The Selfish Gene

Dawkins' greatest contribution is his living proof of the arrogance of science.

Reviewed by Ella M. Rydzewski, editorial assistant, Ministry.

Besides being a lecturer in zoology at Oxford University, Dawkins is a witty and clever writer. He also exemplifies subjective science at its worst.

Science as a religion may have found its own concept of original sin in Dawkins' thesis described in The Selfish Gene. We are "survival machines robot vehicles blindly programmed to preserve the selfish molecules known as genes." Dawkins comes across as a very good example of his own thesis. But rather than preserve genes, Dawkins seems programmed to preserve human evolution. He may be only trying to get our attention, but nevertheless he undoubtedly believes it when he says: "Living organisms had existed on earth, without ever knowing why, for over three thousand million years before the truth finally dawned on one of them. His name was Charles Darwin. . . . We no longer have to resort to superstition when faced with the deep problems: Is there a meaning to life? What are we here for? What is man?'' He goes on to quote zoologist G. G. Simpson: "The point I want to make now is that all attempts to answer that question before 1859 are worthless." Dawkins states: "Today the theory of evolution is about as much open to doubt as the theory that the earth goes round the sun."

To Dawkins all living creatures be have in such a way so as to preserve the selfish gene. The selfish gene is not just one bit of DNA, but all replicas of it. Its goal is to be more numerous in the gene pool. "Basically it does this by helping to program the bodies in which it finds itself to survive and to reproduce."

Dawkins holds out a spindly branch of salvation in spite of his dismal discovery about natural selfishness. "Our genes may instruct us to be selfish, but we are not necessarily compelled to obey them all our lives. It may just be more difficult to learn altruism than it would be if we were genetically programmed to be altruistic." Humans, "alone on earth, can rebel against the tyranny of the selfish replicators."

Though the material in the book is well written, understandable, and interesting, Dawkins' greatest contribution is his living proof of the arrogance of science. He shows his disdain by stating that "philosophy and the subjects known as 'humanities' are still taught almost as if Darwin had never lived. No doubt this will change in time." This author of The Blind Watchmaker gives the Christian a chilling foretaste of what the future may hold for unbelievers in the gods of science.

Dawkins leaves us with deeper questions concerning belief in human infallibility. In view of the large spans of time attributed to human evolution, isn't it amazing we have developed this all encompassing theory just since 1859? When we think of the immensity of space and the microscopic bit of it we inhabit, how incredible it is that we can claim with such certainty that it all began by chance. This takes more arrogance than that of all the religious zealots of past ages combined!

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Reviewed by Ella M. Rydzewski, editorial assistant, Ministry.

July 1991

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