Memetics Books

Criticisms

This is a collection of books related to the topic of criticisms of memetics. The list is associated with my 2011 "Memetics" book - which is now available.

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Secular criticism
Darwinian Creativity and Memetics by Maria Kronfeldner (2010)
Maria Kronfeldner examines how Darwinism has been used to explain novelty and change in culture through the Darwinian approach to creativity and the theory of memes. The first claims that creativity is based on a Darwinian process of blind variation and selection, while the latter claims that culture is based on and explained by units - memes - that are similar to genes. Both theories try to describe and explain mind and culture by applying Darwinism by way of analogies. Kronfeldner shows that the analogies involved in these theories lead to claims that give either wrong or at least no new descriptions or explanations of the phenomena at issue. Whereas the two approaches are usually defended or criticized on the basis that they are dangerous for our vision of ourselves, this book takes a different perspective: it questions the acuteness of these approaches. Darwinian theory is not like a dangerous wolf, hunting for our self image. Far from it, in the case of the two analogical applications addressed in this book, Darwinian theory is shown to behave more like a disoriented sheep in wolf's clothing. View on Google Books the book page, the author page, or the book contents.
Aping Mankind: Neuromania, Darwinitis by Raymond Tallis (2011)
Biologism -- the belief that human beings are essentially animals and can be understood in biological terms -- is gaining increasing acceptance in contemporary thought. This trend is seemingly legitimised by genuine, often spectacular, advances in biological science: in human genetics, evolutionary theory and neuroscience. Our propensities, we are told, can be accounted for by "a gene for" this or that; everyday behaviour can be explained in Darwinian terms; and human consciousness is identified with the activity of the evolved brain. Ultimately, so the story goes, all that we do, think and feel is subordinated to the imperative of ensuring that we behave in such a way as to, individually or collectively, maximise the chances of replicating our genetic material. In Aping Mankind, Raymond Tallis argues that the rise of this way of thinking is a matter of profound concern. He demonstrates that by denying human uniqueness, and minimising the differences between humans and their nearest animal kin, biologism misrepresents what we are, offering a grotesquely simplified and even degrading account of humanity, which has dire consequences: by seeing ourselves as animals we may find reasons for treating each other like them. In a devastating critique Tallis exposes the exaggerated claims made for the ability of neuroscience and evolutionary theory to explain human consciousness, behaviour, culture and society and shows that human beings are infinitely more interesting and complex than they appear in the mirror of biologism. View on Google Books the book page, the author page, or the book contents.
Darwin Wars by Andrew Brown (2000)
This is an account of neo-Darwinist theories, including the influential Selfish Gene theory - and the misunderstandings they provoke. Divided between "Dawkinsians" and "Gouldians", these theories are explained and evaluated, showing the profound impact they have had on beliefs and culture. The author appears to be on Gould's side. Contains two chapters criticising memes and memetics. View on Google Books the book page, the author page, or the book contents.
Darwinian Fairytales: Selfish Genes, Errors of Heredity and Other Fables of Evolution by David Stove (2006)
Philosopher David Stove concludes in his hilarious and razor-sharp inquiry that Darwin's theory of evolution is "a ridiculous slander on human beings." But wait! Stove is no "creationist" nor a proponent of so-called "intelligent design." He is a theological skeptic who admits Darwin's great genius and acknowledges that the theory of natural selection is the most successful biological theory in history. But Stove also thinks that it is also one of the most overblown and gives a penetrating inventory of what he regards as the "unbelievable claims" of Darwinism. Darwinian Fairytales is a must-read book for people who want to really understand the issues behind the most hotly debated scientific controversy of our time. View on Google Books the book page, the author page, or the book contents.
The Myths We Live By by Mary Midgley (2004)
Myths, as Mary Midgley argues in this powerful book, are everywhere. In political thought they sit at the heart of theories of human nature and the social contract; in economics in the pursuit of self interest; and in science the idea of human beings as machines, which originates in the seventeenth century, is a today a potent force. Far from being the opposite of science, however, Midgley argues that myth is a central part of it. Myths are neither lies nor mere stories but a network of powerful symbols for interpreting the world. Tackling a dazzling array of subjects such as philosophy, evolutionary psychology, animals, consciousness and the environment in her customary razor-sharp prose, The Myths We Live By reminds us of the powerful role of symbolism and the need to take our imaginative life seriously. This book criticises memes. View on Google Books the book page, the author page, or the book contents.
