Monday, June 01, 2009

Living Fossils - Evolution: The Grand Experiment, Vol. 2 by Dr. Carl Werner (review)

Living Fossils - Evolution: The Grand Experiment, Vol. 2 by Dr. Carl Werner
Copyright 2008
New Leaf Press
274 pages

Living Fossils is the second in Dr. Carl Werner's "Evolution: The Grand Experiment" series. In this book, Dr. Werner describes his fading beliefs in the religion of his childhood and how his new belief in evolution led to a challenge by a fellow medical student, over 30 years ago. It took him thirty years of study and thought before he figured out how to approach the challenge -- to prove evolution by attempting to disprove it.

In this second book in the series, Dr. Werner talks about how he traveled the world, visiting museums and interviewing scientists who are experts in evolution and those who believe there is ample fossil evidence but that fossils don't support the theory of evolution. When he first began attempting to interview scientists, Werner says he asked the wrong questions and was frequently turned away without a chance to interview scientists, so he changed his tack and then was able to get his foot in the door.

Living Fossils is a very visual book. Most of the book is designed to make people think about the way fossils are named and how the naming of fossils can erroneously place them in a totally different genus and species from living plants and animals that may, in fact, be the same or a related plant or animal as a fossil from thousands or millions of years ago. "Living fossils" are what Werner refers to as living plants or animals that appear to be identical or very similar to fossilized plants and animals. He calls the fact that fossils and living plants/animals may have completely different genus and species names "the name game".

Werner did not have access to the back rooms of museums, where the majority of fossils are kept, so his side-by-side assessments of various plants and animals that are currently living, compared with those in museums, are limited to those that can be viewed in display cases at museums around the world.

In my review of Dr. Werner's first book, I neglected to mention that he never states what he believes. Instead he places photos side-by-side, discusses various charts and/or assignments of names and their potential innacuracies and says, "What do you think?" I came out of the reading of these books thinking that I have too easily accepted theory as fact and that in the future need to personally read more critically and ask more questions. I'm not either pro-evolution or anti-evolution. I'm a Christian, but I still don't see evolution as contradictory to my beliefs. At this point, I'm not straddling the fence, so to speak.

I really enjoyed this book. It's written and printed in textbook format, with lots of photographs and some charts, on glossy paper. It's a beautiful book. There were times I didn't see the resemblance he saw between a fossil and living animal, but they were rare.

4.5/5 - Highly recommended, whether you are a believer in evolution or not, beautifully presented and designed to encourage critical thinking about fossil evidence.

From the files: An Emerald Toucanet spotted just outside the cloud forest (rainforest) near Monteverde. Isn't he (or she) pretty?

Next up will be a review of Last Night in Montreal by Emily St. John Mandel.

Just walked in the door: A copy of The House on Tradd Street by Karen White (from PBS)

Two books I keep looking at longingly because I really, really want to read them now, but I'm very scheduled, at the moment (and through July, in fact -- my blog and my life should approach normality in August): Starfinder by John Marco and Fire Bell in the Night by Geoffrey Edwards -- a Civil War novel. I haven't read a Civil War book in quite a while.

Coming up soon: My 3-year bloggiversary. But, I have absolutely nothing planned. Anyone know a literary agency that would like to give away tons of books through my blog? At least I remembered it's coming, this year. Usually, I just breeze right over it (June 6, 2006 was my official starting date).

Gotta go. Can't sit here, forever, or my butt will turn chair-shaped. Happy Monday!

1 comment:

  1. Anonymous3:01 PM

    I have both vol 1. and vol. 2 of Dr. Werner's books. I am on the search engine today trying to determine if vol. 3 has been published. Apparently not.
    I too found these books to be very informative and good fodder for thinking critically. He has a point about the "name game". There is much more phenotypic change observed between the various breeds of dogs (all same species) from artificial selection by "kennel club" breeders than is observed between animals living today and the same ones preserved in the fossil record. Why no observable change in these animals during supposed eons of deep time?
    Comparing the wolfhound skull with that of the Bulldog (vol. 2, p. 21) makes them look like completely different species, yet they are interbreeding dogs.
    The modern alligator and Dinosaur-era alligator (vol 2. p. 139) look identical. Why are these two similar "gators" given different species names yet the largely dissimilar dogs are not? "What do you think?" :)


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