It's finally that time, thank you all for joining me. I can't wait to see what kind of intellectual conversation we can make of this. I want to start by letting everyone know that this is the first time I've tried to lead anything like this and that constructive criticism and suggestions are gladly welcome. My idea for running this is plain and simple, Open Forum  Style. Open to any and all questions, stories, and comments related to the reading and keeping in mind that we all have a different reading/comprehension level and we all deserve to understand what Dawkins is trying to communicate to us. With that out of the way, let's get started!


Preface and Chapter 1 both give us a good idea of what to look forward to. The Preface contains our base information on the book and what is different between this book and two other books Dawkins has written. Chapter 1 however, is very precise about a few definitions, specifically the word 'theory' and the use of Sense 1 (Dawkins labels it as Theorum) and Sense 2 (Labeled as hypothesis). I think this is a good starting point as it was where my first question started to form. What do you think is the main difference in 'Theorum' and 'Hypothesis' as they are defined in this book, and where do you think such a drastic change in meaning came from?


I see the biggest difference being only one word that is found in the 'Theorum' section. CONFIRMED. This is what we seem to always look for when we state a conclusion right? We need a confirmation of a positive result in an experiment. This is what we learned as children when we were first introduced to the "Scientific Method" in the 4th grade, or whenever it was that we had our first set of science classes. As for why there is such pronounced difference in the two meanings for the same word, I am at a loss. I can see how they are related to each other, but to make a bold leap from defining something as a "hypothesis that has been confirmed" to "A hypothesis proposed as an explanation" just seems irrational to me. In the same style as Dawkins wrote his observations, lets look at the definitions to these two key words.


Confirmed - (a) - Marked by long continuance and likely to persist.

                         (b) - Fixed in habit and unlikely to change.


Proposed - To form or put forward a plan or intention. 


I see here the idea of intending to prove something, like it's mission statement of a thesis project before you even attempt to perform an experiment, versus the conclusion to all of your hard work. These are VERY different words to me and  I just don't understand how they could have come to these two being the candidates to represent the same thing. I guess our words can evolve as well, but this is like having the pen on my desk evolve into a new planet.


Well this sums up what I gathered was the main point, I wrote way more than I thought I would and I hope you are all as interested in this as me. Thanks again for participating and I can't wait to see the comments!

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I believe I agree with oneinfinity's interpretation of theory vs. hypothesis.  Are we saying that these line up with Dawkins' premise regarding these two words?  


Here is's:  (I am assuming we are considering this to be a credible source)

Definition of THEORY

1 : the analysis of a set of facts in their relation to one another
2 : abstract thought : speculation
3 : the general or abstract principles of a body of fact, a science, or an art <music theory>
4 a : a belief, policy, or procedure proposed or followed as the basis of action <her method is based on the theory that all children want to learn>
b : an ideal or hypothetical set of facts, principles, or circumstances —often used in the phrase in theory <in theory, we have always advocated freedom for all>
5 : a plausible or scientifically acceptable general principle or body of principles offered to explain phenomena <the wave theory of light>
6 a : a hypothesis assumed for the sake of argument or investigation
b : an unproved assumption : conjecture
c : a body of theorems presenting a concise systematic view of a subject <theory of equations>


Definition of HYPOTHESIS

1 a : an assumption or concession made for the sake of argument
b : an interpretation of a practical situation or condition taken as the ground for action
2 : a tentative assumption made in order to draw out and test its logical or empirical consequences
3 : the antecedent clause of a conditional statement


So, essentially, in science at least, a hypothesis is when we have an idea about how or why something works or behaves as we observe it and we want to prove that our idea is correct.  A proven hypothesis results in fact or "working" theory which are two different things, obviously.  While there are many facts in science and in the world, unfortunately, most of the science that we utilize today is based on "working" theory and little fact.  


For instance, in medicine, we have a popular theory for drug interactions at receptors located on cell surfaces.  This is called the "lock and key" theory.  It is the idea that the 3 dimentional structure of a drug exhibits a unique orientation of charges about a particular molecule.  These atomic molecular charges unique to each drug, stimulate specific receptors (by fitting within them like a key into a lock) on cellular membranes to agonize (or antagonize) these receptors initiating a cascade of intracellular biochemical pathways that ultimately results in the observed physiological responses that we see after administration of a particular drug.  

While many hypotheses have been set forth and adopted to construct the overall theory that we use when designing drugs and administering them, ultimately, it is still just a theory.  It is not a fact.  Despite all of our observations and admittedly an overall good working theory established by many many years of research, it is NOT fact...just simply a theory.  


