The Selfish Gene Does Not Exist

Early in The Selfish Gene, the book’s author, Richard Dawkins, declares, “I might say to you ‘Darwin was the greatest man who has ever lived’, and you might say, ‘No, Newton was’, but I hope we would not prolong the argument.”[1] From the fact that he has chosen two scientists as the greatest human beings ever to have lived, and of the two, has ranked Darwin above Newton, it is clear that Dawkins has a very high estimation of Charles Darwin and his Theory of Evolution by natural selection.

I wonder to what extent the similarity in their last names influenced Dawkins, thus determining his future interests and beliefs, when he first heard or read Darwin’s name and his wondrous Theory of Evolution. After all, the concept of kinship, or the degree of genetic relatedness between two organisms, is fundamental to Dawkins’ selfish-gene theory. In orthographical terms, “Daw” is clearly kin to “Dar,” or phrased slightly differently, Daw’s kin to Dar-win.

When Richard was still a young boy,
he heard about Darwin the goy.
Their names almost rhymed,
and thus intertwined,
he set out proclaiming, “Ahoy!

“My master, Charles Darwin, was right
when he said that most species fight.
So prepare to bear witness –
else prove your genes’ fitness,
or flee like a coward in flight!”

Besides the kinship between “Dawkins” and “Darwin,” Richard’s surname also bears a high degree of kinship with that of another famous English writer, Charles Dickens. As we shall see in the course of this essay, Richard Dawkins is the intellectual progeny of two prominent Victorian-era Charlies – Darwin and Dickens.[2] But like most unions between individuals of two distinct species, such as a horse and an ass, this intellectual union between a writer of non-fiction and another of fiction has also been sterile. Just as Dickens wrote many popular fictionalized versions of English life in the nineteenth century, Dawkins has likewise provided the world with a fictionalized version of the ultimate purpose and meaning of life: we are all here merely to serve, propagate, and perpetuate our genes, which, according to the Dawkinsian version of the biological world, are IMMORTAL.

Fundamental to Dawkins’ theory is his redefinition of the relationship between genes and the organisms they give rise to: “We were built as gene machines, created to pass on our genes.” (199) Turning the conventional view on its head, Dawkins declares that all living organisms are merely “survival vehicles” for their genes, meaning that organisms are merely the genes’ way of perpetuating themselves. Most people would object that this attribution reverses the true relationship between genes and organisms. Phrased in terms of chickens and eggs, it is like saying that the chicken is merely the egg’s way of perpetuating itself. And indeed, one way of considering Dawkins’ selfish-gene theory is by asking, “Which came first, living organisms or DNA?”[3] There is no doubt what Dawkins’ answer to this question is, since he calls DNA, or their molecular predecessors, the primordial replicators.

Dawkins begins the presentation of his novel and striking thesis by arguing that, before there was any life on Earth, there first developed molecules that were able to replicate themselves. These molecules he calls replicators, and, according to him, they were the ancestors of the DNA that determine the shapes, sizes, colours, behaviours, and all the other qualities and characteristics of all living things that have ever existed, continue to exist, and will exist on the Earth. With the passage of time, according to Dawkins, some of these molecules developed a protective membrane, within which they developed and replicated themselves, as well as the organisms to which they gave rise. He declares, “the story of the replicator molecules probably happened something like the way I am telling it, regardless of whether we choose to call them ‘living’.” (18)

But how can Dawkins be so sure of himself? Was he there to witness the events that he is describing? Clearly not, since he isn’t that old; and neither is he omniscient. Is there any evidence to support his account? No, for there exist no fossil remains of these microscopic replicator molecules. In other words, all that Dawkins has done is to present to his readers a plausible account of how DNA originally developed – an account, moreover, that cannot be proven because there is not, and never can be, any evidence to support it. His account connects the dots between what we do know or believe – that, in the beginning, there was no life on Earth, and then, very gradually, there developed single-celled organisms, which later developed into larger multi-celled organisms.

Since Dawkins claims to be a scientist, he should know better than to try to pawn off on his readers mere conjecture, no matter how plausible it may seem, as fact. In other words, mere plausibility has no claim to truth in science, for there are a great many things that seem plausible but are in fact wrong.[4] There are also many things that seem implausible, at least to our limited human understandings, but do in fact exist or occur in the Universe. Science has been able to establish a generally-accepted body of knowledge precisely because it has rejected mere plausibility as a sufficient guarantee of truth. Prior to its advent, unsubstantiated plausibility was taken by many people – and still is taken by many people today – to be sufficient grounds for believing that something is true.

In presenting his story of how replicator molecules became the progenitors of DNA, Richard Dawkins has propagated a pseudo-scientific creation myth that is on a par with other creation myths like the one contained in the Book of Genesis. And this is not changed by his beginning with, and basing his myth on, scientific facts that most people would accept as being true. For the truth is that, Dawkins’ hypothesis notwithstanding, we do not know how DNA first developed and gave rise to Life, just as we still do not know how and why Life first developed on the Earth, and, at least as far as we have been able to determine, nowhere else in our solar system.

Although the rejection of Dawkins’ plausible but wholly unproven – and unverifiable – account is not fatal to his selfish-gene theory, this fictional account forms an important pillar to it. For if, as he claims, genes and DNA existed before the first living creature existed, which probably was a single-celled organism, then they have a sort of regal precedence in the hierarchy of life: not only do we and all other living organisms owe all our characteristics to our genes, we would not be around if they had not first developed and began replicating themselves in the primeval, swampy, molecular soup, thus establishing an organic order in the otherwise barren, disordered, unsettled, and inorganic early conditions of the Earth.

Another aspect of the particulateness of the gene is that it does not grow senile; it is no more likely to die when it is a million years old than when it is only a hundred. It leaps from body to body down the generations, manipulating body after body in its own way and for its own ends, abandoning a succession of mortal bodies before they sink in senility and death.

The genes are the immortals, or rather, they are defined as genetic entities that come close to deserving the title. We, the individual survival machines in the world, can expect to live a few more decades. But the genes in the world have an expectation of life that must be measured not in decades but in thousands and millions of years.

In sexually reproducing species, the individual is too large and too temporary a genetic unit to qualify as a significant unit of natural selection. The group of individuals is an even larger unit. Genetically speaking, individuals and groups are like clouds in the sky or dust-storms in the desert. They are temporary aggregations or federations. They are not stable through evolutionary time. Populations may last a long while, but they are constantly blending with other populations and so losing their identity. They are also subject to evolutionary change from within. A population is not a discrete enough entity to be a unit of natural selection, not stable and unitary enough to be ‘selected’ in preference to another population. (34)

Those who are familiar with Plato’s philosophy should be able to recognize what Dawkins is looking for: he is attempting to find the essence of life, the unchanging unity or identity amidst all this decay and fleeting temporality that we call Life. In other words, Richard Dawkins is searching for – and believes he has found – a biological Platonic universal that can be said to endure forever, just as Plato believed that his universals or Ideas were timeless and unchanging. The comparison is exact, for, just as Plato declared that, although all the particular manifestations of any universal, such as TREE, are temporal, since no individual tree lives forever, the universal TREE is immortal. Similarly, although Dawkins readily admits that individual genes do not live very long, a few months at the most, the GENES of which they are the particular manifestations or copies are immortal.

However, as I have argued elsewhere, specifically in the discussion of our ability to perceive similarities in The Theory of Imitation, Platonic universals do not exist. The belief in Platonic universals arose from our particular human perceptual system, whose primary function is to enable us to survive and procreate. And being able to recognize similarities and categorize objects obviously does help us to accomplish these goals. Hence, in considering any system of classification, or way of viewing certain aspects of the world, including Dawkins’ redefinition of the relationship between genes and the organisms they give rise to, the primary consideration is whether it is useful or not, and not, as Dawkins believes, whether it is true or not, since his redefinition is merely a particular way of perceiving and categorizing certain aspects of the world, among the many other possible ways of perceiving these aspects or categorizing them.

By giving precedence to DNA, Dawkins elevates them to a superior magisterial status which, prior to his book, they had not enjoyed. As the surprising role of genes and DNA in the development of living organisms was discovered during the twentieth century, most people attributed to them the role of faithful but inanimate blueprints which do their part in the magnificent creation and evolution of Life. “But no,” saith Richard the Rational, “thou greatly underestimatest the true and noble status of our Genes; for in verity these Selfish Genes are our Masters, to whom we are eternally beholden for our forms, our intelligence, our creativity, our children, for other living creatures – nay, for our very lives and for all that is Great, Glorious, and Grand in the world. And it is precisely for these reasons that we, their temporary servile vessels, owe our fealty, allegiance, and gratitude to these generous Masters, by seeking to perpetuate them as much and as widely as is humanly or organismically possible.” In doing so, Dawkins has revived a form of ancestor worship, but cloaked in a seemingly scientific guise: these genes, which most people previously regarded as an important but inanimate form of organic matter, are in reality alive and conscious, for they seek to replicate and perpetuate themselves, in fierce competition with other genes.

Repeatedly throughout his book, while using purposive language, Dawkins declares that we are not to take this language literally. For example, in the last excerpt, he writes, “It [the gene] leaps from body to body down the generations, manipulating body after body in its own way and for its own ends, abandoning a succession of mortal bodies before they sink in senility and death.”

If we allow ourselves the licence of talking about genes as if they had conscious aims, always reassuring ourselves that we could translate our sloppy language back into respectable terms if we wanted to, we can ask the question, what is a single selfish gene trying to do? It is trying to get 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. (88)

And yet, it is entirely possible to describe the dominance of certain genes in the world without using such misleading terminology.[5] For example, he could have written instead, “as a result of natural selection, certain genes become more numerous in the gene pool, by helping organisms to survive and reproduce, and thereby pass on their genes to succeeding generations.” Unlike Dawkins’ misleading and highly problematic language, this passage does not attribute conscious aims to inanimate objects like genes. The question we should ask ourselves is, “Why does Richard Dawkins constantly use purposive language when he discusses genes?”

