by TIMOTHY BEARDSLEY, Scientific American, 1149 National Press
Building, Washington DC 20045, U.S.A.
From selfishness to compassion
"Know thyself" is the famous advice of the oracle at Delphi; but as the disorienting philosophical impact of natural selection has spread, we have not much felt like knowing ourselves, being fearful of what we might discover. Despite some skirmishes on the fringes, there has been no serious challenge to modern evolutionary theory, and books such as Richard Dawkins's The Selfish Gene have impressed into the public mind the image of life's unthinking dance to the music of DNA. Dawkins and others of a sociobiological cast of mind have taken care to point out that if their doctrine seems to justify callous exploitation, it should not: humans, alone in the animal kingdom, can choose to fight the horrors of nature's way rather than perpetuate them. Nonetheless, the Darwinian revolution has often seemed a depressing one.
Robert Wright is fully aware of how far genes' malign influence extends into our lives and our innermost thoughts: he accepts that people are "basically selfish". Dismissing the notion that Darwinian insights have little relevance to modern society, he pursues natural selection's often unpalatable effect on our minds to its logical conclusion. "I think we are more in danger of underestimating the enemy than overestimating it," Wright explains. Yet his analysis steers well clear of the intellectually and morally bankrupt notions of "social Darwinism" and its converse, behaviorism. And it is in a curious way inspiring, because by highlight ing Homo sapiens's most wicked inclinations it shows how some of them might be tamed.
Wright first follows DNA's trail of blood and tears to the battle of the sexes. His provocative survey of findings from "evolutionary psychology" on sex and marriage would itself be enough for a remarkable book. Wright picks up where Robert Trivers, the inventor of an important concept known as parental investment, left off. Trivers drew attention to the fact that cost of a single act of procreation, in terms of diminished expectations for future reproduction, is in most animals much smaller for males than it is for females. That difference seems to explain why it is usually males who compete for females, and not vice versa. Wright uses this idea to conduct an audit of public and private sexual morality. He visits Victorian England (where Charles and Emma Darwin are the prize exhibits) as well as the contemporary U.S., stopping on the way to look at Margaret Mead's mistaken conclusions about coming of age in Samoa.
Wright does not shrink from moralizing. A moral code is "an informal compromise among competing spheres of genetic self-interest". His thinking leads in some unexpected directions. There is "a virtual genetic conspiracy to depict sexually loose women as evil", since parents of pretty girls as well as happily married women perceive an atmosphere of promiscuity as inimical to their interests, while men shun women who are too readily available as marriage partners. Yet "If you believe, as most people seem to, that it is immoral to cause others pain by implicitly or explicitly misleading them, you might be more inclined to condemn the sexual looseness of men than of women." A different kind of social cement, that of reciprocal altruism, can be simply summed up as "You scratch my back, I'll scratch yours". Reciprocal altruism appears to oblige us to be helpful, or at least fair, to our fellows as well as our kin. But this obligation is actually a lesser one: it is merely to give the appearance of having helped. And so we tirelessly strive to present ourselves as epitomes of decency, and our consciences make sure we stick to the story - at least enough to preserve our image. "Is there a single culture in which neglecting a friend is a guiltless and widely approved behavior?" Wright demands.
Seeking social status - a proxy for control over physical resources and sexual opportunity - is one of the games people play almost every where. Not everyone consciously indulges in social climbing, but a thirst for approval appears early in life. We like to leave a good impression, so much so that "we deceive ourselves in order to deceive others better". That startling idea was first aired by Trivers and Richard Alexander in the 1970s, but Wright grabs it and runs. "It goes without saying that the fish got away through no fault of the fisherman's. The assignment of blame and of credit, an area where objective truth is elusive, offers rich terrain for self-inflation".
