The Blind Watchmaker: Why the Evidence Reveals a Universe Without Design
"Natural selection is the blind watchmaker, blind because it does not see ahead, does not plan consequences, has no purpose in view. Yet the living results of natural selectioin overwhelmingly impress us with the appearance of design as if by a master watchmaker, impress us with the illusion of design and planning. The purpose of this book is to resolve the paradox to the satisfaction of the reader, and the purpose of this chapter is further to impress the reader with the power of the illusion of design." Cover
"I want to persuade the reader, not just that the Darwinian world-view happens to be true, but that it is the only known theory that could, in principle, solve the mystery of our existence." p xiv
"Biology is the study of complex things that appear to have been designed for a purpose. Physics books may be complicated, but ...The objects and phenomena that a physics book describes are simpler than a single cell in the body of its author. And the author consists of trillions of those cells, many of them different from each other, organized with intricate architecture and precision-engineering into a working machine capable of writing a book. " p1-3.
"All appearances to the contrary, the only watchmaker in nature is the blind forces of physics, albeit deployed in a very special way. 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 blind, unconscious, automatic process which Darwin discovered, and which we now know is the explanation for the existence and apparently purposeful form of all life, has no purpose in mind. It has no vision, no foresight, no sight at all. If if can be said to play the role of watchmaker in nature, it is the blind watchmaker." p 5.
"Darwin made it possible to become an intellectually fulfilled atheist." p6.
I liked van Till's response in Three Views, pg190.:
"The kind of explanation we come up with must not contradict the laws of physics. Indeed it will make use of the laws of physics, and nothing more than the laws of physics." p15
"We have seen that living things are too improbable and too beautifully 'designed' to have come into existence by chance. How, then, did they come into existence? The answer, Darwin's answer, is by gradual, step-by-step transformations from simple beginnings, from primordial entities sufficiently simple to have come into existence by chance. Each successive change in the gradual evolutionary process was simple enough, relative to its predecessor, to have arisen by chance. But the whole sequence fo cumulative steps constitutes anything but a chance process, when you consider the complexity of the final end-product relative to the original starting point. The cumulative process is directed by nonrandom survival." p43
"Organized complexity is the thing that we are having difficulty in explaining. Once we are allowed simply to postulate organized complexity, if only the organized complexity of the DNA/protein replicating machine, it is relatively easy to invoke it as a generator of yet more organized complexity .. But of course any God capable of intelligently designing something as complex as the DNA/protein machine must have been at least as complex and organized as that machine itself .. To explain the origin of the DNA/protein machine by invoking a supernatural Designer is to explain precisely nothing, for it leaves unexplained the origin of the Designer." p140
Plantinga cites and argues against this case contra a designer on p26-30 of "Where the Conflict Really Lies".
"The basic idea of The Blind Watchmaker is that we don't need to postulate a designer in order to understand life, or anything else in the universe." p147
About the Cambrian explosion fossils "For example the Cambrian strata of rocks, vintage about 600 million years, are the oldest ones in which we find most of the major invertebrate groups. And we find many of them already in an advanced state of evolution, the very first time they appear. It is as though they were just planted there, without any evolutionary history." p229.
Ross quotes this on p59 of "Navigating Genesis" to illustrate the challenge of the Cambrian explosion of life.
"The Darwinian theory is in principle capable of explaining life. No other theory that has ever been suggested is in principle capable of explaining life."
"The theory of evolution by cumulative natural selection is the only theory we know of that is in principle capable of explaining the existence of organized complexity. Even if the evidence did not favour it, it would still be the best theory available!" p317.
