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The Greatest Show on Earth:

The Evidence for Evolution

Richard Dawkins

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Distinguish between the fact of evo, and the Theory of Evo, which explains how evo occurs.

All the applicable isotopes agree that origin of Earth between four and five billion years ago. And that is based on the assumption that the laws of physics governing all the different half-lives, ahs stayed he same throughout history. (Creationists try to get round this by asserting that the laws of physics may have been different 'before the Flood' or 'before Adam and Eve'b ut this is just special pleading - and the problem with this is that all the isotopes run at different rates, so would require each isotope to be 'tuned' in an individual way) .

Expts of Lenski and others with E. coli bacteria demo evo in action. Give bacteria different environments and it quickly evolves different strains. And can demo that are new species by putting evolved bacteria back into original environment, and find they cannot survive.


A SCIENTIST on a flight across America falls into conversation with his neighbour, who turns out to be gratifyingly interested in his research on wild guppy populations in Trinidad. He probes deeply the scientist's methods, his findings and setbacks. Then comes the big question: what is the theory underlying the work? Darwin's theory of evolution by natural selection, replies the scientist. The rest of the journey passes in chilly silence.

This anecdote was related by the biologist in question to Richard Dawkins, one of the ablest and certainly the most high-profile of the many scientists trying to dispel the belief that man, rather than descending from other animals, was created in his current form by some divinity. In his previous books the British biologist has presented new ways of looking at evolution, demolished barriers to understanding it and traced the family tree of all life back through its branching points to a single origin. These books all started with evolution. But in the bicentennial year of Darwin's birth Mr Dawkins fills a gap in his oeuvre by setting out the evidence that the Theory of evolution is a fact - "as incontrovertible a fact as any in science".

And what a lot of evidence there is. The fossil record, far from the tenuous succession of gaps described by creationists, provides an admittedly incomplete but beautiful and coherent set of clues to life in the distant past. That any traces at all remain from so long ago is astounding, and anyway it is not the completeness of the fossil record but its consistency that matters. When asked what observation would disprove the theory of evolution, J.B.S. Haldane, a pioneering British geneticist, replied: "Fossil rabbits in the Precambrian era." But such anachronisms have never been found.

Then there is the evidence written on the bodies of all living things. The mammalian skeleton is consistently recognisable in creatures as various as bats, monkeys, horses and humans. Vestiges such as the stumpy wings of flightless birds, and the hairs that prickle on human skin just like the rising hackles on furry mammals, are further testimony to our shared origins. Glitches, like the laryngeal nerves that are so neatly laid out in fish but that must detour in animals with necks - by a crazy 15 feet (4.6m) in the case of giraffes - demonstrate the incremental, undirected business of evolution in touching detail. At the microscopic scale, molecular genetics connects the various parts of the grand family tree with fantastic detail and accuracy.

The evidence that Mr Dawkins sets out so persuasively here is already widely known. Yet two-fifths of Americans still refuse to accept that human beings share a common ancestry with animals, preferring to believe that they were created in their present form in the past 10,000 years.

Perhaps some evolution-deniers will read this book and be convinced. But even to pick it up they would have to ignore a determined campaign of misinformation: polemicists demanding that schools 'teach the controversy' (there is none); books about 'intelligent design' written by "creationist scientists" (a ragbag of nonentities, mostly engineers or chemists rather than biologists); untruths and ad hominem attacks (few [scientists] "accept that an amoeba can evolve into a human being, even one as flawed as Richard Dawkins," wrote one Christian essayist recently, neatly combining both genres).

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The ichneumon wasp paralyses its prey without killing it and lays its larva inside this convenient source of fresh meat, to eat it slowly alive. This is just one striking instance of the immensity of pain in the animal kingdom, which defies explanation except via the unyielding calculus of competitive survival.

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