We may indeed all crave social status, but we can be persuaded to accept different tokens of that status. Darwinism does not put insurmountable obstacles in the way of improving society in a way most people would want. Which way would most people want? Not one to duck a challenge, Wright produces a formula: that of John Stuart Mill's utilitarianism, which seeks the greatest happiness of the greatest number. It's unquestionably fair, and only a few "die-hard nihilists" who deny that there's anything good about happiness are likely to object. This sounds like the way to unprincipled hedonism, but it isn't. The utilitarian advantages of cooperation with our fellow human beings far outweigh the disavantages of becoming known as a cheat and a turncoat, so it's very much in our interest to join the morality club. But the very last place we should look for guidance on morality is our instincts, fashioned as they are to delude us with feelings of righteous indignation and lust for retribution, not to mention plain lust.
Pursuing morality with the more objective guide of the utilitarian calculus leads to a surprising result: "You should, in short, go through life considering the welfare of everyone else exactly as important as your own welfare". To the religious, that might have a familiar ring, but Wright is as skeptical about religion as he is about human nature. He is a determinist: we are determined jointly by our genes and our environment, and free will is an illusion. This line of thinking leads quickly to an engaging perspective on criminal justice: blame is an intellectually vacuous (although practically necessary) concept. "...I do believe," Wright concludes, "that most people who clearly understand the new Darwinian paradigm and earnestly ponder it will be led toward greater compassion and concern for their fellow human beings."
This journey from selfishness to compassion makes The Moral Animal more than just a well-written book about a fascinating, if immature, science. It is an important defense against the charge by religious and political zealots that Darwinism is somehow immoral. For that reason if for no other, biologists would do well to be aware of it. Fundamentalism is in the ascendant in the U.S. and around the world, and Darwin's ideas have never been popular in such circles. Efforts to suppress the teaching of evolution have gained strength in the past couple of years. The next couple of years could see swingeing budget cuts imposed on biological research by its ideological opponents. Now is no time to be complacent about science's hallowed place in society.
Parts of Wright's book can be criticized as overplaying the precision of the genetic machinery that pulls our strings. Wright's struggle to account for homosexuality, for example, whereby a substantial minority of the population forgoes any prospect of getting its genes into the next generation, is less than entirely convincing. His preferred explanation cites the impressive malleability of the mind; but malleability in that degree is not easily reconciled with the sort of fine-grained examination of behavior Wright offers in his dissection of the evolutionary logic behind Darwin's decision to marry. The ideas in the first half of the book are explored patiently, but in the final chapters the pace picks up to that of a whirlwind that might leave any reader gasping for air.
The author's deductions about morality place him politically neither on the left nor the right. There is a conservative flavor to some of his ideas about sex, but Wright's views on social issues are distinctly unconservative. The lack of an obvious political constituency may be part of the reason why, despite favorable reviews, Wright's book has not captured as much attention as it deserves. Unselfishness is a hard sell. I think The Moral Animal sits quite well with communitarianism, the would-be social movement founded by Amitai Etzioni that stresses the need to balance rights with responsibilities. I have no idea whether either Etzioni or Wright would be complimented by that suggestion.
Wright's book is not the first to set the ideas of evolutionary psychology before a public audience. But the breadth of its scope and the sharp ness of its insights make it the most impressive attempt yet to reconcile Darwinism with hopes for a more humane world.
by LAURA BETZIG, Evolution and Human Behavior, University of
Michigan, 1524 Rackham Building, ANN ARBOR, MI 48109-1079, U.S.A.
Robin Fox is a scholar. In this, his tenth book, his reading ranges from
stock social science (from Marx and Engels and Weber and Freud, to
Morgan, Maine, Bachofen and McLennan, to Lévi-Strauss, Radcliffe-
Brown, Malinowski, Murdock, Gluckman, Goody and Gellner), to the
literature on attachment (Bowlby, Harlow, Klaus & Kennell), to Lawrence
Friedman on American law, to Alan McFarlane on English individualism,
to philosophy (from Plato to Locke to Rawls) to Greek tragedy to an
eclectic mix of his "first love" (pers. comm.), English literature.
