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Life Of Earth by Stanley A. Rice

01/05/2011. Contributed by Geoff Willmetts

Buy Life Of Earth in the USA - or Buy Life Of Earth in the UK

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pub: Prometheus Books. 255 page illustrated indexed hardback. Price: $25.00 (UK). ISBN: 978-1-61614-228-5.

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The sub-title of the book ‘Life Of Earth’ is ‘Portrait Of A Beautiful, Middle-Aged, Stressed-Out World’ for once doesn’t tell as much about the content of the book which is really an examination of the evolution of life and other things on Earth. Author Stanley Rice examines the mechanics of it, often using modern metaphors to make it understandable which also makes for a pleasant read.

He also provides a lot of unconnected information which ensures you pay attention. I mean, did you know that if it hadn’t been for a volcanic eruption which resulted in a non-summer in 1815, a certain Mary Shelley might not have written ‘Frankenstein’? Three hundred million years ago, you would have been light-headed on Earth because the atmospheric oxygen was at some thirty-five per cent and very tropical heat.

A very important fact about evolution which is compared to having a bunch of monkeys with typewriters (as they’re no longer manufactured, shall we presume word processors?) taking a millennia to type a Shakespearian play forgets that evolution learns from getting it right then looks for the next right rather than re-invent at every stage which considering that’s how creationists see life on Earth must disturb them. Ergo, the monkey gets the first letter right then it will wait for next right letter. Actually, with a programmed word processor monitoring the spelling, that might be done quicker. Although Rice does not suggest a word processor, his estimate that a single sentence would be finished in forty generations means it would finish a lot quicker than what people guessed.

Something else notable is that animals that are normally herbivores that given a chance to eat meat will do so. Rice’s list of which should surprise a lot of you. He brings out an interesting point that if the Garden of Eden existed, then what did the normally accepted carnivores eat there? I mean, they had to exist or how did pairs of them get invited onto Noah’s ark.

In case you think Rice is deviating from evolution, he explains why some choices are selected because they are better than others and how organisms developed by symbiosis. I mean, digestion would be impossible without bacteria in your gut and that there are far more beneficial than dangerous ones. Saying that, the latter bacteria are also likely to be adapted into biological systems in the long term. I’ve heard this before but this is a great insight and Rice explains it simply for everyone.

Rice goes on to explore sex, altruism, religion and science as to how and why they evolved. Obviously, this is more a human thing as other members of the animal kingdom don’t do such things. That’s not quite correct because Rice also points out that chimpanzees and elephants will mourn the passing of a senior member of their family or tribe. The nature of altruism, at least in America, is seen as a form of self-interest with documentation showing that conventionally religious people were no different to normal people in not helping strangers and forget the good Samaritan. He defeats creationists about how altruistic bees will sacrifice themselves by stinging an invader and dying for the hive because they don’t actually breed. Always remember, folks, blind belief can always be beaten by intelligent replies, providing they accept the answers.

Rice makes an excellent point in the science chapter that science develops from sound reasoning and common-sense by seeking proof by repeat experiments. Doesn’t help much with false-positives like putting my putting a sign on the window to keep dinosaurs out and as they haven’t come it obviously must have worked. I’m not entirely convinced that no scientist ever comes up with a hypothesis from incomplete data as there are times you have to and then work out what is missing and then do experimentation to prove themselves correct.

What is a frightening reminder is how now former President George Bush dismissing global warming and the USA being one of the biggest polluters. Then again, Rice also reminds that this is also the views of most Republicans who have a preference for money. Odd that, as you can’t spend money on a dead world.

In many respects, a lot of the information presented in this book is there to counter creationists beliefs although whether they will read this book is debatable or you use it to bash them on their heads if they come calling at your door is entirely up to you. Having some suitable counter-arguments to hand is always useful.

Don’t be put off by some of the things I’ve said above. Some of them just show that I’m paying attention and if you can’t come away from a non-fiction book without learning something then the author isn’t doing his job. Stanley Rice puts over what he wants to say in a reasonable way in language that shouldn’t cause anyone any problems and you will realise evolution happens to many more things than organic life.

GF Willmetts

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