he theory o f natural selection provides a mechanistic, causal account of how living things came to look as if they had been designed for a purpose. So overwhelming is the appearance of purposeful design that, even in this Darwinian era when we know "better," we still find it difficult, indeed boringly pedantic, to refrain from teleological language when discussing adaptation. Birds' wings are obviously "for" flying, spider webs are for catching insects, chlorophyll molecules are for photosynthesis, DNA molecules are (...) for. . . What are DNA molecules for? The question takes us aback. In my case it touches off an almost audible alarm siren in the mind. If we accept the view of life that I wish to espouse, it is the forbidden question. DNA is not "for" anything. If we wish to speak teleologically, all adaptations are for the preservation of DNA; DNA itself just is. Following Williams (1966), I have advocated this view at length (Dawkins 1976, 1978), and I do not want to repeat myself here. Instead I shall try to clear up an important misunderstanding of the view, a misunderstanding that has constituted an unnecessary barrier to its acceptance. (shrink)
n the pioneering days of radio, my grandfather's job was to lecture to young engineers who were joining Marconi's company. To illustrate that any complex wave form can be broken down into summed simple waves of different frequencies (important in both radio and acoustics), he took wheels of different diameters and attached them with pistons to a clothesline. When the wheels went round, the clothesline was jerked up and down, causing waves of movement to snake along it. The wriggling clothesline (...) was a model of a radio wave, giving the students a more vivid picture of wave summation than mathematical equations could ever have done. (shrink)
By the time Darwin finally got around to throwing that light with the publication of The Descent of Man in 1871, others had been there Links before him and the greater part of his book is not about humans but about Darwin's "other" theory, sexual selection. It might have..
about groups as vehicles, and we could easily agree to differ on the answer. But why, having talked so much sense, do they spoil it all at the bottom line by pretending that their kind of group as vehicle selection has any illuminating similarity with the kind of group selection..
''Do you realize,'' said Don, ''that nearly half the people in the United States don't believe in evolution?'' This sentence epitomizes both Features the provocation for and the odd provenance of the book under review. To take the latter first, ''Blueprints'' purports to be the joint work..
Every day I get letters, in capitals and obsessively underlined if not actually in green ink, from flat-earthers, young-earthers, Dawkins perpetual-motion merchants, astrologers and other harmless fruitcakes. The only difference here is that Richard Milton..
hydrogen bomb. As George Steiner noted in the previous lecture, more scientists are working today than in all other centuries combined. Though also – to put that figure into alarming perspective – more people are alive today than have died since the dawn of Homo sapiens.
There are modern scientists whose words sound religious but whose beliefs, on close examination, turn out to be identical to those of other scientists who call themselves atheists. Ursula Goodenough's lyrical book, The Sacred Depths of Nature, is sold as a religious book, is endorsed by theologians on the back cover, and its chapters are liberally laced with prayers and devotional meditations.
Imams and ayatollahs oppress women in his name. Celibate popes and priests mess up people's sex lives in his name. Jewish shohets cut live animals' throats in his name. The achievements of religion in past history - bloody crusades, torturing inquisitions, mass-murdering..
Whenever humans have a good idea, zoologists have grown accustomed to finding it anticipated in the animal kingdom.. Why not the wheel? Bats and dolphins perfected sophisticated echo-ranging systems millions of years before human engineers gave us sonar and..
hereditary principle for membership of Parliament, you seem hell-bent on promoting the hereditary principle for the transmission of beliefs and opinions. For that is precisely what religions are: hereditary beliefs and opinions. To quote the headline of a fine article in the.
