Saturday, May 30, 2009

Evolution: The Grand Experiment by Dr. Carl Werner (review)

Evolution: The Grand Experiment by Dr. Carl Werner
Copyright 2007
New Leaf Press - Nonfiction/Science
262 pages

Scientists who oppose evolution ask how similarities can be used as evidence for evolution if so many "unrelated" animals also have similarities. How can you have it both ways? You cannot claim that similarities in animals are evidence for evolution in the face of unrelated animals also possessing similar features.

Evolution: The Grand Experiment is the first book in a series by Dr. Carl Werner, an emergency room physician who accepted a challenge by one of his fellow medical students to prove the theory of evolution. The second book describes the challenge and how he went about trying to prove the theory of evolution by disproving it. I read that one first but will review them in order.

Evolution: The Grand Experiment opens Werner's series by discussing scientific theories that have been proven wrong and then segues into Darwin's theory of evolution and the opinions of scientists who believe evolution is a theory that simply is lacking a few connecting pieces versus scientists who think there is an ample body of fossil evidence and that there are too many so-called "missing links".

The author also discusses the percentage of believers in evolution and those who disagree. I thought it was quite fascinating to find that in spite of the fact that we're taught that evolution is factual and proven in school, 46% of Americans believe God created man less than 10,000 years ago and 54% believe creationism should be taught in schools.

Werner goes on to describe the quantity of fossils that have been found and to show specific examples of so-called evidence of evolution that are patently wrong. One example I particularly enjoyed reading about was the "walking whale", Rodhocetus kasrani. The author shows a diagram that is (or was, at the time of publication in 2007) on display at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor. The sign describes the "fossil evidence for whale evolution", from a hyena-like creature to one that resembles an alligator, to the "walking whale" and onward to a creature that looks similar to a whale but longer and thinner, with teeth.

On closer examination of the actual fossil, Rodhocetus kasrani, the author discovered that the fluked tail, flipper arms and shorter back legs did not exist. The scientist who found the skeleton of Rodhocetus kasrani simply theorized about what the missing bones (no front or back legs or fluke were found) probably looked like. However, scientists took his theory as fact. Later, more bones were located and they show that Rodhocetus kasrani was a walking animal with a tail, not a fluke. This is just one example, but it particularly jumped out at me because I used to live in Ann Arbor, I've seen that sign and just assumed it was correct (I've never felt like the theory of evolution clashed with my belief in God, however -- I just figured evolution was a part of the creation process).

The author also describes how a "flying dinosaur" turned out to be a fraudulent modern creation composed from pieces of fossils (there is apparently a great deal of money to be made from the discovery of "new" fossils) but even after being notified that there was no such thing as a feathered dinosaur and being informed of the fraud, which was discovered via CT scanning, a scientist at the well-respected scientific publication National Geographic chose to go ahead with publication of the article describing evidence of a flying dinosaur as fact and some museums still carry displays of dinosaurs with feathers, although absolutely no real evidence that dinosaurs had feathers exists.

I really enjoyed Evolution: The Grand Experiment. I do wish the author hadn't given it such an off-puttish, lofty title, but it's a book that really makes you look at the facts and examine the "evidence" of evolution critically. The ability to examine such evidence critically could be very useful for me, since I'm going to read a new book called The Link, soon. The author of The Link claims that "the missing link" between monkey and human evolution has been found. Again, rather a lofty claim. I'll reserve my own judgment till I've read the book, but I think it will be very interesting to compare the two viewpoints.

Evolution: The Grand Experiment is presented in textbook format and is a big, beautiful book packed with photos. I didn't find it quite as gripping as the second book, Living Fossils, but that may be a function of having read the two out of order. I still think it's a terrific book.

4/5 - Excellent - A well-written, thought-provoking, gorgeous book.

I've still got several books to review and I haven't managed to make a single one of my reviews "mini". Some of us are just inherently wordy, I guess, but I'll keep trying. Maybe tomorrow. In the meantime, here is one creature the author refers to as a "living fossil" -- one that has been found fossilized but still exists in the same form it did thousands or millions of years ago:

That's a Costa Rican dragonfly, in case you're interested. They were swarming around the pond below our hotel in Monteverde, one day, and they are remarkably difficult to photograph in flight. I gave it my all. You should see how many bad dragonfly photos I brought home.

