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Book Review: The Greatest Show on Earth - Comments

Kmita's Avatar Comment 1 by Kmita

Reminds me of the story of Jesus...
He goes from being a child to being an adult with a revelation. What happened in between? We don't know!

Tue, 08 Dec 2009 22:15:00 UTC | #421594

Jos Gibbons's Avatar Comment 2 by Jos Gibbons

This is stupid. It is expected that a book for a position summarise that position at the beginning, so you know where the argument is going. TGSOE would be a rather unusual book if it didn't follow that trend.

the problem is that he was never a creationist himself so he doesn't know how to think like one
Except, of course, he was: before discovering Darwin's idea of natural selection, a design hypothesis for biology was the one religious idea to which RD did still hold, the specificities of Anglicanism long since eroded by his realisation that the number of religions makes them all suspect.
[Creationists] need to be confronted with clear, simple, inescapable conclusions they can't avoid
Sutter goes to great lengths to repeatedly deny RD achieves this, but never shows an example of what RD messed up, nor does Sutter give any alternative approaches. Incidentally, has anyone found anything creationists really cannot avoid? I doubt such a thing even exists given their mentality. However, one cannot fault RD for his best effort, nor has SUtter produced or, as far as I can tell, even seen a better approach. Do not forget also that RD has repeatedly stated part of the book's aim is to give evolution-accepters material they can use to help them defend it when they talk to creationists. Sutter appears unaware of this value.
I'm really not trying to write a bad review here
Oh, it's a bad review all right, but not in the way you mean!

Tue, 08 Dec 2009 22:37:00 UTC | #421598

The Truth, the light's Avatar Comment 3 by The Truth, the light

I don't think it's a particular bad review, but Sutter does miss the point (sort of) that the book was never intended for hard core Creationists, as it doesn't matter how much evidence you present to them, their blinkered ideology won't allow any chinks of logic or reason to enter.

Tue, 08 Dec 2009 22:47:00 UTC | #421600

Jesus H. Christ's Avatar Comment 4 by Jesus H. Christ

Seems like an honest enough review. I enjoyed reading it. Maybe he should write his own book--in a way that HE thinks creationists can understand the information. We could help him too. Let's all email him some ideas. Do we have his email address?

Tue, 08 Dec 2009 22:51:00 UTC | #421602

Nunbeliever's Avatar Comment 5 by Nunbeliever

I hear his next book is a children's book. Maybe that will be the one for the creationists.

Hahaha!!! BULLSEYE! What a great ending to a review!! Yes, the author has a point. TGSOE is probably not a book for creationists. But, did not Dawkins say that himself in the introduction? If my memory does not fail me completely, I think he wrote explicitly that the book is targeted at people "on the fence" or people who feel they don't have the competence to correct their creationist friends... and foes.

Tue, 08 Dec 2009 23:07:00 UTC | #421605

Nunbeliever's Avatar Comment 6 by Nunbeliever

To Jos Gibbons:

I think you are being a bit harsh! I think the author really had an honest point. And that point was not that TGSOE is a bad book. I totally agree with 'Jesus'. He should write a book of his own. I think one reason why Dan Barker's book was such a success is because he is an ex-preacher. He knows how creationists think and can refute them on their own wave-length. We also have to keep in mind that Dawkins is a professor of biology. He is not the average guy handing out pamphlets on the street corner. Even though his books are popular science books. They are scientific books with references and details encouraging the reader to pursue further studies. Trying to actually reach the average creationist on his/her own terms would be a completely different project and not be suitable for this format. I strongly doubt that Dawkins, with his reputation in the creationists circles, could reach them whatever he wrote. And why would a renowned scientist even want to do something like that. There are more suitable people to do things like that. It is not the amount of evidence that is likely to persuade a creationist. As the author himself points out the key to "converting" creationists is to know how they think and be able to use the same kind of rethorics they are used to.

As the author mentioned, perhaps Dawkins next book for children is more suitable for this audience ;-)

Tue, 08 Dec 2009 23:22:00 UTC | #421608

ridelo's Avatar Comment 7 by ridelo

Do not dare to call RD "the good professor" or the wrath of Thor will be upon you!
But I guess you have a point. The future will tell us.

Tue, 08 Dec 2009 23:35:00 UTC | #421611

j.mills's Avatar Comment 8 by j.mills

I've some sympathy for this chap. I remember sometimes wishing as I read TGSoE that Richard had spelled out more plainly how this chapter's insights supported and consolidated those of other chapters. Each section was a bit of an 'evidence silo'.

