Dawkins’s book out; reviews appear

September 6, 2009 • 6:56 am

Richard Dawkins’s latest book, The Greatest Show on Earth, was released Thursday in the UK (it shows up in the US September 22).  The title, of course, refers to evolution, and the book, like mine, is a summary and discussion of the massive evidence that has turned evolution from a hypothesis into a fact.

I’ll be reviewing the book elsewhere, so it would be inappropriate for me to comment here, but you can read extracts from Chapter 1 and Chapter 2 at the Times Online.  Richard also gives a video introduction to TGSOE in a short YouTube video.

So far I’ve seen three reviews of the book: by paleontologist Richard Fortey in the Guardian, by Anjana Ahuja in the Times, and by an anonymous reviewer in The Economist (for some bizarre reason, Economist reviews are never signed).  And of course the sourpuss creationists at the Discovery Institute have already dismissed the book as a compendium of the “same tired old evidences.”  Well, some of them may be tired, but — unlike intelligent design — they have the merit of being true.

25 thoughts on “Dawkins’s book out; reviews appear

  1. Economist articles not just reviews are never signed. There is one exception, if the book being reviewed is by a former (or current) Economist writer, the review is signed (so we now know Dawkins never wrote for the Economist). A magazine that is over 100 years is allowed a few quirks. I mean how many news magazines do one and only one formal obituary every week (not always someone well known and twice in the years I’ve read them, not even human).

    1. You have missed one of The Economist’s biggest quirks. It refers to itself as a “newspaper”, not a “magazine.”

    1. Let a hundred books blossom! Of course I’m worried about the competition (he is Dawkins, after all!), but I hope, like the spate of “new atheist” books that appeared at about the same time, they will reinforce each other. And the books are very different.

      1. Mr. Man:

        The US version does not come out until Sept. 22.

        My US version of “The Ancestor’s Tale” in paperback is full of illustrations.

  2. Note that Andrew Sibley’s ‘review’ (“same tired old evidences”) is NOT a review of the book (most likely he hasn’t even SEEN it), but a review of the review.

    Then there is this mind boggling sentence:

    “Perhaps if Dawkins understood some of the new philosophy taking place in biology involving cooperation, epigenetics and lateral gene transfer, and not simple struggle for survival, he might be more willing to engage in a respectful and reasoned debate and dialogue”

    As if this ‘new philosophy’ does do ANY good to the ID cause! (If it does anything at all, it’s merely yet another nail in their coffin).

    And by ‘respectful and reasoned debate’ he means completely dismissing a book full of arguments based on a (favorable!) review?: “just more of the same polemical rhetoric and the same tired old evidences”? THAT’s his idea of a reasoned dialogue?

    Here’s MY review of the review’s review: What a MISERABLE infantile piece of non-information.
    Attacking the man, and not a SINGLE letter he wrote or said.

    1. Besides those new fields mentioned, I am myself likewise ‘dumbfounded’ by ‘De-spin Institute’ not mentioning the new evidence in blood clotting which surprised them so in Dover 2005, and the new evidence for flagella evolution which punctuated their old IC argument moving goalposts the round before that.

      More excitingly for science supporters, the Tiktaalik find 2004 was a massive show of *new evidence* by testing a whole set of predictions at once. (I.e. several phylogenetic traits for tetrapod characteristics and habitat, and geological ages.) It might not been the first time in basic biology, but the scope of predictivity and falsifiability in a science studying such complex phenomena is astounding for a layman.

      I usually drag out the fact that the complexity and many mechanisms of biology has contributed to that it is likely the best tested science theory we have. (You can’t make as many qualitatively different tests in, say, gravitation. And biologists have been, … err, empirically fertile.) But Tiktaalik takes that testing to a whole new qualitative level IMHO, “broad” testing as opposed to “narrow” testing of individual minutiae.

    2. “Note that Andrew Sibley’s ‘review’ … is NOT a review of the book …, but a review of the review.”

      Well, although he gave that the title of his post (“Review of a Review”), it is, in fact, a review of a book based on information about the book drawn from someone else’s review of the book. He didn’t really critique the review, so the title is false.

      Ordinarily one would be wary of judging the quality of arguments based on such second hand information, but in the case of an IDiot argument, it’s not really reasonable to expect them to improve once they get the actual text.

      1. Where did you see the title of the post being “Review of a review”? The post I was referring to has as title “Dear Richard Dawkins – what is new in your book?”

        Also: he quotes the reviewer (who is NOT quoting Dawkins at that instance) and then attacks THAT: “If this is the level of debate…”. That IS critique of the review!

        But I agree that we shouldn’t expect the quality of the arguments to improve when the book becomes available here in the U.S. Since it’s doubtful many of the ID proponents will actually read it. They already KNOW they’re right and we are wrong.

  3. From the uncommon descent link:

    Perhaps if Dawkins understood some of the new philosophy taking place in biology involving cooperation, epigenetics and lateral gene transfer, and not simple struggle for survival, he might be more willing to engage in a respectful and reasoned debate and dialogue.

