Nathan's Reviews > The Selfish Gene

The Selfish Gene by Richard Dawkins
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did not like it
bookshelves: science, science-social-theory-etc, books-i-hope-die
Recommended for: People who think atheism isn't a religion.

Didactic, patronizing, condescending and arguably neo-intellectual twaddle. I do not believe in a God, certainly not any God that's been conceived by man, but I also believe Richard Dawkins is a self-satisfied thought-Nazi who is as fundamental in his view of religion as any right-wing minister. Fundamentalists of all faiths scare me, and atheism is just as much a faith as any religion. The existence or non-existence of a God cannot be proven, nor can the existence or non-existence of a soul, and faith is an abstract experience with implications that are fundamentally unresponsive to study. As such, pursuits like Dawkins' often boil down to one type of faith (in "reason") vs. another type of faith (in a "God"). Many people love Dawkins. He is certainly intelligent, and writes as such, but he lacks wisdom and imagination. To me, that's the flaw in all of his work, from The Selfish Gene to The God Delusion. The idea that one human being can know enough about the nature of the universe to make the sweeping declarations Dawkins' makes is preposterous to me, and no more credible than the sweeping declarations of Jerry Falwell or Pat Robertson.

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Reading Progress

Started Reading
November 1, 2005 – Finished Reading
October 3, 2007 – Shelved
December 20, 2007 – Shelved as: science
December 20, 2007 – Shelved as: science-social-theory-etc
December 20, 2007 – Shelved as: books-i-hope-die

Comments Showing 1-50 of 63 (63 new)

message 1: by Meri (last edited Aug 25, 2016 12:55PM) (new)

Meri If I may intervene, I think the fundamentalist aspect of Dawson's philosophy is not his insistence that there is no God, but his insistence that everyone else accept that as truth. As no one has the exact same worldview, it's presumptuous of Dawkins to call others' beliefs a "mind virus."

message 2: by Nathan (last edited Aug 25, 2016 12:57PM) (new) - rated it 1 star

Nathan I wrote a really brilliant response to William and twice it didn't post.

But yes, I do think this book is "neo-intellectual twaddle". He didn't prove his point, to me, that altruism is a biological mechanism. It sounded like a reasonable theory worth investigating, but when considered with his blatant agenda of ripping into anyone of faith, his own arguments are undermined by his own rather unscientific ferocity. You're right when you use the word "posits" - because that's all he really does in this book. He "posits" something. He doesn't prove anything. His posits would be easier to swallow if they didn't seem so deeply rooted in his own biased attempts to prove that faith in any God is human folly. I suspect that Dawkins either had deeply religious parents, or is, himself, deeply jealous of faithful people. Myself, as an agnostic, could care less about his religious views. But his tone toward those of faith puts him at odds with a lot of other science writers I've read, who seem to have a lot less baggage on the subject. Reading Richard Dawkins writing about evolutionary biology, no matter how much mumbo-jumbo he uses to "prove" his case, is as credible as a book defending the CIA's efforts prior to 9/11 written by the man who was CIA director at the time. Too much baggage to be credible.

In my opinion. Which is usually right, I might add.


message 3: by Nathan (last edited Aug 25, 2016 12:58PM) (new) - rated it 1 star

Nathan Gozer? Are you the Gate Keeper?

Look, I basically think Dawkins is not nearly the genius people think he is. I could be wrong, but not much is going to sway me from this belief.

As for proving the non-existence of a supernatural being, yes, I do think that it is impossible to do without coming across as a fundamentalist. A person writing a book about the non-existence of Big Foot is no different to me than someone writing a book about the non-existence of a God. It's scientifically unsound, because a negative can't be proven. A real scientist would know this, and not even engage in the debate. Further, he probably wouldn't drag that argument into a book about evolutionary biology. This is Dawkins' fault, and it is one that is hard to get around.