That said, the combined weight would break the back of all but the hardiest camel long before the end; so I reckon any reader that it could persuade, it would persuade, IYSWIM.

Tue, 08 Dec 2009 23:39:00 UTC | #421612

wald0h's Avatar Comment 9 by wald0h

I agree with Jos Gibbons.

Normally with these types of books, where one is trying to present evidence for their case, it would be good to knwo what the case actually is... before evidence is submitted.

Maybe I could understand if his gripe was how long it took to STATE the case, but even then I'm a little sour grapes. The first two chapters of TGSoE are really important, even if infuriating for people who happen not to agree.

However I'm pretty sure anyone who is against evolution wont be swayed by a book, and I doubt would ever read the book to begin with. You have to be at least on the fence leaning in the right direction for a book to push you to understand something as logical and reasonable as evolution.

Tue, 08 Dec 2009 23:47:00 UTC | #421615

michaelleesmith's Avatar Comment 10 by michaelleesmith

"...if you're looking for a book to give your wacky creationist brother or neighbor to get them to see the light, this is not the book."

Can someone tell me what is the right book then? Is it The Blind WatchMaker? My baptist preacher of a brother in law has agreed to read TGSOE, but if that's not the best one, what is? BTW, he is fence-sitter, but still leaning strongly towards the creationist side. He has conceded microevolution, but not macro. So there is hope.


Tue, 08 Dec 2009 23:52:00 UTC | #421617

mimsyswallows's Avatar Comment 11 by mimsyswallows

Speaking as a christian who was teetering, the God Delusion swayed me. I picked it up in the supermarket with a short prayer to Jesus, who clearly wanted me to challenge my faith on the understanding it would be strong enough to withstand the effect of Richard Dawkins on my own scientific-doubt-based philosophy. God failed to notice that, logically speaking, Dawkins makes more sense than God.

But most religious folk are not the same as me. They are not interested in philosophy. They do not chat at length in pubs over bottles of wine about whether the brain-in-a-box-theorem has any bearing on real life, or whether Wittgenstein's-beetle really has much meaning. No... you sum it all up in one sentence, forgoing hours of beer-fueled discussion by saying:

'The bible says...'

And that's what Richard can't possibly battle against. Once you believe something, no matter what, and call it faith, truth and purity, that's it.

How could his book convince the unbeliever? They are labelled that from the start, and rightly so.

Tue, 08 Dec 2009 23:57:00 UTC | #421619

Border Collie's Avatar Comment 12 by Border Collie

Wasn't there a story about Mohammed having to go to the mountain instead of the mountain coming to Mohammed? It's not Richard's duty to insure they remain spoon-fed cretins.

Wed, 09 Dec 2009 00:06:00 UTC | #421622

God fearing Atheist's Avatar Comment 13 by God fearing Atheist

I know TGSoE was aimed at fence sitters, and to provide ammunition for those on the front line.

However, if it was persuasive to creationists it would have been a bonus. I think we need to listen to Sutter and others like him to tease out the arguments that work. Unfortunately, Sutter didn't give any examples in his piece.

Anyone for "marked research" with ex-creationists?

Wed, 09 Dec 2009 00:06:00 UTC | #421623

Bluff_King_Hal's Avatar Comment 14 by Bluff_King_Hal

" I hear his next book is a children's book. Maybe that will be the one for the creationists."

A brilliant line, and one to be admired from a guy who was a Creationist himself. Alas I havent read TGSOE, Blind Watchmaker, or Coyne's Why Evolution is True , but perhaps one of the last two is actually the best one to give a Creationist? Apparently Coyne simply ignores religion, as I expect BW does too - and that may be the best approach.

Wed, 09 Dec 2009 00:07:00 UTC | #421624

SaintStephen's Avatar Comment 15 by SaintStephen

4. Comment #440102 by Jesus H. Christ on December 8, 2009 at 10:51 pm

Welcome Lord. Your humble servant awaits your Word.

(Great handle. Hilarious!)

Wed, 09 Dec 2009 00:33:00 UTC | #421628

j.mills's Avatar Comment 16 by j.mills

michaelleesmith spoke of an acquaintance:

He has conceded microevolution, but not macro.
This pseudo-distinction does my head in. It's like saying, "He has conceded snowflakes, but not avalanches." "He has conceded inches, but not feet." FFS!

