Numerous researchers have advanced multiple theories, attempting to explain the evolution process and the strategies that have been applied by populations over time to ensure the continuity through generations. Starting from Darwin’s theory, scientists have undertaken the pursuit of understanding how the evolution process happens over generations. Richard Dawkins advanced the evolutionary stable strategy (ESS) that argues that evolution should be studied at the gene and not at the species level.

Definition of Evolutionarily Stable Strategy (ESS)

The ESS refers to a strategy of the social behavior that, if accepted by a sufficiently large number of members of the population, cannot be superseded by any other strategy that can be developed in the population through natural selection. In any ecosystem, organisms compete for resources. Due to the scarcity of resources, individual organisms employ different tactics to enable them to compete. These tactics appear in the form of either behaviors or structures. They occur as a consequence of the evolution process, and they are passed on generationally. Maynard Smith advanced ESS in 1974, stating that the strategy chosen by any organism should win over other strategies. This strategy should also win over similar strategies being employed by rival organisms (Smith 9). The population may employ multiple strategies depending on the population’s needs. The type of ESS chosen by the population is dependent on multiple factors. In particular, the characteristics of the population determine the strategy employed. For instance, populations with genetic relatedness and small population sizes may employ different strategies as compared to unrelated and large populations (Smith 10).

Math Involved in Hawks-Doves Example

The example of Dawkins talking about individuals acting like hawks and doves demonstrates the main principles of the ESS. The hawk’s strategy is to fight as long as possible and retreat when it is badly hurt. On the other hand, the dove acts in a manner meant to threaten the opponent but retreats when the opponent approaches, without harming the opponent. In a predominantly dove population, the average chances of winning fights for resources are 50%. Doves usually lose 10 points for the waste of time and score 40 points in case they beat another dove opponent. In such a case, one may assume that the population consisting of doves will prosper (Dawkins 69). However, when a single mutant hawk is added to the population, the doves’ well-being will be put at risk because the hawk will always beat the doves. If a mutant hawk unexpectedly appears in the population, he will be able to beat the doves and will score 50 points for gaining the disputed resource. Consequently, the hawk’s gene will start spreading in the population that previously consisted only of doves. The fights will now be purely between hawks, and one will always end up being beaten and another will always score 50 points. Hawks will have a 50% chance of either winning or losing the fights (Dawkins 70). The doves’ strategies will adapt to the mutant hawk’s intrusion. On adjusting the strategy, the doves will have better chances when they are reintroduced into the hawk population because they have adjusted their strategies to accommodate the changes that have occurred (Dawkins 70).

Arguments Made by Richard Dawkins

Characteristics of Genes

As mentioned earlier, Dawkins seeks to explain evolution at the gene and not at the species level. He believes that genes possess two main characteristics, namely selfishness and fake altruism. These characteristics are especially manifested in the struggle for survival, and they allow certain genes to be superior to others. Dawkins further states that humans are born selfish and that they are inherently made to compete and defeat other individuals (2). Therefore, he calls for the teaching of both generosity and altruism. In addition, he advocates a deeper understanding of individual selfish genes, which will help people to upset the designs of those genes, which other species are unable to achieve (Dawkins 3).


Dawkins believes that organic molecules were formed during the world formation. He further states that special molecules known as replicators were formed. The distinguishing factor of these molecules was their ability to make copies of themselves. The copying process was not perfect as mistakes occurred in the evolution process. However, Dawkins thinks that the mistakes in the replication process are important to the process of evolution (28).
According to Dawkins, no organism is in favor of evolution. He states that evolution occurs in spite of the efforts of genes and replicators to prevent this from happening. He further sees the competition as an integral part of evolution. He views the primeval soup to have resource limitations as any other ecosystem. As a result, replicators increased their stability by reducing the stability of other molecules. Some of the replicators could have found ways of breaking up the rival’s molecules, as well as chemical and physical structures as a means of self-protection. Dawkins believes that in developing these mechanisms, the replicators were able to survive and were eventually able to evolve into genes and find a home in humans (28).