In Hamlet, while watching the play[6] enacted, at Hamlet’s behest, by a group of itinerant actors, the protagonist’s mother, Queen Gertrude, declares, “The Lady doth protest too much, methinks.” What she means is that the Player Queen, despite her protestations to the courtings of her deceased husband’s brother, is actually quite willing to marry him, and soon accepts him in her marital bed. Similarly, despite Dawkins’ repeated protestations, he is clearly being disingenuous, for the fact is that he wants his readers to attribute conscious aims to genes, as he himself does, for it is central to his grandiose Theory of the Immortal Gene.[7] After all, he has called his book The Selfish Gene, rather than, for example, The Dominant Gene, or How Certain Genes Become Dominant in the World, since it can happen that some things become dominant, but without seeking consciously or deliberately to become dominant.

Dawkins makes frequent use of analogies in his book to buttress his claims. There are a number of real-world analogies that will help us to see what is fundamentally wrong with his claim that all living organisms are merely “survival vehicles” for their genes. There are many similarities between the relationship between genes and organisms and the relationship between architectural blueprints and the buildings they give rise to. Someone who was wholly ignorant of the true function of buildings might make the observation that the more buildings there are, the more blueprints there are too! If this person wanted to make a startling declaration to the world, as Richard Dawkins clearly wanted to do before he wrote his book, one would then leap to the conclusion that, ergo, the true function of buildings is to propagate, perpetuate, and increase the number of blueprints in the world!

To argue, as Dawkins does, that living creatures are merely “survival vehicles” for genes is no different from saying that buildings are merely survival vehicles for blueprints. Or, to consider some other examples, that paintings are merely the paints’ way of perpetuating and multiplying themselves, since it is a fact that the more paintings there are in the world, the greater is the number of pots or tubes of paint; that culinary dishes are merely the recipes’ way of perpetuating and multiplying themselves; that musical compositions are merely the notes’ way of perpetuating and reproducing themselves; or that books are merely survival vehicles for letters, since books contain numerous combinations of letters, and the more books there are, then obviously the greater the number of times that each letter is able to reproduce, or make copies of, itself. But clearly this is all nonsense, for these mistaken views invert the true relationship between these two things: architectural blueprints are only means to the ends which they help engineers and construction workers to realize, which is to construct, in accordance with the specifications contained in the blueprint, the edifice, bridge, road, or other human construction which it details; artists’ paints are produced solely in order that painters can create paintings with them; recipes are recorded, preserved, and propagated in order to help people prepare the dishes which they describe; musical notes and scores are merely aids to musicians to help them play a composition accurately; and letters exist in order that writers may convey their thoughts, beliefs, experiences, and theories – as well as their mistaken ideas and theories or invented fictions, in the case of writers like Dawkins – to others.[8]

Similarly, genes do not exist in, of, or for themselves: they exist so that they may give rise to the extraordinary living organisms which result from them, since genes are, in a very real sense, the blueprints of Life. In other words, Richard Dawkins has put the cart before the horse by calling all living organisms mere survival machines. Or, to use another analogy, Dawkins is like a man who takes a telescope and looks through the wrong end, all the while insisting that this is the right way to view the world. If anything, it is genes that serve the creatures to which they give rise, and not the reverse. Throughout his book, Dawkins has sought strenuously to objectify, belittle, and minimize all Life, which is alive. Concomitantly, he has sought just as strenuously to glorify a part of life that is not alive. However, I do not believe it is helpful to regard genes and the organisms they give rise to in this strict dichotomous manner, since this artificial division encourages people to regard organisms and their genes as separate entities, and therefore leads to the sorts of questions and distinctions that Dawkins is wont to pose or make in his book. Stated simply, to use Dawkins’ master/servant terminology in describing the relationship between genes and organisms is wrong and thus highly misleading.

There is another analogy that can help us to clarify the relationship between genes and the organisms they give rise to. Motors have many applications; they power a variety of useful devices, including cars, fans, airplanes, lawn mowers, boats, electricity generators, and numerous other machines. However, even though motors can be separated physically from the devices which they power, and some of their parts can be replaced by other parts, no motor is built as an end in itself. Their function, their purpose, their raison-d’être can only be understood in relation to the devices which, in a very real sense, they animate. Similarly, although genes can be considered separately from the organisms they beget, and they can even be separated physically from these organisms, their function, purpose, and raison-d’être can only be understood in relation to these organisms. An important fact to remember about all genes is that, merely from examining a particular genetic sequence, it is impossible to know a priori what biological form, behaviour, or effect it will produce; for this can only be discovered by examining the morphology or behaviour of the creature it gives rise to. To separate genes arbitrarily from the organisms they give rise to, as Dawkins adamantly insists that we must do, is to misunderstand completely their true nature and purpose. It is not the case, as Dawkins believes, that organisms arose solely for the purpose of enabling genes to reproduce and perpetuate themselves; rather, the relationship between them is the reverse, for genes arose as a means of enabling organisms to reproduce and perpetuate themselves.

One way of sorting this whole matter out is to use the terms ‘replicator’ and ‘vehicle’. The fundamental units of natural selection, the basic things that survive or fail to survive, that form lineages of identical copies with occasional random mutations, are called replicators. DNA molecules are replicators. They generally, for reasons that we shall come to, gang together into large communal survival machines or ‘vehicles’. The vehicles that we know best are individual bodies like our own. A body, then, is not a replicator; it is a vehicle. I must emphasize this, since the point has been misunderstood. Vehicles don’t replicate themselves; they work to propagate their replicators. Replicators don’t behave, don’t perceive the world, don’t catch prey or run away from predators, they make vehicles that do all those things. For many purposes it is convenient for biologists to focus their attention at the level of the vehicle. For other purposes it is convenient for them to focus their attention at the level of the replicator. Gene and individual organism are not rivals for the same starring role in the Darwinian drama. They are cast in different, complementary and in many respects equally important roles, the role of replicator and the role of vehicle.

The replicator/vehicle terminology is helpful in various ways. For instance it clears up a tiresome controversy over the level at which natural selection acts. Superficially it might seem logical to place ‘individual selection’ on a sort of ladder of levels of selection, halfway between the ‘gene selection’ advocated in Chapter 3 and the ‘group selection’ criticized in Chapter 7. ‘Individual selection’ seems vaguely to be a middle way between two extremes, and many biologists and philosophers have been seduced into this facile path and treated it as such. But we can now see that it isn’t like that at all. We can now see that the organism and the group of organisms are true rivals for the vehicle role in the story, but neither of them is even a candidate for the replicator role. The controversy between ‘individual selection’ and ‘group selection’ is a real controversy between alternative vehicles. The controversy between individual selection and gene selection isn’t a controversy at all, for gene and organism are candidates for different, and complementary, roles in the story, the replicator and the vehicle. (254)

Dawkins declares, “Vehicles don’t replicate themselves; they work to propagate their replicators.” But we do not need to swallow this morsel of sophistry, for we can declare instead, rejecting Dawkins’ arbitrary separation of organisms from their genes – a separation that is central to his selfish-gene theory, that the true function of genes is to enable organisms to replicate themselves. And this is, in fact, the commonsensical view that prevailed before the recent influence of Dawkins’ sophistical work, The Selfish Gene.

Dawkins goes on to declare, “The replicator/vehicle terminology is helpful in various ways.” However, he fails to recognize that it is also highly misleading, for it leads both him and his readers to think of genes and the organisms they give rise to as belonging to two fundamentally different categories of objects, which perform two fundamentally different functions, namely, replicating and preserving. In other words, the way that Dawkins defines these things paves the way for, and makes his readers more likely to accept, his pseudo-scientific theory.

Similarly, although it is possible to conceive of the heart, lungs, brain, or liver separately from the organisms in which they are found, and it is also possible to separate these organs physically from these organisms, no one has ever found a living heart, lung, brain, or liver existing in the natural world in complete separation from an organism. Hearts never developed to circulate, lungs to oxygenate, livers to filter, store, secrete, and eliminate, nor brains to command, control, perceive, and coordinate, outside or independently of the organisms of which they form an integral and essential part. For these vital organs exist only in relation to, within the bodies of, and for the sole purpose of helping to sustain large multicellular organisms. And, despite Richard Dawkins’ tiresomely insistent and incessant efforts to make us believe otherwise, neither did genes develop in order to exist independently of the organisms to which they give rise.

Since Dawkins has very clearly inverted the true relationship between organisms and their genes, by giving precedence to the second over the first, the primary criterion by which we should consider his theory is its ability to explain real-world phenomena, and whether it is able to explain these phenomena better than all rival theories. Judged by this criterion, it is not notably successful, for, as we shall see, although Dogmatic Dick Dawkins will never admit it, there exist many real-world behaviours that clearly contradict his theory, particularly in the realm of human behaviour.

The use of the word “machine” in Dawkins’ invented phrase “survival machine” reveals another aspect of Dawkins’ world-view, or what the Germans call a person’s Weltanschauung. To call all living organisms “machines” clearly indicates that Dawkins is fascinated by the development of man-made machines, robots, and computer technology. In other words, Richard Dawkins is, through and through, a technophile. Hence, it is not at all surprising that he has sought to formulate a wholly mechanistic explanation for the world and everything in it, including Life. Individuals like Dawkins believe that living organisms are merely the sum of their separate parts, and hence, there is nothing mysterious or miraculous about Life – meaning features that cannot be explained by science. But I completely disagree with this view, for although science, and biology in particular, has been highly successful in explaining Life’s numerous complex processes in physical and chemical terms, it still has not been able to explain why Life exists in the first place, and how a living organism can fashion itself out of inanimate elements such as carbon, oxygen, and hydrogen.

Most scientists and researchers, although they may be strongly attached to their particular beliefs, theories, or convictions, are ready to modify or abandon them if the evidence contradicts them. Moreover, they continually attempt to test their beliefs, theories, and hypotheses by comparing their predicted results with real-world data and observations. Let us consider the behaviour of Richard Dawkins whenever he is faced with real-world behaviours that contradict his selfish-gene theory.

