Sometimes we think that if we could just have a stunning visual demonstration of something we believe in, that it would convince the nonbelievers in our midst. So it is that alien enthusiasts fantasize about UFOs on the White House lawn, and Evangelical enthusiasts fantasize about Jesus coming in the clouds (“See, we told you so!”).
But what, then, do atheist evolutionary biologists, whose beliefs about evolution are resisted by large majorities of the human population, fantasize about? Well, if you are Richard Dawkins, you fantasize about the recovery of prehuman primate species as an example of something that would “change everything.”
But would the recovery of, say, a Neanderthal from recovered genetic material, or the creation of a genetic hybrid between chimps and humans really “change everything”?
Though Richard Dawkins thinks it might, I’m not so sure. Most persuadable and reasonably educated people already know that the Earth is old, that evolution occurred (and is occuring), and that we share a common ancestor with other hominids. They’ve seen artist reconstructions of these creatures. They’ve seen images of their bones. And they have read what science writers have to say about them. I think it would be a shock and novelty to see, for example, a real Neanderthal baby in a human crib, and it would be a fascinating story following its birth—and it would have a Truman Show quality to it—but I just doubt that it would cause an earthquake in the psyche of most people.
I think that Dawkins is being a bit naive about how a piece of evidence functions in the minds of the determined-to-be unconvinced. I would guess, for example, that most fundamentalists, though rocked backward a bit by news of the birth of a baby Neanderthal, would ultimately be unswayed to believe in evolution by such an event. Fundamentalists are very, very good at ad hoc reasoning, and would quickly come up with some bullshit to explain the cute little baby Neanderthal.
I can think of a quick rationalization that would preserve their worldview already: “See—the book of Revelation is full of monsters—and scientists are creating the very monsters that will mark the last days!”
See how easy that was?