I want to make this very clear and remind everyone that The Theory of Evolution is much like is supported by a lot less evidence than the "Lock and Key" theory I just shared...and though it does have some convincing evidence to support is still just a theory.  I am a scientist...a biologist and a chemist among other things.  I do not discount natural selection and I have seen much evidence, even modern day evidence that strongly suggests the accuracy of the theory of natural selection.  


Remember that natural selection and evolution in it's rawest form are two different ideas.  Even Darwin himself, in his later years, discounted his original ideas of evolution.  Unfortunately religious guys like Dawkins would have you believe that his religion is science and that it proves the "fact" of evolution.  This, unfortunately, just is not true.  


I have personally seen Dawkins speak under the guise of a scientific lecturer.  I was excited to hear the science of Evolution and learn much about the facts that support the "theory".  He spoke 5 minutes about science and spent 55 minutes ranting on about the silliness of faith and christianity.  True scientists do not allow their personal bias and agendas with a "God" that "does not exist" influence their conclusions regarding the natural world.  It should be noted that Dawkins is (IMO) more of a religious fanatic preaching his agenda than a scientist searching for the truth of the mysteries of the universe.  Treat this reading as such and you should find yourself enlightened and able to walk away seeing it for what it is and hopefully one step closer to the answers you seek :)


Well, sorry guys, lol...I told myself I would not get that deep into all of that...oh well...I am interested in this discussion and I don't want to leave a bad taste in anyone's mouth regarding Dawkins or his book.  It is definitely very interesting and worthy of much discussion.  I feel as if I would be doing you each a great injustice if I didn't caution you in this situation as I would anyone in any such situation, to be critical and shrewd.  As in all matters, we should each always be very careful what we accept as fact and truth vs belief and opinion.  As even I have shared each with you at some point or another in this discourse.  My $0.02.  :)

Chris, no problem getting that deep into the discussion, I appreciate it. I believe that as free-thinkers we need to look at every angle of the idea. It would be great if you could follow us through this and add some of your insight to the discussion. I do agree with you that Dawkin's does seem to have his own agenda when he speaks anywhere. I have seen several videos of his speeches, and noticed that he does seem to always find his religious rant path rather quickly. I think my purpose for this book is to learn more about the evolution process without reading scientific journals (I've tried, I just don't have the understanding of biology terminology I need for it.) for all of my information. I am learning more and more to defend myself and this is one of the points i am lacking in when people start screaming "I am not a Monkey" at me. As for now I can only look at them and say "I know, Monkeys are much more calm and Rational." :)

I admire your desire to search for the facts regarding Evolution.  While I do think that Dawkins' writings is not the best place to search for easy-to-read scientific facts, I am at the moment not able to point you in the right direction regarding suitable literature of this nature.  I will be more than happy to see if I can't find some good factual literature that is reader-friendly and a little more scientifically relevant.  To be honest, I think some of the best evidence that we are going to find is going to be in the emerging research within the field of evolutionary genetics.  I'll see what I can find :)


This may be a little premature for our current level of discussion, but one thing that I have not been able to overcome with the idea that life as we know it evolving from a primordial soup here on Earth, is the idea of Panspermia.  Who is to say that life originated here to begin with?  I personally think that it is equally plausible to imagine that we were "planted" here after the eradication of the dinosaurs, however, this still does not satisfy the basic question of evolution of species somewhere in the universe if not here.  En light of this, I do realize that, while considering panspermia as a factor in the equation might be interesting, it is equally unsatisfying to us at this point in time.  Thanks for your response! 

How would we have been planted here? just some kind of life microbe traveling through space and then landing here on earth? Just trying to get some kind of idea of what "planted" means. What evidence would suggest that rather than evolution from life already on this planet?

Well, that is probably a topic better left for another thread.  If you really are interested, check out this series from the History channel.  It is 5 parts and presents much of the evidence in a proper procession.  Some of the conclusions seem a bit of a stretch, but some of the evidence is really good.  


It is very interesting to me as someone who has read (with an open mind) much of the ancient texts from the canonized texts of the Bible to the Dead Sea Scroll collection to the Nag Hammadi collection among many many others.  Having read the vast amount of historical accounts set forth in many of the ancient texts and coming to much of the same conclusions on my own, I then watched the History channel series and can say that it was very exciting to see that there are many other scientists out there who have also researched and come to many of the same conclusions that I already had.  This, in addition to considering new evidence (to me) presented in this series, seems to lead me to think that there is almost more (if not more) evidence for a "planting" type scenario than any evidence for Evolution on Earth than I have encountered in my career.  Once again, that is all just the answers for yourself :)


Chris, I agree that the concept of life coming from outer space is fascinating but regardless of how life "started" here on earth, the concept of how life has evolved since it started is the discussion here.  Dawkin's book is his personal summary of the positive evidence that the 'theory' of evolution is actually a fact - as incontrovertible as any in science. 


Dawkins recommends Jerry Coyne's "Why Evolution is True" as a good book on evolution.

I've only read Dawkins's God Delusion before. So I'm hoping that he doesn't allow his anti-theism and anti-religion to interfere with the evidence for evolution. In the preface he talks about how he's already written that religion book and that this one is going to focus on the evidence and let that speak for itself. I also recently finished Why Evolution Is True by Jerry Coyne and that one was informative. I'm hoping for both books to really give me a good foundation on evolution so I too can feel comfortable talking about the evidence for evolution.
I have actually read The Greatest Show on Earth before, but it's been a while so my memory of the details is bad (so i'm looking forward to rereading it!) But, even though there are jabs at the theists here and there along the way, this book most definitely focuses on presenting the evidence and building the case.
I am looking forward to the evidence :)
Heather, from what I have read so far, I do not think Dawkins is letting his anti-religion views cloud his reasoning on evolution.  I thoroughly enjoyed God Delusion also.

Chris, all of science is essentially a "working theory" and that's the best we can ever hope for, except that some "working theories" are much, much stronger than others. But the whole point of Chapter 1 in this book is to mount a defense against just the kind of point you are trying to make.


(from The Greatest Show on Earth, Ch. 1)

Theory, Sense 1: A scheme or system of ideas or statements held as an explanation or account of a group of facts or phenomena; a hypothesis that has been confirmed or established by observation or experiment, and is propounded or accepted as accounting for the known facts; a statement of what are held to be the general laws, principles, or causes of something known or observed.


Theory, Sense 2: A hypothesis proposed as an explanation; hence, a mere hypothesis, speculation, conjecture; an idea or set of ideas about something; an individual view or notion.


The point being, that when people say, like you did above that, "it is still just a theory," you are pointing to sense 2, whereas the correct sense when talking about the Theory of Evolution is sense1.


Now, though I always appreciate intelligent conversation, and like jason says, "as free-thinkers we need to look at every angle of the idea," I do however wish to point out that this is a discussion group for the book, The Greatest Show on Earth, and this is the thread for week 1, preface and ch 1. So, it would seem more appropriate if you read the material and then join in the conversation in that context.


[btw, the full text is available on google books here:"


Thank you for the invitation oneinfinity.  I will attempt to make my conversation a little more focused.  I feel that it is necessary to critically look at not only the author and consider motivations, though I can't in good faith presume to know them all, but also the premise of the entire book.  The premise of a book is it's foundation, and if one establishes a writing on a shaky premise then that should be noted.  Good intellectual conversation should be willing to look at all sides, and though I really do not like being the antagonist in a conversation, I really think that it is healthy to confront some of the aspects of Dawkins' writing that may otherwise be missed or ingested into the reader's mind unawares.  You will see that there are some points that he has that are good and relevant but for the sake of intellectualism and the seeking of truth, we cannot accept everything that is feed to us out of a desire for answers.  Isn't that what the religious peeps do that we tend to despise so much?  Lest we become as they are...


In the preface, Dawkins admits that of the first 5 books he wrote to support his "scientific" views of evolution, not one of them "present[ed] the actual evidence that evolution is a fact" including his "largest book" which "again assumed evolution is true".  


In the very first paragraph of Chapter 1, Dawkins does not begin to summarize a book that is laden with scientific fact by allowing us brief glimpses into the exciting world of scientific discovery of genetic, biological, anthropological, archeological, geological or astronomical research to prepare us for a expositional work riddled with overwhelming evidence.  Instead, for starters, he sets the stage for his vocabulary.  He does this by making sure we understand precisely which group of foolish people, which he refers to as the "ignoramuses" he will undoubtedly be continuously berating, throughout the course of this book as is his usual style.  I sure hope not...I really want facts and really do have better things to do with my time than suffer though another sermon.


