An Argument Against Richard Dawkins

Rupert Shortt at the TLS:

My sense (shared by some of his fellow scientists speaking privately to me) is that notwithstanding a careless choice of language in the past, Dawkins was and remains reductionist in outlook. But the scientific consensus has moved on. Neo-Darwinist ideas favouring gene-centric views of biology have given way to much more holistic visions, including an acceptance of purposive behaviour. Take a very distinguished physiologist such as Denis Noble, who has taught alongside Dawkins at Oxford. He was once a keen advocate of reductionism, the philosophy summarized by Jim Watson, a co-discoverer of the structure of DNA, as “there are only molecules; everything else is sociology”. Noble saw confirmation of this view in his finding that the pacemaker function of the heart could be explained in terms of the flow of potassium and calcium ions through protein channels. Later he changed his mind, realizing that “in the heartbeat there was not only upward causation from the molecular level to the cellular level, but also downward causation from the cell influencing the molecules”. This led Noble to reject the take on neo-Darwinism propagated by Dawkins and others for what it is – a contentious philosophical postulate, not an empirical discovery. Reductionism seeks to eliminate teleology in nature: Noble now accepts that it is ubiquitous.

more here.

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