Monday, September 7, 2009

Richard Dawkins New Book Is Out

A long time back a fan from the U.S gave Richard Dawkins a printed T-shirt titled

Evolution: The Greatest Show on Earth The Only Game in Town. I don't know if that inspired the title of his latest book - The Greatest Show on Earth: The Evidence For Evolution... but...

The U.K edition is out and the U.S edition will be released September 22. Not sure about the India release date.

I doubt anyone from the creationist community will be swayed into accepting evolution but if you are genuinely curious about evolution then this might be as good a book as any to start learning.

Early reviews are positive although a bit uneasy about Dawkins propensity to insult creationists. That's his style. It won't win him new readers of the fundamentalist mindset but then I think he's long given up winning those over.

For the rest as always it promises to be a treat. I really enjoyed his previous book on evolution The Ancestor's Tale and I am looking forward to reading this one.

Maybe not creationists but I am curious to know if Dawkins has made any attempt to win over another disgruntled lot; biologists who complain that Dawkins puts too much emphasis on natural selection and gives too little attention to random genetic drift and chance events as important drivers of evolution. Although he has never denied the role of drift and chance many of his previous books focused on adaptive evolution and so an emphasis on natural selection as an explanation was inevitable.

This book though is titled the Evidence For Evolution and not Evidence For Evolution through Natural Selection and I wonder if he has been more generous in explaining the role of drift as another important mechanism of evolution and how drift can generate recognizable patterns that can be powerful evidence for evolution. One example that comes to mind is mutations that affect non-coding sections of DNA. This portion of DNA since it has no functionality will be invisible to natural selection and mutations will accumulate and become fixed through random drift.

If two species have such identical patterns in the same region of their non coding DNA that is strong evidence of a shared ancestry and a shared evolutionary history. You might argue that a creator would put identical functions in two species but why would He place identical non functional bits in different species. Its a bit like recognizing plagiarism. If you copy the dud parts and mistakes from someone's essay then...

From the early reviews though natural selection still seems to be the only game in town for  Richard Dawkins.


  1. Can't wait to get hold of this book. Although, I read Jerry Coyne's Why Evolution Is True a month ago, and am expecting to see more of the same -- you know, the human genome decoding, human embryonic development, Galapagos islands etc.

    You raise a valid point though - I too think that, in all likelihood, this is going to be "evidence for evolution by N.S.", as opposed to "evidence for evolution".

    [Coyne recognizes this distinction in the introductory chapter of his book. There are other times too when he mentions things like evolution by sexual selection etc.]

  2. Dawkins has written about drift before but since most of his books were on adaptive evolution they rightly emphasized natural selection.

    this book though does provide a context to write more about drift and chance. Stephen Jay Gould's phrase - senseless signs of history - sometimes provide a more convincing case for evolution that a "perfect" adaptation.

  3. In the excerpt from his second chapter, Dawkins has a line where he seems to clearly argue against all-adaptionist explanations. Sounds encouraging! But yes, let's see what he says about random drift. I am looking forward to the volume.

  4. it should be as always an interesting read