by Richard Dawkins, W. W. Norton, 1986, 0-393-315703-3
[p51] If you don't know anything about computers, just remember
that they are machines that do exactly what you tell them but often
surprise you in the result.
[p65] The point of the story is that even though it was I that
programmed the computer, telling it in great detail what to do,
nevertheless I didn't paln the animals that evolved, and I was totally
surprised by them when I first saw their precursors. So powerless was
I to control the evolution that, even when I very much wanted to
retrace a particular evolutionary pathway it proved all but impossible
to do so. I don't believe I would ever have found my insects again if
I hadn't had a printed picture of the complete set of their
evolutionary precursors, and even then it was difficult and
tedious. Does the powerlessness of the programmer to control or
predict the course of evolution in the computer seem paradoxical?
Does it mean that something mysterious, even mystical was going on
inside the computer? Of course ont. Nor is there anything mystical
going on in the evolution of real animals and plants.
[p66] The art of writing a good chess program is thinking of
efficient short cuts through the search-space. Cumulative selection,
wether artificial selection as in the computer model or natural
selection out there in the real world, is an efficeint search
procedure, and its consequences look very like creative intelligence.
That, after all, is what William Paley's Argument from Design was all
about. Technically, all that we are doing, when we play the computer
biomorph game is finding animals that, in a mathematical sense, are
wating to be found. What it feels like is a process of artistic
[p67] (The important thing to remember about mathematics is not to
be frightened. It isn't as difficult as the mathematical priesthood
sometimes pretends. Whenever I feel intimidated, I always remember
Silvanus Thompson's dictum in Calculus Made Easy: 'What one fool can
do, another can'.)
[p86] Anti-evolution propaganda is full of alleged examples of
complex systems that 'could not possibly' have passed through a
gradual series of intermediates. This is often just another case of
the rather pathetic 'Argument from Personal Incredulity' that we met
in Chapter 2.
[p90] How did snake venom get its start? Many animals bite, and any
animal's spit contains proteins which, if they get into a wound, may
cause an allergic reaction. Even so-called non-venomous snakes can
give bites that cause a painful reaction in some people. There is a
continuos, graded series from ordinay spit to deadly venom.
[p92] No sensible designer would have conceived such a monstrosity
if given a free hand to create a flatfish on a clean drawing board. I
suspect the most sensible designers would think in terms of of
something more like a skate. But evolution never starts from a clean
drawing board. It has to start from what is already there.
[p189] Different people are at liberty to come up with different
methods of doing the calculations, but probably the most authoritative
index is the 'encephalization quotient' or EQ used by Harry Jerison, a
leading American authority on brain history.
[p255] This book is mainly about evolution as the solution of the
complex 'design' problem; evolution as the true explanation for the
phenomena that Paley thought proved the existence of the divine