Monday, February 1, 2010

The Greatest Show on Earth

The title: The Greatest Show on Earth: The Evidence for Evolution
The author: Richard Dawkins
Publication: Free Press, 2009
Got it from: DC, Xmas 2009

An interesting science book I got for Christmas (besides, ahem, the usual pile of romances) was Richard Dawkins' The Greatest Show on Earth. Dawkins is best-known for his 2006 book The God Delusion and it doesn't seem like he'll be making any friends out of creationists with this book, either. He may be the most famous atheist alive, and that in itself is enough to make him a whipping boy by nutbar religious types.*

I feel for Dawkins, I really do. As a feminist, I know what it is to know something is true and yet nobody believes you. I know what it is to see everybody buying into mass delusion. When I try to explain, for instance, that women are in fact human beings and therefore jokes about their rape and murder are, you know, not funny, they act like there's something wrong with me. So when Dawkins bangs his head against the table because people still deny basic indisputable facts, like the world is billions of years old and evolution is true, I want to metaphorically pat him on the shoulder and murmur, "I know, I know."

Yes, Dawkins is preaching to the choir here. I have been into science for years. I suspect many of the people reading this book will be, too. If you know anything about genetics, for instance, you'll already be one step ahead. What Dawkins is doing here is equivalent to a teacher who's discovered halfway through composition class that his students haven't learned the alphabet yet. He's gone back to the fundamentals of evolution, breaking it down for the uninitiated and refining it for those like me who know the basics but aren't as familiar with some of the particulars. (But I'll admit I breezed through the stuff about plate tectonics and human evolution, having read tons of stuff about these fascinating subjects already. I read books by Spencer Wells and Bryan Sykes with the same fascinated excitement of a fifteen-year-old discovering the Twilight series).

Admittedly, I didn't enjoy the book as much as my husband, maybe because I'm used to the funny and folksy styles of the science writers I do read. I just found some of the minutiae of the science experiments kind of boring. Bacteria and animal life simply aren't my interest, but that doesn't mean I'm sorry they're being studied or that other people find them fascinating. I certainly won't dispute Dawkins's knowledge, his enthusiasm for his subject matter, or the veracity of his claims. It did give me a new appreciation for all life forms and strengthened my belief that evolution is "the only game in town, the greatest show on Earth." Too bad nobody will believe us.

*In her book Godless, the ever insane Ann Coulter wrote, "I defy any of my coreligionists to tell me they do not laugh at the idea of Dawkins burning in hell." Oh Ann, you dog.

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