The Selfless Gene (1)

I am fully convinced that species are not immutable; but that those belonging to what are called the same genera are lineal descendants of some other and generally extinct species, in the same manner as the acknowledged varieties of any one species are the descendants of that species. Furthermore, I am convinced that Natural Selection has been the main but not exclusive means of modification. — C. Darwin, On the Origin of Species (1859)

Charles Foster - The Selfless GeneOn the birth­day of Charles Dar­win, I want to dis­cuss a book that I main­ly start­ed read­ing for the sub­ti­tle: Liv­ing with God and Dar­win. I have always been around a lot of peo­ple who live with God and oth­ers who live with Dar­win. But I have been a lit­tle short on peo­ple who are both believ­ing and at home in evo­lu­tion­ary biol­o­gy. The author of this book is such a per­son. His name is Charles Fos­ter and the book is called The Self­less Gene.

Dar­win, the man from Kent who devot­ed him­self to the breed­ing of pigeons to work out his sci­en­tif­ic ideas. Evo­lu­tion was already the pre­vail­ing mod­el in biol­o­gy at that time. Dar­win’s con­tri­bu­tion was the idea of nat­ur­al selec­tion. Forced to pub­lish becaus A. R. Wal­lace had inde­pen­dent­ly come to a sim­i­lar the­o­ry , he com­piled his notes in 1859 under the title On the Ori­gin of Species by Means of Nat­ur­al Selec­tion. Dar­win had no knowl­edge about genet­ics, and thus could not explain exact­ly how hered­i­ty worked. This took shape at the begin­ning of the twen­ti­eth cen­tu­ry, also in com­bi­na­tion with old pub­li­ca­tions of the geneti­cist Mendel (1866).

Charles Darwin

Nat­ur­al selec­tion occurs because there is genet­ic vari­a­tion. This vari­a­tion is part­ly due to muta­tions and sex­u­al repro­duc­tion. If it pro­vides an organ­ism with a char­ac­ter­is­tic that gives it advan­tage in the ‘strug­gle for life’, it has a high­er sur­vival rate aus a greater chance to pass on this fea­ture to its prog­e­ny.

Fos­ter gives an overview of the his­to­ry of cre­ation­ism, the most­ly Amer­i­can move­ment that prop­a­gates a cre­ation in 7 times 24 hours and a young earth. Then he men­tions Richard Dawkins, the prophet of nat­ur­al selec­tion. In his book The Self­ish Gene, he pro­vides the gen­er­al pub­lic with an impres­sion of ​​evo­lu­tion­ary that most sci­en­tist don’t sub­scribe to. He can­not be called a “Dar­win­ian fun­da­men­tal­ist”, because Dar­win has repeat­ed­ly stat­ed that nat­ur­al selec­tion is not the only means of mod­i­fi­ca­tion (as in the quote above).

Cartoon

Source: www.bizarro.com

Cre­ation­ists are an easy tar­get for Dawkins because they do not take sci­ence seri­ous­ly. All fos­sils, all organ­isms liv­ing today, point con­sis­tent­ly to an evo­lu­tion­ary move­ment. As in every field, there is sci­en­tif­ic debate, but the wild cre­ation­ist the­o­ries clear­ly don’t fall under that cat­e­go­ry: There is not a sin­gle case of a cre­ation­ist arti­cle pub­lished in a peer-reviewed jour­nal. To be hon­est, I find it out­ra­geous that dur­ing the ‘EH-Basis­jaar’ it was explained to us how the geo­log­i­cal stra­ta are caused by the Noahic flood. Tin­ker­ing with the truth is not a Chris­t­ian atti­tude. It harms the image of Chris­tians in gen­er­al.

The author con­cludes that there is a lot of agree­ment between the cre­ation­ists and Dawkins. Both believe in one sim­ple idea that explains every­thing. Both are also con­vinced that the the­o­ry of evo­lu­tion by nat­ur­al selec­tion excludes the exis­tence of God. With their best-sell­ing pub­li­ca­tions, they keep each oth­er alive.

Cartoon

Source: Don Addis

Fos­ter con­tin­ues with a dis­cus­sion of the sci­en­tif­ic evi­dence for and against the two posi­tions. En pas­sant, he declares the Intel­li­gent Design the­o­ry dis­guised cre­ation­ism. A chap­ter on altru­ism pro­vides the first ingre­di­ents for the argu­ment of this book: Nat­ur­al selec­tion, although the strongest, is not the only force in evo­lu­tion. There is also a force that pro­motes col­lab­o­ra­tion and com­mu­ni­ty. Increas­ing com­plex­i­ty means grow­ing co-oper­a­tion, with­in the indi­vid­ual and between indi­vid­u­als.

The fol­low­ing is a (for me some­what too) com­pre­hen­sive chap­ter on the inter­pre­ta­tion of Gen­e­sis 1 with ref­er­ences such as Ori­gen and Calvin. The per­ceived cen­tral­i­ty of cre­ation­ism to Chris­t­ian teach­ing is recent.

In the sec­ond part of the book, the more inter­est­ing ques­tions are addressed. What does it say about God that he made the world using nat­ur­al selec­tion? And how we look at our­selves, what makes us moral beings? This post is already too long, so that is for next week.