The Concept of The Blind Watchmaker

Question from James:
Why does Richard Dawkins use the analogy of a “blind watchmaker” to describe natural selection?

Answer by SmartLX:
Straight from Wikipedia:
“In his choice of the title for this book, Dawkins refers to the watchmaker analogy made famous by William Paley in his 1802 book Natural Theology.[1] Paley, writing long before Charles Darwin published On the Origin of Species in 1859, held that the complexity of living organisms was evidence of the existence of a divine creator by drawing a parallel with the way in which the existence of a watch compels belief in an intelligent watchmaker. Dawkins, in contrasting the differences between human design and its potential for planning with the workings of natural selection, therefore dubbed evolutionary processes as analogous to a blind watchmaker.”

Essentially, natural selection clearly does not plan. Paley’s argument is that if a watch suggests the existence of a watchmaker, the supposed appearance of design in living things should suggest the existence of a designer, but on closer inspection life is not as it would have been if designed by an entity with all its faculties intact. The reasons given by Dawkins include vestigial organs and features, inefficient physical arrangements of a body’s components (like the recurrent laryngeal nerve), inefficient solutions to simple problems, easily avoidable susceptibilities to malfunction, disease and death (see here for examples in humans), and needlessly expensive competition between individual organisms. Life functions, sometimes barely, but it could be so much better if someone had actually designed it rather than natural selection procedurally applying the simplest short-term solution to everything.

23 thoughts on “The Concept of The Blind Watchmaker”

  1. Here is the problem for Dawkins and it is a huge one. By stating that evolutionary processes are analogous to a “blind” watchmaker he is leaving all of the intelligence of the original watchmaker intact. I hope we can all agree that someone can lose their sight and still retain all of their intelligence. Is Stevie Wonder less qualified to write a song than someone who can see? Of course not, so why would a blind watchmaker be less intelligent than a watchmaker who has his sight? Wouldn’t a better analogy be “The Comatose Watchmaker” or the “Dead Watchmaker” since these analogies actually take into account the absence of intelligence or purpose?
    Dawkins replaces an intelligent being (God) with an equally intelligent process (natural selection). How do we account for this God-like intelligence in nature? Here’s a better question. Why should I trust someone who either doesn’t understand how analogies work or thinks he is smart enough to pass off a bogus one and assume it won’t be questioned by the masses?

    1. If your intention was to challenge it, you could have just opened with that. Far more people read the initial “question” than the first comment, you know.

      Dawkins is an atheist. He doesn’t think there is a watchmaker as such. His ultimate intention was not to liken evolution to a specific kind of watchmaker but to rebut Paley by showing that the analogy to an intelligent watchmaker really doesn’t work. So he presented the clear lack of foresight in the development of complex biology as an argument that if there’s a watchmaker, he must have been blind, and that’s silly. The “watch” in this case developed as part of a process unguided by anything but the hard line between survival and death, and wasn’t “made” at all. No intelligence was required.

      1. I opened with the question because I wanted an honest answer, which is what you gave. “Dawkins therefore dubbed evolutionary processes as analogous to a blind watchmaker.”

        After I challenged that assertion you contradicted your original answer by saying “his ultimate intention was NOT to liken evolution to a specific kind of watchmaker.”

        Which is it? The problem is not with you SmartLX, it’s with Dawkins. His analogy, and therefore whole premise, is deeply flawed and indefensible. The concept of his book falls apart on the front cover!!! You are a smart person, I know you can see that!

        1. You’ve taken the “ultimate intention” quote out of context. If you read all of LX’s response, it is quite clear that Dawkins “doesn’t think there is a watchmaker as such”.

          Please re-read the response by LX above and consider it in its entirety, and I think your will rethink your opinion of a contradiction between his two posts.

        2. As Tim rightly interpreted, to liken evolution to a watchmaker was not Dawkins’ ultimate intention, even though he does just that. His ultimate intention was to defend evolution and discredit creationism, he didn’t write a book just to perfect an opponent’s analogy or win a game of semantics. Instead he dismantles Paley’s analogy by making an attempt to change it to fit reality, and knowingly ending up with something absurd. The point is that life does not really appear to be the result of an intelligent designer of any kind.

          1. Semantics seems to be a specialty of Mr. Dawkins. He uses semantics to hide the critical flaws in his argument. Would you like to see an example? From his book:
            “Natural selection, the blind, unconscious, automatic process which Darwin discovered and which we now know is the explanation of 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 forsight, no sight at all. If it can be said to play the role of watchmaker in nature, it is the blind watchmaker.”
            He hooks you by saying that natural selection is blind, unconcious, and mindless. But magically in the last sentence nature regains it’s conciousness and mind (but not it’s sight) to become a “watchmaker.” After all its pretty hard (impossible) to explain how a watch can be made by an unconscious, mindless, blind watchmaker. Bravo Mr. Dawkins, bravo.

