Predictably, Salon publishes a new Dawkins hit piece, and it’s as dreadful as you’d expect

Believe me, the last thing I want to do this morning is sit down and take apart another dumb article holding Richard Dawkins responsible for all the world’s wrongs.  I saw this article a few days ago when it was published on Alternet, but this morning it was republished on Salon with the same title: “The dangerous delusions of Richard Dawkins“, and since Salon is read more widely than Alternet  (though they’re both dire), I dipped my squib and got to work. Salon, of course, is a Regressive Leftist rag that will go to any lengths to smear people like Sam Harris and Dawkins. And their lack of journalistic standards is instantiated in the article at hand.

I seem to becoming to Richard what Thomas Huxley (“Darwin’s Bulldog”) was to Charles Darwin: a smaller fish who assumes the burden of defending the Big Shark.  But Richard is my friend, he’s not going to do this himself, and I feel that for his sake, as well as that of evolutionary biology (which is misrepresented in this piece, as it often is in Dawkins hit-pieces), I have to set the record straight.

The author of this dreadful article is one Jeremy Lent, an author who’s touting his new book, The Patterning Instinct: A Cultural History of Humanity’s Search for Meaning. He’s also head of a think tank called The Lilogy Institute,  Th aims of the institute seem to involve a kind of wooish holism:

Instead of the conventional view that our human existence is split between mind and body, liology sees our human organism as an integrated whole, where our thoughts are embodied and our bodies possess an intrinsic intelligence.

Liology sees no fundamental split between rigorous science and the source of meaning in life. Instead, it sees current findings in systems biology and complexity science as pointing the way to understanding our place within the infinitely complex and mysterious natural world in which we have evolved.

Instead of the conventional search for a transcendent source of meaning, liology finds the most profound meaning in life arising from our intrinsic connectedness with every cell and integrated system within our own bodies and with every living entity in the natural world in which we are embedded.

It goes on from there, but I still have little idea of what this means except that it extols interconnectedness and holism, a theme of Lent’s attacks on Richard. Lent has four Big Points, all of which are wrong—in fact, they’re not even wrong.  I’ll take them in order.

1.) Dawkins’s ideas are wrecking the planet by encouraging unbridled capitalism, selfishness, wealth inequality, and a rampant reductionism that will wreck the truly holistic and interconnected view of life that we must embrace to save our planet.

I kid you not. Dawkins is Satan or the anti-Christ. Here are a few quotes from Lent. He begins with the KPFA deplatforming controversy and then says this:

What this controversy misses, however, is the far greater destructive force of other ideas Dawkins has promulgated over decades, which have helped form the foundation of a mainstream worldview that endorses gaping wealth inequalities and encourages the wanton destruction of the natural world.

There’s more:

The damage that Richard Dawkins has caused our global society goes far deeper than any hurtful comments he has made about Islam. As we face the gaping inequalities caused by uncontrolled capitalism, along with the looming threat of catastrophic climate change and other impending global crises, we must recognize the role that Dawkins’s ideas have played in forming the philosophical foundations of our unsustainable worldview.

. . .  just as religion has caused millennia of suffering based on delusional ideas, Dawkins himself has created a new delusional framework offering a false rationale for an economic and technocratic system destroying human and natural flourishing. The choice is not between religion and science, as Dawkins and his followers suggest. The real choice is between a flawed worldview that leads inexorably to globally destructive behavior and one that recognizes life’s deep interconnectedness and humanity’s intrinsic responsibility within it.

Now this is simply bullshit, and it rests on the three ideas (below) that Lent says that Dawkins has promulgated. They are these: that the “selfish gene” is somehow a both an explanation and a rationale for the idea that humans are “inherently selfish”;  that Dawkins’s reductionist attitude leads to a loss of meaning and wonder in life; and that by emphasizing the materialist and reductionist aspect of evolution, which devolves to genes, Dawkins somehow has prevented us from adopting the holistic, interconnected view of nature that is the basis of Lent’s “Lilogy” and the way to save the planet. Let’s discuss these briefly.

2. Selfish genes mean selfish people, ergo capitalism, inequity, and the destruction of human flourishing. This idea has been dispelled for years, yet it still persists in the minds of the ignorant. Over and over again, Richard has explained that the notion of selfish genes is a metaphor: genes behave as if they were selfish entities during natural selection, because the genes that replicate more prolifically are the ones that produce evolution, and come to predominate over time. This does not mean, as anyone knows who has read Richard’s work, that gene replication produces selfish entities. Altruism, parental care, and so on can evolve via selfish genes, through either kin selection or reciprocal altruism. Selfish genes can even produce a rudimentary but effective morality, as they apparently have in other apes. So Lent is wrong when he says that altruism is a “selfish behavior.” Rather, it evolved by genes that acted as if they were selfish. Here’s Lent:

Since Dawkins’s 1976 publication of “The Selfish Gene,” millions of people have come to understand evolution as the result of genes competing against other in a remorseless drive to replicate themselves. Ruthless competition is seen as the force that separates evolution’s winners from losers. Even altruism is interpreted as a sophisticated form of selfish behavior used by an organism to propagate its own genes more effectively. “Let us try to teach generosity and altruism,” Dawkins suggests, “because we are born selfish.”

It’s a harsh story, and one that has become a bedrock of modern economics, which argues that human beings are motivated by their own self-interest, and their collective self-serving actions result in the best outcome for society. This has led to a commonly accepted pseudo-scientific rationalization for laissez-faire capitalism, using the misappropriated term “survival of the fittest” to justify ruthless exploitation of the poor by wealthy corporations.

It is, however, a story that has been shown in recent decades to be erroneous at each level of its narration. Dawkins’s idea of the “selfish gene,” while still holding currency in the popular imagination, has been extensively discredited as a simplistic interpretation of evolution. In its place, biologists have developed a far more sophisticated view of evolution as a series of complex, interlocking systems, where the gene, organism, community, species, and environment all interact with each other intricately over different time frames.

Check out that link in the third paragraph! (Hint: it doesn’t go to any scientific discrediting.) In fact, the usefulness of the selfish-gene metaphor is alive and well, and has provided useful insights into how natural selection works. It is true that no behavior can evolve unless the genes underlying it outcompete alternative genes, but selection can produce behavior that involves compassion, care, and reciprocity. Yes, it must redound to the actor’s genes, but show me an evolved behavior that does not.

