Wednesday, 16 December 2009

The Greatest Show On Earth

As youngsters we were taught that God made the world in just six days and rested on the seventh. Due to our childhood innocence and ignorance and adult fear of offending God, we never doubted it, after all our parents and pastors taught us that theological questions are meant to be accepted by faith and not by reason. Where reason stops, you are expected to apply faith. But as we continue to grow, our inquisitive mind began to wonder and meditate more deeply on the aptness of this assertion from the holy books especially Pentateuch books of the bible and Koran and even our traditional cum cultural beliefs.

However due to numerous opportunities opened up by wider access to numerous writings from various creationist and evolutionist writers, freedom of speech and access to information, our quest continued to grow unceasingly since what we were taught began not to make sense no more to us. We began to wonder aloud how God made the world in just six days considering the enormity of life on the surface of the earth, beneath the oceans, ionosphere and in fact everywhere including the other solar systems.

The good news is that we are not alone in this type of dilemma. Same question also bothered the father of evolution Charles Darwin and it was basically to answer it that he took the bold step of publishing his ‘On The Origin Of Species’, in 1859 which provoked a public outcry and condemnation upon publication. Darwin was very much aware of the consequences of the path he was toeing but due to his firm belief that humans developed over millions of years from less advanced forms of life with God having no part in it, he took the bull by the horn to write and publish the controversial book just to assert his belief, no matter who Ox is gored.

Exactly 200 years after the publication of the masterpiece, the storm it generated is yet to calm down. It still raises questions here and there and yonder. This is despite the fact that the hypothesis of evolution has come to be finally accepted as a scientific fact by all reputable scientists and even learned theologians. The main opposition to this hypothesis comes from the creationists. They strongly believe that God made the world in six days and are using all the resources they have including money, education and persuasion to convince us. This is not true according to the evolutionists and they have staunchly refused to succumb to the argument. They on their own part are using all available evidences including scholarly writings bamboozle us daily that the bible may have actually got it wrong when it claimed that God made the world in just six days and that even if there is any iota of truth in that assertion it should not be understood literally because it was never what the bible intended to say; evolution must have played a very crucial and formidable role too.

The evidence the creationists are using to buttress their point is the bible while the evolutionists on the contrary are using concrete evidences to support their assertion that evolution and not God is the reason why we and other living things are here today. This is exactly the argument Professor Richard Dawkins is making in this his newest book, “The Greatest Show On Earth”, published and released just couple of months ago. He thought that 2009, the bicentennial of Darwin's birth and 150th anniversary of his ‘On the Origin of Species’, is the perfect time for such a work. Like a detective who arrived at the scene of a crime after it has been committed, Professor Dawkins who is an emeritus Simonyi Professor of Public Understanding of Science at the Oxford University, relied on reconstructions using ‘time clocks’ of the tree rings, radioactive dating that calibrate a timescale for evolution, the fossil record, the traces of our earlier ancestors, confirmation from molecular biology and genetics to prove his point.

The book is actually a missing link between his two former books ‘The Selfish Gene’ and ‘The Extended Phenotype’ where he argued extensively in favour of evolution without bothering to use evidences to support those arguments. These missing evidences constitute the bulk content of ‘The Greatest Show On Earth’. Dawkins courted a lot of controversies as result of publication of this book. Just like every effort was made to silence Charles Darwin by the 1800 puritanical Britain, a lot of forces were also at it again to silence Dawkins especially the creationists.

In the 470-page hardcover edition, Dawkins strongly asserted that the earth and all its content are quite enormous, monumental and intricately designed to have come into existence by a pronouncement of a being. Just like other evolutionists, Dawkins found it difficult to swallow the assertion that God made man out of clay. He rather asserted that contrary to that, man evolved through the process of evolution to the present form aided by both natural or artificial selection. Natural selection is the process by which heritable traits that makes it more likely for an organism to survive and successfully reproduce become more common in a population over successive generations while artificial selection or selective breeding describes intentional breeding for certain traits or combination of traits.

The term artificial selection was utilized by Charles Darwin in contrast to natural selection, in which the differential reproduction of organisms with certain traits is attributed to improved survival or reproductive ability. As opposed to artificial selection, in which humans favour specific traits, in natural selection the environment acts as a sieve through which only certain variations can pass. Both are key mechanisms of evolution.

Professor Dawkins is strongly of the view that what we see today around us including green grasses and various animals with their peculiar modus vivendi are not as a result of a work of a remote being but due to intelligent design orchestrated through the process of evolution. By this he meant that the present state of living things are actually as a result of deliberate or environmental need to evolve and adapt with the needs of time and environment. As result of this he postulated that some animals of the same species found in different parts of the world have a slightly different or even a completely different features to enable them adapt to the environment where they found themselves. This he attributed to the process of evolution and never a work of any intelligent unseen being or designer.

His assertions may not make sense to the common man who is deeply rooted in his religious faith but Dawkins is strongly of the view that his own version of how the world and its content came into being through the process of evolution, do not only concur with the postulations of Charles Darwin but is in fact the whole truth of what happened.

“Evolution is a fact. Beyond reasonable doubt, beyond serious doubt, beyond sane, informed, intelligent doubt, beyond doubt evolution is a fact”, he asserted.

Picture Courtesy Of Bantam Press.

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