Not by Genes Alone: How Culture Transformed Human Evolution by Peter J. Richerson and Robert Boyd (2005)
Not by Genes Alone offers a radical interpretation of human evolution, arguing that our ecological dominance and our singular social systems stem from a psychology uniquely adapted to create complex culture. Richerson and Boyd illustrate here that culture is neither superorganic nor the handmaiden of the genes. Rather, it is essential to human adaptation, as much a part of human biology as bipedal locomotion. Drawing on work in the fields of anthropology, political science, sociology, and economics - and building their case with such fascinating examples as kayaks, corporations, clever knots, and yams that require twelve men to carry them - Richerson and Boyd convincingly demonstrate that culture and biology are inextricably linked, and they show us how to think about their interaction in a way that yields a richer understanding of human nature. View on Google Books the book page, the author page, or the book contents.
The Origin and Evolution of Cultures by Peter J. Richerson and Robert Boyd (2005)
Oxford presents, in one convenient and coherently organized volume, 20 influential but until now relatively inaccessible articles that form the backbone of Boyd and Richerson's path-breaking work on evolution and culture. Their interdisciplinary research is based on two notions. First, that culture is crucial for understanding human behavior; unlike other organisms, socially transmitted beliefs, attitudes, and values heavily influence our behavior. Secondly, culture is part of biology: the capacity to acquire and transmit culture is a derived component of human psychology, and the contents of culture are deeply intertwined with our biology. Culture then is a pool of information, stored in the brains of the population that gets transmitted from one brain to another by social learning processes. Therefore, culture can account for both our outstanding ecological success as well as the maladaptations that characterize much of human behavior. View on Google Books the book page, the author page, or the book contents.
Explaining Culture: A Naturalistic Approach by Dan Sperber (1996)
Ideas, Dan Sperber argues, may be contagious. They may invade whole populations. In the process, the people, their environment, and the ideas themselves are being transformed. To explain culture is to describe the causes and the effects of this contagion of ideas. This book will be read by all those with an interest in the impact of the cognitive revolution on our understanding of culture. View on Google Books the book page, the author page, or the book contents.
The Philosophy of Human Evolution by Michael Ruse (2012)
This book provides a unique discussion of human evolution from a philosophical viewpoint, looking at the facts and interpretations since Charles Darwin's The Descent of Man. Michael Ruse explores such topics as the nature of scientific theories, the relationships between culture and biology, the problem of progress and the extent to which evolutionary issues pose problems for religious beliefs. He identifies these issues, highlighting the problems for morality in a world governed by natural selection. By taking a philosophical viewpoint, the full ethical and moral dimensions of human evolution are examined. This book engages the reader in a thorough discussion of the issues, appealing to students in philosophy, biology and anthropology. View on Google Books the book page, the author page, or the book contents.
Evolution and social life by Tim Ingold (1987)
The concept of evolution is central in anthropology, although the meaning of the term is open to debate. This book examines the ways in which the idea of evolution has been handled in anthropology from the mid-nineteenth century to the present, and by comparing biological, historical, and anthropological approaches to the study of human culture and social life, it lays the foundation for their effective synthesis. Unique in its scope and breadth of theoretical vision, and cutting across the boundaries of natural science and the humanities, it is a major contribution both to the history of anthropological and social thought, and to the contemporary debate on the relationship between human nature, culture, and social life. View on Google Books the book page, the author page, or the book contents.
Cultural Evolution: Conceptual Challenges by Tim Lewens (2015)
Tim Lewens aims to understand what it means to take an evolutionary approach to cultural change, and why it is that this approach is often treated with suspicion. Convinced of the exceptional power of natural selection, many thinkers--typically working in biological anthropology, cognitive psychology, and evolutionary biology--have suggested it should be freed from the confines of biology, and applied to cultural change in humans and other animals. At the same time, others-typically with backgrounds in disciplines like social anthropology and history-have been just as vocal in dismissing the evolutionary approach to culture. What drives these disputes over Darwinism in the social sciences? While making a case for the value of evolutionary thinking for students of culture, Lewens shows why the concerns of sceptics should not dismissed as mere prejudice, confusion, or ignorance. Indeed, confusions about what evolutionary approaches entail are propagated by their proponents, as well as by their detractors. By taking seriously the problems faced by these approaches to culture, Lewens shows how such approaches can be better formulated, where their most significant limitations lie, and how the tools of cultural evolutionary thinking might become more widely accepted. View on Google Books the book page, the author page, or the book contents.
