Culture Darwinism Genetics Intelligent Design

At Chemistry world: Is Richard Dawkins’ selfish gene a dated idea?

Spread the love

The Selfish Gene by Richard Dawkins From Philip Ball at Chemistry World:

Richard Dawkins’ 1976 book The selfish gene, which topped a poll last year for the most inspiring science books of all time, has set the agenda for how we think about genes and DNA. ‘We are,’ he famously said, ‘all survival machines for the same kind of replicator – molecules called DNA.’ Battles have been fought over whether this is a good use of metaphor (and as with the ‘selfish gene’ itself, metaphor was all it was ever meant to be). But the fundamental premise on which it is built – DNA as replicator – seemed always to be sound.

Not from what we know today.

However, once you accept that genes are not autonomous replicating units – which is the only meaningful notion of a replicator I can imagine – you lose any plausible sense of selfishness, even metaphorically. I rather fear that The selfish gene, while doing a marvelous job of explaining the basis of the modern synthesis of genetics and Darwinism, has left many readers with the impression that this synthesis posits a pool of genes battling it out: the one for hydrogenase, say, landing furious punches on the one for keratin. In The extended phenotype and other books, Dawkins expanded on that view; but I’m not sure the fact that it’s actually alleles, not genes, that ‘compete’ is noticed.

It’s very hard to find everyday language and imagery apt for the complex process of evolutionary genetics. The result is that our linguistic choices here are not neutral; that Dawkins has admitted he could just as well have called his book The cooperative gene tells you that. It’s doesn’t mean this classic work is wrong, but it reveals a particular choice about how to tell the story. I was reminded of that when in his new book Enlightenment now Steven Pinker – a champion of selfish genes – tells us ‘we are born into a pitiless universe… that is ruthlessly competitive’. As with all literature, we are then entitled to ask the author: so, why this story?More.

The problem isn’t getting thoughtful people to think about these questions. The problem is helping hordes of science teachers and popular writers, who are as sure of the selfish gene as a four-year-old is of the Easter Bunny, to learn and tell a different story, one more closely related to reality.

Best wishes to Philip Ball. So much of Dawkins’s ultra-Darwinism is really just culture now, which – ironically – makes it hard to dislodge.

That said, 1976 was a long time ago. People who haven’t dusted off their thinking since then, really should.

See also: Wannabe a biologist? Better study math and computing, not Selfish Gene defense 400 (2016)

Dawkins’s Selfish Gene turns 40 – on life support


Die, Selfish Gene, Die

2 Replies to “At Chemistry world: Is Richard Dawkins’ selfish gene a dated idea?

  1. 1
    ET says:

    Except DNA is not a replicator. DNA gets replicated along with all the other parts of the cell.

  2. 2
    bornagain77 says:

    of related note:

    Dawkins tops poll of inspiring science books – July 20, 2017
    Excerpt: The Selfish Gene by Richard Dawkins (OUP Oxford) has topped a public poll of the most inspiring science books of all time, commissioned by the Royal Society to mark the 30th year of its Royal Society Science Book Prize.

    It is followed by Bill Bryson’s book A Short History of Nearly Everything (Black Swan) in second place, and Charles Darwin’s 1859 classic On the Origin of Species (Oxford World Classics) in third place.

    Participants in the poll called The Selfish Gene a “masterpiece” and Dawkins an “excellent communicator”, with many commenting on how the book had changed their perspective of the world and the way they were trained to see science.

    Which is an extremely interesting comment for the participants in the poll to make since the selfish gene is wrong:

    Die, selfish gene, die – The selfish gene is one of the most successful science metaphors ever invented. Unfortunately, it’s wrong – Dec. 2013
    Excerpt: But 15 years after Hamilton and Williams kited [introduced] this idea, it was embraced and polished into gleaming form by one of the best communicators science has ever produced: the biologist Richard Dawkins. In his magnificent book The Selfish Gene (1976), Dawkins gathered all the threads of the modern synthesis — Mendel, Fisher, Haldane, Wright, Watson, Crick, Hamilton, and Williams — into a single shimmering magic carpet (called the selfish gene).
    Unfortunately, say Wray, West-Eberhard and others, it’s wrong.