            “You can fool all the people some of the time, some of the people all of the time, but you cannot fool all of the people all of the time.”
            Abraham Lincoln

            1. The part to emphasise in that quote is, “If it can be said to play the role of watchmaker…” If you insist on applying this analogy, he says, you must change it in a way that renders it ridiculous, reducing a supposedly intelligent agent to a pair of hands working automatically with no consciousness and no idea of what they’re doing, the effect they’re having or the logical next move. Better not to bother, he implies.

              He then spends the book explaining exactly how such a process can produce some of the most complex examples creationists commonly hold up, such as the eye. Thus evolution gets the job done without having to be any of the things Paley’s intended watchmaker, a god, is supposed to be.

              The Blind Watchmaker is regarded by many as one of Dawkins’ best books. I recommend reading more than the title and the most famous quote, which is all it seems you’ve taken in so far.

            2. James, this has already been explained to you multiple times. The reason he mentions the “blind watchmaker” is because he is countering Paley’s argument. Dawkins goes on to say that he doesn’t think any watchmaker exists, because there is no evidence of one.

              Your repeated inability to understand his analogy in the context it was written doesn’t change all that.

              1. It is a blind watchmaker, it isn’t a blind watchmaker. Duck and dodge. Back and forth. Any objective person can see the obsfucation that is going on here. Dawkins will say anything to sell his naturalistic bullcrap and you two will say anything to defend it even if it doesn’t make sense. Talk about dogma and religious devotion. I think alot of people worship Dawkins

                1. SmartLX and Tim, let’s simplify this a little bit. Dawkins titled the book “The Blind Watchmaker.” Who or what is he referring to specifically? This should be a simple answer.

                  1. Yep, the blind watchmaker is evolution. The question Dawkins is asking is whether that’s a good analogy.

                    1. No, objectively. If not for the baggage of Paley’s insistence that there must be a figurative watchmaker, you would never come up with it from scratch to describe evolution. Any kind of intelligent creator is not comparable to the process that creates things by such a brute-force, haphazard, drawn-out, ruthless method.

                2. You’re putting WAY too much emphasis on the analogy, James. An analogy is a different way of thinking about something, it doesn’t change the nature of the thing itself. Evolution happens or it doesn’t, there’s a god or there isn’t, and you can think of either one as a watchmaker but it doesn’t affect reality.

                  Dawkins’ main point is that the diversity and complexity of life can emerge, and most likely has emerged, completely without intelligent influence. You’d know that if you’d read the book.

                  1. I think intelligent people can read this dialogue between us and come to their own conclusions. Hopefully people will take these questions to heart and pursue the answers to their logical conclusions. I personally think that Richard Dawkins is a fraud. Anyone willing to peek behind the curtain can see how he operates. But you have to be willing to look.

                    1. Just my humble opinion, but I think you are seeing something that isn’t actually there. The point of Dawkins analogy was the blind part, not the watchmaker point.

                      Evolution doesn’t need god beings to happen. Everything about the change in livings things over time is fully explained by the theory of evolution. Peeking behind curtains that aren’t there is how you miss everything in plain sight…

                    2. You’re entitled to your opinion, but seriously, how can you see how he operates if you haven’t read the book?

                    3. Not sure where to reply to your last question since there isn’t a reply button.
                      Your question was how can I see how he operates if I haven’t read the book?

                      As I said earlier, to me the concept of his book falls apart on the front cover. It just gets worse from there. I’ve tried reading it and find it intellectually dishonest. I’ve already discussed why.

                    4. There’s no reply button because we’ve reached the maximum depth of the thread. It’s no problem, it’s all in sequence from here.

                      You do realise that this is an incredibly superficial way to judge a book, right? Literally by its proverbial cover? The Selfish Gene, for an adjacent example, declares very quickly that genes are not actually driven by selfishness or any other motive; the title is just a way of thinking about it.

                      Dawkins’ primary point in most of his books is that evolution is a fact, and it does not require divine influence or any other external intelligence to work. Since the entirety of arguments to the contrary are arguments from ignorance, stating that some biological feature could not have evolved by any known mechanism, he skips over the fact that these arguments are logical fallacies and explains exactly how they could evolve, and lists the evidence that they did. The analogy hardly figures into it once he gets going.

  2. Any other thoughts on this? Anyone willing to defend Dawkins’ analogy?

    By the way, I’m the same person who asked the original question and comment. I just added an 84 because I noticed another James who commented on an earlier post

  3. I fail to see any problem with the analogy. If life is supposed to be proof of design, then the designer clearly isn’t very thorough, accurate, or efficient given the laundry list of examples Dawkins give in his book that show life to be anything but designed intelligently.

    It’s as if a blind designer was at work. In fact, blind doesn’t really cover it. Blind, inept, sloppy, and careless seem a better description. But that’s probably too much for a book cover though…

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