7 of 7 people found the following review helpful
on December 1, 2007
Published ten years after The Selfish Gene, this book is just as enlightening and entertaining as that first book by Dawkins. More examples of evolution in the natural world, and more evidence that evolution has indeed shaped the diversity of living things, past and present, on the earth. Very well written, it's a pleasure to read. One criticism of this and especially The Selfish Gene: Dawkins seems to think that there's no or very little selection at the level of the group, and that natural selection takes place at the level of the individual or even his or her DNA. However, I think it's clear that there is a good deal of selective pressure at the level of the group or tribe, and even to some degree at the level of the entire species. If a group of animals dies, that includes every member of the group, so it stands to reason that there should be some selection at the level of the group, even if that selection runs counter to the immediate goals of the individual within that group. In spite of this criticism, any curious person should give this, and The Selfish Gene, a read. Author of Adjust Your Brain: A Practical Theory for Maximizing Mental Health.
11 of 12 people found the following review helpful
on June 5, 2007
The book also goes over and debunks many of the things creationists say prove that the theory evolution is either impossible or just made up garbage. They include the argument of the evolution of the eye or the wing, they say what is the use of a half a functioning eye or wing., Dawkins then goes on to explain that they probably started as much similar organs in the case of the eye we can look at simpler organisms like planaria have eye-like organs called “eye spots” that are used to detect the intensity of light, and with the wing it is much easier to explain the need for a “half a wing” using the example of the Archaeopteryx which is believed to be the link of reptiles and birds, and it had almost wing like appendages that would have most likely evolved into the complex wing structure shared by the Aves class. Dawkins also shows the reader the striking resemblance of past arguments for evolution, he goes over the story of how when Moss’s team first discovered that bats could possible use radar for navigation, when the scientific community first heard of they were shocked because the use of radar technology were still top secret due to its use in the war. Scientists found it mind boggling that something they had just recently discovered could have been used by a lesser life form for thousands of thousands of years, but eventually upon looking closer the scientific community realized that this was in fact more probably then they previous thought, since the bat has relatively bad eye sight so they needed to develop a way to navigate during the night so the use of radar becomes much more reasonable.
In conclusion Richard Dawkins “The Blind Watchmaker” main purpose is to not only to explain evolution but to go over the specific concepts that readers thought were left unclear in Richard Dawkins previous book and to comment on some of the things critics of his first book were not supported sufficiently. I would recommended this book to anyone who takes an interest in evolution or more specially Richard Dawkins work in the field, but really anyone who wants to understand why things are the way they are, and how things around came to become the complex organism we see today. The only thing I could see a problem for some people is the length of the book, because with any book if you do not specially take a interest in the book it can be hard to get through it, so like not those who don’t have a passionate interest in biology shouldn’t the book its just they should probably take it a little slowly.
2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
on October 7, 2009
This is an accomplished and deeply challenging book. Here is an abridged and revised version of my review in Zygon September 1989.
Dawkins aims to persuade the reader that only the Darwinian world-view can account for the facts of biology. By 'Darwinian world-view' he means the modern synthesis based not only upon the classical Darwinian idea of natural selection but also upon Mendelian genetics, molecular biology and other disciplines. I henceforth use the term 'Darwinism' in this sense. Dawkins never succeeds in persuading me that Darwinism is any more than a plausible speculation. The FACT of evolution seems beyond doubt, but I think there is ample room for questioning whether Darwinism provides a satisfactory account of the MECHANISM of evolution.
According to Paley's classic treatise on natural theology, a man ignorant of the genesis of watches, finding one on a heath, could justifiably conclude from its intricacy and ostensible purposiveness that it was the product of design. But intricacy and ostensible purposiveness are even more pronounced in biological organisms than in a watch. Hence we must infer a Designer of organisms, a Divine Watchnmaker. Whereas Paley sees organisms as instances of ACTUAL design, Dawkins sees them merely as instances of APPARENT design. The semblance of design is due to the intricacy of adaptive adjustment between organism and environment. Such adaptation strikes awe and wonder into the human heart and cries out for explanation. In CHAPTER 2 ("Good Design") Dawkins bids fair to outdo even Paley in conveying this awe and wonder through his fascinating account of bat "sonar".
