Richard Dawkins Makes the Case for Evolution in the 1987 Documentary, The Blind Watchmaker

It took a village to raise me—a village of well-meaning people who found almost nothing quite so threatening as what they called, quaintly, “Darwinism.” And so I grew up learning by heart all the usual rebuttals—I inherited the wind, so to speak, of anti-evolution rhetoric. And how much like wind it is, that handful of arguments against the overwhelming evidence for evolutionary biology. So it seems to the casual observer of these never-ending debates. So it generally seemed to me, except when I thought of that old chestnut, the “watchmaker analogy,” William Paley’s picture of the “argument from design” or “the teleological argument.” Paley’s parable is compelling, his example is persuasive, but his logic—argued David Hume, Darwin himself, and, most lately, famed biologist and professional pot-stirrer Richard Dawkins—is seriously flawed.

Almost twenty years before Dawkins became the face of the New Atheism, he championed evolutionary theory in a 1986 book called The Blind Watchmaker. The book inspired a documentary the next year in which Dawkins took on Paley’s intellectual descendants, the so-called “scientific creationists.” In the film (above), the young(er) Dawkins asserts that “Darwinism always needs defending, creationism keeps on re-surfacing to attack it” (over the image of a shark, no less). This is before the terms “Darwinism” and “Creationism” gave way to more sophisticated formulations in scholarly and popular parlance, like “Evolutionary Biology” and “Intelligent Design.” Whatever the wording, the centuries-old argument turns, broadly, on the same distinctions: is the order we perceive in the universe the result of “blind” natural forces or the purposeful design of an all-powerful entity? At least these are the extremes. As the Catholic Church’s position demonstrates, there are nuanced religious views in-between the dichotomies.

In Dawkins’ documentary, the “Bible-belt of the U.S.A.” comes under scrutiny as a particularly anti-science place, with its strange use of the fossil record and hasty conclusions made to rationalize a set of predetermined views. Oh, had this younger Dawkins known of the wonders to come in Kentucky’s Creation Museum. No matter:  he has since been on the case for years. See him above in 1987, debunking the creationism of a slightly earlier age.

Related Content:

Richard Dawkins Explains Why There Was Never a First Human Being

Growing Up in the Universe: Richard Dawkins Presents Captivating Science Lectures for Kids (1991)

The Unbelievers, A New Film Starring Richard Dawkins, Lawrence Krauss, Werner Herzog, Woody Allen, & Cormac McCarthy

Josh Jones is a writer and musician based in Washington, DC. Follow him at @jdmagness



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by | Permalink | Comments (7) |

  • Hanoch

    Dawkins and the proprietors of the Creation Museum are cut of the identical intellectual cloth. Neither can tolerate any fact or argument that conflicts with their respective ideologies.

  • Mike Springer

    Hanoch, what fact conflicts with evolution?

  • Hanoch

    Sir Springer:

    My comment refers to Dawkins’ zealous faith in atheism, not evolution.

    As to evolution, I am not a scientist, and thus would not pretend to be one by commenting on it. I know that there are those (e.g., Dawkins) who believe it is well-established, and those (e.g., Berlinski) who are skeptical. I have no dog in that fight; I do not think the answer to the question is as momentous as others apparently do.

  • Mike Springer

    Thanks for the honorific, Hanoch, but the post is about a film on evolution, not atheism.

    While you’re at it, though, what fact conflicts with atheism?

  • Hanoch

    My post related to Dawkins’ (and others) dogmatic positions concerning theological issues. When someone displays such a disposition, it makes me suspect their general credibility.

    As for your theology question, there are innumerable books and resources filled with arguments and facts for and against the respective positions.

  • Bart

    The documentary gave me a better understanding of evolution. It made me aware of the fact that it is not just a random process, but that it is guided. How this guidance is achieved in nature was clear to me, but how it can artificially simulated not.

    Hanoch, I don’t know what kind of dogmatic position you speak of? Do you consider atheism a dogmatic position? Personally I think atheism requires a leap of faith just like theism. However, I think that the line between agnosticism and atheism has completely faded in popular culture. Dawkins being an agnostic and an atheist (loose definition) at the same time. In The God Delusion Dawkins notes that he considers the existence of God to be just another scientific hypothesis.

  • Hanoch

    Bart:

    I think theological issues like these are not subject to certainty (and, thus, tend to agree with you that atheism and theism both require an element of faith). I think that Dawkins attempts to have his cake and eat it too. He is too smart to say that he knows with absolute certainty that God does not exist (though he says his doubts are minuscule); at the same time, however, he derides theological viewpoints as foolishness.

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