The "selfish gene"

Continuing the discussion from [Paul and the Fall: What’s It Really About?

| The BioLogos Forum](Paul and the Fall: What’s It Really About? | The BioLogos Forum - #11 by Relates):

@Relates the “selfish gene” is not a gene for selfishness. I think Dawkins has admitted that the term was not a good choice, although it’s hard to find a single word that would have captured the idea. It just expresses the idea of natural selection, that a variant that contributes to greater reproductive success of the individual that carries it is going to increase in frequency. A gene is just a physical entity that it’s not appropriate to describe literally as selfish. A given variant my result in greater reproductive success of the individual that carries it, or in the case of so-called selfish DNA it may maximize its reproductive success in the genome by making copies of itself which may or may not have any advantage for the organism. None of this necessarily connects to fostering selfishness/anti-sociality of the individual.

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I know that a selfish gene is not a gene for selfishness. It is a gene or in fact all genes according to Dawkins which acts selfishly. In fact he goes into great detail as to how genes seek their own kin with which to mate to keep their evolutionary edge “in the family” through kin selection. I find it hard to believe and know of no scientific evidence that this is the case. This is a key aspect of his gene’s eye view of evolution (taken from Wm Hamilton.)

Dawkins theory is gene-centric, where the ecology plays no role. This means that genes determine the direction of evolution, just as memes control animal behavior apparently including ours.

The basic argument is about how nature works. Does nature work as the result of selfish genes and atoms beating up each other until something happens by chance or is nature composed of organized systems of molecules interacting and developing organisms which populate the earth?

A “variant” has an advantage if it adapts successfully to its ecological niche. That is the long and short of it. There is nothing selfish or self centered or competitive about adapting to one’s environment, which is why Dawkins is wrong and ecology is right.

Dawkins’ model of reality based on his selfish genes is that life is a struggle against others. Darwin called Natural Selection the “War of Nature” (against itself) and Dawkins claims to be a most faithful follower of Darwin. This is also why he opposes Wilson’s social takeover the the earth. You have to be careful of how Dawkins disguises ideology as science.

Christianity says that life is working with others and ecology shares this vision. Only one view can be correct.

Do you think the so-called “selfish” gene has always existed in the animal world, as a built-in survival mechanism? Maybe it has something to do with God’s command “to be fruitful and multiply”? I don’t know much about the Bible but I find that verse intriguing.


Thank you for your comment.

The question is not, Is survival valuable or important? but Is my selfish survival all important as Dawkins claims?

Many animals travel in herds. It is ecologically understood that this is because predators might succeed in killing some of the herd, the vast majority will escape. Some will die for the survival of the herd itself.

There are many other examples of animal behavior where individuals put themselves in danger for the benefit of the group. Therefore it does not appear to be a “built in survival mechanism.”

Furthermore it does not appear to be an effective survival mechanism. The is currently a Big Question Essay, which uses many scientific studies to indicate that helping others is good for one’s health and survival. Dawkins’ defense of the selfish gene is not based on scientific evidence, but bogus logic.

Thanks for your reply. I did learn about kin selection and cooperation in my animal behavior class. The ultimate goal is to improve the probability of my survival or to pass on my genes through related individuals. Is that what you meant by being good for one’s health and survival?

Genuine altruistic behavior exists but it’s very rare because it’s not favored by natural selection. So isn’t it all about whether I survive to reproduce or my genes survive? I’ve never read Dawkins’ book but we cannot deny that animals and humans are selfish - that’s why I was wondering if it originated from the fall of man or was it intended to be this way so we can be fruitful and multiply.

What is “genuine altruistic behavior?” I expect people would define it as putting the needs of others above one’s own needs. That is not the Christian point of view which is Love others as you love yourself, not more than you love yourself. So to begin with we allow our critics to define the reality of goodness in a false manner, thus leading to a false conclusion. [Similarly I read a comment in the NYT where a Muslim said that Jesus taught against self defense]

Social animals, such as ants, bees, canines, and humans, are not basically selfish, which is why Dawkins and Dennett broke over E. O. Wilson over his new book which disproves the selfish gene theory. Humans can be selfish, but selfishness does not improve the quality of life, nor is there proof that it improves the length of life.

Life is about two things, quantity or length and quality. As Dr. King said, a long life is a good thing, but if you must choose between a long useless selfish life and a short full useful caring life, then the choice is clear.

A meaningless long life is not worth living. It is not rational to do something for no good reason. Therefore if Dawkins is correct living as a human being is meaningless and goes against reason.


