Sunday, January 5, 2014

Book Review: In the Blink of an Eye - Part 1

Some time ago I read and wrote a review of Andrew Parker's The Genesis Enigma. I asked a man at church if he wanted to read it. He said yes and I brought it to church, but he said he checked his library and found he had it, but hadn't yet read it. He offered to lend me Parker's earlier book, In the Blink of an Eye [2003, Perseus Publishing], which he had read. I jumped at the chance, and began reading it in August. I finished it last night.

Since I had read the later book, I had an idea of what the first book was about even before I read it, since Parker mentioned it frequently. Parker's premise, based on his research as a...I'm not exactly what to call him. Wikipedia describes him as a zoologist. The book jacket says he worked in marine biology. Essentially he's an expert in ancient biology—the biology of evolution. His interest is animals, not plants.

But back to his premise, which relates to what is called the Cambrian Explosion. That was a time when the number of species in the world, based on the fossil record, increased rapidly (i.e. exploded). At the same time the nature of animals changed as they acquired hard body parts, either exoskeletons or internal skeletons. What caused that explosion, Parker wanted to know. The dominant species of this time is the trilobite. But his research was in other species. He says what it is, but I'm not going to go back into the book to lay it out.

It had to do, however, with colors in animals. Why were there colors? Why did they evolve? He tied this to the evolution of the eye. The eye has always been a stumbling point for those who doubt the theory of evolution. It's too complex a system, some say, to ever have evolved. It must have been created. And, it would require too many steps and too long a time to evolve into a functioning sense and organ

Parker disagrees. The main premise of his book is that the eye could have evolved in a mere 500,000 years, a nanosecond in evolutionary time. I'll get to that part of his theory in a supplemental review. For this post, it is sufficient to say that Parker's theory, which he calls the Light Switch Theory, is that the relatively sudden development of vision is what caused the Cambrian Explosion. Because of eyesight, those pesky trilobites could see their prey, and became dominant hunters. So other species had to evolve ways and means of camouflage and stationary and mobile defenses. As a result, you "suddenly" had many species.

Without getting into the merits of the theory, just discussing the merits of the book, I have to say that it was a good book, though very tedious to get through. Parker attempted to write what I call a popular book that will appeal to a non-academic readership, rather than a scholarly scientific book. However, in my mind he has way too many names of species, way too much text, and way too few illustrations to make the book "popular". I'm no dummy, but I got bogged down in the scientific names.

He also mentions existing species of animals that I've never heard of. I know; I can go to an encyclopedia or go on-line and find something about them. Parker assumes a significant zoological knowledge of his readers. This book may not be a scholarly work, but it was written for someone with a degree in zoology. I don't have that, have never taken a course in zoology, or in whatever the name of the science is that studies evolution (paleontology?). Hence, while I completed the book, it was of less value to me than I hoped.

At Goodreads I gave the book 4 stars, though in my review I said it was really 3.5 stars. In a couple of follow-up posts I'll go into more of why I gave it that rating. For now, I'll say the book is worth reading, but be prepared to do a lot of outside, supplemental reading or read through a lot of stuff you don't understand.