Monday, June 25, 2012

Evolutionary biology's raging controversy

A great article in which the eloquent and erudite evolutionary biologist Steven Pinker (yes, I am a fan) lays out his take on the current civil debate over whether our biology and minds are shaped by the selection of individual "selfish-genes" a la Richard Dawkins or by the survival selection forces generated by small groups of humans in competition with one another.

The False Allure Of Group Selection | Conversation | Edge:

'via Blog this'

In a way, it's a sign of progress to see this kind of conflict and public airing of grievances within the evolutionary biology community. One that would have been difficult to picture earlier, given that the field has been under siege since it first emerged under the rubric of social biology during the 1970s. For nearly four decades now, academics strongly opposed to the idea that biology makes significant contributions to the content of our minds have accused evolutionary biologists of everything from being crypto fascists and unrepentant misogynists to being out right advocates of genocide and defenders of corporate interests.

All of which is gruesomely absurd. Like most scientists in the US these days, evolutionary biologists tend to be the kind of moderate, secular leftists who spend way too much money on Italian-themed coffee drinks, which they consume while driving their Volvos to the university and listening to NPR in the morning. Their work thus far has presented complex and nuanced views of humanity, in which nature and nurture are intertwined, and altruism and the mechanisms of socializing that grave rise to cooperative societies are both the result and answers to survival dilemmas.

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