I'm quite familiar with Richard Dawkins, actually. I read "The Blind Watchmaker" in one of my philosophy classes. Really an interesting read. Italicized below are key quotes that I highlighted. In bold italics, when appropriate, I’ll provide my thoughts/critiques.
"For reasons that are not entirely clear to me, Darwinism seems more in need of advocacy than similarly established truths in other branches of science. Many of us have no grasp of quantum theory, or Einstein's theories of special and general relativity, but this does not in itself lead us to oppose these theories! Darwinism, unlike "Einsteinism," seems to be regarded as fair game for critics with any degree of ignorance. I suppose one more trouble with Darwinism is that, as Jacques Monod perceptively remarked, everybody thinks he understands it.
"It is, indeed, a remarkably simple theory; childishly so, one would have thought, in comparison with almost all of physics and mathematics. In essence, it amounts simply to the idea that nonrandom reproduction, where there is hereditary variation, has consequences that are far-reaching if there is time for them to be cumulative.
"But we have good grounds for believing that this simplicity is deceptive. Never forget that, simple as the theory may seem, nobody thought of it until Darwin and Wallace in the mid-nineteenth century, nearly 200 years after Newton's Principia, and more than 2,000 years after Eratosthenes measured the Earth. How could such a simple idea go so long undiscovered by thinkers of the calibre of Newton, Galileo, Descartes, Leibniz, Hume, and Aristotle? Why did it have to wait for two Victorian naturalists? What was wrong with philosophers and mathematicians that they overlooked it? And how can such a powerful idea go still largely unabsorbed into popular consciousness?"
One could argue that if evolution were true, it would have been more engrained into our worldview. The fact that no ancient peoples or any of the great thinkers he mentioned, spanning all those generations of time, considered Darwinism could indicate that perhaps, it isn’t such a great theory after all. That is, maybe there was nothing wrong with these philosophers and mathematicians at all. Maybe they weren’t really overlooking anything.
Of course, one could certainly argue it’s a surprise that it took us until the 19th century to figure out microevolution and speciation. At least as a general concept, but as I’ve said earlier, speciation/microevolution doesn’t by any stretch of the imagination prove Darwinism to be true.
“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 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.”
I find this analogy of natural selection being compared to a blind watchmaker hardly compelling. I’m reminded of a verse from Matthew 15:14: “If the blind lead the blind, both shall fall into the ditch.”
To argue that what we see in nature is the result of something that has zero purpose and zero plan for the future is rebarbative. He’s also contradicting himself because later on, he’ll explain that natural selection isn’t so random at all and that there is a method to the madness.
If there’s one thing we do know about nature as we know it is that it is predictable. There are seasons, animal migrations, ocean currents, and other patterns of nature that we can rely upon to remain consistent. If it really were a blind watchmaker at work, how come things remain as consistent and orderly as they do?
Also, pulling from the philosophical branch of aesthetics, could a blind watchmaker really put together something so aesthetically beautiful and pleasing as our earth? Majestic mountains, beautiful oceans, sweet smelling plants, etc. How could that come about via a process that is truly blind? That isn’t to say that nature is always kind and forgiving. There is a dark side to nature that can be very violent and unforgiving. But still, there is an intrinsic beauty to nature that one must be confronted with if they are to really believe that all of this beauty we see on earth is the result of something that is blind and without any sort of plan for the future.
Last thought on this quote is that Dawkins arrogantly makes the assumption that we know Darwinism is “the explanation for the existence and apparently purposeful form of all life” that we see on earth. He can believe that. But he doesn’t KNOW that. If he did, he’d KNOW how life originated on earth in the first place. Something that science, to this very day, cannot explain. So long as he can’t explain how life originated on earth, he cannot say that he “knows” Darwinism is true. He can have firm faith in it. But that’s not the same thing as having a full knowledge.
“Darwin made it possible to be an intellectually fulfilled atheist.”
This I agree with. Darwinism gives atheists an alternative to God. It’s not a very good alternative in my opinion, but he is right that Darwin has given atheists something they can now point to when confronted by religious people.
“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 transformation 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 of 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. The purpose of this chapter is to demonstrate the power of this cumulative selection as fundamentally nonrandom process.”
I feel Dawkins is trying to have his cake and eat it too, here. He’s trying to argue that yes, everything did arise by chance, but at the same time, given the cumulative steps involved to reach the final end-product that we see today, it isn’t really chance after all. Huh? Logically, that’s a contradiction. Either everything began by chance or it didn’t.
He also appears to be committing an infinite regress fallacy. That there is a cumulative selection going back from an original starting point, that if we could see it, would make sense. And yet, he is unable to identify what that original starting point is. That’s a problem.
