Richard Dawkins makes case for evolution in new book

DALLAS (Reuters Life!) - British scientist Richard Dawkins asks readers to imagine they are a teacher of Roman history whose attention is constantly distracted by a movement that claims the Roman Empire never existed.

The cover of British scientist Richard Dawkins' new book "The Greatest Show on Earth: the Evidence for Evolution" is shown in this undated handout. REUTERS/Josh Timonen/Handout

“Instead of devoting your full attention to the noble vocation of classical scholar and teacher, you are forced to divert your time and energy to a rear-guard defense of the proposition that the Romans existed at all,” he writes in “The Greatest Show on Earth: The Evidence for Evolution.”

His new book lays out the case for evolution, which most scientists regard as a fact, but which is rejected on religious grounds by many Christians especially in America.

Many Muslims also don’t accept it.

Dawkins’ book is the most recent to take aim at “creationism” and its latest incarnation, the “intelligent design” movement, which maintains that the complexity of life can only be explained by a designer.

This year marks the 200th anniversary of the birth of Charles Darwin, the British naturalist who made the case for evolution by natural selection, and the 150th anniversary of the publication of his masterpiece “On the Origin of Species.”

Dawkins presents the evidence for evolution: the fossil record and the geographical distribution of species. There are also many examples in nature of “unintelligent” design.

During a tour to promote the book Dawkins spoke to Reuters about evolution and its discontents.

Q: You note that tellingly, not a single fossil that has been unearthed contradicts evolution, yet the history that is written all over living animals is so conclusive that no fossil is needed to “prove” evolution. Can you elaborate on this point?

A: “It is a very telling point I think that no fossils have been found in the wrong place ... A good scientific theory is one which is falsifiable, which has not been falsified. The point about this is that it would be very easy to falsify it by finding a fossil human, say, from 600 million years ago in the rocks. All the fossils that we have ever found have always been found in the appropriate place in the time sequence. There are no fossils in the wrong place.”

Q: What, for you, is the strongest piece of evidence for evolution?

A: “I think that the strongest piece of all is the distribution of genes as molecular biologists see them around the animal and plant kingdoms. For a start it’s a very, very convenient fact that every living creature that’s ever been looked at has the same genetic code. We all have DNA.”

Q: Are you aware of a single serious biologist - who has peer-reviewed papers in recognized journals -- who embraces intelligent design or who questions evolution?

A: “No. Not a single one.”

Q: We have been seeing various mutations of flu strains in recent years. Is this evolution in action, or evolution before our very eyes?

A: “It is. It’s before our very eyes and it is very fast. And it is because these micro-organisms have a very short life cycle. So it is very impressive evidence. It doesn’t impress creationists very much because they say, ‘oh well, it’s still a virus.’ And for them that’s just the same kind of creature. What they want is to see it turn into a hippopotamus.”

Q: In 1959, the American historian Richard Hofstadter wrote: “... 100 years after the publication of Darwin’s ‘The Origin of Species,’ mankind has lived so long under the brilliant light of evolutionary science that we tend to take its insights for granted.” Why, 150 years later, do you think as polls suggest that 44 percent of Americans still reject evolution out of hand?

A: “I would like to think it is just plain ignorance because ignorance is something we can do something about ... But there are times when ... it’s a kind of willful desire not to learn. It’s a kind of pre-emption, of childhood indoctrination. Children are told that the Bible, or the Koran, is literally true, so if anybody comes along and tells you anything to the contrary, shut your ears and scream because you don’t want to hear it. It’s the devil talking. It’s very, very hard to get through that barrier.”