Brian Hodges's Reviews > The Selfish Gene

The Selfish Gene by Richard Dawkins
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really liked it
bookshelves: non-fiction, science, bloody-brilliant, life-changing

Although I consider myself a Jesus-loving, god-fearing, creationist, I simply LOVE reading about evolution. I'm not sure what it is, but I find the whole concept, when explained by a lucid and accessible author, fascinating. And Dawkins is nothing if not lucid and accessible. He presents the topic and various questions and scientific controversies in a way that anybody with a willingness to pay attention can follow it. Some of the chapters were a bit more of a slog as Dawkins has to resort to scary scary math and numbers to prove some of his points and set up for even more mindblowing stuff in future chapters. But most of the time, this book is chock full of insanely interesting examples and user-friendly analogies. Dawkins sure knows his way around language too. One of my favorite lines is: "Sex: that bizarre perversion of straightforward replication."

On the science of it all, as I said, I'm a creationist, but I like to read up on the other side and at least understand, if not appreciate, what their take on the matter is. And to read Dawkins is to realize, yes, this does sound like a very solid theory. My one stumbling block to getting onto the evolution train one hundred percent is time. Perhaps my comprehension of just how long hundred million years is is faulty, but I just can't wrap my mind around how all of these ACCIDENTAL mutations, with no conscious will on the part of the group, individual or gene itself, could possibly result in the complexity of life as we see it now. There is an adage that if you gave an infinite number of monkeys an infinite number of typewriters and an infinite amount of time, they would eventually produce the complete works of Shakespeare. To believe evolution is to believe that you now have a FINITE amount of monkeys and a FINITE amount of time and yet they STILL manage to produce the complete works of Shakespeare... and they do it OVER AND OVER AND OVER again. Just doesn't seem plausible. But perhaps further reading will sway me at a later date.

EDIT 6/3/15
I can't believe this review is still getting attention after all this time! And I love the thread that has developed in the comments. I should let you all know though that as of 2008 I have been living on the side of reason and rationality. I became an atheist after a LOT of reading and contemplating of the Bible (the link to my "de-conversion" story is down in the comments as well). I try these days to, as much as possible, follow the evidence wherever it leads. Additionally Dawkins' "The Ancestor's Tale" was one of THE most beautiful books I've ever read. Check out my review if you're interested.
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Reading Progress

Started Reading
April 1, 2008 – Finished Reading
May 8, 2008 – Shelved
June 12, 2008 – Shelved as: non-fiction
June 12, 2008 – Shelved as: science
January 22, 2009 – Shelved as: bloody-brilliant
February 10, 2009 – Shelved as: life-changing

Comments Showing 1-30 of 30 (30 new)

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Jerzy About those typewriter monkeys... Evolution isn't about getting to a specific final stage -- it's not aiming *specifically* for the complete works of Shakespeare. Bipedal humans and all the rest never *had* to evolve this way, if you could go back and run it over again, but you'd still probably get something of similar complexity eventually.
It's more like the finite monkeys with finite typewriters are in a room with an editor (natural environment, competition, parasites, etc) who holds on to the paragraphs or pages where the monkeys successfully happened to write something that sounds good, and throws away the rest; and meanwhile other monkeys are making photocopies of the bits that sound good and randomly putting them in different order to see if they sound even better. You might not get Shakespeare as such in finite time, but you shouldn't be too surprised to get something about as complicated -- perhaps James Joyce, or Chaucer, or Stephen King, or just something new that sounds good.
Does that make any sense?

Brian Hodges Actually that's a really good analogy Jerzy. I wrote this review over a year ago and I've actually come around on a lot of the stuff I was having trouble grasping since then.

Simone I love both the review and the resulting comment.

message 4: by Rich (new) - added it

Rich Merritt Hey Brian, I was educated in the 6000 year old universe and believed in creation until I was about 25. It's taken decades as an adult but with Dawkins and others' help I've been able to grasp the elements of the theory that my fundamentalist teachers ignored.

As stated above, if we are assumed to be the intended and completed product, you're right, evolution is unlikely. But as it is, we are the what has happened to be the current result of evolution in progress. And what comes after us will be the result of the random changes to come in genes and environment.

I used to hear that monkey analogy and many others likely. It's like junk food for creationists. It sounds good and it's convenient but has no logical value and is meaningless as an argument. In fact, it's intellectual laziness masquerading as understanding.

David S. T. Just curious, are you still a creationist?

