Monday, June 23, 2008

Does a recent discovery in honeybees "prove" that the "selfish gene" exists?

A recent article in Science Daily would have us believe that Richard Dawkins's "selfish gene" (that supposedly drives behaviour) really exists:

Since renowned British biologist Richard Dawkins ("The God Delusion") introduced the concept of the 'selfish gene' in 1976, scientists the world over have hailed the theory as a natural extension to the work of Charles Darwin.

In studying genomes, the word 'selfish' does not refer to the human-describing adjective of self-centered behavior but rather to the blind tendency of genes wanting to continue their existence into the next generation. Ironically, this 'selfish' tendency can appear anything but selfish when the gene does move ahead for selfless and even self-sacrificing reasons.
Here's what researchers, Peter Oxley of the University of Sydney in Australia and University of Western Ontario (Canada) biology professor Graham Thompson actually did: They isolated a region of the honey bee genome that appears responsible for the fact that worker bees (always females) do not mate, but rather leave that task to one among their number who becomes the queen, who spends her life mating with non-working males (drones) and laying eggs. Still,
"This basically provides a validation for a huge body of socio-biology," says Thompson, who adds the completion of Honey Bee Genome Project in 2006 was crucial to this discovery.
Huh? This article is a classic in using just about any finding in nature to try to support a questionable, pre-existing materialist belief - in this case a belief in the "selfish gene" that is supposedly "wanting to continue its existence."

People don't - according to materialist theory - have actual minds, but genes supposedly do? or something?

In the real world, scientists have long inferred that a gene or group of genes is associated with the fact that most female honeybees do not mate but instead gather food and raise the eggs laid by their queen. The identification of the region in which the gene occurs does not provide support for a theory about the "selfish gene," and certainly not for the controversial field of "sociobiology," as applied to explanations of human behaviour. We can look long and hard for any such gene in human beings.

As a scientist friend told me,

Don’t try to make sense of this, it makes no sense at all. Even the modest discovery that they seem to have made, the gene involved in worker sterility, doesn’t seem to be nailed down. It is incredible what you can get away with if you don’t do much but provide some tenuous breath of hope for a doubtful theory associated with Darwinism. In this case, the connection is not logically there, but who cares?
Sounds like good advice to me.
Note: This image is from - the honeybee is the agricultural symbol of the American state of Tennessee.