His "posits" (as Robin calls them) about the evolutionary basis for altruism are interesting, but they're just that - posits. Theories. They don't "prove" anything in a scientific definition of the word.

Dawkins irritates me because his fanatical tone toward Christians is offensive even to an agnostic like me. The fact is, for as much damage as has been caused in human history by religions, as much good has also been caused. Great works of art, literature, civil rights, democratic thought, freedom of speech... many of the ideals atheist scientists hold dear today were at one point unique to some religion. Atheist intellectuals were not the first ones to jump to the cause of Civil Rights in America, for example; it was Christians. And I further believe that when the issue of gay marriage is finally decided, the right to marry will be given to people like me not by atheist intellectuals, but by Christians who finally realize it is a civil rights issue and worth fighting for. Because historically, atheist intellectuals hide, cower and run away to better climes when the going gets tough. Believers, on the other hand, will fight for a good cause and not take defeat personally; their faith in something larger than themselves affords them this ability which seems absolutely lacking in history in all people who aren't faithful in some way.

Because of this, Dawkins' writings will never sit well with me, and the fact that he has to throw in jibes at faithful people and treat them like idiots in a book about evolutionary biology proves to me that he's a man with an agenda no less fundamentalist or dangerous than the most extreme of the Christian right today. His "posits" will forever be undermined by the fact that they're only his posits, and his tone when addressing other issues betrays the likely motivations for the posits he comes up with. He's as credible as source for biology as George Tenet is for truthful information about the CIA & 9/11.


message 4: by Nathan (last edited Aug 25, 2016 12:58PM) (new) - rated it 1 star

Nathan As a final note...

I am no scientist, but I've read a lot of books by scientists. Probably more books on science, in fact, than fiction.

Dawkins is NOT a scientist. He presents himself as one, he condescendingly incites anti-religious rhetoric in claiming to be one, but he isn't one. He's a philosopher who thinks he's a scientist, and history has proven such men to be very, very dangerous.

To Robin: I didn't feel Dawkins "proved" anything in The Selfish Gene, and a lot of what he did write, in fact, about speciation and genetic mutation, is at odds with most of what I've read about evolution anyway. He's far from "the next Darwin". He's an idea man. But what's dangerous is that he's an idea man who dangerously thinks everyone in the world should share his ideas, and those who don't are unscientific idiots. For a philosopher disguising himself as a scientist, that's not only a bold stand to take, it's patently anti-scientific and outright offensive to anyone who sees the world differently.


message 5: by Robin (last edited Aug 25, 2016 01:01PM) (new) - rated it 4 stars

Robin I can't believe you deleted my comment!

message 6: by Meri (last edited Aug 25, 2016 01:01PM) (new)

Meri Even if it is true that religion's effects balance out in favor of good historically (I think that's questionable), could it still be that religion has outlived its usefulness?

Perhaps it has for you. There are a lot of desperate people out there who need something to believe in, be it an afterlife or just the sacredness of our existence. It's very presumptuous to want to take that away from them. Not to mention dangerous: we've seen what happens when religion is forcefully removed from a populace. Look at Stalin's Russia or China during the cultural revolution.

Yes, religion is a source of oppression and censorship. If you live in Iraq right now, so is American style democracy. Does that mean we should abolish democracy? PETA does some awful things in the name of animal rights, do we therefore abolish animal rights?

It's simplistic and narrow minded to say that you know, without a doubt, that your beliefs are correct and everyone else's are wrong. This is the source of all of the oppression and censorship that you reference, yet both you and Richard Dawkins make the same mistake.

message 7: by Nathan (last edited Aug 25, 2016 01:01PM) (new) - rated it 1 star

Nathan William:

