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Ch. 3: Why are there so many different kinds of animals? 
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Post Ch. 3: Why are there so many different kinds of animals?
Ch. 3: Why are there so many different kinds of animals?

Please use this thread to discuss the above chapter.



Wed Apr 10, 2013 4:00 pm
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Post Re: Ch. 3: Why are there so many different kinds of animals?
I'm just throwing out a summary of this chapter in hopes of generating a discussion. it may be that this book is not the kind of book that generates much of a discussion and that's okay too.

In this chapter, Dawkins goes into the nitty-gritty of evolution, explaining the concept of drift and gene pools and the role played by natural selection. He again starts with a question—why are there so many different kinds of animals? He summarizes some of the world's myths, but says very few of them actually try to explain the diversity of life. He mentions the story of the Tower of Babel in the Bible—a myth that explains the diversity of language—and uses this as a launching point into the world of evolution.

Evolution is a fairly complex subject, and Dawkins does a good job covering a lot of material. You never get the idea that he's skimming through. He discusses how language has a tendency to drift, showing a passage from Chaucer, for example, which is dramatically different from modern English. Indeed, languages are discussed in terms of groupings and family trees just as animal species are often shown "branching" out from a common ancestor.

One of the more interesting sections of this chapter has to do with islands and isolation. The DNA of a species, like the words of language, drifts apart when separated. Islands have been a major factor in the diversification of species. Not just the kind of islands that we think of, a body of land surrounded on all sides by water. To a fish, a lake is an island. To a frog, an oasis is an island where it can live, surrounded by a desert where it cannot.

As such, the Galapagos Islands are a fantastic representation of this concept of diversification because they are fairly isolated from the continents. All species that live there were transported there relatively recently. And because the islands are somewhat isolated from each other, they have spawned evolutionary branching of a number of different species (as documented by Charles Darwin when he visited the Galapagos in 1835 aboard the HMS Beagle). For example, there are three distinct species of land iguanas. One of the iguana ancestors even evolved into the only known species of a marine iguana.

Dawkins ends the chapter with the concept that I found so interesting in THE SELFISH GENE. That organisms can be seen as "survival machines" for their genes.

Quote:
However different the details, in all species the name of the game is gene survival in gene pools. Next time you see an animal – any animal – or any plant, look at it and say to yourself: what I am looking at is an elaborate machine for passing on the genes that made it. I’m looking at a survival machine for genes.


This, of course, is a starkly different perspective than those usually put forth by mainstream religions. This particular passage was singled out on one blog as "pure nonsense" and evidence of Dawkins' indoctrination of children. I would ask if the idea that we are "survival machines" for our genes is at all inaccurate or offensive to some? Do you think Dawkins goes too far here?


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Wed May 15, 2013 8:56 pm
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Post Re: Ch. 3: Why are there so many different kinds of animals?
geo wrote:

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However different the details, in all species the name of the game is gene survival in gene pools. Next time you see an animal – any animal – or any plant, look at it and say to yourself: what I am looking at is an elaborate machine for passing on the genes that made it. I’m looking at a survival machine for genes.


This, of course, is a starkly different perspective than those usually put forth by mainstream religions. This particular passage was singled out on one blog as "pure nonsense" and evidence of Dawkins' indoctrination of children. I would ask if the idea that we are "survival machines" for our genes is at all inaccurate or offensive to some? Do you think Dawkins goes too far here?


No doubt people find it offensive, but then it is science they find offensive, not any "indoctrination" by Dawkins. This is just an example of why Dawkins is good at what he does -- this is a straightforward interpretation of evolution, but done in a way that lays out the implication in a stark and thought-provoking way.

People want to believe there is some objective, universal meaning to their lives, and think being a "survival machine" is demeaning.



Thu May 16, 2013 2:47 am
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Post Re: Ch. 3: Why are there so many different kinds of animals?
geo wrote:
This, of course, is a starkly different perspective than those usually put forth by mainstream religions. This particular passage was singled out on one blog as "pure nonsense" and evidence of Dawkins' indoctrination of children.


