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Chance and Necessity: An Essay on the Natural Philosophy of Modern Biology

19 customer reviews
ISBN-13: 978-0394718255
ISBN-10: 0394718259
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Text: English, French (translation)

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 199 pages
  • Publisher: Vintage Books (September 12, 1972)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0394718259
  • ISBN-13: 978-0394718255
  • Product Dimensions: 7.2 x 4.3 x 0.7 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 5.6 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (19 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #587,495 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

75 of 84 people found the following review helpful By TheIrrationalMan on January 21, 2001
Format: Hardcover
Jacques Monod, the Nobel Prize winning biochemist, allies himself, in the title of this admirable treatise, to the atomist Democritus, who held that the whole universe is but the fruit of two qualities, chance and necessity. Interpreting the laws of natural selection along purely naturalistic lines, he succeeds in presenting a powerful case that takes into account the ethical, political and philosophical undercurrents of the synthesis in modern biology. Above all, he stresses that science must commit itself to the postulate of objectivity by casting aside delusive ideological and moral props, even though he enjoins, at the same time, that the postulate of objectivity itself is a moral injunction. He launches a bitter polemic against metaphysical and scientific vitalisms, dismissing them as obscurantist, as well as the animist projection in history and evolution, as represented by Teilhard de Chardin and, especially, the Marxist doctrine of dialectical materialism. He refutes teleological explanations of nature as being contrary to the postulate of objectivity, drawing attention to self-constructing proteins as teleonomic agents, followed by an explanation of the role of nucleic acids, reproduction and invariance. This leads him to dismiss Judaeo-Christian religiosity, which accords man a significant role as being created in God's image, as a nauseating and false pietism and he even goes so far as to recommend eugenic reform. Writing with great clarity and flair, and often in a forceful and idiosyncratic idiom, he puts forward a compelling case, though some knowledge of modern biology is presumed on the part of the reader.Read more ›
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23 of 23 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on February 11, 1999
Format: Paperback
When it came out in 1970 this book caused a sensation. As well as explaining better for the general reader than ever before or since the revolutions in molecular biochemistry and genetics, Monod introduced the concepts that flowered into evolutionary socio-biology, Dawkins theory of memes,Dennett's and Ruse's philosophy of Darwinism and much more. One reads this short essay for enlightenment and stimulation; it is also shocking and crushing in its evaluation of the animisms(Monods word for religions) that have ruled human thought and behaviour. Although the conclusion is bleak and austere it is also exhilarating. Theists have attempted to respond, notably Mark Ward with 'God, Chance and Necessity' Even with 20 years to polish his arguments Ward loses lamentably in direct comparison to Monod's masterpiece of clear prose and devastating argument. Not a comfortable read but part of facing up to reality in the post religious era. A new edition with a forward by Maynard Smith has just come out in the UK.
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Format: Paperback
Jacques Monod (1910-1976) was a French biologist---widely regarded as the "father of molecular biology"---who was awarded a Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine in 1965. He states in the Preface to this famous work, "Biology occupies a position among the sciences at once marginal and central ... no other science has quite the same significance for man; none has already so heavily contributed to the shaping of modern thought, profoundly and definitively affected as it has been in every domain---philosophical, religious, political---by the advent of the theory of evolution.... this essay does not attempt to extract the quintessence of the molecular theory of the code. For the ideological generalizations I have ventured to deduce from it I am, of course, solely responsible. But I do not think I am mistaken in saying that ... these interpretations would find assent from the majority of modern biologists."

He states, "With the globular protein ... nothing but the play of blind combinations can be discerned. Randomness caught on the wing, preserved, reproduced by the machinery of invariance and thus converted into order, rule, necessity. A totally blind process can by definition lead to anything; it can even lead to vision itself." (Pg. 98)

He asserts, "Pure chance, absolutely free but blind, at the very root of the stupendous edifice of evolution: this central concept of modern biology is no longer one among other possible or even conceivable hypotheses. It is today the SOLE conceivable hypothesis." (Pg. 112-113) He adds, "The universe was not pregnant with life nor the biosphere with man. Our number came up in the Monte Carlo game." (Pg.
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41 of 58 people found the following review helpful By Stephen Hitchings on July 5, 2007
Format: Paperback
This book is a strange hybrid. Although Monod refers to it as an "essay", it lacks the continuity of ideas that characterize what we think of as "essay structure". This is partly due to its origin as a series of lectures, and partly due to his attempt to deliver more than he is capable of.

When he speaks as a biologist, Monod's thinking and power to communicate are very impressive. He summarizes many of the major findings of molecular biology (up to 1970) brilliantly and in a remarkably short space. Very humbly, he does not even mention his own eminent role in elucidating these principles.

However, Monod the philosopher is another matter. In these sections his explanations have a more bombastic sound, his language and his sentence structure are more pretentious, as if he is trying to convince the reader that he really knows what he is talking about.

This is also obvious when he speaks of the crucial question of the origin of life. It is astonishing that so many reviewers claim Monod has succeeded in showing that life and intelligence have arisen by chance. It is true that he claims to be able to do this, but his failure is shown by the uncertainty that overshadows the whole work, and particularly this section, with an abundance of uncertainties such as:

* "Three presumptive stages..."
* "While uncertainty remains, and will doubtless continue, as to the paths actually followed by prebiotic chemical evolution..."
* "Remarkably enough, under certain altogether plausible sets of conditions..."
* "And so it may be considered as proved that at a certain moment in the earth's history certain bodies of water could have contained...
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