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Friday, December 24, 2010

The selfish gene is NOT to blame for being selfish ...

Just wanted to get that straight.

In the Wall Street Journal, physicist Lawrence Krauss, director of the Origins Project at Arizona State University, “The Lies of Science Writing” (December 23, 2010) explains,
Writing about science poses a fundamental problem right at the outset: You have to lie.

I don't mean lie in the sense of intentionally misleading people. I mean that because math is the language of science, scientists who want to translate their work into popular parlance have to use verbal or pictorial metaphors that are necessarily inexact.
Of course, it works the other way around too. Efforts to reduce complex matters like elder care to equations will end in frustration for all concerned.
Consider another famous scientific metaphor, the evolutionary biologist Richard Dawkins's idea of the "selfish gene." This is a brilliant and simple way to explain that natural selection relies on the self-perpetuation of genes that promote higher rates of survival. But for some critics, it suggests an intentionality that is absent in the process of evolution. Others worry that it implies an immoral world where selfishness wins out.
Hmmm. I wonder where the others got that idea? Meanwhile, lots of critics are still waiting for evidence that either natural selection or the selfish gene play anything like the role that Dawkins and other ultra-Darwinists claim.

If I wanted to avoid any notion of intentionality in a gene, I would not label it "selfish." It would give the air of sneaking something in that I officially proclaimed I didn't agree with. ;)

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