Growing up in the universe – Designed and designoid objects (1991)

Richard Dawkins

In his third lecture, Richard Dawkins uses the metaphor of a tall mountain to explain evolution. When we look at Mount Improbable, its peak seems insurmountable.

Watch time: 57:51
Richard Dawkins speaking next to an photo of a sunset
Credit: Royal Institution

Lecture 2 – Designed and designoid objects 

Most objects in our world can be divided into two types: simple or designed. A pebble on a beach is a simple object, smoothed and rounded by physics alone. The same is true of stars and planets. A microscope or a calculator, on the other hand, is designed. Their existence has been moulded by humans with foresight to aid the examination of specimens, or help with mathematical sums.    

But there also exists another type of object which is neither simple, nor designed. These so-called ‘designoid’ objects have an internal and external complexity that makes us believe they have been exquisitely created for a specific purpose.

In his second lecture, Richard Dawkins explores the world of designoid objects. He reveals how the evolution of these beautiful creations has relied on natural selection over generations of time. Simple foundations have evolved into complex objects, like the inefficient webs once spun by spiders to the beautifully complex and efficient means of catching prey we see today.

But not everyone believes in evolution by natural selection. Creationists believe in the idea of a ‘watchmaker’ – a divine being responsible for creating everything in existence. But if there is such a being at work, why do designoid objects contain imperfections? Richard reminds us that designoid objects cannot come about by chance, but instead rely on a gradual process of selection that determines their function on Earth.


The world-famous evolutionary biologist Richard Dawkins presents the CHRISTMAS LECTURES on "our own growing knowledge of how life grows up in the universe."

Just as children grow up to be adults, so too does life gradually evolve on a planet over thousands of generations, to move from “nonliving simplicity” to become “living complexity”.

Combining beautiful writing with a range of illuminating demonstrations, the series featured a variety of wildlife, a virtual reality Lecture Theatre, and special guests – including the late Douglas Adams reading an excerpt from The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy.