Expelling the purported “magic” of ancient myths, leading evolutionary biologist and atheist Richard Dawkins is looking to bring back the wonder in science with his new book due out this October.
The Magic of Reality: How We Know What’s Really True is Dawkins’ latest work attempting to explain life in terms of evolution, a subject he frequently addresses and defends in the public realm.
The difference in his new book, however, lies not in the subject matter, which he and his readers are more than familiar with, but his targeted audience – children.
Collaborating with celebrated comic book artist Dave McKean, The Magic of Reality answers in a “graphic detective story” form questions that every person, from a child to an adult, wonders about at some point in their life.
“What are things made of? Who were the first man and woman? When did everything begin?” Those are a few of the mysteries that Dawkins believes science – or “the magic of reality,” as he dubs it – can thoroughly explain.
“Reality has a grander, poetic magic of its own, which I hope I can get across,” the 70-year-old biologist previously told Spiegel Online.
Dawkins' aim, according to Eureka, is to arm the young, as well as the old, with the ability to think critically like a scientist. The author desired to share with his readers the supposed truth of evolution, which to him, was more interesting and more poetic than biblical “myths” and “hundreds of [other] creation myths from around the world.”
While many adults still find the concept of evolution a hard-to-digest, he saiys, children who were not “weighed down by misleading familiarity,” surprisingly found some aspects of science, like evolution, easier to understand.
“When children ask ‘where did I come from’ they are quite capable of understanding – and being taught – evolution,” Dawkins penned. “Evolution could be taught in such a way as to make it easier to understand than a myth.”
That is because, he said, “myths leave the child’s questions unanswered, or they raise more questions than they appear to answer. Evolution is a truly satisfying and complete explanation of existence, and I suspect that this thing is something a child can appreciate from an early age.”
Every child is familiar with gradual change, change too slow to notice, Dawkins stated, on Eureka. Yet for some reason, he added, adults found evolution difficult to understand.
Placing the blame on essentialism – the philosophy that all categories were distinct – and ignorance, the author of The Selfish Gene and The Blind Watchmaker maintains that things really aren’t that complicated.
“You were once a baby, then you became a toddler, then you became a child," he explained. "Yet there never was a day when you woke up and said, ‘Yesterday I was a toddler; today I seem to have become a child.’ In the same way, there never was a first Homo sapiens baby born to Homo erectus parents.”
He went on, “Every baby ever born belonged to the same species as its parents. Yet, if you sample an ancestor’s descendants at a sufficiently long interval, you’ll find descendants that belong not just in different species but different orders, classes and phyla. It is a certain fact that there once was an animal that is the common ancestor of you and a snail.”
As dangerous as essentialism was to evolution, fairy tales pose a similar threat to children, Dawkins contends, adding that the frog-to-prince, mice-to-white horse, pumpkin-to-coach radical changes glamorized in make believe stories were not only anti-evolution, but anti-essentialist, and anti-science as well.
“I have sometimes worried about the educational effects of fairy tales,” Dawkins continued. “Could they be pernicious, leading children down pathways of gullibility towards anti-scientific superstition and religion? Maybe. But could they also be beneficial, in leading children away from static essentialism and towards a state of mind that is receptive to the dynamics of evolution? I don’t know. And, as so often when I don’t know the answer to a question, I’d like to find out.”
As much as Dawkins insists that evolution is "truly satisfying and complete explanation of existence,” many still find his theories to be incomplete.
Outspoken evangelist and geneticist Francis Collins has previously made the case that there are unending questions of “what happened before that” with scientific theories. The only way to satisfactorily answer what happened at the very beginning is if something not limited by time was involved, he argued.
“A creator who is not limited by time, doesn’t need to have such a beginning," Collins explained. "His question doesn’t make any sense if you have a creator outside of time.” Collins also believes that God is the author of everything, even evolution. “Theistic evolution” is what he calls it.
“God is an awesome mathematician and physicist," said Collins. "God’s plan included the mechanism of evolution to achieve that, to create this marvelous diversity of living things on our planet.”
The former director of the Human Genome Project also feels that Christians should always be about the truth. “Look at the facts, look at the truth, and in the process, admire all the more and worship all the more God the creator,” he said.
But where Collins found more reason to worship and admire God, Dawkins discovered more reason to praise science because of its “explanations of space, time, evolution, and more.”
Whether purported myth or fairy tale, or science is taught to children and adults, it seems that no one explanation is thorough enough as to end all debate on questions that have intrigued man since the beginning of time – whenever people assert that was.
Richard Dawkins’ The Magic of Reality: How We Know What’s Really True releases Sept. 15 in the United Kingdom and Oct. 4 in the United States.
The book will be available on Kindle as well as audio CD.