Audio-book Review
By Chet Yarbrough


The Selfish Genethe selfish gene

By Richard Dawkins 

Narrated by Richard Dawkins, Lalla Ward

Charles Darwin is in the pantheon of great intuitive geniuses.



Richard Dawkins reinforces Darwin’s beliefs in his 30th anniversary edition of “The Selfish Gene”, originally published in 1976.

The word “selfish” is somewhat misleading.  Dawkins is not using the word to mean “lacking in consideration of others”.  He is defining an innate Darwinian drive by genes to perpetuate their existence, to become immortal based on adaptation to environmental change.

One of many fascinating observations made by Dawkins is the role played by plant and animal life forms in evolution.  Dawkins views human beings and other life forms as vehicles for the evolution of organic matter.  Animals and plants are only vessels that host duplicating machines that combine genes in specific sequences (DNA and RNA) to make plants and animals grow in a competition for survival of the fittest.

Dawkins is a highly qualified synthesizer of evolutionary science.  His observations and synthesis of macroscopic studies of biology are fascinating but jumping from macroscopic observation to microscopic equivalence may or may not be correct.  It is too speculative to suggest that genetic behavior is the same as nature’s observable behavior.

Dawkins’ book reminds readers of Einstein’s unfulfilled ambition–to discover science’s Holy Grail, a unified field theory that explains everything about everything.  However, like E=MC2, gene adaptation is only part of an answer to the origin and perpetuation of life.

Dawkins does a spectacular job of explaining Darwinian evolution to the general public.  But, evolution at a genetic level stretches credulity when explaining the minuscule world of genetics by studying the macroscopic world of life. Though one is inclined to believe life evolved from simplicity to complexity (from a single cell to millions of cells), a theory is not proof that “selfish” genes are the essential building blocks of life.

In the science of physics, the molecular world does not conform to the macroscopic world of Newtonian physics.  In the molecular world, quantum mechanics rather than Newtonian physics more accurately predict forces of nature.  It is too soon to conclude that the microscopic level of gene evolution is the primary mechanism of nature’s evolution.

This is not to conclude that genes are not selfish but their drive for immortality is logically arguable based on macroscopic observation.  That is no small thing but Darwin is the progenitor of the idea of evolution. Dawkins is an interpretive theorist that presumes Darwin’s idea repeats itself at a microscopic level.  Maybe it does, maybe it does not.  Does it make any difference?

“The Selfish Gene” theory fails biology like string theory fails physics.  Controlled experiments cannot presently prove or disprove Dawkins’ gene hypothesis.  On the other hand, both gene and string theory hypotheses are plausible arguments for the evolution of biological life and the physics of a Planck’ sized world.

Putting aside Dawkins’ gene hypothesis, his game theory analogies for human behavior are terrific and worth knowing, whether one believes in “The Selfish Gene” or not.  In this time of government turmoil in the United States, Dawkins explanation of suckers, cheaters, and grudgers is enlightening.

Suckers are all the tax paying Americans that want to be left alone and only pay taxes to comply with the law.  Cheaters are Americans that game the system through tax avoidance, exploitation, and political contribution based on self-interest.  The remaining Americans are grudgers that fight the cheaters and rally the suckers to preserve human freedom, and equal opportunity.  If the grudgers are outweighed by the suckers and cheaters, democracy in America is destined to become as extinct as the Dodo bird.

Dawkins’ book is revelatory in many ways, and not only in the way he intended.

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