Showing posts with label The Blind Watchmaker. Show all posts
Showing posts with label The Blind Watchmaker. Show all posts

Wednesday, January 15, 2014

Why the Eyes Don’t Really Have It

Since the beginning of the early 19th Century thanks to religious philosopher WilliamPaley creationists have been using the “Watchmaker” argument to show a divine purpose for our existence. The idea goes something like this, a pocket watch is very complex and it could not come together independently, hence there is a need for a watchmaker. And therefore, because humans are very complex, we must have been put together as well. 

Often, it is the human eye which is touted as being so perfectly complex that it must have been designed by god. Richard Dawkins has written about this same fallacious bit of reasoning in his book, The Blind Watchmaker, and exposes the reason why this poor logic just doesn’t stand up to actual reason, evidence and evolution.

If we look at all of the types of animal eyes, including human eyes, we know through evidence and natural selection that “eyeness” developed very early on as an adaptation to sunlight.  Essentially, photo-sensitive cells evolved which then produced a reaction to light giving creatures the ability to protect themselves, hunt or use sight in their habitat for some advantage. This is not surprising and nor is it rare. In fact, once "eyeness" evolved it became elementary and we see it developed in several transitional forms.

But in addition to basic eyeness evolution we have to remember that there are in fact multiple types of eyes and vision which have evolved. And the variety seems endless, from animals without eyes (as they become recessive or vestigial like our appendix or coccyx), whose habitats lay in the deep darkness of caves or in deep water. To eyes with very fine vision like those of prey animals such as hawks or dragon flies. Then again if we look at eyes not from the point of view of functional clarity of vision, we only need to use the dragon shrimp as an example of a species which can see up to 12 primary colors (humans can see just three) to make its way in the world.

However, let’s get back to the religious eye argument because it implies a perfect being creating all of us in “his” perfect image. Frankly, if humans are created in a supreme being’s image, I think this deity should enter into therapy because it clearly has an identity crisis.  So here are some things that can and do go wrong with the human eye and eyesight:

Macular Degeneration: (Dry or wet). Simply is age-related loss of vision. It is why the glasses and contacts industry makes over two hundred million dollars a year

Glaucoma: Pressure is built up in the eye which leads to damage to the optic nerve. This pressure, if not relieved, can lead to significant eye damage or if left untreated it can lead to blindness

Strabismus: (Cross-eye or walleye) means the eyes aren’t properly aligned because of weak or uncoordinated eye muscles. This can impact binocular vision and depth perception  

Other Diseases of the Eye: There are just so many that it is impossible for eye to ever be considered as “perfect”

So the question is, with all that is actually imperfect with the human eye, why do creationists still claim it to be perfect? The simple answer is a lack of interest to admit they are wrong. Because, if the creationists do admit they’re wrong about the eye’s perfection (or lack thereof), then they are wrong about the perfectness of a supreme being and thus their argument becomes disassembled. And once you open that door, then you either knowingly remain ignorant or you knowingly remain delusional in terms of religious belief.

Choosing either ignorance or delusion is someone’s right and it is protected even if we non-theists and freethinkers view it ontologically as a relatively bad thing.  Because, if one continues to accept untruth as truth, then you are then lying to yourself and perhaps others for the sake of self or community consistency and survival.

However, the external problem arises when one tries to force others to accept their private religious ignorance and delusion as fact through law, violence or other social pressure.

When one pushes their religious convictions, like in the case of deity belief based on the watchmaker perfection argument (or any argument which isn’t supported by evidence), they've then entered into a form of religious imperialism which strikes at the very heart of secular democracy and intellectual and physical freedom.

And herein lays the fallacy of peace through any form of theology or religious philosophy. 

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Book Review: The Blind Watchmaker: Why the Evidence of Evolution Reveals a Universe Without Design

Because Richard Dawkins is so brilliant at explaining why there is no valid case for god belief and why religion is so ultimately destructive, I find writing a review on any of his books really hard to compose. I feel like an electrician critiquing Edison's invention of the light bulb. Sure, we're in the same sort of business, but in reality I am working many floors below Dawkins in terms of resonance and cognition on matters related to atheist thinking and evolution. With my mea culpa noted, let me begin to discuss Dawkins' The Blind Watchmaker.

