Dick to the Dawk

While riding the giddy wave of blog hits from my frog post making the front page of WordPress, I took some time off refreshing my stats counter and went up to see Richard Dawkins speak about his latest book, The Greatest Show On Earth: The Evidence for Evolution. I’ve read a number of his other works, which I’ve generally found entertaining, informative and occasionally challenging. The chance to see a highly influential science communicator doing what he does best was too good to pass up!

The book, and Dawkins’ speech, outlined the key lines of evidence which support evolutionary theory. Unfortunately, as I’d literally finished reading the book that day, the bulk of Dawkins’ speech wasn’t new to me. However, it was good to see anyway; I’ve never seen a public speaker capable of using inflection and tone so incisively. Dawkins was generally measured, clear and, most importantly, deeply passionate about evolution. In both the book and speech, he wasn’t able to resist swipes at creationists – he likened one argument, on the geographical distribution of species contradicting the Noah’s Ark story, to ‘using a sledgehammer on a fragile nut’ – which was, for me, a bit tiresome as I’ve been following the never-ending creationist attack on evolutionary theory for several years.

Dawkins is at his strongest employing metaphor to introduce evolutionary concepts. His explanations of the fossil record (a still camera taking random snapshots at a crime scene), a rich description of self-organisation and DNA control over embryonic development and his ‘islands’ metaphor to explain geographic speciation were particularly strong areas of the book. I thoroughly enjoyed it, because I’ve not seen the whole picture of evolutionary theory laid out so explicitly and readably before; my previous understanding was a network of bits and pieces tied together with a general understanding of the basic principles, but I now feel as though I understand not just the key lines of evidence, but how they fit together and support each other.

While some claim that the atheistic, evolutionary worldview is devoid of meaning and wonder, I reject that notion in the strongest way. The sheer scope and diversity of life, intrinsically linked through history and carrying, in every body great or small, information from countless ancestors, is breathtaking. We should never complain of boredom, because we, alone on the planet, are capable of exploring, understanding and reflecting on the myriad forms, processes and places that make up our environment – including evolution, the process that gave us the capability in the first place!

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Categories: Fun Things On Land, Science | Tags: , , , | 2 Comments

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2 thoughts on “Dick to the Dawk

  1. Sean

    Hi,Dave,really enjoy your blog( and not just cozza what Lou might say). I admire R.D. for his fearless and relentless attack on that which he considers to be bigotry and superstition ( a position I have come to whole-heartedly support ). Having grown up in Liverpool, I could go on endlessly about how religion was manipulated to set two groups of ordinary people against each other for the benefit of those with vested interests, but I won’t because it’s history and who cares?
    Okay, R.D. can be a bit of a cranky sod. He is a Human Being, a member of the species homo sapiens sapiens, he is not a paragon. QED. So, why does Richard Dawkins( and here I could add that other great debunker of superstition, Christopher Hitchens – now there’s a cranky sod! – and virtually anyone who attempts to use rational argument based on the observation of available evidence, whether it be in the cause of Evolution, Climate Change and any one of a myriad of so-called ‘liberal’ causes, have to meet stringent standards of scholarship and behaviour that are not required for religious fundamentalists, climate skeptics and the media.
    So, what’s the point of this rambling discourse? In my lifetime I have seen Rachel Carson vilified because of her contention that DDT in the food chain was destroying animal life. Similarly, those who have pointed out the dangers of mercury, lead, CFC’s, cigarette smoking, asbestos ( still being mined in Canada, processed and sold in the third world _ where, often, asbestos from industrialised countries is dumped ), etc., etc., etc.,have had their personal and professsional reputations trashed. When you are up against vested interest, you are in for the fight of your life! And, in Australia, the greatest vested interest is COAL.
    Due to an accident of geography, geology and ancient history ( how ironic that it was somewhat more than 6000 years ) this country is awash with the stuff and the people who ‘own’ it are not going to give it up. Clean coal is as big a con as ‘low tar’ cigarettes.
    In conclusion:
    – as with DDT, nothing will be done until the public is on side and engaged ( Kev knows this, which is why he deliberately put up a proposal that was complex and confusing ).
    – you must expect that the media will be essentially hostile to your message ( thankfully, there is the unmediated blog ).
    – if you become too prominent, be prepared to have your entire life scrutinised ( and not in a nice way ).
    – don’t give up- it is worth it. What sort of world do you want your children to grow up in? Read John Brunner’s ” THE SHEEP LOOK UP ” for a glimpse of a possible future and then work to make it impossible.
    Anyway, I can’t believe in a supernatural being; it is such a tawdry little concept when measured against the magnificence of all that physics has uncovered. It doesn’t cause me any problems to stare into the night sky and realise that all I see is essentially random:there is no god, we have to do this ourselves and the sooner we grasp that the better things will be for all of us.

    • Thanks Sean, great to hear you like the blog! I found myself agreeing with pretty much everything you said – especially the parts about hostile media and the scrutiny. It’s a horrible dilemma that the honesty and integrity of science are both its strongest and weakest points, so being an excellent scientist and excellent communicator of science is difficult and rare.

      Those that do try to bridge the divide and tread on the toes of those with vested interests, be they religious or economic or idealogical – RD, Hitchens, Carson, et al – inevitably come under fire in a manner which is the opposite of scientific. I don’t know if you saw Q and A yesterday, which had Dawkins on it with Steve Fielding (you can see it on the ABC website). It was such a stark contrast of intelligence, coherence and rationality, yet Fielding holds a deciding vote in our Senate. Madness!

      I’ve been reading up a lot on the climate change communication recently and will be blogging more on it – it’s amazing how the big picture, which is so fragmented in the media, comes together when people actually do some good, investigative journalism (Clive Hamilton is one example, but there are many others).

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