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, I have advocated this view at length, 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)
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)
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)
Essays on morality, mortality, and much more from the New York Times–bestselling author of The Selfish Gene and The God Delusion. This early collection of essays from renowned evolutionary biologist Richard Dawkins is an enthusiastic declaration, a testament to the power of rigorous scientific examination to reveal the wonders of the world. In these essays, Dawkins revisits the meme, the unit of cultural information that he named and wrote about in his groundbreaking work, The Selfish Gene. Here also are moving (...) tributes to friends and colleagues, including a eulogy for novelist Douglas Adams, author of The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy; correspondence with fellow biologist Stephen Jay Gould; commentary on the events of 9/11; and visits with the famed paleoanthropologists Richard and Meave Leakey at their African wildlife preserve. Ending with a vivid note to Dawkins’s ten-year-old daughter, reminding her to remain curious, ask questions, and live the examined life, A Devil’s Chaplain is a fascinating read by “a man of firm opinions, which he expresses with clarity and punch” (Scientific American). (shrink)
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!
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.
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)
In this review of Richard Swinburne's Is There a God? , Richard Dawkins admires Swinburne's clarity but is unconvinced by his arguments. Dawkins questions, in particular, Swinburne's suggestion that the hypothesis that God exists and sustains his creation is simpler than the hypothesis that there is no God.
''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..