January 22, 2007


A Mission to Convert (H. Allen Orr, 1/11/07, NY Review of Books)

Dawkins's first book, The Selfish Gene (1976), was a smash hit. An introduction to evolutionary theory, it explained a number of deeply counter-intuitive results, including how an apparently self-centered process like Darwinian natural selection can account for the evolution of altruism. Best of all, Dawkins laid out this biology--some of it truly subtle--in stunningly lucid prose. (It is, in my view, the best work of popular science ever written.)

As if it weren't embarrassing enough to be that enamored of a philosophy book that David Stove left nothing more than a smoking crater, it vies with Population Bomb and Silent Spring for the most dubious scientific content of modern bestsellers.

Posted by Orrin Judd at January 22, 2007 7:52 PM

Fortunately, the fair-minded proprietors of the same site that hosts Mr. Stove's essay -- the Royal Institute of Philosophy -- also offer an essay by Simon Blackburn that renders Mr. Stove's argument into an allosaurus coprolite:


Posted by: Axel Kassel at January 22, 2007 8:13 PM

To the contrary, Blackburn likewise buries the chiv in Dawkins and "Dawkins's peculiar vision." That Dawkins remains the leading Darwinist is an embarrassment to the faithful, but hilarious to the rest of us.

Posted by: oj at January 22, 2007 8:17 PM

And they also thoughtfully provided James Franklin's dissection of Blackburn at Stove's Anti-Darwinism.

Posted by: jd watson at January 23, 2007 12:03 AM

Awfully glib of you to extract that one paragraph from a truly stellar review of Dawkins' most recent, and worst, book. I hadn't encountered this Stoves fellow before, but the link you have sent me to an undergrad thesis-level "dissection" of isolated fragments of literature, some taken out of context, that rather reveals the intellectual level of the entire anti-Darwinian "philosophical" enterprise.

You'd best let Dawkins latest writings speak for themselves. They're sophomoric enough.

Posted by: M. at January 23, 2007 3:45 PM

jd watson: I also followed your link to James Franklin's "dissection" of Blackburn. I found it hilarious - it's a wonderful example of a philosopher wading into scienctific waters that are way too deep for him; lots of space wasted on the "reality" of "model organisms." Again, utterly sophomoric. If Darwinism is really just a philosophy, it would seem that it could only improve the field.

Posted by: M. at January 23, 2007 3:56 PM

It can't. It's a tautology so obvious even freshman students dispose of it.

Posted by: oj at January 23, 2007 5:50 PM

Based on the links you've provided, it sure sounds like they're the ones doing it.

Posted by: M. at January 23, 2007 6:28 PM

Recall that when Stove was writing there were still believers in Darwin and even in Dawkins. Someone had to walk the credulous through it, even if it means writing down to their level.

Posted by: oj at January 23, 2007 8:50 PM

I see. So he had to take passages out of context, beat down a few straw men and generally misunderstand his chosen subjects to do this? I think Blackburn found the right quote: Stove, and by extension anyone who refers to him, "...can be excused of dishonesty only on the grounds that before deceiving others he has taken great pains to deceive himself."

Posted by: M. at January 24, 2007 10:44 AM

No, not at all. Take Dawkins own words in context and understand them perfectly and they're so silly that any high schooler can refute them. That's why even fellow Darwinists disavow him now. Blackburn was just one of the last of the true believers.

Posted by: oj at January 24, 2007 11:17 AM

Here, for instance, is Dawkins own statement of his case, which he appears not to realize is an argument of Intelligent Design:

"Like successful Chicago gangsters, our genes have survived, in some cases for millions of years, in a highly competitive world. This entitles us to expect certain qualities in our genes. I shall argue that a predominant quality to be expected in a successful gene is ruthless selfishness. This gene selfishness will usually give rise to selfishness in individual behavior."

Posted by: oj at January 24, 2007 11:31 AM