A few posts back I engaged a discussion about Richard Dawkins’ metaphor of “Cimbing Mount Improbable” for the proces by which evolution by natural selection crafts complex structures from simpler precursors. Since I did not have his book in front of me at the time, I was working from memory.
As it happens, earlier today I was browsing through The God Delusion and I came across a description of the metaphor which, I am pleased to say, expresses precisely the view I attributed to Dawkins. You will find this on pages 121-122:
In Climbing Mount Improbable, I expressed the point in a parable. One side of the mountain is a sheer cliff, impossible to climb, but on the other side is a gentle slope to the summit. On the summit sits a complex device such as an eye or a bacterial flagellar motor. The absurd notion that such complexity could spontaneously self-assemble is symbolized by leaping from the foot of the cliff to the top in one bound. Evolution, by contrast, goes around the back of the mountain and creeps up to the gentle slope to the summit: easy! The principle of climbing the gentle slope as opposed to leaping up the precipice is so simple, one is tempted to marvel that it took so long for a Darwin to arrive on the scene and discover it. By the time he did, nearly three centuries had elapsed since Newton’s annus mirabilis, although his achievment seems, on the face of it, harder than Darwin’s.
Glad we cleared that up.