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The Blind Watchmaker (Cover Bild kann abweichen)
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am 27. September 2011
The blind Watchmaker is first and foremost an explanation of Darwinian Evolution. As usual the most important theme of the book is that natural selection is not chance and it also explains the difference to Lamarckism and other evolution theories and why they do not offer a viable alternative. That part is ok, but it is a bit long winded to be a really good read. In my mind it explains in too much detail why some alternatives are not alternatives. Some of them a single paragraph would have been enough and he starts to repeat himself a lot. So it is ok, but definitely not one of his best.

If you want to know about Darwinian Evolution in more detail you should try the Selfish Gene, its his first one and much better. On the other hand if you want to know exactly why and on how many levels Creationism is a load of crap (don't be offended) and have a good laugh you should read The God Delusion.
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am 27. November 2006
Next to The Selfish Gene, this is probably Dawkins' most impressive and worthwhile book. Darwin's idea of evolution by natural selection remains under fire from those determined to find a ghost responsible for human beings and the rest of life. Dawkins answers the obstructionists with clear logic and good science. He directly addresses the big compound question of who we are and whence we came. It's a daunting task, not only because of the tenacity of resistance to the answer. Dawkins asks readers to open their minds to envision vast stretches of time and conceive of the collection of minute changes that must have occurred to arrive here from such remote beginnings. His writing ability gently leads readers along the many steps necessary to come to an understanding of how life works.

His choice of Paley's 1802 publication "Natural Theology" to outline the roots of obstructionist attitudes is excellent. Although he wasn't challenging Darwin [who wasn't born yet!], Paley's logic and arguments are still used by those who resist being toppled from their divine pedestal. Dawkins begins his presentation by explaining "the watchmaker" is nature's blind forces of physics acting in an environment that could give rise to life. He spends time addressing the issue of complexity, its meaning and its application to the forces of life in contrast to inert matter such as rock.

Dawkins follows this analysis with examples of "design" [or lack of it] in nature compared with design by humans. From bats through bears to Boeings, Dawkins lucidly explains the differences between nature's "decisions" and those of engineers. Evolution, no matter how illogical it seems to the human witness, doesn't foresee the result of changes. Our brief existence demands answers within our lifetimes. Dawkins posits that we need patience, that nature works too slowly [with some exceptions - see Jonathan Weiner's The Beak of the Finch for an update] to provide quick, simple answers to how life works.

His chapter Accumulating Small Change addresses the issue of change in a novel fashion. It also counters the frequently raised challenge that "statistically, life can't evolve through random change". Here, Dawkins introduces a computer program which takes us through the evolutionary process in accelerated steps. He shows that while life is constantly changing, these changes occur within certain constraints. "Randomness" is hemmed in by such limits as weather, antecedents and valid physical structure. Giant pterodactyls and miniature bats appear vastly different to us, but their fundamental structures are nearly identical. Evolution, then, relies on tiny steps of cumulative selection. Little changes tested in life's cauldron. The survivors ultimately become polar bears, flatworms, kangaroos, us.

After a wonderful chapter, "Puncturing punctuationism" demolishing Stephen Gould's iconoclastic attempt to erode Darwin's thesis, Dawkins moves on to examine other, competitive ideas of how evolution operates. Since many of the ideas discussed in "Doomed Rivals" have been utilized by the obstructionists attempting to counter Darwin, this conclusion is one of the most valuable sections of the book. Starting with the premise that no-one conscious of life can deny evolution, he goes on to examine how various thinkers have addressed its mechanism. Lamarck, who understood life changed through time, still inspires adherents. It's an easier system to understand than Darwin's natural selection. Its premise of acquired characteristics remains wrong, however, no matter what new versions of the idea are forwarded. Dawkins carefully examines the ancient and modern proposals on acquired characteristics, respectfully disposing of them as good common sense, but bad science.