Darwin by Tim Lewens (2006)
In this invaluable book, Tim Lewens shows in a clear and accessible manner how important Darwin is for philosophy and how his work has shaped and challenged the very nature of the subject. Beginning with an overview of Darwinís life and work, the subsequent chapters discuss the full range of fundamental philosophical topics from a Darwinian perspective. These include natural selection; the origin and nature of species; the role of evidence in scientific enquiry; the theory of Intelligent Design; evolutionary approaches to the human mind; the implications of Darwinís work for ethics and epistemology; and the question of how social and political thought needs to be updated in the light of a Darwinian understanding of human nature. A concluding chapter assesses the philosophical legacy of Darwinís thought. Darwin is essential reading for anyone in the humanities, social sciences and sciences seeking a philosophical introduction to Darwin, or anyone simply seeking a philosophical companion to Darwinís own writings. View on Google Books the book page, the author page, or the book contents.
Evolutionary Analogies: Is the Process of Scientific Change Analogous to the Organic Change? by Barbara Gabriella Renzi and Giulio Napolitano (2011)
Advocates of the evolutionary analogy claim that mechanisms governing scientific change are analogous to those at work in organic evolution above all, natural selection. By referring to the works of the most influential proponents of evolutionary analogies (Toulmin, Campbell, Hull and, most notably, Kuhn) the authors discuss whether and to what extent their use of the analogy is appropriate. A careful and often illuminating perusal of the theoretical scope of the terms employed, as well as of the varying contexts within which the analogy is appealed to in contemporary debates, leads to the conclusion that such general theories of selective processes are either too sketchy or eventually not persuasive, if not altogether based on flawed views of evolutionary biology. By clarifying what is at stake, the analysis carried out in the book sheds new light on one of the dominant theories of scientific progress. It also invites criticism, of course but that is the very fuel of philosophical confrontation. View on Google Books the book page, the author page, or the book contents.
Biological and Cultural Evolution by Mary Midgley (1998)
Monograph for The Institute for Cultural Research. Available online. This pamphlet criticises memes. View on Google Books the book page, the author page, or the book contents.
Religious criticism
Dawkins' GOD: Genes, Memes, and the Meaning of Life by Alister McGrath (2004)
In this tour-de-force Alister McGrath approaches the edifice of self-confident, breezy atheism so effectively promoted by Richard Dawkins, and by deft dissection and argument reveals the shallowness, special-pleading and inconsistencies of his world-picture. Here is a book which helps to rejoin the magnificence of science to the magnificence of Godís good Creation. This book criticises memes. View on Google Books the book page, the author page, or the book contents.
The Dawkins Delusion?: Atheist Fundamentalism and the Denial of the Divine by Alister McGrath (2010)
2008 Christian Bookseller's Covention Book of the Year Award winner! World-renowned scientist Richard Dawkins writes in The God Delusion: "If this book works as I intend, religious readers who open it will be atheists when they put it down." The volume has received wide coverage, fueled much passionate debate and caused not a little confusion. Alister McGrath, along with his wife, Joanna, are ideal to evaluate Dawkins's ideas. Once an atheist himself, he gained a doctorate in molecular biophysics before going on to become a leading Christian theologian. He wonders how two people, who have reflected at length on substantially the same world, could possibly have come to such different conclusions about God. McGrath subjects Dawkins's critique of faith to rigorous scrutiny. View on Google Books the book page, the author page, or the book contents.
Darwinism and the Divine: Evolutionary Thought and Natural Theology by Alister McGrath (2011)
In Darwinism and the Divine is a typically thoughtful and stimulating book on a major topic. There is a huge amount to be learnt from it, and both the expert and the beginner can profit from a reading. In an age when extremists of all kinds are glossing over the really important issues, it is most welcome to have scholarship that truly moves the debate forward. This book criticises memes. View on Google Books the book page, the author page, or the book contents.
The Future of Atheism: Alister McGrath and Daniel Dennett in Dialogue by Alister McGrath (2008)
The subject of atheism has been much in the news recently with the highly publicized release of radically atheistic books. This helpful book highlights points of agreement and disagreement between Alister McGrath and Daniel Dennett on the topic of the present status of atheism and which worldview, atheism or Christianity, is preferable. American philosopher Daniel Dennett is currently the Director of the Center for Cognitive Studies and the Austin B. Fletcher Professor of Philosophy at Tufts University. Oxford theologian Alister McGrath is Professor of Historical Theology at the University of Oxford and directs its Centre for Christian Apologetics. A transcript of the dialogue featuring McGrath and Dennett on the subject allows the reader to see in print how both men present their positions in light of the other's. The volume also provides the reader with a thoughtful assessment of atheism as over against Christian atheism by an interdisciplinary team of philosophers and theologians. Robert B. Stewart is Associate Professor of Philosophy and Theology at New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary.

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