Richard Dawkins discusses natural selection with Randolf Nesse

February 11, 2009 | By | 2 Replies More

Richard Dawkins has recently released a new set of videos packaged under the title “The Genius of Charles Darwin.”   This series features physician Randolph Nesse, who is the author of Why We Get Sick: The New Science of Darwinian Medicine, a book I’ve discussed in previous posts.

This video is the first of a series of five uncut videos featuring Nesse that Dawkins has made available (see for the next four videos).  You can also view the entire series straight through from the site of Richard Dawkins. In this video, you’ll hear Dawkins and Nesse discussing “design” (including poor design), randomness (note the example of the jar of only copper coins), Darwinian medicine, the toxic environment we’ve created for ourselves and path dependence. Nesse would like every medical textbook to have an extra paragraph of explanation regarding each human illness or frailty (e.g., back pain): how was it that natural selection left this condition as it did?

In this video, Nesse also explains that the body is not a machine.  He comes to this conclusion because the body does not have “blueprints.”  There is no such thing as a “normal genome.”   A genome is merely a collection of genes that work.  Thus, the genome is not a blueprint and the body is thus not a machine.  For more on this metaphor, see here.


Category: Evolution, nature, Science

About the Author ()

Erich Vieth is an attorney focusing on consumer law litigation and appellate practice. He is also a working musician and a writer, having founded Dangerous Intersection in 2006. Erich lives in the Shaw Neighborhood of St. Louis, Missouri, where he lives half-time with his two extraordinary daughters.

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  1. Charles Darwin's exceedingly dangerous idea | Dangerous Intersection | March 28, 2009
  1. Kenny Celican says:

    There is a danger to the machine analogy; taken too far in the wrong directions, it can lead to misunderstandings. However, the machine analogy illustrates two powerful principles:

    1. The body follows the laws of physics. Its functions are in no way mystical or supernatural.

    2. Those functions can be understood, and once fully understood, could be modified or repaired like any other complex piece of machinery.

    The former is important in debunking ineffective actions based on supersition. The latter is important in that it means that a predictable, thoughtful, technical approach to medicine is possible.

    One problem I have with the argument against organisms as machines is that 'blueprints' are not a defining characteristic of machines. However, this is a subset of a common problem I observe in intelligent intellectuals: those who cannot fully understand a topic within their area of specialty are prone to state that no one can or will ever be able to understand that topic.

    That impllies that in the future, no one will come up with more convienient mental model or other abstraction tool for understanding. It implies that human beings will not increase their ability to process data. It implies, actually, that the speaker is the pinnacle of the human understanding of the subject, and no one has ever or will ever understand the topic as well as the speaker does.

    I'm an arrogant bastard, and even I don't believe that…


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