Brian Hodges No I am no longer a Creationist. I'm no longer a Jesus lover either. Though ironically, the one had nothing to do with the other. Check out my review of "The Ancestor's Tale" to see how far I've come. :)

Marcelo Soares Schlindwein Jerzy, perfect explanation. The key point is that random mutations are nothing without natural selection: both must exist in order that evolution happens. The monkey analogy or the Boeing 747 example (Fred Hoyle) show that their authors did not understand what evolution is all about...

David S. T. Yeah it sometimes happens to the best of us no matter how bad we want to hold on. If you don't mind my asking what happened to the love for jesus?

Brian Hodges Funny you should ask. I wrote all about it:

David S. T. Thanks for the link, great story. There are many people who have reached the same conclusions, while praying for a heart change, not wanting to accept it. I was there for a long time before I finally gave in, but its easier now.

Jenni Too funny! I loved your original review (as an atheist, even!) of this book because you kept your mind open to the scientific side of things and liked to educate yourself. kudos to you.

I was going to comment and say "Try reading the ancestor's tale!!" becuase I just read it and it seemed to clarify a lot of the stuff you had issues with.

But you already read it and changed your mind and everything! I'm not sure if it's appropriate to say that's a step in the "right direction" but congratulations to you for keeping an open mind and choosing for yourself. :)

Brian Hodges Thanks Jenni. Check out my comment a few up from here too. I'm on your side of the fence faith wise now as well. So much happened in the last few years. :)

Jenni Oh AWESOME!haha I'm happy for you.

Brian Hodges Also, I see you're about to start school at UF. Check out the magazine Campus Talk. I write for it. I swear MY stuff isn't as silly as the magazine's cover would lead you to believe. :)

Jenni OH no WAY! That's awesome! I'll bet that it's great writing if it's anything like your reviews so don't sweat it haha. Campus Talk. I'll have to remember that--I'm not even up there yet so I can't check it out until mid-August haha. I'm extremely excited to go though. Are you a student, or what?

Yasiru (reviews will soon be removed and linked to blog) If only I could 'Like' a comment here as on social networking sites, Jerzy's deserves it. A qualified metaphor after the book's own heart.
(Though I must say that the only way Joyce might be said to fall short of Shakespeare in terms of complexity is owing to volume of output and nothing more.)

message 17: by Elling (new) - added it

Elling Borgersrud Brian you are an intelectual hero. I just read your blogpost. Sad and beautiful.

message 18: by Aimee (new) - added it

Aimee Davis Brian, this journey of yours has made my day : ) Love it!

Brian Hodges Awe shucks guys Thanks. I mean that. :) Life is SO much better on this side.

Rebecca Hi Brian, I want to send a message to past Brian, could you pass this on to him if you see him?

I just wanted to help you with what is a hundred million years.

Ok think about what one second is. Count one Mississippi.

One million seconds was twelve days ago.

One hundred million of seconds was 3 years ago.

Now think of how long a year is, and make a jump in the same proportion the proportion of 1 second to 3 years.

Rebecca I liked your de-conversion story, I like how you started to drink and curse before you started to believe in evolution.. In Catholic schools in Ireland they teach evolution as a fact, not a hypothesis, and they don't see any conflict between evolution and the bible... so I had always believed in evolution, but drinking and cursing!!!!???? That is a bit much!

message 22: by Robin (new) - added it

Robin I am not a creationist but I like your objective review very much.

message 23: by Ateeb (new)

Ateeb This thread made my day

Pranav Merchant very rarely do you get to hear such intelligent comments about evolution from a religious person. Bravo!

message 25: by Ben (new)

Ben Jump How do we balance knowledge, guesswork, received wisdom, fun, religious experiences or indoctrination, scientific research and an ailing temple of the mind? Drink wine and read splendid threads like this. Good job Brian. Or is 'Job' an inappropriate word given where your laudible questioning of the world and yourself has taken you thus far? Many happy returns (if you're a Hindu and/or it's your birthday)

message 26: by Aku (new) - added it

Aku This thread is a joy to stumble upon, almost unreal. Thanks for that Brian :)

message 27: by mindle (new) - added it

mindle Insightful and objective review.

Angel Eduardo This review and thread just made me a bit more hopeful about people. Thanks for that.

message 29: by JJ (new)

JJ Getting all strict on any scientific statements made in books written long before modern science came around is an interesting approach. Belief should be moldable and influenced by good old cold hard facts and evidence. The bible states that the stars will fall from the sky, and land on the ground, simply impossible knowimg what we know now. Clearly stories and myths meant to guide and influence tribes, not anything based in science or reason.

Mohammed Alomami I like your de-conversion story that made me forget your previous preview :)

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