The title of the book refer's to the idea that because of the complexity of a watch, a watch maker is needed to put the parts together. The idea being that no pieces of a watch could come together independently. It is then postulated that because of the complexity of the human eye, brain, etc, a higher force was needed to create humans. This higher force is of course and always happens to be the God of the person making the grand assumption.

This poorly conceived and illogical leap of causality was first made by Bishop Paley in 1802, in his "Evidence of Christianity" decades before Darwin's Origin of Species was published in 1859. It has been restated numerous times and in various forms since, and through today remains a pillar in the Intelligent Design arsenal of bad science and bad philosophy.

What Dawkins does so well and so expertly is disassemble the claims for a special creator through the use of evolutionary biology and current scientific analysis. His work clearly makes the case for a world where time, space and carbon-based beings are not made by any god, deity or through any spiritual or religious origin. But Dawkins' does share a world of nature and natural selection, unconscious and blind to cause and responsive only to the natural mechanics of the universe.

Characteristically and to the point, Dawkins notes that there are three broad types of individuals who deny the mechanics of evolution. These people are the religious who want evolution to be untrue, or those who would accept natural selection as true but find it for political or ideological reasons distasteful, and finally, those in the media who enjoy pitting ideas against one another just to see how the proponents defend their beliefs.

Aside from taking the reader through the mechanics of evolutionary biology, the book details how the random mutation of traits can easily be understood by using a recipe analogy. Removing or changing a recipe can lead to different outcomes in how a simple muffin is baked. Change the recipe by adding or deleting an ingredient or increasing or decreasing time or temperature, and you wind up with a different end product. So too, this is the case with genes in nature and how the external environment can support or hinder gene drift or mutation and an individual's ability to pass on the changes to succeeding generations. Thus, over time a simple mass of cells which came together randomly and were used by a root proto-ancestor to sense light could equally randomly evolve into more complex organs, such as eyes in multiple groups of animals.

Dawkins notes in essence that natural selection and mutation operate together to produce the "fittest" individuals in a given environment, "Variation and selection work together to produce evolution." Dawkins' rightly states that genes may combine in totally different ways depending on natural influences and that random mutation can and does occur within DNA to produce changes in genotype. He notes, "(while) this book is mainly about evolution as the solution of the complex 'design' problem'; evolution is the true explanation for the phenomena that Paley thought proved the existence of a Devine watchmaker."

Dawkins draws on Darwin's own words to support evolutionary gradualism in natural selection, that is, why slight changes over a long time can lead to major changes in how species develop or change in its environment to develop complex organs, he quotes Darwin:

"If it could be demonstrated that any complex organ existed, which could not possibly have been formed by numerous, successive, slight modifications, my theory would absolutely break down."

Dawkins also compares biological evolution to that of changes in language. "Languages, then, evolve. But although modern English has evolved from Chauccerian English, I don't think many people would wish to claim that modern English is an improvement on Chauceerain English." Ideas of improvement or quality do not normally enter our heads when we speak of language. But evolutionary change is sometimes thought of an improvement, however and in fact, it should not be seen in this way, since "improvements" are subjective and may imply some conscious direction, which cannot and do not occur in evolutionary biology.

He notes that in terms of evolutionary mechanics the same unbiased acceptance is essential for understanding evolution and natural selection. Dawkins' writes, "genes are selected, not for the their intrinsic qualities, but by virtue of their interactions with their environments. And especially important complement of a gene's environment (includes) other genes....bodies evolve integrated and coherent usefulness because genes are selected in the environment provided by other genes within the same species."

The book is both a complex view of nature and natural selection - how they operate together and how they continue to change our and other species - and a simple and elegantly written narrative that shows with ease how traits can advance or be redacted by both chance (gene mutation) and change (gradual evolution). I recommend that you read not only The Blind Watchmaker but all of Dawkins' work because he is an important scientist and atheist thinker. He, and the gang of four of which he is apart, are proponents in the battle of science truth and fact versus science-fiction mythology which is all religion and god belief.