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.
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.
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).
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.
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.
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 July 22, 2010
Excellent. A marvelous read. In _The Blind Watchmaker_, Richard Dawkins explains how evolution works, touches on how it doesn't work, and he does so in a way in which just about anyone can understand. You don't have to be a geneticist or a biologists to read this great book.
on February 4, 2014
Highly recommended, produced by an enlightened secular Humanist populist pioneer.
Resplendent writing style that provided lucid concepts.
A great piece of writing and a pleasure to listen to!
on June 19, 2014
You can't be a lazy reader with this one. You will be forced to think and understand, and you'll be grateful for it.
on October 28, 2014
Good author and strong arguments. Currently starting another Richard Dawkins book.