Tuesday, 5 August 2008

Dawkins & Darwin - a missed opportunity

I've just watched the first part of Channel 4's "The Genius of Charles Darwin", presented by Richard Dawkins, with decidedly mixed feelings. It had a lot going for it but I can't help thinking that it was a missed opportunity.

Although he doesn't spend much time saying how religion is no longer necessary, Dawkins still wastes a few minutes that would be much better spent, in my view, demonstrating the evidence for evolution. As an evolutionary biologist, I am well aware of the overwhelming evidence for evolution - I deal with it every day at work - and Dawkins mentions it several times but I feel that he dumbs it down too much and refers to it in general terms rather than really giving good examples, of which there are many. I wish he had removed a few interviews with people - trying to get school children to think for themselves, for example, - and shown a few more examples of anatomical, developmental and genetic similarities between organisms and evolutionary transitions.

There is nothing in biology that we have yet discovered that makes more sense in the light of some "design" theory than in the light of evolutionary theory, and there are plenty of things that we have discovered for which the "design" theories flounder while evolution makes perfect sense, but this does not really come across in the program. He talks about DNA but does not show any actual alignments of sequences and explain how they fit the family-tree structure
predicted by evolution but not the independent-origin structure predicted by independent creation - the competing hypothesis of the time. He talks about fossils but doesn't actually show any of the classic examples of form changing through time. He shows animal limbs and a few embryos in a few seconds but could have gone so much further with far more examples of anatomical similarities that simply make no sense without evolution. Ditto developmental genes. And the genetic code. And biochemical pathways. Etc. etc.

Oh well. Maybe the next episode will hit the mark.