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Richard Dawkins' watchmaker still has the power to open our eyes - Comments

Degsy's Avatar Comment 1 by Degsy

I am so glad to see an article like this in the press. There should be more of them in this vein. Whilst The God Delusion is an important book and an always welcome addition to the secular canon, keeping good company with Harris, Hitchens, Dennett et al, it is his beautifully written books embracing the consciousness raising power of evolutionary biology that have impressed me most. I am still astonished at the poise, patience and deliberation given to his arguments and explanations through a myriad of metaphor. Ultimately leaving the reader with a sense of an unravelling in the mind of the skeins and knots that are there ever present when presented with life's complexity, one cannot be humbled, and yet elevated at the same time. Long may he continue to write, and in the most beautiful of ways, blow our heads off.

Fri, 30 Apr 2010 22:43:00 UTC | #464425

Michael Gray's Avatar Comment 2 by Michael Gray

I cannot tell you how many times that I have re-read this very book, not least out of sheer pleasure at its dulcet prose.
At least enough times to justify buying a second copy to replace my original, which had fallen apart due to wear!
(I donated a third copy to a high-school student who was confused about the mechanisms of evolution, to our mutual delight)
Thank you, Richard!

Fri, 30 Apr 2010 22:47:00 UTC | #464426

sara g's Avatar Comment 3 by sara g

That was the first Dawkins book I read. I also have had to buy several copies because I keep giving mine away. That reminds me, I need another. My dad has the last one I got.

Fri, 30 Apr 2010 23:05:00 UTC | #464432

DeepFritz's Avatar Comment 4 by DeepFritz

These books (Unweaving the Rainbow, Ancestors Tale, Blind Watchmaker, etc) shall still continue to be able to hold their own for hundreds if not thousands of years. They use EVIDENCE as an explanatory tool and have a wonderful narrative about them. The sublime content of these books, explaining the how and why of the mother of all cranes (evolution) leads to all of the diversity of the world. It is so simple a concept to understand, it doesn't require huge amounts of mathematical proof. You wonder, how anybody could dare challenge the findings with any hard held certainty.

Fri, 30 Apr 2010 23:22:00 UTC | #464434

Quine's Avatar Comment 5 by Quine

Unfortunately, my father did not live long enough to read TGD, but I did give him a copy of Blind Watchmaker soon after it was available, and it gave him great intellectual comfort for the rest of his life.

Fri, 30 Apr 2010 23:25:00 UTC | #464435

Pythagoras's Avatar Comment 6 by Pythagoras

The Blind Watchmaker is my favourite of Dawkins' books. Beautifully clear and packed full of interesting biological facts.

Fri, 30 Apr 2010 23:39:00 UTC | #464439

InYourFaceNewYorker's Avatar Comment 7 by InYourFaceNewYorker

In addition to being the book that made me an atheist as well as the first Dawkins book I ever read, this is my favorite of his books. It opened up my eyes to the world of evolution. It put me on the road to making me realize that, without evolution, nothing makes sense. It is so important to understanding human psychology and raising our consciousness in how we can strive to overcome the bad things about human psychology (shunning those who are "different," herd mentality, etc.).


Fri, 30 Apr 2010 23:51:00 UTC | #464443

jel's Avatar Comment 8 by jel

I just finished reading this, this week. It's so well written, so easy to follow, I can't see how anyone can read this and still not believe in evolution.

Fri, 30 Apr 2010 23:56:00 UTC | #464444

Styrer-'s Avatar Comment 9 by Styrer-

My favourite book of Dawkins after 'The Selfish Gene' is this very same, and Radford pinpoints its brilliance as others have done before. It is one of the few books that I actually bring down from my bookshelf when in company.

That said, I must say I do not understand why this article is placed under 'latest news'. It's of course not latest news that this is a brilliant book - this is old news and hat together. It's a given.

I look to the 'Featured' part of this site to read endorsements of Dawkins' work, and to the 'Latest News' part for precisely that. There is a danger of making such worthwhile commentary seem unpleasantly self-regarding if not properly placed. If a third tier of 'Latest Dawkins News' were to be introduced, then perhaps this would be clearer for both compiler and reader alike.

Sean Tyrer

Sat, 01 May 2010 02:47:00 UTC | #464456

Enlightenme..'s Avatar Comment 10 by Enlightenme..

I have the edition with the red embossed 'airfix model' cover, got Richard to sign it and my 'Selfish Gene' at Cheltenham science festival, then bought 'Ancestor's tale' and got him to sign that too.

(and put the V's up to the back of Lord Winston's head)

Sat, 01 May 2010 03:13:00 UTC | #464460

Hariseldonsays's Avatar Comment 11 by Hariseldonsays

And currently on sale, in arabic, in virgin books, Doha, Qatar.

The word spreads......