Sis. or Bro. Biology,

When you study ecology you see that it has a very different interdependent point of view of how living things relate to each other (as opposed to Darwinism) which is why Ecology a true understanding of life and Darwinism is not.

Thanks for your time. If humans were generally not selfish, there won’t be bible verses that tell us not be selfish. I still have a lot to read up on so I’ll end my participation here.

Hi Roger, in the post that lead to this, you wrote the following:

Third, Science indicates that the human species developed out of a community of hominids, but does it indicate how sin came into being?

I just want to point out some of the things we know from archaeology that would indicate that those things that we think of as being a result of “sin” have always been with us and aren’t recent innovations.

I don’t know when you believe Adam and Eve lived, but…

  • The earliest examples of cannibalism go back to homo heidelbergensis 600,000 - 400,000 years ago.

  • There is evidence of human on human violence dating back 150,000 - 200,000 years ago

  • Cemetery 117 in Northern Sudan is between 13,140 and 14,340 years old. Of the people burried there, about 40% died of violent wounds. Pointed stone projectiles were found in their bodies at places that suggest the bodies had been attacked by spears or arrows. The wounds were located around the sternum, abdomen, back, and skull (through the lower jaw or neck). The lack of bony calluses, a natural result of healing around these types of wounds, indicates that the attacks were most likely fatal.

  • It is generally accepted that maces were first developed around 12,000 BC. Maces are not for hunting. In Ukraine, stone mace heads were first used about 8000 years ago

  • There are mass graves where men, women and children have been slaughtered dating back to 5000 BC (Talheim death pit)

None of this should be surprising though. Given that we evolved from pre-human ancestors, it stands to reason that we would have been influenced by their behaviours as well. What sorts of behaviours do we see in non human apes?

  • Murder
  • Rape
  • Infanticide
  • Gang violence
  • Stealing of mates
  • Cannibalism

All of these behaviours are evident in humans today. If we are going to allow evidence to guide our epistemology as opposed to faith (which we should), then the most logical thing to do would be to acknowledge that we have always been this way. The only difference that separates us from our non-human ancestors is our sense of guilt and a general agreement that these sorts of behaviours are wrong.

In a book by Wrangham and Peterson (1996) they write:

“Modern chimpanzees are … surprisingly excellent models of our direct ancestors. It suggest that chimpanzee-like violence preceded and paved the way for human war, making modern humans the dazed survivors of a continuous, 5-million-year habit of lethal aggression”

If I was going to put a theological spin on this, I would say that:

We’re not the way God intends us to be, but we are the way that God created us which is to say that he intends us to evolve morally and become more like him (our moral selves are in the process of development and we will get there eventually). This is what Saint Irenaeus taught long before evolution was ever suggested.

So rather than calling it original sin, we should call it the slow dawning awareness that we are held to a higher standard which came about as a result of increasing cognitive ability which God fully intended.


Humans are selfish because of sin, not because of biology.

If humans were by nature selfish, they could not be changed by repentance and forgiveness.

We are made by God to be good, unselfish, but we fall into sin. We need to be saved from its power so we can be unselfish and life for God and not ourselves.


Thank you for the response.

Sin is not doing wrong. Sin is knowingly doing wrong. Other animals as far as we can tell do not have a standard of morality. They follow their instincts to create the best life they can. Yet if you accept what Darwinism says, you would expect all animals would be in a life and death struggle with each other, which is not true. Relatively speaking they are more peaceful than humans.

Again the question that I suggested is when did consciousness arise do humans had a moral sensitivity? Maybe it was before the emergence of homo sapiens so it could be that those events you mention were sinful if they want against the moral code. On the other hand being under the power of sin is one thing. Knowing how to break the power of sin is another.

Experience and theology indicate that human effort is not sufficient to break the power of sin over human lives. Only God’s power of the Holy Spirit is able to do that. That is why faith is needed and that is why we need to work together to promote the common good, rather than work selfishly to promote our own narrow interests.

Nancy Pearcey offers “cultural apologetics” into this and the broader discussion of evolutionary creation with her books, e.g. Finding Truth. Here is a link to a “foot in the door” discussion: Olasky interview

Is it true that when studying our closest evolutionary relative, the chimp… biologists do find that they have, like us, a selfish gene, or something of that sort very similar to ours? If this is true (and it is from what I have gathered so far) than it seems more logical to compare our selfish tendencies to the chimp, the orangutan, gorilla etc., as opposed to the focus on comparing human “selfish gene” to a wide range of animals in general, attempting to survive in nature (instinctively probably without a selfish gene)

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