Gene-Centered Evolution: The Selfish Gene by Richard Dawkins

Gene-Centered Evolution: The Selfish Gene by Richard Dawkins

The Selfish Gene, written by Richard Dawkins, explores the gene’s perspective on evolution, bringing a new view to Darwin’s natural selection theory. This book is listed as the 10th best non-fiction book of all time in The Guardian. The author argues that the fundamental unit of selection is the gene, rather than the species, group, or individual.

Dawkins' writing style is clear, but some concepts require scientific knowledge, which may be challenging for the reader. In this book review, we will discuss the advantages and disadvantages of The Selfish Gene.

The Origin of the Word Meme

The Selfish Gene is known for originating the word "meme". The term has come to mean an idea, behavior, or style that spreads from person to person within a culture. This fun aspect of the book adds to its cultural significance and shows how Dawkins has contributed to our understanding of language as well as science.

Science vs. Religion

Dawkins' approach to science in the book is one of humility and questing for knowledge. He acknowledges that science is always a work in progress and uses phrases like "as far as we know" to indicate that nothing is certain. This contrasts with the certainty of religion, which uses absolute language to make assertions. The book's approach shows the power and importance of science in exploring the unknown.

Dawkins' Gene-Centered View of Evolution

Dawkins' gene-centered view of evolution proposes that natural selection acts on the level of genes, not on individuals or species. He argues that the goal of genes is to perpetuate themselves, and they use organisms as vehicles, or survival machines, to achieve this goal.

According to this view, individuals are transitory entities, and their chromosomes are also shuffled and lost over time. The genes themselves, however, survive and persist, as they are the replicators and we are the machines that ensure their replication. Genes are not destroyed by crossing-over but continue to change partners and endure. They exist in geological time and are everlasting.

The theory proposes that evolution is driven by competition between genes, with fitter ones outcompeting weaker ones through natural selection. In his book, The Selfish Gene, Richard Dawkins presented this theory in a simple and popular form, making it accessible to a wider audience and logically compelling.

Criticism of Dawkins' Theory

Stephen Jay Gould, a renowned paleontologist, disagreed with Dawkins' gene-centered view of evolution, arguing that natural selection works on several levels. Gould believed that the species, not the gene, was the fundamental unit of selection.

He also criticized the idea that many behaviors are genetically determined, stating that the interaction between genes and the environment is much more complex than Dawkins' theory suggests. Others have also criticized the gene-centered view of evolution, arguing that it oversimplifies the complexity of biological systems.

The Validity of Both Views

While Dawkins' gene-centered view of evolution has been influential, it is not without its detractors. Some scientists argue that natural selection operates on multiple levels, and that the interaction between genes, individuals, and the environment is much more complex than Dawkins' theory suggests.

However, both sides of the argument likely contain elements of truth, and it is possible that natural selection operates at multiple levels simultaneously. Further research and understanding may shed more light on the complex nature of evolution and the interplay between genes and survival machines.


The Selfish Gene by Richard Dawkins explores the concept of evolution from a "gene's-eye view", focusing on the idea that the gene is the fundamental unit of selection and self-interest. The book's clear writing style and Dawkins' ability to explain scientific concepts make the book accessible to readers with varying levels of scientific knowledge. The book's ideas are logical and powerful, with its explanations of genetic principles leaving the reader with a deeper appreciation of evolution.

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