Outgrowing God by Dawkins Richard

Outgrowing God by Dawkins Richard

Author:Dawkins, Richard [Dawkins, Richard]
Language: eng
Format: azw3, epub, mobi
ISBN: 9781473563513
Publisher: Transworld
Published: 2019-09-18T16:00:00+00:00

On this page is a diagram of the chemical reactions that go on in a single cell of your body (you have more than 30 trillion cells altogether). The little blobs are chemical substances. The lines connecting them indicate chemical reactions between them. Don’t bother with the detailed labels. But if the chemical reactions they indicate stopped, you’d die.

Now think of just one molecule from your body, haemoglobin. It’s what makes your blood red, and it’s vitally important for carrying oxygen from the lungs to wherever it’s needed, for example the pounding leg muscles of a sprinting cheetah or gazelle. More than six thousand million million million haemoglobin molecules are surging round in your blood at this moment. I once calculated for an earlier book (it seems a ridiculously high figure, but nobody has contradicted it) that haemoglobin molecules are springing into existence in a human body at a rate of four hundred million million every second, and others are being destroyed at the same rate.

Awe-inspiring complexity. Once again, it seems to demand a master designer. And once again, later chapters will show that it doesn’t. That’s quite a challenge; and the purpose of this chapter, to repeat it, is to show how big the challenge is. Before we step up to answer it.

Beauty raises the same kind of challenge. The glowing beauty of a peacock’s tail – mostly achieved by structural, iridescent coloration – serves to attract peahens. We might even say it’s beauty for beauty’s sake. But beauty can also be ‘functional’: useful. I think airliners are beautiful, and their beauty comes from their streamlined shape. Flying birds are beautiful for the same reason. So are running cheetahs – although I don’t suppose gazelles think so.

This chapter might have left you with the impression that living ‘designs’ are perfect. Not just beautiful but ideally fit for purpose, whether that purpose is seeing, changing colour, running fast to catch prey, running fast to avoid becoming prey, looking exactly like tree bark, looking irresistible to peahens or whatever. If it has, I have to disappoint you, just a little. Especially if you look under the skin of living things, you’ll see flaws, and they are very revealing. What they reveal is evolutionary history. They are very much not what you’d expect to see if the animals had been intelligently designed. In fact, some are just the opposite.

Various species of fish make their living on the sea floor, and their bodies are flat. There are two ways of being flat. The obvious way is to lie on your belly and flatten the body from the top, so it spreads out sideways. That’s what skates and rays have done. You could think of them as sharks that have fallen victim to a garden roller. But plaice, sole and flounders have done it differently. They lie on one side. Sometimes the left side, sometimes the right. But they never lie on the belly like skates.

It will have occurred to you that there’s a problem with lying on your side if you’re a fish.


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