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OK, so we should be all familiar with Paley’s Watchmaker argument. That is, you see a watch in a field, then you know someone made it. Ergo, you see some critter, you know someone made that as well. Praise be to God, and so on.

We all know that evolution through natural selection etc can adequately explain the diversity of life. So that must mean that Paley’s argument is wrong, right? So if we see a watch in a field, that watch must have evolved!

Well, that’s the basis of memetics: take things that we know have been designed, and claim that they have instead evolved. In the paper that started memetics off, Viruses of the Mind, Dawkins does this quite explicitly when he uses computer viruses.

This strikes me as completely bizarre. As Dawkins is fond of saying, evolution through natural selection etc. gives us the appearance of design, without requiring a designer. However, to take his example, computer viruses do have designers, for they are computer programs and such programs need human authors. Therefore we do not need clever theories to explain their properties (beyond the mechanistic properties of those programs), we can just point to some hacker and say “there’s your cause.”

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One Comment

  1. (Another late comment…)
    While I’m no fan of Dawkins, and have not read *his* discussion of memetics, I was under the impression that memetics has much more to do with the evolution of ideas; rather that saying “this computer virus evolved” (which, I agree, it certainly didn’t), it says “the ideas used to program this virus evolved.” I have to agree with the latter statement, but Dawkin’s wasn’t saying anything original by saying that… we all know ideas evolve.


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