Further, Richard has always promulgated an ethic of compassion and unselfishness, which can overcome the real selfishness that is also an evolved part of our behavior. That is what he meant by being “born selfish,” for he certainly didn’t mean by that that every human being is solely out for itself, groupmates and relatives be damned.

Finally, it’s arrant foolishness to think that economics and capitalism are the outcome of The Selfish Gene. Need I point out that the book was published in 1976, but ideas of self-interest as underlying economics go back to Adam Smith? And Dawkins is not responsible for “Social Darwinism” justifications for capitalism, either, nor is Darwin. People are always looking for ways for science to justify their own bad acts, but that doesn’t make people like Darwin or Dawkins responsible for misappropriating what are, after all, simply scientific ideas about genetics. But it’s clearly and self-evidently wrong to blame “laissez-faire” capitalism on Dawkins. Shame on Lent for pulling such a shoddy move.

3. Dawkins’s reductionism and naturalism have taken the joy out of life. Yep, that’s what Lent says (my emphasis:

Richard Dawkins and his followers have been responsible for foisting a cruel myth on thinking people around the world: that if they reject the illusions of monotheism, their only serious alternative is to believe in a world that is harsh, selfish, and ultimately without meaning. Their ideas arise from a particular form of scientific thought known as reductionism, which holds that every aspect of our world, no matter how awe-inspiring, is “nothing but” the mechanical motion of particles acting predictably on each other.

I challenge Lent, or anyone, to find where in Dawkins’s work he’s said anything even remotely like this. Yes, he’s said we should reject the illusions of monotheism (and polytheism like Hinduism, which Lent curiously neglects), but has never claimed that this leads to a view of the world that is “harsh, selfish, and ultimately without meaning.”  In fact, Dawkins has repeatedly argued that embracing reality and science rather than numinous illusions makes the world more enjoyable and meaningful. Has Lent read Unweaving the Rainbow, or The Magic of Reality, and pondered the title of the latter work?

Lent has simply made stuff up here in an attempt to smear Dawkins. It is an old but untrue trope, which Lent may harbor in his unconscious, that atheism leads to nihilism. I suggest he go to Sweden and Denmark and observe all the joyless and lugubrious people in those godless lands!

4. Dawkins’s reductionism is not only untrue, but is ruining the Earth. To wit:

Richard Dawkins has been responsible for popularizing an updated version of this Cartesian myth, writing famously that “life is just bytes and bytes and bytes of digital information,” adding: “That is not a metaphor, it is the plain truth. It couldn’t be any plainer if it were raining floppy discs.” Open any science magazine, and you’ll see genes described as programmers that “code” for certain traits, while the mind is discussed as “software” for the “hardware” of the body that is “wired” in certain ways. Thanks to Dawkins and his followers, this deluded view of nature as a machine has become ubiquitous, creating the moral sanction for corporations to treat the earth as a resource to plunder, beguiling techno-visionaries to seek immortality by downloading their minds, and inspiring technocrats to argue for solving climate change through geoengineering.

It goes on, touting Lent’s own ideas of holism, and heaping praise on Lynn Margulis (who accepted the discredited Gaia hypothesis), but let me say that there is nothing in Dawkins’s own writings that have justified or encouraged plundering the Earth, nor have I even seen a hint that people are using Dawkins’s writings as a rationalization to destroy the planet. Have the Koch brothers cited The Selfish Gene?

Scientific naturalism happens to be true, and everything comes down to the laws of physics, although we also see higher-order phenomena that are “emergent” in the sense that while we don’t know enough to predict them from the laws of physics, they must be consistent with the laws of physics. That is what reductionism means, and there is no “holism” completely independent of reductionism. That said, I’d like to see Lent’s evidence that corporations have relied on Dawkins’s ideas to justify plundering the Earth. Corporations have plenty of justifications for rapacity—when they even offer justifications—and the selfish gene is not among them.

Let us remember again that Dawkins’s genetic reductionism does not come with any ethical implications, and Richard has said that over and over again. Yes, people can misuse his ideas, as they did Darwin’s, but that is neither Darwin’s nor Dawkins’s fault.  And that is one of Lent’s big errors beyond his mischaracterizing the science. Lent’s other error is to claim that people have actually become rampant, Earth-destroying capitalists, as well as depressive nihilists who have no meaning in their lives, because of what Richard Dawkins has written.

Only someone set out to smear Dawkins could have written such nonsense, for there is simply no data, scientific or anecdotal, to back it up. Lent has blamed Dawkins for all the wrongs of the world because Dawkins is a convenient (though battered) scapegoat. That’s a common tactic, but is employed only by the malicious, the ignorant, and the publicity-hungry who want to use Dawkins’s name as clickbait. Lent, after all, has a book to sell.

h/t: Rodney



  1. yazikus
    Posted August 7, 2017 at 10:57 am | Permalink

    When I saw this piece the other day, I was surprised by the sort of vague criticisms being leveled. Then I scrolled down and made the ‘selling a book’ connection and everything made more sense.

    As we know, there are certainly criticisms to be made of public figures, including Dawkins, but that piece does not do it well.

  2. Posted August 7, 2017 at 11:04 am | Permalink

    Hear, hear! This is why being the point of the spear requires some bravery and we should thank Dr. Dawkins for that. So many of the misguided spend considerable effort to blunt the spear tip so it doesn’t penetrate. This is a futile effort, but it does retard progress to a more realistic worldview on the part of onlookers.

  3. ploubere
    Posted August 7, 2017 at 11:13 am | Permalink

    From what I can skim from it, the author appears to be offended by the idea that the basis of life is simply genes. I’m guessing he only read the back cover of Dawkins’ book, and jumped to his conclusions from there.

    • tomh
      Posted August 7, 2017 at 11:39 am | Permalink

      Possibly only the title.

      • Posted August 7, 2017 at 5:46 pm | Permalink

        Considering his accusations against The Selfish Gene are wholly false, I’d say so.

        • Zach
          Posted August 8, 2017 at 3:04 am | Permalink

          If ever there was a contest for “Book Mis-udged Most By Its Cover,” I would nominate The Selfish Gene.

