Dawkins vs. Gould : Survival of the Fittest, Paperback

Dawkins vs. Gould : Survival of the Fittest Paperback

Part of the Revolutions in Science series

3.5 out of 5 (2 ratings)


An international bestseller when originally published, this brand-new and completely revised edition updates the story of one of science's most vigorous arguments.

Science has seen its fair share of punch-ups over the years, but one debate, in the field of biology, has become notorious for its intensity.

Over the last twenty years, Richard Dawkins and Stephen Jay Gould have engaged in a savage battle over evolution, which continues to rage even after Gould's death in 2002.

Kim Sterelny moves beyond caricature to expose the real differences between the conceptions of evolution of these two leading scientists.

He shows that the conflict extends beyond evolution to their very beliefs in science itself; and, in Gould?s case, to domains in which science plays no role at all.


  • Format: Paperback
  • Pages: 208 pages, illustrations
  • Publisher: Icon Books Ltd
  • Publication Date:
  • Category: Popular science
  • ISBN: 9781840467802



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Showing 1 - 2 of 2 reviews.

Review by

Slim and readable.I had read all of Dawkins and nothing by Gould and saw this as a necessary scene setter before diving into Gould's work. It worked in this role very well by giving a great overview of the various areas of agreement and dispute.Easy to read for the non-specialist, I whizzed through it in an afternoon.A fantastic suggested reading section, split down by chapter and with quick summary reviews of the suggestions which also gives details of which are suitable for the non-technical reader. This section alone is almost worth the cover price. I added significant length to my wish list after reading this book.3.5 out of 5 stars.

Review by

Given that it covers a particularly vitriolic skirmish between two huge, polarising and consistently outspoken opposing generals in the Science Wars, Kim Sterelny had on his hands a fascinating topic. He quite easily could have crammed this brief volume full of the proverbial sizzling gypsies - gory details of the academic handbags which were exchanged in full view of an admiring dilettante public - but inexplicably, he chose not to. Instead, the fieriest debate is reduced to its desiccated intellectual premises and is presented worthily and dryly. This is, no doubt, second nature to a professional scientist like Sterelny, but it displays a lack of worldliness for an aspiring popular author; a worldliness, ironically enough, possessed in oodles by both of his subjects. Unlike your usual zoologist (though granted, I don't know that many), Richard Dawkins invites extremes of adoration or vitriol from just about anyone who's heard of him (and, given his gift for self publicity, that's most people); The late Steve Gould was (on this side of the ditch at any rate) of less general reknown but equally susceptible, in the right circles, to excitable opinion. Dawkins the zoologist is a crusading atheist - irony intended - and devoted son of the enlightenment; Gould the paleontologist was possessor of a more open-minded view on woolly artsy pursuits like religion, literature and architecture, allowing them to bleed into his professional scientific opinion in a way that horrified the purist in Dawkins. Also, apparently, Gould was a Marxist. Battle lines accordingly drawn. Now, to his (professional, if not authorial) credit, Sterelny abstains from addressing Gould's politics, and instead succinctly and patiently outlines the camps' respective differences in evolutionary theory - differences which are relatively subtle to non specialists, truth be told - but (no doubt being a good scientific chap - clean fight, fair play and all that) refrains from descending into the real particulars of the debate, in particular referring only in passing to a petulant and protracted exchange in the New York review of books following publication of Daniel Dennett's Dawkinsesque Darwin's Dangerous Idea. (How about that for a bit of alliteration, by the way). Such noble prurience is a mistake, in this reviewer's opinion, for it neuters a book which, had it been rendered breathlessly enough, could have been a rip-snorter. If it were me I would have extracted much of the debate in full and provided some journalistic context around how it came about, and certainly extracted some of the peachier exchanges. For example, how about this one: "[Dennett's] limited and superficial book reads like a caricature of a caricature--for if Richard Dawkins has trivialized Darwin's richness by adhering to the strictest form of adaptationist argument in a maximally reductionist mode, then Dennett, as Dawkins's publicist, manages to convert an already vitiated and improbable account into an even more simplistic and uncompromising doctrine. If history, as often noted, replays grandeurs as farces, and if T.H. Huxley truly acted as "Darwin's bulldog," then it is hard to resist thinking of Dennett, in this book, as "Dawkins's lapdog." Cracking stuff - but it finds no place in Sterelny's volume, and I had to look it up online (it, and the whole vituperative article from which it came, is reproduced at the New York Review of Books' website.) Sterelny's main problem seems to be that he is such a frightfully good egg he can't bring himself to dramatise proceedings, which are screaming out for it, at all. He confesses an intellectual kinmship with Dawkins but then is so scrupulously fair to Gould in his assessment of their competing arguments that it is hard to comprehend what he even sees in Dawkins' view. That might be my bias: while much taken by Dawkins' and Dennett's books when I first read them, I have found more resonance in Gould's humanist, pragmatic view the more I've read of it (and the older I've got), so (as a point of disclosure) I come out on the other side of the argument to Sterelny. That's not my problem with his book; however, quite the opposite: it's the very bloodlessness of it.

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