Magic takes many forms. Supernatural magic is what our ancestors used in order to explain the world before they developed the scientific method. The ancient Egyptians explained the night by suggesting the goddess Nut swallowed the sun. The Vikings believed a rainbow was the gods’ bridge to earth. The Japanese used to explain earthquakes by conjuring a gigantic catfish that carried the world on its back—earthquakes occurred each time it flipped its tail. These are magical, extraordinary tales. But there is (...) another kind of magic, and it lies in the exhilaration of discovering the real answers to these questions. It is the magic of reality—science. Packed with clever thought experiments, dazzling illustrations and jaw-dropping facts, The Magic of Reality explains a stunningly wide range of natural phenomena. What is stuff made of? How old is the universe? Why do the continents look like disconnected pieces of a puzzle? What causes tsunamis? Why are there so many kinds of plants and animals? Who was the first man, or woman? This is a page-turning, graphic detective story that not only mines all the sciences for its clues but primes the reader to think like a scientist as well. Richard Dawkins, the world’s most famous evolutionary biologist and one of science education’s most passionate advocates, has spent his career elucidating the wonders of science for adult readers. But now, in a dramatic departure, he has teamed up with acclaimed artist Dave McKean and used his unrivaled explanatory powers to share the magic of science with readers of all ages. This is a treasure trove for anyone who has ever wondered how the world works. Dawkins and McKean have created an illustrated guide to the secrets of our world—and the universe beyond—that will entertain and inform for years to come. (shrink)
The renowned biologist and thinker Richard Dawkins presents his most expansive work yet: a comprehensive look at evolution, ranging from the latest developments in the field to his own provocative views. Loosely based on the form of Chaucer's Canterbury Tales, Dawkins's Tale takes us modern humans back through four billion years of life on our planet. As the pilgrimage progresses, we join with other organisms at the forty "rendezvous points" where we find a common ancestor. The band of pilgrims swells (...) into a vast crowd as we join first with other primates, then with other mammals, and so on back to the first primordial organism. Dawkins's brilliant, inventive approach allows us to view the connections between ourselves and all other life in a bracingly novel way. It also lets him shed bright new light on the most compelling aspects of evolutionary history and theory: sexual selection, speciation, convergent evolution, extinction, genetics, plate tectonics, geographical dispersal, and more. The Ancestor's Tale is at once a far-reaching survey of the latest, best thinking on biology and a fascinating history of life on Earth. Here Dawkins shows us how remarkable we are, how astonishing our history, and how intimate our relationship with the rest of the living world. (shrink)
Did Newton "unweave the rainbow" by reducing it to its prismatic colors, as Keats contended? Did he, in other words, diminish beauty? Far from it, says Dawkins--Newton's unweaving is the key too much of modern astronomy and to the breathtaking poetry of modern cosmology. Mysteries don't lose their poetry because they are solved: the solution often is more beautiful than the puzzle, uncovering deeper mystery. (The Keats who spoke of "unweaving the rainbow" was a very young man, Dawkins reminds us.) (...) With the wit, insight, and spellbinding prose that have made his books worldwide bestsellers, Dawkins addresses the most important and compelling topics in modern science, from astronomy and genetics to language and virtual reality, and combines them in a landmark statement of the human appetite for wonder. This is the book that Richard Dawkins was meant to write: a brilliant assessment of what science is (and what it isn't), a tribute to science "not because it is useful (though it is), but but because it is uplifting, in the same way as the best poetry is uplifting.". (shrink)
This pleasantly written book has two related themes. The first is a statistical argument which Gould believes has great generality, uniting baseball, a moving personal response to the serious illness from which, thankfully, the author has now recovered, and his second theme: that of whether evolution is progressive.
You appeal for money to save the gorillas. Very laudable, no doubt. But it doesn't seem to have occurred to you that there are thousands of human children suffering on the very same continent of Africa. There'll be time enough to worry about gorillas when we've taken care of every last one of the kiddies. Let's get our priorities right, please!
I have been taken aback by the inexplicable hostility of Mary MidgleyÂ’s assault. Some colleagues have advised me that such transparent spite is best ignored, but others warn that the venomous tone of her article may conceal the errors in its content. Indeed, we are in danger of assuming that nobody would dare to be so rude without taking the elementary precaution of being right in what she said. We may even bend over backwards to concede some of her points, (...) simply in order to appear fair-minded when we deplore the way she made them. I deplore bad manners as strongly as anyone, but more importantly I shall show that Midgley has no good point to make. She seems not to understand biology or the way biologists use language. No doubt my ignorance would be just as obvious if I rushed headlong into her field of expertise, but I would then adopt a more diffident tone. As it is we are both in my corner, and it is hard for me not to regard the gloves as off. I will try to make my reply constructive, in the hope that it may interest those who have not read MidgleyÂ’s article, as well as those who have. Unattributed quotations with page numbers will all be taken from her article. Since it was my book, The Selfish Gene (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1976), which stimulated her attack, it will also be necessary for me to quote from it. I shall divide my reply into eight sections. (shrink)
To most people through history it has always seemed obvious that the teeming diversity of life, the uncanny perfection with which living organisms are equipped to survive and multiply, and the bewildering complexity of living machinery, can only have come about through divine creation. Yet repeatedly it has occurred to isolated thinkers that there might be an alternative to supernatural creation.