The Ancestor's Tale

The Ancestor's Tale

Richard_dawkins_1Richard Dawkins is one of the most popular authors writing about evolution and science today. I’ve enjoyed his work, but I haven’t read his latest work yet: The Ancestor’s Tale. Dawkins made an appearance last week on NOW with Bill Moyers. And, I ran across this recent article about him in the The Times. It’s an interesting piece.

Writer Bryan Appleyard calls Dawkins’ latest book a “huge, colourfully illustrated history of life.” Yet what is most striking about the book is the opinions shared about President Bush and American politics.

“But the importance of Dawkins, though based on the brilliance and popularity of his writing, is mostly to do with what he represents,” says Appleyard. “He is Darwin’s enforcer. Darwin discovered evolution through natural selection, but, a quiet man with a religious wife, he did not engage in the ensuing public debates. Dawkins does, combining evolutionary theory with anti-Bush, left-wing politics, expressed through the occasional article but mostly through pithy, angry letters to newspapers.”

It is an interesting article, written by someone who obviously doesn’t share Dawkin’s view of evolution. Appleyard admits, that Dawkins’ views have been distorted or simplified. But Dawkins also does himself no service by entering a political views shape his arguments about science. Says Dawkins, “I’m not particularly proud of being visceral, but I am admitting it. My attacks on George Bush have nothing to do with science or the scientific method. I just can’t stand the man’s style, the way he swaggers and struts and smirks and the way he looks sly and deceitful and the way Americans can’t see it. I’m irritated by the way they think he’s just a regular guy you can have a drink with.”

Science and politics aside, you have to ask yourself how an article such as Appleyard’s shifts the argument in subtle ways to allow a discussion about Dawkin’s personality or attitudes become the focus. If you don’t like hime, or if you question his motives (after reading about his political views) are you allowed to dismiss his success, his science? Maybe. Or perhaps I am just reading more than what’s there.

Here is another interesting quote from the article: “The human mind, like the peacock’s tail, is far more than is required by mere survival. As a result, it takes off in counter-Darwinian ways,” writes Appleyard. Says Dawkins: “Ultimately human society comes from the brain, which is a product of natural selection. It is some kind of distillation or summation from all the other ideas we have. The desire for sugar is a very crude example of an idea which is counter-Darwinian. One can imagine a political philosopher writing a book deliberately intended to establish an anti-Darwinian society.”