Wed, 09 Dec 2009 00:45:00 UTC | #421630

Quine's Avatar Comment 17 by Quine

Comment #440119 by mimsyswallows:

And that's what Richard can't possibly battle against. Once you believe something, no matter what, and call it faith, truth and purity, that's it.
For some, that is true, for you it was not. Each little piece of evidence is one of those "snowflakes" just mentioned by j.mills, that can add up in someone's mind to a avalanche that changes one's world view. Circumstances made TGSoE come out after TGD. Had it been the other way around, perhaps TGD would have been less of a mental stride for some to make. As time goes on, it will matter less as the support for Evolution continues to increase. Yes, some will always turn a blind eye to anything but their security blanket of scripture, but welcoming in those (such as yourself) who can think is not, thereby, diminished.

Wed, 09 Dec 2009 01:01:00 UTC | #421634

michaelleesmith's Avatar Comment 18 by michaelleesmith

I believe there is hope for my brother-in-law because I was once close to where he is now, i.e. a creationist. For me, the change happened over years, and Carl Sagan was the biggest influence. In our god debate, he has not pulled the Bible card even once. He's pretty reasonable, and trying to understand me. And agreeing to read TGSOE is big. But if the first two chapters come across as overly harsh I may lose him. Which is why I ask. Should I start him with something else? It needs to be on evolution. If The Blind Watchmaker is far better for someone like him, great. I have read neither. A Carl Sagan-style of relating to the reader is what I need here.

Wed, 09 Dec 2009 01:09:00 UTC | #421636

Border Collie's Avatar Comment 19 by Border Collie

440136 ... Go to the source ... read Origin ...

Wed, 09 Dec 2009 01:16:00 UTC | #421637

Quine's Avatar Comment 20 by Quine

I managed to get my Christian missionary neighbor to read Voyage of the Beagle which made a very positive impression on him (he likes historical adventure writing of that period). I believe it helps a great deal to de-demonize Darwin so folks will attempt to listen. At some point, I hope, he will be ready to move on to Origin.

Wed, 09 Dec 2009 01:27:00 UTC | #421639

ramfalls's Avatar Comment 21 by ramfalls

What are these people talking about. I couldn't give a flying schmuck about proto atheists, epi-theists or any other Tom, Dick or Joseph whose feelings are hurt or feel pressured about facts or lack the processing power of a Commodore 64. Stop pandering to these wimps. There! Thats strident.

Wed, 09 Dec 2009 01:53:00 UTC | #421645

Fuller's Avatar Comment 22 by Fuller

michaelleesmith: I would go for The Blind Watchmaker. TGSOE is great, but I just didn't get the same *oomph* from it.

If you want to ease your brother in law in even more gently, maybe some video? See if he wants to watch the Growing up in the Universe series. It's engaging, entertaining and simple enough to be easy on the creationist brain.

Wed, 09 Dec 2009 01:56:00 UTC | #421647

Akaei's Avatar Comment 23 by Akaei

One of the biggest hurdles I encounter as a proponent of evolution, science and naturalism is the arsenal of quick and easy answers offered by supernaturalists. My dedication to thoroughness compounds this. I generally don't have trouble refuting supernatural explanations or laying out natural explanations. The problem is brevity and succinctness, or rather, a lack thereof. It may be more challenging for me than most. But I think the problem is probably intrinsic. Explanations that rely on an all-powerful deity usually can be expressed in one or two short simple sentences. And no matter how ridiculous we find the notion of non-observable omnipotent entity it is easy to invoke such a being to rationalize the "hows & whys" of just about anything.

If I say my friend Bruce can create and manipulate space/time, matter and energy you wouldn't believe me. But if added that Bruce created everything using his omnipotence there is some kind of built in mechanism that doesn't question the "how" he did it, but instead only the "if" he did it. If you can get past the hurdle of believing in his existence and his omnipotence the question of "how" doesn't even get asked.

But if I try to offer a natural explanation (for just about anything) summing it it briefly relies on the listener already understanding the foundational and integrated aspects of the subject. If they don't, then a short specific answer will hang in the air like flatulence at worst or abstract art at best.

Fast food. Disposable products. Soundbites. We are pretty spoiled as a people. We want it quick and easy. Only when we are interested or required do we look closer or put in the extra effort. So even when someone is not deluded about the value of faith the challenge of natural explanations may be too daunting. Unless (and until) we can make naturalistic understanding required, more interesting (to the masses) or perhaps less daunting, the ideologies with the quick and easy answers will continue to dominate the meme wars. This is as true in the East as it is in the West.