          It really is remarkable. People see the word “selfish” in its title, and their brains just go screwy. (Or they actually read it and understand it, but find its emphasis on kin selection affronting to the vision of egalitarian utopia lodged deep in their psyche, and so dislike it all the same. But that’s another issue.) I’ve even run into a couple biologists who took a swipe at the book by pointing out that certain genes routinely coordinate with others in order to function properly. Again, remarkable.

          • Zach
            Posted August 8, 2017 at 3:05 am | Permalink


            • Posted August 8, 2017 at 3:21 am | Permalink

              Reminds me of my Mom’s concern about my reading a novel titled “The Iron Mistress” as a teenager because of the word “mistress”. The book was about Jim Bowie and the “Iron Mistress” was his Bowie knife.

              • Richard
                Posted August 8, 2017 at 3:35 am | Permalink

                Once, when young, my mother saw me looking at a volume of classic horror stories in a bookshop, and told me that she didn’t want me to read it.

                Lovecraft was the author’s name, not a description of the contents!

          • Hempenstein
            Posted August 8, 2017 at 9:24 am | Permalink

            Funny how, from just the basics of biochemistry, genetics snd evolution, I grasped the true intent of the title at first sight.

          • Posted August 8, 2017 at 11:25 am | Permalink

            Worse, this has been going on for *years* with the misconceptions corrected repeatedly.

  4. Posted August 7, 2017 at 11:18 am | Permalink

    Lent’s comments on economics are every bit as ignorant as his comments on Dawkins. Economists did not invent selfishness, mainstream econ lends no support to laissez-faire politics, and there is a vast literature at the nexus of economics and evolutionary biology exploring the nature and consequences of altruistic and other other-regarding behaviors.

  5. Randy schenck
    Posted August 7, 2017 at 11:29 am | Permalink

    It could be that Lent is just moving from one scam to another. Seems to have run into some problems with his business life a few years back and troubles with the FDIC and SEC. Not sure if it would be fraud or is he the fraud?

  6. Posted August 7, 2017 at 11:29 am | Permalink

    There must be a bug going around, because A. N Wilson, the well known biographer of Tolstoy and many others, has just published a “biography” of Darwin — in which he shows Darwin to be a fraud, and blames the world’s ills on Richard Dawkins.

    Somehow he lands on the idea that the new synthesis rejected Mendelian genetics, and furthermore, did so because Mendel was a monk.

    Somehow he lands on the idea that Steven Gould disproved Darwinian evolution because of punctuated equilibrium. Somehow. He doesn’t say how. But it must be so, because Gould had a fight with Dawkins.

    • Craw
      Posted August 7, 2017 at 1:00 pm | Permalink

      That Gould “refuted” Darwin is stuff I have heard on the left for decades. I have never figured out why. Perhaps it might have something to do with this kind of screed against Dawkins? I heard a lot of mushy piffle about “overlapping magesteria” from the left too. (I expect it from the religious right.) I think raw physicalist reductionism is just too hard, emothionally at least, for many people to accept.

      • Posted August 7, 2017 at 1:26 pm | Permalink

        I didn’t know about the left already saying that about Gould, but I’m not surprised. Even his NOMA stuff is a polite attempt at saying keep your hands off science.

        They all think “Darwinism” is a white supremacist ideology, that is best combated with indignant rhetoric.

      • Posted August 8, 2017 at 11:09 am | Permalink

        It was also common for creationists to distort and take Gould out of context in the same manner.

      • Michael Waterhouse
        Posted August 9, 2017 at 5:52 am | Permalink

        If I remember correctly, Gould said many times in his essays, that Darwin was his hero.

    • Steve Pollard
      Posted August 7, 2017 at 1:14 pm | Permalink

      Five years writing a biography of Darwin, and still thinks that because the fossil record doesn’t show each and every intermediate step, large leaps must have taken place. And thinks that Gould’s “punctuated equilibrium” equates to the same thing.

      Any bets on his inference as to who instigated those large leaps? I expect he hopes that Templeton are watching.

      I hope RD gets to review this book.

    • Richard Jones
      Posted August 7, 2017 at 4:57 pm | Permalink

      The comments on this article are enlightening and entertaining. The preponderance of opinion is that Wilson is wrong and a crank. PCC(E) weighs in, I am happy to see.

      • Posted August 7, 2017 at 5:11 pm | Permalink

        Thanks for noting that. I hadn’t ventured into the comments for fear of defoliculating myself.

        I am happy to see Jerry’s comment immediately after this one:

        “Be careful, to preserve their favourite modern myths, the establishment is not beyond making it illegal to question them.”

    • Posted August 7, 2017 at 7:17 pm | Permalink

      On the positive side, at least now I know not to waste my money on his book.

    • Robert Bray
      Posted August 9, 2017 at 7:30 am | Permalink

      Wilson is a strange bird. An amazingly prolific writer, back-and-forth in his Christianity (he’s currently forth), and often acerbic and over-assertive in his non-fiction, he has been a notable figure on the British literary scene for more than thirty years.

      For my dollar (or pound sterling), his finest work is the five-novel series known as ‘The Lampitt Papers,’ along with an stand-alone novel called ‘The Vicar of Sorrows.’ His biography of Tolstoy, as mentioned above, is also excellent.

      I get the sense that his life has been one long crisis of faith. The book ‘Jesus: a Life’ (1992) was Wilson’s ‘quest for the historical Jesus,’ whom he did not find, resulting in a believer’s loss of confidence. Somewhere, somehow along the line since then he’s found that confidence again, and perhaps this is the reason he’s taken after Darwin and Dawkins: a hatred of materialism.

      • Robert Bray
        Posted August 9, 2017 at 7:32 am | Permalink

        *A* stand-alone novel. Sorry.

  7. Ken Kukec
    Posted August 7, 2017 at 11:40 am | Permalink

    You spelled out W*rl*m*n under “Related”; I want my prize. (I don’t recall offhand what the prize was, but my genes have made me selfish, so I want it anyway, goddammit.)

    • Craw
      Posted August 7, 2017 at 1:03 pm | Permalink

      A fair cop! (It was maybe just a feature from WordPress not our host typing the dread letters, but I think you have earned the prize.)

