CSICon in Limelight, The Selfish Gene Revisited

In this space last time I promised coverage in this issue of our CSICon 2016 Las Vegas conference. And here it is. We have an extended conference section. In addition, the feature articles by Ron Lindsay (“Why Skepticism?”), Carol Tavris (“Why We Believe—Long After We Shouldn’t”), and Paul A. Offit (“God’s Own Medicine”) are derived from their talks at CSICon. And so is my conversation with our beloved colleague James Randi. Because this conference proved so successful, CSI has announced we’ll have a CSICon 2017, again in Las Vegas, October 26–29.

In our cover article, our colleague the famed evolutionary biologist and author Richard Dawkins revisits the book that launched him into international prominence, The Selfish Gene. The Selfish Gene was first published in 1976, coincidentally the same year our organization CSICOP (now the Committee for Skeptical Inquiry) was established. The book supplied, for the first time to wide popular audiences, a clear view of evolution from the vantage point of the gene itself. It has sold millions of copies, including a second edition in 1989 and a thirtieth anniversary edition in 2006.

Now there is a fortieth anniversary edition, two in fact. Oxford University Press has published a trade paperback Fortieth Anniversary Edition of The Selfish Gene plus a hardcover titled The Extended Selfish Gene, which includes all the material in the former. It also includes two chapters from his second book, The Extended Phenotype, that responded to two main criticisms of The Selfish Gene—“the Great Genetic Determinism Fallacy,” which Dawkins describes as the “mistaken view that our behavior is entirely determined by our genes,” without regard to the environment and other factors; and second, the “adaptationist misunderstanding” that all features and behaviors should be understood as adaptations.

For these 2016 editions, Dawkins has written a new epilogue, and that is what we present in this issue. Some criticisms came from misunderstanding the book’s title. In his article, Dawkins writes that equally appropriate titles would have been The Cooperative Gene or The Immortal Gene, and he explains why.

“The gene’s eye view of life, the central theme of this book, illuminates not just the evolution of altruism and selfishness,” Dawkins writes. “It also illuminates the deep past, in ways of which I had no inkling when I first wrote The Selfish Gene.”

Dawkins has been a fellow of CSICOP/CSI since 1994. He, Carl Sagan, Francis Crick, and Glenn T. Seaborg wrote the four lead articles in our first magazine-sized, bimonthly format issue (January/February 1995).

Now he is even more closely associated with us. In early 2016, we announced that his Richard Dawkins Foundation for Reason & Science was merging with our overall organization, the Center for Inquiry. That merger is now complete and announced in this issue. CFI now includes as discrete entities our Committee for Skeptical Inquiry (and Skeptical Inquirer), the Council for Secular Humanism (and Free Inquiry), and the Richard Dawkins Foundation and its evolution-education activities. The merger adds breadth, strength, and resiliency to the organization.

CSI and Skeptical Inquirer—and our crucial mission of promoting scientific thinking, critical inquiry, and the use of science and reason in examining controversial or extraordinary claims—remain unchanged and treasured.

—Kendrick Frazier


In this space last time I promised coverage in this issue of our CSICon 2016 Las Vegas conference. And here it is. We have an extended conference section. In addition, the feature articles by Ron Lindsay (“Why Skepticism?”), Carol Tavris (“Why We Believe—Long After We Shouldn’t”), and Paul A. Offit (“God’s Own Medicine”) are derived …

This article is available to subscribers only.
Subscribe now or log in to read this article.