Climbing Mount Improbable
"Designoid objects look designed, so much so that some people- probably, alas, most people - think that they are designed. These people are wrong... the true explanation - Darwinian natural selection - is very different." p 4-5
"Mount Improbable ... inch by million-year inch." p77
"Nobody knows how it happened but, somehow, without violating the laws of physics and chemistry, a molecule arose that just happened to have the property of self-copying - a replicator" p 282-3
River Out of Eden: A Darwinian View of Life
"The machine code of the genes is uncannily computer-like. Apart from differences in jargon, the pages of a molecular biology journal might be interchanged with those of a computer engineering journal." p17
"Evolution ... must be gradual when it is being used to explain the coming into existence of complicated, apparently designed objects, like eyes ... Without gradualness in these cases, we are back to miracle, which is simply a synonym for the total absence of explanation"
"If the universe were just electrons and selfish genes, meaningless tragedies ... are exactly what we should expect, along with equally meaningless good fortune. Such a universe would be neither evil nor good in intention ... The universe we observe has precisely the properties we should expect if there is, at bottom, no design, no purpose, no evil and no good, nothing but blind pitiless indifference." p132-133
The Information Challenge
"The great evolutionary biologist George C. Williams has pointed out that animals with complicated life cycles need to code for the development of all stages in the life cycle, but they only have one genome with which to do so. A butterfly's genome has to hold the complete information needed for building a caterpillar as well as a butterfly. A sheep liver fluke has six distinct stages in its life cycle, each specialized for a different way of life." p24"Mutation is not an increase in true information content, rather the reverse, for mutation, in the Shannon analogy, contributes to increasing the prior uncertainty. But now we come to natural selection, which reduces the 'prior uncertainty' and therefore, in Shannon's sense, contributes information to the gene pool. In every generation, natural selection removes the less successful genes from the gene pool, so the remaining gene pool is a narrower subset ... what is the information about? It is about how to survive."
The Necessity of Darwinism
New Scientist: 94, 4/18/1982, p130.
"Darwin's theory is now supported by all the available relevant evidence, and its truth is not doubted by any serious modern biologist. But, important as evidence is, in this article I want to explore the possibility of developing a different kind of argument. I suspect that it may be possible to show that, regardless of evidence, Darwinian natural selection is the only force we know that could, in principle, do the job of explaining the existence of organised and adaptive complexity. "
"The more statistically improbable a thing is, the less can we believe that it just happened by blind chance... Darwin showed how it is possible for blind physical forces to mimic the effects of conscious design, and, by operating as a cumulative filter of chance variations, to lead eventually to organized and adaptive complexity, to mosquitoes and mammoths, to humans and therefore, indirectly, to books and computers."
"Book Review", The New York Times, 4/9/89, Sec 7, p3.
"..it is absolutely safe to say that if you meet someone who claims not to believe in evolution, that person is ignorant, stupid, or insane (or wicked, but I'd rather not consider that.)"
[Plantinga on pg 33 of "Where the Conflict Really Lies" quotes this and a similar comment by Dennett in "Darwin's Dangerous Idea" and responds with "Here Dennett and Dawkins remind one of a certain kind of religious personality with which we are all too familiar: if you disagree with them, you are not only wrong, but wicked, and should be punished, if not in this world then certainly in the next."]
"Daily Telegraph Science Extra, Sep 11, 1989.
"scientific belief is based upon publicly checkable evidence, religious faith not only lacks evidence; its independence from evidence is its joy, shouted from the rooftops."
[Lennox on pg 15 of "God's Undertaker" quotes this and pretty thoroughly destroys it.]
Is Science a Religion
"It is fashionable to wax apocalyptic about the threat to humanity posed by the AIDS virus, 'mad cow' disease and many others., but I think that a case can be made that faith is one of the world's great evils, comparable to the smallpox virus but harder to eradicate. Faith, being belief that isn't based on evidence, is the principal vice of any religion."
"A Devil's Chaplain: Reflections on Hope, Lies, Science, and Love, "
"The feature of living matter that most demands explanation is that it is almost unimaginably complicated in directions that convey a powerful illusion of deliberate design." p79.
"My last vestige of "hands-off religion" respect disappeared in the smoke and choking dust of September 11, 2001, followed by the "National Day of Prayer", when prelates and pastors did their tremulous Martin Luther King impersonation and urged people of mutually incompatible faiths to hold hands, united in homage to the very force that caused the problem in the first place." p185
"Next time that somebody tells you something is true, why not say to them: 'What kind of evidence is there for that?' And if they can't give you a good answer, I hope you'll think very carefully before you believe a word they say." p248
Beyond belief: science, religion, reason, and survival.
