Book – River Out of Eden


A Darwinian View of Life
by Richard Dawkins
1995

Dawkins presents a dispassionate and mechanistic explanation of Darwinism. As always, he can come across as derisive and arrogant, or charming and intelligent, depending on the reader’s predilection. He uses the metaphor of a river to show how DNA flows through geological time, with individual organisms being only the temporary vessels of that DNA at any point. The real force driving evolution is the maximization of DNA replication. Purposeful design is an illusion. In fact, he argues, even biologists are at times altogether too hung up in organisms, their physical structure and purpose. The staggering time scale of life on earth needs to be grasped if one is to avoid the mistakes of anthropomorphising and deifying. Propagation of DNA over this vast time line is sufficient to explain the entire process of evolution.

He ends with another metaphor which he calls a ‘replication bomb’, similar to a stellar supernova. By listing ten thresholds that life will achieve during evolution, he paints a picture of biological history beginning with simple chemical self-copying and eventually achieving space travel. It would have been interesting if he had taken this metaphor a bit further, but that would involve speculation and philosophy, two things that Dawkins prefers to avoid.

Compelling, well-written and argued using hard science, thought experiments, and empirical examples, this volume serves as a good handbook for those who would take the Darwinian side of a debate on origins.

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