The Blind Watchmaker by Richard Dawkins
Although it may seem that I do nothing but read books, I’m doing my studies too, Mom. Really. It’s just that right now I’m really interested in Richard Dawkins. After finishing The Selfish Gene, hugely impressed with Dawkins’ writing, I immediately went out and bought 2 more of his books. I thought I had a lot of time on my hands during winter break, but looking back on it I think I should have spent more time studying. Reading Dawkins is a kind of studying too, it just doesn’t help me with my exams. Maybe next term I’ll take a class in evolution or something.
While the Selfish Gene was about genes and animal behaviour, assuming that the reader agrees with the concept of evolution, The Blind Watchmaker is about evolution itself, assuming that the reader may not agree or be familiar with evolution. Dawkins starts by looking at complex life from a creationist’s point of view. An analogy often used by creationists is that of a watch: each complex organism is like a precisely constructed watch with extremely intricate parts. The creationist asserts that anything this complex could not have happened by nature, and there must have been a designer/maker. Dawkins states that complex organisms could only have happened by a series of slow, gradual, cumulative process of natural selection. Hence the title of the book, nature is the watchmaker himself, who is in fact blind to the future.
Dawkins explains natural selection using many examples and analogies, and it was really, really easy to understand. I think that one of Dawkins’ strengths is his ability to find metaphors and examples that get the point across. He even finds time to explain how analogies should be taken, and how not to take them to far. I really admire Dawkins and his way of writing. Actually natural selection is very easy. In living things, random mutations happen, both for the better and for the worse. An organism with a mutation that improves its chances for survival of course survives more, and then in time that mutation becomes the norm. Repeat that thousands, millions of times, and complex organs will be evolved.
A popular but mistaken view of evolution is held by creationists and those who support the so-called ‘Intelligent Design’ theory. It is the concept of ‘Irreducible Complexity’ or IC. IC is defined to be something that has a lot of parts and needs to have every part in place to be functional. A true IC organ cannot have developed by slow, gradual evolution because the organ would not be functional before completion and therefore granting no survival benefits to the organism. Often cited examples are the eye, the wing and the bacteria flaggellum among others. "What use is half an eye, or half a wing?" On the surface, this seems to be a strong argument, but after thinking it through you’ll find out that it’s just shallow thinking. Dawkins explained this very clearly. A half of an eye, while not able to see clearly, can still help see rough shapes of potential predators, therefore something with half an eye will tend to survive more than something with no eye at all. Extending that line of thought, 1% of an eye is better than no eye at all, 2% is better than 1%, and so on, making it a process of gradual evolution. Up to this day, no true ‘Irreducible Complexity’ has ever been found. Intelligent design is just a kind of pseudoscience.
Again and again, Dawkins continues to explain evolution in a simple way using many types of examples. However, this book was a bit more difficult to read when compared to The Selfish Gene. More scientific terms are used (all of them were explained beforehand), but there were still some that I was not familiar with and had to go back to read its definition a few more times. Also, Dawkins went on a long digression once or twice, making me lose focus of the point that he was trying to say. Overall, it was still an excellent book, an inspiration for me to try and raise the conciousness of other people about the concept of evolution. Richard Dawkins is the perfect example of a scientist and an intellectual.
Rating : 9.5 out of 10