Wed, 09 Dec 2009 02:39:00 UTC | #421654

njwong's Avatar Comment 24 by njwong

I recently finished reading TGSOE, and followed that up immediately with Jerry Coyne's "Why Evolution Is True". For me, I think the approach taken in Jerry Coyne's book is more methodical than RD's, and will probably answer Ryan Sutter's requirements for an evolution book that is better at targeting the creationists.

TGSOE is strong in its description of the sciences used to prove evolution (the science portions were definitely more detailed and comprehensive than the ones in WEIT). I particularly liked RD's chapter on dating techniques. However, like Ryan Sutter, I too felt that the science was simply inserted for the sake of completeness, and could have been introduced into the narrative more constructively as the approach taken by Coyne. In many of RD's chapters, pages and pages were devoted to describing the details of one particular aspect of the science. But in so doing, the momentum of the attack against creationism were paused while such details were fleshed out.

In Coyne's book, the science is covered in less depth, but surprisingly, I think in this case that "less is more". In fact, I think that Coyne's book, being less detailed on the science, allows him to sustain the attack against creationism, page after page, relentlessly without fail, and reinforcing continuously the message why evolution is true!

Personally, I think Jerry Coyne wrote the better book for the layperson. Perhaps Sutter should review Coyne's book next.

Wed, 09 Dec 2009 03:20:00 UTC | #421658

michaelleesmith's Avatar Comment 25 by michaelleesmith

I'm 2/3 through Coyne and it is good.

Thanks for the guidance on these books.

I'm going to start the preacher off with 'The Blind Watchmaker.' In return I have to read 'The Case for a Creator' by Lee Strobel.

Wed, 09 Dec 2009 04:10:00 UTC | #421663

SaintStephen's Avatar Comment 26 by SaintStephen

23. Comment #440154 by Akaei on December 9, 2009 at 2:39 am

But if I try to offer a natural explanation (for just about anything) summing it it briefly relies on the listener already understanding the foundational and integrated aspects of the subject. If they don't, then a short specific answer will hang in the air like flatulence at worst or abstract art at best.
You are correct, Sir. A similar phenomenon is evident in most "lowbrow debate" settings, such as the gym or locker room, a mechanics garage with six bays perhaps, or even a U.S. presidential election. An argument under these circumstances is much less about who is making logical sense than who has the more clever one or two line "putdown," or who can "diss" the other person more succinctly and humorously in the eyes of the unwashed masses. Ronald Reagan's "There you go again," or Lloyd Bensen's "You're no Jack Kennedy" are perfect examples. Meaningless statements, but precisely the kind of "quick and easy answers" you mentioned.

I enjoy your posts. Comment ranked as Excellent.

Wed, 09 Dec 2009 04:26:00 UTC | #421664

SaintStephen's Avatar Comment 27 by SaintStephen

11. Comment #440119 by mimsyswallows on December 8, 2009 at 11:57 pm

Speaking as a christian who was teetering, the God Delusion swayed me. I picked it up in the supermarket with a short prayer to Jesus, who clearly wanted me to challenge my faith on the understanding it would be strong enough to withstand the effect of Richard Dawkins on my own scientific-doubt-based philosophy. God failed to notice that, logically speaking, Dawkins makes more sense than God.
Hilarious anecdote! Thanks for sharing it.

Wed, 09 Dec 2009 04:31:00 UTC | #421665

SaintStephen's Avatar Comment 28 by SaintStephen

18. Comment #440136 by michaelleesmith on December 9, 2009 at 1:09 am

Sorry... please excuse one teeny widdle picsher to answer this person's sincere question with a measure of panache:

Wed, 09 Dec 2009 04:42:00 UTC | #421667

InYourFaceNewYorker's Avatar Comment 29 by InYourFaceNewYorker

I like how "The Blind Watchmaker" is what made the reviewer an atheist... it's what made me an atheist too! But unlike for him, it wasn't a big transition for me... I had been agnostic prior to that.


Wed, 09 Dec 2009 06:38:00 UTC | #421686

Roy_H's Avatar Comment 30 by Roy_H

Unfortunately, the people who should read this book, probably won't, I mean "dyed-in-the -wool" creationists who just stick their fingers in their ears and go "la la la I'm not listening" if you even mention the name Darwin. ( I have a relative who lives next to an Evangelical church, you should have seen the bullshit leaflet he had left in his mailbox by them the other day, 'Only a theory blah blah blah' I almost fell off my chair laughing at it , their arguments against Evolution had more holes than a Swiss cheese) Well, at least Ryan Sutter is not one of them now.

Wed, 09 Dec 2009 07:34:00 UTC | #421693