The testicle mistake

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The Greatest Show on Earth is the last book from the British ethologist Richard Dawkins, well known for his early works The selfish gene or The blind watchmaker and turned into a bestselling author with his second last book, The God Delusion. This new arrival in our bookstores has two different objectives: on one hand, it attempts to convince a broad audience of the validity of evolution as a fact and to defend it from the ambiguity of the word “theory”; on the other hand, it provides a list of arguments against radical creationists and intelligent design proponents.

The book starts with an imagined situation which clearly shows how laughable creationists would be, if they weren’t backed up by very evolved powers: he imagines a Latin culture and language teacher, being questioned by his students as to the historical truth of what he is saying. “Actually”, they argue, “the world was created only a while ago and the theory that Caesar existed is only your opinion, as reliable as any other.” Fighting this kind of ignorance would be a hard task, but it’s one that many Biology teachers have to face everyday.

In later pages, he shows a series of designs which seem everything but intelligent. One of them, the connection between the testicles and the penis (see the figure on the right, taken from the book), but there is more. The explanation is more related to etiology than design, he points out, probably in vain when it comes to convincing his enemies.

There’s an addendum which shows the results of some polls about the knowledge of evolution in different countries. Spain does reasonably well: 73% believe in evolution. In Turkey only 27% and in Catholic Poland, 59%.

Dawkins has written this book partly because he’s an optimist who believes in scientific argument and partly because, probably, he’s horrified at the growth of creationism. What is really surprising is that criticism towards evolution as a “mere theory” has been feeding from criticisms to scientificism coming from some left-winged intellectuals, lead by Paul Feyerabend. Feyerabend’s objective was praiseworthy; the use of his arguments by religious fanatics -which reach the point of denying evidence- has turned out to be flagrant. Bertrand Russell already turned our attention towards some parts of human behavior and argued that women needed much more convincing to give birth without pain than they would have needed for the opposite. Manuel Vázquez Montalbán used to say: if it weren’t for the liberals, the conservatives would still be wearing noserings. By the way, some people still wear them today out of -they say- a progressive way of thinking.

Richard Dawkins. The Greatest Show on Earth. Free Press. New York, 2009. 496 pages.

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