Reductionistic Research Strategies and Their Biases in the Units of Selection Controversy

Part of the Boston Studies in the Philosophy of Science book series (BSPS, volume 60)


Butler’s satiric comment encapsulates the reductionistic spirit that made Darwinism objectionable to many in his own day, but has fared ever better as a prophetic characterization of the explanatory tenor of modem evolutionary biology. It preceded August Weismann’s doctrine of the continuity of the germ plasm advanced in his inaugural lecture in 1883 by some five years. As Weismann’s views became one of the anchor points of the modern ‘neo-Darwinian’ theory of evolution, they led to many modern recapitulations and elaborations of Butler’s epigram. Thus Richard Dawkins writes (1976, p. 21):

Was there to be any end to the gradual improvement in the techniques and artifices used by the repliators to insure their own continuance in the world? … They did not the out, for they are past masters of the survival arts. But do not look for them floating loose in the sea…. Now they swarm in huge colonies, safe inside gigantic lumbering robots, sealed off from the outside world, communicating with it by torturous indirect routes, manipulating it by indirect controL They are in you and me; they created us, body and mind; and their preservation is the ultimate rationale for our existence…. Now they go by the name of genes, and we are their survival machines.


Gene Frequency Group Selection Epistatic Interaction Reproductive Rate Heuristic Procedure 
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