    • Posted August 7, 2017 at 1:07 pm | Permalink

      That was written before I made my vow, so clearly it doesn’t count!

      • Ken Kukec
        Posted August 7, 2017 at 2:04 pm | Permalink

        Oh, ok, nevermind.

        (But know that I’ll be waiting and watching, and when you screw that pooch according to Hoyle, I’ll be there to claim my swag. 🙂 )

  8. Historian
    Posted August 7, 2017 at 11:51 am | Permalink

    Lent’s original posting on AlterNet has garnered hundreds of comments, apparently mostly negative. This has compelled Lent to post a follow-up article on AlterNet to clarify his original article. He now claims that his attacks on Dawkins were not ad hominem. He writes:

    “I appreciate that Richard Dawkins himself is no proponent of modern laissez-faire corporate capitalism. I believe Dawkins is a highly ethical man with good intentions, and my critique of his ideas should not be taken in any way as ad hominem. I agree with much of his criticism of monotheistic beliefs (a chapter of my book chronicles what I call the “scourge of monotheistic intolerance”), and I wholeheartedly support his defense of science against climate denialism.”

    “The problem is that, regardless of his intentions, the two core metaphors he has been so successful in propagating—the “selfish gene” and “nature as a machine”—have been widely accepted as reality in our society, with devastating consequences on both human relations and the natural world. My intention in writing this article (and my book) has been to draw attention to the implicit assumptions underlying our worldview that encourage us to think and behave collectively in destructive ways. It is only by becoming conscious of our own preconceptions that we can shift our cognition toward patterns that can be more beneficial for ourselves and the world at large.”


    So, now for Lent, Dawkins is not a bad person, simply a bad scientist and an unwitting dupe for the evil capitalists out to destroy the world. Lent seems to think that “epigenetic inheritance” represents an advance in our understanding of evolution. Of course, Professor Coyne has demolished this argument.

    It seems to me that Lent thinks that attacking Dawkins will facilitate his book sales. It may have the opposite effect.

    • Posted August 7, 2017 at 12:14 pm | Permalink

      It’s interesting, in light of that, that the piiece is still called “The Dangerous Delusions of Richard Dawkins”. What, now, are the delusions?

      • Sastra
        Posted August 7, 2017 at 3:02 pm | Permalink

        Yes, you’d think Lent would at least have the grace to retitle it “The Dangerously Misunderstood Metaphors of Richard Dawkins.”

      • Posted August 7, 2017 at 6:05 pm | Permalink

        It’s a misprint. It should read “The Dangerous Delusions about Richard Dawkins”.

      • Posted August 8, 2017 at 2:13 pm | Permalink

        Excellent comments about this obvious fraud, but one problem persists – in the blurb section on this huckster’s website, he quotes beyond-effusive endorsements from once-estimable enviro-giants Paul Ehrlich and J.R. McNeill. Ugh.
        Here’s Ehrlich’s gush:
        “A tour de force on the biological and psychological background of the human predicament. If you are concerned about our future you should know about our past. This amazing, well-documented book should be read by every college student, and every congressman.”
        And McNeill’s:
        “If you’ve been too busy for the last twenty years to pay attention to the big ideas about the nature of the human animal, the engines of history, our place in the biosphere, and the shape of things to come, Lent can bring you up to date painlessly.”
        Take it back, boys, take it all back. Was there at a gun at their back when they went so over-the-top?

        • Diane G.
          Posted August 9, 2017 at 4:42 am | Permalink

          How extremely disappointing!

    • Kevin
      Posted August 7, 2017 at 12:44 pm | Permalink

      It’s hard for less than gifted people to get other people’s attention unless they make a tornado.

      This is a case where Lent is 2 on log scale of gifted and Dawkins is 8. There is no way to breach these two without mixing turmoil.

      • loren russell
        Posted August 7, 2017 at 6:29 pm | Permalink

        Kevin: You must have a logarithmic scale of giftitude in mind. Pretty clear a chipmunk rates a “1”, but not sure what you reserve for your 9 and 10.. ETs?

  9. TJR
    Posted August 7, 2017 at 12:04 pm | Permalink

    Recently “people say horrid things on the internet about person X” has been reported as actual news stories in the mainstream media.

    However, for some reason “people say horrid things on the internet about Richard Dawkins” never seems to count as a news story.

    I wonder why.

    • jimroberts
      Posted August 7, 2017 at 2:04 pm | Permalink

      Dog bites man.

  10. DrBrydon
    Posted August 7, 2017 at 12:20 pm | Permalink

    From the “liology” website :

    Liology sees humanity as a fractal entity within the natural system of the earth and as such, it impels us to find a sustainable way of existing on the earth in order to thrive.

    What the hell is a “fractal entity” (other than a band)? Sounds like something from the early seasons of Star Trek: The Next Generation.

    • DrBrydon
      Posted August 7, 2017 at 12:20 pm | Permalink

      Oops. Messed up my quote. The second indented paragraph is me.

    • sensorrhea
      Posted August 7, 2017 at 1:41 pm | Permalink

      He’s turning Stephen Wolfram’s “New Kind of Science” into woo.

      • Posted August 8, 2017 at 11:27 am | Permalink

        What sort of fractals can one have in a discrete (cellular automata) space?

  11. CassidyHarley
    Posted August 7, 2017 at 12:40 pm | Permalink

    So, somebody is shamelessly exploiting Dawkins` name to get noticed. Again.

  12. GBJames
    Posted August 7, 2017 at 12:46 pm | Permalink

    Seems to me that Dawkins’ critics have rarely read his books. They seem to all be angry with the cardboard caricatures of him that other critics, equally ignorant of his actual work, have concocted.

    The dead give-away is how they so predictably think the book is about humans having a gene for selfishness. Lord-amighty!

    • Harrison
      Posted August 7, 2017 at 12:55 pm | Permalink

      I feel the same most of the time, but I’ll give Lent a modicum of credit as he did write that Dawkins’s book was about “genes competing against other.” That’s essentially correct. Where he errs grossly is in his guilt by association tactics which is the first resort of wooheads and theists where atheists are concerned. The left-leaning ones are just less likely to invoke the crimes of Stalin and Mao when doing this.

