Sunday, June 24, 2012

Food fight ...

... Richard Dawkins in furious row with EO Wilson over theory of evolution | Science | The Observer.  (Hat tip, Dave Lull.)

Wilson, of course, has actually done science -- you know, research and stuff -- unlike Dawkins, who really hasn't.


  1. Wikipedia: "He studied zoology at Balliol College, Oxford, where he was tutored by Nobel Prize–winning ethologist Nikolaas Tinbergen, graduating in 1962. He continued as a research student under Tinbergen's supervision, receiving his M.A. and D.Phil. degrees by 1966, and remained a research assistant for another year.[8] Tinbergen was a pioneer in the study of animal behaviour, particularly in the areas of instinct, learning and choice.[16] Dawkins' research in this period concerned models of animal decision-making.[17]
    From 1967 to 1969, he was an assistant professor of zoology at the University of California, Berkeley."

  2. I didn't mean to suggest, Maxine, that Dawkins wasn't credentialed. I merely was suggesting that he hasn't practiced much, and not for a very long time, as the dates you cite clearly indicate. I believe the last genuine paper he wrote dates back more than 30 years. He has said himself that he was always less interested in bench science than in the philosophic implications of science. Which has always made me wonder why he didn't study philosophy, a subject in which he is not credentialed, not very well informed, and not very astute.

  3. It seems intuitive anyway that the group theory would take precedent over the kin theory, even though selfish-gene theory leads to arguments which include the selfish gene as being in the group being protected by altruism. And I will proffer that until any theory becomes better supported outside of intuition, we must go with our gut. As a card-carrying gene container myself, and some times altruistic organism, my intuition on the matter counts, therefore.

    According to the selfish gene theorists, altruism would be in service to the selfish gene. The reason for altruism's existence is because of the selfishness of genes. The selfish gene theorists note that the altruistic organisms are going to die. It's the gene that can and does live on, such that all genes that are now extant must have been sufficiently selfish to get this far through time and circumstance, very selfish indeed.

    A soldier who gives up his or her life for his or her country may be doing it evolutionarily speaking to protect his or her kin, therefore genes. But not everything is Hatfields versus McCoys. This must be recognized, otherwise we go madly down the selfish gene road for the sake of a selfish theory that must be selfishly proved. Just to note, that tracks through fratricide and siblicide are different than through altruism, where both group and kin theorists can tread sure-footedly.

    We also know that altruism extends even outside species, as when an owner risks life and limb to save a pet from a fire. You could say that such a pet owner, genetically speaking, would be genetically insane. But this presupposes the selfish gene theory. Or, you could say that the pet helps kin survive better, therefore the kin survive better when the companion species survives too. But this is forcing the theory as well.

    Not only can we at no point in anyone's arguments say, "Therefore kin theory", or "Therefore group theory", we cannot even say that there is a theory that we have that is THE theory. What's really going on may not have been proffered yet, or discovered, or recognized, as it were.

    And here we go. What I love about this is that it's all conjecture and debate. Who's right, Dawkins?, Wilson?, neither? no one?

    1. Above I said, "Just to note, that tracks through fratricide and siblicide are different than through altruism, where both group and kin theorists can tread sure-footedly." That was stated incorrectly. That was intended to say, "fratricide and siblicide . . . where both group and kin theorists can tread sure-footedly," not to say that they tread surefootedly through altruism, which intuitively favors the group theorists.

    2. I just returned from my racewalking of 5.6 miles, and I was thinking I should also note here the obvious, that adoption favors group theory. (I recently "adopted" a cat. Through my second wife, I like to have a cat in my little group here at home.) But back to human adoption.

      Often the child that is being adopted is being cast out from the tribe by kin theory. The mother and/or father needs to move on to where her genes can grow stronger within a future or immediate and different brood. The evil stepmother, then, has a place in support of the selfish gene theory as being the operative or at least the over-riding theory as far as an either-or debate might go. The adopting parents, however, bring group theory to the fore. And here we go again. There is a yet-more operative theory, which is love.

  4. I don't know if anyone here has read the Prospect review by Dawkins, Wilson's reply to it there, and the debate in the comments thread, but there are some interesting attempts to get to grips with the issues, and some not-so-interesting attempts to slur at least one of the two writers. Par for the course in these blogosphere issues where people can use the internet to "punch above their weight" (as a very good article at Pop Sci about climate=science deniers put it).

    Dawkins and Wilson can both put their points of view from an informed perspective, that is my point. Someone attacking one of them for no relevant reason is a typical truth of what the internet has become - the reduction epitomised by Twitter is QED.

    1. I read the PopSci piece and found it wanting precisely because of its using the term "deniers." Whatever happened to the perfectly apt term "skeptic"? Surely, Maxine, you know that the term "denier" is loaded with moral implications. To equate skepticism of AGW with denying the slaughter a several million innocents is hardly a gesture toward free and open discussion. It poisons the discourse at the outset. Is James Lovelock now a denier because he has recently voiced some skepticism on this subject?
      As for Dawkins, I stand by my contention that he long ago gave up serious science for lucrative propagandizing of some pretty simplistic notions.

  5. I have often wondered why the meme that the gene has the "desire" to reproduce exists. After all, where is such a desire stored? Between the molecules of the gene? Between the atoms? Between the protons and neutrons of the nucleus? Between the quarks? Shouldn’t we devote all our time to isolating the "desire?" After all that would be a pretty powerful thing -- a life force I guess...but wait, reductionists don't believe in such a thing. Maybe more like the aether of pre Einstein time...and we all know how that fared following his work.

    Moreover, if there was such desire, wouldn't it really want to hide? To be stealth? To be non discoverable? Otherwise it could be detected and certainly anything made of it (like us) would not be able to detect it...

    It seems to me that there is very little science in any of this. Science tests a hypothesis through reproducible experiments. If the hypothesis survives the tests and becomes a theory, it can be used to predict. None of this is predictive -- there has never been a test of evolution nor a predictive use of it. Rather this all is pseudoscience -- an idea claimed to be true...and that may be the best it can become.

    But it ain’t science.