Whales and dolphins drown if they are not allowed to breathe air. Baby whales, and injured individuals who cannot swim to the surface have been seen to be rescued and held up by companions in the school. It is not known whether whales have ways of knowing who their close relatives are, but it is possible that it does not matter. It may be that the overall probability that a random member of the school is a relation is so high that the altruism is worth the cost. Incidentally, there is at least one well-authenticated story of a drowning human swimmer being rescued by a wild dolphin. This could be regarded as a misfiring of the rule for saving drowning members of the school. The rule’s ‘definition’ of a member of the school who is drowning might be something like: ‘A long thing thrashing about and choking near the surface.’ (100)

Mistakes of this sort may, however, occasionally happen in nature. In species that live in herds or troops, an orphaned youngster may be adopted by a strange female, most probably one who has lost her own child. Monkey-watchers sometimes use the word ‘aunt’ for an adopting female. In most cases there is no evidence that she really is an aunt, or indeed any kind of relative: if monkey-watchers were as gene-conscious as they might be, they would not use an important word like ‘aunt’ so uncritically. In most cases we should probably regard adoption, however touching it may seem, as a misfiring of a built-in rule. This is because the generous female is doing her own genes no good by caring for the orphan. She is wasting time and energy which she could be investing in the lives of her own kin, particularly future children of her own. It is presumably a mistake that happens too seldom for natural selection to have ‘bothered’ to change the rule by making the maternal instinct more selective. In many cases, by the way, such adoptions do not occur, and an orphan is left to die. (101)

In the first of the two previous excerpts, Dawkins’ inordinately strong attachment to his theory leads him to make the ridiculous speculation that this altruistic dolphin was not able to tell a human being apart from another dolphin! We could ask, How on earth was such a perceptually-challenged dolphin able to survive, since it would have had great difficulty distinguishing a fellow dolphin from a potential predator like a shark or killer whale? However, we need not venture into the marine world to find examples of inter-species altruistic behaviour, since there are many humans who go to great lengths to feed, save, raise, heal, nurture, or protect immature, sick, defenceless, or endangered members of other species. In most of these cases, it cannot be said that their altruistic behaviour is due to their desire selfishly to propagate their own genes, since these animals belong to a completely different species from them. For example, people who leave food for wild animals, such as in bird feeders, do so because they are fond of these animals and want to help them to survive, while having the opportunity to observe them when they come to feed. But although their actions may afford them pleasure or satisfaction, they do not in any way help their own genes’ survival, since it is not their intention to catch, eat, sell, or otherwise profit from the animal. In communities where food is scarce, this human sharing of food with non-human animals actually reduces the altruistic person’s chances of survival. In other words, these common human instances of altruism towards the members of other species very clearly contradict Dawkins’ selfish-gene theory.[9]

In both excerpts, Dawkins attempts to account for these altruistic behaviours which contradict his theory by cavalierly – and unscientifically – dismissing them as instances of the “misfiring of a build-in rule.” In the second excerpt, he declares, “In most cases we should probably regard adoption, however touching it may seem, as a misfiring of a built-in rule. […] It is presumably a mistake that happens too seldom for natural selection to have ‘bothered’ to change the rule by making the maternal instinct more selective.” First of all, Dawkins has simply invented this rule – that all biological mothers will only care for their own young – but without actually testing it, in order to dismiss, in this completely unscientific manner, this animal behaviour that poses a serious problem for his theory, since the raising of mammalian offspring often requires many years of devoted attention on the part of the parent. Secondly, in the human world, we know that there are many couples that have voluntarily adopted a baby from a different culture or ethnicity, and in all of these cases, it is clear that the baby does not share the parents’ genes, since it belongs to a different ethnicity from them. And even in cases where the baby is of the same ethnicity as the parents, there are again many instances where it is not related to them in the very narrow sense of Dawkins’ selfish-gene theory. Moreover, many of these parents must pay a large sum of money in order to adopt the baby, which represents a significant monetary sacrifice on their part, meaning that, far from gaining something from adopting the baby, they must forego the labour which they had to perform in order to earn that money, money which they could have used to raise – selfishly, according to Dawkins – their own biological children. I suspect that if these adoptive parents knew about Dawkins’ dismissive description of their altruistic behaviour – “as a misfiring of a built-in rule” – they would be highly incensed by it.

There is another serious problem with Dawkins’ theory: the genetic relationships that he works out in terms of the percentage of shared genes – 1 in the case of identical twins, .5 in the case of children and their parents, as well as between siblings of the same parents, .25 in the case of nieces, nephews, and grandchildren, and so forth – are invariant in both time and place. And yet, anyone who knows anything about different societies, as well as the significant changes that have occurred in many Western societies in recent centuries, knows that there exist significant differences between customary behaviours in different societies. Even the definition of “family” differs depending on the society one grows up in. In individualistic Western societies, this term is usually limited to what is called the nuclear family, which consists only of two parents and their offspring, and which is a relatively recent development that did not exist in the past. But in non-Western societies, the definition of family is more broad, and people are willing to help those, such as cousins, aunts, nephews, and so on, who would not be considered as “family” in the more individualistic and selfish West. In other words, except by resorting to ad hoc explanations – an activity at which Dawkins excels – meaning explanations that are invented expressly for the purpose of accounting for these significant variations and contradictory real-world behaviours, the selfish-gene theory simply does not allow for these kinds of common cultural variations in human behaviour, since, in genetic terms, a first cousin is a first cousin regardless of the society one grows up in, just as a sibling is a sibling, a biological parent is a biological parent, and so on in the case of aunts, uncles, and grandchildren.

In the case of humans, attachment results from spending a lot of time staring at, listening to, or otherwise perceiving something. In general, mothers spend much more time in close company with their children than fathers, which is one of the main reasons why mothers are more strongly attached to their children than fathers. Of course, the prevalent models of behaviour in a society are also important, for these will constrain people to do certain things, such as caring for one’s children or supporting them financially and materially, even in cases where one does not feel the urge to do so. These models also prevent people from caring for those who are not their own biological children. For example, there are many teachers, nurses, and others who are in regular contact with children and would like to do things for those children whom they become strongly attached to, such as buying clothes for them, which normally are performed only by parents. In these cases, the dominant models of behaviour will usually prevent them from acting on their generous impulses, lest other people misinterpret their behaviour or criticize it.

Humans do not only become attached in this way to their children, siblings, and other close relatives whom they see often.[10] They also become attached to other people, non-human animals, plants, articles of clothing, buildings, places, artistic creations, and other inanimate objects. In all cases where there is a strong attachment, there is a desire to preserve the person, place, building, animal, or object and protect it from harm. Such instances cannot be explained by Dawkins’ theory since, in the case of non-human animals, there exists no genetic relationship to account for the strong attachment. The same objection exists in the case of objects that do not in some way contribute to a person’s survival or likelihood of procreating and passing on one’s genes.

In addition, there are many cases of parents who have been separated at birth from their children, or siblings who have likewise been raised separately from birth or from an early age. According to Dawkins’ theory, these individuals should still exhibit the same concern for the welfare of the other person as exists in cases where there has been no separation, since the percentage of shared genes is the same in both cases, namely, fifty percent. But there are many instances where this is not true, including cases where the parties discover their genetic relatedness, and these examples also contradict Dawkins’ theory. In cases where a relationship develops between the two individuals, it is for the same reason that relationships develop in general: because the individuals spend time with each other and thus become fond of or attached to each other.

This belief was encapsulated in the statement, “Blood is thicker than water,” or “Blood will tell,”[11] that is, that the existence of a blood relationship, whether parent-child, brother-sister, or some other close familial relationship, would invariably determine the behaviour of both parties. But the many contradictory examples eventually discredited this widely-held belief. In a very real sense, what Dawkins has done is to revive this ancient, discredited belief by cloaking it in the modern language of genes.

In the excerpts about the dolphin and mammalian adoption, Dawkins is saying in effect, “The selfish-gene theory is correct; it is the facts that are wrong. Any behaviours that seem to contradict my wondrous theory are either statistically insignificant or are merely examples of the misfiring of a rule that I will invent expressly for the purpose of defending my theory against its many detractors who cannot see that I am right.” In other words, Richard Dawkins will not admit that there exist many real-world behaviours that contradict his theory or cannot be explained by it. Despite his professions of scientific objectivity, Dawkins’ behaviour demonstrates that he is no different from the many dogmatic religious persons who refuse to admit that there exist many facts and much evidence that contradict their religious beliefs. For whenever he is confronted with a real-world behaviour that contradicts his theory, Dawkins dismisses it in this unscientific manner.

In the following excerpt, Dawkins appears to declare that facts cannot disprove or falsify a general theory, such as his selfish-gene theory:

The disagreement over lions [whether cooperative behaviour in lions is due to kin selection or reciprocal altruism] can be settled only by facts, and facts, as ever, tell us only about the particular case, not the general theoretical argument. (295)

And yet, in numerous other instances, Dawkins has no qualms in forming generalizations from specific facts, examples, or behaviours.

If an individual could be sure that a particular person was his identical twin, he should be exactly as concerned for his twin’s welfare as for his own. Any gene for twin altruism is bound to be carried by both twins, therefore if one dies heroically to save the other the gene lives on. Nine-banded armadillos are born in a litter of identical quadruplets. As far as I know, no feats of heroic self-sacrifice have been reported for young armadillos, but it has been pointed out that some strong altruism is definitely to be expected, and it would be well worth somebody’s while going out to South America to have a look. (93)

Had Dawkins behaved like a true scientist, he would have regarded the study of the nine-banded armadillo’s behaviour as an opportunity to test his selfish-gene theory. But after admitting that there is, as yet, absolutely no confirming evidence in this animal’s behaviour for his precious theory, Dawkins expects that its behaviour will conform to it. He again exhibits this unscientific attitude – that the facts will support his theory – in the following excerpt:

More generally, the Lack type of hypothesis is powerful enough to account, in selfish gene terms, for all evidence that might seem to support the group-selection theory, should any evidence turn up. (122)

In other words, Dawkins is saying that “any evidence that may be discovered in the future will support the Lack type of hypothesis, which I favour, since it is consistent with my selfish-gene theory, and will contradict the group-selection theory, which I despise.” This is truly an extraordinary claim on Dawkins’ part, for he is claiming that he has the ability to foresee the future!

As the last excerpt illustrates, Dawkins is extremely hostile towards any attempt to consider organisms in terms of groups, flocks, swarms, clusters, schools, herds, or human societies. This is because it is antithetical to the particular, Dawkinsian way of viewing the biological world, which is to focus one’s gaze unwaveringly on individual genes, only genes, and nothing but genes.