In CHAPTER 1 ("Explaining the Very Improbable") Dawkins states that the elaborate adaptation of organisms is inherently improbable but that it can nonetheless be accounted for by the operation of blind physical forces. This statement presupposes both that the laws of physics themselves need no explanation and that biological laws are reducible to physical laws. Dawkins believes both propositions but does not argue sufficiently for either of them. That the laws of physics are "just right" for the emergence of life certainly seems in need of explanation. Some cosmologists believe that altering the rate of expansion of the Big Bang by one million millionth would have made the universe fall to bits too fast or undergo recollapse too quickly for life to stand a chance of evolving. If, as I suspect, the demand for a non-physical explanation of physics is reasonable, then the hypothesis of design is one candidate. But it would have to be appraised relative to other candidates. With regard to Dawkins's second presupposition it should be pointed out that the program of reductionism still has a long way to go. Dawkins's explanation of modern genetics in CHAPTER 5 ("The Power and the Archives") proceeds as if biology could already be cashed out in terms of physics. But, as another champion of Darwinism concedes, "Notwithstanding the great molecular successes in genetics...it cannot be denied that we are still very far from a complete physico-chemical understanding of the whole spectrum of biological phenomena" (Michael Ruse, The Philosophy of Biology, 1973, p.208.) Admittedly it is METHODOLOGICALLY sound to pursue reductionism as far as possible. Still the question whether life is really understandable in terms of physics must remain open.
CHAPTER 3 "Accumulating Small Change") expounds the central idea of Darwinism that the progression from earlier to later species is accomplished through slow, gradual, cumulative natural selection operating on genetic variations random with respect to adaptive utility. CHAPTER 4 ("Making Tracks through Animal Space") is concerned mainly with the application of this general idea to a specific instance-- the genesis of the human eye. Dawkins appears to reason from "It might have happened thus and so" to "It did happen that way". Thus having satisfied himself of a plausible scenario-- namely, that each member of a series of Xs connecting the human eye to no eye at all was made available by random mutation of its predecessor, and that each such X worked sufficiently well to assist the survival and reproduction of animals possessing it-- he also convinces himself that the scenario is true. How much better just to hold judgment in abeyance! The human eye might have originated this way, but perhaps it came about (at least in significant part) in some other way. (Beware of extrapolating from limited animal populations such as Darwin's finches or DROSOPHILA MELANOGASTER to the whole population of living organisms!)
CHAPTER 6 ("Origins and Miracles") concerning the origin of life is frankly speculative and anyway not directly relevant to Darwinism which already presupposes the existence of some ancestral form of life.
CHAPTERS 7 ("Constructive Evolution") and 8 ("Explosions and Spirals" indicate ways in which natural selection can work constructively so as to cause "a building up of complexity that has more in common with addition than with subtraction" (p.169). Neither of these chapters, however, addresses explicitly a problem that worried Alfred Russell Wallace (a man who contributed to as much to Darwinism as Darwin himself): How can natural selection explain the complexity of the human brain? More recently: the philosopher Thomas Nagel has been bothered by essentially the same problem: "Even if natural selection explains all adaptive evolution, there may be developments in the history of species that are not specifically adaptive and can't be explained in terms of natural selection. Why not take the development of the human intellect as a probable counterexample to the law that natural selection explains everything, instead of forcing it under the law with improbable speculations unsupported by evidence" (THE VIEW FROM NOWHERE, 1968, P.81).
In CHAPTER 9 ("Puncturing Punctuationism") Dawkins dismisses the significance of punctuationism by minimizing the difference between it and standard Darwinism. On the other hand and somewhat inconsistently he does admit one important difference between the two. "As I said, the one respect in which punctuationists do differ from other schools of Darwinism is in their strong emphasis on stasis as something positive: as an active resistance to evolutionary change rather than as, simply, absence of evolutionary change. And this is one respect in which they are probably wrong" (p.248). I am inclined to think that, on the contrary, that the punctuationists are probably right. It seems there are indeed life forms that actively resist evolution. Consider the "living fossils" like the gingko tree and LATIMERIA fish, which have existed unchanged throughout exceedingly long stretches of time.
CHAPTER 10 (The One True Tree of Life") is a technical and rather unrewarding discussion of alternative taxonomic systems. I found CHAPTER 11 ("Doomed Rivals"), however, the best in the book. It contains penetrating criticisms of alternatives to Darwinism. Also very useful is the discussion of various biologically relevant meanings of the word 'random'. It nevertheless seems to me that Dawkins commits what Norman Macbeth has appropriately called "the best in the field fallacy": "Darwinism has had to compete with various rival theories, each of which aimed at a more or less complete explanation. the most famous rivals were vitalism, fundamentalism, Lamarkism, and the hopeful-monster suggestion of Goldschmidt. The Darwinians have shown that none of these theories are any good...Thus the Darwinians are able to say that Darwin made a better try than anyone else. Does this mean that Darwinism is correct? No. Sir Julian Huxley says that, once the hypothesis of special creation is ruled out, adaptation can only be ascribed to natural selection, but this is utterly unjustified. He should say only that Darwinism is better than the others. But when the others are no good, this is faint praise. Is there any glory in outrunning a cripple in a foot race? Being best-in-the-field means nothing if the field is made up of fumblers" (DARWIN RETRIED, 1971, p77).
