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The Blind Watchmaker: Why the Evidence of Evolution Reveals a Universe without Design by Richard Dawkins

December 31, 2013

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In this canonical book on evolution, Dawkins presents a very clear, layman’s-level description of the fundamental mechanisms of Darwin’s theory of evolution by way of natural selection. He also takes on other theories of creation (both scientific and religious) and points out their fundamental flaws, then defends natural selection against common attacks on it.

It’s a very interesting read for anyone interested in basic evolutionary biology. Because much of evolutionary theory comes from examining the modern creatures of the earth and then deducing their evolutionary lineage based on shared characteristics, outliers take on particular importance. For example, particular species of cave-dwelling birds and bats that both exhibit echo-location provide clues to evolution, because they independently developed the same characteristics to better deal with their habitat. The same is true of stingrays and halibut—two types of fish that evolved completely separately over generations to display the same basic trait of flatness, enabling them to lay on the ocean floor. These are the types of characteristics that help prove natural selection, and so the study of natural selection is very much the study of weirdo animal traits. Which I find fascinating.

Dawkins gets into the weeds a little too much for my taste when he gets into genomes—that was a part of biology that never carried my interest in school either. He also includes a small section on cultural evolution, or how trends are born and survive, which is really irrelevant. But when it comes to religious theories of creation, Dawkins gives them the time and energy they deserve—a quick dismissal. He spends most of his time tackling serious alternate theories to natural selection.

Overall, this is a great mix of science, education and entertainment. Dawkins obviously knows his stuff, but he is also gifted at making it digestible for all of us non-scientists.

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