If you were told that 40% of your fellow humans believed that humans walked with the dinosaurs within the last 10,000 years, would you be surprised? But the truth is just that! And this is the basis for Richard Dawkins in-depth investigation into the origins of life on Earth.
At times like a David Attenborough documentary highlighting the peculiar adaptations organisms have made to survive in their part of the world, Dawkins’ convincing arguments for evolution are hard to dispute. The real question is whether these evolutionary pathways have been set in motion by God or of their own accord.
Nature is far from perfect, littered with mistakes. Dawkins argues that these “imperfections make perfect sense in the light of evolution.” He goes on to say “An intelligent creator might be expected to have designed not just the bodies of individual animals and plants but also whole species, entire ecosystems. Nature might be expected to be a planned economy, carefully designed to eliminate extravagance and waste. It isn’t.”
One of my favourite evolutionary “mistakes” anecdotes from the book involves New Zealand’s kakapo, the world’s heaviest and only flightless parrot, that is also critically endangered. Dawkins quotes Douglas Adams from the TV programme Last Chance To See – “Sadly, it seems that not only has the kakapo forgotten how to fly, but it has also forgotten that it has forgotten how to fly. Apparently a seriously worried kakapo will sometimes run up a tree and jump out of it, whereupon it flies like a brick and lands in a graceless heap on the ground”.
Human beings are not excluded from the discussion, and on a personal note, for someone who has spent half their life staring into the black abyss of the human eye, to hear descriptions of its evolutionary faults is an eye-opener.
Is this book going to achieve what Dawkins hopes it will achieve? – change peoples minds about evolution. Possibly not. The discussion is often (through necessity) overly scientific, and without a strong background in science most readers would get lost. But what this self described “ultra-Darwinist” has created is a book that more than anything is a celebration of the diversity and wonder of Earth’s fauna and flora. And for that reason this is a book worth reading.