Patricia Wood, author of Lottery (still in my top 5 from the last few years) says dragonflies are symbolic of luck, success and good fortune. Should I have caught one? That would have been quite a picture -- Bookfool chasing dragonflies. Okay, I'll leave you with that lovely thought.

12 comments:

  1. This book sounds very interesting! I don't know why I didn't request an ARC of The Link when I had the chance...I really should have because I'm dying to read it now! Did you see there was a Discovery special on it? I really wanted to see it, but I missed it...I'm sure there will be plenty of replays though.

    I love dragonflies :) And I would've loved to see pictures of Bookfool chasing dragonflies :)

    I think I'm going to do a post dedicated to you soon! I've been snapping away with my new camera lately of all of the little birds around here and all of the flowers blooming in our area. I think of you every time I'm out there with the camera. It truly does give you a new appreciation for nature!

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  2. Chris,

    I don't have cable or satellite service, so the only thing I watch on TV is movies (whatever DVD I feel like watching while I exercise). I did see a little video, though, at The Link's website. I was skeptical. From what I've learned in the two Evolution books by Werner, I think it was just a monkey that was a little different than a lemur. Characteristics that are more similar to human characteristics don't necessarily mean a thing. I may be biased, after the two books I read! :)

    I love dragonflies, but I'm pretty sure you'd be horrified by pictures of fat old Bookfool chasing anything!

    I'm so glad you're having a great time with your camera!! I haven't been out to take pictures at all, lately, but I watched one of our red-shouldered hawks flying around, this morning. Noisy guy! I can hear him from the bedroom whenever he's flying around.

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  3. Great review! So did these books do anything to change your perspective on the creation vs. evolution debate?

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  4. Alyce,

    Thank you! Absolutely. I truly believed that there was no clash between the creation theory (which is considered a religious belief more than a scientific theory) and evolution, so I just accepted evolution as fact. The author has convinced me that there is little or no proof of evolution and that scientists need to change their tack and stop trying to prove a 150-year-old fad theory that was not even based on any evidence. It was just an idea Darwin had. He actually apologized for the fact that there wasn't any evidence to support his theory.

    I'm still going to try to go into my reading of The Link with an open mind, but I now know there's more to finding "missing links" than just finding a fossil with certain characteristics. The animal has to have lived in the correct time period, for one thing. A lot of so-called links have lived before the animals they were supposed to follow. I've had such fun reading these books!

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  5. It sounds like such an interesting book. And I thought it was a pretty accepted fact that some dinosaurs had feathers...

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  6. Jeane,

    It's a very interesting book! The second in the series is even better, in my opinion, but both are very thought-provoking. Nope, there is absolutely no evidence that there were any dinosaurs with feathers. The concept was based on fraudulent creations made in . . . I think it was China. When a scientist studying the falsified feathered fossils did a CT scan, he found that someone had very carefully pieced together bits from several fossils, then patched and coated them. There were some man-made components within the fakes and the scientist who discovered the fraud contacted someone at National Geographic because there was still time to pull the article, but they opted not to and presented fraudulent fossils as factual evidence of feathered dinosaurs. Crazy, eh?

    I remember there was another instance in which a National Geographic article about people who still lived like cave men was shown to be staged -- which is wild because National Geographic is so highly respected.

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  7. I believe that God created the earth and every living thing, but I don't think he created those by some sort of magic. I think God is God because he understands the laws of the universe (and beyond); those laws that science is trying to figure out and understand. It's feasible to me that God may have allowed some or all living things to evolve as part of the creation process.

    I hope that no science teacher ever says that the theory of evolution is proven. Let me put emphasis on the word proven. No theory is ever considered proven only supported by a body of evidence. Any theory can be proven false with the findings of new data. There are theories that are not disputed because of the overwhelming body of evidence that supports them; i.e. gravity.

    Frankly, I think there is more evidence to support the theory of evolution than there is to support global warming but global warming is not a religiously charged subject. Yes, some of the evidence is faulty; but there is so much more that is not.

    Wow! I kind of got on my little soapbox, didn't I? I won't go into why I think creationism should NOT be taught in school. Okay, I will. Science deals with data, experiments, facts, evidence. There is no hard evidence to support creationism. That said, I also do not belief that the scientific method is the only way to gain knowledge. Personal revelation is also available for those who honestly and humbly seek it, but the Lord isn't going to answer our questions if we are not willing to diligently search for answers when they are available.

