Cover to Cover: ‘The Selfish Gene’
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Some books turn the world upside down. These are works that are often brought up, but also often wrongly interpreted. Books you have probably heard of, but either never read or read long ago. That is why we ask academics to discuss three timeless hits in this series. What is the most important message? What explains the impact? And which insights still persist?
In his most famous work, The Selfish Gene (1976), Richard Dawkins presented a radically new take on the theory of evolution. He argued that the struggle for survival is not one between members of a species in which the individual with the best adapted genetic profile survives, but a battle between genes. The book made a wider audience familiar with fundamental questions about life on earth. But not everyone bought the argument. Humanists and religious people were deeply troubled by the suggestion that human behavior is driven by selfish genes. Fellow scientists objected that people do many things for which, as far as we know, there is no gene, such as sports and other cultural activities.
Neurobiologist Dr Divya Raj (UU) traces the influence of Dawkins’ theory on science and popular imagination. Does his work still hold up today?