Darwin's Rottweiler and Dawkins's Dogma
By FERRIS JABR - SCIENCELINE
Added: Tue, 27 Oct 2009 00:00:00 UTC
Some call him Darwinâs Rottweiler. A man of slight build, wispy silver hair and round spectacles, evolutionary biologist Richard Dawkins did not earn the fierce nickname for his appearance. He earned it for his vigorous advocacy of Darwinâs theory of evolution by natural selection as indisputable scientific fact.
âWe have a war on our hands,â the best-selling author said with characteristic conviction, to open his recent speech at the New York Academy of Sciences. A crowd of about 200 eagerly listened to a chapter-by-chapter description of his new book, The Greatest Show on Earth: The Evidence for Evolution—a book Dawkins hopes will arm the defenders of evolution against those who claim itâs âonly a theory.â
The question of whether evolution is a theory or fact is not a mere semantics game. Itâs so important to the public, to scientists and to Dawkins himself, that it dominates the first chapter of The Greatest Show on Earth. To emphasize evolutionâs certainty, Dawkinsâs new book even suggests borrowing the word âtheoremâ from mathematics—meaning a proven statement—and changing its spelling to âtheorum,â thus christening evolution anew.
During the question and answer session at the Academy, a young man approached the microphone to ask Dawkins for his response to a New York Times review of his book. In the review, science reporter Nicholas Wade criticized Dawkins for stubbornly calling evolution a fact, arguing that evolution is—and can only be—a theory. âBecause the word âtheoryâ is so wantonly misunderstood by lay people,â Dawkins answered the young man, âwe are better off using a word that ordinary lay people actually understandâ—the word âfact.â
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