This book is vital to those wishing to develop a feeling for understanding our place in the universe. Our society is so imbued with the concept of divine origins that we've found it too easy to override the life around us. Dawkins book realigns humanity with the rest of life on this planet. If we read and understand him, perhaps we'll regain the respect for our surroundings we lost when we first conceived of gods. If we aren't the result of a spirit's whim, then perhaps we can address the future more realistically. Read this book and see for yourself. [stephen a. haines - Ottawa, Canada]
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am 28. Juni 2000
I am frustrated by the arguments in other reviews here that it requires "faith" to rely on natural selection as an explanation for the development of life and ultimately consciousness. This sort of comment belittles scientific thought and tries to collapse it into the same sphere as religious thought.
Dawkins himself has had much to say on the question of whether science is "just another religion," and this "faith" business is just a way of rephrasing the accusation. It muddles Dawkins' point, which is this: if we can reasonably explain the origins of life given the laws we know to exist, such an explanation, even if impossible to definitively prove, is preferable to an explanation that relies on the supernatural, because the latter is (in Dawkin's words) simply rephrasing the problem. I think this is an excellent distinction; to say that, for instance, evolution and Special Creation both require "faith" because neither is 100% proved, is dangerous sophistry of the worst kind. Though neither is absolutely proved, one is a reasonable supposition, and the other is not.
Dawkins' point is to render God tautological -- at least with regard to biological questions (he bows out of cosmological discussions, claiming that is not his area of expertise). Whether Dawkins succeeds completely in his aim in "The Blind Watchmaker" can be debated -- I think he skirts a bit too quickly around some of the questions of probability, particularly the issue of whether, even allowing for accumulation of small change, the frequency of beneficial genetic mutations is sufficient to give natural selection the raw stuff it needs to work with.
"Blind Watchmaker" is a good introduction, both to the theory of evolution in general, and to Dawkins' refreshingly unapologetic, strident manner of writing. But much more reading must be done by anyone who wants to grasp all the issues encompassed by evolution.
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am 13. Juli 2000
It's pretty obvious that a fair few people criticising this book have not read it - and have no intention to. Or if they have attempted to read it they simply haven't grasped the most basic concepts. General assumptions that a pro-evolution stance is just an "opinion", or that evolution is "just a theory" (a complete misunderstanding of the meaning of the word in a scientific context), or statements like "given enough time, dirt can turn into people." show that clearly. One person even takes one of the central aims of the book - where Dawkins takes Paley's watchmaker analogy and attempts to show how a complex object like an eye could evolve by selection - and berates Dawkins because because he apparently doesn't grasp the fact that because a watch or computer has a designer, that life must have a designer as well! Awe-inspiring. If I remember he also accuses Dawkins of circular reasoning!
The whole case of the book is that this "it's all chance" thing is precisely the opposite of what Darwin and Wallace said. As Dawkins writes in the prologue "The trouble with evolution is that everyone *thinks* they understand it". If one thing should be taken from this book, it is the realisation that Natural Selection is *anything* but chance.
I used to think I understood evolution. I did Biology as an elective at university but I didn't really begin to understand the subtleties and elegance of the theory until I first read this book 10 years ago. It's genuinely one of the milestone books of my life - and not because I already had an opinion before I read it - unlike the creationists.
To paraphrase Dawkins in this book: If I don't understand Quantum Mechanics or Relativity the last thing I should reasonably expect to be able to do is get away with criticising it as though my opinion had as much weight as that of a person who spent a professional lifetime studying it. Yet, alone amongst the sciences, the theory of evolution is considered fair game for criticism by people of any level of ignorance.
In the middle ages at least people had an excuse for such ignorance. In this age of high technology and scientific breakthoughs, the ingrained, bigoted and ill-thought out repostes to evolution can only be described as willful ignorance. And that's the worst kind.
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am 13. Juli 2000
It's pretty obvious that a fair few people criticising this book have not read it - and have no intention to. Or if they have attempted to read it they simply haven't grasped the most basic concepts. General assumptions that a pro-evolution stance is just an "opinion", or that evolution is "just a theory" (a complete misunderstanding of the meaning of the word in a scientific context), or statements like "given enough time, dirt can turn into people." show that clearly. One person even takes one of the central aims of the book - where Dawkins takes Paley's watchmaker analogy and attempts to show how a complex object like an eye could evolve by selection - and berates Dawkins because because he apparently doesn't grasp the fact that because a watch or computer has a designer, that life must have a designer as well! Awe-inspiring. If I remember he also accuses Dawkins of circular reasoning!
The whole case of the book is that this "it's all chance" thing is precisely the opposite of what Darwin and Wallace said. As Dawkins writes in the prologue "The trouble with evolution is that everyone *thinks* they understand it". If one thing should be taken from this book, it is the realisation that Natural Selection is *anything* but chance.
I used to think I understood evolution. I did Biology as an elective at university but I didn't really begin to understand the subtleties and elegance of the theory until I first read this book 10 years ago. It's genuinely one of the milestone books of my life - and not because I already had an opinion before I read it - unlike the creationists.
To paraphrase Dawkins in this book: If I don't understand Quantum Mechanics or Relativity the last thing I should reasonably expect to be able to do is get away with criticising it as though my opinion had as much weight as that of a person who spent a professional lifetime studying it. Yet, alone amongst the sciences, the theory of evolution is considered fair game for criticism by people of any level of ignorance.