Sat, 01 May 2010 06:22:00 UTC | #464472

Richard Dawkins's Avatar Comment 12 by Richard Dawkins

I am extremely gratified both by Tim Radford's retrospective and by the very kind responses to it on this site. I cannot deny that I am proud of The Blind Watchmaker. The book that is most directly comparable to it is Climbing Mount Improbable, and I can't help admitting that I like CMI even better. I'm tempted to say, "If you like that you'll really like this!" Perhaps I might be very presumptuous and add, "Please read both."


Sat, 01 May 2010 07:25:00 UTC | #464481

Sulla's Avatar Comment 13 by Sulla

Wow impressive review. I look forward to reading this book.

Sat, 01 May 2010 07:40:00 UTC | #464483

Ian Edmond's Avatar Comment 14 by Ian Edmond

I think my enjoyment of The Blind Watchmaker suffered from reading it after Richard's other books. There's no doubting that it is a fine book, but I did feel that I'd read the arguments already, and I agree that Climbing Mount Improbable is superior (it is my favourite of Richard's books). But this is my loss, bought about by reading non-chronologically - I have yet to see an opinion from anyone who read it on publication that was anything other than glowing.

Sat, 01 May 2010 07:47:00 UTC | #464485

jel's Avatar Comment 15 by jel

12. Comment #485265 by Richard Dawkins on May 1, 2010 at 8:25 am
The book that is most directly comparable to it is Climbing Mount Improbable, and I can't help admitting that I like CMI even better. I'm tempted to say, "If you like that you'll really like this!" Perhaps I might be very presumptuous and add, "Please read both."


I'm going to! Give us a chance please! -lol-

Sat, 01 May 2010 08:10:00 UTC | #464487

SaganTheCat's Avatar Comment 16 by SaganTheCat

i confess i have much reading to do, all of Richard's books are on my wishlist and it's hard to know which to read next. i'll take your advice Richard and go for CMI next. the selfish gene is possibly the book that's done most for my view of nature so far and after reading this review i was tempted.

any other suggestions as to what to read next? so far i've only read TSG, TGD and TGSOE [edit, sorry and UTR, that was lovely]. had loads of other preasents to catch up on but i'm nearly done now (just got to finish "do ants have aresholes?" bloody brilliant!)

Sat, 01 May 2010 08:12:00 UTC | #464488

NewEnglandBob's Avatar Comment 17 by NewEnglandBob

I also, just recently re-read The Blind Watchmaker. There is much to delight in and it gets me thinking about evolutionary processes.

I decided that The Ancestor's Tale is next to re-read. I enjoyed that so much the first time, I read it in only a few days. This time, I will enjoy it at a slower pace.

Sat, 01 May 2010 09:31:00 UTC | #464497

RichardofYork's Avatar Comment 18 by RichardofYork

In regards to Mount Improbable ; to the layman doesnt the mount suggest teleology , rather than the organism leaving a mount of improvement by mutation and natural selection behind it?

Sat, 01 May 2010 10:05:00 UTC | #464505

stephenray's Avatar Comment 19 by stephenray

The extended phenotype for me.

Sat, 01 May 2010 10:17:00 UTC | #464507

JackR's Avatar Comment 20 by JackR

Still probably my favourite RD book (and we're a bit spoilt for choice, to say the least). TBW made a huge impression on me when I first read it and I spent many years passing on copies to people who seemed to be failing to grasp the basic concepts underlying how evolution happens.

Sat, 01 May 2010 10:36:00 UTC | #464510

The Plc's Avatar Comment 21 by The Plc

This sure beats a fatuous and dishonest article from Melanie Bunting anyday! The Blind Watchmaker is wonderful book, full of stirring lyricism, arresting science and charming wit.

Sat, 01 May 2010 11:02:00 UTC | #464512

VanYoungman's Avatar Comment 22 by VanYoungman

I don't know how many times I have to reiterate this but for the umpteenth time and what was the signature on my avatar on the forum, "I shall not rest until Richard Dawkins has been awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature for his entire body of work."

The Blind Watchmaker is one masterpiece among many.

Keep writing Dr. Dawkins.

Sat, 01 May 2010 11:16:00 UTC | #464517

Saganic Rites's Avatar Comment 23 by Saganic Rites

To RichardofYork, comment #18;
I am a layman, in that I have no scientific training (apart from at comprehensive school to age 16), and what I have since learned I have learned from books and publications. However, one of the first things that struck me about the 'Mount Improbable' metaphor was that, in a very real sense, evolution had to have 'built' the mountain as it climbed, because to imagine that it ascended an existing mountain is akin to believing that;
a) there was a goal or end-result in sight all along;
b) there was a 'conscious or otherwise intelligence-led decision to reach that goal, and;
c) That were the 'mountain' already fully pre-formed, then once evolution reached the peak it would have to either stop there, retrace its steps or leap off the steep precipice on the opposite side.
This is obviously be the exact opposite of how evolution works and continues to work.
Are you sure that you're not confusing laymen such as me who do understand the mechanism of evolution as-is, with the religoons who only (grudgingly) accept evolution if they can assign to it a heavenly purpose?

