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Richard Dawkins What if you are Wrong?

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So powerful is the illusion of design, it took humanity until the mid-19th century to realize that it is an illusion. In 1859, Charles Darwin announced one of the greatest ideas ever to occur to a human mind: cumulative evolution by natural selection. Living complexity is indeed orders of magnitude too improbable to have come about by chance. But only if we assume that all the luck has to come in one fell swoop. When cascades of small chance steps accumulate, you can reach prodigious heights of adaptive complexity. That cumulative build-up is evolution. Its guiding force is natural selection.’


I read the following to my wife and she laughed out loud:


“So powerful is the illusion of design, it took humanity until the mid-19th century to realize that it is an illusion.”


It is difficult not to admire an opinion expressed with such certainty that it risks alienating even those who might otherwise agree with him.


The philosopher William Paley who died over fifty years before Darwin published his Origin of Species used a now very famous argument. It was an obvious threat to Darwin’s theory of evolution. He had argued that if you were to find a watch on the ground you would assume it had been created by a watchmaker. The inference being: watch / watch maker // universe / universe maker. Paley was saying that just as the function and complexity of a watch implies a watch-maker, so likewise the function and complexity of nature and the universe implies the existence of a nature and universe-maker. This argument also covers the extreme complexity found in all biological systems. It assumes that a complex unit, whether a watch or DNA, demands the existence of a watchmaker or in the case of DNA, an intelligent designer.


Richard Dawkins regards this as a weak argument. He hates and ridicules the idea of intelligent purposeful design. In one of his books he suggested that evolution via mutation and natural selection is the equivalent of a “blind watchmaker” working mindlessly without any thought or purpose.


Dawkins has famously stated:


"Design is as bad an explanation as chance because it raises bigger questions than it answers.”


You may well ask, what on earth does that mean? It means that a designer of a creation such as our universe is not only beyond comprehension to an atheist like Dawkins; a designer is also an offence to his entire world-view. His refusal to even contemplate a role for a designer is bizarre in the face of what we routinely assume is the case for all utilitarian objects: like his tin opener. He knows that it is designed and he does not seek any other explanation. And yet he studies a watch (code word for a biological system) and sees not the product of design, but something put together by a blind, mindless and purposeless agent. It would be an interesting exercise to give him this watch and follow the consequences to their logical conclusion. If we agree that there is a statistical chance that a watch (or biological system like DNA) was actually created by mutations and natural selection over millions of years, then we must also agree that millions of watches could be made by a designed process over just a few days. Which is the more reasonable deduction; design or a blind mindless process? And statistically which of the two methods raises the bigger questions?


IN THE BEGINNING: A WATCH WITHOUT A MAKER!


Below is a summary of Darwinian evolution by Richard Dawkins from an article:Big Ideas: Evolution, published in New Scientist. You will not get a better glimpse inside the surreal workings of his mind than his description of how the world is divided between the designed and the un-designed. what follows:


‘The world is divided into things that look designed (like birds and airliners) and things that don't (rocks and mountains). Things that look designed are divided into those that really are designed (submarines and tin openers) and those that aren't (sharks and hedgehogs). The diagnostic of things that look (or are) designed is that their parts are assembled in ways that are statistically improbable in a functional direction. They do something well: for instance, fly. Darwinian natural selection can produce an uncanny illusion of design. An engineer would be hard put to decide whether a bird or a plane was the more aerodynamically elegant.




The Watchmaker


The essence of William Paley’s argument in favour of design, formed in the eighteenth century, was that the intricate and complex interacting machinery of a watch implies the existence of a designer: a watchmaker.


Dawkins writes:


"Paley's argument is made with passionate sincerity and is informed by the best biological scholarship of the day, but it is wrong, gloriously and utterly wrong. The analogy between telescope and eye, between watch and living organism, is false. All appearances to the contrary, the only watchmaker in nature is the blind force of physics, albeit deployed in a 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, and no sight at all. If it can be said to play the role of watchmaker in nature, it is the blind watchmaker."


The Blind Watchmaker (1986)


An assured statement, like the one stated above, if made in a court of law may look less assured under cross examination. A watch, which is a small timepiece, and the cell both share functions that are clearly mechanical and machine-like. A device like a switch on your wall has a mechanical function: turning your reading light on and off. We now live in an age when it is almost orthodox to describe the inner workings of cellular units as molecular machines. In fact it is known that biological switches are responsible for vital time-keeping functions within the cell.


Cells come in great variety of types: skin cells, brain cells, blood cells, bone cells and so on. The question is how do cells know which cell is required and in what quantities, and when to begin production and when to cease production?  How do cells know whether to make a blood vessel or an eye? The answer is in the complex systems of genetic switches. There are within the cell Master genes which turn other genes on and off. This ensures that the correct proteins are made at the right time and are directed towards the right parts of the cell. That process has so many obvious analogues in modern human life that it would be tedious to name them all.

Nevertheless to the average human this kind of activity would constitute an engineering problem of excruciating complexity.  


If all this had been known in Paley’s time then maybe the philosopher David Hume would have found it much more difficult to ridicule the design argument. Dawkins should actually know better, but he prefers to keep these mechanical and computational molecular solutions under the counter and out of sight. He maintains that there is no ‘analogy between telescope and eye, between watch and living organism.’


This is a strange comment since any differences between living and artificially created systems have been closed by modern research? In fact science is learning from nature with regard to a myriad of technical problems. This new science is known as Bio-mimicry. The analogies are there for all to see. The expression molecular machine is ubiquitous throughout scientific literature. It is found everywhere, and every time it occurs it stands as a reproach to any biologist agreeing with Dawkins.