LETTER : Morality of the selfish gene

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The Independent Online
From Mr Peter Randell

Sir: Bryan Appleyard asserts that "[Richard] Dawkins cannot explain how the selfish gene allowed goodness into the world" (Magazine: "Darwin's Disciple", 29 April). Let me try.

Although the gene is the unit of replication on which the process of natural selection works, it is ultimately the host organism which successfully reproduces or not. The more the organism is socially organised, the more does gene survival depend on that organisation. Thus, bees and ants survive not solely by means of individual fitness but also by organisational fitness.

Man, a relatively weak and unprotected animal, has survived and succeeded largely by means of social organisation. The better the organisation, the more successful the survival. While within our organisations we compete for rank and mates, we have also developed social bonds to facilitate the cooperation necessary for the organisation's successful survival. Altruism expresses and reinforces those bands and therefore contributes to the organisation's success. Thus came goodness.

Evolutionary psychology is the name of the game, unless of course Mr Appleyard has a better idea.

Yours faithfully,


Woking, Surrey

29 April