Letter: The role of genes

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Sir: Steven Rose propagates two misunderstandings of evolutionary psychology in his essay attacking it ("Selfish genes and how to avoid them", 26 October).

First, when he says "According to these so-called evolutionary psychologists, our thoughts and actions follow the dictates of our selfish genes" he is misinforming the reader. Evolutionary psycho-logists and even the coiner of the term "selfish gene" point out at every opportunity that genes no more drive our thoughts than pump our blood. But genes have played a role in building both our brains (which drive our thoughts) and our hearts (which pump our blood).

To call evolutionary psycho-logists "genetic determinists" is simply wrong.

Secondly, when thinking about free will, issues of genetic cause are a red herring. The question of free will is not changed at all if our behaviour is caused by "historical, social, cultural and technological" environments instead of our genes. As long as it is caused by something, the challenge to free will remains.

It is very disappointing that so well-respected a biologist continues to attribute views to evolutionary psychologists that they simply don't hold.


Cranfield, Bedfordshire