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Meditation 807
Before our very eyes

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I recently finished reading Richard Dawkin's The Greatest Show On Earth: The Evidence for Evolution. There has been some criticism of the book because Dawkins is tough on creationists. However, in my view, that criticism is unjustified. Unlike The God Delusion where I thought he was unnecessarily nasty to everyone not buying into his militant atheism, I think his criticism of creationism and its followers in his current book is quite justified.

In this book he is really taking the creationist argument and exposing it for the bunkum it really is. He takes every "point" that creationists make and disproves it through the most current evidence[1] for evolution. This book is excellent if you want to be aware of the current state of knowledge about evolution, and / or if you want to be able to refute the creationists you encounter in life.

Chapter 5 of the book, Before our very eyes, takes on the argument that we have not observed evolution in action. Dawkins provides a number of examples[2] where we do see evolution well within a human life span. The most convincing is a lab experiment where 45,000 generations of e. coli were bred under controlled conditions and evolutionary changes clearly demonstrated..

One example of evolution before our very eyes which Dawkins did not have access to at the time of publication was covered in today's newspaper[3] reporting on a paper published in Current Biology.[4] A European bird, the blackcap, has traditionally nested in Germany and wintered in Spain. In the 1960s, a few of the blackcaps started wintering in Britain. In less than 50 years, those who chose to winter in Britain have differentiated from those which still go to Spain in the shape of both the bill and the wings. And because they return to Germany about 10 days earlier to nest, those who winter in Britain now form a separate breeding population.

And that is evolution in action - before our very eyes.

Footnotes:

  1. Most current as of the last date prior to publication that he could submit amendments to the manuscript.
  2. Elephants (tusk sizes,) Lizards (population split between two islets,) Guppies (coloration)
  3. Avian evolution - right before our eyes; Martin Mittlestaedt; The Globe and Mail; Friday, Dec. 4, 2009
  4. Contemporary Evolution of Reproductive Isolation and Phenotypic Divergence in Sympatry along a Migratory Divide; Gregor Rolshausen, Gernot Segelbacher, Keith A. Hobson and H. Martin Schaefer