      • GBJames
        Posted August 7, 2017 at 12:58 pm | Permalink

        I won’t give him credit on that. It is too obvious an error for anyone who actually read The Selfish Gene.

    • Forse
      Posted August 8, 2017 at 8:34 am | Permalink

      Richard has sometimes said he wished he’d named his book “The immortal gene”. He notes that many people have read only the title, but not “the rather long footnote thereafter” (i.e. the book itself!)

  13. Posted August 7, 2017 at 12:52 pm | Permalink

    Dawkins, like Trump, attracts a lot of nonsense from little people hoping to polish their own apples.

    • Gus diZerega
      Posted August 7, 2017 at 6:53 pm | Permalink

      Since you bring up the current occupant of the White House, unlike Trump, Dawkins earned the status to attract attention, good, bad and mixed.

  14. Michael Fisher
    Posted August 7, 2017 at 12:54 pm | Permalink

    I checked the Templeton-grants-retard-progress site, but they haven’t discovered Lent [so to speak] yet.

    What an arsehole – he’s using the name of Dawkins to clickbait promote his shit book. He looks like a bad teeth, heroin user, short on cash, who has had to sell his surfboard [he deserves a dose of ad hom he can complain about]. Here he is, the “Level II certified teacher of Radiant Heart qigong” & MBA talking bollocks about stuff above his head.

    • Craw
      Posted August 7, 2017 at 1:04 pm | Permalink

      Maybe this article is his informal Templeton grant proposal.

    • Michael Hart
      Posted August 7, 2017 at 1:23 pm | Permalink

      In another video on his youtube channel, Lent claims to have read extensively on the selfish gene idea. He says that “The way in which evolution occurs is nothing to do with this concept of some kind of selfish gene.” Seems both wrong and self-contradictory wrt his alternet article.

      • Michael Hart
        Posted August 7, 2017 at 1:26 pm | Permalink

        oops, always scroll down @15

    • Forse
      Posted August 8, 2017 at 8:40 am | Permalink

      And I checked his twitter, guessing he might have 10,000 or so followers. Actual Number? …. 187.

  15. nicky
    Posted August 7, 2017 at 12:57 pm | Permalink

    It is clear that Lent has not only not read “Unweaving the Rainbow” or “The Magic of Reality”, but that he has not even read “The Selfish Gene” (let alone “the Extended Phenotype”). I guess he has only read the title. Dawkins himself has said that -and those having read it would concur- he might just as well have called it “The Cooperative Gene” without having to change one iota of the text. In fact he even said he would -with hindsight- have preferred that title.
    Dawkins is quite opposed to ‘unbridled capitalism’, never supported ‘wealth inequality’ and was a notorious opponent of the late Margaret Thatcher. I have great difficulty to see how Lent could construe this. If someone only reads a title without reading the book, one cannot blame the author.
    Admittedly Dawkins said that nature -natural selection- is callous and indifferent, but that is just an observation, and a quite correct one at that. He never ever proposed we should behave likewise, on the contrary.
    Lent’s criticisms are not just ill informed, wrong and neither here nor there, they smell of deliberately smearing one of the greatest science communicators we have. Shame on you, Lent!
    (And thank you Jerry for taking the trouble to elaborately showing Lent’s drivel for what it is: pure piffle.)

    • Michael Fisher
      Posted August 7, 2017 at 1:07 pm | Permalink

      Here is Lent unable to speak of Dawkins’ book coherently. Also unable to reference any of his own anti-Dawks claims. As you say – he’s read naff all other than critical blurbs & headlines:

      • sensorrhea
        Posted August 7, 2017 at 1:49 pm | Permalink

        It says “book passage” on the podium. I’m pretty sure I know what “passage” his book came out of.

        • Zach
          Posted August 8, 2017 at 3:15 am | Permalink


      • jimroberts
        Posted August 7, 2017 at 2:24 pm | Permalink

        Lent would benefit from reading not only Dawkins’, but also Darwin’s and Adam Smith’s works, in which the profound humanity of all three are apparent.

        • Posted August 8, 2017 at 11:30 am | Permalink

          I have said (ever since reading Wealth of Nations) that more *capitalists* should read it, because it contains a lot of stuff they may not expect – and a lot will be not there that they expect. For example on the latter: only one use of the “invisible hand”. (Credit to Chomsky for pointing that out to me.) On the former: he’s not in favour of “immortal” corporations. (!!!!)

      • Les Faby
        Posted August 7, 2017 at 9:22 pm | Permalink

        Dawkins in the SF Bay area.
        There are Standing room tickets available at Book Passage (Corte Madera, CA)
        $32 (includes signed book)
        This is 15 miles north of San Francisco.
        event web page

        • Les Faby
          Posted August 7, 2017 at 9:23 pm | Permalink

          This Wednesday!

      • Diane G.
        Posted August 9, 2017 at 4:53 am | Permalink

        O.M.G. That was painful to listen to.

  16. gravelinspector-Aidan
    Posted August 7, 2017 at 12:59 pm | Permalink

    Hmm, 4 points in Jerry’s polite analysis. My shorter analysis :
    Bollocks. Those trends were well established before Dawkin’s parents parents met.
    Bollocks. Clearly hasn’t read – let alone understood – Selfish Gene.
    I’ll pass you the hosepipe once I’ve finished taking the catalyser off the exhaust pipe. Breath deeply now.
    Bollocks too. I’m still ploughing my way through a certain fly-olefaction-ologist’s book on the “Race to crack DNA’s code“, and reductionism is very well established long before Dawkins gets his Bachelor’s, let alone starts making a name for himself. A slight temporal problem, like putting the F1 cart before the Eohippus.

    [Files “Salon” under “link not worth following”. Oh, it’s there already.]

    • gravelinspector-Aidan
      Posted August 7, 2017 at 1:01 pm | Permalink

      (Damn, forgot that WP doesn’t render the [OL type=”1″] tag.)

  17. michael
    Posted August 7, 2017 at 1:05 pm | Permalink

    Thanks for posting this long commentary. Yes, Salon has sunk to new depths. Not sure the original piece was worth any attention at all, but it is generous of you to spare the time pulling it apart.

