Richard Dawkins in furious row with EO Wilson over theory of evolution

Book review sparks war of words between grand old man of biology and Oxford’s most high-profile Darwinist

A disagreement between the twin giants of genetic theory, Richard Dawkins and EO Wilson, is now being fought out by rival academic camps in an effort to understand how species evolve.

The learned spat was prompted by the publication of a searingly critical review of Wilson’s new book, The Social Conquest of Earth, in Prospect magazine this month. The review, written by Dawkins, author of the popular and influential books The Selfish Gene, The Blind Watchmaker and The God Delusion, has prompted more letters and on-line comment than any other article in the recent history of the magazine and attacks Wilson’s theory “as implausible and as unsupported by evidence”.

“I am not being funny when I say of Edward Wilson’s latest book that there are interesting and informative chapters on human evolution, and on the ways of social insects (which he knows better than any man alive), and it was a good idea to write a book comparing these two pinnacles of social evolution, but unfortunately one is obliged to wade through many pages of erroneous and downright perverse misunderstandings of evolutionary theory,” Dawkins writes.

The Oxford evolutionary biologist, 71, has also infuriated many readers by listing other established academics who, he says, are on his side when it comes to accurately representing the mechanism by which species evolve. Wilson, in a short piece penned promptly in response to Dawkins’s negative review, was also clearly annoyed by this attempt to outflank him.

“In any case,” Wilson writes, “making such lists is futile. If science depended on rhetoric and polls, we would still be burning objects with phlogiston [a mythical fire-like element] and navigating with geocentric maps.”

Wilson, 83, is a Harvard professor of evolutionary biology who became famous in the early 1970s with his study of social species in his books The Insect Societies and Sociobiology. He is internationally acknowledged as “the father of sociobiology” and is the world’s leading authority on ants.

For lay spectators, the row is a symptom of the long and controversial evolution of the very idea of evolution. At root it is a dispute about whether natural selection, the theory of “the survival of the fittest” first put forward by Charles Darwin in 1859, occurs only to preserve the single gene. Wilson is an advocate of “multi-level selection theory”, a development of the idea of “kin selection”, which holds that other biological, social and even environmental priorities may be behind the process.

Observer

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3 responses to “Richard Dawkins in furious row with EO Wilson over theory of evolution

  1. For “lay spectators”, this spat between Dawkins and Wilson does a service in exposing fallacies of Darwinian evolution, which is itself downright perverse. As retired Washington University (St. Louis) medical professor David Menton once stated, “evolution contributes nothing to our understanding of empirical science.”

    Biblical creation is the basis for scientific research, despite the efforts of Dawkins and Wilson to suggest otherwise.

    • Evolution is the action, Darwin’s theory of Evolution by Natural Selection explains how it happens. Have you actually read The Origin of Species? I see nothing ‘exposing’ in this article. Do you not know that evolution is literaly a cornerstone of Biology, without it we would have no medicin, vaccines, domestic dogs, industrial food production the list goes on and on.

      Yeah, because the world is 6000 years old, light was created before the sun, the whole human population has was created and grew with incest then killed off then grown again with incest, dinosaurs walked with humans and the earth is flat. There is literally nothing scientific in the bible that wasn’t known at the time and I challenge you to produce something to counter that claim.

  2. See I’ve been thinking some about evolution and I think if you model it you might end up using some of the same math that you use for neural networking – aka the same kind of math you would use to mathematically model the brain.

    I think that, suppose you could model it well enough, you would end up using such complicated math and long verbiose explanations that it would be very difficult to communicate to anyone so they really understand it — and any understanding of it would be just a crude approximation of what complicated processes go into life.

    So that, in the end, you will end up with a concept that is about as vague as the concept of God. You can say evolution exists in a vague way — the moment you try to understand in detail how it works, at what level does the competition take place, you end up with so much complexity and an inability to prove things — let alone explain things well to a popular audience — that I think any honest person would say that those who use the concept of God are not all that different from some of these evolutionists. God is an abstract concept, after all. No one can explain specifics or agree on specifics with regard to God — and that is a good thing. Because the one thing I notice about Dawkins is, he seems to act very dogmatic and sure of himself, while at the same time cutting corners and fudging just for the sake of sounding authoritative. Aka, he is like someone who says “I know the mind of God better than you know — and this is what it is” and then proceeds to mislead and tell people a bunch of junk that is fake.

    The beauty of society having the concept of “God” is, the moment everyone believes in God and believes that their life should be ruled by God, it becomes impossible for any one person such as a priest to go say he knows what God’s opinion is on some issue better than everyone else does, and seek to convince everyone else to do what he tells them to do. At any point someone can go put him in his place as a liar and faker. Religion is, in some ways, blatently dumb and easily open to ridicule — that’s precisely its advantage because it protects ordinary people from demagogues peddling the latest fad.

    Dawkins looks like someone trying to harness the “credibility” of science for political ends. By exaggerating how sure scientists are of themselves, and then trying to set himself up as dictator. Religion always lasts because it thwarts the efforts of any single individual to do that and take it too far. Also, I have noticed that the scientists who are the least sure of themselves and least dogmatic and willing to admit the world is not so cut and dried a place as we think, and who acknowledge the limitations of human understanding, also happen to be the most rigorous scientists of all — physicists. Whenever any biologist claims he “knows” or “understands” humanity better than anyone else, and then starts acting like a disagreeable know it all, anyone inclined to believe him should study physics — physicists should have succeeded in getting much further in the direction of certainty than any social scientists have. And how far have they gotten?

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