Realm Of Randomness

June 1, 2008

The Blind Watchmaker

Filed under: Book,Evolution,Intelligent Design,Review,Science — Randomizer @ 3:55 pm

Yeah, I know it’s been a while since I last posted. Call it a combination of longer hours at work and more things to do when I come back home, but this year has so far been a lot more ‘outdoorsy’ than any of the past three and I’m quite happy about that. Unfortunately, my reading time has been drastically shortened, and so it’s no wonder that completing ‘The Blind Watchmaker’ took me close to 3 months, when it should have been more like 2 weeks!

I loved this book by Richard Dawkins and wished I had read the whole thing in a stretch, because by the time I reached the last chapter, I had close to forgotten what happened in the first. I totally recommend this book, and do hope that once you start, you read at least a chapter a day to maintain the flow.

Dawkins has come to be more of the ‘face of Atheism’ these days, and that is quite sad because that is really not his forte. Evolutionary biology is his area of expertise and Atheism is just a mere consequence of the realities he came to accept being so convinced about this theory and what it actually means. This book, in many ways helped me celebrate the completion of one year since coming to terms with life and the universe and it has made me a lot more confident about this topic.

What surprised me most while reading the book was that the author not only has decades worth of knowledge about biology, but is also very well versed in computer programming and mathematics. He frequently uses these to help make his point, and as a programmer, it was pretty great to see things explained your way.

The book talks about a lot of things:

  • What exactly evolution is, and isn’t
  • How our organs appear to be ‘designed’, but why they aren’t
  • The technicalities – DNA/RNA, genes, traits
  • Does evolution occur gradually or in spurts ?
  • Debunking alternate theories

You might be wondering – what’s with the weird title of the book? I did too. It is actually a reference to the Watchmaker argument that says that if you are walking on a beach one day and stumble upon a watch in the sand, would you assume that the watch ‘just happened’ or that someone ‘designed’ it and left it there? Obviously, you assume the latter – and if you do, can’t we also say that living things (which are FAR more complicated than mere watches) were also ‘designed’ or ‘created’ the same way by God / Creator / Intelligent Designer?

Read the book to find out!


April 26, 2007

Coming to terms with our Universe

Filed under: Evolution,Intelligent Design,Philosophy — Randomizer @ 4:05 pm

I attended a very interesting lecture two days ago, a lecture that has since spiraled me down/up a road of Evolutionary theory, Atheism and Materialism. The last two days have been fueled by a burning curiosity towards the origins of life, and have left me, quite frankly – spellbound. I have decided to dedicate the next few posts to this current, fascinating phase of mine, and I hope that this passes on to you as well.

The lecture was by Simon Conway Morris, and was titled ‘Darwin’s Compass: How Evolution discovers the song of creation’. At first glance, I was worried that the lecture would try to attain middle-ground between the Theory of evolution, and the Creationist point of view, which is that God made the earth. However, I was relieved that no such attempt was made, and that Dr.Morris, much to my amusement, dismissed Intelligent Design as ‘Utter nonsense, if I may put it bluntly’ when asked his views about this during the Q&A session.

Intelligent Design – by the way, is very similar to ‘Creationism’, implying the belief that a Designer/God was involved in the creation of this Universe. As I later understood, Intelligent Design was merely a new name coined in 1987, when the courts in America ruled that ‘Creationism’ is not a science and cannot be taught as a science in schools. Apparently the religious then invented the ‘science’ of Intelligent design as they felt threatened by Evolution. I will dedicate a separate post to that later, for now let me speak of the lecture.

Evolution is generally thought of to be ‘Random’ first, and ‘Organized with a purpose’ next. This notion is quite understandable, considering that we believe that mere chance events along the long, evolutionary path led us to the way we are today, and that things would have been completely different had , say, the dinosaurs never got wiped out.

Dr.Morris’s point was simply this: Human-like intelligence was not a result of chance, but the solution to Nature’s problems. Put in other words, he implies that Human like intelligence would be attained eventually regardless of what happened along the way. If not evolving from monkeys, supremely intelligent, bi-pedal beings with two eyes and roughly the same brain size would have evolved from dinosaurs had they not gone extinct. The following is a hypothetical ‘Dinosauroid’ that might have evolved eventually.

If that sounded far-fetched, Dr.Morris carefully cited examples of behavior/features ranging from birds to flies to the octopus, that would be convincing enough, that human-like characteristics are the ‘best-fit’ to Nature’s problems, and that species would have eventually converged(definition in a minute) to a similar form of intelligent being.

A classic example of ‘Convergence’ is the Bat and the Dolphin. Both were separated out early in the evolution timeline, but both arrived at exactly the same solution to find their way around – Sonar senses. Giving out high frequency sound waves and judging obstacles by their echos. Was the solution a mere coincidence, or was it inevitable?

Similarly, the ‘Camera’ eyes that we humans have, have been arrived at innumerable times as the solution to the problem, in species ranging from fish to birds to mammals. Likewise, many solutions in nature , which as a result of my poor memory and fear of misinforming w.r.t. Biological terms I cannot cite, were arrived at independent of other species – i.e. it wasn’t a feature that was passed on from ancestors, rather it was a solution that was arrived at independently. As was meticulously explained in the lecture, the solutions are strikingly similar and are not the results of co-incidence.

So what does this all mean ? As species, we are like mathematical problems, searching for solutions. And Human-like traits, if not Human beings exactly, have been, by Darwinian theory, the best solution that has been evolved. If it did not occur as a result of Apes and monkeys, it would have been arrived at through some other means – maybe a million years late, or a million years early, but Human-like intelligence and Human-like beings were inevitable.

An even more fascinating bi-product of this theory: If there is life on another planet, and the assumption holds that the laws of nature are universal, i.e. across all planets, then the likelihood that there is human-like intelligence out there is almost certain.

[ For further reading, please read the book by this author, Life’s Solution: Inevitable Humans in a Lonely Universe ]

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