  18. Posted August 7, 2017 at 1:32 pm | Permalink

    I did post this quotation below the original Alternet already. It’s from the preface to the 2nd edition of The Selfish Gene (as cited in a later edition). Especially note the sentence in bold at the end (emphasis mine).

    “This brings me to the first point I want to make about what this book is not. I am not advocating a morality based on evolution. I am saying how things have evolved. I am not saying how we humans morally ought to behave. I stress this, because I know I am in danger of being misunderstood by those people, all too numerous, who cannot distinguish a statement of belief in what is the case from an advocacy of what ought to be the case. My own feeling is that a human society based simply on the gene’s law of universal ruthless selfishness would be a very nasty society in which to live. But unfortunately, however much we may deplore something, it does not stop it being true. This book is mainly intended to be interesting, but if you would extract a moral from it, read it as a warning”. — Richard Dawkins, The Selfish Gene, 2nd edition

    A comprehensive understanding of Richard Dawkins’ views underscores this point. It is not a lazy attempt to dismiss criticism, but runs through his entire work.

    It is simply the case, as is with current regressive politics, that some people at once fetishize truth, yet don’t really understand it. They know on some retarded level that true things are better, and then want that to align with their feelings. To make it work, the matter can be warped around so that both things, feelings and truthiness align properly. Truth is some sort of god. They like what they think is true, and to them true is what they like.

    Of course, this widespread condition also makes people angry when someone points out that genes are “selfish” replicators, or that men and women are probably also different in how their brains work. They mistake a statement of fact with the appeal of a statement (and sneak in the naturalistic fallacy in the process).

    • Posted August 7, 2017 at 1:42 pm | Permalink

      Addendum: what Salon and Alternet published amounted to a quote mine style misreprentation of a more extreme kind.

      I believe the rationale of them is that their audience likes it anyway, like Trump followers of the opposite direction. Who cares these days what’s true. These people get away with it every time, and there is no accountability. It gives them some extra attention and funds the enterprise.

      I’d like to think that it hurts their reputations. But I come to think that their calculation works.

  19. Posted August 7, 2017 at 1:52 pm | Permalink

    Just to note who Lent hangs out with, here is interview on the pure woo site beyond awakenings.

    And the ad for it placed on the facebook page for Chopra’s tax free registered church-business for cancer quacks, “Evolutionary Leaders”.

    This kind of company means Lent has no scruples about mixing it with the worst and most dangerous medical scammers around.

    One of his colleagues, for example is Bruce Lipton, a cell biologist who claims that negative thoughts cause cancer and positive thoughts cure it, and that the belief in the “Darwinian mechanistic paradigm” is going to cause the end of the world on 21.12.2012. (Lipton also appears on “Beyond Awakenings”.

    • Posted August 7, 2017 at 2:55 pm | Permalink

      This discussion is very interesting and really important. I looked up
      “mechanistic paradigm” and was reminded that since Sokal’s take down of Cultural Studies, the onslaught of anti-science ideology in academia is back with a vengeance. It’s a strange marriage of relativism, postmodern rejection of rational objective methods of inquiry, the holistic idea of radical social constructivism that rejects any kind of modularity. The mind is a neo-Skinnerian blank-slate where nothing in the mind/brain has anything do with biology, no inheritance, nothing about genetics is allowed to be considered. The weirdest part of the marriage is with all this and large parts of the Left, as if there were something progressive here. These absurd ideas are sweeping, again, the departments all across campus.

      • Posted August 7, 2017 at 3:26 pm | Permalink

        I’ll try to put this as succinctly as I can, as this has also interested me and I’ve been looking into it lately.

        The spiritual view is that Descartes “banished God from nature” with his mechanistic view of nature. He separated god so completely from nature that there was no role left anymore for god to play. His followers inevitably saw god as redundant, and rejected god too, leaving only the empty machine-bodies of animals. (This is a more or less fair precis as far as it goes, I understand.)

        But spiritual people see modern biology simply as an extension of this. All the criticism of “mechanistic biology” coming from Lent and others, is identical to the criticism that was leveled at Descartes in 1650.

        And what these spiritual folk (including academics) try to do, is to re-inject god back into nature — because otherwise how could these mechanistic little billiard ball atoms (that Descartes conceived) form themselves into complex beings? It can’t just all be random chance. There must be some “higher guiding principle”.

        And of course there is such a “higher organizing principle” — the laws of chemistry and physics. But spiritual folk like Lent are unaware of this, because they are still operating with the inert billiard ball theory of matter they got from Descartes.

        They are unaware that they are actually operating with exactly the same crass mechanistic dualistic view that Descartes used, only they are keeping his God, and his soul (often still searching for the ‘seat of the soul in the brain’) and simply extending his god further down into nature.

        What they’ve missed is that Darwin’s approach to nature is as holistic as you can get.

        • Posted August 8, 2017 at 11:32 am | Permalink

          Darwin’s approach, like Descartes’s, was *systemist*, not holist. I guess that’s the way to read “as you can get”. Any more and you get naturphilosophie or (worse) Parmenides.

          • Posted August 8, 2017 at 11:40 am | Permalink

            Thanks for the clarification.

            I was using “holistic” in a very loose or rhetorical (or, I concede, inaccurate) way. I meant that Darwin found “deep connections” between humans and nature, that were far deeper than even the wildest Naturphilosoph could have dreamed up. Spiritual folk, for all their talk of paradigm shifts fail to grasp that.

  20. JonLynnHarvey
    Posted August 7, 2017 at 2:30 pm | Permalink

    Holism seems be a catchword and as such to have a range of meanings, some of which need not be in conflict with reductionism, and some of which are more scientifically sound than others.

    Notably, both some mainstream medicine and most of alternative (pseudo-)medicine claim to be “holistic”, but mainstream medicine seems to prefer the term “psychosomatic” perhaps to avoid confusion with the the alt-doctors woo-ish use of “holistic”.

    What is known as gestalt psychology is probably one of the more legitimate uses of what might be termed ‘holistic’ thinking (I’m guessing), but modern day “holistic counseling” seems potentially wooish.

    As Wikipedia reports, “Bunge (1983) and Lilienfeld et al. (2003) state that proponents of pseudoscientific claims, especially in organic medicine, alternative medicine, naturopathy and mental health, often resort to the “mantra of holism” to explain negative findings or to immunise their claims against testing.”