29 of 34 people found the following review helpful
Back in the 18th or 19th Century, a man named William Paley came up with a very clever argument to prove the existance of god: Say you find a watch lying on the beach. Just by looking at the watch, you "know" it was made for a purpose. Such an odd collection of materials did not assemble itself. It is not an accident, and it must have been designed by someone specially for the purpose of telling time. Where there is a watch, there must be an intelligent watch maker. Well, human beings are much better designed than watches, so we too must have been created by an intelligent designer. That designer is god.
That's a brilliant argument, and it sure would have convinced me. Dawkins takes that argument, and smashes it to pieces. (He does not insult Paley, of course. Neither did Einstien insult Newton).
Dawkins explains how an object (or plant or animal) can be "designed" by the simple process of natural selection, without anyone to do the selecting. All it takes is replication (sexual reproduction) and limited resources. The laws of physics do the rest. The species that are most successful at surviving tend to survive -- it sounds so simple when you think of it that way. So, each generation has more of the successful models and less of the unsuccessful ones.
Once in a while random copying errors occur. Most of these make the plant or animal less successful, and those genes are not passed on. Once in a while, however, the error leads to a better design, and the new gene wins out. Over long, long periods of time, very efficient and very complicated designs can and will show up, even though they have not been designed by anyone. Just as the Grand Canyon was created by a long slow process, so were we.
If you want to understand evolution, this is the place to start (Dawkins, Daniel Dennett, Steven Pinker and many others will pick up from there). If you believe in intelligent design, and want to keep believing, do NOT read this book.
2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
on April 27, 2000
...Dawkins never claims his "biomorphs" to bebiological, their sole purpose is to show how small changes over aperiod of time can make huge changes in the end product; no more, noless. He turns trees (yes, just the shapes) into grasshoppers, and dragon flies, and satelites (yes, satelites, which are never claimed to be biological). His "quasi-biological forms" (see the forms?) do an excellent job of making his point, and you shall never convince this 'skeptic' otherwise.
2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
on October 11, 2001
I actually read this book 5 years ago. It's a book full of imagination! Of the numerous scientific books I have ever read, this is the one that I will never forget. It evoked a series of mental images in my mind. Compare with many biology book burdened with citations and experimental data, this tiny book frequently provides fresh insights by using thought experiment in biological reasoning. I am looking forward to reading it again, with new surprse and definetely, enjoyment.
on December 22, 2003
This book should be required reading for any budding scientist. It's an easy read, for the most part, and will make you think about things you've never before given any thought to. Dawkins is a hardcore darwinian, and of course atheist. The major thrust of the book is that the very complex design that is an animal (any animal) comes to be as a result of millions of years of tuning and anatomical and behavioral selection, and does not require metaphysical or spiritual explanation. He manages to make so-called "miracles" seem almost trivial when basic biological form and function is the basis of comparison. If you are interested in profound explanations for why living things have come to be as we know them, this book is for you. If you are interested in reading an incredibly bright, articulate science writer talk about the greatest wonders of the world (animals) this book is for you. If you are terribly religous, however, this book is NOT for you and will likely make you weep. Or maybe I should say that I dare you to read this book. Great stuff
on November 20, 2003
Dawkins is wonderful at explaining how natural selection works to the non-expert reader. In an age in which education and media have let people down, choosing needless compromises and headline-selling pseudoscience over real education, this should be a textbook for every child; it should be in every home, just like his debut The Selfish Gene.
All around the world, millions of people, extending to every individual field of science, agree on certain things. Gravity, for instance. They agree on particular things in spite of having otherwise vastly opposing backgrounds and ideologies.
Why would they agree on these things? Because of decades -- centuries, sometimes, as I've mentioned -- of experiments that prove theories. Dawkins always supports his facts with a reference to research, and he always explains these things clearly and without in-crowd scientific jargon or intimidating convolutedness.
Religion subsists in spite of having none of these qualities -- no proven theories, nothing really to test, no universality, no consistency, no basis in reality or physics. Dawkins is the one to read if your natural sense of wonder would REALLY like to be fulfilled.
All one needs to do to "check the facts" about religion is to wonder about the ulterior motives behind its inception -- and read about its history. Its terrible history of tortured "heretics," burnt witches, resisted discoveries about the Earth being round and other things taken for granted nowadays, and other resistance to reason and discovery in place of anti-intellectual dogma.
So why would this happen? Because the men who presented themselves as the only "channels to the Creator who will send you to Heaven or Hell" -- imagine the power over people, their money and their minds that this gives you! -- were very smart. There's always a scare tactic (Hell/Armageddon/etc.) and a reward tactic (Heaven/Paradise/etc.) attached. These are the two things necessary to get people to keep showing up, giving their money to the church, keeping the church tax-free, etc.
