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The Blind Watchmaker: Why the Evidence of…

The Blind Watchmaker: Why the Evidence of Evolution Reveals a Universe… (1986)

by Richard Dawkins

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I agree with the blurb on the back of this book, from The Good Book Guide: "This might be the most important book on evolution since Darwin". ( )
1 vote hcubic | Aug 2, 2015 |
Dawkins levererar som vanligt med bred insikt inom hela biologins och ger förhållandevis klara argument för att icke-kreationism, likväl som allmän förklaring av neo-darwinismens ibland lätt missförstådda delar. Rekommenderas! ( )
  zojjz | Sep 29, 2014 |
After reading The Selfish Gene, God Delusion and The Blind Watchmaker, I think it's safe to say 'You can read just about any book written by Richard Dawkins'. ( )
  nmarun | Mar 11, 2014 |
Great: if you find evolution difficult to understand, this is the book to read.
  AMcBurnie | Nov 27, 2013 |
Preparatory to Bateson's Steps to an Ecology of Mind, my summary under three headings for aspects useful in understanding Batesonian cybernetics.

Evolution a process
(a) characterised by random mutation and/or replication of genes [individual]
(b) followed by cumulative selection of individuals based on interaction with environment [individual & population]
(c) effecting incremental changes over time [individual & population]
(d) and resulting in complex natural phenomena suited to survival / self-replication, bearing the illusion of design.

Dawkins defines life as adaptive complexity (the eye his typical referent); omits all reference to sentience, consciousness, homeostasis, purposefulness. "Living organisms exist for the benefit of DNA rather than the other way around" -- notes genes are effectually permanent while bodies exist but a generation. [126] "[T]he long-lived gene as an evolutionary unit is not any particular physical structure but the textual archival information that is copied down the generations. This textual replicator has a distributed existence. It is widely distributed in space among different individuals, and widely distributed in time across generations." [170]

Evolution the sole extant theory capable in principle of accounting for origin of life from non-living beginnings; validity wholly independent of deities or design. [288] Dawkins here unconcerned with the evidence supporting the theory, though instances are mentioned to illustrate points throughout. His aim is to clarify the theory and dismantle straw men arguments, such as that evolution creates complexity by "random chance", or random means anything can happen, or mutation responsible for adaptations in a single-step process, or that evolution is teleological.

Elements of Evolutionary Process
● Reproduction doubly-determined by (a) replication (copying genetic code, with or without mutation, into a new cell and destined for a new body), and (b) development or embryology (epigenesis: reading out genetic instructions to form a mature body)
● Survival defined as an organism's body preserving itself over time, and reproducing, with no comment whatsoever on what (else) may occur in that time. "Survival of the fittest" applies specifically to fitness to defend a body's physical integrity. An individual could endure a lifetime of despair, hunger, pain, fear -- and still be deemed "fit" or to have "succeeded" in life so long as progeny result. Conversely, an individual may have adapted beautifully to environment, having enjoyed a pleasant and productive lifetime but without progeny, and so considered "fit" or to have "succeeded" but not to have "survived". It is the genetic code which survives, not the bodily engine replicating that code.
● Adaptation is one of two things: (a) organism displays improved capacity for self-replication; (b) organism has greater chance for living longer, thereby indirectly improving capacity for self-replication. Presumably some adaptations would be undesirable for sentient individuals, at least in principle: do not confuse this definition of adaptation with better (i.e. an organism living a better life, however defined) though the overlap is great.
● Implies bodily attributes directly affect an organism's survival; and those bodily attributes are defined by genes (whether replicated or mutated). Put another way: progeny must resemble parents more than others in species, and selection must sort on that physical resemblance. Accounts for marginal improvement even of piecemeal evolution: the "pieces" of an eyeball are useful even before the full eye is developed, justifying the process of cumulative selection.
● Cumulative selection involves both selection (filtering in favour of specific features) and a cumulative effect (involving geometric progression as a feature becomes more widely distributed through a population over time as their competition is filtered out, and/or because certain genes replicate faster than others and account for a greater share of the gene pool in a population)
● Sufficient time for the necessary changes to occur: Dawkins posits thousands of millions of generations to human ancestry.
● Evolution may be "additive" and not merely "subtractive", noting that mutation, co-adapted genotypes, and arms races (in which genes / species co-evolve, being crucial aspects of one another's environments contributing to the selection process) all contribute to novel developments in evolutionary process, doing more than merely winnowing down from a given set of options.

