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Criticisms of Genetic Reductionism Within Science

Richard Dawkins in his book The Selfish GeneDawkins, R, The Selfish Gene (London: Paladin/Granada Publishing, 1978) p207 popularised a theory that the behaviour of whole organisms can be understood in terms of genes ‘seeking’ to reproduce themselves. The organisms themselves can be seen merely as ‘vehicles’ for the behaviour of genes. This ingenious way of thinking does explain certain elements of behaviour in certain organisms, but it does not do justice to evolution as a whole. Natural selection ‘sees a five-foot tall plant as a five-foot-tall plant, not as a five-foot-tall plant with genotype g ... phenotype will screen off any intrinsic property of the gene (or the genotype) from its level of reproductive success.’Brandon, RN, ‘Adaptation explanations: are adaptations for the good of replicators or interactors?’ in Evolution at a Crossroads ed. DJ Depew and BH Weber (Cambridge, Ma., MIT Press, 1985) p90...Or as Brian Goodwin colourfully puts it: ‘As the spots disappear, so does the leopard.’See Goodwin, B, How the Leopard Changed his Spots (London: Orion Bks, 1995) p28f - also Rose, S, Lifelines: Biology, Freedom, Determinism (London: Penguin, 1997) p213f and Rolston, H, Genes, Genesis and...

We are very far from being able to say that a particular gene directly codes for a particular human behaviour. Even behaviour with a strong genetic component is almost certain to derive from interaction between the products of many different genes. At the very most all we can say is that particular genes may have some effect on individuals’ predisposition to the learning of some life-patterns rather than others.

Email link | Feedback | Contributed by: Dr. Christopher Southgate
Source: God, Humanity and the Cosmos  (T&T Clark, 1999)

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