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12.26.2011

Everything You Wanted to Know About Evolution and Then Some

If you read "The Greatest Show on Earth" by Richard Dawkins and still don't believe in evolution by natural selection, you are without a doubt being willfully ignorant and self-deceiving.

If on the other hand you do not read "The Greatest Show on Earth" by Richard Dawkins BECAUSE you don't believe in evolution, then may God have mercy on your soul.

Regardless of your particular circumstance, I do not wish to debate you unless you have read it. For those of you in the category of having read the book and reached the conclusion that evolution by natural selection is obviously scientific fact, well, there is really nothing to debate (besides a few minutiae on the details) because we are in agreement.

This book is an in depth exploration of the scientific evidence for evolution, and it is airtight. It blasts every creationist fallacy out of the water with hard facts that are easily verifiable by anyone who cares to visit a natural history museum or even read a lay scientific journal every now and then.

Increasingly, I side with Dawkins that creationists are willfully self-deceiving and emotionally driven to elude the facts about evolution at all costs. Where it becomes really dangerous is when creationists, not satisfied to keep their religious beliefs to themselves, try to promulgate this scientific ignorance to others.

But anyone who reads this book will have the facts inescapably fire hosed into his or her face, eloquently and unapologetically. The outcome can only be one of two things - acceptance of evolution by natural selection as scientific fact or brutal self-acceptance of one's willful suspension of disbelief in creationism. The verifiable facts presented in this book leave no room for doubt. It is not speculation. He shows you the hard evidence for evolution (yes, even the fossils of the "intermediate species" that creationists refuse to acknowledge). You can, in most cases, touch the evidence and in all cases verify it with your own brain. To deny what Dawkins presents is to deny facts that Dawkins himself did not manufacture. He is just presenting hard scientific evidence gathered by many scientists over many years that irrefutably supports evolution by natural selection.

I was fascinated by the chapter on the evolution of humans. I already understood that humans did not evolve FROM chimpanzees (rather, chimps and humans both evolved from a common primate ancestor, no longer living, that had some features of both modern day species, but was not a chimp nor a human itself). Dawkins presented a fairly high level overview of the transitional species from Australopithecines (an upright walking primate with a chimp-sized brain) through primitive Homo species to modern Homo sapiens, but it clearly illustrated the concept of gradual change over time. Fossils "punctuate" the timeline between ancient primates and humans, because we do not have access to all the fossils of every primate that ever lived (if we did, we could see the gradual small changes from generation to generation). But the ones we do have are notable because even paleoanthropologists have a hard time classifying the fossils we have as one extinct species or another. This is because they have many features in common as well as some notable differences (largely in brain size, but there is overlap between the smallest brain of a more recent species and the largest brain of a more distant species, because of the natural variation, so sometimes it is difficult to decide).

One of the take home messages I got from reading the chapter on human evolution is that gradual change is very hard to discern. But we know that human beings have gradually changed just in the past few hundred years. We are generally larger in stature, and some might even argue intellectually more advanced as a species.

But when 40% of Americans still believe God created everything and the Earth is less than 6,000 years old, if the human species on the whole is really more intellectually advanced, then the other 60% of people must be REALLY intelligent to counterbalance the utterly ignorant.

In any case, all I know is that it is pretty miraculous and amazing that my evolutionary ancestors survived some 4.5 billion years from the first replicating organic molecules in the primal muck until now. You might think it is even more improbable and miraculous than some divine being putting everything together in seven days. But be that as it may, there is hard scientific proof for the miracle of evolution and that's good enough for my 1.3 liters of human brain matter.

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