But we have once again slipped back into looking at life from the point of view of the individual organism rather than its genes. (250)

This packaging of living material into discrete vehicles became such a salient and dominant feature that, when biologists arrived on the scene and started asking questions about life, their questions were mostly about vehicles—individual organisms. The individual organism came first in the biologist’s consciousness, while the replicators—now known as genes—were seen as part of the machinery used by individual organisms. It requires a deliberate mental effort to turn biology the right way up again, and remind ourselves that the replicators come first, in importance as well as in history. (265)

The rivalry between individual organism and group of organisms for the vehicle role, being a real rivalry, can be settled. As it happens the outcome, in my view, is a decisive victory for the individual organism. The group is too wishy-washy an entity. A herd of deer, a pride of lions or a pack of wolves has a certain rudimentary coherence and unity of purpose. But this is paltry in comparison to the coherence and unity of purpose of the body of an individual lion, wolf, or deer. That this is true is now widely accepted, but why is it true? Extended phenol types and parasites can again help us. (254-255)

Words like “wishy-washy” and “paltry” are expressions of Dawkins’ disdain towards this common view of, and approach to studying, animal behaviour. Depending on the context, Dawkins is dismissive of any attempt to consider organisms either as discrete wholes, as most of us consider them, or as members of a cooperating group. Repeatedly, as in the preceding excerpts, he harangues and exhorts his readers to regard organisms in exactly the same way that he regards them. In effect, Dawkins is saying that natural selection can only act either at the level of the individual gene or the individual or group, but not both. But this is a misleading either/or that seeks to reduce the complexity and heterogeneity of the real world to fit certain principles which may not accurately describe, or accord with, reality.

Like other dogmatic individuals, Richard Dawkins is wholly unaware of the distorting and deluding effects that one’s prejudices, whether they are enthusiastic or scornful, have on one’s perception of reality, and on one’s attitude towards a particular idea. In many cases, what he calls impeccable logic is nothing more than his inordinately strong desire to demonstrate to others that his views are correct. In considering the views of someone who has such strong convictions, it is important for us to consider impartially whether Dawkins’ strong enthusiasms, aversions, dislikes, and prejudices are in fact supported by the facts – and not merely the facts that he presents to his readers to buttress his views and theory.

As the next excerpt illustrates, Dawkins often mistakes the particular way that he views the world as revealing something important about the world.

I speculate that we shall come to accept the more radical idea that each one of our genes is a symbiotic unit. We are gigantic colonies of symbiotic genes. One cannot really speak of ‘evidence’ for this idea, but, as I tried to suggest in earlier chapters, it is really inherent in the very way we think about how genes work in sexual species. (182)

However, Dawkins fails to understand that this conjecture is nothing more than a particular way of perceiving, or categorizing, certain aspects of the world, a perspective that is not shared by others, except perhaps by those who admire him. When he writes, “it is really inherent in the very way we think about how genes work in sexual species”, what he really means is that this idea exists in the brain of Richard Dawkins, and therefore – even though, as he admits, there can never be any evidence for it – it must be true, since he is such a smart and clever person.

The next excerpt illustrates a curious recurring flaw in Dawkins’ understanding – or, more accurately, his misunderstanding – of reality:

To me, the most puzzling feature of naked mole rats is that, although they are like social insects in so many ways, they seem to have no equivalent caste to the young winged reproductives of ants and termites. They have reproductive individuals, of course, but these don’t start their careers by taking wing and dispersing their genes to new lands. As far as anyone knows, naked mole rat colonies just grow at the margins by expanding the subterranean burrow system. Apparently they don’t throw off long-distance dispersing individuals, the equivalent of winged reproductives. This is so surprising to my Darwinian intuition[12] that it is tempting to speculate. My hunch is that one day we shall discover a dispersal phase which has hitherto, for some reason, been overlooked. It is too much to hope that the dispersing individuals will literally sprout wings! But they might in various ways be equipped for life above ground rather than underground. (315)

Dawkins’ reasoning is as follows: because naked mole rats resemble social insects like bees and ants “in so many ways,” specifically the fact that, in naked mole rat colonies, there is only one reproducing female whose progeny the other mole rats help to raise, feed, and protect, it logically follows that they must also resemble social insects in other important respects, including the ants’ production of male and female reproductive individuals during a certain part of the year in order to found new colonies. In other words, according to Richard Dawkins, the Remarkable, Redoubtable Rationalist of Evolutionary Behaviour, things that resemble each other in some ways must also resemble each other in other important ways. But why must this be true? After all, despite their behavioural similarities, naked mole rats are also very different from bees and ants in many respects, such as the fact they have four legs instead of six, they are covered with skin instead of chitin, they have teeth instead of mandibles, they do not fly during any part of their life cycle, and they lack the antennae possessed by all social insects.[13] What this example shows is that Richard Dawkins expects reality to conform to his personal conceptions of it; or to put it another way, Dawkins has mistaken his particular conceptions of reality for reality. Time and again throughout his book, we observe this Dawkinsian tendency manifested in one form or another, a tendency that, alas, often leads him into error.

Richard Dawkins is a scientific rationalist, since he worships at the Twin Temples of Reason and Science. However, among their many other shortcomings and proneness to error, the problem with dogmatic rationalists like Dawkins is that they assume that, in order to be true, a law, principle, or theory must be true without exception, in all times, places, and situations. But this naive and frequently erroneous philosophical belief overlooks the exceptions that exist to certain laws or theories such as Newton’s Law of Gravitation, or the Theory of Evolution by natural selection. I have considered these important exceptions to the latter theory in several other essays.[14] Like his avowed intellectual master, Charles Darwin, Dawkins has failed to see that the Theory of Evolution is incomplete because it examines life solely from the perspective of the individual organism, species, or gene – which latter is the unit that Dawkins dogmatically insists that we should narrowly view and reduce all Life. For when life is examined from the holistic perspective, a different pattern emerges, wherein cooperation rather than competition is most evident and important. But unlike Darwin, who wasn’t aware of the existence of genes, Dawkins believes that competition at the level of the gene is another invariable principle, which has led him to apply this principle to many situations where it is inappropriate or obviously wrong.

The following excerpt show that Dawkins believes that human behaviour is no different from animal behaviour, in the sense that all our actions are determined directly by our genes, as is the case with the great majority of plant and animal behaviours.

Genetic relatives will tend to be alike not just in facial features but in all sorts of other respects as well. For instance, they will tend to resemble each other with respect to genetic tendencies to play—or not to play—Tit for Tat [a prisoners’ dilemma strategy, where each player does what the other player did in the last round]. So even if Tit for Tat is rare in the population as a whole, it may still be locally common. In a local area, Tit for Tat individuals may meet each other often enough to prosper from mutual cooperation, even though calculations that take into account only the global frequency in the total population might suggest that they are below the ‘knife-edge’ critical frequency. (219)

One might as well declare that, to paraphrase Dawkins, “In a local area, persons with a genetic predisposition to speak Spanish may meet each other often enough to prosper from speaking the same language, since the ability to speak a common language is a highly advantageous group trait.” But of course, no such genetic predisposition exists in the case of languages, and the fact that those who live in the same area very often do speak the same language is due to an entirely different process, namely, the tendency of people to imitate what they see and hear other people doing, and their tendency to conform to the most common behaviours that are performed by those who are in their realm of influence. As this example shows, Dawkins has made the same mistake that Darwin made by assuming that human behavioural characteristics are also genetically determined, just like their physical attributes.

In the following excerpt, Dawkins takes a moment to give his readers a lesson in pronunciation:

Their [hydras’] tissues tend to be parasitized by algae. (The ‘g’ should be pronounced hard. For unknown reasons some biologists, not least in America, have recently taken to saying Algy as in Algernon, not only for the plural ‘algae’, which is—just—forgivable, but also for the singular ‘alga’, which is not.) (244)

As many foreign students of English have remarked, English pronunciation is frequently irregular, meaning it has many exceptions to its rules of pronunciation, unlike more regular languages like Spanish, Italian, and German, which are easier to pronounce.[15] For example, the English pronounce “lieutenant” as if it were spelled “leftenant.” And the middle letters in “Worcester” and “Gloucester” are not pronounced, so that they sound like “Wuster” and “Gloster,” as in the sentence, “My Lord, the noble Dukes of Wuster and Gloster have arrived.”

The rule that Dawkins is applying in this case is the rule that, when the consonants “c” and “g” are followed by the vowels “e” and “i,” they are pronounced softly, as in “gem,” “gin,” “celebration,” and “circle,” such as in the sentence “Although gems are reason for celebration, too much gin will make you think in circles;” but when they are followed by the vowels “a,” “o,” and “u,” they are pronounced as hard constants, as in “cat,” “cold,” and “cucumber,” and “gave,” “gold,” and “guard.” An example is the nonsensical sentence, “The cat caught a cold from catching the cucumber, so it gave the gold to the guard to guard.” And yet, there are exceptions to this rule. For example, “sceptic” and “arcing” are both pronounced with a hard “c,” even though they are followed by one of the two softening vowels. To make this distinction clear, “sceptic” was formerly spelled “skeptic,” a spelling that has, however, largely become archaic. In the case of the letter “g,” “get,” “geyser,” “gimmick,” and “girl” are all pronounced with a hard “g,” even though the “g” is followed by an “e” or “i.” In the case of “get,” this is probably so that it remains recognizably consistent, in its spoken form, to the other conjugations of this irregular verb: besides “gets” and “getting,” these are “got” and “gotten,” all of which are pronounced with a hard “g.” If a person were to say, “Jet lost, you dick!” in accordance with the usual pronunciation of the combination “ge,” one would probably be able to understand the person’s meaning from his or her menacing expression and threatening tone of voice, but one might wonder if the person were drunk, had a speech impediment, or is a fervent disciple of Richard Dawkins.

More to the point, perhaps, the word “margarine” is pronounced with a soft “g” even though it is followed by an “a,” just like in “algae.” So instead of being pronounced like the “g” in “Margaret,” it is pronounced like the “j” in “marjoram,” which suggests the imperative, “Only marjoram-flavoured margarine for our dear Margaret!”

The plural “algae” is due to its Latin derivation, in which language the plural of a feminine noun is formed by adding an “e” to its singular nominative form. Hence, since most English speakers no longer speak Latin, there arose several different pronunciations of this irregular foreign word. The pronunciation that Herr Professor Dawkins criticizes – algy – in fact accords with the general rule of pronouncing a soft “g” when it is followed by the “e” sound – in this case, if not in its written form, then in its spoken form.

