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The Selfish Gene, by Richard Dawkins
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garysmith



Joined: 14 Feb 2009
Posts: 39


Location: Paris

PostPosted: Sat Mar 07, 2009 10:05 am    Post subject: The Selfish Gene, by Richard Dawkins  Reply with quote

I have just started to read this. I hope it is not to full of technical expression's, I know very little about biology.Any of you lot read it? And what was it like for you?
Gary



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TheRejectAmidHair



Joined: 19 Nov 2008
Posts: 3864


Location: Staines, Middlesex

PostPosted: Sat Mar 07, 2009 10:57 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

While I have read many articles and essays by Dawkins, I have never read a full-length book, and I'd be interested to know what you make of this.

The Selfish Gene is a particularly controversial work - and not merely because of Dawkins' anti-religious stance. The rhetoric in the opening paragraph, especially, has attracted a great deal of criticism.

One work that I have found particularly illuminating on the subject of evolution is Almost Like a Whale by Steve Jones, in which he takes Darwin's Origin of Species, presents the same arguments in the same format, but illustrates those arguments with scientific evidence that would not have been available to Darwin.


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Ann



Joined: 21 Nov 2008
Posts: 1111


Location: Worcestershire

PostPosted: Sat Mar 07, 2009 11:48 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

I've read The God Delusion by Richard Dawkins and found it very persuasive and easy to follow. I'm not a biologist but I think he writes clearly about sciency things.


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mike js



Joined: 28 Nov 2008
Posts: 353


Location: Cambridgeshire, UK

PostPosted: Sat Mar 28, 2009 10:47 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

Himadri, Almost Like a Whale sounds interesting. Will look out for that one. I have heard Steve Jones on the radio, and he seems to be affable and a good communicator.


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Simon The Sponge



Joined: 13 Dec 2008
Posts: 160


Location: Gillingham, Kent

PostPosted: Tue Apr 21, 2009 12:10 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

I did enjoy the Selfish Gene but found his writing a little muddled at times.  some of his analogies I thought could potentially do more to confuse than clarify.  He was keen to emphasize the dispassionate nature of natural selection, but at the same time returned to using phrases and analogies that are anything but dispassionate and, out of context, suggest sonscious decisions on the part of organisms that quite clearly are incapable of them.  

He also begins to explore his idea of memes in this book.  The theory that, as we are biologically merely carriers for genetic reproduction, we are also dispassionate carries of information and ideas (memes).

I'm less and less inclined to read him now as his atheistic vitriol is starting to show in his TV "Documentaries" and interviews.  I should really read the God Delusion


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Hector



Joined: 10 Jan 2009
Posts: 293


Location: Leeds

PostPosted: Tue Apr 21, 2009 1:03 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

Simon

I've heard Dawkins labelled as vitriolic before but I just don't see it. He always comes across as calm and relaxed on television either when being interviewed or interviewing someone else. If anything he is almost too polite (a skill which he uses to great effect).

Arguably at times he mights become frustrated at the responses he gets, but certainly no vitriol in my eyes. Just a considered line of reasoning. I think it's a label that his detractors have used against him.

Regards

Hector


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Simon The Sponge



Joined: 13 Dec 2008
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Location: Gillingham, Kent

PostPosted: Tue Apr 21, 2009 1:59 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

Hi Hector,

You are right, I think vitriol is too stronger word, but his prejudice and intolerance of those with alternate views to his own does show in his works and I think his mask of politeness slips occasionally.  

I think he is very adept and calculating however at portraying himself as a very rational and calm person and (in his own documentaries at least) using careful editiing showing others with alternative viewpoints in a lesser light


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MikeAlx



Joined: 17 Nov 2008
Posts: 2104


Location: Seaford, East Sussex

PostPosted: Tue Apr 21, 2009 2:27 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

I don't think Dawkins has a problem with alternative viewpoints - just with plain wrong ones. He does have a habit of choosing unfortunate metaphors though - the blatantly anthropomorphic Selfish Gene being one such, which certainly raised the hackles of Mary Midgely (who, however, seemed to get entirely the wrong end of the stick as far as I can see).



