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Just to clarify (and to counterbalance some of the stridency of my previous post), my intent was not to say that anyone here is misrepresenting Dawkins' concept. From the summary Christopher provided of Sarah Coakley's writing, it sounded to me as though she has overemphasized the 'selfish' aspect without recognizing that even the most socially beneficent, altruistic behavior can be selfish insofar as it is driven by genes that increase their frequency as a result. That's what I get for trying to communicate before I've had my morning coffee. Apologies to any offended, aggrieved, or otherwise.
Toggle Commented Nov 19, 2009 on The extent of the Fall? at Entangled States
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It's distressing, to me personally, as well as to Richard Dawkins, how thoroughly misunderstood the concept of the selfish gene has been (he has said as much in the years since it was published). The concept does not necessarily mean that selfish behavior will always predominate altruistic behavior in a given population. Rather, it simply means that genes which tend to increase the reproductive success of their hosts will tend to increase in frequency in the population, at the expense of those genes who either do not improve or who decrease the reproductive capacity of their hosts. Therefore, genes predisposing an organism toward cooperative behavior or altruism might be 'selfish' insofar as they tend to push out genes for selfishness. Dawkins himself has said that he could have just as easily titled his book 'The Cooperative Gene.' Not that this makes no assessment of the moral value of cooperative versus selfish behaviors--behavior either enhances reproductive success, has no effect on it, or negatively effects it. Indeed, it can be demonstrated mathematically that in a population containing genes for 'altruism' and 'selfishness', altruism will predominate, but the individual's benefit from selfishness prevents the 'selfish' gene from ever being removed from the population.
Toggle Commented Nov 19, 2009 on The extent of the Fall? at Entangled States
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Nov 19, 2009