Besides showing that such irregularities in pronunciation do exist in the English language, there are several other reasons why I have spent some time considering what is admittedly a trivial aside. First, Dawkins uses the word “forgivable” – and implies its opposite, “unforgivable” – in describing the pronunciations of “algae” and “alga.” Clearly, he is highly irritated by those who, like me, pronounce “algae” as “alje.” Normally, one would not be motivated to use these words to describe what are, after all, minor variations or mistakes in pronunciation. This is not the only instance where Dawkins uses religious terms or metaphors in conjunction with his views, beliefs, and theory. In the following excerpts, he uses the word “orthodox” to describe his selfish-gene theory:

I have tried to do justice to Wynne-Edwards’s theory, even if rather briefly. If I have succeeded, you should now be feeling persuaded that it is, on the face of it, rather plausible. But the earlier chapters of this book should have prepared you to be sceptical to the point of saying that, plausible as it may sound, the evidence for Wynne-Edwards’s theory had better be good, or else. . . . And unfortunately the evidence is not good. It consists of a large number of examples which could be interpreted in his way, but which could equally well be interpreted on more orthodox ‘selfish gene’ lines. (115)

Frequently the evolutionary preconception in terms of which such theories are framed is implicitly group-selectionist, but it is possible to rephrase the theories in terms of orthodox gene selection. (191)

In other words, all those who dare to deviate from the “orthodox ‘selfish gene’ lines” are genetic heretics, at least in Dogmatic Dick’s view.

The following even more obviously Biblically-inspired sentence concludes a discussion of the fact that, in many bird species, the male is often colourful or possesses other decorative features, as is exemplified by the male peacock; these features, although they may have evolved to attract the female, may also attract predators, or, by slowing them down, make it more difficult for the male to escape them: “What shall it profit a male if he shall gain the whole world, and lose his immortal genes?” (162) Dawkins’ meaning is that, although a drably-coloured and unremarkable male bird may be more likely to survive, it is also less likely to procreate and pass on its genes, since it will be overlooked or ignored by females. The original sentence occurs in a sermon preached by Jesus, as recorded in the Book of Mark, that exhorts his listeners to forsake worldly riches, pleasures, and even one’s life for the eternal spiritual rewards that await the faithful in the Kingdom of God.

For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake and the gospel’s will save it. For what does it profit a man to gain the whole world and forfeit his soul? (Mark 8:36)

Second, this example shows that Richard Dawkins is a dogmatic individual who wants to impose his views on everyone else, including the way they pronounce certain words like “algae.”[16] Throughout his book, Dawkins seeks to make people view the world in exactly the same way that he does. In addition, it shows that Dawkins does not like exceptions to general rules. In his ideal world, there would not be any exceptions to general rules, and certainly not to his precious selfish-gene theory, which he believes is true without exception. The problem with a theorist who is as dogmatic as Dawkins is that this tendency makes him blind to the many exceptions that exist to his theory or beliefs. In other words, Dawkins’ very strong preferences, beliefs, and prejudices make him an unreliable guide to finding out the truth about the world we live in – an important fact that a great many of his admiring readers have failed to recognize, since one effect of admiration is to make people uncritical of the admired person or object.

This dogmatic tendency is further illustrated by another book which Dawkins has written, called The God Delusion. Clearly, Richard Dawkins is deeply offended by the fact that so many people, in this scientific day and age, continue to believe in God. He is not content to live and let live, in the sense that, although he and many others do not believe in God, regarding it as a primitive, false, and possibly dangerous superstitious remnant of less enlightened times, he is intolerant of the many people who do believe in God, a belief that gives meaning, hope, discipline, and purpose to their lives. Although I believe in God,[17] and in fact I agree with him in believing that many of Christianity’s central beliefs, such as the belief in Mary’s immaculate conception, that Jesus was the son of God, and that devout believers are rewarded with eternal life in Heaven, while disbelievers are condemned to eternal punishment in Hell, are wrong, I am not bothered either by the fact that many people like Dawkins do not believe in God, or that many Christians and other religious people continue to believe things which I believe are wrong.

Dawkins exhibits considerable hostility to all religious beliefs, in no small part because they are rivals to the orthodox scientific account of the history of the world, which he obviously favours. It is, therefore, more than a little ironic that what Dawkins has done is to displace God the Creator in the typical creation myth with the Gene: whereas Christians believe that, In the beginning was the Word, as spoken by God, which Word created the World, Dawkins the scientific rationalist believes that, In the beginning was the Gene, which created and gave rise to all Life. Furthermore, just as religious people believe that everything in God’s Creation is subservient to God, he claims that all life forms are in reality subservient to their Genes, which are the true Masters of Life. And just as religious people attribute immortality to God, Dawkins attributes immortality to the Gene. As he explains in his book, an alternative title for it was The Immortal Gene. I suspect this is another reason why his book has aroused such hostility in many readers: Dawkins behaves as a sort of autocratic scientific inquisitor who seeks to eradicate all non-scientific – meaning primarily religious – heresies from the face of the Earth, in order to propagate the Cult of the Immortal Gene. This is illustrated by the venomous intolerance with which he condemns all those who dare to criticize his purportedly scientific beliefs.

There are other reasons why many people find Dawkins’ thesis – that all living organisms are merely the individual genes’ way of perpetuating themselves – objectionable. First of all, it attributes to a molecule, or a sequence of molecules, characteristics such as the desire to survive and perpetuate itself, which most people would attribute only to living organisms. This brings us to another very curious feature of Dawkins’ purportedly scientific theory: whereas science has sought assiduously to remove teleology, or the study of primal causes and ultimate ends, from its various disciplines, Dawkins has reintroduced it in the realm of biology. In other words, Richard Dawkins has made the mistake of attributing purpose to inanimate processes: because genes replicate, and some of them are able to perpetuate themselves for long periods of time, this means that this is what they intend or strive to do.

In the past, and even today, many people attributed intentions, desires, and feelings to inanimate phenomena such as lightening, thunder, rain, earthquakes, tides, volcanic eruptions, the changing of the seasons, the rising and setting of the Sun, the moon’s waxing, waning, and occasional eclipsing, and so forth. Even the great Aristotle attributed the desire to do certain things to inanimate objects, such as that moving objects comes to rest because they seek to do so. These were common beliefs prior to the development of the modern scientific outlook. Similarly, by claiming that genes are selfish, Dawkins has attributed a teleological goal to their behaviour, which most people would regard as ordered but nevertheless inanimate processes. What Dawkins has done is to shift all the wonder and mystery that most people feel about Life and redirected it to our genes. According to Richard the Genetic Animist, since genes give rise to all life forms on the Earth, it follows that they themselves must be alive.

Dawkins’ behaviour is extremely curious, for, like a scientific, rationalist vampire, he has drained all the life out of Life, by declaring that living organisms are merely empty survival vehicles for their genes, and then transferred this animating force and purposive volition to genes, declaring that they are in fact immortal, even though genes are not alive. Earlier, I observed that Dawkins has probably read a considerable amount of science fiction. A common theme in this genre is an alien life-form that deviously and ruthlessly enslaves the human race for its own purposes, such as to ensure its own survival. Without pursuing it further, I will make the assertion that Dawkins’ selfish-gene theory shares many similarities with this kind of writing, which has as its central theme the possession, control, conquest, invasion, infiltration, or contamination of terrestrial organisms by an alien life-form solely for its own selfish and nefarious purposes.[18]

The majority of people in the world have not read Dawkins’ book. But there are many people who have heard the phrase, “the selfish gene.” What meaning does this phrase suggest to them? In my opinion, it leads them to believe that our genes make us behave selfishly; and since a person’s genes cannot be changed, this means that we cannot help behaving selfishly – in other words, that selfishness is an innate human behavioural trait. However, unlike Dawkins’ narrow technical definition of selfishness, which is “whatever is for the good, survival, and multiplication of our genes,” most of those who have not read but have heard of The Selfish Gene probably take it to mean “whatever is good for me, and perhaps those few people I care about.” There are other sources of this mistaken belief, notably economics, which assumes that human beings are rational and selfish maximizers of their personal utility; but Dawkins’ book is another source, and one whose influence, unintended though it may be, has not previously been recognized in areas outside of its specific area of intended applicability.[19] In other words, whereas the free-market economists have declared that all people should behave selfishly, for this course will, at the same time, also help to promote other people’s welfare and well-being, Dawkins book, or at least the popular impression of it, declares that we cannot help behaving selfishly.

The highly confrontational consequences of Dawkins’ mistaken theory are shown by the following excerpt: “The selfish-herd model in itself has no place for cooperative interactions. There is no altruism here, only selfish exploitation by each individual of every other individual.” (168) Dawkins even extends this selfishness to relations between parents and their offspring, since, in the case of organisms that reproduce sexually, a parent and child share, on average, only 50% of their genes, since the other 50% of the child’s genes were contributed by the other parent, and hence, these genetic differences will cause them to compete selfishly for the survival of their particular genes:

There is really only one entity whose point of view matters in evolution, and that entity is the selfish gene. Genes in juvenile bodies will be selected for their ability to outsmart parental bodies; genes in parental bodies will be selected for their ability to outsmart the young. (137)

Although Dawkins does not explicitly say so, it appears that he is attempting to account for the frequency of parent-child conflicts and disagreements in modern societies. But the true cause of these conflicts is the fact that, today, many children observe different models of behaviour from their parents, a development that, in historical terms, is very recent. In the past, before modern methods of communication and the dominant Platonic method of education, which rigidly herds children into age-cohorts, the models observed by parents and their children were more or less identical, and so parent-child conflict did not exist back then, and even if it did, then certainly not to the extent that it exists today. Even today, in societies where people of different generations observe the same models of behaviour, there is much less intergenerational conflict than in societies where this is not the case.

In practical terms, the effect of Dawkins’ argument has been to promote and encourage people to behave selfishly by making them mistakenly believe that selfishness is an innate, meaning genetically determined, human trait, and therefore they can do little or nothing to change it. But besides the other examples we have considered of fairly common altruistic behaviours, if Dawkins’ theory is true, how, then, can we account for the behaviour of someone like Mother Teresa, who helped a great many people to whom she was not genetically related, except in the sense that they belonged to the same species as her? In her case, it was obvious that she was not helping those who were related to her, since she, a white Albanian woman, spent most of her adult life in India, where she helped numerous people who had a different skin colour and other differentiating physical traits from her. Many of these people, such as abandoned babies, would not have survived without her help and care. According to Dawkins’ theory, such exemplary examples of disinterested generosity should never occur, since they involve the total abnegation of the survival of one’s own genes, while one devotes oneself to helping other people’s unrelated genes to survive. And yet, Mother Teresa is by no means the only person who has devoted her life to helping people who were not genetically related to her, and without receiving any financial remuneration for her work.

