Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Book: Richard Dawkins - The Greatest Show On Earth (2009)

The Evidence For Evolution, as the second title goes. More than 30 years have passed since Richard Dawkins wrote the influential The Selfish Gene and followup books, and established himself as a brilliant scientist and educator. That was the start of his journey into popular science writing, ending up with the controversial The God Delusion. Any man changes over three decades and Dawkins’ journey is deeply reflected in his books.

Even though Dawkins explains that this book is not about The God Delusion but about science, The Greatest Show On Earth is hardly a return to the dense and high level The Selfish Gene. His stories have become simpler, using more words to explain less information, and sometimes are on the brink of being pedantic. Especially when the science he presents is interspersed with comments to and about creationists and the like (although, as a biologist, I must say that his chapter about Missing Links and likewise nonsense was very entertaining, yet also highly distressing that he needed to include it). His increasing passionate way of reasoning may have its origin in the tradition of British intellectials, but I am afraid it does not help Dawkins and instead impassionates the countermovement.

One could say that Richard Dawkins has “evolved” according to his environment during the last 30 years and is now conducting an “evolutionary arms race” with creationists. His clear reasoning is still there, and Dawkins remains one of the world’s foremost scientific minds and educators, but reading The Greatest Show On Earth is not unlike stepping into a crossfire where one is forced to pick a side. But I suppose that is what Dawkins set out to do.

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