"I am utterly fed up with the respect we have been brainwashed into bestowing upon religion."
"Lying for Jesus?"
" there are two reasons why we need to take Darwinian natural selection seriously. Firstly, it is the most important element in the explanation for our own existence and that of all life. Secondly, natural selection is a good object lesson in how NOT to organize a society. As I have often said before, as a scientist I am a passionate Darwinian. But as a citizen and a human being, I want to construct a society which is about as un-Darwinian as we can make it. I approve of looking after the poor (very un-Darwinian). I approve of universal medical care (very un-Darwinian)." 3/23/2008.
The God Delusion
[Lennox on p39 of "God's Undertaker" characterizes this as scientism because "For it shows that Dawkins is guilty of committing the error of proposing false alternatives by suggesting that it is fairies or nothing. Fairies at the bottom of the garden may well be a delusion, but what about a gardner , to say nothing about an owner? The possibility of their existence cannot be so summarily dismissed - in fact, most gardens have both."
"Imagine with John Lennon a world without religion. Imagine no suicide bombers, no 9/11, no 7/7, no crusades, no witch-hunts, no Gunpowder plot, no Indian partition, no Israeli/Palestinian wars, no Serb/Croat/Muslim massacres, no persecution of Jews as 'Christ-killers', no Northern Ireland 'troubles', no 'honor killings', no shiny-suited bouffant-haired televangelists fleecing gullible people of their money ('God wants you to give till it hurts'). Imagine no Taliban to blow up ancient statues, no public beheadings of blasphemers, no flogging of female skin for the crime of showing an inch of it." p23-24.
"Even if they can't be herded, cats in sufficient number can make a lot of noise and they can't be ignored." p27 (He is speaking of the difficulty of organizing atheists.)
"When one person suffers from a delusion, it is called insanity. When many people suffer from a delusion, it is called Religion." quoting Robert Pirsig from "Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance". p28 "The God of the Old Testament is arguably the most unpleasant character in all fiction: jealous and proud of it; a petty, unjust, unforgiving control-freak; a vindictive, bloodthirsty ethnic cleanser; a misogynistic, homophobic, racist, infanticidal, genocidal, filicidal, pestilential, megalomaniacal, sadomasochistic, capriciously malevolent bully." p51 "What is remarkable is the polar opposition between the religiosity of the American public at large and the atheism of the intellectual elite." p127
"Any God capable of designing a universe ...must be a supremely complex and improbable entity who needs an even bigger explanation than the one he is supposed to provide." p147
"it is tempting to think (and many have succumbed) that to postulate a plethora of universes is a profligate luxury which should not be allowed. If we are going to permit the extravagance of a multiverse, we might as well be hung for a sheep as a lamb and allow a God." p169.
"The nineteenth century is the last time when it was possible for an educated person to admit to believing in miracles like the virgin birth without embarrassment. When pressed, many educated Christians are too loyal to deny the virgin birth and the resurrection. But it embarrasses them because their rational minds know that it is absurd, so they would much rather not be asked." p 187.
"Faith is an evil precisely because it requires no justification and brooks no argument." p347 [See the response of Lennox on p45 of Gunning for God]
BBC Christmas Lectures Study Guide
Contribution to online magazine EdgeExpresses hope that physicists will "complete Einstein's dream and discover the final theory of everything. I am optimistic that although the theory of everhthing will bring physics to a comvinving closure, the enterprise of physics will continue to flourish, just as biology went on growing after Darwin solved its deep problem. I am optimistic that the two theories together will furnish a totally naturalistic explanation for the existence of the universe and everything that's in it, including ourselves."
The Greatest Show on Earth"When we look comparatively at .. genetic sequences in all these different creatures - we find the same kind of hierarchical tree of resemblance. We find the same family tree - albeit much more thoroughly and convincingly laid out - as we did with .. the whole pattern of anatomical resemblances throughout all the living kingdoms." p315 [Meyer quotes this on p115 of Darwin's Doubt and then proceeds to show that no consistent tree of life has been found.]
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