Non-atheists, when they are not using what Richard Dawkins calls “the Argument from Personal Incredulity” (“Surely you don’t expect me to believe THAT !”), often use half-truths, rhetoric in its pejorative sense, and inaccurate, unnuanced language, to defend their opposition to Darwinian evolution and Natural Selection, and their firm belief in a Creator, an Intelligent Designer. They seem to think that evolutionists attribute evolution to “chance” alone, and define it as a “random” process.
Like William Paley, who so impressed Darwin during his studies of Theology at Cambridge, they believe that, as the Archdeacon wrote in his “Natural Theology” (1802) : “The marks of design are too strong to be gotten over. Design must have had a designer. That designer must have been a person. That designer is God” (quoted by Richard Keynes in his introduction to “On the Origin of Species” (first edition, Folio, London, fifth printing 2008, pp. xiv and xv).
They may not know that Dawkins, author of “The God Delusion” but also of “The Blind Watchmaker” (B.W.) (originally published in 1986, reprinted by Folio, 2008), which is his answer to Paley and his famous watchmaker argument, and, of course, to contemporary fundamentalist creationists and advocates of “Intelligent Design”, defines Natural Selection as “the Blind Watchmaker, blind, because it does not see ahead, does not plan consequences, has no purpose in view” (p. 21). But they may be surprised to learn that the Oxford don, brilliant biologist and militant evolutionist and atheist, readily admits that “living things are too improbable and too beautifully ‘designed’ (the inverted commas are Dawkins’) to have come into existence by chance”. The rest of the paragraph deserves to be quoted in full :
“How, then, did they come into existence ? The answer is by gradual, step-by-step transformations from simple beginnings, from primordial entities sufficiently simple to have come into existence by chance. Each successive change in the gradual evolutionary process was simple enough, relative to its predecessor (Dawkins’ italics), to have arisen by chance. But the whole sequence of cumulative steps constitutes anything but a chance process, when you consider the complexity of the final end-product relative to the original starting-point. The cumulative process is directed by NON-RANDOM SURVIVAL (my capitals). The purpose of this chapter is to demonstrate the power of this cumulative selection (Dawkins’ italics) as a fundamentally non-random process.”
Darwin did write that “this Universe is the result of blind chance”, but he immediately added “and of necessity”. This is the difference between what Dawkins calls “single-step selection” and “cumulative selection” (B.W. p. 47) — chance, tiny changes, followed over millions of years by necessary, non-random survival through Natural Selection.
Dawkins’s book deserves reading by anyone seriously searching for the truth and interested in discovering the underpinnings and the implications of Evolution. Professor Dawkins will, however (I hope), allow us just one more quotation from the final pages of B.W. p. 330 :
“The essence of life is statistical improbability on a colossal scale. Whatever is the explanation for life, therefore, it cannot be chance. The true explanation for the existence of life must embody the very antithesis of chance. The antithesis of chance is NON-RANDOM SURVIVAL, properly understood. Non-random survival, improperly understood, is not the antithesis of chance; it is chance itself. There is a continuum connecting these two extremes, and it is the continuum from single-step selection to cumulative selection. Single-step selection is just another way of saying pure chance. This is what I mean by non-random selection improperly understood. Cumulative Selection (his italics), by slow and gradual degrees, is the explanation, the only workable explanation that has ever been proposed, for the existence of life’s complex design”.