In the middle ages at least people had an excuse for such ignorance. In this age of high technology and scientific breakthoughs, the ingrained, bigoted and ill-thought out repostes to evolution can only be described as willful ignorance. And that's the worst kind.
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am 28. Oktober 1999
Richard Dawkins is a very engaging writer and The Blind Watchmaker is full of interesting analogies and illustrations. The problem is that while Dawkins is presenting arguments for the abiotic origin of life, he is not talking about evolution as we know it. Selection can only work on genes that have some function. Thus DNA or protein sequences that have no function cannot increase in frequency within a population until they do become functional in some way. Many genes, or protein gene products, have no function in the absence of other proteins. Then there is the issue of control of gene expression, but lets gloss over that. The bottom line is that the central illustration of the Blind Watchmaker, monkeys trying to type, "Me thinks it is a weasel" is not illustrating evolution. Dawkins claims that when the monkeys hit the right letter at any position then that letter becomes fixed and thus the impossible job of typing the sentence correctly becomes relatively easy. To do the job of "fixing" amino acids in position in proteins natural selection is invoked, but this can't be done as natural selection can only work on functional genes. The catch 22 is that the genes cant become functional until they have been selected to be functional. Thus Dawkins falls into the fatal flaw of presenting a teleological argument wrapped up in elegant language and technical sounding accounts of what his computer can do. Teleology is anathema to evolution, organisms or their genes, are not evolving toward any given destination, they mutate and if the mutation improves fitness they are more successful in producing offspring. Because mutations are random, the direction of evolution is random, thus, just because a glutamate at residue 22 of a protein may make it a better enzyme, if it is not that enzyme already there will be no selection to keep glutamate or whatever amino acid would work at that or any other position in the protein. Invoking natural selection to overcome the problem of incredible odds to get a functional protein simply does not work.
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am 15. April 2000
Although my review will be brief, I hope to shed some light on what I thought were both strengths and weaknesses. In the strength category I would have to say that Dawkins manages to bring a highly sophisticated subject to the masses - at least those who are willing to put on their mental running shoes. It is beautifully written prose that, for the most part, tends to remain focused on the task at hand: explaining the various elements (including the BIG mechanism, natural selection) involved in the process of evolution.
The main weakness I find in the book is, well, I hate to admit it...rambling. Although he brings about many points clearly, he seems to get wrapped into the trap of over-explaining each point. Perhaps this comes from the fact that that he is genuinely passionate about the subject.
Hopefully the comments above are not too generic, but I wanted not to get caught up in the creationist/evolutionist debate. I must admit that I am not completely unbiased in this area as I am myself involved in a graduate biology program. I think that many miss out on the fact that, although evolution through natural selection is a simple theoretical construct (whether you agree with it or not), it is quite a sophisticated subject that one can spend years studying. I caution those who are hesitant to read the book because of those claiming that it's not real science. It's not SUPPOSED to be science, but rather a popular book bringing evolutionary concepts to the general public. Much is not discussed and could never be.
Regardless of your religious tendencies, this is a book worth reading. In my case, there was a tying together of concepts strung about in my various coursework over the years. For others, it may help define the evolutionary processes in nice package. This is true, whether you agree or disagree with Dawkins presentations. I, for one, often read with great fervor those books that are antithetical to my own views.
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am 21. September 1999
As a Buddhist I find it amusing to witness the great and convoluted lengths monotheists (esp Christians) go to to vilify Dawkins and his works in an attempt to shoehorn their god into an everexpanding amount of scientific discoveries encroaching on their space. Fear is what drives them and when you read this book you can see why. Uncompromisingly Dawkins demonstrates (albeit theoretically) that with all factors taken into account we are here via a natural evolutionary process and not placed here by a deity ("personal experiences of " aside) no-one can demonstrate any tangible or circumstantial evidence for. Arguments against Dawkins have now tended towards "well it's just another form of faith, no better or worse than our own" of the kind promulgated by Andrew Baker in his turgid piece of useless verbiage "Faith" and who continues to post the same review for every book on the subject of evolution (including this one) on this website. (Check around the links to see if I'm right). Or they've reached for science (or at least the language thereof) to try to find loopholes in Dawkin's thesis. The likes of Kaufman, Spetner and Behe, each good in their own field, fail to appreciate that evolutionary theory draws upon a wide cross-section of scientific disciplines and just because THEY fail to find an answer within their own doesn't mean that an answer does not exist nor that god therefore must be invoked as an explanation. If they need pointers I suggest virology and the study of slime molds might solve some of their questions, likewise to all Dawkins critics on this site rather than they keep parrotting the tired arguments of their closet creationist prophets. My boyfriend had the courage to become an atheist in part due to Dawkins and his work and has been pestered ever since by Christians distraught that he has left the fold. Unlike Nietzsche though (and since when has Nietzsche's personal life been an argument against Dawkins ?) he's quite happy now that he stopped being a sheep and ditched his primitive middle-eastern shepherd god. I wonder what Prof Dawkins detractors will come up with next ? I mean, if he was wrong all these insecure people wouldn't be so upset now would they ?
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TOP 500 REZENSENTam 2. März 2008
Zugegeben, Richard Dawkins wäre sicherlich kein guter Politiker geworden. Dazu vertritt der in Oxford lehrende Evolutionsbiologe seine Thesen mit zu viel Feuereifer und mit teils wenig diplomatischen Geschick. Aber gerade das macht auch die Stärker der Bücher Richard Dawkins aus. Keiner schreibt so prägnant und verständlich und gleichzeitig auf einem so hohen inhaltlichen und rhetorischen Niveau über das Thema Evolution wie er.

