Intelligent Design

Neil Thomas on “The Dawkinsian Mythology”

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The Selfish Gene (Popular Science)

Richard Dawkins is, for popular science media, one of the “world’s smartest scientist” types and therefore big enough to have a mythology:

With reference to the biological world, in the aftermath of the 1976 publication of Richard Dawkins’s The Selfish Gene, philosopher Mary Midgely pointed out the fatuousness of the “meme” hypothesis in painfully direct terms which are doubtless well-known to readers of her articles. Her critique has since been reinforced by others. Philosopher David Stove subjected the Dawkinsian conjecture to the most comprehensive critique. Latterly, John Gray, with habitual trenchancy, has written of “the cod-science of memes” — those supposed “replicating” forces postulated by Dawkins which have no more referent in the real world, Gray fulminates, than the non-existent substance of phlogiston.

In the course of opposing Dawkins’s attempt to extend further the Darwinian imperium into the realm of “universal Darwinism,” philosopher Anthony Flew even disputed whether the term “natural selection” had any genuine meaning at all, questioning the selective power Darwin claimed for it. His British colleague Richard Spilsbury concurred, writing in regard to the question-begging term “complexification” (postulated as a process leading — by intermediate steps wholly unknown — from unicellular species to the eventual evolution of homo sapiens) that “to say that these developments might have come about through the selection of chance variation is not evidence that they did.”5

To establish a conceptual possibility was far from advancing a concrete proof, Spilsbury objected. To assent to that proposition was as futile as it would be to support Charles Darwin’s long disproved theory of pangenesis and the associated idea of “gemmules” in heredity.6

Neil Thomas, “The Dawkinsian Mythology” at Evolution News and Science Today April 9, 2022)

The Selfish Gene undergirded the careers of a thousand evolutionary psychologists, undergirded in turn by popular science media recycling secular beliefs. Facts, in such a case, must necessarily be largely irrelevant unless they are cherrypicked to support Dawkins’s conclusions. That gene was one of those things that just couldn’t not be true.

Neil Thomas is the author of Taking Leave of Darwin (2021).

Note: Thomas’s article is part of a series, Why Words Matter: Sense and Nonsense in Science, which can be read, to date, here.

7 Replies to “Neil Thomas on “The Dawkinsian Mythology”

  1. 1
    polistra says:

    Thomas is unfair to Stahl’s idea of phlogiston. It wasn’t as stupid as modern interpretations make it sound.

    http://polistrasmill.com/2022/.....id-at-all/

  2. 2

    Polistra,
    Phlogiston was fine in theory, until Benjamin Thompson (Count Rumford) used a dull drill bit and teams of horses to drill a cannon, and made no progress on brass shavings but boiled off gallons and gallons of water. His point was that without “releasing” any brass from the cannon casting, he could create infinite amounts of phlogiston. At that point, the theory had failed dramatically, and the heat of “friction” had some other source than the material supposedly containing it.
    But of course, Benjamin had reason to believe that phlogiston was false, since rubbing your hands together produces heat without notably abrading your skin. What phlogiston theory _could_ explain, was why oak logs burned hotter than pine. Chemical energy was in the material, but not heat.

  3. 3
    Seversky says:

    That Dawkins raises the hackles of philosophers and apologists is not necessarily bad thing.

  4. 4
    martin_r says:

    Richard Dawkins is, for popular science media, one of the “world’s smartest scientist”

    ???
    and what about this:

    This is what recently deceased E.O. Wilson, called “Modern-day Darwin”, said about R. Dawkins:

    US scientist dismisses Dawkins as a ‘journalist’ in a BBC television interview about pair’s differing views on natural selection

    There is no dispute between me and Richard Dawkins and there never has been, because he’s a journalist, and journalists are people that report what the scientists have found and the arguments I’ve had have actually been with scientists doing research.

    https://www.theguardian.com/science/2014/nov/07/richard-dawkins-labelled-journalist-by-eo-wilson

  5. 5
    Belfast says:

    Poor old Seversky; still huddling over the sinking coals of a lie.

  6. 6
    chuckdarwin says:

    Yet somehow, “meme” made it into the dictionary and common usage among the common folk—fatuous cod-science and all. LOL……….

  7. 7
    Seversky says:

    In other words, “meme” is now a meme, however much scorn philosophers may pour on it.

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