Body as the Survival Machines

Dawkins views genes as having immense evolutionary importance because they control the development of embryos and thus are responsible for their future survival. The survival of these genes relies on the efficiency of the bodies they inhabit and the bodies they help to develop (Dawkins 24). Thus, Dawkins views human bodies as the core survival machines for the genes. Genes are perceived as being able to live forever and, therefore, they compete for the survival with their alleles. In the gene pool, alleles compete for a position in the chromosomes of coming generations. The genes that exhibit behaviors of increasing their chances of survival in the pool at other alleles’ expense will tend to survive (Dawkins 36). Dawkins argues that genes indirectly control the behavior of their survival machines by the provision of specific behaviors and actions that help the body to survive. Though the genes affect behaviors, they are not attributed to the decision-making process of the bodies because brains are responsible for decision-making. However, the role of the genes in the decision-making process is affected by the level of development of the body’s brain. For instance, in a more developed brain, the genes have more autonomy in the decision-making process.

He further describes the manner in which birds use lies and deception to ensure their survival and not the survival of other fellow species. For instance, he describes the way a small bird may give false hawk signals to his fellow species so that he can feed more than they after they run for safety. When the birds run, he takes advantage and gains more food at the other birds’ expense (Dawkins 168).

In his book, Dawkins argues that survival machines view other survival machines outside their family as being the part of the environment. In particular, they view other survival machines as opponents in the survival struggle. Genes determine the tactics used to face opponents and the tactics used against people with similar genes are different from those of people with opposing genes (Dawkins 50). Dawkins uses the example of a bird to explain this evolution strategy. If a baby bird wants more food from the parent, he does not encourage the parent to steal from his brothers because he shares a similar gene with them; thus, he may feel altruistic toward them (Dawkins 139).

Disputes and Behavior Choice

The strategy that individuals adopt varies depending on the particular disputes in question. Dawkins differentiates two types of disputes, namely symmetric and asymmetric. Symmetric disputes are those where individuals are similar but the strategies are different. Asymmetric disputes, on the other hand, refer to disputes between individuals who have different sizes and equipment (Elsdon-Baker 90).

Darwin argues that individuals choose a behavior based on the success rate of the behavioral strategy in comparison to other strategies. He puts forward various strategies that can be applied by individuals. For instance, he views retaliators as not being aggressive attackers but as being in a position to act in a threatening manner if attacked. They choose strategies based on the behavior of the opponents and, as a result, they are conditional strategists (Elsdon-Baker 91). Dawkins also views bullies and probe retaliators as conditional strategists. Bullies launch attacks and retreat only when the opponent strikes back. Probe retaliators, on the other hand, only attack when attacked but can also initiate attacks like bullies and defend themselves when the opponents launch a strike back. The strategies for a retaliator are seen as stable ESS, the probe retaliator’s ESS is nearly stable while the bully is viewed as having an unstable strategy (Dawkins 66).

Genesmanship and Kinship

In spite of the selfish genes manifested in individuals, Dawkins argues that these individuals have relatives who share the same genes with the individuals. As a result, each selfish gene has split loyalties among its relatives. Altruistic behavior in a parent-child relationship is seen to be the most defined than in any other relationship (Dawkins 88).

In addition, Dawkins views kin selection as a type of natural selection amongst family members that is dissimilar to a group and individual selection. He views the selection to be the strongest among close kin and the weakest among kin that is not close. He also views external variables like life expectancy as contributing factors to kin selection (Dawkins 88).

Family Planning

The main strategy to ensure a moderate increase in population is birth control. Dawkins advances two theories that can be used to explain the role of selfishness and altruism. The altruism theory presupposes that males are given designated territories where they can reproduce and avoid starving any population. The second theory revolves around the selfish gene where having fewer births is seen as more favorable due to having fewer mouths to feed. Hence, dogs with fewer puppies have a higher chance of advancing their genes (Dawkins 122). Dawkins argues that the consideration of birth rate regulation is made based on both altruism and selfishness. He views birth rate regulation as an optimization made by the individual based on a cost-benefit analysis of both caring and bearing (Dawkins 122).

Generation and Gender Battle

Dawkins argues that a battle of generations exists where there is a conflict between parents and children without a clear picture of who will win. To solve the conflict, there is a need to have the ability to reach a compromise between the ideal situations wanted by the parent and the one desired by the child. Parents have more strength and knowledge while children have the ability to manipulate the parent. Dawkins provides postures an example of baby birds that cry louder to indicate dissatisfaction because they know the parent will offer them more food if they act in such a manner (139).

