The Selfless Gene by Charles Foster: Book Review

The Selfless Gene by Charles Foster

Before sharing with you my views about the book, let I put some brief snippets that I think will help you have a better understanding of what the book is all about and what it wants to convey:

--Charles Foster, the author of the book got the primary motivation for the book from the fundamentalist reductionism of Richard Dawkins’ and his opponents, the creationists. The author finds Dawkins, who is a staunch supporter of Neo-Darwinism, very unrelenting in his support for Neo-Darwinism.

--Dawkins and Charles Foster have intellectual disagreements.

--In the book the conflict in the thoughts of Darwinism, Neo-Darwinism, and creationism is talked about.

--Darwinism named after, British biologist Charles Darwin, gives a theory which says the diversity of species found at present is a result of continuous evolution over million of years. In his book Origin of Species published in 1859, Darwin explains how change in habitat and food results in permanent changes in the beaks of a single finch specie, resulting in a number of finch species, with beaks adapted for different foods. Survival of fittest an integral part of Darwinism, says that only those creatures which adapt themselves to take advantage of changing situations, just like Darwin’s Finches did, survive in the struggle for life; and those who fail to adapt or make them fit perish. Although Darwinism takes a lot of support from “Survival of Fittest” concept; the biologist never said it was the only factor responsible for evolution.

--Neo Darwinism is that branch of Darwinism, which came into existence after the discovery of Genetics (a subject which studies inheritance resulting from changes in factors called genes). Neo Darwinism says that when evolution takes place thru survival of fittest, i.e. a creature adapts to survive, the coming generation of the creature shows those adaptations, although this procedure takes millions of years. Neo-Darwinism believes that this happens due to changes in genes.

--Creationists, is that group of believers, which believes that the entire diversity of living forms seen at present, is a creation of some supernatural being or beings, i.e. God. God created all creatures to subordinate the human being (man). And even if evolution exists, it’s not positive but a negative one, i.e. the diversity of living forms at the time of creation was much larger than what it is at present. Creationism in essence is a religious belief, which means that Creationists take their belief from religious works; and some basic premises of Creationist belief are common to different religions across globe.

About the book:

To most of us, the questions like “Who created us?” or “How are we and all the diversity around got created?” or “if we evolved from Apes then why are apes still around?” or “Does God exist?” are pretty profound. And most of us find ourselves largely naive and uninformed when we try to come to a solution to any of these questions.

The author too, thinks that the questions are quite profound and hence they need a patient debate rather than any of the parties (that I shared with you in snippets) claiming their view to be the only reason for all the questions regarding our existence and our creation and the diversity. The book argues, how a rigid and unrelenting attitude towards one’s viewpoint is making the search for a solution impossible (if not solution then our ever quest for knowledge). With some discreet reasoning the author tells how no viewpoint or belief can be treated flawless. Take for instance this one, “If one believes that Darwinism is the only reason for human presence and for all the diversity around, then he/she will also believe that every time there is a fight for survival, weak will perish and the strong will survive. But if one becomes too unrelenting in his/her belief on Darwinism, then he/she can’t be able to accommodate God in the scheme of things (Creationists believe God created us and the diversity); as God for believers is considered to be benevolent to all, irrespective of them being strong or weak.” Take another example, “if proponents of Neo-Darwinism, feel that Darwinism coupled with genetics is the only reason, then consider a situation where a very healthy and fit man, by chance happens to be staying in a house, which is atop a volcano, which though has not erupted in years, is going to erupt at night when the man is sleeping unawares. “

The author has put numerous such arguments, which on careful thinking appear quite compelling. The book in itself is a nice collections of such arguments, many compelling, many not so; where an inquisitive reader always finds something or the other to oppose or support.

What I liked about the book:

All through the book, I noticed that the author wants various groups (that I shared with you in snippets) not become too unrelenting in their point of views and instead try to pay heed to other group’s or individual’s arguments. In addition, all through the book, the author tries to underline that simplifying things too much to the extent that one starts to see all diversity and happenings from the same viewpoint stagnates one’s progress in learning and understanding new things.

This is what I liked most about the book.

What I didn’t like about the book:

If the reader has not read some of the theories (that are from school biology books), that the author has used in the book, then the reader will have to get a basic idea about them before moving ahead. Otherwise there are chances that the reader may lose the thought string.

Do I recommend the book: Yes I do.

The book is for those readers who are inquisitive, want to see things from different perspectives, and are open to any thought which passes their scrutiny. This book is also for people who post think a book they read.

[Thanks to Thomas Nelson publishing for providing a review copy through their BookSneeze program.]