Saturday, September 05, 2009

And in the center ring...

The indefatigable Richard Dawkins has struck again. This time with a book called The Greatest Show On Earth, in which he presents the evidence for evolution. It is not quite clear to whom the book is addressed. Those who reject evolution for religious reasons have long since proven themselves impervious to any marshaling of evidence, and the rest of us (who have seen it all before) need no persuading. But I'm enjoying the book nevertheless. No matter what you think of Dawkins, he is invariably interesting. If evolution is the greatest show on Earth, then Dawkins is one of the greatest showman. There are other popular books that present the evidence for evolution, such as Jerry Coyne's Why Evolution Is True. And, of course, any good biology textbook does the same. But Dawkins does it with such panache and mischievous intent -- and with such an eclectic gathering of scientific illustrations, personal anecdotes, and snarky asides -- that the mix is irresistible even to someone fully apprised of the evidence.

The title of the book is somewhat fatuous. Evolution is not the greatest show on Earth; it is the only show on Earth. The show is undeniably great. The show is one of gape-jawed, eye-popping, spine-tingling grandeur. We are the audience and we are performers.