Richard Dawkins: The Greatest Show on Earth
Charles Darwin’s theory of evolution has always been a matter of hot religious and scientific debates. Religious adherents claim that Darwin’s vision of the earth’s development distorts the real order of events on the planet. By contrast, scientists constantly invent new theoretical and empirical means to prove that evolution is not a theory – it is a fact. Richard Dawkins’s The Greatest Show on Earth was published in 2010 and immediately became an international bestseller. In his book, Dawkins (2010) explains the meaning and provides evidence to confirm that evolution is real. Dawkins (2010) calls his book “a missing link”. The major intent of the book is to present evidence that evolution is true, factual, and can be readily observed. Thousands of people perceive evolution as a theoretical process, which is too abstract and complex to be described in detail. In this book, Dawkins (2010) tries to reduce the abstract meaning of evolution to a set of facts, thus making it easier to understand by non-professionals.
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One of the most interesting is the way Dawkins (2010) describes artificial and natural selection and makes a difference between them. It should be noted, that the author does not use any traditional definitions of complex terms, including selection. Dawkins (2010) describes natural selection and artificial selection based on the evidence that support them and with the help of vivid examples. This is why his book is so easy to read and understand. In terms of natural and artificial selection, Dawkins (2010) uses the difference between the man and nature. In Dawkins’s (2010) view, artificial selection is the process, which is driven by humans. In natural selection, according to Dawkins (2010), the role of the human is played by nature. Dawkins (2010) writes that this is where Darwin’s genius shows itself to the fullest, because Darwin was the first in the human history to realize that nature could play the role of a gardener or farmer, choosing the best genes and helping the strongest species to survive.
Much more interesting is Dawkins’s (2010) description of the logical sequence, which includes artificial selection, sexual selection, and, finally, natural selection. Dawkins (2010) uses the example of attractive roses: humans choose the most attractive roses for breeding and, in this way, allow the genes that produce attractive roses to be passed on to the future generations. Dawkins (2010) asserts that artificial selection is something humans had known long before Darwin. Moreover, the researcher is confident that artificial selection has enormous power and can easily turn wolves into dogs (Dawkins, 2010). Here, Dawkins (2010) switches to the discussion of sexual selection, which is about the way individual species choose mates with the most attractive genes. Like artificial selection, sexual selection is intended to preserve and pass the most attractive genes on to the next generations. However, unlike artificial selection, sexual selection is based on species’ sexual instincts. Dawkins (2010) describes how peahens choose the most attractive peacocks for breeding to make the whole picture more realistic. Finally, Dawkins (2010) uses the example of small prey fish, which “choose attractive fish for survival, by feeding the most attractive ones with their own bodies, thereby inadvertently choosing them for breeding and passing on, and therefore preserving, the genes that produce the attractive features” (p.62). This process of natural selection Dawkins (2010) calls the greatest act of discovery in Darwin’s scientific career. In natural selection, as Dawkins (2010) says, nature, not humans, makes the choice by means of survival. In other words, nature simply gives those who have the most attractive genes a chance to survive. The survivors then pass on their attractive genes to the future generations.
Dawkins (2010) also discusses the concept of intelligent design in detail. Here, the researcher translates the complex concept of intelligent design into a set of simpler meanings. Dawkins (2010) writes his book in the way that help the reader understand the reality of the evolution and its impacts on the planet. Thus, Dawkins (2010) does not speak about intelligent design per se; rather, he speaks about “Unintelligent” design. The whole discussion of intelligent (or unintelligent) design is about looking for the flaws in the intelligent design concept. Creationists use this intelligent design concept to explain the essence of many species, creatures, and natural phenomena that go beyond natural selection. Dawkins (2010) is convinced that everything that currently exists on the planet has nothing to do with design but is a product of long history and evolution. He uses the example of the recurrent laryngeal nerve, a cranial nerve leading directly from the brain (Dawkins, 2010). From the viewpoint of intelligent design, this nerve is a disgrace. Dawkins (2010) writes that one of the branches of this nerve is organized unusually and even inconveniently, and no intelligent designer, being in a good sense and humor, would ever design this nerve in the way it is currently found in mammals. However, from the viewpoint of evolution, the laryngeal nerve is almost perfect (Dawkins, 2010). Dawkins (2010) mentions the beginnings of the history, when mammals’ ancestors were fish and had a two-chambered heart, unlike the four-chambered one in today’s humans. This is why the laryngeal nerve is so complex and, from the viewpoint of intelligent design, so unusually organized.
Another argument against intelligent design also makes sense. Here, Dawkins (2010) speaks about its futility. The writer uses the example of the cheetah and gazelle to explain why the intelligent design concept is so flawed. On the one hand, if the intelligent designer had been real, he would have been praised for the way the cheetah had been created (Dawkins, 2010). Dawkins (2010) sounds very delighted about the way the cheetah is designed to be a superlative killer. It is a perfect running machine that leaves few chances to its victims. At the same time, even a simple look at the cheetah’s most common victim, gazelle, breaks the intelligent design theory into pieces. The cheetah looks perfect, but the gazelle is no less perfect in its mission! “The very same designer has equally evidently strained every nerve to design a gazelle that is superbly equipped to escape from those same cheetahs” (Dawkins, 2010, p.384). Thus, if intelligent design is a good theory, and the intelligent designer does exist, whose side is he on – that of the cheetah or that of the gazelle? This is the question Dawkins (2010) asks but leaves the answer to the reader.
