Lee Harmon's Reviews > The Ancestor's Tale: A Pilgrimage to the Dawn of Evolution

The Ancestor's Tale by Richard Dawkins
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Mar 05, 2011

it was amazing

While I read different genres, I only review books with a religious content. So, if I may be excused for one of my “liberal Christian rants,” let me say this: It’s a sad day when a book about evolution earns a spot on the shelves of a religion blog. It simply astounds me that half of all Americans still do not believe in evolution. The evidence is so overwhelmingly against a young earth that if Christianity is going to survive, it must pull its head out of the sand and reinterpret the Bible’s creation story (anything but a literal interpretation!) before it alienates the coming generation, who will simply know better.

This book will help. I’m not a fan of Dawkins’ anti-religion tirades, but when he sticks to his evolutionary biology, his writing is a pure delight. It’s insightful, highly intelligent, and witty. The subtitle of the book is A Pilgrimage to the Dawn of Evolution, and it’s a long journey backward in time from present-day humans to the beginnings of life four million years ago.

You’ll meet Cro-Magnon man, the Neanderthals, chimpanzees and gorillas, monkeys, rodents and rabbits, reptiles, sharks, flatworms, sponges, fungi, plants, and far more, each with their own unique role and story to tell.

Scientific understanding is, and ever will be, in a state of transition. As we learn, we shape our theories to fit the facts. It’s an exploration that never ends, an exciting quest for truth that Dawkins excels in sharing. He stops often along this journey back in time to introduce interesting life forms and their evolutionary sidebars, evoking wonder and appreciation for the real creation story that far exceeds any ancient tales. It’s such a treat that I’m almost envious of long-time creationists who can, by opening their minds and turning the cover of this book, open themselves up to a new world of wonder.

You will see the world in a different way after reading this.
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Finished Reading
March 5, 2011 – Shelved

Comments (showing 1-10 of 10) (10 new)

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A.J. Great review, Lee.

Since I am one of those lapsed creationists I can affirm that finally getting an injection of reality was pretty uplifting. Dawkins is one of the better conduits of that experience, too. Ancestor's Tale is on my shelf and it's pretty high on my to-read nonfiction list.

message 2: by Adam (new)

Adam Ross Lee, interesting review. As a non-Baptist, non-Fundamentalist, non-literalist who still holds to the essentially historicity of the Genesis account, perhaps my perspective can be of some help here?

My interests, gifts, and degree are all in literature, in doing close readings, getting at thematic structures, narrative threads and so on, in texts. I've played around with all of the ways Christians have tried to reconcile evolution with the creation account, but the problem is that none of them actually work. Taking Genesis 1 strictly as a text that presents a set of events, to even get evolution into the package you have to start with, "okay, what if . . ." What if there weren't really six days, but that was just literary, or what if it was the six days God took to reveal it all to Moses; the central problem with all of them is that there simply is not textual support for it. The text doesn't say it, and no amount of wrangling is going to make it say it. So all of these harmonizations have to begin by getting around the text in this or that way.

The other, and far larger problem I see is in the overall stories presented in evolution and in the Bible. Forget Genesis 1 and endless debates of the greek word for "day". It is clear from the text that man was made on the sixth day into the universe's existence, and it is equally clear that Christ believed this was the case (Matt. 19:3-5; Mark 10:5-7). It is also the case that authors like Dawkins thrive on telling readers that man only appeared on this planet very recently in the vast evolutionary scope. At this point and many others, the two narratives are in fundamental conflict. So the question I ask myself is, who's right here? Am I going to conclude that Dawkins is right, and Christ is wrong? I, certainly, shudder at the thought.


message 3: by Lee (new) - rated it 5 stars

Lee Harmon Hi, A.T.!

Well, given that you don't wish to compromise Genesis' literal reading, and given that evolution is simply a fact, :) maybe there are other ways around things.

Maybe you don't have to pit Dawkins against Christ? Jesus didn't write Genesis, Mark, or Matthew. The Jesus Seminar doesn't believe Jesus even said the words in Mark 10:5-7. And Matthew copied the words from Mark. Does any of that help?

Well, how about this: Jesus "thought" Moses wrote the Torah, too, which has also been disproven. If you don't wish to believe Jesus-in-the-flesh was fallible, you can assume Jesus knew the truth about Genesis and the writing of the Law, but didn't feel comfortable arguing against the beliefs of the day. He humored his listeners.

