Monday, February 23, 2009

the gene-centric view is just plain wrong...,

It's been a year since my attention focused momentarily on the theoretical repentance of the socio-biologist E.O. Wilson. At the time of that writing, Wilson had a new paper that jarringly and famously concluded;
When Rabbi Hillel was asked to explain the Torah in the time that he could stand on one foot, he famously replied “Do not do unto others that which is repugnant to you. Everything else is commentary.” Darwin’s original insight and the developments reviewed in this article enable us to offer the following one-foot summary of sociobiology’s new theoretical foundation: “Selfishness beats altruism within groups. Altruistic groups beat selfish groups. Everything else is commentary.”
Not recognizing the importance of interactions leads to some unfortunate reasoning. The most obvious of these is Dawkins' idea that genes make phenotypes as "vehicles" to convey them to the next generation. What is truly unfortunate is that this metaphor tended to lead to the idea that genes are all that matters in evolution.

This metaphor to mechanism substitution error encouraged folks to make silly statements like all selection is genetic selection, and to ignore the importance of things like group selection.
In evolutionary biology, group selection refers to the idea that alleles can become fixed or spread in a population because of the benefits they bestow on groups, regardless of the alleles' effect on the fitness of individuals within that group.
Finally, it lead to a view of genetic determinism that is at a minimum unfortunate, and in the hands of the politically motivated and magical thinking - is pseudo-scientific, morally repugnant, and dangerous. There is a real intellectual hazard associated with Dawkins one gene one behavior view of the world.