None of the important facts in the life of Mother Teresa can be explained by Dawkins’ selfish-gene theory, for, as we shall see, these facts directly contradict it. Mother Teresa had no issue, and this was not because she was infertile, but because she took a vow of chastity, in imitation of Jesus and the many others, both nuns and monks, who likewise had no issue. The many millions of people who, throughout history, have taken a lifelong vow of chastity provide a real-world refutation of the selfish-gene theory, since the first necessary condition for propagating one’s genes is to have children. Hence, this behaviour cannot be dismissed pseudo-scientifically as the “misfiring of a built-in rule,” as Dawkins is wont to declare whenever he is faced with a behaviour that contradicts his theory, since these people all decided deliberately not to have any children, to the grave detriment of their genes’ survival. If Dawkins’ theory is correct, the question we need to ask is, “Why didn’t Mother Teresa’s selfish genes make her break her vow of chastity and beget children?”

Mother Teresa had an older brother and sister. Although her sister did not have any children, her brother had one son. In addition, she probably had cousins and other extended family members who had children. Again, based on Dawkins’ selfish-gene theory, we must ask ourselves, “Why, after she decided not to have any children of her own, didn’t Mother Teresa’s selfish genes make her remain in, or return to, her native Macedonia[20] and care for those who were related to her, thus ensuring that at least some of her genes would survive, rather than going to a foreign country and helping the genes of a great many foreigners, none of whom were related to her in the narrow biological sense, to survive?”

Clearly Mother Teresa was inspired by Biblical stories like the one about the Good Samaritan who helped a stranger who was robbed and assaulted by thieves, as well as by Jesus’s teachings and exhortations to love all human beings (but not all living creatures, which clearly shows the limits of Jesus’s sympathy and understanding). Moreover, she was also inspired by the example of missionaries who left their native country and went to foreign places in order to help those who lived there, where it was much less likely that the inhabitants would share their genes. These and many other examples of generosity towards those who are not genetically related to us very clearly contradict Dawkins’ selfish-gene theory.

Albert Schweitzer is another prominent person who was somehow able to resist the irresistible urge of his selfish genes to care only for his own children, or those of his close relatives. Although he, unlike Mother Teresa, married and had one child, he and his wife decided that they would devote themselves to helping people in Africa, in part to atone for the ravages and horrors caused by European colonialism. To achieve this end, Schweitzer trained to become a doctor, in which role he saved or prolonged the lives of many Africans, who were thereby enabled to pass on their selfish genes, at the partial cost of Schweitzer’s and his wife’s own selfish genes, since they were not able to beget and care for more of their own children. Today, there exist numerous organisations, such as Médecins sans frontières, whose primary goal is to save the lives of as many people as possible in poorer countries in the world, or those who have been injured as a result of violence.[21] And the people who work for these organisations do not do so because of reciprocity, for in most cases they receive nothing except perhaps gratitude from the people they help.

Another important point shown by these examples is that Richard Dawkins has fundamentally misunderstood the way in which genes operate. By attributing to them conscious or deliberate motives, specifically to ensure their own survival and increase their number, he has made the mistake of attributing purposive goals to non-living elements. Genes determine both the morphology and behaviour of many organisms;[22] however, this does not mean that they also seek to ensure their own survival. A storm may cause considerable damage to the environment, both living and non-living, but no one would therefore conclude that the storm intended to cause all this harm, since we know that storms are not living things. The Sun shines on the Earth and, with a minute fraction of the total radiation that it emits, thereby enables Life on Earth to continue to exist; but no one, apart from a Sun-worshipper, would say that it intends to do this, since, first of all, the Sun is not a living entity, and second, there are many stars in the Universe, probably the great majority of them, whose radiation does not support any life.

The fight or flight response possessed by many animals helps them to survive by making them either aggressively defend themselves against predators and adversaries, or frantically try to escape from them. However, as the domestication of numerous animals species has shown, in which these natural responses have been either muted or eliminated,[23] these genetic behavioural responses are separate from the rest of the animal’s genes – those genes that determine the animal’s physiognomy, organs, and other physical characteristics. Similarly, it is also possible to imagine an animal that either lacks reproductive organs or, possessing these organs, lacks the mating behaviour typical of that animal.[24] Again, these organs and mating behaviour are completely separate from the rest of the animal’s genes; but it is these genes that enable the animal to pass on all of its genes to future generations, or at least half of them to any given offspring. Hence, these highly useful evolutionary behaviours benefit not only these genes but also the rest of the animal’s genes. This is a clear example of how Dawkins’ monomaniacal insistence that we should only consider all behaviours from the very narrow perspective of the individual gene leads him and his many admirers into error and makes them overlook some pretty obvious truths about the world.

These examples show that, contrary to Dawkins’ belief that all genes selfishly compete with each other for their individual survival, genes do in fact cooperate and coordinate with each other. The genes that control for the fight or flight response, as well as the genes that control for the develop of the reproductive organs and mating behaviour, presuppose the existence of other genes that control for muscular, skeletal, visceral, neuronal, and other of the animal’s physical traits. Without the former genes, the latter genes either would not survive or would not be able to reproduce themselves; but without the latter, the former would have no animal structure on which to act. Hence, contrary to Dawkins’ reductionist thesis, these genes act harmoniously together to ensure the survival and reproduction of the entire organism.[25]

Before Darwin presented the Theory of Evolution to the world, most people believed that God was responsible for directly creating and animating all living things, in the guise of a master puppeteer or divine magician: Life exists because God wills it to exist, and all living creatures are thus manifestations of God’s volition. But the Theory of Evolution showed that this common belief is not true. It is a quirk of Dawkins’ personality and upbringing that, instead of simply accepting that, as the Theory of Evolution declares, all Life is the result of accidental circumstances, specifically of the non-volitional, or unintended, results of the Law of Natural Selection, he must needs reintroduce purpose in the biological realm by transferring it from God to organisms’ genes. And this is due, I suspect, to the fact that, until he was a teenager, Dawkins believed in God and the Christian story of how the world was created.[26] For a person who had been raised as an atheist, receiving no instruction in any particular religion, would, unlike Dawkins, have felt no inclination to attribute purpose anywhere in the operations of the Universe, including the operations of Life on Earth, since one would conclude that these results are all due to the impersonal laws that have been discovered by science. But because Dawkins was accustomed to worshipping God, when he ceased believing in God, whether he was aware of it or not, he sought to replace the God-figure with a new idol that he could worship, which in his case was the Almighty Gene.

As we saw previously with the naked mole rat, where he mistakenly sought to impose another species’ behavioural repertoire on it, although, as a teenager, Dawkins rejected the religious, and specifically the Christian, explanation for the Universe and everything in it, he retained the structure of this religious model and unwittingly imposed it on his later study of genes and their relations to organisms. In the case of the naked mole rat, Dawkins’ prior knowledge of social insect behaviour interfered with his ability to understand the similar, but also dissimilar, behaviour of this animal. In the case of genes and organisms, however, the effect has been disastrous, for the religious model which he imbibed in his childhood has greatly distorted his understanding of the true relationship between genes and organisms. Moreover, the dogmatic tendency of many religious believers has led Dawkins, first, to impose a religious-style, pseudo-scientific uniformity on the world; second, to a strong desire to make others conform to his views; and third, to an egregious blindness to facts that contradict his precious theory.

If we examine the wondrous traits that Dawkins attributes to genes, as well as the reverential and deferential way that he speaks of them, we will see that his attitude towards genes shares many similarities with the way that religious people speak of God. Just as religious people believe that God is immortal, Dawkins believes that our genes are likewise immortal; just as religious people abase themselves in relation to God, declaring that God is everything and we, Its humble creatures, are nothing, Dawkins abases all living organisms in relation to their genes, declaring that genes are everything and that we organisms are merely their temporary “survival vehicles;” just as religious people believe that God uses – and some of them fervently desire God to use – them to achieve Its divine ends, Dawkins believes that our genes use us and all other organisms to achieve their selfish ends, which are to ensure their survival while multiplying themselves to the greatest possible extent; just as religious people believe that God is timeless and exists independently of all Its living creations, Dawkins believes that the immortal replicators also exist independently of Life; just as religious people believe that God’s presence is visible everywhere, Dawkins believes that the effects of the selfish gene are also visible everywhere there is life in the Universe; and just as religious people believe that God existed prior to the creation of life, Dawkins believes that the immortal replicators also existed prior to the appearance of life and its subsequent evolution. What this shows is that Richard Dawkins is a scientific worshipper who has revived a form of animism – genetic animism – by prostrating himself, and, moreover, by wanting the rest of us to prostrate ourselves, before an inanimate entity, namely, our genes.

It should now be evident what Richard Dawkins’ ulterior motive is in presenting his selfish-gene theory: whether he realizes it or not, his aim is not primarily to discover the truth, but to promulgate a – in his view – logically consistent and comprehensive theory that will completely displace the many religious, and specifically Christian, theories that have been believed and continue to be believed concerning the origin of life on Earth. In other words, his aim is no less religious than it is scientific, for in his writings, Dawkins exhibits the proselytizing zeal of the evangelist, albeit one clothed in scientific garb. This explains why he is so adamant in defending his precious theory, and why he will not admit the obvious fact that there exist many exceptions to it, for he is motivated by the same religious fervour that animates those who preach religious doctrines. If truth were indeed Dawkins’ primary concern, as it is for any objective scientist, then he would not behave in the prevaricating, pseudo-scientific way that he does whenever he considers examples that contradict his precious theory, by simply dismissing them as unimportant instances of the “misfiring of a built-in rule.” To Dawkins, truth is a secondary concern to defending and propagating evolutionary doctrine against religious people in general, and in particular against religious fundamentalists who believe in the literal truth of the Bible. He is as determined as they are to prove that his views, and not theirs, are correct. In other words, Richard Dawkins is a true scientific believer, and his book, The Selfish Gene, is a work of scientific theology.