Nach "The Selfish Gene" (1976) und "The Extended Phenotype" (1982) war "The Blind Watchmaker", erschienen 1986, das dritte Buch von Richard Dawkins. Hier vertritt er eine auf Charles Darwins Evolutionslehre basierende Weltanschauung, die weit über das Biologische hinausgeht, wie Dawkins im Vorwort der 2006 veröffentlichten Ausgabe darlegt: "Darwinism encompasses all of life - human, animal, plant, bacterial, and, if I am right in the last chapter of this book, extraterrestial. It provides the only satisfying explanation for why we all exist, why we are the way we are. It is the bedrock on which rest all the disciplines known as the humanities" (xiv).

Das Leitmotiv der Darstellung beruht auf dem Buch "Natural Theology" des Theologen William Paley aus dem Jahr 1802. Hier argumentiert er, dass man bei so etwas Komplexen wie einer Uhr nicht davon ausgehen kann, dass sie schon immer dagewesen sei. Sie muss erschaffen worden sein. Auf den Menschen bezogen behauptet er, dass ein so komplexes Organ wie das menschliche Auge erschaffen worden sein muss. Dies ist die klassische Version des "Argument of Design", welches noch heute von einigen benutzt wird, um die Existenz Gottes zu beweisen. Dawkins übernimmt die Metapher des Uhrmachers und sagt, dass es tatsächlich so etwas gebe. Allerdings ist sein Uhrmacher blind und arbeitet unbewusst und ohne einen erkennbaren Sinn. Dieser Uhrmacher ist nichts anderes als das Prinzip der natürlichen Selektion, auf dem nach Darwin die evolutionäre Entwicklung beruht: "Natural selection, the blind, unconscious, automatic process which Darwin discovered, and which we now know is the explanation for the existence and apparantly purposeful form of all life, has no purpose in mind" (5).