    I am very suspect of this author writing. From what you've shared it sounds biased. I do think there are several legitimate findings of fossils with feathers. I hope you will do some further searching on both sides of the question. In an earlier comment you said you have just accepted evolution as fact. Please don't do that. It is NOT fact. It is a theory. That's not to say it's a fly-by-night idea. It's a theory. That means there is substantial evidence to support it or it would not be a theory.

    This was not "just an idea Darwin had". He spent years collecting samples, recording observations. He was a minister's son who did not want to write a published paper about his findings because he knew the backlash it would bring. Does Dr. Werner provide a reference for Darwin apologizing for there not being any evidence to support his theory? If so, I would like to know where he found it. From my studies, Darwin was overwhelmed by his own evidence. Since then and with better technology there is a myriad of supportive evidence.

    Okay. I'm quitting now. I do hope you will broaden your search into the theory of evolution.

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  8. I haven't read the book in question but from your review it appears to contain some bold and misleading claims. The 'fake' fossil referred to is Archaeoraptor, comprised of portions of a Yanornis (a bird) fossil with Microraptor (a feathered dromaeosaur). Microraptor is one of numerous feathered dinosaurs that have been found and verified. The existence of one famous forgery does nothing to weaken evolution, nor does it explain away the many beautifully preserved feathered dinosaurs, Caudipteryx, Sinithosauraus and others. Archaeopteryx , found not long after the publication of 'On the origin of Species' is widely regarded now as a feathered dinosaur. Evolution not only explains such fossils, it predicted them.

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  9. That's nuts. I've always thought National Geo was the highest epitome of facts; now you've got me curious to read this book myself.

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  10. Booklogged,

    I love it when people get up on their soapboxes. :) I'm still not convinced one way or the other. I choose to have an open mind about the whole evolution issue for the reasons you stated, but be aware that I'm not a scientist. What I got out of this book was the reminder that we should question everything. It's too easy for students who are taught a particular theory to believe it is fact.

    Yes, I think he did quote Darwin. I'd have to search for the book to make certain of that. Once I review, I "file" my books into boxes to keep or donate, immediately, so it's not handy. My memory is not perfect, but I believe he said that there were two chapters in The Origin of Species (which then had a much longer name) that were "essentially" an apology for the lack of evidence upon which Darwin based his theory and that he also said those chapters have been translated to have different meaning. So, whatever he referred to as the apology was Dr. Werner's interpretation of what Darwin was trying to say.

    I will say that I've read The Origin of Species and Darwin seemed pretty firm in his beliefs, when I read it. But, I'm not sure I understood half of what he said.

    Philip,

    Bear in mind that the author is an ER doctor, not a scientist who studies fossils for a living. His series of books include quotes from interviews with various scientists -- some who are firm believers in evolution and some who believe that the theoretical connections have not yet been proven by the ample body of fossil evidence. There's much more in the books than I could possibly go into. I just picked out a couple of things that jumped out at me. As I mentioned to Booklogged, I'm not a scientist and haven't paid a lot of attention to fossils and what they represent, over the years. I simply accepted what the museum signs said. I'd recommend that you read the book, especially if you have specialized knowledge and can review it in that light. My assessment likely has some holes in it, but I'm not on either side of the argument and I think you'll find that the author simply tried to illuminate what he sees as inconsistencies in the science of evolution and leaves it to the reader to decide. He frequently sets pictures side by side and says, "What do you think?"

    Jeane,

    Best to read the book. Apparently, I didn't understand it as well as I thought, but my understanding was that scientists have misinterpreted fraudulent fossils and there was no evidence of feathered dinosaurs. I might have misread that, but I think what he was trying to get at was that some museums now randomly stick feathers on any old dinosaur and that's wrong. However, he was very definite about the fact that National Geographic went through with publication of an article about a feathered dinosaur which they had already been warned was a fraud.

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  11. I cannot believe you got that amazing shot of the dragonfly! Definitely one for a bookmark. :-)

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  12. Thank you, Lisa!

    You'd believe it if you saw how many shots it took to get just a few decent frames of those dragonflies. They are incredibly fast little guys and they zig-zag, so they're hard to follow.

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