    Un-fucking-believable. Someone really should attempt a quantitative study on how quickly denialist movements are able to assimilate the language from the science they’re attempting to deny. Andrew Sibley seems to have mindlessly absorbed some buzzwords from evolutionary pluralism and transmogrified them into attacks on evolution as a whole.

    1. Exactly! And it’s especially ironic (and telling!) that he would mention lateral gene transfer, which doesn’t negate the basic notion of evolution at all, but merely complements it with yet ANOTHER mechanism through which evolution takes place: an idea that should be DEVESTATING to ID proponents. And epigenetics should be boundless heresy to creationists who take the creation story literally (well okay, most of biology – and science in general – should be heresy to them).

      1. Yup. All of these ideas actually contradict what “intelligent design” would have us believe (that biological complexity cannot arise without purposeful forethought). But, of course, that’s only if you understand what they are, which is something creationists rarely attempt.

        I bet I could even identify the sources of Sibley’s buzzwords with reasonable accuracy.

        My guess is that Sibley got the lateral gene transfer objection from Lynn Margulis, who is constantly claiming that gene transfer and hybridization disprove natural selection (they don’t). I doubt he even knows what lateral gene transfer is. He just heard Margulis or one of her sycophants spouting about it as an objection to “neo-darwinism” and started repeating it.

        He probably got the epigenetics thing from somebody in evo-devo, again thinking it somehow disproves natural selection, which it doesn’t. It challenges certain assumptions in population biology, but natural selection can act on epigenetic inheritance as easily as it can on genetic inheritance.

        And I would wager that he got the “cooperation” objection either from Joan Roughgarden, who claims to have disproven sexual selection (she hasn’t). Or he might have got it from someone advocating group selection. Maybe Elliott Sober or David Sloan Wilson (both of whom would be rather shocked to see “cooperation” used as an objection to natural selection–they argue it’s evidence of natural selection!)

  4. Well The Guardian review is crap.

    Dawkins is Darwins Rottweiler.

    Arnold is Darwins pit bull.

    Do they even have pit bulls in England? Pits are American, Britain has Staffordshire bull terriers.


    1. The “fighting” variety of pit bull is illegal here, but some people have them anyway. Apparently it’s pretty easy to fake the documentation to import dangerous breeds.

  5. The pompous and sneering Guardian review by Richard Fortey shows that the case for evolution is even stronger than what Dawkins wrote, TGSOE being an elementary discussion of the subject. I don’t know the background of Fortey’s mummified ibis example and IANAB, but I find it a tad strange to make a big deal over that story. Weren’t the mummified Egyptians as much human as we are today? Why should the unchanging ibis deserve oohs and aahs when the unchanging human does not?

  6. When “evilutionists” cite old evidence, it’s dismissed as the “same old evidence.” When they cite new evidence, it’s an “admission” that the story keeps changing and therefore evolution is a (wait for it)… theory in crisis!

  7. Professor Coyne, I just want to congratulate you on your excellent book Why Evolution is True. I read most of The Greatest Show on Earth, and I’ve been thinking WEIT makes the same point more concisely and more convincingly. I appreciate the thoughts that went into your writing more after I read The Greatest Show on Earth. It’s unfortunate that you probably don’t get the same level of publicity that Dawkins get.

  8. Bought mine on Saturday- didn’t realise it was only 2 days old. Shameface’dly must admit it was the sticker in Waterstones saying HALF PRICE that drew me in (I’m trying not to spend money this month). Glad I did- it is claryfing stuff I actually know, but not clearly. Suppose I ought to buy WEIT! I’ll put it on the Christmas list- ask the Crystal Powered Sister in Law to get it for me!

  9. I had the pleasure of attending Richard Dawkins’ “rollout” presentation at the recent Edinburgh Book Festival, prior to release of his new work. Clearly he was preaching to the choir at that event; wonderful to hear the ensuing Q&A period conducted in a civil, reasonable fashion. One early question from the audience was, essentially, “What is wrong with America [on the issue of evolution]”? Dawkins had no ready answer to this question, nor could anyone suggest a reasonable explanation. Just what is wrong with us?

  10. Mr.Cleassen, I first came upon that epigenetic idea not long at all after reading Selfish Gene and it did seem to me that it implied that evolution worked differently than Dawkins had described it. But it did not imply that evolution did not work. And never in a million years would I think it implied anything resembling intelegent design.

    Mr Monkey, that is funny and on target.

    Mr. Cousins, I donot have t foggiest idea how people here in America can be as unfathomably stupid as they can be. I work w a large number of people who take pride in being certain of all manner of things that they have absolutly no evidence for. I am. re-reading End of Faith currently and Sam Harris explains that once people start believing things on insuficient evidence but on faith only, then they can go on to believe anything. That doesnot realy answer t question tho very well as that just begs t question of how could otherwise reasonable people think that it is acceptable to start believing anything on faith

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