Dawkins explains all of this briefly, and offers, for the bulk of his wonderful books, an alternative to superstition and fear. An alternative with decades of fossil study (the record is very close to complete, contrary to popular myth), radiometric measuring, genetic study, cellular study and a great many other fields of science that all point, conclusively, time and time again without fail, to natural selection and evolution. These two things are explained in detail, and it gives the reader a fantastic sensation to realize what, exactly, has been going on on this little planet throughout geological history.
Only science delivers. Pray for your ailing child and she will be dead soon. Take her to a doctor, however, and she'll be okay. This is one of many reasons why Dawkins champions science, reason and rationality above comfy pots of gold in the sky and nightmares of Hell that give children nightmares and, later in life, hang-ups and neuroses.
It's interesting how people who oppose science (what a thing to oppose -- testable knowledge!) always turn to science when it's convenient. Even to the point of taking medicine, driving to work, turning on lights and using computers to write Amazon reviews.
Remember those decades of experiments and results that Dawkins draws on? If any of them were false in the slightest, they'd be condemned in public by all scientists around the world, for scientists LOVE to blow the whistle on each other -- science thrives on challenging custom and long-held beliefs in the interest of seeking out the real truth. Religion thrives on the exact opposite -- "mysteries" are to be held in awe and not solved. Hmmm.
The meaning of "faith" is: "Believing in something in spite of all the contrary evidence that it isn't true." In this sense, the more strange and unprovable the stuff that someone believes, the stronger his "faith" is said to be. How did we get so backwards? More people should read Dawkins' wonderful books; they'll clear up a LOT of things for them, and resolve many questions.
on July 10, 2003
This is one of the best books I have read, especially among non-fiction. The main reason for this is that the author, rather than relying on rhetoric and seductive prose (though his prose style is certainly excellent), bases his entire work on logical argumentation.
If you are a staunch creationist, without willingness to hear the case of a true Darwinian with an open mind, then by all means steer clear of this Darwinian defense. However, if you have an open mind and a good grasp of logic, I entreat you to read this book. If you are a Darwinian, you will enjoy his presentation of the theory, and his skillful destruction of the most common arguments against it. If you aren't a Darwinian, then I would challenge you to read the book, and try to find fault with his logic.
Dawkins demonstrates, through an intricately connected series of arguments, how true Darwinism, not the straw-person windmills so often trotted out to be tilted at by quixotic creationists, can explain life's existence. He makes every effort to not merely state his (the Darwinian) point of view, but to present what someone with an opposing viewpoint might say, and describe in detail why that response is inadequate to discount the Darwinist position.
It is this ability to use logic, mixed with a quick wit, that makes this such a convincing defense of the century-and-a-half old theory. Were it a dry list of facts and evidence, it would be persuasive but not as fun. And if it were a vitriolic diatribe devoid of thoughtful, scientific presentation, it might have been fun, but not very convincing.
In summation, this is a spectacular piece of scholarship, and if read with an open mind, it is a near necessity for anyone interested in the subject.
on March 8, 2003
To begin with this is only one of a body of work of popular science books from Richard Dawkins covering a period of over 25 years. Although this is probably his most comprehensive book it should not be taken in isolation, Evolutionary theory is, as he says, deceptively simple on first glance and it is worth reading two or three more of his books which although a little repetitive will allow some of the more subtle ideas to finally permeate.
This book clearly makes the case that the idea of a creator God is not needed to explain the apparent design observed by us in the natural world, that is its' purpose and it achieves it admirably. Those whose reviews complain that Dawkins overuses the word design and somehow endorses the idea that the universe or some elements of it were designed are completely missing the point wilfully or not, it is an inevitable byproduct of our evolutionary history that we will observe design where there is none and that we will find it extra-ordinary that the physics of the universe are so finely balanced to enable life to appear and that everything appears to be here for our contrivence etc etc. These points are dealt with throughout Dawkins work and the work of other Biologists and Physicists who write popular science books (Pinker and Dennet are two who spring to mind). If you cannot accept that it is natural that our minds will believe these things as a kind of default setting then you are wasting you time with books that have to challenge you to step outside that box.
Of course this book will not readily appeal to those who have a theistic world view for it will not even attempt to answer the question as to why there is something rather than nothing because in the end that question has no answer, theism merely pushes it back one stage, get over it. This book presents the best summary of an incredible, and yes, spiritual and uplifting story of our origins and history which is so much more fulfilling than any variant of creationism. You have nothing to lose and eveything to gain by reading this book.
(By the way Dawkins refers to David Hume at the start of the book and I would recommend reading something of his life and works for he dispenses with the arguement from design a century before Darwin was published in language which is suprisingly modern and witty.)