Unfortunately, Dobbs didn't make the best case against the concept of the selfish gene and Jerry Coyne didn't recognize that there was a real problem.
Now the issue has resurfaced because Aeon has announced another dead horse that needs beating [Dead or Alive? Is it time to kill off the idea of the ‘Selfish Gene’? We asked four experts to respond to our most controversial essay].
Once again Jerry Coyne is up to the challenge, taking on four "experts" without breaking a sweat [The “selfish gene” redux: Aeon magazine collects opinion on the metaphor].
And, once again, everyone misses the real point.
Here's what Jerry says in his latest post.
I won’t reprise my criticisms, except to say that the metaphor of genes acting as if they are "selfish" when subject to natural selection remains perfectly good, whether or not those genes (or any bit of DNA) are part of the genome that makes proteins, regulates other genes, or comprises any bit of DNA that has the ability to get itself replicated more often than its competitors.This is correct as far as it goes. The "selfish gene" is a reasonable metaphor if you want to think about natural selection and adaptation. It's quite reasonable to metaphorically describe genes as "selfish" in such cases.
However, I think that "selfish gene" is often used as a metaphor for all of evolution and not just for natural selection. I think that most people who read Dawkins' book take it to be about EVOLUTION and not just natural selection. They understand that Dawkins is promoting a gene-centric view of evolution—and that's okay—but they come away from reading the book by thinking that all genes are selfish.
As most of you know, I prefer to emphasize Evolution by Accident. That's not to say that natural selection (selfish genes) isn't important, it is. What I believe is that there is a lot more to evolution than just selfish genes and we should not use the selfish genes metaphor as a stand-in for all of evolution.
Once you grasp that idea, it becomes much less useful to use the term "selfish gene" as a metaphor for anything, even natural selection and adaptation. That's why I think we should stop using the term "selfish gene."