• flaco
    28
    3. For some yet unknown reason, Dawkins misrepresented the thesis in his book, turning a work on altruism into a book on the selfishness of genes.Olivier5

    We seem to be talking past each other. Dawkins' exact point is that the unrelenting statistical imperative for genes to produce organisms that are likely to propagate more copies of the genes does not necessarily lead to selfish behavior in the organisms that carry those genes. Note the difference between genes and organisms that carry the genes. There is no contradiction.

    ↪Kenosha Kid why the title, do you think? Why this conclusion? ("We are born selfish") You've read the book, right? It didn't strike you as odd?Olivier5

    Yes. It is at odds with the thesis of the book. In his forward to the second edition he expresses his regret for making that particular statement.
  • Wayfarer
    10.4k
    The Selfish Gene itself takes the view that humans are altruistic, not circumstantially but genetically.Kenosha Kid

    yet 'the altruistic gene' doesn't have the same ring to it, does it?

    Dawkins and his ilk are generally tone-deaf to the existential plight of h. sapiens. Indeed, they show no awareness of what an existential plight might consist of. They ridicule religion as 'failed empirical hypothesis' but it was never intended as that to begin with. And for those who never thought that the Bible was literally true in the first place, the fact that it's *not* literally true doesn't have the devastating philosophical implications that Dawkins hopes for. Again, his is a kind of mirror image of the very fundamentalism that he criticizes.

    Dawkins's message is basically that we are social animals on an evolutionary trajectory to ever more rational and therefore higher moral standards, but that the process has been derailed somewhere along the line by the appearance of religion. It had looked until recently as though we were shaking off religion and entering an Age of Reason. But now, with the rise of religious fundamentalism, there is a relapse which accounts for the world's present troubles. Nevertheless, thanks to the enlightenment Science brings, we can root out religion and get back on track.

    The Virus of Faith
  • Olivier5
    1.2k
    Yes. It is at odds with the thesis of the book. In his forward to the second edition he expresses his regret for making that particular statement.flaco

    Fair enough. It's still an odd mistake to make.

    The only other motive I can think of is religious. It's a bit far-fetched. The idea is that Darwin has always been used by atheists against religionists (as is fair I believe) not least by Dawkins. Now, Dawkins might have wanted to publish a book about Price and Hamilton's research on the theoretical heritability of altruist behaviors. The work was a conceptual breakthrough in sociobiology and deserved sharing. But no doubt that the publication of a book entitled "The Altruist Gene" would have given arguments to the ID folks, Dawkins' arch-enemies... They would have chanted "God gave use the genes of altruism, hallelujah" till kingdom come. Hence the thesis had to be presented in a cold, materialist manner, not in a manner that gives any hope to them "magic thinkers".
  • Banno
    9.9k
    Oh , Tully, you missed the point. Can't you see the plasmoids clearly emblazoned in the guts of your cat etching?
  • Kenosha Kid
    1.4k
    yet 'the altruistic gene' doesn't have the same ring to it, does it?Wayfarer

    Well that wouldn't make sense, because the "selfish gene" is not a "gene for selfishness".

    Dawkins and his ilk are generally tone-deaf to the existential plight of h. sapiens. Indeed, they show no awareness of what an existential plight might consist of.Wayfarer

    But that would be perfectly reasonable. Evolutionary biologists are not in the business of existential plights, nor should they be. What you do with the you you've been given is part of that gift. You can thank evolution for being able to breathe in your sleep; your life choices are on you.

    They ridicule religion as 'failed empirical hypothesis' but it was never intended as that to begin with. And for those who never thought that the Bible was literally true in the first place, the fact that it's *not* literally true doesn't have the devastating philosophical implications that Dawkins hopes for.Wayfarer

    Actually, I've read The God Delusion and his target is not non-literalist Christians. The poorly named 'militant atheism' movement is not a reaction against people finding meaning by going to church. It's a reaction against people trying to ban scientific education in schools and replace it with creationism claiming to be science. I'm sure you'll agree that is not a good thing.
  • Kenosha Kid
    1.4k
    Or rather, to the genes of Toxoplasma gondii.Banno

    I thought of bringing this up when you mentioned you're a cat owner, but then I remembered that Toxoplasma gondii tends to effect men in the opposite way, and you come off as guy.
  • Wayfarer
    10.4k
    Evolutionary biologists are not in the business of existential plights, nor should they beKenosha Kid

    In that case they should stick to their knitting and not write books which end up in the Religion section of the bookstore.

    The poorly named 'militant atheism' movement is not a reaction against people finding meaning by going to church. It's a reaction against people trying to ban scientific education in schools and replace it with creationism claiming to be science. I'm sure you'll agree that is not a good thing.Kenosha Kid

    Dawkins' attitude to what he condescendingly refers to as intellligent believers, is that they only soften things up for the fundamentalists whom he thinks characterise actual religion. When the Astronomer Royal, Lord Martin Rees, was awared the Templeton Prize a few years ago, you know that Dawkins compared him to Quisling? Even Peter Higgs is on the record saying that he sees Dawkins as an anti-religious fundamentalist.

