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The Mythology of Evolution

by Chris Bateman


Price: £14.99
Publisher:Zero Books imprint of O books from John Hunt Pub.
Published:August 2012
This is not an easy read but an important one, separating scientific fact from fiction. Bateman uses 'myth' as a synonym for 'metaphor', and identifies seven myths, all of which have a grain of scientific truth but which also mislead, especially when distorted by ideological baggage. In their place, he offers his own more appropriate alternative myths. His first myth is the ladder of progress, which he replaces with a chain of inheritance. Secondly, the survival of the fittest replaced by a refinement of possibilities. Thirdly, the selfish gene coined by "my beloved nemesis, Richard Dawkins", is replaced by advantages persist and the flexible gene. Bateman is "pro-religion - in fact I have five religions", unlike Dawkins the "diehard atheist" with a "reluctance to stay on topic" who triggered Bateman's "ire" to write this book. Fourth, kin selection is substituted by co-operation and trust are an advantage. "The most famous is the fifth myth: intelligent design" which is given an alternative of the metaphor of design. Related to that is the sixth, adaptionism, whose excesses are avoided by a "more restrained myth, that of the conditions for existence." Finally, Bateman replaces science as truth by truth from fiction. Wallace objected to Darwin's use of the phrase 'natural selection', that risks the fiction of Mother Nature selecting some animals to survive or reproduce. But Darwin persisted with 'natural selection' (though at times he referred to natural preservation), because "science was effectively impossible without metaphorical thinking". But Darwin was aware of the risks of using the word 'evolution' because of its association with progress and destiny (though 'evolve' slips in at the end of his lst edition) but he drops his guard in much later editions that import 'evolution' and worse still, survival of the fittest, which he got from Spencer's economic theories that centred on competition. Yet strong dinosaurs did not survive and 'fittest' has great ambiguity. Dawkins's gene-eye view of the world "prioritizes competition", giving too much weight to "the explanatory power of genes". The selfish gene implies "that all life is fundamentally selfish (the myth of egoism) and behaviour is best explained by the selective value of genes". Since then genetic determinism has changed its tune, from genes determining behaviour to influencing behaviour. The focus now is less on individual genes and more on sets, how the "genetic toolkit" works together and with its environment, not either competitively or co-operatively, but as a blend of both. Against Dawkins, Bateman sides with Margulis, who has convincingly demonstrated that co-operation is fundamental to life, not simply in kin selection (another myth) but in symbiosis across different species. The transition from single cell to multi-cellular life "is inescapably a consequence of co-operation. Without that co-operation we wouldn't be here at all". There is a good glossary but sadly no index. I recommend Bateman as a good corrective to "the myth of gene supremacy".

Reviewer: John Morris   (12/11/12)
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