The Blind Watchmaker

Richard Dawkins – The Blind Watchmaker

Richard Dawkins’ third book with the subtitle “Why the Evidence of Evolution Reveals a Universe without Design” is that case where the subtitle perfectly sums up the book’s content. Darwin’s bulldog – as the author is sometimes called – devotes 500 pages to dissecting evolution and, with the fierceness of an aggressive dog, fights its opponents. And as long as he does the former (he tells about evolution and gives examples of it) the book is then interesting. It gets worse in the last few chapters, which are devoted entirely to scientific polemics with opponents of Darwin’s theory of evolution. And then the level of the book noticeably sinks. From the scientific angle, there is probably nothing to complain about (after all, the book is a fairly advanced popular science position), nevertheless it is quite hard to read when Dawkins successively enters into arguments with punctualism, gradualism, saltationism, mutationism, Lamarkism, neutralism or, of course, creationism. I’m able to understand that in the scientific world this is how the debate is conducted, but from the perspective of a mere absorber of popular science books, however, this is an extremely detailed and at times difficult to read polemic. And returning to the content of the book itself – the main part of the book is devoted to answering the question of how it happened that such complex and well-functioning organs as the eye in animals or the echolocation system in bats were developed. At first – nomen omen – glance, it would seem that they are too advanced to have arisen on their own, by mere chance. Hence the theory of a designer, someone who must have thoughtfully created all this – someone who could be God or nature itself. But Richard Dawkins argues that he is unnecessary; that evolution itself, using simple genetic variation and natural selection, given enough time can – and has – created all these complex organs. Hence the title metaphor of the blind watchmaker. Subsequent chapters of the book are devoted to explaining the formation of mutations and their propagation through the population, the origin of life on Earth (although it must be honestly admitted that, despite very detailed considerations, it is still not known exactly how it originated). There are chapters relating to sexual selection and the arms race between predators and prey. Spectacular and certainly a standout is the chapter on the movement of animals in hyperspace. In it, the author uses a simple computer program to demonstrate how exceptional results are produced by the evolution of just nine genes, creating remarkable images called biomorphs. Just 29 generations were enough for evolution to create spectacular images resembling a scorpion, a cephalopod shell, a spitfire, a man in a hat, a moon vehicle, a bat, a fox or a lamp. It gives a beautiful idea of how incredible creations can be created by the true evolution of organisms when given enough time, simple genetic variation caused by mutations and the process of natural selection. I don’t know if I would recommend exactly this item as a first for someone who wants to learn more about evolution. As I mentioned earlier, the book is very advanced in places and somewhat difficult to read. It is certainly a good read for those sections in which the author describes examples on various animals – like the structure of the eye or the echolocation system in bats. He also interestingly describes the process of speciation, i.e. the separation of one species into several separate ones – although I must point out here that, in my opinion, the evolutionary past of organisms was much more interestingly presented in his later book “Ancestor’s Tale”. 500 pages for a book of this type is a lot, and in it the author even describes such issues as the lack of intermediate forms between existing species in the fossil record – and, of course, where they might come from. And the passage with the answer to the question of why hominid intermediate forms became extinct gave me the idea of a nifty world for a science fiction novel. And this is perhaps the greatest advantage of such a book. It opens up totally new areas of thinking.