    If Dawkins only had flat-earthers, young-earth creationism and deranged jihadis in his sights I would have no problems agreeing with him, but he's on a mission to convert. He says at the beginning ot TGD that he hopes that Christians who pick up the book put it down as non-believers. Had the rather opposite effect on me, as I thought it was so philosophically specious I re-examined many of the traditional apologist arguments, and found them vastly superior.
  • Srap Tasmaner
    2.7k
    In that case they should stick to their knitting and not write books which end up in the Religion section of the bookstore.Wayfarer

    Not in my bookstore.

    Be that as it may, why should he?

    What is Richard Dawkins allowed to write about?

    What sorts of things is he allowed to write about what he is allowed to write about?

    I assume you're not especially threatened by his participation in the great discussion of religion or spirituality; you disagree and you may even think he argues, so to speak, in bad faith.

    But none of this is a threat to your views, so why do you care what he says?
  • Wayfarer
    10.4k
    hat is Richard Dawkins allowed to write about?

    What sorts of things is he allowed to write about what he is allowed to write about?
    Srap Tasmaner

    This was the context:

    Evolutionary biologists are not in the business of existential plights, nor should they be.Kenosha Kid

    So I was saying that if he's not in the business of existential plights, then perhaps it would be wise to stick to his knitting, and not ill-informed anti-religious polemics.

    But none of this is a threat to your views, so why do you care what he says?Srap Tasmaner

    It's a philosophical discussion on the merits or otherwise of Mary Midgley's criticism of Dawkins. In a broader sense, it's also a discussion of the influence of evolutionary biology on society and culture.
  • Srap Tasmaner
    2.7k
    In a broader sense, it's also a discussion of the influence of evolutionary biology on society and culture.Wayfarer

    Which you would prefer evolutionary biologists not participate in. Cool.
  • Kenosha Kid
    1.4k
    In that case they should stick to their knitting and not write books which end up in the Religion section of the bookstore.Wayfarer

    I perhaps did not anticipate having to make this clarification and should have: evolutionary biologists are not in the business of existential plights in their capacity as evolutionary biologists. What they do in their free time is all part of that freedom. It doesn't follow that evolutionary biology in particular is obliged to answer questions about environments that evolution itself has not been privy to. If it has no bearing on our genetic heritage, there will be a limited answers from genetics.

    That said, while we are an animal evolved in one environment now living in another, we are still that animal, so the answer is never completely independent of our genetic heritage either. If we accept the genetic basis of evolution and the truth of evolution, that is
  • Wayfarer
    10.4k
    That said, while we are an animal evolved in one environment now living in another, we are still that animal,Kenosha Kid

    We're the rational animal, and that's a difference that makes a difference. Saying we're just an animal, or just a species, is the epitome of biological reductionism, of which Dawkins is a prime exemplar.

    Do you think the principles that reason recognises - the law of the excluded middle, and so on - are 'the product' of evolutionary biology? I would say, of course not. H. sapiens evolved, no doubt whatever, but at the point of being able to realise such abstract truths, escaped the bounds of biological evolution, became something more than what biological evolution can explain (as Alfred Russel Wallace said.) No other species can contemplate the meaning of the Universe (let alone weigh and measure it!) But biological reductionism wishes to say that our capacity to carry out these astonishing tasks is something like an adaptation in the service of genetic proliferation. Have a read of Thomas Nagel's essay Evolutionary Reductionism and the Fear of Religion.pdf. Nagel professes atheism, but he has no trouble spotting the deep contradiction at the heart of these arguments.

    Which you would prefer evolutionary biologists not participate in. Cool.Srap Tasmaner
    Of course they can participate in the subject, they're principle stakeholders. But Richard Dawkins was one of the so-called 'New Atheists', the others being Daniel Dennett, Sam Harris and Christopher Hitchens, who launched a series of anti-religious polemical books in the early 2000's. None of those books were informed by evolutionary biology so much as by a visceral hatred of anything religious and weaponising biological theory to attack it. That was what Mary Midgely - who was also not a religious apologist of any stripe - was criticising. And she was right on the money, in my view.
  • Olivier5
    1.2k
    Wise words from an astronomer:

    If you are teaching Muslim sixth formers in a school and you tell them they can't have their God and Darwin, there is a risk they will choose their God and be lost to science. — Martin Rees
  • Olivier5
    1.2k
    None of those books were informed by evolutionary biology so much as by a visceral hatred of anything religious and weaponising biological theory to attack it. That was what Mary Midgely - who was also not a religious apologist of any stripe - was criticising. And she was right on the money, in my view.Wayfarer
    :up:
  • StreetlightX
    6.4k
    Isn't this just the central dogma? Just because we call it a "dogma" doesn't mean there's any idolatry or superstition here.Srap Tasmaner

    It's the dogma, but it's what Dawkins draws from the dogma - what he thinks it entails - that's quite literally unscientific. Actually theological. To put the problem as starkly as can be: genes don't exist. Or, less provocatively, the individuation of genes can only be processual, not structural. Here's Evelyn Fox Keller:

    "One gene can be employed to make many different proteins, and indeed the expression “one gene–many proteins” has become fairly common in the literature. The problem with this formulation is that the gene has lost a good deal of both its specificity and its agency. Which protein should a gene make, and under what circumstances? And how does it choose? In fact, it doesn’t. Responsibility for this decision lies elsewhere, in the complex regulatory dynamics of the cell as a whole. It is from these regulatory dynamics, and not from the gene itself, that the signal (or signals) determining the specific pattern in which the final transcript is to be formed actually comes" (The Century of the Gene)

    And once you take these environmental dynamics into account, the dogma loses much of it's explanatory power. In fact Derrida - who, hey, you invoked - is pretty bloody apropos here. The Derridian geneticist says: there is no outside the cellular environment (or, more accurately, the developmental system). Il n'y a pas de hors environnement cellulaire. Fox Keller again:

    "Fifteen years ago, the historian and philosopher of biology Richard Burian observed, “There is a fact of the matter about the structure of DNA, but there is no single fact of the matter about what the gene is.” In the interim, things have only gotten worse ... As Peter Portin observes, “Our knowledge of the structure and function of the genetic material has outgrown the terminology traditionally used to describe it. It is arguable that the old term gene, essential at an earlier stage of the analysis, is no longer useful.” William Gelbart, working at the forefront of molecular genetics, concurs in suggesting that the gene might be “a concept past its time.” “Unlike chromosomes,” Gelbart writes, “genes are not physical objects but are merely concepts that have acquired a great deal of historic baggage over the past decades.”

    I know this is just a bunch of quotes, but in lieu of actually detailing the complexities of gene expression, the point is that the problem with Dawkins lies at the level of the individuation of gene, let alone all the rubbish about 'it' being 'selfish'.
  • Srap Tasmaner
    2.7k


    That all sounds fine, and pretty typical for how science, ahem, evolves, particularly the Portin quote:

    Our knowledge of the structure and function of the genetic material has outgrown the terminology traditionally used to describe it. It is arguable that the old term gene, essential at an earlier stage of the analysis, is no longer useful.

    What I don't see is

    1. Any evidence that Dawkins was misrepresenting the consensus of the early 70s.
    2. Even if he were, that his doing so was "unscientific".

    It's (2) that matters, that you have repeatedly accused Dawkins of, and you could be right, I just still don't know why you think that. If by the early 70s all the cool kids were already abandoning the idea of "the gene" and Dawkins was some fuddy-duddy who insisted no, the genetics he knew was good enough for his grandfather and good enough for him, you'd have at least part of a case -- still just that Dawkins's views were old-fashioned or outmoded, and even then you'd have more work to do before it seems fair to say there's a commitment to the old framework that amounts unscientific religious idolatry.

    I'm still pressing this because even in this post you call Dawkins's view "unscientific" and "theological" and I still have no idea why that is what you want to say, instead of just saying genetic theory has moved on. Who else goes on the "unscientific" list? Everyone who contributed to the modern synthesis? Or is it just the work Dawkins was promoting -- Williams, Hamilton, Maynard Smith, Trivers, et al. -- or just Dawkins himself?
  • Srap Tasmaner
    2.7k
    But Richard Dawkins was one of the so-called 'New Atheists', the others being Daniel Dennett, Sam Harris and Christopher Hitchens, who launched a series of anti-religious polemical books in the early 2000's. None of those books were informed by evolutionary biology so much as by a visceral hatred of anything religious and weaponising biological theory to attack it. That was what Mary Midgely - who was also not a religious apologist of any stripe - was criticising. And she was right on the money, in my view.Wayfarer

    Yes thanks but I already know who Richard Dawkins is.

    What I didn't know, and am frankly gobsmacked to learn, is that Mary Midgley attacked Dawkins back in 1979 (when Sam Harris was 12) on precisely the grounds that in the coming decades he and those other rascals would get up to all this mischief. That's not only prescient, but awfully generous of her to object so strongly to their future weaponising of biology against religion despite not having a pony in that race. What puzzles me though is why she would cast her objection in the form of a tendentious misreading of The Selfish Gene.
  • Ciceronianus the White
    1.3k
    Oh , Tully, you missed the point. Can't you see the plasmoids clearly emblazoned in the guts of your cat etching?Banno

    I thought they were badges or insignia, or communication devices like on Star Trek.
  • Kenosha Kid
    1.4k
    We're the rational animal, and that's a difference that makes a difference.Wayfarer

    I'm aware of your position, hence my qualification. As far as I see it, in terms of evolutionary history, it makes no difference at all.

    Do you think the principles that reason recognises - the law of the excluded middle, and so on - are 'the product' of evolutionary biology?Wayfarer

    I think that anything that living organism does has that organism's genetic heritage as a pre-requisite. In order to discover the law of the excluded middle, we need a biological capacity for reason. In order to have that, it must have evolved in our ancestors. In order for that to be true, it must have had a survival benefit. This does not determine that the law would be discovered, merely that it _could_ be discovered.

    H. sapiens evolved, no doubt whatever, but at the point of being able to realise such abstract truths, escaped the bounds of biological evolution, became something more than what biological evolution can explainWayfarer

    Sounds like magic again.
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