Dawkins Can’t See the Forest for the Trees
Richard Dawkins recently penned The Greatest Show on Earth that he believes sets forth overwhelming evidence to establish the “fact” of evolution. He wrote the book because he admitted that in his previous works, he “realized that the evidence for evolution itself was nowhere explicitly set out, and that this was a serious gap” that he “needed to close” (2009, p. vii). This self-acknowledged gap remains open, however, because the text of his newest book fails completely to state explicitly anything resembling “the evidence for evolution.”
Confirmation of the book’s failure to provide a rational case for evolution can be clearly seen in Dawkins’ discussion about trees (pp. 377-380). In his assessment of trees, Dawkins suggests that tall tree trunks are simply a waste of energy that could be disposed of “if only all the trees in the forest could come to some agreement” not to grow past a certain height. He states:
And this brings us face to face with the difference between a designed economy and an evolutionary economy. In a designed economy there would be no trees, or certainly no very tall trees: no forests, no canopy. Trees are a waste. Trees are extravagant. Tree trunks are standing monuments to futile competition—futile if we think in terms of planned economy. But the natural economy is not planned. Individual plants compete with other plants, of the same and other species, and the result is that they grow taller and taller, far taller than any planner would recommend (p. 379).
According to Dawkins, tall tree trunks are the squandered natural resources of plants that must constantly compete with other plants to capture the precious rays of sunshine that drive their nutrition production. In fact, he states that massive tree trunks “have no purpose apart from competing with other trees” (p. 379). He concludes that “the forest would look very different if its economy had been designed for the benefit of the forest as a whole” (p. 380, italics in orig.). He believes that only the idea of competition between individual trees can account for the look of a forest with massive-trunked trees filling it. In summarizing his “evidence” about trees, he states: “Everything about trees is compatible with the view that they were not designed—unless, of course, they were designed to supply us with timber, or to delight our eyes and flatter our cameras in the new England Fall” (p. 380, emp. added).
In assessing Dawkins’ conclusion about trees, it must be stressed that he has not provided any evidence by which one could conclude that “everything about trees is compatible with the view that they were not designed.” He has not shown how genetic information could spontaneously assemble itself through any known natural process that would give rise to a tree. He has not shown how genetic mutations could change one tree into another kind of tree, say an apple tree into an oak. Nor has he shown how trees could possibly share any type of ancestral relationship with animals, which he would have to do in order to defend evolution and refute creation. All Dawkins has shown is that trees have the genetic ability to grow trunks that eventually reach a certain limit of height and breadth that they cannot exceed.
Furthermore, Dawkins admits defeat, at least in his discussion of trees, when he acknowledges that a Creator could have in mind other things besides forest economy. Dawkins acknowledges that tree trunks would make perfect sense if they were designed to provide humans with timber or beauty. Yet that is precisely why the Bible explains God created the world—to be inhabited by man: “For thus says the Lord, Who created the heavens, Who is God, Who formed the earth and made it, Who has established it, Who did not create it in vain, Who formed it to be inhabited” (Isaiah 45:18). Not only that, but also to show the glory of God (cf. Psalm 19:1 and Isaiah 6:3). Dawkins’ obvious mistake is that he refuses to accept that the Creator of the world might have a more involved agenda than Dawkins is willing to allow or can even conceptualize. Why would Dawkins waste at least three pages of his book on “explicit evidence” supposedly proving evolution, only to admit that everything he just said about trees is not evidence of evolution “if” the Designer had humans in mind? Simply because this is the only kind of “evidence” that can be marshaled for evolution—the kind that can rationally be refuted when a correct interpretation of the facts is made available.
Dawkins, Richard (2009), The Greatest Show on Earth (New York: Free Press).