Sat, 01 May 2010 11:36:00 UTC | #464521

Michael Gray's Avatar Comment 24 by Michael Gray

Post Scriptum: I have checked my library and am unable to locate my current copy of TBW. Damn! Now I remember donating it to another evolutionary 'blithe spirit', (sorry Richard, not a Bertie Wooster character), in a rather triumphant endeavour by which to switch her loco-motives from her woo-tracks on to the lines of evidence.
I do believe, that come Monday morn, I shall toodle off to my local tome-purveyor, and order another copy, forthwith! Perhaps two, to be on the safe side.
For I have discovered "The Blind Watchmaker" to be a sovereign anodyne remedy against the agues of backward superstitious thought, in especial measure.
For so much as Poor Richard's altricial palliative, (offered in the essence of Mount Improbable), is effective upon those more educated, TBM remains my primary means of first aid to those who are quite naïve of the very concept of selection when combined with Malthus' scythe.

Once again, Sir Richard, I thank thee.

Sat, 01 May 2010 11:52:00 UTC | #464522

seals's Avatar Comment 25 by seals

Another coincidence, I just started reading TBW a couple of weeks ago - it takes me a long time to read a book. But hey, you can only read a book once for the first time, though there is that blurred recording of the eponymous Horizon programme. I still have to read The Ancestors Tale, and I'm saving The Extended Phenotype till last as I anticipate some problems with that one. I found the kaleidoscopic embryology of arthromorphs in CMI was hard going.

"In the course of this very substantial and always meticulously sustained argument, Dawkins writes things that one feels he might not choose to write now, on punctuated equilibrium, cladism and other clashes of heresy and orthodoxy, doctrine and ritual within the broad church of evolutionary argument... " - What things might they be I wonder?

Sat, 01 May 2010 12:07:00 UTC | #464526

Steve Zara's Avatar Comment 26 by Steve Zara


I am uneasy with the "Mount" metaphor because it may suggest to the lay-person that there is some kind of problem that has to be solved with evolution. But, mutation combined with natural selection means that there is perhaps really no problem. In a sense, natural selection erodes away the mountain, so it's actually, I think, Mount Seemingly Improbable :) That's my view, but then I am an awkward chap.

Sat, 01 May 2010 12:17:00 UTC | #464529

Michael Gray's Avatar Comment 27 by Michael Gray

I wonder, considering the unusual number of comments regarding those who have chosen to buy and donate copies of TBW to benighted colleagues: what is the Richard Dawkins' publication that is most popular as a gift intended as a kind of didactic paper prostitute?
I vote, number 1: "The Blind Watchmaker"

Sat, 01 May 2010 12:43:00 UTC | #464536

SaintStephen's Avatar Comment 28 by SaintStephen

In the Norton paperback edition of Richard's masterpiece, (my favorite of his books, with The Ancestor's Tale a close second, and The Blind Watchmaker in third place), at the top of Page 8 in Figure 1.3c is an absolutely mind-jarring illustration of a termite-mimicking beetle that will stay forever etched in my mind. I will remember the moment always, because it demonstrated to me beyond a shadow of a doubt that I was living on a world I didn't really know anything about. An alien world, in which humans were only one more evolved feature.

The strange feeling of incapacitated awe that it inspired in me over a year ago, as I sat there at Harry's Hofbrau with a forkful of mashed potatoes dropping from my open mouth, was something I'd never felt before. I realized the master had taken off his gloves, and had decided to gain my undivided attention with perhaps the single most interesting fact that I'd ever read -- about anything. "The answer can be seen in Figure 1.3c, which is one of the most astonishing spectacles in all natural history," says Professor Dawkins, "And now that I have you, let's climb this mountain together." (My words.)

IMO Climbing Mount Improbable is easily the most "beautiful" of Richard's works. The illustrations succeed wildly, in embellishing the always brilliant writing.

Truly magnificent. I hope my nephews Daniel and Michael both read it, and can enjoy it as much as I did. I sincerely hope it changes them as people.

Sat, 01 May 2010 12:44:00 UTC | #464537

RichardofYork's Avatar Comment 29 by RichardofYork

BryanFisher . Maybe I am confusing the layman with the magical minded but there are an awful lot of them about , not particularlay religious but certainly people who would like some "other" thing to have a role in shaping existence . I'm certainly glad there are layman who do understand that evolution is retrospective .I have to say most of the people I meet think humanity is the final stage of evolution , that was why I asked about the metaphorical mount . Thanks for your reply

Sat, 01 May 2010 12:55:00 UTC | #464543

RichardofYork's Avatar Comment 30 by RichardofYork

Its certainly problematic defining evolution so all understand it correctly . Richards combination lock metaphor was good , and as I think Steve Zara alludes to , its like a problem and a test to be passed rather than a result of random mutation fitting a certain niche or gap in the environment. Starting to confuse myself a little there , but what a great subject to discuss definitely my favourite .Daniel Dennett also gave a good analogy in Darwins Dangerous Idea , that of fitness ,as in fitting a shape for the gene or organism to drop into rather than it trying to bend itself into the shape and carving itself a niche

Sat, 01 May 2010 13:01:00 UTC | #464550