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TheRejectAmidHair



Joined: 19 Nov 2008
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Location: Staines, Middlesex

PostPosted: Tue Apr 21, 2009 2:34 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

Dawkins is, as you say, very polite and measured in his presentation, but what he presents is bound to occasion immense controversy – and not merely amongst the religious.

Take for instance his espousal of the idea of “memes” (I believe he has retracted somewhat on this issue since the writing of The Selfish Gene). The hypothesis (for it is no more than that) that human thoughts, ideas and cultural values are encoded in our genes is potentially a very dangerous idea, as it can be (and, indeed, has been) used to support all sorts of racialist ideology. Of course, the truth or otherwise of any idea is independent of whether or not it is politically dangerous, but in this instance, there is not the slightest empirical evidence that this idea is true: there is nothing to indicate that ideas and cultural values are genetically encoded. Dawkins has, I believe, backtracked on this particular issue, but a great many mischievous people (not Dawkins himself though, I hasten to add) have made a number of very spurious pseudo-scientific assertions based on this.

When it comes to arguing against creationism, I couldn’t agree with Dawkins more, and I find myself just as angry as he clearly is when creationism (or some form of creationism pretending to be science) is taught in schools. And, like Dawkins, I find it hard to hide my exasperation when it is claimed that in our post-modern world, there is no such thing as objective truth, and therefore everything is equally valid, and  mythological accounts of creation are just as valid a way of explaining the world as the scientific ideas … etc etc. However, on the matter of religion, I do think that there are more nuances than Dawkins is prepared to admit. Dawkins’ viewpoint is quite simple: one shouldn’t believe in religion because it isn’t true. However, this presupposes that people believe in religion because they think it’s true. It seems to me that with intelligent believers (and yes, such people do exist!) it’s the other way round – it’s not that they believe because they think it’s true, it’s more that they are inclined to think it’s true because they cannot help believing.

Dawkins would dismiss this sort of thing as casuistry: something is either true or it isn’t, he insists, and if we are to be rational, we should accept only what we know to be true – or, at least, what, on the basis of empirical evidence, is probable. But the human mind just doesn’t work in this way.  It always amuses me when Dawkins appeals to our rationality in arguing against religion: after all, various totalitarian regimes in the past have tried to abolish religion, and I hardly think Dawkins’ appeal to reason will succeed where these regimes with their somewhat more persuasive means have failed. I don’t think there has ever been any people in any part of the world in any period of history that have not believed in some form of divinity. Belief is, if nothing else, a human need, and I can’t see it ceasing to be a human need just because Dawkins dismisses it as a “comfort blanket”.

(And incidentally, there seems to be some confusion on this point in the anti-religion camp. On the one hand, religious belief is spoken of as a “comfort blanket”, but on the other, they run an advert saying “There’s probably no God, so stop worrying and enjoy your life”. If religious belief is a “comfort blanket”, how can they think that this same comfort blanket is causing people to worry and not enjoy their lives?)

I suppose I fall into that category of people Dawkins particularly dislikes, those “I’m not a believer myself, but….” people. But it’s true: I’m with Dawkins on a great many points: I agree with him on the matter of faith schools, and on the influence of religious bodies in secular legislation; I share his exasperation with the “everything is equally valid” nonsense of post-modernists; and I am just as angry as he is on the teaching of creationism in schools. But if, as Dawkins tells us, everything must be questioned, then I don’t see why Dawkins himself does not appear to question his stance that our world-view should be strictly consistent with what we know to be objective, empirical truth, as that is the most important thing of all. I’m not saying it isn’t – just that this statement surely needs to be questioned as well. And once we begin to question it, all sorts of nuances and subtleties begin to emerge that, I suspect, Dawkins doesn’t have much time for.


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Simon The Sponge



Joined: 13 Dec 2008
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Location: Gillingham, Kent

PostPosted: Tue Apr 21, 2009 3:03 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

I think you've encapsulated alot of my own issues Himadri, although my reading of his ideas on memes was a little different - probably to my own glossing over these last chapters in the book - will post a little more when I'm back home and not supposed to be "working" (in the loosest sense of course)



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