“The selfish-gene is blinding us.”

David Dobbs claims that “the selfish-gene model increasingly impoverishes both scientific and popular views of genetics and evolution.”

He’s totally right that gene expression has been (relatively) ignored in popular accounts of development/evolution. But there is nothing about our current understanding of gene expression that invalidates the “selfish gene” idea. In fact, gene expression is controlled by other genes, interacting with the environment. (e.g., water temperature can trigger sex changes in some species of amphibians) 

In addition, he completely ignores one of the founding principles of evolutionary bio as applied to humans and other social animals — Robert Trivers’ concept of reciprocal altruism. What Trivers says is: Selfish genes can create unselfish people. So, even if the gene is the basic unit of evolution, then we can still have morality, self-sacrifice, and all sorts of forms of noble human behavior.

It’s a false dichotomy to say that it’s one or the other.


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