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Did Dawkins recant his selfish gene argument against group selection?

Tanghe, B. Koen (2023) Did Dawkins recant his selfish gene argument against group selection? Theoretical Biology Forum, 116 (1-2). pp. 75-86. ISSN 2282-2593

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In 2007, David S. Wilson and Edward
O. Wilson (27) pointed out that, Richard
Dawkins had admitted that, contrary to what he
had claimed in his book The Selfish Gene (1976)
(7), the idea that only the gene is a fundamental
unit of selection cannot be used as an argument
against the notion of group selection. This elicited
a sharp denial from Dawkins (30), which
was followed by an explanatory reply by Wilson
and Wilson (33) and another vehement denial by
Dawkins (34). I analyse the prehistory of this surprisingly
complex and convoluted dispute and
subsequently disentangle it. My conclusion is that
much of it is based on a series of misunderstandings.
First, Wilson’s and Wilson’s (27) original
interpretation of Dawkins’ selfish gene argument
was incorrect. Second, in their explanatory reply
(33), they distinguished between two kinds of
group selection: the idea that groups can be units
of selection (theoretical group selection) and the
idea that group selection plays a functional role in
evolution (functional group selection). They
clarified that their claim concerned theoretical
group selection, not functional group selection.
Third, that clarified claim was correct and not
correct. It was incorrect because Dawkins has
never explicitly acknowledged that he had erred
by developing his selfish gene theory as an implicit
argument against this kind of group selection.
However, the distinction that he made, by 1978,
between two kinds of unit of selection, replicators
(genes) and vehicles (somas), does imply such an
acknowledgment since it holds that groups can be
units of selection (vehicles). In this important
sense, Wilson’s and Wilson’s clarified claim (33)
was correct. Fourth, Dawkins’ second denial (34)
concerned functional group selection, not theoretical
group selection.

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Item Type: Published Article or Volume
Tanghe, B.
Keywords: Richard Dawkins, Selfish Gene, Group Selection, Edward O. Wilson
Depositing User: Dr. Koen B. Tanghe
Date Deposited: 27 Jul 2023 15:02
Last Modified: 27 Jul 2023 15:02
Item ID: 22342
Journal or Publication Title: Theoretical Biology Forum
Publisher: Fabrizio Serra Editore
Official URL:
DOI or Unique Handle: 10.19272/202311402005
Date: July 2023
Page Range: pp. 75-86
Volume: 116
Number: 1-2
ISSN: 2282-2593

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