Moreover, according to Dawkins, there exists a conflict of interests between males and females in the environment. He sees the existence of a conflict on which genes will be entrusted to which male and female children. Though this is an unconscious decision for the parents, the gene pool assigns genes to the different genders based on the conflict (Dawkins 151).

Individuals are prone to wanting as many surviving children as possible. If people do not have to invest anything in the child, they will have more children. To achieve this, the female has to induce the sexual partner to invest more than required in the child so that the female can bear more children. Despite the desirability of this strategy, females are unable to achieve this due to the high investment they make in children (Dawkins 161).
Dawkins views female species as more prone to being blackmailed and left with children after grieving due to the higher investment that the female makes in children. As a result, females develop countermeasures to reduce such a probability. Both the strategy of domestic joy and choice of a better male have been used by females to give males incentives to stay and to advance their genes. Females have also developed a strategy of female coyness where they eliminate casual suitors by prolonging the period of courtship. Finally, they copulate with sexual partners whom they term as faithful and able to persevere living with them (Dawkins 161).

Reciprocal Altruism

Dawkins advances a concept of reciprocal altruism where he refers to altruistic relationships outside the boundaries of same species and parent-child relationships. He advances two theories of reciprocal altruism: cave theory, as well as never break ranks theory. According to the cave theory, some members of a flock or a group see a predator and send a warning signal to other members who may not have seen the predator. The never break ranks theory, on the other hand, concerns species that flee in a group when a predator approaches (Dawkins 168).

Strategies for Survival

Further, Dawkins views individuals as adopting different strategies for survival. Some are suckers while others are cheats or grudgers. Suckers offer help indiscriminately without expecting reciprocation. On the contrary, cheats expect others to offer altruistic help without offering help in return. Lastly, grudgers offer help to strangers and individuals who have offered help to them in the past; however, they do not help cheats. While being a grudger and a cheat can qualify as the ESS, being a sucker cannot be considered the one (Dawkins 184).

Birds that help one another to clean their feather of parasites and, therefore, help one another to survive can serve as a clear example of one of the issues mentioned above. Birds that help one another unconditionally are referred to as suckers. Birds that only allow others to help them and never reciprocate are referred to as cheats. Grudgers have been modeled as birds that help others but remember those that helped back. Thus, if a bird does not reciprocate, grudgers will not help that bird again (Dawkins 184).

Nice Guys Finish First

Dawkins argues that individuals possessing altruistic characteristics or, in other words, nice guys, finish first. He argues that if people use a strategy of being cooperative with other individuals, they may help them and, as a result, form a bond with persons they assisted. Consequently, they may benefit from this kinship in the future. Dawkins also views cooperation and mutual assistance as strategies that may help people to succeed even in a selfish system (223).

Vampire bats have been displayed as a clear example of the nice guy strategy. Dawkins argues that bats are known for feeding on other animals’ blood. In hard times, however, these bats are widely known for donating blood to other bats that are not related to them, especially to counter starvation. This kind of action is seen as altruistic because the action does not advance their future shared genes. However, this act creates a kinship and ensures that when the bat needs help, the ones he helped will help him in return (Dawkins 223).


Over the years, various writers have advanced criticisms against the Dawkins’ gene-centric theory of evolution. Dobbs, for instance, wrote about the rapid gene expression concept and stated that in spite of its success, the theory of the selfish gene is wrong. He argued that genes in every organism have the capability of being re-read and re-expressed with the aim of making the said organism have better chances for survival.

Apart from Dobbs, other philosophers, for instance, Richard Lewontin and Elliot Sober have objected this theory. The chief concern was the fact that it is difficult to figure out when genes work and when they do not. In addition, the existence of altruism has been referred to as a major concern in the theory.

Further, representatives of behavior genetics argue that behavior is not inherited and that the only things that are inherited are DNA molecules. They disagreed with Dawkins concerning the aspect of information passing through an individual’s body, being able to affect the individual but not being able to be affected by the individual. They further stated that genes contribute to the individuals’ behavior, but they respond to the environment of the individual in question.

Though these philosophers offer sound arguments, they did not make a valid contribution to ESS. Despite its flaws, Dawkins’ theory of selfish genes is the single theory that advances the understanding of ESS. It provides a comprehensive understanding of the genetic influence on behaviors and ways such and influence furthers the evolution of stable strategies of evolutions.

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