    Rocking the foundations of biology – video

    ,, In the preceding video, Dr Nobel states that around 1900 there was the integration of Mendelian (discrete) inheritance with evolutionary theory, and about the same time Weismann established what was called the Weismann barrier, which is the idea that germ cells and their genetic materials are not in anyway influenced by the organism itself or by the environment. And then about 40 years later, circa 1940, a variety of people, Julian Huxley, R.A. Fisher, J.B.S. Haldane, and Sewell Wright, put things together to call it ‘The Modern Synthesis’. So what exactly is the ‘The Modern Synthesis’? It is sometimes called neo-Darwinism, and it was popularized in the book by Richard Dawkins, ‘The Selfish Gene’ in 1976. It’s main assumptions are, first of all, is that it is a gene centered view of natural selection. The process of evolution can therefore be characterized entirely by what is happening to the genome. It would be a process in which there would be accumulation of random mutations, followed by selection. (Now an important point to make here is that if that process is genuinely random, then there is nothing that physiology, or physiologists, can say about that process. That is a very important point.) The second aspect of neo-Darwinism was the impossibility of acquired characteristics (mis-called “Larmarckism”). And there is a very important distinction in Dawkins’ book ‘The Selfish Gene’ between the replicator, that is the genes, and the vehicle that carries the replicator, that is the organism or phenotype. And of course that idea was not only buttressed and supported by the Weissman barrier idea, but later on by the ‘Central Dogma’ of molecular biology. Then Dr. Nobel pauses to emphasize his point and states “All these rules have been broken!”.
    Professor Denis Noble is President of the International Union of Physiological Sciences.

    “Physiology Is Rocking the Foundations of Evolutionary Biology”: Another Peer-Reviewed Paper Takes Aim at Neo-Darwinism – Casey Luskin March 31, 2015
    Excerpt: Noble doesn’t mince words:
    “It is not only the standard 20th century views of molecular genetics that are in question. Evolutionary theory itself is already in a state of flux (Jablonka & Lamb, 2005; Noble, 2006, 2011; Beurton et al. 2008; Pigliucci & Muller, 2010; Gissis & Jablonka, 2011; Shapiro, 2011). In this article, I will show that all the central assumptions of the Modern Synthesis (often also called Neo-Darwinism) have been disproved.”
    Noble then recounts those assumptions: (1) that “genetic change is random,” (2) that “genetic change is gradual,” (3) that “following genetic change, natural selection leads to particular gene variants (alleles) increasing in frequency within the population,” and (4) that “inheritance of acquired characteristics is impossible.” He then cites examples that refute each of those assumptions,,,
    He then proposes a new and radical model of biology called the “Integrative Synthesis,” where genes don’t run the show and all parts of an organism — the genome, the cell, the body plan, everything — is integrated.

    In fact, not only is the selfish gene wrong in science, it is destructive to science. At the 10:30 minute mark of the following video, Dr. Trifonov states that the concept of the selfish gene ‘inflicted an immense damage to biological sciences’, for over 30 years:

    Second, third, fourth… genetic codes – One spectacular case of code crowding – Edward N. Trifonov – video

    In fact, Darwinian evolution, at least how Darwinists treat it, does not even qualify as a science in the first place since there is no experimental test that can be performed that Darwinists will ever accept that falsifies their theory.

    Darwinian Evolution Fails the Five Standard Tests of a Scientific Hypothesis – video

    Darwinian Evolution: A Pseudoscience based on Unrestrained Imagination and Bad Liberal Theology – video

    Darwinian Evolution vs Mathematics – video

    Regardless of the fact that Darwinists have refused to accept falsification of their theory from mathematics and empirical evidence, Darwinian evolution has, none-the-less, been thoroughly falsified by both.

Leave a Reply