Richard Dawkins und Steven Rose

Zu Steven Rose und seiner Kritik an Dawkins:

Steven Rose seems to have a rather different worry about neo-Darwinism. The main message discernible through his polemic is that thinkers like Dawkins fail to appreciate the complexity of biological processes. Rose, a biochemist who works on memory, describes some of the intricate chemical arrangements by which strings of DNA influence the development of adult organisms. In particular, he gives us an idea of the elaborate feedback mechanisms that allow our bodies to develop and maintain stable structures.

Much of this is of interest in its own right, but it is hard to see why Rose thinks it amounts to an objection to neo-Darwinism. It is scarcely as if his opponents deny that genes work through complicated mechanisms. The reason they skip the chemical details is simply that they don’t think they are crucial to our understanding of natural selection. You don’t need to know about gasoline molecules to be a good car mechanic. Rose seems to be missing his target. It is one thing to argue, as Gould does, that neo-Darwinism fails in its ambitions. But Rose is pointing to ambitions his opponents never had.

A rather different reason for caring about biochemical complexity emerges in his penultimate chapter, where Rose takes issue with public announcements that scientists have now identified the gene “for“ criminality, or homosexuality, or alcoholism, or what you will. He is rightly outraged by the moronic political thinking that normally accompanies these declarations. He knows that the influence of DNA chemistry is far too fragile and environmentally mediated for any simple gene-character determinism. However, this point again misses his ostensible opponents. While there are too many vulgar sociobiologists ready to hold forth about “criminal genes“ and so on, it is striking that no leading neo-Darwinian theorist is quoted by Rose as doing so. This is no accident. Dawkins and his associates are not genetic determinists, nor does their theory require that they be. But the fervor of Rose’s political commitments makes him impatient with such nice distinctions. “Genes bad, environment good“ seems to be the slogan, and anybody who thinks that genes matter to evolution is lumped together with Nazi eugenicists.

Perhaps there is another reason for Rose’s antipathy to the neo-Darwinians. Theoretical biologists sometimes seem to be divided by esthetic considerations as much as scientific ones. Where purists like Dawkins thrill to the cold logic of mathematical rigor, pluralists like Gould get their pleasures from the tangled bank of biological diversity. I suspect this is why the debate often seems so intangible. They aren’t arguing about the facts, but about which is more fun — the ingenious equations of population genetics or the curious contrivances of the flamingo’s beak and the panda’s thumb. Given this, it is not surprising that the two sides can’t agree. Who is to say if there is more value in the lucidity of mathematics or in the variety of nature?

Even though he earns his living as a hard scientist, Rose is clearly not someone who is inspired by mathematical lucidity. Halfway through the book he explains, in presumed sympathy with his readers, that he is among those who “hate equations and find these algebraic representations hard to follow.“ A number of other comments confirm his aversion to mathematical science. High school students may well be puzzled by his claim that it has only recently become possible to model mathematically “what might be happening when several variables alter at the same time,“ or by his assertion, three pages later, that “today both heat and light are seen as forms of electromagnetic radiation.“

In the end it may be this impatience with mathematical abstraction, rather than his political commitments, that explains Rose’s antagonism to the neo-Darwinians. He repeatedly starts off toward some technical issue, only to veer away as the crucial point looms near, as if it would be improper to allow mathematical niceties to cloud our judgment. Some readers may sympathize. But those who find pleasure in mathematical clarity as well as in biological oddity are likely to find this a frustrating book. If you want to find out about the logic of modern Darwinian theory, you will do better to look elsewhere.

Und zu seinem Buch „Darwins gefährliche Erben

Als der Abt Gregor Mendel seine revolutionären Kreuzungsexperimente machte, hatte er wohl nur eines im Sinn: die Evolutionstheorie zu widerlegen. Die Grundeinheiten der Vererbung, auf die er dann stieß, hielt er fälschlich für unveränderliche Teilchen, von denen jedes für die Ausprägung eines einzigen Merkmals zuständig sein sollte.

Heute gibt es Biologen, die alles auf das Wirken bestimmter Gene zurückführen – von Gewalttätigkeit und Drogensucht bis hin zu Homosexualität und politische Gesinnung. Der englische Neurobiologe Steven Rose macht hierfür eine Ideologie des Reduktionismus und Ultra-Darwinismus verantwortlich. Für ihren rigorosesten Verfechter hält er Richard Dawkins: „Johannes der Täufer der Soziobiologie“.

In Dawkins‘ Soziobiologie dreht sich alles um das isolierte, „ egoistische“ Gen: der Organismus als Überlebensmaschine, die dazu dient, die Reproduktion der Gene zu gewährleisten. In allem, was er ist und tut, zeigt sich, daß er der Diktatur der Gene unterworfen ist.

Für Steven Rose hingegen ist nicht das Gen, sondern der Organismus die elementare Einheit des Lebens. Und für den Organismus ist charakteristisch, daß er permanent auf seine Umgebung einwirkt, sich dadurch selbst formt und verändert. Dabei lassen ihm seine Gene durchaus einen Freiheitsspielraum. Den gesteht Dawkins nur dem Menschen zu. Er beruft sich dabei auf eine Metaphysik des freien Willens, die jedoch nach Auffassung von Rose in der Biologie nichts zu suchen hat.

Hier wird eigentlich schön deutlich, dass er gar nicht versteht, warum das egoistische Gen so elementar ist: Einwirkung auf die Umwelt durch den Organismus ist bei evolutionärer Betrachtung unwesentlich, weil diese Informationen nicht langfristig an die nächsten Generationen weitergegeben werden, weitergegeben werden eben nur die Gene. Allenfalls wird die Veranlagung auf die Umwelt weiterzugeben, soweit sie auf Genen beruht, in die nächsten Generationen übertragen. Die Idee des egoistischen Gens ist eigentlich recht einfach zu verstehen, scheint aber für einige Leute schlicht nicht ins Weltbild zu passen. Sie verschließen sich damit selbst dem Verständnis dieses Konzepts. Notgedrungen muss ihre Kritik daran entsprechend schwach ausfallen.