We took a break from our Dawkins series to discuss the racial tensions that have been building in our world (listen here), but we’re back with part 10 of our ongoing talk about Dawkins’s book, Outgrowing God. Today, we’re going to look at another area of his expertise, though he hasn’t really been involved in a lot of research since his PhD, about 20 years ago. We have some serious disagreements with him so let’s go ahead and dive in. The title of this chapter is “Bottom Up or Top Down.”


  • Top-down approach: you’re looking at the overall picture off stuff and trying to understand each of the compartments based on that. More about top-down here.
  • Bottom-up approach: piecing together small parts to make the whole system.
  • Reverse-engineering: seeing how something is already working to separate it into its individual parts to see how it is working. This is like top-down.
  • Foresight
    • Definition: there are certain things in biology that have to solve problems before they become problems. To do this, you have to have something that can see in advance what problem you’re looking for.
  • Specified complexity: some kind of pattern that is improbable

What Is Dawkins Saying?:

  • Dawkins: “What was happening during all the billions of years of evolution was that the DNA instructions for how to make babies was being gradually built up, honed, and improved by natural selection.”

Human Embryology:

  • Dawkins: “Each individual termite just follows a set of simple rules on its own with no idea of what the other termites are doing and no idea of what the finished building will look like. I don’t know exactly what those rules are but this is the kind of thing I mean by simple rule: if you come across a pointy cone of mud, stick another dollop of mud on it. Social insects make use of chemicals, coded cells called pheromones, as an important system of communication. So the rules followed by individual worker termites when building a tower might depend on whether a particular piece of the edifice smells like this pheromone or that pheromone.”
    • The Boids Project:
    • Dawkins says this also works for embryological development. (Bottom-up programming) He asks whether there are certain rules.
      • Blastula and Gastrula (stomach)—a double wall.
    • Dawkins re: different types of tissue
  • Yes, there are places where we observe bottom-up. But just because bottom up exists, doesn’t mean the top down doesn’t
  • Is Dawkins trying to edge out the creator? Yes. That’s the only way to do it, by using the bottom-up approach.
  • Hillary: “We shouldn’t start out in science with a preconceived notion of how things ought to be.”
  • Let’s talk about some of the problems with this chapter.
    • For this bottom-up approach, you have to be able to build stuff piecemeal and not have any idea of what the result is.
    • You have to have a perfect functioning reproductive system to be in place already. Otherwise, this doesn’t work.
    • Marine mammals and land animals
      • How sperm is protected
    • Cell membranes
      • You have to allow the right things in, the right things out, and you have to have a means of detecting.
    • Concept of Intelligent Design
      • Sometimes pejoratively referred to as “Creationism in a cheap tuxedo”
      • We are not operating on what we don’t know, we are operating on what we do know.
    • “Evolution can do a lot more than I thought it could, but the gaps are still there.” – Hillary

Resources Mentioned:

Richard Dawkins, Outgrowing God. The text that we have been discussing can be found on Amazon.

Marcos Eberlin, Foresight: How the Chemistry of Life Reveals Planning and Purpose (Discovery Institute, 2019).

Flight: The Genius of Birds, Illustra Media

Reproductive Thermoregulation in Marine Mammals,” American Scientist, 86, No. 5 (Sept.-Oct. 1998), 440-48.

Resources to Watch with Your Kids:

Ant’s Canada – YouTube fascination close-up view of how different ant species build, survive, etc.

Weaver Ants working together

Weaver Ant sustainability

African Termites architecture, BBC

Buildings designed after African termite mounds

Embryo development


Starling murmuration


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