Dawkins’ new book brings evolution to forefront

Creationists all around the world, be on your guard! Richard Dawkins’ latest book, The Greatest Show on Earth, is a collection of powerful evidence for the theory of evolution, making the information regarding natural selection accessible to non-scientists everywhere.
Perhaps best known as the author of The God Delusion, Dawkins is the past holder of the Simonyi Professorship of the Public Understanding of Science at Oxford University. Although he is a famous champion of atheist ideals and fierce defender of science and reason against mysticism, in his latest book, published in September 2009, all attacks against religion are put aside. As Dawkins himself told an Irish audience at the reading he gave at the RDS last September, the book serves as an explanation of the multiple lines of evidence for evolution, which are all around us. The evidence brought forward is so simple and yet incontrovertible that it should make any proponent of “Intelligent Design” shake in his boots.
In the first chapter, we are asked to imagine we are teachers of recent history. How would we feel if Holocaust-deniers were constantly disrupting our classes, demanding that equal amounts of time should be spent teaching the “alternative” theory? Such people do indeed exist. Such a world in which people so detached from reality are given a public, state-funded platform seems ludicrous, yet the same frustration ordinary people feel at such deniers is shared by many science teachers around the world, particularly in the United States.
Evolution is in general given very little time, under the relativist claim that there is no absolute truth, and sometimes the very word is expunged from state-approved textbooks. Here is a very disturbing figure: according to an opinion poll taken in 2008 by Gallup, an American polling organisation, more than 40% of Americans deny evolution. Since ill-informed opposition to evolution is so powerful at present, there was never a more opportune time for “Darwin’s Rottweiler”, as Richard Dawkins is often called, to write such an accessible book.
Charles Darwin and Alfred Russell Wallace are the two figures that laid the foundations for modern evolutionary thinking. Darwin, in The Origin of Species, as well as suggesting a mechanism for evolution, wanted to show that biological evolution was a fact. But be careful, Dawkins warns! When addressing the task of trying to prove the theory of evolution, it is important to remember that a proof, in the strictly mathematical sense of the word, cannot be formulated with regard to biological processes. It is not possible to prove evolution in the same way as it is possible to prove that ?2 is irrational. Nevertheless, evolution is a fact, in the same way the theory that green plants obtain energy from the sun is a fact. Of course, not only has the theory of evolution not been disproved, but it is supported by massive quantities of evidence.
If you are not convinced, consider the quirks and imperfections present in all modern organisms. As Dawkins skilfully explains, these make no sense, unless they represent holdovers from an otherwise evolved ancestral state. For example, humans have big maxillary sinuses, or cavities, behind the cheeks on either side of the face. These have a drainage hole on their top, thus failing to efficiently use gravity to assist drainage of fluid. This can be explained as a consequence of the shift from quadruped to biped locomotion, since, in a quadruped, the “top” is actually the front, and the position of the drainage holes makes much more sense.  Thus, the evidence points to us humans as products of evolution. Our evolutionary legacy is written all over us.
Several chapters of the book are dedicated to outlining the evidence that comes from fossils, in particular transitional stages of major evolutionary changes. In fact, accepting evolution as true allows us to explain why any given fauna in Earth’s history was an intermediate, in general character, between the fauna of the immediately preceding (older) and immediately succeeding (younger) period.
There are, of course, gaps in the fossil record and Creationists often latch on to these in the vain attempt to discredit the theory of evolution.  Memorable is the passage where Dawkins responds to those Creationists who are often heard shouting “Show me a fronkey (intermediate between frog and monkey); show me a crocoduck (intermediate between crocodile and duck)!”  Dawkins suggests sarcastically that creationists should not limit themselves to mammals, but also talk of a kangaroach (intermediate between kangaroo and cockroach) or an octopard (intermediate between octopus and leopard). The fact is that every species shares an ancestor with every other one, so it’s clearly possible to find fossils that approximate a common ancestor of a frog and monkey. In fact, scientists have revealed numerous elegant examples of sequences of intermediate forms.
Even if the concept of evolution is not clear to you or if it is limited to those teenage schooldays when you learned, with some surprise, that humans and great apes are more related that you thought, this book provides an excellent introduction to many areas of science and is accessible from any level of prior knowledge. There are no boring paragraphs to be read.
The last pages leave the reader with the truly moving message that evolution is within us, around us, between us, and its workings are imbedded in the rocks of aeons past.  Verily, we are the children of natural selection.