The Greatest Show on Earth: The Evidence for Evolution
- 2009 book by Richard Dawkins
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In The Greatest Show on Earth, Richard Dawkins minces no words confronting those who propagate the idea that all life was created thousands of years ago, in spite of the mountains of evidence to the contrary – from geology to species distribution, from radioactive clocks to skeletal morphology, from molecular biology to computer science. His point is clear and well-argued: to deny the evidence of evolution is to be part of a modern, well-funded and aggressively evangelical Flat Earth Society, and it’s only appropriate to treat it as such.
He does not spend as much time on the bizarre offshoots of creationism that exist today (the arguments that species only ever “devolve”, that evolution happens but can never lead to speciation, that an intelligent designer is constantly tweaking the process). That’s because, after laying out the evidence, it becomes abundantly clear that these are simple “God of the gaps” arguments, attempts to shohoern theism into whatever parts of current scientific understanding can be assailed most seemingly plausibly.
Leaving aside the directness, the book is trademark Dawkins in other ways: full of details, anecdotes and diversions. Most of the time I enjoy these, but the book would have been better with more rigorous editing (which, I’m sure, Dawkins would or did push back against). Dawkins is a storyteller, and you have to be ready for an experience not unlike listening to a very knowledgeable, slightly eccentric professor in order to truly enjoy this book.
If you have your doubts about evolutionary biology, or are just not very well-versed in it, this is a good introduction, but it is not a gentle one. Look elsewhere for that. If you’re ready to be shoved into a world that is truly filled with wonder, this book is a great start. You don’t have to leave your delusions at the door, but be prepared to have them shattered.