I’ve seen this ‘indoctrination’ comment on a few blogs of this type.

The Oxford dictionary defines indoctrination:
• teach (a person or group) to accept a set of beliefs uncritically:

I’ve completed a first reading of the book and would have to say that it is the very opposite of ‘indoctrination’ as defined here. Dawkins frequently asks his readers to think critically about the facts he presents. In a charming aside, he even invites the reader to consider why Darwin wrote the words “I think” at the top of the only page in “On the Origin of Species” with an illustration! Darwin suggests some interesting possibilities, including this one,”Maybe he started to write a sentence and one of his children interrupted him so he never finished it.”

No, I believe that what Dawkins is doing is the very opposite of indoctrination. He presents the old stories, he describes what is happening in science and encourages his readers to never stop learning about the reality of their world.



Thu May 16, 2013 8:47 am
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Post Re: Ch. 3: Why are there so many different kinds of animals?
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However different the details, in all species the name of the game is gene survival in gene pools. Next time you see an animal – any animal – or any plant, look at it and say to yourself: what I am looking at is an elaborate machine for passing on the genes that made it. I’m looking at a survival machine for genes.

Not exactly in the wonder/awe/magic mode, is it? It seems to me a reductive statement, which is fine in itself, but it does seem to strike on off-note regarding Dawkins' purpose with his intended audience. I suppose I'd be a bit disappointed if I were told this as kid. But maybe with some expansion, the wonder of it could emerge.



Thu May 16, 2013 6:30 pm
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Post Re: Ch. 3: Why are there so many different kinds of animals?
DWill wrote:
Quote:
However different the details, in all species the name of the game is gene survival in gene pools. Next time you see an animal – any animal – or any plant, look at it and say to yourself: what I am looking at is an elaborate machine for passing on the genes that made it. I’m looking at a survival machine for genes.

Not exactly in the wonder/awe/magic mode, is it? It seems to me a reductive statement, which is fine in itself, but it does seem to strike on off-note regarding Dawkins' purpose with his intended audience. I suppose I'd be a bit disappointed if I were told this as kid. But maybe with some expansion, the wonder of it could emerge.


I see your point, but for me it is awe as this very simple theory allows you to make sense of all the diversity of life. It's sort of this great game that is going on everywhere and at all times, instead of just a random assortment of animals going about their business.

I don't really expect a kid to have that outlook, but I think he or she could still find the joy in understanding things.

I wonder how much of this book would just go over my head when I was a young kid.



Thu May 16, 2013 6:53 pm
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Post Re: Ch. 3: Why are there so many different kinds of animals?
DWill wrote:
Quote:
However different the details, in all species the name of the game is gene survival in gene pools. Next time you see an animal – any animal – or any plant, look at it and say to yourself: what I am looking at is an elaborate machine for passing on the genes that made it. I’m looking at a survival machine for genes.

Not exactly in the wonder/awe/magic mode, is it? It seems to me a reductive statement, which is fine in itself, but it does seem to strike on off-note regarding Dawkins' purpose with his intended audience. I suppose I'd be a bit disappointed if I were told this as kid. But maybe with some expansion, the wonder of it could emerge.


This quote is somewhat out of context. There's a lot leading up to it. Even so, it doesn't pack quite the wallop that I got from THE SELFISH GENE where Dawkins discusses how life may have first arisen from the seas as basically clumps of molecules, gradually evolving to more complex life forms and, finally, the significant evolutionary stage of RNA and DNA that enables genes to replicate themselves. The idea that we are "survival machines" is actually a rather stunning perspective, from the gene's and not from an individual or species as we are so used to thinking about it.

In THE MAGIC OF REALITY, Dawkins sort of just throws this in as a closing thought and is not intended as a stunning revelation. As Dexter says, I don't the think young people or casual readers would quite get the significance of it.

I would suggest to those offended by the idea that we are "survival machines" for our genes to consider that this is only one way of looking at it. Dawkins takes great pains to show this in THE SELFISH GENE. Obviously we don't go around thinking I'm just a survival machine. That would be simplistic and reductive and completely missing the point.


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