Yes, if it were phrased as something like "we have no reason to believe that god exists", Dawkins would carry more weight with me. I've read lots of other agnostic and atheist writers and scientists who phrase it like that, and don't denounce all faithful people as idiots. Stephen Jay Gould or Carl Sagan come to mind. To me, they're not fundamentalists, they're scientists smart enough to know that they can't know everything, and the way they phrase their arguments reflect that. I don't see that in Dawkins. I honestly see a fundamentalism that really isn't any different in my eyes than that of Pat Robertson. To me, it doesn't make Dawkins any more credible. Whereas Sagan brings credit to himself and his work by writing about his scientific quest as his own religion, his own version of 'faith', he not only acknowledges the greatest possible acknowledgment ("I will never know enough to know all or say definitively"), Dawkins says universally that people of faith are intellectually at fault. Sagan's writing is therefor more scientific and at the same time more respectful. For those reasons, it could easily be discussed with someone of an opposing view. Ergo, it can lead to progress. What is Dawkins doing but "preaching to the choir", a decidedly fundamentalist (and safe) thing to do?

As for gay marriage, I simply thing you're wrong. Maybe it is because I'm gay, but I've watched this issue get batted around for 15 years now. Intellectuals and liberals have never fought for it or defended gay people against the right. Kerry and Edwards both even used Cheney's daughter in a blatant example of gay-baiting in the 2004 debates. One day, Christians will see it as a civil rights issue, and they'll fight for it. The supposed intellectual left will always see it as a political hot potato, and run from it. To me, it is their refusal to explain this as a civil rights issue and call this country out on that fact that has prevented gay people from getting that right. Christians will one day do what the left is too intellectually scared to do.


message 8: by Nathan (last edited Aug 25, 2016 01:01PM) (new) - rated it 1 star

Nathan You deleted mine on your page! Fair's fair.


message 9: by Nathan (last edited Aug 25, 2016 01:01PM) (new) - rated it 1 star

Nathan Ooooooh! Bertrand Russell, now you're talking my language. You also nail the point that those type of writers inspire a conversation, which is why they at least have potential to change minds or at least further the evolution of thought on this subject. I guess that, in essence, is my hang-up with Dawkins. Thanks!


message 10: by Meri (last edited Aug 25, 2016 01:02PM) (new)

Meri The only problem I had with your statement was your idea that religion has outlived its usefulness. Religion is so many things to so many people, and to write it off completely because of the fundamentalists is unreasonable. That's my problem with Dawkins. He refuses to acknowledge the complexity of human nature by calling religion a mind virus. He's placing Jerry Falwell in the same category as Thomas Merton, and that's just asinine.

There's a fine line between faith and fundamentalism. We push each other across the line by failing to respect that everyone has their own beliefs--ideas, as you pointed out, that we are simply certain about--and expecting others to accept ours. No one likes having their beliefs trashed without reason. Dawkins's mentality probably comes from having been unjustly condemned for his atheism one too many times. I'm sure all of us have heard at some point or another that we're bound for eternal torture and unworthy of basic rights because we can't accept Christian dogma. Alls I'm saying is that he's making the same mistake by unequivocably stating that people's beliefs in a higher power are genetic mutations that should be overcome. Neither claim can be proven; both reflect the same lack of respect for free thought in that each expects the defendant to accept, on principle, the accuser's worldview.

message 11: by Ed (last edited Aug 25, 2016 01:03PM) (new)

Ed I read The River out of Eden several years ago and I thought it was spiritual and inspiring book. I don't remember any heavy handed anti religion sentiments in it. He just wrote about how beautiful and complex life is and how much that inspired him. It helped solidify my atheism.

message 12: by Max (new) - rated it 5 stars

Max Maxwell Uh... dude... what does The Selfish Gene really have to do with God?
It's a book about evolutionary biology.
Review is 100% epic fail.

I mean, I'm not saying you must have my tastes.
But don't give this book a bad review because you don't like The God Delusion .

message 13: by Jennifer (new)

Jennifer Borduin Dumbass

message 14: by Tim (new) - rated it 5 stars

Tim Casey This book spends all of a page and a half discussing the prevalence of the idea of a god. No where in it does it argue against any religion... Damning a book of science because its author wrote a different book denouncing the existence of a god some decades later is illogical. This review(er) is idiotic.

message 15: by Tim (new)

Tim Frederick "Intellectuals and liberals have never fought for it or defended gay people against the right."


