Richard Dawkins: How a Scientist Changed the Way We Think : Reflections by Scientists, Writers, and Philosophers

By Alan Grafen; Mark Ridley | Go to book overview

THE BATTLE OF THE
SEXES REVISITED

Helena Cronin

A FRUIT fly delivers his sperm in a toxic cocktail that consigns his consort to an early death. A female dung fly, caught in a scrum of eager suitors, is ignominiously drowned in a cowpat. A spider eats her mate in the very act of copulation. Dramas such as these epitomize the battle of the sexes. Or do they? What is that notorious battle really about? And how can we tell it from life's many other conflicts?

In The Selfish Gene, Richard Dawkins invites us to take a gene's-eye view of these and other Darwinian questions. Like Einstein's imagined ride on a beam of light, this is an invitation to journey into unreachable worlds for a clearer understanding of reality. It envisages the strategies of genes as they take their paths down the generations, over evolutionary time; the eloquent biographies speak to us of natural selection's design. Unlike most thought-experiments, this is not a solution to one particular problem but a way of perceiving the entire world of living things. And it is a method of great potency. It has immense explanatory power—not surprisingly, for it precisely captures the logic of natural selection's problem-solving; and thus it can generate testable hypotheses. It has remarkable predictive power, prising out telling but otherwise unappreciated evidence. It transforms our view of the familiar, turning into questions what had unthinkingly been regarded as answers. It reveals worlds undreamed of, alerting us to counterintuitive realms. And it dispels confusions, even the tenacious and the wilful.

I started in philosophy, where Darwinism was persistently maligned. Surveying the science, I rapidly concluded that the

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