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The Blind Watchmaker: Why the Evidence of Evolution Reveals a Universe without Design (Reissued in 2006 and 1996) Paperback – September 17, 1996
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Richard Dawkins is not a shy man. Edward Larson's research shows that most scientists today are not formally religious, but Dawkins is an in-your-face atheist in the witty British style:
I want to persuade the reader, not just that the Darwinian world-view happens to be true, but that it is the only known theory that could, in principle, solve the mystery of our existence.
The title of this 1986 work, Dawkins's second book, refers to the Rev. William Paley's 1802 work, Natural Theology, which argued that just as finding a watch would lead you to conclude that a watchmaker must exist, the complexity of living organisms proves that a Creator exists. Not so, says Dawkins: "All appearances to the contrary, the only watchmaker in nature is the blind forces of physics, albeit deployed in a very special way... it is the blind watchmaker."
Dawkins is a hard-core scientist: he doesn't just tell you what is so, he shows you how to find out for yourself. For this book, he wrote Biomorph, one of the first artificial life programs. You can check Dawkins's results on your own Mac or PC.
“Dawkins has done more than anyone else now writing to make evolutionary biology comprehensible and acceptable to a general audience.”
- John Maynard Smith
“As readable and vigorous a defense of Darwinism as has been published since 1859.”
- The Economist
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However, if I were someone who believed in a designer or that there was some intelligence behind life, I don't think I would necessarily come away convinced otherwise after reading this book. Keep in mind, also, that this book was written some time ago and today, in 2011, we have acquired considerable knowledge on the subject of evolution that just wasn't available then especially in the field of genetics.
The reference to a blind watchmaker in the title refers to the fact that natural selection can be said to play the role of a watchmaker in nature; it is called the blind watchmaker. The reference to a watchmaker refers back to a treatise written by William Paley back in 1802. Paley reasoned that a watch which has complex inner workings must therefore have had a designer. In other words, you can tell by looking at something that it had a designer.
I did notice, as some others have commented, that Dawkins has in this book resorted to great verbiage in order to prove various points - not that there is anything wrong with this approach. He does seem though to want to make sure the last nail is firmly hammered into the coffin, so to speak.
A few highlights:
In chapter three, he tries to prove the point of cumulative selection. He does this using computer programs he wrote to produced computer generated creatures showing how changes can over time produce more complex forms. I'm not sure how strong an argument this is considering how much more complex the development of life is than a computer program.
In chapter five, the discussion turns to DNA, RNA, the histone H4 gene, and the RNA-replicase experiment among other things.
In chapter seven, we learn about "co-adapted genotypes" and "arms races."
In chapter nine, Dawkins devotes the entire chapter to discussing the theory of punctuated equilibrium stating flatly that the theory "lies firmly within the neo-Darwinian synthesis." In other words, it is a type of gradualist theory not in opposition to Darwin's ideas.
In chapter ten, he introduces "the one true tree of life" delving into various belief systems of taxonomists and cladists.
In chapter eleven, various "doomed rivals" to evolution are dissected. These include naturalists, selectionists, mutationism, Lamarckian evolution, something called molecular drive, and creationism (both instantaneous and guided evolution theories).
Dawkins asserts his final conclusion to the matter stating that adaptive complexity is a property of living things that is explicable only by Darwinian selection where chance is filtered cumulatively by selection, step by step.
To those interested in adding to their knowledge of the subject, this is one more book to add to your reading list.
Inveiglements limited to a dozen B/W illustrations, several being elemental hypothetical computerized line graphics, others those phantasmagorical B/W illustrations similar to bleached-out cave drawings with chromosomal & genetically overtones and patronizations etc. by unnamed illustrators of great potential.
Author Dawkins, FPS, is an esteemed ethnologist, & evolutionary biologist, prolific science writer, editor and authored a dozen books including the "Selfish Gene", Climbing Mount Improbable", The God Delusion", "River out of Eden", and "The Ancestor's Tale". Writing is erudite prose easily understood by in a style provoking challenging thinking by the reader: - the reader/writer interaction promotes fuller understanding of his informational-educational mission in this book not too-oft seen in science books, being significantly crisp when evolution is being discussed, a topic too often abstracted as theory compared to most theses on geology, history, and mathematics or astronomy.
"The Blind Watchmaker" has been in print for nearly 20 years and remains one of the finest expositions on Darwinism to date. He provides 11 chapters, and teases the reader with some simplistic computer modeling giving us a visual insight into the realities of structural alterations that help us visualize how the long-standing standardized evolutionary branching tree of life diagrams can be more realistically explained. Throughout the book emphasis is placed on belief in the necessary concept that evolution is via the accumulation of "small changes" and the profound significance of speciation. Emphasis is given to explaining the vast majority of evolutionary changes, at the molecular genetic level, are neutral with respect to natural selection. The unscientific political policy by T.D. Lysenko, Director of Institute of Genetics in the Soviet Union, taught with venomous Mendelian intolerance, promoting Lamarckism - setting back genetic research for several decades in Russia.
Candidly, I believe that anyone professing to be knowledgeable in evolution must have read "The Blind Watchmaker". To be complete, one might digest "The Selfish Genius" to smooth out wrinkles that may have been encountered.