He's also arrogantly making the assumption that evolution proves God doesn’t exist. No it doesn’t. There is nothing about evolution that requires for there to be no God or for there to be a God for that matter. It is a process and what we are trying to better figure out is what is behind that process and what set it in motion. To believe God is what’s behind that process and is what set it in motion does nothing to discredit evolution as a theory. It only discredits atheism, which is wholly different from evolution.
Saying atheism and evolution must be necessarily linked is logically false. If you mapped out a truth tree with God not existing and evolution being true as premises, there would be an open branch, making the argument invalid. In simpler terms, logically, there is a possible world where God exists and evolution is also true.
“If you walk up and down a pebbly beach, you will notice that the pebbles are not arranged at random. The smaller pebbles typically tend to be found in segregated zones running along the length of the beach, the larger ones in different zones or stripes. The pebbles have been sorted, arranged, selected. A tribe living near the shore might wonder at this evidence of sorting or arrangement in the world, and might develop a great myth to account for it, perhaps attributing it to a Great Spirit in the Sky with a tidy mind and a sense of order.
“We might have a superior smile at such a superstitious notion, and explain that the arranging was really done by the blind forces of physics, in this case the action of waves. The waves have no purposes and no intentions, no tidy mind, no mind at all. They just energetically throw the pebbles around, and big pebbles and small pebbles respond differently to this treatment so they end up at a different levels of the beach. A small amount of order has come out of disorder, and no mind planned it.
“The waves and the pebbles together constitute a simple example of a system that automatically generates nonrandomness. The world is full of such systems…A blessed miracle of provident design? No, just a natural “sieve.””
I understand the analogy, but this is really just Dawkins arrogantly bashing religion. Nothing in here proves or disproves evolution or the existence of God.
“Modern theologians of any sophistication have given up believing in instantaneous creation. The evidence for some sort of evolution has become too overwhelming. But many theologians who call themselves evolutions smuggle God in by the back door: they allow him in some sort of supervisory role over the course that evolution has taken, either influencing key moments in evolutionary history (especially, of course, human evolutionary history), or even meddling more comprehensively in the day-to-day events that add up to evolutionary change.
“We cannot disprove beliefs like these, especially if it is assumed that God took care that his interventions always closely mimicked what would be expected from evolution by natural selection. All that we can say about such beliefs is, firstly, that they are superfluous and, secondly, that they assume the existence of the main thing we want to explain, namely organized complexity. The one thing that makes evolution such neat theory is that it explains how organized complexity can arise out of primeval simplicity.”
See my above comments about how there is a possible world, logically, where evolution is true and God also exists.
“Cumulative selection, by slow and gradual degrees, is the explanation, the only workable explanation that has ever been proposed, for the existence of life’s complex design.”
Yeah, so once again, this doesn’t mean there isn’t a possible world, logically, where evolution is true and God also exists. Dawkins clearly never took a basic logic class in school. But then again, why would he? As Alvin Plantinga says in his book Where The Conflict Really Lies: Science, Religion, & Naturalism, “And why should he? After all, he’s a biologist and not a philosopher.”
“It is the contention of the Darwinian world-view that both these proviso are met, and that slow, gradual, cumulative natural selection is the ultimate explanation for our existence. If there are versions of the evolutionary theory that deny slow gradualism, and deny the central role of natural selection, they may be true in particular cases. But they cannot be the whole truth, for they deny the very heart of the evolution theory, which gives it the power to dissolve astronomical improbabilities and explain prodigies of apparent miracle.”
The Darwinian world-view is an explanation for our existence, but by no means can it be concluded to be the ultimate explanation for our existence. Dawkins talks about evolution as much as if it’s a religion as it is a matter of science. Comments like this are where the element of it being a religion for him creep in. Yet he tries to pass it off as if it’s scientific fact? Tsk tsk.
Upon reading “The Blind Watchmaker”, I think Richard Dawkins does a really good job of explaining the biological process of evolution and how it happens. But, he does a lousy job of proving that it means there is no God and that it is the only possible theory by which life could have gotten here.
There are questions that Dawkins cannot answer and chooses to skirt around:
How did life originate on earth? How was everything set in motion? How could consciousness arise from a “blind watchmaker”?
How could beauty arise from a “blind watchmaker”? Why do we have a concept of beauty at all?
How come humans are the ONLY creature on earth that is able to ask these types of questions at all?
That we are able to communicate in the complex manner that we do both with spoken and written languages?
If we really are the process of a “blind watchmaker” how come we are so far advanced intellectually and yet also so far behind athletically relative to other animals on this earth, particularly primates, who are said to be our closest relatives?
These are essential questions that don’t have an easy answer if you go down Dawkins’ path of believing in the “blind watchmaker.” And lastly, as you can see, I may not agree with the tenants of Dawkins’ teachings, but I am quite familiar with them and have studied them. So, to act as though I’ve only been exposed to religious pro-creationist propaganda is patently false and rather insulting, if I can be so blunt.