Monday, February 23, 2004

Orr on Dawkins Evolutionary biologist H. Allen Orr always has interesting things to say about biology, and many other things as well. Have a look at his lengthy review of Richard Dawkins' most recent book A Devil's Chaplain, published in The New York Review of Books. Readers familiar with Orr's past writing will not be surprised to learn that he mostly agrees with Dawkins' take on biology, but disagrees with some of Dawkins' arguments against religion. I particularly appreciated the following quote:

But there's another problem, one that has little to do with the gene-meme analogy but that's at least as serious: unlike the selfish gene view, the selfish meme view hasn't led anywhere. Where are the puzzling phenomena that have been explained by memes? Dawkins provides no examples and I suspect there aren't any. The truth is that the meme idea, though a quarter-century old, has inspired next to no serious research and has failed to establish a place for itself in mainstream cognitive science, psychology, or sociology. Though laymen often have the impression that scientific ideas die in decisive experiments, far more often they die because they didn't suggest many experiments. They failed, that is, to inspire a rich research program. Though I could obviously be proved wrong, and while I have no problem with the notion that some science of cultural change may be possible, I'm far less confident than Dawkins that memes will play an important role in any such enterprise.

Exactly right. The same could be said for all forms of Creationism and ID theory.


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