Richard Dawkins

This is what I say about Dawkins in my book, The Alternative Life, published in 1996:

In his highly-readable book, “The Selfish Gene”, Richard Dawkins explained the ideas of William Hamilton, John Maynard Smith and Edward Wilson in relation to natural selection. He also introduced the idea of living organisms being survival machines for the benefit of their genes. I would have preferred a two-step concept whereby living organisms are survival machines for their cells and genes are survival tools for the cells. The arguments that Richard Dawkins uses with regard to evolutionary stable strategies are convincing and sensible. They mainly relate to the way natural selection should theoretically operate on characteristics such as altruistic behaviour, aggression, deception and sexual selection, if those characteristics are inheritable. The fact that observed practice often fits in with theory leads him to believe that genes determine those characteristics.

This is what I say about Dawkins in my unpublished book, “Lamarck’s Due Darwin’s Luck”:

In 1976, a British zoologist, Richard Dawkins, also had a best-selling book published, called “The Selfish Gene”, which set out to popularise neo-Darwinism. It certainly succeeded due to his lively writing style. His novel slant was to portray organisms as being survival machines for their genes. In doing so, he had been greatly influenced by Maynard Smith and Hamilton. Though he never claimed that genes are selfish, he took the view that evolution was about the survival of genes and that, consequently, they appear to have selfish attributes. With his passionate belief in evolution, his unswerving loyalty to Darwinism and science, his steadfast faith in the deterministic power of genes, his extreme antipathy to religious indoctrination, his emphatic denial of deities and the supernatural, his dogmatic refutation of Lamarckism, and his professed advocacy of reason and open-mindedness, Dawkins became the outspoken voice of neo-Darwinism in Britain. As such, he also became public enemy number one to anti-Evolutionists and evolutionary dissidents. Though he has basically toed the Establishment line, he has caused controversy within science by virtue of his simplistic generalisations and contemptuous dismissals of views that he doesn’t like.

Though he himself, as a successful author and academic, has repeatedly said that he sees life as a wonderful, awe-inspiring process, there were many people who saw his message as being that every individual life is a complete and utter pointless waste of time. Like Wilson, he may have inadvertently done his cause a lot of harm by portraying a universe so bleak and empty of purpose that he caused a backlash amongst seekers of meaning; and his vision of responsibility-free human robots, existing only to satisfy the demands of their selfish genes, can only have appealed to the most hell-bent of materialists. But hell-bent materialism was the direction in which society in most Western countries was going, on an unprecedented scale. A generation of upwardly-mobile go-getters and self-destructive pleasure-seekers had been spawned (though not because of Dawkins’ book, I hasten to add). In different ways, they would all be dependent on the advances in science and technology, which moved into over-drive. The main sufferer in all this would be the environment. Largely unheeded by the Establishment and the hedonists, many scientists and ecological activists were warning that the environment could hit back. The issue of the active role that a changing environment has upon evolution would also increasingly get called into question. During the 1980s, and thereafter, neo-Darwinism would find itself in even greater trouble than it had ever been in before.

And in the Bibliography:

Dawkins, Richard. “The Selfish Gene” (1976 & 1989) “The Blind Watchmaker” (1986) “River Out of Eden” (1995) “Climbing Mount Improbable” (1996)  “Unweaving the Rainbow” (1998) “A Devil’s Chaplain” (2003) “The Ancestor’s Tale” (2004) “The Greatest Show on Earth” (2009)

Despite my disagreement with the author’s passionate advocacy of neo-Darwinism, these books are very readable, informative and convincing in their analysis of natural selection. In my opinion, his books started brilliant with “The Selfish Gene”, went downhill to the “River Out of Eden” and then climbed back up to “The Ancestor’s Tale”.

When I became obsessed with evolution in 1993, the focus of my opposition became Dawkins. Not only was he the most prominent evolutionist in Britain, he also represented the most extreme view of evolution, to which I was most opposed. I have no personal antipathy towards him. I respect, and even admire, his views and his consistency, but there are several of his views that I strongly disagree with. When my first book, “The Alternative Life” was published, the publishers told me there had been a significant number of sales at Blackwell’s in Oxford. I reasoned that people sufficiently interested in evolution to buy my book in Oxford would very likely know Dawkins, so he would have heard about it. He may even have bought it and read it. Whether he did or not, I fancy he would have learned about me from my Letters to the Guardian (mainly from 2004 on). Since 2017, when I joined Twitter, I have not only followed him, and frequently responded to his Tweets, but also regularly directed some of my own Tweets at him. Whether he reads them or not, I obviously don’t know.