The phenomenon of cults and religions shows that charismatic, egocentric, or domineering individuals can persuade others of things and inculcate practices that are wrong, bad, or harmful. For the truth is that most people are meek followers rather than strong-willed leaders, and therefore they are prone to following an individual who is able to persuade them by one’s charm or charisma, the conviction of one’s rhetoric, the force of one’s personality, or by some other, non-rational means. And in spite of its usual veneer of impartiality, science is not immune to the influence of such individuals. Generally speaking, those who succeed are often individuals who are assertive, supremely confident in their abilities or that they are right, and so on.

I wish to introduce a concept that I will call the “Napoleon Syndrome.”[27] Napoleon Bonaparte was a person who was strong-willed, possessed extraordinary abilities and energy, and believed unquestioningly in his destiny to accomplish great things during his lifetime. Such individuals can be found in all fields of human endeavour, whether in politics, war, business, industry, science, technology, the arts, sports, and even romance. Many of humanity’s accomplishments are due to such individuals and their unshakable faith in themselves, as well as their indomitable desire to succeed. But these sorts of strong-willed individuals do not accomplish only good, for there are also individuals, such as Hitler, Stalin, Lenin, and Mao, who cause considerable harm by their forceful character and their unwavering belief that they are destined to accomplish great things. Because they are followed blindly and devotedly by their many admirers, they often lead their admirers down the path to ruin and disaster. These individuals have been described in various ways, such as “a force of nature,” or “those who carrying all before them like a flood;” and the adulation with which they are regarded by others has been described as “hero-worship” or a “personality cult.” Some other common features of the Napoleon Syndrome are a tendency to be dogmatic, to expect unwavering loyalty and obedience from others, whom one generally regards as being inferior and subservient to oneself, to criticize severely, argue vehemently with, and condemn those who do not agree with one’s views, and to regard oneself as being above, or not constrained by, ordinary rules, laws, and social conventions – in other words, that they are a law unto themselves.

An important reason why these individuals are able to accomplish so much more than ordinary people is because they are able to gain other people’s steadfast admiration for themselves. Hence, when admiration is transmitted through a group of people by imitation, as it was among the French people for Napoleon in the last decade of the eighteenth and the early years of the nineteenth centuries, it enables these individuals to accomplish the extraordinary feats, whether good or bad, for which they are remembered, and for which their names are inscribed in the pages of history.

Following the deposition and later execution of the French King Louis XVI, which acts were in no way Napoleon’s doing, a war of some sort was likely between the newly christened French Republic and the other countries and regions of Europe that were still governed by hereditary monarchs. However, it is hard to imagine that this war would have lasted as long as it did, and caused the deaths of so many individuals, if someone other than Napoleon had gained control of, first, the French army, and later the French Republic, which he restored to its former monarchical form with himself as its head.[28] For the same military abilities that enabled him to gain the respect and reverence of both the French people and his soldiers also enabled him to remain in power much longer than a less able individual. Hence, without Bonaparte at its head, it is likely that France would not have been able to continue fighting against the countries that were allied against it for as long as it did.

In the less tumultuous and bloody realm of science, a recent example of the Napoleon Syndrome is Sigmund Freud. As more and more people have realized, Freud’s theory of human behaviour is complete nonsense.[29] And yet, for close to a century, there were many millions of people around the world who were convinced of its truth, and many patients who were willing to pay large amounts of money to be psychoanalysed, in the expectation of being cured of their neuroses, repressions, and other emotional problems and discontents. Since Freud’s theory of human behaviour is wrong, we can only explain his success in convincing others of its truth by the fact that he possessed many of the traits of the Napoleon Syndrome: a strong-willed character, the unwavering conviction that his theory was correct and that he was destined to accomplish great things in life, and intellectual abilities that greatly impressed those who either came in contact with him or read one or more of his many works.

A more distant historical example of the Napoleon Syndrome is Socrates, who, although he failed to compel his fellow Athenians to do his bidding, was nevertheless able, through the writings of his adoring pupil Plato, to influence many millions of people long after his death. Despite his professed modesty, Socrates was in reality an arrogant and conceited individual who had an unshakeable belief in his abilities and beliefs, while he incessantly denigrated the abilities and beliefs of others. Only someone who was as strong-willed and as sure of himself as Socrates was could have continued to question and publicly humiliate the prominent inhabitants of the city in which he lived,[30] when he surely must have been aware of the unpleasant effects of his incessant efforts to show that they knew nothing, namely, that he was gaining many prominent enemies and detractors by his unwise actions.

I have presented this digression because, in my opinion, Richard Dawkins belongs in the category of individuals who exemplify what I have called the Napoleon Syndrome, since he too is a domineering individual who is extremely sure of himself. Like Freud’s theory of the unconscious, Dawkins’ selfish-gene theory is wrong, or it is not as globally valid as he and his many admirers believe it is.[31] Hence, the only way to account for the fact that, in spite of its numerous flaws and inversions of the truth, its inability to account for many real-world behaviours, and the many behaviours that contradict it, his theory has been so widely accepted is by considering the character traits of its progenitor. It is by no means an exaggeration to call Dawkins the self-appointed High Priest of Natural Selection, to whom all others must defer. This would explain why Dawkins has been so dismissively critical of Stephen Jay Gould, since Dawkins has sought to supplant Gould, whom he regarded as a powerful and highly regarded rival, as the undisputed authority on, and champion and defender of, the Theory of Evolution.

There is another important similarity between Dawkins’ selfish-gene theory and Freud’s theory of the unconscious mind: in the way that they have been used by their originators, both these theories enabled individuals to attribute all manner of causes and explanations for human behaviours, in the case of Freud, and human and non-human behaviours, in Dawkins’ case. In Freud’s case, if a person objected that one was not aware of being motivated by, for example, the Oedipus or Electra complex, or the even more ridiculous penis envy and castration fear, Freud would have replied, “Aha, that is because, being unconscious motives, of course you are not aware of them. These primal motives can only be known by the effects they produce, which effects are uniformly bad when they are repressed. And that is why you must be psychoanalysed by me, my good man (or woman).” Similarly, throughout his book, Dawkins simply assumes that the genes for this or that behaviour must exist because, according to him, all behaviours are the direct result of our genes, which generally make organisms behave selfishly, except when it is in their genes’ selfish interest to make them behave altruistically.

Just as, in the case of human behaviour, to think of all people being motivated either by the Oedipus or Elektra Complex is the wrong way to think about human behaviour, in the case of biology, to think of genes selfishly trying to replicate and multiply themselves in successive generations of “survival vehicles” is the wrong way to think about genes.

The possessor of an altruistic gene might be recognized simply by the fact that he does altruistic acts. A gene could prosper in the gene pool if it ‘said’ the equivalent of: ‘Body, if A is drowning as a result of trying to save someone else from drowning, jump in and rescue A.’ The reason such a gene could do well is that there is a greater than average chance that A contains the same life-saving altruistic gene. (89)

But since Dawkins has not bothered to look for it, how can he be so sure that such a gene exists? There are many people who speak a specific language, such as Hindi, Swahili, or Portuguese, play a musical instrument, write novels, cook fancy dinners, sew clothes, make automobiles, ride bicycles, program computers, wear designer clothes, take photographs, hoard money, drink alcohol, play games, and smoke cigarettes; but there are no specific genes that make people do any of these things, since these are all learned behaviours. Hence, since Dawkins has not actually taken the time and done the tedious work to find these altruistic genes, his belief that both altruistic and all other kinds of behaviour must be genetically determined is completely unfounded, since most human behaviours are not determined in this manner. This Freudian-like attribution of unconscious motives to people’s behaviour is even more evident in the next excerpt:

This chapter, and the next in which we discuss conflict between mates, could seem horribly cynical, and might even be distressing to human parents, devoted as they are to their children, and to each other. Once again I must emphasize that I am not talking about conscious motives. Nobody is suggesting that children deliberately and consciously deceive their parents because of the selfish genes within them. And I must repeat that when I say something like ‘A child should lose no opportunity of cheating . . . lying, deceiving, exploiting . . .’, I am using the word ‘should’ in a special way. I am not advocating this kind of behaviour as moral or desirable. I am simply saying that natural selection will tend to favour children who do act in this way, and that therefore when we look at wild populations we may expect to see cheating and selfishness within families. The phrase ‘the child should cheat’ means that genes that tend to make children cheat have an advantage in the gene pool. If there is a human moral to be drawn, it is that we must teach our children altruism, for we cannot expect it to be part of their biological nature. (139)

Just as Sigmund Fraud declared that many of our actions result from unconscious desires, Dawkins is saying that much of human behaviour is also due to unconscious motives, which are all due to our genes’ selfish desire to propagate and multiply themselves in the world, regardless of what we, their humble and subservient “survival vehicles,” may want or intend to do.

At the end of his book, Dawkins summarizes his highly personal reinterpretation of Darwin’s Law of Natural Selection in typically bombastic Dawkinsian style:

Let me end with a brief manifesto, a summary of the entire selfish gene/extended phenotype view of life. It is a view, I maintain, that applies to living things everywhere in the universe. The fundamental unit, the prime mover of all life, is the replicator. A replicator is anything in the universe of which copies are made. Replicators come into existence, in the first place, by chance, by the random jostling of smaller particles. Once a replicator has come into existence it is capable of generating an indefinitely large set of copies of itself. No copying process is perfect, however, and the population of replicators comes to include varieties that differ from one another. Some of these varieties turn out to have lost the power of self-replication, and their kind ceases to exist when they themselves cease to exist. Others can still replicate, but less effectively. Yet other varieties happen to find themselves in possession of new tricks: they turn out to be even better self-replicators than their predecessors and contemporaries. It is their descendants that come to dominate the population. As time goes by, the world becomes filled with the most powerful and ingenious replicators. (264-265)

But the individual body, so familiar to us on our planet, did not have to exist. The only kind of entity that has to exist in order for life to arise, anywhere in the universe, is the immortal replicator. (266)

In other words, according to Dogmatic Dick Dawkins, all that matters in the case of Life are our DNA; and the particular creatures which they give rise to are completely immaterial, insignificant, and unimportant, except as vehicles for perpetuating their Immortal Genes.