In his book, Dawkins (2010) displays a good deal of mastery and shows a wonderful ability to look for evidence, analyze and criticize it. He calls evolutionary scientists the detectives who come late to the crime scene (p.85). The essence of this claim is rather simple: like detectives, evolutionary scientists cannot view the crime itself. They come to the scene after the crime was committed (Dawkins, 2010). Like detectives, evolutionary scientists have absolutely no hope to witness the crime in the process, and, by the time they arrive at the scene, the murderer’s actions have already vanished into the past (Dawkins, 2010). In Dawkins’s (2010) book, the crime scene is a metaphor that symbolizes the entire evolutionary science, while the detectives symbolize evolutionary scientists whose main task is to collect evidence and find the murderer. This way, Dawkins (2010) once again confirms that the evolutionary science is retrospective by nature. Evolutionary scientists must apply a great deal of effort to look into the past, collect evidence from the past, and understand the processes, which happened in the past but keep influencing the humanity. The process of evolution is so gradual that most evolutionary scientists simply do not live long enough to witness it personally (Dawkins, 2010). This is why the detective metaphor is so vivid in describing the main task of the evolutionary scientists – to come to the crime scene after the crime was committed and make inferences to understand its nature, meaning, and even predict consequences (Dawkins, 2010).
Many creationists believe that, because there were no new species after the act of creation, the concept of evolution is meaningful. Dawkins (2010) provides interesting evidence to prove that evolution is an ongoing process and new species constantly emerge. Dawkins (2010) uses the example of Lenski’s experiments to describe how new species are created. Lenski and his colleagues used the E. coli bacterium in a series of laboratory experiments. They assumed that if “the probability of a gene mutating during any one act of bacterial reproduction is as low as one in a billion, the numbers of bacteria are so colossal that just about every gene in the genome will have mutated somewhere in the world, every day” (Dawkins, 2010, p.117). Simply stated, Lenski and colleagues wanted to see, and they managed to see, the evolution in process and find proofs that new species emerged daily. Today, humans see how viruses and bacteria mutate to produce new species of diseases and infections. They develop resistance to the latest drugs and pass their most attractive genes on to the later generations. This is how nature gives the strongest a chance to survive the difficulty, and this is how the ongoing evolution makes humans invent new methods of medical treatment for the most challenging diseases.
Evolution is not an easy process, and nature as a talented designer is also prone to make mistakes. For this reason, Dawkins (2010) describes evolution as the process, by which nature corrects its past mistakes. Nature is not a real designer, as it does not go back to the drawing board and does not do everything from the scratch (Dawkins, 2010). In Dawkins’s view, nature corrects its mistakes through post hoc compensation, which makes up the essence of natural evolution. Dawkins (2010) mentions the example of dolphins and whales, but one of the most curious is the example of birds and insects, as well as their ability (or inability) to fly. The writer describes Galapagos flightless cormorants and penguins as flightless birds with a remarkable ability to swim (Dawkins, 2010). Although all flightless birds have originated from the ancestors, who used their wings to fly, they have been able to find their place in nature and use their physical skills to survive in nature. Most likely, it is just one of the many ways in which nature tried to correct its mistakes and give flightless birds a chance to overcome the main obstacles to survival.
Generally, the book has become the source of numerous positive impressions. I believe that the book has accomplished its mission, because it is truly a missing link for those who know something about evolution but do not know how to explain it. Dawkins (2010) provides so many interesting examples that it becomes much easier to understand what evolution is and how it works. I have come to see the process of evolution as extremely systematic and, undoubtedly, continuous. I have also realized that the nature constantly corrects its mistakes, and evolution is the most reliable way to make nature more suitable for living. At the same time, I do not accept the irony with which Dawkins (2010) treats most, if not all, creationists’ beliefs. The entire book is an evidence-based response to the inconsistency of creationism. Dawkins (2010) builds his book on the criticism of creationists, but he cannot deny the fact that we do not know everything about evolution. From time to time, Dawkins (2010) himself says that some things about evolution are still not known to the public, and future researchers will have to clarify the existing gaps in science. Nevertheless, the book remains a wonderful collection of evidence that makes evolution more tangible to readers.
Evolution is a complex process. Many scientists have not lived long enough to witness its progress. Dawkins (2010) provides enough evidence to prove that evolution is not a theory – it is a fact. To those who know something about evolution but do not know how to prove it, the book can become a perfect source of knowledge. Those who want to learn more about Darwin’s natural selection theory can find answers to their questions in Dawkins’s (2010) book. Despite certain imperfections and the author’s prejudiced attitude towards creationists, the book does not lose its value and represents a remarkable collection of evidence making evolution more tangible and understandable to the reader.