The main theme used by Dawkins in “The Selfish Gene” is that of doubt. For example, as Dawkins speaks about how due to the results of teaching, people have come to assume that traits inherited genetically are fixed and cannot be modified (Dawkins, 3). Even though genes may program one to be selfish, one is not necessarily forced to comply with the traits he or she inherited, all the time. It would also be somewhat difficult for one to learn how to be unselfish, if he or she was not in the first place, genetically modified, to be unselfish (Dawkins, 3).
Unlike all animals, man is largely influenced by the environment or culture, and other influences that have been inherited from his ancestors. Some would argue that culture is such an important influence to man in that whether or not one has selfish genes, it does not matter in determining human nature. However, others would not agree with this position. Basically, it is all about where one stands with regards to the issue of “nature versus nurture.” Even though Dawkins delves deeper into the issue, he contends that “The Selfish Gene” is not an exhaustive descriptive account of the nature of man, or any other species (Dawkins, 3).
Furthermore, Dawkins insists that it is quite difficult to show the impact of behavior on future survival prospects of a species. In definition, true behavior must always be described using the term “apparently.” An apparently “unselfish” behavior is one that seems as if it has to make the individual performing it somewhat more likely to perish, and the recipient of the act less likely to survive (Dawkins, 4&5).
However, many times, upon closer investigation, it usually turns out that such unselfish acts are usually selfish acts in disguise. Once more, the theme of doubt is illustrated in the author’s words; he doesn’t mean that the real motives may be secretly selfish, but that the actual impact of the behavior on the possibility of survival are the opposite of what most people think (Dawkins, 4&5).
In the modern world, Darwin’s evolution theory suffers almost the same negligible amount of doubt as the fact that the earth revolves around the sun. However, according to Dawkins, what Darwin proposed is yet to be broadly seen (Dawkins, 2). As Dawkins stated on the first paragraphs in his book, intelligent life can only start to exist when it realizes the purpose of its existence (Dawkins, 1).
Dawkins further postulated in the opening lines that if beings of higher intelligence were to come to earth, to solve the question of how civilized we are, they will seek to find out if we have already discovered evolution. Dawkins further states that living things had been in existence on earth for over 3000 million years before they ever realized the reason for their existence, and that reason was given by Charles Darwin (Dawkins, 1).
A number of traits are displayed by Dawkins in his arguments against religion. First, there is how he equates cleverness with superiority, that visiting aliens are superior to humans since they are smarter and would likely know more than we do. To Dawkins, the evolution theory is not just a theory; he describes it as a truth that cannot be altered, and the best narrative of how life started and evolved (Gray, para3).
It is easy to see that Dawkins perceived himself as a modern day Darwin, spreading the vision that came to the 19th century naturalist (Gray, para2). Among these traits, it is the author’s attempt to equate himself to Darwin that is most doubtable. In fact, many say that no 2 people could be more dissimilar than the great genius scientist of the Victorian era and the late 20th century advocate of atheism. Darwin was often hesitant and doubtful, and aware of the fact that scientific facts are based on empirical results, and that all theories must always be regarded as provisional (Gray, para3).
For Darwin, science was always a tool for investigation, unlike Dawkins, who believed that science is an unalterable view of the world. Nineteenth century scientists were often ridiculed for their apparent certainties. However, on the contrary, many of them, including Darwin, often had many doubts and anxieties. The author of the Selfish Gene, however, seems not to have even a single shred of uncertainty in his mind, and he does not attempt to investigate some of the questions that the 19th century scientists found to be unsolvable (Gray, para3).
“Selfish genes” are not based on any experimental basis, and the author does not scientifically show how genes operate. The points made by Dawkins made a lot of sense when the book was released, and still make a lot of sense, even in the modern day world. However, beautiful writings do not excuse the fact that there is lack of substance here. For example, the core argument of this book is that humans and all animal species are machines that are designed by the genes they inherited (Dawkins, 2).
Using the example of Chicago gangsters, Dawkins explains how genes have thrived in some cases for thousands of years in a very competitive world. Thus, one should expect particular qualities from his or her genes. Dawkins claims that a quality that is always to be expected from a successful gene is that of selfishness. And, that the selfishness of the gene will cause the individual to assume the same behavior (Dawkins, 2).
