Richard Dawkins is a genetic determinist

Summary of The selfish gene

From Darwin to Dawkins

Based on the findings of Jean-Baptiste Lamarck developed for species change Charles Darwin around 1838 his theory of evolution. However, he initially did not publish his findings - his main work The Origin of Species appeared only in 1859. Independent of Darwin came Alfred Russel Wallace around 1858 to similar results.

The basic thesis of both thinkers was that living beings gradually adapt to their environment better and better and form increasingly complex structures in the process. The (erroneous) conclusion that humans descend from apes and that the story of creation must be wrong provoked general indignation, but science was enthusiastic: The theory of evolution provided the fundamental principle of biology, which was soon confirmed and expanded in various sub-disciplines. How exactly the traits preferred by natural selection could be inherited Gregor Mendel explain with his inheritance theory first published in 1865, but which was not rediscovered by research until 1900.

The apparent contradiction between the mutability of species postulated by Darwin and the constancy evidenced by Mendel's theory was only resolved in the 1930s. Ronald Fisher and others combined both theoretical constructs in synthetic evolutionary theory. Research was spurred on by the discovery of DNA in the 1940s and 1950s. The realization that the unity that natural selection is about is not the species or the individual but the gene took hold in two waves: Postponed in the 1950s and 1960s George C. Williams and others focus from species to individual, especially in the 70s Richard Dawkins from the individual to the gene.

While science has long taken the theory of evolution for granted, the dispute in some countries continues on a social level: In the USA, creationist teaching (creation of the world by a god) is taught in many schools. More than 40 percent of Americans believe that God created man 10,000 years ago.


A trigger for The selfish gene was the disagreement among evolutionists about which unit is selected in natural selection: individual, species or gene? It soon became clear to Richard Dawkins: It had to be the gene, even if viewed in small periods of time it had to act as if natural selection was primarily carried out at the level of the individual.

As Dawkins The selfish gene swrote, biology was in a mood of being used up: New impulses came not only from molecular biology, but also from behavioral research. “Today I see that this was one of those mysterious times when new ideas were in the air. I wrote The selfish gene in a state that resembled feverish excitement, ”said Dawkins in his foreword to the second edition. Dawkins began working on the book as early as 1972, then put it aside and did not return to it until 1975. The book was published a year later. The second edition from 1989 was supplemented by two chapters and excluded the findings Robert Axelrods game theory treatise The evolution of cooperation on.

Impact history

The selfish gene was enthusiastically received by a broad readership and many critics. Although he wrote many more books, stayed The selfish gene Dawkins ’most famous and influential work. Many details of his theory were further developed in different disciplines, such as the idea of ​​excess or selfish DNA in biology or the comparison between consciousness and a computer simulation in philosophy. The theory of the meme was mainly taken up and further developed by humanities scholars, including by Susan Blackmore in her script The power of memes.

But there were and still are critical voices: Critics who falsely saw moral implications in Dawkins' findings accused him of fueling the social cold and xenophobic mood in England in the 1970s and 1980s. Dawkins himself later wondered if the title of his most famous work was well chosen. Perhaps, he suggested, “The Immortal Gene” or perhaps even “The Cooperative Gene” would have been more appropriate; in any case, he had to justify the title over many years. Some readers accused Dawkins of having taken the world out of magic and plunging it into a deep depression because he found a simple scientific explanation for so many puzzles.