The first of my disagreements is with his vehement opposition to Lamarckism, and his failure to say anything good about Lamarck in any of his writings. In his 1995 book, “River Out Of Eden”, he describes Lamarckian thinking as ‘deeply pernicious’. By the time I read that, I had become a committed Lamarckist, having done a lot of research into the issue. He dismisses any evidence that suggests Lamarckian inheritance may be a reality, including that from epigenetics, and denies that it is even theoretically possible.

Part of the reason for that is his adherence to the extreme form of evolution known as genetic determinism, whereby his renowned speciality, ‘genes’, are exclusively and entirely responsible for all physiological, morphological and behavioural characteristics. I would concur that genes are very important to physiology, but I deny that in themselves they have anything to do with morphology or behaviour. That is pure supposition.

The reason he regards Lamarckian inheritance as impossible is quite simply because, if genetic determinism is true, it is. In themselves, genes cannot be changed in the light of experience. The only way that Lamarckian inheritance could occur is if gene expression is inheritably controlled by something other than genes. He denies that is true, on the grounds that genes are the only useful material things that get combined (and inherited) in sexual reproduction. Therefore the only inheritable things that can control genes are other genes.

The basic reason for his adherence to this exclusive view of evolution is that he is totally wedded to (monist) materialism. In his view, matter is all that exists, and there can be nothing that influences matter other than (the emanations from) other matter. The known emanations from matter are electromagnetic radiation and magnetic fields, which are not of much significance to evolution, but we cannot dismiss the possibility that matter has other undetected emanations (See Rupert Sheldrake). Nor can we dismiss the possibility that there is something other than matter in the universe, such as mind. Absence of evidence is not evidence of absence. Consider the issues of Life, Consciousness and Free Will. Is it really possible that they are just manifestations of physico-chemical interactions?

Behind all of the above is his not-so-hidden agenda, which is his somewhat militant atheism. Many people (including myself) are atheists in the sense of not believing in God, but Dawkins promotes the faith-based notion that there is no God. According to the tenets of monist materialism, there cannot be a God. His chosen evolutionary stance is the most atheistic in existence, and that’s the reason he chose it. In recent times, his whole raison d’être seems to be the wholesale reduction in religious faith. I have asked him on Twitter why it bothers him so much that other people believe different things from him. No reply. His whole attitude is more fanatical, and faith-based, than that of religious people. Of course he has the right to believe what he does, but he has no more right than any religious people to claim his beliefs as fact or to indoctrinate other people with them.

If Dawkins were to admit that Lamarckian inheritance occurs, which is what the evidence shows, then his whole edifice would crumble. Genetic determinism would be shown to be at the very least not exclusive, and possibly incorrect. Monist materialism would be shown to be an inadequate paradigm, unless Sheldrake’s morphic fields were resurrected. Any kind of certainty about there being nothing supernatural in the universe would become untenable. True open-mindedness might stand a chance of overcoming indoctrination.

My final criticism is over Dawkins’ adulation of Charles Darwin. For someone so opposed to religion, it is odd that he effectively worships Darwin. He can scarcely write a paragraph without mentioning him. The danger is that, given the amount of influence Dawkins has, he conveys the impression to his readership that Darwin was a revolutionary original thinker. That is fundamentally untrue. Darwin was just one cog in the machinery that is evolutionary thought (See “Darwin’s Influences”), and the only really significant thing he did was to write a book that had a big impact on the world . Lots of people have done that without becoming idols. Darwin was also not the ‘honest gentleman’ that Dawkins (and many others) like to portray him as. Like many an ambitious person (then and now), he was prepared to tell lies in the interests of his self-aggrandisement. Though I do not entirely forgive him for that, I do not hold it against him. To me, it makes Darwin more human, but the hero-worship that many Darwinists engage in is intended to make him seem superhuman. Like Dawkins, Darwin was just the right man in the right place at the right time. Luck was a very big factor.