● Dawkins claims cumulative selection favours continuous variables over discrete variables; also notes that digital / coded information is likely requisite. Interestingly, there also appears requisite a digital / analogue bridge in order to translate the digital archive into a physical form, which Dawkins describes as centred in the shape of proteins used to encode digital information.
● Simple action of a sieve / analogy with genes and proteins (physical shape determines interactions with environment determines output or pattern). Dawkins notes the human brain isn't wired to readily estimate evolutionary time scales nor the likely effects over that many generations. Notes we've evolved imaginations / sense of plausibility fit to our embodied existence, with human scale in the middle of our range of size estimates, and lifespan the midpoint of our time estimates. Outside of that we should rely on calculation not subjective judgment. [160-62]
● Sexual reproduction speeds evolution compared to asexual reproduction.
● Species vs Individual (characteristics, survival, adaptation); crucial dynamic is that evolution manifests at both levels, though strictly speaking only individuals are affected by genes.
● Dawkins postulates life originated just once on the planet, or at least there was one origin linked to all extant living beings today. (Progeny of other origins may have gone extinct.) [258] If true, gaps in the fossil record are requisite to identifying species, for elsewise every creature could be put on a spectrum rather than in discrete buckets. It's possible life originated more than once, so not all living things are related; but very unlikely given carbon-based life we've found. Silicon-basis is also possible based upon similarities between carbon and silicon; we've not found it. (I thought plant life was nitrogen-based: a branch from carbon-based roots?)
● Dawkins does not address the dynamics introduced by dominant / recessive genes; but touches on the vital step-process of DNA / RNA.
● Lamarckism combines (a) use / disuse principle with (b) inheritance of acquired characteristics, with (a) proven and (b) can never be proven false, can only be refuted by lack of observation of a positive instance. Yet, genes do not provide a blueprint of a mature body, rather a recipe for building a body as defined at birth, and genes are not read-write but read-only, so no capacity for capturing the newly acquired traits into the recipe. [296-98]
● Outlines four basic taxonomies relevant to biological evolution: phyleticists (cladists & traditional) and 'Pure Resemblance Measurers' (pheneticists & transformed cladists). Evolutionary tree the only true cladistic taxonomy with "zero" overlaps or "miscellanous" entries to exhaustively catalogue all possible entries, because branches in evolutionary biology always diverge, and never merge.
● Reminiscent of Bateson: Dawkins invokes St Matthews Gospel in his account of runaway feedback. "Unto those ..."
● Interestingly, William Bateson (Gregory's father) was an avowed mutationist.
● Dawkins originated the concept of meme in The Selfish Gene


Further reading ...

Dawkins, The Extended Phenotype
RA Fischer and neo-Darwinism e.g. Red Queen Phenomenon (?)
Egbert Leigh e.g. altruism & Green Beard Effect
Russell Lande and the phenomenon of carrying a physical feature (e.g. peacock plumage) and the preference for it (peahen attraction to said plumage) on the same gene, effect of which is to reinforce the dis/advantage of a feature ( )
2 vote elenchus | Aug 5, 2013 |
Showing 1-5 of 39 (next | show all)
Almost everything about this book – the instances, the writing, the passion, the lyrical imagery – confirms again and again that there is nothing dry about science, nothing heartless about research, and nothing unfeeling about the way a biologist looks at an animal.

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We animals are the most complicated things in the known Universe.
The Argument from Personal Incredulity is an extremely weak argument, as Darwin himself noted. [...]

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I personally, off the top of my head sitting in my study, never having visited the Arctic, never having seen a polar bear in the wild, and having been educated in classical literature and theology, have not so far managed to think of a reason why polar bears might benefit from being white. (p.38)
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random mutation
and natural selection
slowly change species

Amazon.com Amazon.com Review (ISBN 0393315703, Paperback)

Richard Dawkins is not a shy man. Edward Larson's research shows that most scientists today are not formally religious, but Dawkins is an in-your-face atheist in the witty British style:

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.

The title of this 1986 work, Dawkins's second book, refers to the Rev. William Paley's 1802 work, Natural Theology, which argued that just as finding a watch would lead you to conclude that a watchmaker must exist, the complexity of living organisms proves that a Creator exists. Not so, says Dawkins: "All appearances to the contrary, the only watchmaker in nature is the blind forces of physics, albeit deployed in a very special way... it is the blind watchmaker."

Dawkins is a hard-core scientist: he doesn't just tell you what is so, he shows you how to find out for yourself. For this book, he wrote Biomorph, one of the first artificial life programs. You can check Dawkins's results on your own Mac or PC.

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:12:48 -0400)

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The watchmaker belongs to the eighteenth-century theologian William Paley, who made one of the most famous creationist arguments: Just as a watch is too complicated and too functional to have sprung into existence by accident, so too must all living things, with their far greater complexity, be purposefully designed. It was Charles Darwin's brilliant discovery that put the lie to these arguments. But only Richard Dawkins could have written this eloquent riposte to the creationists. Natural selection - the unconscious, automatic, blind, yet essentially nonrandom process that Darwin discovered - has no purpose in mind. If it can be said to play the role of watchmaker in nature, it is the blind watchmaker. Acclaimed as perhaps the most influential work on evolution written in this century, The Blind Watchmaker offers an engaging and accessible introduction to one of the most important scientific discoveries of all time.… (more)

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