whose members have included numerous non-believers such as Bertrand Russell, Francis Crick and David Attenborough.

Wed, 07 Oct 2009 20:05:00 UTC | #404167

j.mills's Avatar Comment 17 by j.mills

And just in case anyone can remember the topic: a positive, nay, enthusiastic review in a prestigious place! Good stuff. Zimmer's book sounds interesting too, although the Darwin-quote title does make it sound like a commentary on the Credit Crunch...

Wed, 07 Oct 2009 20:08:00 UTC | #404168

NakedCelt's Avatar Comment 18 by NakedCelt

A greater weakness is that neither book offers much perspective on unanswered questions. A reader could be forgiven for thinking that evolutionary biologists today are doing little more than dotting the proverbial ‘i’s. Although the fact of evolution is beyond doubt, the recent explosion of genetic sequence data means that the skills of evolutionists are needed now more than ever.
Maybe we need a new popular science book on unanswered questions in biology? It would certainly be a counterpoint to the creationist view that evolutionists have already made their minds up on everything and ignore the evidence. And, of course, it should emphasize that the fact of evolution is not one of the unanswered questions.

Wed, 07 Oct 2009 22:56:00 UTC | #404220

Roger Stanyard's Avatar Comment 19 by Roger Stanyard

bentleyd asks

I'm not much of a royal-watcher. You Brits correct me if I'm wrong, but isn't the Queen considered the head of the Church of England, and the 'Keeper of the Faith'? Would she grant a knighthood to the author of The God Delusion? We've all heard Hitch's (recent American, Ex-Brit) rantings about the royal family. I think Richard wisely avoids the issue.

It's not like that at all. She's titular head of the Church of England but the Church of England is only the established Church in England, not the established church of the UK (or Scotland, Wales or Northern Ireland) or Commonwealth countries that recognise the Queen as head of their states (Canada, for example). The real head of the Church of England is the Archbishop of canterbury but most of the de facto responsibility for it lies in the Archbishop of York.

Nobody knows what you need to believe to be a member of the Church of England. For generations it was assumed in England that if you didn't believe in religion/were agnostic/atheistic/indifferent you were most likely Anglican.

Thu, 08 Oct 2009 13:06:00 UTC | #404370

padnil's Avatar Comment 20 by padnil

I am curious to know why the activity of humans to adjust aspects intrinsic and extrinsic of themselves is descibed by Mr Dawkins as 'artificial' selection but a similar activity performed by non human organisms is described as 'natural' selection. Humans or animal organisms,we are part of nature. Why does Mr Dawkins differentiate between them.
I am not a scientist so please be patient with me. I am an ardent believer in evolution. I think Mr Dawkins is doing a great piece of work on it.

Fri, 09 Oct 2009 02:10:00 UTC | #404475

thomas guihen's Avatar Comment 21 by thomas guihen

padnil - I am not a scientist either, but my understanding is that we have greater ability to manipulate our environment given our comparative intelligence. This isn't something which applies to lesser species, many of whom are apparently incapable of cognitive thought.

Fri, 09 Oct 2009 03:12:00 UTC | #404477

Phasic's Avatar Comment 22 by Phasic

I'm looking forward to reading TGSOE. Still getting through The Ancestor's Tale at the moment.

I also note that Richard's eyebrows sure are getting bushy. I think it's a look he can pull off, though.

Fri, 09 Oct 2009 03:23:00 UTC | #404480

Quine's Avatar Comment 23 by Quine

<!-- -->padnil, I think it is mostly from the definition of "artificial" which Webster's gives as "humanly contrived, often on a natural model." Yes, humans are a part of Nature, and nothing that humans do has been shown to be supernatural. In general, we look at Evolution for the answer of how life became all the beings we see and have come to know about. So, you can say that milk cows or popcorn were artificially selected, or you can look at them as the product of Natural Selection in which humans were their natural environment. It is a good question, but I don't think the distinction makes a big difference.