You write off Dawkins for making a generalization of "faithful people" and then you go and say something like that?

You are committing the fallacy that my Political Science teacher berated us to never make on the first day of class. "Not all democrats are liberals, and not all Republicans are conservative."

Now, I suspect you meant to say Democrats instead of intellectuals and liberals. At least I truly hope you did, because I am a fellow agnostic, and a strong supporter of gay marriage, and equal rights for all people for that matter. And guess what? I'm a liberal, and a bit of an intellectual if I may be so bold.

If you are angry at the Democratic party for not standing up to the Republicans and their erroneous policies, then I completely understand your contempt.

But you need to realize (and perhaps you already have since I'm replying to a comment made in 2007) that the Democratic party and the Republican party are practically one and the same. The only reason we have more than one party today is because the government is desperately trying to keep up the façade of a democracy. When in fact our government stopped being "For the people, by the people" a long time ago.

I apologize for the rant. I just had to let you know that liberal/intellectualist types aren't all bad.

Thank you for your time, and have a wonderful day.

message 16: by Adam (new) - rated it 5 stars

Adam Man, this book is not about God!!

message 17: by Len (new)

Len Assakul It's worth noting that Atheism is a rejection of belief or there lack off in religion. If Atheism is a religion, that's like saying NOT smoking is an addiction or NOT collecting stamps is a hobby.

message 18: by B. (new) - rated it 2 stars

B. Doane I agree that the Dawkins is a great author and scientist. I agree with everything he says, but sometimes it does seem as though he goes out of his way to say that either religion is wrong or what people know about religion is wrong. On his section in this book about replicators, he has an anecdote about the misconception of virgin birth (pretty off topic), and issues with the rewriting of the bible (which is a redundent statement since he already says that any copying process has errors, and that there will probably be some in his book).

Shitikanth Kashyap How is this a review of the book?!

Nadia Leatz You say Dawkins lacks wisdom and imagination, but claims to be all-knowing about the universe. Dawkins modestly states that he does not understand everything about the world, and also points out that all theories are still theories.

message 21: by Viola (new) - added it

Viola Did you just review the wrong book?It is fine if you don't like the author's attitude toward Religion, but this book is not about religion...It is about Science. And science is about logic and evidence. Your distaste to the author's religious standing is hardly relevant. Please review the right book!

message 22: by Neil (new) - rated it 5 stars

Neil McFarlane Hi Nathan, I think you reviewed the man, not the book. This book is a book on zoology and has nothing to do with God.

Pradeep Dawkins places himself on #6 on 1-7 scale of belief system

Very low probability, but short of zero. De facto atheist. 'I cannot know for certain but I think God is very improbable, and I live my life on the assumption that he is not there.'

He doesnt claim he knows everything. Dude, have you read any of his books?

Pankaj Singh Did you read this book or something else? Or do you have no understanding of science? (Or are you just a sad sad man?)

message 25: by Brandon (new)

Brandon Nathan you seem to have misunderstood. His point was not that altruism is a biological mechanism but, what we see as altruism is in fact selfishness on the part of the genes of the organism. Also by you 9/11 comparison no scientist is credible if they are writing about their own research.

message 26: by Anthony (new) - added it

Anthony Campbell So Dawkins is not on many Christmas card lists?

message 27: by Rachel (new)

Rachel atheism is just as much a faith as any religion. nope. sorry, but no.

message 28: by Rachel (new)

Rachel actually, I'm not even sorry.