Just trying to help! ANYTHING is better than trying to believe literally in the creation story. (just my opinion).

message 4: by George (last edited Mar 06, 2011 03:02PM) (new)

George King Lee wrote: "Hi, A.T.!

Well, given that you don't wish to compromise Genesis' literal reading, and given that evolution is simply a fact, :) maybe there are other ways around things.

Maybe you don't have ..."
It's fairly clear that the author(s) of Genesis were writing allegory and that they (the authors--there are two creation stories)knew that they were writing allegory. The mistake of taking the story literally was made by the illiterate followers--encouraged by the controlling priestly class. Why an educated person would interpret the stories literally today defies explanation.

message 5: by Adam (new)

Adam Ross Thanks for the reply!

I don't know if you've read N.T. Wright, but he's just about the most formidable historical scholar in the church today. Anyway, in his massive book Jesus and the Victory of God he spends about 100-150 pages dealing with the Jesus Seminar, and a lot of their faulty assumptions and reasoning.

The real question is, if Jesus can be wrong, if He was sometimes wrong and sometimes right, what *else* was He wrong about? How can we know? I mean, once there is uncertaintly about the accuracy of what he says, Christianity basically stops being a religion and we all might as well go home. He was to be a perfect sacrifice for sin, and if he was wrong then he wasn't perfect, which makes him not the messiah. Pretty much end game.

As for him humoring the errors of his listeners - are we now trying to show that Jesus was embarrassed to confront the errors of anyone? Wasn't that a large point of his entire ministry? He wasn't exactly shy about it, or fearful about the opinions of men.

I simply don't see any way around it. All of the ways to "get around" the frank and plain meaning of the text do great violence to central parts of it. One of the central teachings of the church down through the ages has been that the Scriptures change us, not that we come and sit in judgment over it and pick and choose what we want to believe. Is this not so?

message 6: by Lee (new) - rated it 5 stars

Lee Harmon I hear you, A.T. Yes, I've read some N.T. Wright, and he knows his stuff.

I'm afraid that if you force me to choose between the Bible and the facts of evolution, I have to go with the facts. Please don't make me choose! If there is a way to rescue the Bible, let's find it together!

message 7: by Jeff (new)

Jeff McCormack Maybe you should read some of the scholarly anti-revolution material that show it is not facts at all. Answers in Genesis is one group you may have heard of; they have lots of material.

message 8: by scott (new)

scott Last I heard evolution is just one meta-narrative among many. Time will rid the western world of dogmatic positivism and the "facts" of it's stories. Maybe they're more accurate than some other tales, maybe, and just as likely, they're not. It comes down to a choice, sometimes of the existential variety, to come to such a position. Many people opt for the elaborate traditional scientific take on things, but any certainty in the matter, either way you believe, is unwarrented. Technology is neat-o and penicilian is life saving, thanks, by the way, to the modernity I'm villianizing, but just because there were amazing strides (primarily confined to the medical sciences in terms of guinuine, lasting value) doesn't mean the concrete successess in those areas lend support for other supposedly objective and "scientifically" based STORIES. Stories are all we have to expalin much of life, but that's not so bad. It's actually refreshing to know that the bishops of the 20th century (scientist) are storytellers just like preachers of all faiths. The only questions is "what do you have a taste for, what's beautiful and pleasing to you?"


message 9: by Adam (new)

Adam Ross Lee, I would love to work to find the answer, but I don't think its the Bible that needs fixing. It is here to fix us. Likewise it does not need rescuing, but rather we do.

Another thought to mull over. Who do you suppose has a greater command of the facts? The infinite God who made and actively upholds everything, who keeps track of every snowflake . . . . or Richard Dawkins? And given that this is the case, do you imagine the finite, limited, flawed human being Richard Dawkins might have missed something? Left something out? Even been ignorant of one or two factors that we haven't discovered yet that would change everything?

Elizabeth R. I don't know how much this book will help. I read Chaucer in schol, and I like cladograms and enjoy reading about the natural sciences, and I'm neither an atheist nor a fundamentalist, and I found this book increasingly obnoxious and finally had to put it down. Such a shame, because aside from the ridiculous fits of anti-religious ranting, it seems to be a work of genius.

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