March 29, 2010

The Blind Watchmaker

The Blind Watchmaker by Richard Dawkins 1986, 1996.

Michael Ruse: "The closest analogy I can think of is Galileo's Dialogues which made reasonable the Copernican Revolution..."

John Maynard Smith: "Dawkins has done more than anyone else now writing to make evolutionary biology comprehensible and acceptable to a general audience."

The good professor is clearly in love with his subject and you will be as well after reading this. He tackles the stumbling blocks many people have when trying to grasp the concept of evolution through natural selection. The first being, of course, the general misunderstanding of "random" and the importance of understanding the vast amount of time we're talking about here. The other is our propensity to infer design in complex things or ascribe agency where it isn't warranted.

He's a wonderfully down-to-earth companion on the journey, full of good humor, patiently explaining difficult concepts simply. He's a master of just the right metaphor to get across complex ideas.

This book will open your eyes to the wondrous beauty of life around you.

And, if I may, a lengthy quote from the 1996 introduction:

When The Blind Watchmaker was first published in the United States, Norton sent me on a brief tour of the country, and I did a number of radio phone-ins. I had been warned to expect hostile questioning from the fundamentalist listeners and I confess I was looking forward to destroying their arguments. What actually happened was even better. The listeners who telephoned were genuinely interested in the subject of evolution. They were not hostile to it, they simply did not know anything about it. Instead of destroying arguments, I had the more constructive task of educating the innocent. It took only minutes to awaken them to the power of Darwinism as a convincing explanation of life. I got the impression that the only reason they had not seen its possibilities before was that the subject had been totally omitted from their education. Aside from some vague nonsense about 'monkeys', they simply did not know what Darwinism was.

We need to work on this gap in knowledge, and this is one great place to start.