Der Hauptdenkfehler, so Dawkins, warum immer noch so viele Menschen Probleme mit der Evolutionslehre haben, sei, dass sie nicht akzeptieren könnten, dass der Mensch durch einen auf Zufall basierenden Prozess wie der natürlichen Selektion entstanden sein könnte. Der Denkfehler besteht nun aber darin, dass natürliche Selektion gerade nichts mit Zufall zu tun hat. Die Gene, die Merkmale hervorbringen, die nicht dazu beitragen, das Überleben eines Lebewesens in einer bestimmten Umgebung wahrscheinlicher zu machen, werden langsam aber sicher aus dem Genpool entfernt, da die Lebewesen mit den entsprechenden Merkmalen aussterben. Es gibt natürlich auch zufällige Veränderungen des genetischen Materials, die sogenannten Mutationen. Diese Zufallsmutationen unterliegen aber auch dem Prinzip der natürlichen Selektion. Helfen sie der Spezies im täglichen Überlebenskampf, werden die entsprechenden Gene reproduziert. Wenn nicht, dann werden sie durch den Prozess der natürlichen Selektion wieder aus dem Genpool entfernt: "Mutation is random; natural selection is the very opposite of randon" (41).

Im Buch geht Dawkins immer wieder auf die Entwicklung des menschlichen Auges ein, um zu zeigen, dass selbst ein so komplexes Organ Schritt für Schritt über Jahrmillionen entstanden sein kann. Diese graduelle Weiterentwicklung eines Organs bezeichnet Dawkins als kumulative Selektion: "The theory of evolution by cumulative natural selection is the only theory we know of that is in principle capable of explaining the existence of organized complexity [...] Cumulative selection, by slow and gradual degrees, is the explanation, the only workable explanation that has ever been proposed, for the existence of life's complex design" (317).

Fazit: Anspruchsvoll und dennoch verständlich und mit dem ihm eigenen Sprachgefühl beschreibt Dawkins die Richtigkeit der Darwinschen Theorie, die seit nunmehr fast 150 Jahren darauf wartet, falsifiziert zu werden. Anhand zahlreicher Beispiele zeigt er, wie Darwins Evolutionslehre seit Jahrmillionen in der Natur wirkt und ihr, unbewusst und ohne erkennbares Ziel, den Anschein von Design gibt. Für jeden an dieser faszinierenden Thematik Interessierten ist und bleibt Dawkins der erste Ansprechpartner.
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am 19. Januar 2000
Hey Amazon, you screwed up. This is software, not a book. It has the same name as a related book, though.
Cliff Soon:
This is not a book (see above).
Dawkins' intent with this program was to demonstrate how an extraordinary amount of variation can be attained through random mutation combined with simulated natural selection, not to accurately model any biological or ecological system.
In "Climbing Mount Improbable," Dawkins states that he knows what a poor simulation this is; he also describes how incredibly difficult it is to simulate a complex ecosystem with respect to reproduction and natural selection.
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