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Daniel Nettle
Icon Review
Paul R. Gross

Kim Sterelny

Dawkins vs Gould

The names of Richard Dawkins and Stephen J Gould will be familiar to readers of popular science books, but sometimes its difficult to place the two in context. Dawkins is responsible for some provocative work, such the idea of the 'selfish' gene, but his view seems to be the one adopted by the mainstream. Gould on the other hand seems more moderate and conciliatory in his books, but has sometimes been seen as a thorn in the side of the scientific establishment, with his ideas of punctuated equilibrium. This book summarises the positions of these two famous biologists and does an excellent job in providing the required context.

However, I didn't feel that the book provided evidence of great disagreements between the two scientists. Partly this is due to the passage of time, which allows discordant views to be accepted into the mainstream. But I think there is always the temptation to make more of such disagreements than is really there. In the book only the last couple of chapters deal with the supposed antagonism. Sterelny is a supporter of Dawkins, but this means he assumes that his ideas are the same as Dawkins, rather than quoting what he has actually written. So to me it seemed more a case of Sterelny vs Gould.

Amazon.com info
Paperback 155 pages  
ISBN: 1840462493
Salesrank: 3237201
Published: 2001 Totem Books
Amazon price $19.99
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Amazon.co.uk info
Hardcover 192 pages  
ISBN: 1840464712
Salesrank: 10478568
Weight:1.74 lbs
Published: 2005 Icon Books Ltd
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Amazon.ca info
Paperback 160 pages  
ISBN: 1840462493
Salesrank: 3454378
Weight:0.36 lbs
Published: 2001 Icon Books
Marketplace:New from CDN$ 30.55:Used from CDN$ 0.01
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Product Description
Science has seen its fair share of punch-ups over the years, but one debate, in the field of biology, has become notorious for its intensity. Over the last twenty years, Richard Dawkins and Stephen Jay Gould have engaged in a savage battle over evolution that shows no sign of waning.

Dawkins, author of The Selfish Gene and The Blind Watchmaker, conceives of evolution as a struggle between gene lineages; Gould, who wrote Wonderful Life and Rocks of Ages, sees it as a struggle between organisms. For Dawkins, the principles of evolutionary biology apply just as well to humans as they do to all living creatures; for Gould, however, this sociobiology is not just ill-motivated but wrong, and dangerous.

Dawkins’ views have been caricatured, and the man painted as a crazed reductionist, shrinking all the variety and complexity of life down to a struggle for existence between blind and selfish genes. Gould, too, has been falsely represented by creationists as rejecting the fundamental principles of Darwinism itself.

Kim Sterelny moves beyond caricature to expose the real differences between the conceptions of evolution of these two leading scientists. He shows that the conflict extends beyond evolution to their very beliefs in science itself; and, in Gould’s case, to domains in which science plays no role at all.