Dawkins vs. Gould: Survival of the Fittest

Dawkins vs. Gould: Survival of the Fittest

by Kim Sterelny

Paperback(Second Edition)

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Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781840467802
Publisher: Icon Books, Ltd. UK
Publication date: 06/25/2003
Edition description: Second Edition
Pages: 208
Product dimensions: 5.20(w) x 8.03(h) x 0.63(d)

Table of Contents

Science has seen its fair share of punch-ups over the years, but one debate, in the field of biology, has become notorious for its intensity. Over the last twenty years, Richard Dawkins and Stephen Jay Gould have engaged in a savage battle over evolution that shows no sign of warning.

Dawkins, author of The Selfish Gene and The Blind Watchmaker, conceives of evolution as a struggle between gene lineages; Gould, who wrote Wonderful Life and Rocks of Ages, sees it as a struggle between organisms. For Dawkins, the principles of evolutionary biology apply just as well to humans as they do to all living creatures; for Gould, however, this sociobiology is not just ill-motivated but wrong, and dangerous.

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Dawkins vs. Gould: Survival of the Fittest 3.8 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 4 reviews.
ElectricRay on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Given that it covers a particularly vitriolic skirmish between two huge, polarising and consistently outspoken opposing generals in the Science Wars, Kim Sterelny had on his hands a fascinating topic. He quite easily could have crammed this brief volume full of the proverbial sizzling gypsies - gory details of the academic handbags which were exchanged in full view of an admiring dilettante public - but inexplicably, he chose not to. Instead, the fieriest debate is reduced to its desiccated intellectual premises and is presented worthily and dryly. This is, no doubt, second nature to a professional scientist like Sterelny, but it displays a lack of worldliness for an aspiring popular author; a worldliness, ironically enough, possessed in oodles by both of his subjects. 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 i
psiloiordinary on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Slim and readable.I had read all of Dawkins and nothing by Gould and saw this as a necessary scene setter before diving into Gould's work. It worked in this role very well by giving a great overview of the various areas of agreement and dispute.Easy to read for the non-specialist, I whizzed through it in an afternoon.A fantastic suggested reading section, split down by chapter and with quick summary reviews of the suggestions which also gives details of which are suitable for the non-technical reader. This section alone is almost worth the cover price. I added significant length to my wish list after reading this book.3.5 out of 5 stars.
juglicerr on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
This is a basically successful book, encapsulating some of the disputes in evolution, particularly between Richard Dawkins and Stephen J. Gould. For someone who just wants the basics of the dispute without having to wade through lengthy or complex material, it is perfect. I think it could be improved, though. Sterelny doesn't have particularly good notes, more like a recommended reading list. It is not easy to tell exactly where he is getting his statements. He points, for example, to Dawkin's criticism of Gould & Eldridge Punctuated Equilibrium as a gloss in The Blind Watchmaker. Sterelny regards this as unfair, but I actually thought it was quite good. I think his criticism as regards local population changes is entirely fair. Sterelny argues that he is not taking into account the portion of the theory that deals with speciation. But exactly where, in the various iterations is the latter point? I don't remember it in the original article - is this my failing memory, or is that a later development, perhaps after The Blind Watchmaker was written? I'll have to dig up and reread all the articles to find out, whereas a simple citation might have made it immediately clear. I also felt that Sterelny did not discuss the problem of definitions thoroughly enough. He does this with the question of increasing fitness, pointing out that this may true over the history of a particular species, but perhaps not true between different species separated by long time spans. I think this is true of many issues of contention. Part of the issue of the role of chance in evolution depends upon whether or not one considers mass extinctions to be part of evolution specifically, or rather a feature of natural history that changes the conditions under which evolution operates. One of the criticisms of Gould, such as Dawkins aforementioned criticism of Punctuated Equilibrium, is that he exaggerates the novelty of his ideas. In these cases, his critics don't so much disagree with what he is saying as argue that he is producing useful glosses or drawing out implications that are true, but not revolutionary, and that in the process, he distorts other people's work, notably Darwin's. Certainly worth reading. I think that Sterelny often explains the two combatants' positions more clearly than they themselves do. Those interested in pinning down the subject more firmly will regret the lack of citations, but there are numerous recommendations for further reading, tied to particular subjects by chapter.
SimonChamberlain on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Short discussion of the differing theories of evolution proposed by Richard Dawkins and Stephen Jay Gould. Quite readable and informative.