The writing ranges as well. The four essays that make up Reproduction & Succession are about Mormon polygyny ("The Case of the Polygynous Policeman"), to surrogate motherhood ("The Case of the Reluctant Gene trix"), Antigone ("The Virgin and the Godfather: Kinship Law versus State Law in Greek tragedy and after"), and mothers' brothers ("Sisters' Sons and Monkeys' Uncles: Six Theories in Search of an Avunculate").
But it's all wrapped up in one theme. And that theme is, variously put, Maine's transition from status to contract, or the triumph of culture over nature(?), or the issue of kinship versus the state. The last comes closest to Fox's. The big conflict in Western history has not, he says, been be tween individuals and states, but between the states and families. As he puts it, "The state, despite its persecution of the individual from time to time, is much happier with individuals as units than with kinship groups for the simple reason that they are easier to control" (p. 184). So, in the 20th century US, Mormon polygyny is discouraged in favor of monogamy, nursing babies are taken from their mothers in support of surrogate contracts, and extended family ties - like mothers' brothers - are hard er to find. Sophocles anticipated all this: "Antigone is not challenging the state in the name of individual conscience; she is... doing her utmost to fulfill her duties to her kin group" (p. 150).
It's an important point. And it raises an important question. Why did individuals ever sacrifice their kin - their mothers' brothers, their nursing babies, their extra wives - in the first place? Fox doesn't answer it; but he does contradict the answer I happen to like. In the 1878 Reynolds v U.S.A. Supreme Court decision, Chief Justice Waite upheld the Morrill Act's polygyny ban on the following grounds:
In fact, accordingly as monogamous or polygamous marriages are allowed, do we find the principles on which the Government of the People to a greater or less extent, rests.
Polygamy leads to the patriarchal principle, and which, when applied to large communities, fetters the people in stationary despotism while that principle cannot long exist in connection with monogamy.
To Fox, this is "simply silly" (p. 30). To me, it's demonstrably true.
Across species, across societies and across history, reproductive inequality and political
inequality are often one and the same.
In spite of that, this is a readable book. It focuses a vast scatter of information onto one important point. It's well written. And, to its credit, it advocates application. As Fox puts it in the Preface, "Still, the aim of most social scientists who still consider themselves such (scientists, that is) is ... to influence, propose, evaluate, and generally be involved with legislation." If our scholarship, and our science, are good enough, we ought to be able to make that kind of contribution.
by ATHANASIOS CHASIOTIS, Department of Psychology, University
of Osnabrück, Seminarstr. 20, FRG-69069 Osnabrück.
A few decades ago, the Fromm-Reichmann (1948) concept of the "schizophrenogenic mother"
on the one hand and M. Meads (1949) assertion that
fatherhood is a "social construction" on the other implied either that
there were no fathers unless a culture "constructed" them or that fathers
did not have any relevant impact on the development of children. Even
in evolutionary biology the proverbial "paternal uncertainty" of the male
sex and the notion that the male sex is only a hormonally caused aberration of the female sex
could be misunderstood in such a way that father
hood could be neglected. However, one of the most important reasons to
focus on fatherhood lies in the increasing insight in the evolutionary
heritage of human parenting in which fatherhood may have been and,
thus, still is crucial. Furthermore, nowadays it has become a bit delicate
to focus exclusively on the female sex: an exclusive study of the mother's
contribution (e.g. to child psychopathology) probably will be described as
a sexist bias ("mother blaming", cf. Phares, 1992).
Fathering, thus, does indeed matter. This simple statement about the male contribution to parenting is the result of a still ongoing struggle to create an appropriate image of human parenting. In this respect, John Snarey's book "How Fathers Care For The Next Generation" is extraordinary valuable considering the data base of his study alone: a longitudinal predictive study which covers four generations. In the late 1930s, 500 caucasian, lower middle class US-school boys at the age of 14 were in cluded as a control group to the famous delinquency study of Sheldon and Eleanor Glueck and reinterviewed at the age of 25 and 31. George Vaillant, John Snarey and their colleagues later gathered data of these men at the age of 47 and 52. Finally, data of the adult children of the Glueck subjects were also gathered. As a consequence of the require ments of longitudinal investigations, 240 fathers with their families were the study's core sample. Thus, complementary to evolutionary thinking, instead of investigating "dysfunctional" families or environments to explain "good" parenting (e.g. Daly & Wilson, 1988), "normal" fathering builds the data basis of this study.
