But Dawson's fellow World Cup winner and former England captain Lawrence Dallaglio remains on replacement duty for a fourth-successive Six Nations game this season, with head coach Andy Robinson retaining the back row of Joe Worsley, Lewis Moody and skipper Martin Corry.
Scrum-half Dawson, who led England the last time they beat France in Paris six years ago, replaces Harry Ellis, while prop Andrew Sheridan joins Ellis in being relegated to the bench.
Despite rave reviews for his wrecking job on the Australian scrum at Twickenham last November, Sheridan misses out in favour of fit-again Bath forward Matt Stevens.
Stevens missed England's Calcutta Cup defeat against Scotland last time out because of a shoulder injury, but he is now moved from tighthead to loosehead prop, with Leicester's Julian White retained by Robinson.
Robinson has restricted any further tinkering to the starting XV on duty at Murrayfield, limiting his surgery to two changes.
The 33-year-old Dawson wins his 76th cap, but it will be a first Six Nations start since England lost to Wales in Cardiff last season.
Lock Danny Grewcock also starts after escaping with a warning following his stamp on United States international Mike Hercus during Saturday's Powergen Cup semi-final between Bath and Llanelli Scarlets.
Leicester hooker George Chuter, who was cited for an alleged stamp on Wasps hooker Raphael Ibanez in the first semi-final and now faces a disciplinary hearing, has seen his bench spot taken by Bath's Lee Mears.
Elsewhere among the substitutes, Sheridan takes over from Perry Freshwater and Ellis switches roles with Dawson.
England team to play France in the RBS 6 Nations Championship in Paris on Sunday:
J Lewsey (Wasps); M Cueto (Sale Sharks), J Noon (Newcastle), M Tindall (Gloucester), B Cohen (Northampton); C Hodgson (Sale Sharks), M Dawson (Wasps); M Stevens (Bath), S Thompson (Northampton), J White (Leicester), S Borthwick (Bath), D Grewcock (Bath), J Worsley (Wasps), L Moody (Leicester), M Corry (Leicester, capt).
Replacements: L Mears (Bath), A Sheridan (Sale Sharks), S Shaw (Wasps), L Dallaglio (Wasps), H Ellis (Leicester), A Goode (Leicester), T Voyce (Wasps).