    My own sense is that holism can mean either
    a) it is difficult to analyze/make preductions complex phenomena in terms of the sum of their parts
    b) it is difficult or impossible to explain complex phenomena in terms of the sum of their parts.

    These are two different claims and one may be true without the other.
    The first pretty much follows from mathematical chaos theory.
    As such, it is best to look at some phenomena from the point of view of a high-level, human-level perspective- I suspect this is probably often (if not always) a good idea in anthropology. Other phenomena are best looked at from the point of view of the universe as a machine, digging down to a lower level. Classical mechanics is reductionist, and ought to be. The Lents of the world cry foul when one treats humans as if they were machines, but for the purposes of some medical research this is (at least provisionally) necessary.

    In mathematics, a full and complete reductionism has been elusive. Gödel proved that for any self-consistent recursive axiomatic system capable of describing the arithmetic of the natural numbers, there are propositions about the natural numbers that cannot be proved from the axioms. These are called “undecidable”.
    Certain math problems can be proven to not have general one-size-fit-all solutions (such as the quintic or the halting problem in computer science), and by Godel’s theorem it is possible that it is both true that no odd perfect numbers exist and there is no way to prove it. (If there is a God, would God know that there are no odd perfect numbers??)


    For ex-Catholics reading this site, there is a bad pun about “giving up reductionism for Lent” lurking in here somewhere.

    However, I am told by my churched friends that a new trend is to resolve to do something positive for Lent-reading an edifying book or an act of kindness rather than giving up chocolate.

    As such I recommend that Mr. Lent read his Dawkins more carefully, and consider finding some kinder words to say about him.

  21. darrelle
    Posted August 7, 2017 at 2:46 pm | Permalink

    As I began reading this article I just knew The Selfish Gene was going to feature prominently. Dawkins haters really mystify me. I think it must simply be an example of herd behavior.

    They are positively common even among the science friendly and scientists who really should know better. For one example read, if you like, this conversation on a website for and frequented by scientists and science friendly types and very strictly controlled for adherence to at least basic scientific standards.

    The science writings of Richard Dawkins

    I can understand people being influenced by their peers, but when it is in the face of easily found evidence to the contrary that excuse eventually grows stale. Even when you disabuse them of one of their negative claims the response is typically something like, “well he’s still a jerk!”I guess you just have to be resigned to this kind of opposition once you become well enough known.

  22. Posted August 7, 2017 at 3:02 pm | Permalink

    Wow, this Dawkins fellow is one powerful guy. When I was young, capitalism was bridled, and no one was destroying the environment. Then Dawkins came along and said “Let capitalism be unbridled!” and “Go forth and destroy the environment!” And so it came to pass: capitalism was unbridled, and the environment was being destroyed.

    But fortunately, Jeremy Lent has no saved us. He’s pointed out that all we need to do is to bridle Richard Dawkins. Then capitalism will no longer be unbridled and people will stop destroying the environment.

    That’s a relief — previously people imagined that the problems came from large forces in our economy and culture, and dealing with them would be difficult. But now we understand that it was all Richard Dawkins’s fault. So let’s get to work bridling him, and once that task is done, we can relax and go out for a beer.

    • Posted August 7, 2017 at 3:05 pm | Permalink

      As usual, a typo: “Jeremy Lent has now saved us”

    • lettersquash
      Posted August 8, 2017 at 6:40 pm | Permalink

      No, no, no, bridling Dawkins is only an introduction to the real work: meditation, tai-chi, becoming harmonized, flowing with yin and yang, towards the “understanding of key concepts such as self, consciousness, values and meaning”! This will stop us being ripped off by rich capitalists and halt global warming and environmental destruction. But before we can do any of that, we obviously have to buy his book.

      • Posted August 10, 2017 at 4:43 pm | Permalink

        Well, I am not going to buy his book, so from now on you can blame all the unbridled capitalism and environmental destruction on me. It will all be my fault.

  23. Sastra
    Posted August 7, 2017 at 3:13 pm | Permalink

    This sounds like something I used to run into back in the 90’s, only then it was an attack on humanism. Humanism is responsible for colonialism, the exploitation of people, and the exploitation of resources, blah blah blah. The people making this argument considered themselves as being on the Left. At first I thought there was just some kind of confusion over the term –“no, silly, that’s not “humanism,” you meant “imperialism” or “authoritarianism” or some other “ism” — but no. When I finally got ahold of an article they were clearly attacking science and the values of the Enlightenment, which they equated with force, slavery, and, of course, capitalism.

    I suspect Dawkins was recently inserted into that one.

  24. JonLynnHarvey
    Posted August 7, 2017 at 3:17 pm | Permalink

    Comment #2 (and much shorter)

    Thomas Huxley was Dawkins’ bulldog, and Dawkins has been called Darwin’s Rotweiler.

    But given JAC’s preference for the feline branch of the mammalian (king/queen)dom, he should be Dawkin’s Siamese cat.

  25. Posted August 7, 2017 at 4:53 pm | Permalink

    Jeremy Lent, english major, woo-meister “practitioner of meditation, qigong, and Tai Chi. He is a Level II certified teacher of Radiant Heart qigong.”

    STFU, freak.

    • Richard
      Posted August 8, 2017 at 3:53 am | Permalink

      I thought qigong was Anakin’s teacher.

      I’ll get me coat.

  26. Posted August 7, 2017 at 5:10 pm | Permalink

    They are so freaking selfish we are saturated in all this life, why the hell didn’t all those ‘good’ selfish genes just give up and leave it to the rotten alleles.
    Then we wouldn’t have to be here arguing with people like…
    now where is that list?

  27. Posted August 7, 2017 at 5:35 pm | Permalink

    Housed in a Biology Department that spanned the full range from ecology to molecular biology, I sat through altogether too many faculty meetings purporting to argue the merits of holism versus reductionism. With his usual clarity, Dawkins disposes of the criticism of reductionism in a couple of Paragraphs (google “Strawman of Reductionism”). The basic point is that all science is reductionist in that it attempts to explain the operation of complex systems in terms of component parts. The “strawman” is an imaginary reductionist who attempts to go all the way from something like ecosystem or animal behavior to atoms and molecules. Actual scientists know to go down no more than one or two steps in complexity from the system they seek to understand. The whole tedious argument boils down to nothing more than differing tastes in the levels we find interesting.

