The Corpus Callosum

Fact-Checking Richard Dawkins

In the book, The Blind Watchmaker,
Richard Dawkins makes a statement that led one reader to feel the need
to check up on him:

I’ve been reading through Richard Dawkins’
books and am currently half way through The Blind Watchmaker (2006
paperback edition) and on page 119 he writes:

    In my
computer’s ROM, location numbers 64489, 64490 and 64491, taken
together, contain a particular pattern of contents—1s and 0s
which—when interpreted as instructions, result in the computer’s
little loudspeaker uttering a blip sound. This bit pattern is 10101101
00110000 11000000.

Of course, this piqued my curiosity. Did Dawkins just make that up, or
is this really the contents of a specific bit of memory on a specific

The original post is href="">here.
 The book was published in 1986, back in the days when regular
folks still knew how to skin pigs, change their spark plugs, and check
the contents of specific ROM addresses.  And each town still
had a watchmaker.  

It’s a neat little story.

Of course, one might very well ask, what is the probability of that
particular string occurring at that particular address?  Gosh,
it’s pretty unlikely…


  1. #1 david1947
    December 1, 2007

    LODSW followed by XOR mem,reg. I expect his experience serendipitously relied on register contents left by his debugger. The addresses have no particular meaning – why would you think they did? I’ll bet there are many other places that would result in a write into the speaker control register. This is not the only such sequence.

  2. #2 Joseph j7uy5
    December 1, 2007

    That is the point, that there is no meaning. ID proponents tend to look at things that they deem unlikely, and ascribe meaning to them. Then they use this as evidence of the existence of a designer (“watchmaker”). Of course there is no meaning. If the sequence wasn’t that, it would be some other, equally unlikely sequence.

    I am not familiar with the Apple ][, but it probably was similar to the Vic-20, which I used to have. There were specific dedicated memory addresses that were mapped to hardware, so that you could make things happen by writing values to those addresses. The addresses never changed, unlike the situation today with plug-and-play hardware. The old machines had no expansion slots.

  3. #3 Hank
    December 2, 2007

    The VIC-20 actually did have an expansion port, not that that fact invalidates anything in your post.

    Thanks for the heads up, brings back fond childhood memories of programmatic C64 abuse. PEEK and POKE.

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