Simon Clearly you either you haven't actually read the book or you just didn't understand it at all. The logic in this book is pretty much fool-proof, and the question of god is not even really relevant either way (although it does incidentally show why many Creation Theories are not necessary to explain the development of life).
Go back to school and study basic science - this is merely the logical extension of what you probably learned in school about genetics and evolution (with some corrections and kinks ironed out, granted).
With regards to imagination I found Dawkins to be highly imaginative in the way he wrote this book - with a variety of examples taken from the natural world, as well as dry humour and interesting and accessible metaphors.
I really don't think you did even read this book, did you? If you had and you understood it there is no way you would post just a stupid review!

Gabriel Lima I bet all in that you didnt read the book ma friend.

Tarek Atlam The book is about evolution dude.

message 32: by Harry (new)

Harry Allard What's the point in a review by someone who hasn't read the book? You tit

message 33: by Ebi (new) - rated it 5 stars

Ebi You didn't read this books, did you? This book is about evolutionary biology and not religion.

Simon Clearly the reviewer is either a master troll or a massive stupid wanker. Those are simply the only 2 options.

message 35: by Deoinaidis (new)

Deoinaidis Persaud How can you make a claim such as the one you said that atheism is just another faith, which agitated me and led to a response. Atheism is a mind free of all chains of religious concept, free of the burdens instilled upon believers. A free mind that has to will to investigate things further that being dictated upon.

Francisco Rodríguez This book is the opposite of "twaddle". It is as rigorous as it can get. I can only understand your comment in light of an underlying bias against its author. This was written before Dawkins' atheist activism.

Re-read the book forgetting who wrote it. It is a scientific masterpiece.

message 37: by Salvador (new)

Salvador So, Nathan said he red the book to bringing out all his hate to Dawkins, quote another book and delete any comment that question that. Epic Fail review indeed.

Sheldon Sequeira Nathan, if you didn't like this shitty work, perhaps you'd enjoy an epic trilogy on biology: "Fifty Shades of Grey" and its sequels.

Andrew Ruble Yes, let's just toss out rationalism. 1 star? You're a joke.

message 40: by Henry Kivimaa (new)

Henry Kivimaa Hmmm... Interesting view, atheism is the lack of belief in god or gods. So if I do not believe in an existence of a mythical creature then that is a belief system?
If atheism is a religion then off is a TV channel

bitmaid If you are over 30, you gotta have a set of strong opinions on SOMETHING to be able call yourself an established adult in the society, or at least that's what many people think, be that something guns or drugs or in this case, atheism. I suppose those who flock to Dawkins are not merely swayed by his intellectual judgment.

I quite agree with what you said about fundamentalists, they can be quite scary! I sure hope people will feel comfortable living in the gray area rather than making everything black and white.

Drighten . Here's a person who the only the part of the book he read was the name of the author. Pathetic.

Wondong Kim Sorry to say, it looks like you've given a character assessment of Dawkins the man and not the book The Selfish Gene.
By the way, the book is brilliant in how it uses metaphors and analogies to explain the exquisiteness of natural selection (just thought I'd let you know, since it seems like you haven't actually read the thing)

message 44: by Arjun (new) - added it

Arjun Sankar Looks.funny to me.
Dawkins is one of the finest evolutionary biologists in the world.
What are you. You are just some keyboard jockey bitching about stuff on the internet.
Write your own book if you think this book is bad.

message 45: by John (new) - rated it 5 stars

John Pietrangelo Thank you, Dr. Dawkins. Superb!

Michael This review is a harrowing reminder of the effects of lead in drinking water. Terrible sad.

message 47: by Otto (new) - rated it 5 stars

Otto Lehto Your argument had zero rebuttals to anything Dawkins said in the book. Makes me doubt whether you even read the book. It has almost nothing to do with "atheism" vs. "religion" debate. It is science.

Mariana You clearly did not read the book (which has not one word about religion or god) so you should not review it

Guenael Mr NC: you are using the Celestial Teapot argument.

message 50: by Luke (new) - rated it 5 stars

Luke Harvey The above "review" is not relevant to this book and should be completely ignored

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