Incredibly, Dawkins declares that his selfish-gene theory is true of all life in the Universe, even though we have, until now, not discovered any life outside of our planet, which means that no one has yet been able to observe or study the different forms of life that may exist elsewhere in the Universe. To make such an outlandish, unwarranted, and unscientific generalization of his theory, which, as we have seen, is not even globally valid for all the living creatures that exist on the Earth, is incontrovertible evidence of Dawkins’ truly astonishing arrogance. As this excerpt clearly demonstrates, Richard Dawkins is an arrogant, deluded fool who has mistaken the contents of his brain for reality. But there is good reason for his many critics, detractors, and the subjects of his bullying to rejoice, for the intellectual reign of Richard the Rational, also known as Dogmatic Dick Dawkins, the animistic worshipper of the Immortal Gene, is well and truly over.

 

[1] The Selfish Gene by Richard Dawkins, p. 18. Oxford University Press, Oxford, 2006. Henceforth, as all the excerpts in this essay are taken from this book, only the page number will be cited immediately following the excerpt.

[2] In making this claim, I am using Dickens to represent fictional writers in general, and not to argue that Dawkins was influenced specifically by the works of Dickens. From a number of allusions and speculations, it is evident that Dawkins enjoys reading science fiction. For example, in The Selfish Gene, he spends several pages discussing an analogy taken from a work of science fiction that has something to do with the Andromeda Galaxy.

[3] I have considered the fallacious question “Which came first, the chicken or the egg?” in the essay “The Chicken and the Egg.”

[4] In the case of criminal investigations, investigators seek to find out the perpetrators of crimes. In attempting to reconstruct the actual course of events, they often must have recourse to indirect evidence and the testimony of witnesses, since they themselves were not there to observe the events firsthand. But it often happens that many a plausible case of how and why a certain accused individual committed this or that crime turns out to be wrong, thus leading to wrongful convictions and, on occasion, the execution of innocent persons, based merely on a probable or plausible account of how the crime was committed. Similarly, in science, there are many plausible theories that have been believed to be true for varying periods of time, until either they were shown to be wrong or they were displaced by another theory.

[5] This is no different from a person who, while constantly declaring that one has no intention of trying to get you to smoke, repeatedly offers you a cigarette and a light, while one smokes incessantly; or a person who, while assuring you that one has no intention of trying to get you to drink, repeatedly places a glass of alcohol in front of you while consuming glass after glass of the stuff; or a lusty man who, while declaring that one’s intentions are entirely honourable, repeatedly tries to seduce the woman of his desires.

[6] This is the famous play within the play “wherein I’ll catch the conscience of the King”, meaning Hamlet’s usurping Uncle Claudius, who killed Hamlet’s father and then wedded, and bedded, his mother.

[7] Despite Dawkins’ declaration that the title of his book is merely a useful analogy that is not to be taken literally, the fact is that, repeatedly throughout his book, Dawkins himself does take it literally – which literal interpretation leads him frequently into error – in the sense that each and every individual gene strives selfishly to protect and propagate itself as widely as possible. Similarly, prior to his book, most people believed that individual organisms behave in this manner, by, for instance, defending themselves from predators, seeking selfishly to gain as much nourishment as possible for themselves and their offspring, and seeking to mate with as many members of the opposite sex as possible.

[8] Lest the assiduously argumentative and doggedly disputatious Dick Dawkins object that these are all examples of deliberate, that is, purposive human activities, and natural selection, in contrast, is an inanimate process, I declare that this is the very crux of our disagreement. For, like many another scientific rationalist or atheist, whereas Dawkins claims – at least when he is not attributing purposive characteristics like selfishness to genes – that all Life arose entirely by the concatenation of fortuitous accidental circumstances, in accordance with natural laws like the Law of Natural Selection, I categorically deny this belief.

[9] Of course, there are many instances where humans take care of animals primarily because they are useful to them in some way, whether by providing them with food, milk, protection, clothing, labour, transportation, or money. In these cases, their behaviour is clearly not motivated by altruistic motives.

[10] There are also many close blood relations, including parents and children, or brothers and sisters, who dislike or hate each other, and thus are unwilling to do anything to help their near relative. All of these fairly common instances, which again clearly contradict Dawkins’ selfish-gene theory, are due to contempt.

[11] Another sense in which this phrase was meant was the presumed inheritance of certain characteristics, personality traits, or behavioural tendencies.

[12] What Dawkins mistakenly calls his “Darwinian intuition” is in reality his all-too-frequent proneness to Dawkinsian delusion, a tendency that Darwin himself did not suffer from, since he did not often make the mistake of trying to impose on facts an incorrect interpretation or an alien structure, as Dawkins does in this instance.

[13] Although all ant species live in colonies, there are many bee species that are individualistic, reproducing like most other sexual organisms, in pairs rather than in colonies or hives with only one egg-laying individual. Hence, even in the realm of social insects, there are many species that do not conform to the behavioural model that Dawkins attempts to impose on the naked mole rat’s behaviour.

[14] See “The Lion and the Lamb,” “Darwin’s Blunder,” “The Evolutionary Conundrum of Human Behaviour,” and “Natural Selection Does Not Tell the Whole Story.”

[15] Of course, I am assuming that foreign speakers are able to make the “ch” sound in German, which some foreigners have difficulty pronouncing.

[16] Another instance of this dogmatic tendency is when, discussing E. O. Wilson’s Sociobiology, he writes, “He [Wilson] is, of course, entitled to define a word however he likes, but this is a most confusing definition, and I hope that Wilson will change it in future editions of his justly influential book.” (94)

[17] If I had to declare what my conception of God is, I would say that it most resembles Albert Einstein’s conception of God, the Creator of the Universe and its many regularities. Although I was raised as a Catholic, I do not believe in any of the central teachings of Christianity.

[18] Although Dawkins would strenuously deny it, I will make the surmise that The Selfish Gene was the result of the superposition of a common science-fiction plot on the Theory of Evolution. If this surmise is correct, it is another similarity between his selfish-gene theory and Sigmund Freud’s theory of psychoanalysis, since the latter was inspired by a perverse misinterpretation of a well-known literary work, Sophocles’ Oedipus Rex.

[19] The Selfish Gene was published in 1976. It would be an unwarranted exaggeration to declare that the views and policies of Margaret Thatcher, who became the prime minister of the UK in 1979, and Ronald Reagan, who became the president of the US in 1981, were influenced by the title of Dawkins’ book. However, I believe that it contributed to the climate pervading the 1980s and subsequent periods, which have been characterized by greater degrees of selfishness and individualism in both the social and economic spheres.

[20] The place where Anjezë Bojaxhiu, as she was then known, was born is now part of Macedonia. After going to Ireland as a teenager to join the Sisters of Loreto, she later went to India, where she founded her own religious order, the Missionaries of Charity.

[21] Although the vast majority of people regard such charitable organisations as entirely good, I do not agree with this view, for they are also largely responsible for the population explosion that is taking place in many poorer countries in the world. There are many undesirable effects of this unchecked human population growth, including war, famine, crime, deforestation, desertification, poaching of endangered species, very high levels of unemployment, and massive urban slums.

[22] In making this statement, I am excepting the behaviours of animals which are determined by imitation, such as in humans. Although the tendency to imitate the behaviours of other members of one’s species is determined genetically, it is obvious that the particular behaviours one observes are not determined by one’s genes.

[23] In the case of many tamed animals, their tameness is due to early exposure to humans, and not because their usual fear of or hostility towards humans has been bred out. However, in domesticated sheep, both the fight and flight responses have been bred out, as is shown by their inability to survive without human protection, except in places where all large predators have been eliminated by humans.

[24] If some readers find this too great a stretch of the imagination, then one could simply imagine an animal in which the expression of the genes that control for the development of the reproductive organs or mating behaviour is hindered or impaired, something that does occur periodically in the real world. Recently, this is becoming more common due to the chemical pollution of the natural world by human beings.

[25] The recent insistence that living organisms should only be considered from the perspective of their genes was probably influenced by the developments in physics during the twentieth century, when the basic components of matter were reduced, from visible substances to atoms, then to protons, neutrons, and electrons, and finally to quarks.

[26] There are many people who go from being atheists or agnostics to believing in God’s existence. These people, who in Christianity are called “born-again Christians,” often seek to convert others to their new-found beliefs. In the case of Richard Dawkins, we have the example of the reverse phenomenon, for he has sought assiduously, with the same moral fervour, to preach his scientific atheism to all non-believers, which in this case are the many who continue to believe in God.

[27] This term has nothing to do with what has been called the “Napoleon complex,” the belief that short persons like Napoleon seek to compensate for their less-than-average height by attempting to accomplish extraordinary feats in order to be noticed by, while distinguishing themselves from, others. This complex is merely a particular instance of Alfred Adler’s theory of the inferiority feeling, or inferiority complex, as it was later popularized.

[28] Because Napoleon had such a high regard for himself, which regard was reinforced by the adulation he received both from his soldiers and, at least for a time, the French populace, he failed to understand that the other crowned heads of Europe and Russia, although they may have tolerated him and treated him with respect while he was powerful, never regarded him as being their equal, since he had not come to the French throne by – in their eyes – the sole legitimate means of noble birth. This disdain was apparent in the behaviour of his second wife, Marie Louise, the daughter of the Habsburg Emperor Francis II of Austria, who cut all ties with Napoleon and returned to her father with their infant son once it became apparent that Napoleon’s power was steadily and irreversibly declining from its temporary summit.

[29] In my opinion, Sigmund Freud was a literary theorist who masqueraded as a scientist. This would explain why his theory of psychoanalysis has been so fertile and influential in the realms of literary and artistic interpretation and criticism, since it originated from a misinterpretation of a well-known literary work, Sophocles’ Oedipus Rex.

[30] There are many professors, intellectuals, and writers who admire Socrates but fail to realize that if he were alive today, he would go about the corridors of universities, parliaments, news and talk shows, and other places, and confront the most prominent professors, writers, intellectuals, and politicians, and seek to humiliate them by showing that they know nothing. It is much easier to admire someone when one is not subjected to that person’s determined efforts to make one look like a fool, as Socrates did during the latter part of his life.

[31] Although I admit that his theory may have some validity, and that it may help biologists to understand some behaviours, especially non-human behaviours, since, besides humans, many organisms exhibit selfish behaviour, I wholly deny that his theory is valid without any exceptions, which is the position that Dawkins stubbornly maintains.

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