Re: Zihlman and Sociobiology

Stephen Barnard (
Fri, 27 Sep 1996 12:29:32 -0800

Paul Gallagher wrote:
> Another way to show the problem with the concept of "selfish genes" is
> to look at truly selfish genes, such as oncogenes. A gene that leads to
> cancer, that is, cells that reproduce at the expense of the individual
> organism, is increasing the fitness of a particular cell lineage at the
> cost of the organism's well-being, and possibly its fitness (that is,
> reproductive success). But contrast this with the normal functioning of
> most genes that seem to be merely tools for organisms to construct
> themselves and their descendents. Some people like to emphasize that
> organisms are just the genes' way to make other genes, but you could
> equally well say, genes are just the organism's way of making themselves
> and other organisms.

With all due respect, I think you are missing something. Dawkins and
others of the "selfish gene" school of thought don't claim that the
"selfish gene" is the *only* way of looking at things. They don't claim
that the thoughts, emotions, desires, etc. of people and the conscious
social interactions between people are meaningless. That would be
insane. They are simply pointing out and exploring another way of
looking at a things. It is a ruthlessly materialist and rationalist
point of view, and a (to use a word that some seem to consider a curse
word) a reductionist point of view. There are no claims that I know of
that it tells us *everthing* we want to know, but it does shed light on
some facts are hard to understand without it.

Steve Barnard