    • Posted August 7, 2017 at 5:37 pm | Permalink

      Dawkins term for how science actually works is “hierarchical reductionism”.

      • Posted August 8, 2017 at 11:34 am | Permalink

        Or systemism. (See Bunge, for example, who I think riffs on Mayr’s usage at one point.)

        • lettersquash
          Posted August 8, 2017 at 6:48 pm | Permalink

          Without reductionism, we can’t say anything about anything. That’s why holism veers off in two hypocritical directions: meaningless waffle re-stating its refutation of reductionism, on the one hand, and reductionism, on the other, as in “the world is made up of ‘qi’ and ‘li'” or “yin and yang”.

          • Posted August 9, 2017 at 11:20 am | Permalink

            Fortunately Bunge, Mayr and myself aren’t holists.

            A lot of people use “reductionism” for what is often more “properly” “monism”, which is correct in the materialist case.

  28. kelskye
    Posted August 7, 2017 at 5:52 pm | Permalink

    It baffles me that anyone thinks that nature supports unbridled capitalism. Nature has nothing to say (beyond its physical constraints) on his we ought to structure society. That job is our own, and citing any natural process as a model for how we ought to structure our society is a category mistake.

    It’s occurred to me that I’ve come across you’d line of thinking before – a pantheism where all knowledge (including ethical knowledge) must be in harmony. It’s a frustrating experience to argue with people who think a correct understanding of ethics requires a particular view of biology. So then like all motivated beliefs, the facts of the matter are what suffer.

  29. Michael Bigelow
    Posted August 7, 2017 at 6:12 pm | Permalink

    Thanks so much for this fine piece of writing Jerry. I typically avoid reading these Dawkins hit pieces, the same way I would avoid watching a friend’s repeated muggings on YouTube.

    It truly saddens me to see such a fine man, who has contributed so much and helped so many people across the globe face the constant, viscous and baseless attacks which have dominated the golden years of his life.

    • Nell Whiteside
      Posted August 8, 2017 at 1:21 pm | Permalink

      Well said and bravo for this well-tempered article.

  30. readyready15728
    Posted August 7, 2017 at 7:17 pm | Permalink

    This post could have been much shorter. All it really needed as a response was this:

  31. Chemist
    Posted August 7, 2017 at 9:23 pm | Permalink

    Apparently Lent is feeling some pressure. I commented on his article as it was re-tweeted by MediaREDEF and he responded by pointing me to his rebuttal piece. Interestingly, the only salient point he made was as follows:

    “As a cultural historian, not a scientist by training,…”

    I told him he should have stopped at that point. Have yet to hear back from him. We shall see.

    • readyready15728
      Posted August 7, 2017 at 9:39 pm | Permalink

      That he’s a cultural historian is pretty irrelevant. What is relevant is that his entire case is built on one massive ad consequentiam fallacy.

      • Posted August 8, 2017 at 11:35 am | Permalink

        Or worse, since it is not even a consequence of the actual view in question.

  32. DutchA
    Posted August 7, 2017 at 11:18 pm | Permalink

    Never heard of liology. And probably never will…

    Seems to be derived from lie-ology, the scientific discipline of lying.

  33. Posted August 8, 2017 at 3:33 am | Permalink

    I think it was Sir Peter Medawar who made the observation that too many people are educated beyond their ability to undertake critical analysis – I think this guy is a perfect exemplar; to say his ideas are bullshit is an insult to manure.

  34. Don Quijote
    Posted August 8, 2017 at 6:57 am | Permalink

    “The damage that Richard Dawkins has caused our global society goes far deeper than any hurtful comments he has made about Islam.”

    Truth often hurts but why pick Islam? From what I have heard dawkins say and what he has written about religion I would say he is an equal opportunities critic.

  35. Muhammad Syed
    Posted August 8, 2017 at 9:50 am | Permalink

    Jerry, great article overall but disagree w/the last line.”Lent, after all, has a book to sell.”

    It sounds like an unmerited attack. The same could be said about pretty much anyone in either direction (Dawkins has a book to sell so he’s attacking religion, religious have books to sell so they’re attacking science etc).

    • Michael Fisher
      Posted August 8, 2017 at 10:07 am | Permalink

      @Muhammad Syed

      You have quote mined JAC

      Here is the context you failed to quote: “Lent has blamed Dawkins for all the wrongs of the world because DAWKINS IS A CONVENIENT though battered) SCAPEGOAT. That’s a common tactic, but is employed only by the malicious, the ignorant, and the PUBLICITY-HUNGRY who want to use Dawkins’s name as CLICKBAIT. Lent, after all, has a BOOK TO SELL”

      Dawkins didn’t LIE about religion/religionists in his material to sell said material

      All capped words above are my caps

  36. Posted August 8, 2017 at 11:36 am | Permalink

    There are problems with “genetic reductionism” and “gene selection” that one can have a principled debate over (though I am largely on Dawkins’ side here). However, these have nothing whatever to do with selfish organisms, capitalism, or anything else at those levels of concern. This is Mary Midgley redux, and her review was when the first edition came out! (38 years ago?)

    • Michael Waterhouse
      Posted August 9, 2017 at 6:20 am | Permalink

      Still breaking those poor butterflies on the wheel eh.

      They are really only being broken in the imaginations of idiots.

  37. Posted August 9, 2017 at 7:07 am | Permalink


  38. Posted August 9, 2017 at 10:47 am | Permalink

    Reblogged this on The Ratliff Notepad.

  39. Jeremy
    Posted August 10, 2017 at 7:41 pm | Permalink

    I respect your writings, Jerry, and I admire your tenacious efforts to disseminate the scientific truths of evolution in the face of fundamentalist Christian opposition.

    Because of this, I was saddened to see the tone of your response to my article. I decided to try to turn this into an opportunity for a more dignified dialogue on the bigger issues that my article—and his response—bring up.

    Please read this open letter to you I posted on my blog. I hope you respond in a similarly respectful manner, and that we can establish some shared ground for generative dialogue.

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