W. W. Norton
We animals are the most complicated things in the known universe. To the eighteenth century theologian William Paley, the very complexity and apparent purposefulness of the living world was overwhelming evidence for the existence of God. In a famous comparison he argued that, just as a watch is too complicated, and too functional, to have spun into existence by accident, so too must all living things – with their far greater complexity – be purposefully designed. Paley’s case was made with passion and sincerity, and was informed by the best scholarship of his day, but it is totally wrong. The analogy between watch and living organism is false. There may be good reasons for belief in God, but the argument from design is not one of them.
The true answer to the riddle had to wait for Charles Darwin in the middle of the last century. Only then did it become clear that, despite all appearances to the contrary, there is no watchmaker in nature beyond the blind forces of physics. A true watchmaker has foresight. He designs his cogs and springs, and plans their interconnections, with a future purpose in his mind’s eye. Natural selection, the unconscious, automatic, blind yet essentially nonrandom process that Darwin discovered, and that we now understand to be the explanation for the existence and form of all life, has no purpose in mind. It has no mind and no mind’s eye. It does not plan for the future. It has no vision, no foresight, no sight at all. If it can be said to play the role of watchmaker in nature, it is the blind watchmaker.
Darwin’s explanation is exceedingly simple, and yet many still seem to have difficulties with it. For instance, some people have gained the profoundly wrong impression that natural selection amounts to nothing more than blind chance. But the main problem, Richard Dawkins believes, is not that the idea of evolution by natural selection is too difficult to understand; rather it is that many people who are well able to understand it simply don’t believe it. They don’t find it plausible.
In The Blind Watchmaker, Richard Dawkins patiently and clearly identifies those aspects of evolution that people find hard to believe, and removes the barriers to credibility one by one. At the same time he never loses his sense of wonder – a reverence and awe to rival Paley’s – at the beauty and complexity of living things. A brilliantly written work of advocacy, The Blind Watchmaker makes the case that evolution by natural selection is a big enough theory to answer the biggest question of all: Why do we exist?
Richard Dawkins was born in 1941. He was educated at Oxford University, and after graduation remained there to work for his doctorate with the Nobel Prize-winning ethologist Niko Tinbergen. From 1967 to 1969 he was an assistant professor of zoology at the University of California at Berkeley. Since 1970 he has been a lecturer in animal behavior at Oxford University and a Fellow of New College.
Richard Dawkins’ first book was The Selfish Gene. It became an immediate international best-seller and was translated into ten languages; it has sold more than 150,000 copies in English alone. Its sequel, The Extended Phenotype, followed in 1982.