Fri, 09 Oct 2009 03:39:00 UTC | #404482

Bernard Hurley's Avatar Comment 24 by Bernard Hurley

Comment #422585 by Roger Stanyard

For generations it was assumed in England that if you didn't believe in religion/were agnostic/atheistic/indifferent you were most likely Anglican.

Many years ago I spent some time in a hospital in Romford in England. On the admission form I put N/A in the space for religion. I was asked if that meant I was an atheist or an agnostic to which I replied that that was not really relevant as those aren't religions. I seem to have been assigned the "default" religion of Anglican as the Anglican chaplain came round to talk to me. In the event we had quite a long conversation; he didn't seem to actually believe any of the stuff in the bible and he seemed quite relieved at not being expected to comfort me about the possibility of dying.

Fri, 09 Oct 2009 04:47:00 UTC | #404489

Jos Gibbons's Avatar Comment 25 by Jos Gibbons

Comment #422693 by padnil

"Artificial selection" was a term coined by Darwin to refer to a process with which everyone was already familiar, which constituted selection in a literal sense. He included the word "artificial" so that he could then compare and contrast it with "natural selection", another of his terms, the difference being that "selection" is now metaphorical, but the two basically working the same way. That was Darwin's way of illustrating how plausible natural selection is, and today biologists per se continue making this distinction. Personally, I see it as a nomenclature best used as a ladder one kicks away when one has climbed it: once one understands evolution well, one no longer needs think of "artificial" as an alternative to "natural", but instead as a subcategory as you suggest. Nonetheless, RD is in this book working on people who aren't there yet.

Fri, 09 Oct 2009 05:19:00 UTC | #404491

Akaei's Avatar Comment 26 by Akaei

Richard is not MAKING the distinction between artificial and natural selection. He is merely commenting on it.

Artificial is used distinguish things that are man-made (or otherwise unnatural) from things that occur without human influence. I like this definition from contrived by art rather than nature.

A good example of this is artificial light (light bulbs) versus natural light (sun, moon, stars). Hmmm, now I'm curious how (or if) fire and candle light should be classified.

Certainly it could be argued that we are part of nature. But the selection pressures of domesticated species are almost exclusively products of human preferences. Natural selection pressures have no intent or preference. And while signs of evolution by natural selection tends to occur over hundreds and/or thousands of generations, the effects of artificial selection show up very quickly. And you could argue that the hastened response is merely due to a drastic change in selection pressures. But even if we concede that human designs are just an aspect of Nature (not a concession I or many others would make) those designs are so influential and unbound by non-intentional selection pressures that they not only deserve, but REQUIRE their own category: artificial selection.

Sat, 10 Oct 2009 22:49:00 UTC | #404750

gwolf's Avatar Comment 27 by gwolf

I hypothesize that religious beliefs are addictive.

In the TGSOE debate Dawkins has with a christian Monotheist, the latter refuses to consider the evidence Richard presents in favor of human evolution as demonstrated by fossils. In fact, just as it looks like Dawkins is winning, she changes the subject. I'm reminded of the smoker I once was who felt an urge to smoke whenever somebody brought up the evils of tobacco; it merely reminded me of the withdrawal symptoms!

Put another way, religious people are religious not because the ideas are scientific but because they can't imagine a world without their (warped) beliefs, just as once upon a time I couldn't imagine a world without cigarettes. Evidence that they are wrong threatens them and they react by looking for another "fix." I notice this whenever I "debate" missionaries.

I think pointing out the addictive nature of religious beliefs should be a very important strategy, especially when we hear things like, "I have too much faith to believe in evolution."

George Wolf

Wed, 14 Oct 2009 17:01:00 UTC | #405522

Matthew Bendyna's Avatar Comment 28 by Matthew Bendyna

A new book recently came out that shows mathematical proof for evolution. It is called "Proving Darwin: Making Biology Mathematical", and was written by Gregory Chaitin. I highly encourage everyone to check it out, but be forewarned: there is some very high level mathematics involved in the book. If you are not at a level where you understand differential equations, you might want to get there.

Fri, 03 Aug 2012 01:04:20 UTC | #950378