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The Top Ten Myths About Evolution by Cameron M. Smith and Charles Sullivan

1/10/2011. Contributed by Geoff Willmetts

Buy The Top Ten Myths About Evolution in the USA - or Buy The Top Ten Myths About Evolution in the UK

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pub: Prometheus Books. 200 page indexed small enlarged paperback. Price: $14.00 (US). ISBN: 978-1-59102-479-8.

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With other non-fiction books, you’ve heard my comments on the over-abundance of footnotes but in a book such as ‘The Top Ten Myths About Evolution’ by Cameron M. Smith and Charles Sullivan where you really need to sell it to the masses, it has become very worrying. The number of footnote pages at the end of each chapter is nearly the same as the content pages with only the end chapters requiring less cross-checking. Although it would be easy to ignore them, I ultimately kept an eye on which notes were book reference and only flipped over when they weren’t. Even so, I really wish publishers would kick their writers to incorporate the info more into the content and that they aren’t writing a university thesis.

As the book title explains, this is a book that points out the errors people have associated with evolution. If I give you all the chapter headings, you’d probably know what they cover and it would be hard to ignore the fact that much of it centres of creationist theories. It also covers some of the more odd theories out there.

Take Myth Two where there is an examination of Lamarckism. Pre-Darwin, Jean-Baptiste Lamarck proposed that if say, a early giraffe couldn’t reach a leaf on a tree, its ability to stretch up and get a longer neck would be passed onto its descendants. Although this has been disproved, I did ponder on the implication combined with evolution. After all, evolution would favour those giraffes who had longer necks because they would eat enough to propagate than its starving brethren below it. Then again, it would also favour the giraffes with longer legs as well. Those that didn’t sub-breed would probably have become okapi. If anything, Lamarck was only working with the information he had at the time and almost makes me wonder if he’d dug a bit deeper wouldn’t have thought of survival of the fittest. Had he known what Darwin discovered, I suspect he would have moved in a similar direction. A lesson in interpretation when there is insufficient facts to draw any other conclusion.

With Myth Six, the belief that Man evolved from monkeys has been maintained since Bishop Samuel Wilberforce derided it back in 1860. Then again, religious dogma on divinity was being attacked and I suspect any religious leaders would have stuck their heels in. If anything, it’s a measure of wording that stuck. Would things have been any different had it been said that all the great apes, including Man, had a common ancestor back then? I don’t think so. There has always been a dividing line between faith and reality where scientific proof can back itself up.

I’m a bit more concerned with Myth Seven that nature is in perfect balance. Of course, it isn’t as the authors point out and things can be upset by the introduction of a new species whether by natural causes or by Man, but things do balance out, although not often in expected ways. One lesson I got from this chapter was that most of these species tend to be predators or rather higher up the food chain. Presumably, any species that can be preyed on probably doesn’t last so there really is a survival of the fittest going on.

With Myth Ten, I did find a sinister undertone. If you thought that the Nazis were the first to practice eugenics then the revelation that the Americans did so between 1907-1974 with enforced sterilisation of defectives or ‘bad stock’ and ‘inferior’ social classes. I remember reading about this a while back but wasn’t so aware that this practice also extended to Denmark, Finland, Sweden, Norway and Estonia following the American guidelines.

There is a lot to learn from this book although I wish it had been grounded a bit more for the general population, I’m sure those who read it will want to use it for ammunition when beating down any religious dogma that might be used by creationists in their part of the world.

Always remember that evolution isn’t a theory but an observation of how nature works in the real world. I’d also love to see a book called ‘Myths In The Bible That Couldn’t Have Happened’ if for no other reason than to have a counterpoint to having to prove evolution happens.

GF Willmetts

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