Why the Blind Watchmaker?
Someone asked me the other day the rather sensible question, "Why the blind watchmaker?" I suppose it was a bit daft of me not to explain that in "My Very First Blog." Anyway, here is the reason.
I read a book in 1997 that amazed me. I can't say that it changed my life. The books of Carl Sagan had done that a couple of years earlier, but what it did was make me comfortable with the perspective I was slowly, and somewhat reluctantly coming to accept. That perspective is that we -the we here being earthings, and what ever other life the universe may hold- are all on our own. The book, now a classic of science writing I think, was the "The Blind Watchmaker" by Oxford biologist Richard Dawkins. The subtitle may drive home the take-home message of the book, if the play on Paley's divine watchmaker doesn't. Here it is: Why the evidence of evolution reveals a universe without design. The book isn't necessarily a polemic against religious belief. It is instead a book about evolution, that tends to notice the overlapping magisteria of religion and science. Its conclusion, and the only one you can really make, is that there is no sign of God in the minutia of evolution. And certainly no evidence is revealed of the God found in any of the world's dominant religions.
I suppose it was this book, more than Sagan's books, that allowed me to be a content atheist, which was a direction I was heading anyway. It articulated a phrase from Darwin's "Origin of Species", wherein his closing paragraph, he said "there is grandeur in this view of life.." Darwin's sense of grandeur was evoked by the fact that from one or but a few original forms the great diversity of life could be derived by mutation, the random part, and cummulative, non-random, natural selection. Dawkins expands on this theme of grandeur and, for me anyway, demonstrated how a person might actually live a fulfilled life with this understanding of life, and not be so troubled by the fact that it really doesn't admit much elbow room for interventionist gods, as appealing as these might be.
Once, well before I read Sagan, Dawkins, Wilson, or Pinker or Dennet, I suggested to a friend that it might make people value life, the one we live in now, and not the one for which we are sorely lacking evidence, if we didn't believe in God or heaven or God's intervention. If this is the only go around we get, maybe we might recognize life for the rare and precious thing it is. I retreated rather rapidly from this line of conversation because of the look of...was it horror? Maybe it was. Anyway her shocked look cued me into the her disaggreement. That and the fact that she said, "Uh..I don't agree."
Since then, I have given the matter much more thought, and of course studied evolution in much more detail. I've read tons of books, argued with alot of creationists (they call themselves "creation scientists" now), and talked with many, many more sensible religious believers. So I don't believe in God. Or Allah, or Shiva, though I must confess a fondness for Odin and Thor. And I am more or less comfortable with that. For a description of my uncomfortable moments see my blog "Athiesm and Death." The short version is this. Its hard to say comforting things to friends and loved ones when you are, unlike them, a non-believer.
The blind watchmaker part of my blogname is a little tribute to that Dawkins book that showed me that I could be an intellectually fulfilled atheist.
I am now in full agreement with Richard Dawkins, who once said in his book, "Unweaving the Rainbow", "...We as individuals are still hugely blessed. Priviliged, and not just priviliged to enjoy our planet. More, we are granted teh opportunity to understand why our eyes are open, and why they see what they do, in the short time before they close for ever."