Thursday, November 05, 2009

Ladies and gentlemen, I give you Richard Dawkins and the Ratpocalypse

Right now I'm reading Richard Dawkins's The Ancestor's Tale. I've been reading it for about a month and I'm on page 188. There are 600 pages. I don't expect to finish before 2010. It's a slog but it's an interesting slog: it traces the evolutionary ancestors of humans all the way back to whatever we originally came from a gazillion years ago. I am currently at the 75 million mark, and I have just passed probably the best page in the entire book, which I will now quote extensively.

Excerpt A: Bizarrely indeed.
"Capybaras are prized for meat, not just because of their large size but because, bizarrely, the Roman Catholic Church traditionally deemed them honorary fish for Fridays, presumably because they live in water."

Excerpt B: The size of a WHAT?
"Large as they are, modern capybaras are dwarfed by various giant South American rodents that went extinct only quite recently. The giant capybara, Protohydrochoerus, was the size of a donkey."

I'd put in a picture, but what do you know, it looks just like a regular capybara. Hint to reconstructive artists: Try putting a donkey in your drawings for scale.

"If nuclear war destroys humanity and most of the rest of life, a good bet for survival in the short term, and for evolutionary ancestry in the long term, is rats. I have a post-Armageddon vision. We and all other large animals are gone. Rodents emerge as the ultimate post-human scavengers. They gnaw their way through New York, London and Tokyo, digesting spilled larders, ghost supermarkets and human corpses . . . In a period of intense competition, short generations perhaps with radioactively enhanced mutation-rates boost rapid evolution. . . . Within 5 million years, a whole range of new species replace the ones we know. Herds of giant grazing rats are stalked by sabretoothed predatory rats. Given enough time, will a species of intelligent, cultivated rats emerge? Will rodent historians and scientists eventually organise careful archaeological digs (gnaws?) through the strata of our long-compacted cities, and reconstruct the peculiar and temporarily tragic circumstances that gave ratkind its big break?"

In addition to being an outspoken proponent of evolution, Dawkins is probably the most famous atheist alive, and many people have very strong opinions about him. My opinion so far is that he is a big geek. Giant radioactive sabretoothed scientist rats? Man, that is awesome. I hope someone makes a blockbuster movie about it.


Ivan said...

i imagine the giant capybara looks much like a pirahnamoose

that old film garden intern said...

As someone who has petted a capybara as if it was a dog, I would like to thank Richard Dawkins for helping those of us who were raise christian see the light of atheism.