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!