Once he has established his intellectual superiority over the reader by using rather large words and even an eloquent yet unnecessary brief lesson in Latin to no doubt prove that he is a true scholar and far above the intellectual bounds of the secular reader who has found an interest in his book, he then proceeds to tell us a bit about his training as an evolutionary biologst and all of the rigourous pedgogical trials he has overcome.  <= A little sarcasm...ok, sorry...was just too easy :)  Well, not exactly, he then establishes his credibility as a scholar not on his long lists of published peer-reviewed exploratory research, but rather begins to tell us who all his budies are that agree with his opinions regarding evolution.  Why should he have credentials when he has influential people that agree with his ideas.  I mean, hey, those are established guys and they agree with Dawkins, so I must be a complete idiot not to.  Right?  lol  Oh well...


He promised us that this book would be about science and facts, yet all he has done by the end of page four of Chapter 1 is ramble on in an intellectual manner about God and religion and the battle of science against ignorance.  Ok, sure...maybe it needs to be addressed, but he did say he addressed that in his previous 5 books and this was not one for that...something about wearing a different shirt this time...was it not?  Oh well, I want to believe that he doesn't have an underlying agenda but by this point it is difficult to believe.


I am curious as to how he intends to prove that Evolution is a fact.  He keeps re-iterating that Evolution is a fact.  Now that he has established his intellectual dominance and convinced us that his influential buddies agree with him so we would be foolish no to do so, he begins pounding into our minds that evolution is a fact, a fact, a fact...yet...still no evidence.  Science needs no one to convince us of its' veracity.  Truth is truth and fact is fact.  Truth and evidence speak for themselves and each convinces the truth-seeker, not by a continuous monologue of suggestive phrases, but rather simply by its' mere and even silent presence.  If it is truth and fact, it is evidence in itself and needs no advocate.  Opinions need advocates and all I sense here is advocation for something...makes me cautious in accepting that it may truthfully be fact with all that convincing he is trying to do.  


He goes on to talk about theory vs hypothesis vs. fact.  Evolution as origin, with the data that we have today and according to Dawkins' definition of fact, cannot ever be "fact".  Here is what I mean: We can observe natural selection over a hundred years, and have done so in fact, and can call this a "fact" but at this moment in time, unless Dawkins' has some profound evidence that the rest of the scientific community is as of yet unaware, Evolution from origin of life as we know it is still just Theory.  Unless someone has a time machine and can personally witness the origin of life or we can find someone who has "authentic testimony" then we cannot call it fact.  So, here, Dawkins has already violated his own premise.  On an interesting side note, maybe this is why "Christians" even have one up on Dawkins here, because according to them they actually have "authentic testimony" (the book of Genesis) to validate their point of view.  That means, that their view is truly based in fact according to Dawkins definition and would in fact be superior to his Sense 1 (Evolution)...otherwise named (improperly by his admission) "theorum".  hahaha Wow, now that's ironic.  Also, I personally think it is interesting how he chooses to use an essentially hallowed term to science and mathematics to denote his pov.  I'm just saying... 


Anyways, he speaks of mathematical theory and that it is different than scientific theory.  I am not sure I fully agree.  Math is a science.  There are some mathematical truths as well as some scientific truths (i.e. facts) yet, there is much math out there that is still just working theory.  It is "working" cuz it works.  Physics, statistics, etc.  Oh yeah, another thing, is that a good scientific paper, when stating facts, will list other sources.  Dawkins has stated statistical data to support his notions, yet not one single reference for us to prove that he is accurate.  I guess he feels that he has established his superiority in such a way that we have no need to check his sources for he is the sole reliable source and will never be found in error.  I guess we will just have to "trust" him and take his word for it <= sarcasm again...forgive me if your sense of humor is a bit different than mine  :)


He goes on for the rest of the chapter insisting that Evolution is a fact and like heliocentric theory can be proven.  So, I am still not sure if he is saying that Evolution is a theory in the sense of every other good scientific theory we have out there or if he is settling on the premise that it is a fact, which by his definition, means that it has to be directly observable or conveyed via authentic testimony.  Since the scientific community has not been able to create life out of a primordial soup in a reducing atmosphere, I find it hard to believe that he is going to be able to prove as fact at this point in time that Evolution has occurred on this planet from the precise moment of the origination of life, no matter how many pages he writes.  Maybe that is why he is trying so hard to convince us with persuasive speech.  


If we are going to read this work let us do it critically and soberly.  It is fact and truth that we are after.  Let us settle for nothing less.  If we begin to accept beliefs as facts then we become religious fanatics of our own except unlike the majority of the religious fanatics in the world who at least are convinced they have something to hope in, we will be religious fanatics less the hope.  


Looking forward to Chapter 2 :)



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