The Marketing Challenge of Evolution

The Denis Noble – Richard Dawkins debate is finally released. New Vanguard vs. Old Guard. It’s a marketing lesson par excellence.

Denis Noble in his debate with Richard Dawkins

The debate is online here:

Since I’m in the marketing profession I have a few comments about this. There is a marketing lesson that even a person who neither knows nor cares about the techie stuff can learn from (and non-techies can learn a great deal from this debate just by watching Denis Noble, observing how he handles himself).


Richard Dawkins wrote an insanely-popular bestseller in 1976 called The Selfish Gene, it’s sold 3 million copies making it one of the best selling science books of all time. 

It’s gorgeously written, simple, explainable, repeatable, elegant and wildly popular.

The only problem with it is that… it’s wrong. 

If you want to know exactly where it goes wrong, watch this debate. In short, it’s wrong for ALL of the usual reasons that ALL insanely popular but technically wrong narratives are wrong: It’s over-simplified, takes all kinds of shortcuts, smashes the roses in the garden… but makes a terrific story

(It’s also an atheistic religious narrative. People love to disbelieve. In fact the book is really a tract for recruiting atheist converts – a lesson that any savvy marketer should take note of.)

Selfish Gene is SO much easier to explain than any correct explanation, that even scientists who know better take the shortcuts. Furthermore it has a way of closing off questions and making it seem like it alone is The Complete and Final Explanation Of Everything. I’ve met many, many people who think exactly that.

This problem grows even worse when you try to correctly explain how evolution works and most people find that explanation to be puzzling and that it only leads to more and more questions. 

(Excellent scientific or business models always provoke more questions than answers.)

Which, once again, is the problem you face when you try to oppose wildly popular oversimplified narratives.

That means this is a marketing challenge for the pros who have chosen to be the real adults in the room, the green berets, the masters. 

What you’ll witness in this video:

-Denis has indisputable street cred. (He was on Dawkins’ PhD review committee in the 1960s) No one dares challenge his competence. In the science profession, this was a prerequisite for any David who would dare take on Goliath. INNUMERABLE people have challenged the hoary Neo-Darwinian narrative and many many scientists have lost their careers over it.

Noble, who waded into evolution’s shark infested waters after he retired, was the first challenger to have so much street cred (Fellow of the Royal Society; received a Commander of the British Empire medal from Queen Elizabeth; quasi-celebrity in British science; first person to model a human organ on a computer; reverse-engineered the cardiac rhythm which made pacemakers possible; former president of the world’s leading Physiology society) that when Neo-Darwinists accused him of being an idiot… they sounded like fools.

-Denis’s explanations are clear, simple and enjoyable to listen to.

-You will observe if you watch Dawkins’ body language that he is quite nervous. 

-If you listen closely to Dawkins, he talks in circles and the best he can manage is deflect attention to side issues.

-In marketing speak, Dawkins is a “Cash Cow” (#1 incumbent in an established, non-growing market) with a 30 year head start, and Noble is a rising Star (#1 new contender in a growing market). Underdog in every sense of the word. But he is going after a different audience, recognizing that you almost never convince The Olde Guarde to change their minds anyway. 

Noble is pursuing new markets, and this crowd at How The Light Gets In is young and receptive.

-I don’t know that you can tell by watching this video, but people who were at the live event tell me that Dawkins fans were astonished that he fared so poorly. Dawkins here shows surprising lack of knowledge of basic genetics and biology. I believe he’s been drinking his own koolaid for the last 40 years and has failed to consider that the Selfish Gene theory may need to be rubbished altogether.

-Noble is extraordinarily gracious, even asking Dawkins for a signed copy of his book. He shows himself to be unfailingly cordial during the entire exchange. This is in wild contrast to the way evolution debates are almost always conducted – attempts to destroy and skewer the opponent. 

Denis Noble again is the underdog here and has little chance of directly altering the existing pop-culture narrative that has been endlessly repeated in the press and literature for 40 years. Nevertheless he seriously intimidates his opponents in academia to the point where virtually no one is willing to oppose him head-on. 

Denis tells me that since the 2016 Royal Society Evolution conference (, his opposition has all but disappeared. 

I dislike the book “Selfish Gene” so much myself, I would have never even thought of cordially asking Dawkins to sign a copy for me. Especially on stage. But this is a shining example of where Noble knows when to stop being an idealist or scientist and be the Elder Statesman instead. 

Denis said to me after the debate, “Perry, there’s a reason why I get invited to do these things. I know how to laugh WITH my opponent rather than laugh AT them.”

In spite of Denis’s underdog status, I can assure you he is making significant headway inside the corridors of science. His efforts are producing an impact in physiology, cancer, viruses, embryonic development, infectious diseases and many other disciplines.

Denis was mobbed by fans after his talk. I hope that at 85 I’m doing stuff this cool on the world stage. Enjoy!

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One Response

  1. Mazen Afif says:

    My comment, albeit far from the insights of the post, but it may agree in other respects.
    Let’s assume that everything that surrounds us is a living being (everything that is perceived in the universe is alive being) that has its own lifestyle, language and perception, etc., but we do not realize that. Therefore, in order to create a being, it only needs permission from God by blowing into it to become a being, just as Massiah Issa (Jesus) bin Maryam was created from clay in the shape of a bird, and blown into it, God willing, to become alive being. Therefore, the spirit is the source of realization, which makes every molecule and everything in the universe live according to what it was created for, and according to what was previously prepared for it. Therefore, the cells have their own understanding of staying alive and interacting with the rest of the cells and organs for the purpose for which they were prepared, and without the will of the organism itself. Therefore, the organism is merely a several living associations in one body. For this, the life did not arise as a result of a chemical accident, but God created it and created us from a sperm, then from a clot, then made us another creation.

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