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Richard Dawkins: Universal DNA Code Is 'Knockdown' Evidence of Evolution

October 19, 2009 – Evolutionary biologist Richard Dawkins was on Grounds Friday to discuss his new book, "The Greatest Show On Earth: The Evidence For Evolution," which lays out more than a dozen lines of argument and evidence in support of evolution. Dawkins gave a quick introduction to every one of those lines of evidence (each gets a chapter in the book), speaking to a standing room only audience in the Gilmer Hall Auditorium. (Scores more were turned away after the room filled.)

The most compelling evidence of all, Dawkins explained, comes from molecular biology – the fact that DNA code is universal among all living things, with all creatures sharing identical segments of code.

Dawkins, recently retired from his position as the Charles Simonyi Professor of the Public Understanding of Science at Oxford University, is perhaps most famous (and certainly most controversial) for his 2006 international bestseller "The God Delusion." In it, he makes the case for the improbability of the existence of a supreme being, and, more provocatively, that religion is not only wrong, but evil, a position that defines so-called "New Atheists."

But on Friday, Dawkins skipped any attack on religion, sticking to the subject matter in his latest book. However, he did express palpable scorn for those who believe the young-earth creationist view that the earth is less than 10,000 years old, a view that 40 percent of Americans (and 28 percent of Brits) agree with, according to a Gallup poll Dawkins cited.

Since the earth is actually 4.6 billion years old, Dawkins said, the magnitude of error in the young-earth creationist view is equivalent to thinking North America is 8 yards wide. Such a magnitude of false belief would be disabling in practically any other field, Dawkins quipped, noting that a plumber wouldn't be able to connect his pipes and do his job if his measurements were off by such a factor.

Dawkins' new book is an attempt to better muster the evidence for evolution, in hopes of changing the "disturbing" opinion of some who subscribe to the creationist view. While Dawkins acknowledged that there was little use in trying to argue with the most dyed-in-the-wool creationists (responding to a student who asked how best to join the fight against the creationist view), he suggested that the most persuasive tactic is to drop the truculence and share the fascinating ways that evolution can explain the natural world.

Dawkins himself did so with a mix of wry humor and a wide-eyed appreciation for the power of the idea of evolution.

The most convincing evidence for evolution comes from considering the similarities between so many living creatures, Dawkins explained.
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