Richard Dawkins' new opus isn't so much a book as ammunition.
Unrelentingly scientific, occasionally dry, sometimes angry, The Greatest Show on Earth: The Evidence for Evolution was written to arm evolutionists with evidence to counter creationists who argue the world was made in six days by God, Dawkins says.
"I've written about evolution before," he says on the phone from London, England.
"But I've always rather assumed the evidence for it and never actually laid out the evidence for the reader in its totality. And that's what this book is."
Dawkins, an evolutionary biologist, will be in Toronto next week to kick off his North American tour for the book – officially released today in Canada and the U.S. It came out two weeks ago in Britain, where it opened at the top of the Sunday Times bestseller list.
He became a household name three years ago with the release of his atheist polemic The God Delusion. That book, along with bestsellers by Christopher Hitchens and Sam Harris, fuelled an often bitter debate between believers and non-believers.
With his new book, Dawkins directly takes on an issue that he has only touched on in previous publications – evolution.
The scientific theory for the origin and development of life on Earth is under threat, Dawkins writes, due to creationists insisting that Bible-based ideas be given equal weight in classrooms.
More than 40 per cent of Americans deny that humans evolved from animals, he writes, with a slightly lower percentage in Britain. No numbers are given for Canada, though an Angus Reid poll two years ago pegged Canadian support for creationism at 22 per cent.
The numbers are high enough, Dawkins says, that a book is needed to spell out the case for evolution, 150 years after Charles Darwin did so with his On the Origin of Species.
Dawkins' book is meant for people who find themselves having to defend evolution against their creationist friends or family, and those who, for their own reasons, are curious about evolution but are not sure where to go for more information.
"What I am not trying to do is convert any real, dyed-in-the-wool young Earth creationists," he says. "That's probably a lost cause, because those people don't read much anyway."
Dawkins' long-held disdain for creationists comes through in the book, equating them to Holocaust deniers for refusing to believe in evolution despite all the evidence.
In the book, he describes a televised debate he had with American creationist Wendy Wright, president of Concerned Women of America, during which he tried to convince her there was ample proof to support evolution. He didn't succeed.
"She was clearly a fairly stupid woman," he says.
Justin Trottier, executive director for the atheist Centre for Inquiry in Toronto, which has been pushing for greater emphasis on evolution in Ontario science classes, welcomes the book.
"This could really be good ammunition for us," he says. "Richard Dawkins is very good at synthesizing a lot of complex information."
For his part, Dawkins is also hoping to counter the wonder that creationists attribute to the story of God creating the world in just six days by offering readers a "wonderful" story about life developing over millions of years through evolution.
"It's quite a marvellous story," he says.
Dawkins rejects any notion that creationism is attractive because it is simpler.
"It's simpler if you don't ask too many questions, as long as you don't think critically," he says dismissively.
Richard Dawkins will speak at the Isabel Bader Theatre, 93 Charles St. W., next Tuesday at 7 p.m. Tickets are $10 at ticketweb.ca or 1-888-222-6608.