Monday 3 November 2008

Donald R. Prothero: Evolution – What the Fossils Say and Why It Matters

This book presents a sheer cliff face of overwhelming evidence all consistently backing up Darwin’s great theory. The book begins by explaining the scientific method and how a hypothesis is peer reviewed, tested and supported by incontrovertible evidence in order to form an accepted theory such as gravity or evolution. Having defined the scientific method and contrasted it with the dogmatic authoritative method of the Intelligent Designers / Creationist, Prothero then sets off on a whistle stop tour of the fossil record. At each point he identifies the key fossils and explains the relevance and importance of each fossil. My favourite thing about the book is however his writing style and his incessant ability to point out the Creationists misconceptions, ignorance and in many cases out right lies. He shows the arguments given by the creationists and then explains why they are wrong, or how they have misquoted a piece of science or taken something out of context by panning the camera back to show the full context. Prothero’s frustration with the ignorance, and dishonest spin of the creationist is evident throughout, and as I went through the pages learning of the ever growing fossil record I began to share his frustration. The only possible way in which you could read this book, and still believe in creationism is to totally reject logic, reason and crushing evidence and the only thing powerful enough to contradict that is blind indoctrinated faith.

Sunday 2 November 2008

Neil Shubin: Your Inner Fish

This book does not ream off the vast mountain of fossil evidence included in Prothero’s “Evolution: What the Fossils Say and Why it Matters”, but it does shine a light on some other interesting facts in the origin of the human body. Shubin is probably most noticeable for his discovery of the “Tiktalik” fossil that is a perfect intermediate fossil between fish and the first land animals. Shubin’s greatest asset however in this book is not his discovery of this land mark fossil itself but more his anecdotes of everyday life from undergraduate to fossil hunter extraordinaire. His often witty and informative little stories of endless summers and serendipitous finds give a great insight into the life of a palaeontologist. Shubin explains the methods for selecting the best locations to search for fossils from specific dates. With the bounty of these discoveries Shubin then clearly shows the gradual changes in the fossil record such as the bones of the fish jaw which over time form the lower mammalian jaw and the bones of the inner ear. By tracing this gradual transformation Shubin shows the rationale behind many designs of the human body that you would surely design different if you were a deity with a blank sheet of paper. Shubin concludes by listing a few afflictions that trouble many of us from piles to cancer and shows how these are consequences of our evolution.