Dawkins vs. Gould: Survival of the Fittest (Revolutions in Science S.) Paperback – 1 Mar 2007
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'Book of the Month' -- Focus, August 2001
'Slim and Readable' -- Nature (issue 413)
This book provides a useful and highly readable introduction to some potentially confusing debates in [evolutionary] biology. -- British Society for the History of Science, Autumn 2001
[A] deft little book ... its insights are both useful and fun - like the frolics of chirping birds in a sprinkler. -- The Weekend Australian, 1st December, 2001 --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
About the Author
Kim Sterenly is the author of several books, including "Sex and Death" (University of Chicago Press, 1999) and "Thought in a Hostile World" (Blackwell, 2003). He works in the philosophy departments at Victoria University in Wellington, New Zealand and the Australian National University, Canberra.See all Product description
Top customer reviews
It really is an excellent little book. Gould vs Dawkins for beginners was never going to be easy because you have the challenge of explaining both their actual argument, and the theory behind their argument which is often quite complex. Sterelny manages this well, his explanations are comprehensible to someone who hasn't studied science since GCSE but not too patronising for someone who already grasps the ideas pretty well.
Explaining the differences between Dawkins and Gould is in itself a difficult task because at the end of the day they're pretty slim. But after I'd read the book I felt like I'd picked up a fair understanding of not only what those differences are (or were) but also how they fit into the wider picture of Dawkin and Gould's approaches to science.
Definitely a must for anyone who wants to know a little more about the theory of evolution.
Gould's main problem is with sociobiology and how this is used to argue for morality and evolutionary psychology in what he feels is a reckless way. What is strange is that the author as a philosophy professor does not spend more time on this aspect and spends more on the science, which while clearly explained at this level needs a much deeper examination to find the actual differences. Gould's view is like those who oppose some of the extremes of science. We can do it (make the atomic bomb for example) but should we? Socio-biology might be true, but isn't it a dangerous genie and can't it be warped into eugenics?
All in all it is a good read and worth reading for anyone who wants to know what all the fuss is about.
One thing I do wish is that people would stop treating Dawkins as a great authority and leading figure on the modern theory of evolution. In the academic literature he is not and as E.O. Wilson has recently said he is a populariser of science and not a scientist. Scientists publish peer reviewed papers, science populists publish (non-peer reviewed) books. Gould however was an accomplished academic paleontologist. If you really want to know the "modern synthesis" read J.B.S. Haldane, R.A. Fisher and Sewall Wright or Julian Huxley.
Unlike your usual zoologist (though granted, I don't know that many), Richard Dawkins invites extremes of adoration or vitriol from just about anyone who's heard of him (and, given his gift for self publicity, that's most people); The late Steve Gould was (on this side of the ditch at any rate) of less general reknown but equally susceptible, in the right circles, to excitable opinion.
Dawkins the zoologist is a crusading atheist - irony intended - and devoted son of the enlightenment; Gould the paleontologist was possessor of a more open-minded view on woolly artsy pursuits like religion, literature and architecture, allowing them to bleed into his professional scientific opinion in a way that horrified the purist in Dawkins. Also, apparently, Gould was a Marxist. Battle lines accordingly drawn.
Now, to his (professional, if not authorial) credit, Sterelny abstains from addressing Gould's politics, and instead succinctly and patiently outlines the camps' respective differences in evolutionary theory - differences which are relatively subtle to non specialists, truth be told - but (no doubt being a good scientific chap - clean fight, fair play and all that) refrains from descending into the real particulars of the debate, in particular referring only in passing to a petulant and protracted exchange in the New York review of books following publication of Daniel Dennett's Dawkinsesque Darwin's Dangerous Idea. (How about that for a bit of alliteration, by the way).
Such noble prurience is a mistake, in this reviewer's opinion, for it neuters a book which, had it been rendered breathlessly enough, could have been a rip-snorter.
If it were me I would have extracted much of the debate in full and provided some journalistic context around how it came about, and certainly extracted some of the peachier exchanges. For example, how about this one:
"[Dennett's] limited and superficial book reads like a caricature of a caricature--for if Richard Dawkins has trivialized Darwin's richness by adhering to the strictest form of adaptationist argument in a maximally reductionist mode, then Dennett, as Dawkins's publicist, manages to convert an already vitiated and improbable account into an even more simplistic and uncompromising doctrine. If history, as often noted, replays grandeurs as farces, and if T.H. Huxley truly acted as "Darwin's bulldog," then it is hard to resist thinking of Dennett, in this book, as "Dawkins's lapdog."
Cracking stuff - but it finds no place in Sterelny's volume, and I had to look it up online (it, and the whole vituperative article from which it came, is reproduced at the New York Review of Books' website.)
Sterelny's main problem seems to be that he is such a frightfully good egg he can't bring himself to dramatise proceedings, which are screaming out for it, at all. He confesses an intellectual kinmship with Dawkins but then is so scrupulously fair to Gould in his assessment of their competing arguments that it is hard to comprehend what he even sees in Dawkins' view.
That might be my bias: while much taken by Dawkins' and Dennett's books when I first read them, I have found more resonance in Gould's humanist, pragmatic view the more I've read of it (and the older I've got), so (as a point of disclosure) I come out on the other side of the argument to Sterelny. That's not my problem with his book; however, quite the opposite: it's the very bloodlessness of it.
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