Remember that Fate of Darwinism paper? Here’s what it says on Dawkins’ selfish gene …
|February 3, 2012||Posted by News under Darwinism, Genetics, News|
Here, in “The Fate of Darwinism: Evolution After the Modern Synthesis,” David J. Depew • Bruce H. Weber in Biol Theory (2011) 6:89–102 DOI 10.1007/s13752-011-0007-1:
Among gene-centered interpretations, Richard Dawkins’s well-known ‘‘selfish gene’’ hypothesis stands out (Dawkins  1989). This hypothesis proposed to reduce the potential conflict between molecular and population genetics by reformulating the Modern Synthesis from a gene’s-eye point of view. According to Dawkins, DNA makes as many copies of itself as it can simply because that is what (allegedly) self-replicating molecules like DNA do. Genes are stretches of DNA that stick together through meiotic division by being translated into proteins that fold up to make cell types and tissue. These make phenotypes and the organisms that bear them. Some phenotypes enable the organisms that carry them to interact with environments in ways that reproductively outcompete others. This has the effect of increasing the representation of the genes that code for these more effective phenotypes. This ‘‘genocentric’’ model favors natural selection over other ‘‘forces’’ and accordingly assumes that most traits are adaptations. This ‘‘empirical adaptationism’’ is the Modern Synthesis all right, but it is a version of it that assigns not only causal but directional force to the inherent moremaking capacity of ‘‘selfish genes.’’
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This approach involves, however, an entirely speculative account of human evolution. Selfish gene theory, like most adaptationist versions of the Modern Synthesis, sees organisms as assemblies of relatively discreet adaptations. Accordingly, it has been favored by cognitive and behavioral scientists, who like to portray mental states as supervening on a set of functionally dedicated modules localized in specific parts of the brain. Natural selection, according to the argument of so-called evolutionary psychologists,evolved these adaptations, many of which tend to naturalize traditional gender roles, at an early period in human history (Barkow et al. 1992). Like its predecessor,sociobiology, evolutionary psychology has encouraged dissemination of the selfish gene version of the Modern Synthesis to the public as a way of connecting the social to the biological sciences in a quasi-reductionist manner aimed at justifying oft-frustrated hopes for a genuinely scientific, biologically grounded theory of human evolution.
See also: New mainstream paper: Darwinism can no longer be “a general framework for evolutionary theory”
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Like selfish gene theory, ardent advocates of sequencing the human genome as well as the genomes of the fruit fly, mouse, flatworm, and other model species typically construed organisms as collections of discreet adaptations, each of which is ‘‘read out only’’ from segments of genomes conceived as instruction manuals, blueprints, or computer programs for making organisms. Connected as they were to promises about genetic medicine, which, it was supposed, would eventually enable doctors to identify genes gone bad and replace them like burnt-out light bulbs, the HGP raised expectations for cures of inherited diseases in the public mind that were greeted with great suspicion by evolutionists with organism-centered views as well as by ecologists, developmental biologists, and clinicians, who understood the complexity and sensitivity of this process in ways that genetic technologists frequently did not.
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In this respect, Dawkins’s notion that genes are ‘‘self-replicators’’approaches incoherence. He might say that he means only that genes are self-replicators when all other things are equal. But when all other things are actually made equal by spelling out in detail the developmental process by which genes express traits, any self-replicative privilege assigned to genes disappears completely (Moss 2002).
We don’t suppose there’s much point in them reassuring the world that they are “not creationists or intelligent design advocates.” At this point, that hardly matters.
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