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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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Top Customer Reviews
Some of the key concepts that Dawkins puts forward (which I was impressed with) include arguments for non blended, "particulate" inheritance and how this relates to sex. Also, he describes how one sees in sexual selection an unusual positive feedback, leading to such things as apparently inefficient long tails, and this is contrasted with the usual negative feedback that one tends to see in nature. The positive feedback loop results from the linkage between preference genes and the trait genes themselves.
There was a very nice discussion of genes and the environment and how the environment of genes includes other genes both within an individual and in other organisms, and this, in turn, leads to complex types of cooperation, arms races and the famous red queen effect. Finally, I liked the discussion of sensory systems such as vision and bat echolocation and how we can learn from these areas where nature has adapted to such a great degree and how we can see that in this process using less refined systems sometimes is evolutionarily advantageous.
Overall I found this a thoroughly enjoyable read and I would highly recommend it to anybody else. It is a great classic.
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.