However, even in his own words, Dawkins contends that there are situations whereby a gene can strive to achieve its own selfish motives by somewhat expressing some form of unselfishness in the individual. Thus, he argues that as much as we want to believe differently, universal love and welfare of all species are notions that don’t make sense evolution-wise. This is the first argument that Dawkins makes regarding what his work is not; he shows that he is merely pointing out how things evolved, and not advocating for evolution-based morality (Dawkins, 2).
Furthermore, the author doesn’t state his position on how humans should behave morally. He emphasizes this, since he is in danger of being misunderstood by many people. Dawkins’ own feeling is that of a world based on the ‘gene law’ of ruthless selfishness, which would be a very bad society to live in. For, if one intends to build a society in which people cooperate unselfishly for a common good, then he or she should expect nothing from biological nature. Dawkins argues that society often seeks to teach unselfishness and generosity because people are by nature selfish. He thus, recommends that individuals should understand the selfish nature of their genes because it is only then that they can at the very least be able to change that nature (Dobbs, para14).
The Uncertainty of Science
In “The Uncertainty of Science,” Feynman speaks about science and its nature. He stresses specifically on the existence of doubt and anxieties. To Feynman, science is anchored on the concept that observation is the determinant of facts (Feynman, 16).
At one point in his work, Feynman poses the question, why do we repeat all this (Feynman, 9)? And then, he answers: it is because each and every day new generations are born. And, he argues that in the history of mankind, many great ideas have come up, and that unless efforts are made to pass these ideas to the next generation, these ideas often do not last (Feynman, 9).
However, this is not the only point of note in his work. He further argues that the power of science lies in its broad-mindedness, its inherent theoretical grounds, and the space it allows for doubt and lack of certainty. There is even a hint of suggestion in his work, recommending the tolerance of doubt and uncertainty in the society, as he states that: it was a struggle to allow doubt and not be sure (Feynman, 24).
Even though Feynman doesn’t want individuals to assume the significance of struggle, and thus let things slide away, the author feels that it is his duty as a scientist, who is aware of the importance of an adequate amount of the philosophy of ignorance, to propel the forward movement enabled by open-mindedness, and such a philosophy (Feynman, 24).
Knowledge is of little value, if all one can attest is what occurred in the past. It is thus important to be able to predict what will happen in the future, if a certain action is taken or not taken. Every scientific fact, law, theory or statement is a summary of an observation that does not always cover everything, because nothing in science can be precisely stated. It is thus necessary and factual, to say that all statements made in science, and all conclusions, are uncertain, since they are merely conclusions (Feynman, s23&24).
These scientific statements are primarily guesses of what might occur, and one cannot be sure of what will occur, since he or she will always have not made the most complete experiments, taking into account all variables, thus, all knowledge in science is uncertain. Scientists are used to operating in doubt; this experience is quite important. The author, Feynman, believes that the experience with uncertainty is of great importance, and that it goes beyond the scope of science (Feynman, s23&24).
He further states that to come up with a solution against any problem that has never been solved before, one has to allow uncertainty and the fact that the position he or she might have taken might not be entirely correct. And, that otherwise, if one has already set their minds to a position in which they might not solve the problem. Thus, for one to make any kind of progress in finding a solution, he or she must allow doubt, because it’s due to this doubt that they can be able to continue, despite facing the first obstacle, and, look in different angles for new ideas (Feynman, s23&24).
Thus, the rate at which one makes progress in science is not just the same as the obstacles they encounter, but the rate at which he or she makes new things to experiment. If we did not have any doubts, there would be very little worth testing, because science is all we would be aware of that can determine what is factual or not. Thus, what we are aware of today as scientific knowledge is a collection of statements of different levels of certainty (Feynman, s23&24).
Doubt is clearly an inherent aspect of science. Whether that is the case in other fields of study or not, is an uncertain issue. It is crucial to have doubts, and if one has doubts, he or she should be aware that it is not a thing to be worried about. Doubt is the underlying theme in the way Dawkins presents his arguments in his work “The Selfish Gene.” Feynman also shows that doubt is the cornerstone of science, and also a thing of great value in finding solutions to problems.
Gray, John. “The Closed Mind of Richard Dawkins.” 2014. Web. 8 Oct. 2015.
Dawkins, Richard. The Selfish Gene. No. 199. Oxford university press, 2006.
Feynman, Richard. “The Uncertainty of Science”
Dobbs, David. “Why It’s Time to Lay the Selfish Gene to Rest — David Dobbs — Aeon.” Aeon Magazine. 2013. Web. 8 Oct. 2015.
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