This book consists of one introductory chapter, five empirical chapters alternating with four life-stories of particular father-child relationships and one concluding chapter. The empirical studies investigate a wide range of interesting research questions concerning e.g. the consequences of fathering for the children as young adults (Ch. 6) and early childhood antecedents of fathering (Ch. 10). These statistically careful studies are elegantly balanced by the four qualitative chapters which reach the aim "to put human faces on the statistical findings" (Snarey, 1993, p. 30).
Concerning the results of this unique study - as could be expected by experienced students of fathering - intergenerational and intraindividual continuity could not always be found. Interesting questions (e.g., what makes some men imitate the poor performances of their fathers and how could some other men compensate these poor performances) still remain unanswered. On the other hand, considering the socioeconomic and political events during these four decades (e.g. Great Depression, Second World War, Vietnam) it is remarkable how much continuity can be found.
It also remains an open question if the seemingly lack of continuity is due to conceptual shortcomings. Students interested in formulating sociobiological reinterpretations of the findings are kindly invited to do so since many findings can be placed in an evolutionary perspective. To mention only one example, it is interesting to note that it could repeatedly be found that "the quality of marital relationships is linked more closely to parent-child-relationships for men than it is for women" (Snarey, 1993, p. 89) which is in line with the arguments of e.g. MacDonald (1992, p. 757) that "the (...) explanation for the evolution of the human affectional system is that it evolved as a mechanism for underlying close family relationships (and) paternal investment (...)". Since these are only correlational and not causal explanations, Snarey discusses the possibility that the "marital relations were a function (...) of the fathers' childrearing participation" (Snarey, 1993, p. 117). This could mean that paternal investment depends more on the quality of the marital relation than maternal investment, and that females, on the other hand, appreciate high paternal investment. Additionally, K-strategic patterns of fathering can be found in the fact that "contrary to popular prejudice, career success (...) and closeness to children (...) were signifi cantly correlated" (Snarey, 1993, p. 93) and support for the acquisition of the reproductive strategy of the same-sex parent by the child - as it is assumed e.g. by the evolutionary model of socialization by Belsky, Stein berg & Draper, 1991 - could also be found (Snarey, 1993, pp. 304-306). But besides the opportunity for fruitful integrating thoughts, the biggest advantage for (socio-)biologically oriented students might be the demonstration of the complexity and diversity of human motivation and behavior which most probably can be shown best with longitudinal data. While psychologists might be impressed by intraindividual continuity and by similar interindividual patterns, (socio-)biologically oriented scientists might be astonished at how many different developmental pathways can be identified which hardly fit in ad-hoc trials to link proximate to ultimate causes ("just-so"-stories).
However, there are a few disadvantages which should also be considered. Departing from an Eriksonian developmental perspective, the theoretical concepts such as parental "generativity" on which the interviews are based add little to our understanding of parenting. Of course, the validity of interview or questionnaire data is always questionable, the sample is not representative, and even the operationalization of the interview categories is sometimes critical: E.g. the item "plays (...) peek-a-boo" is listed as an example for "support of social-emotional development", the item "plays with and responds to baby's sounds" as an example for "support of intellectual-academic development" (Snarey, 1993, p. 46) which could also be categorized vice versa. But despite these shortcomings, this book is highly appreciated for its carefully done empirical analyses in combination with anecdotal material.
This book is very well written. Anyone who ever had to deal with longitudinal data can imagine how difficult it is to gather and explain findings of four decades. John Snarey also masters their presentation in an admirable way.
Belsky, J., Steinberg, L. & Draper, P. (1991). Childhood experience, interpersonal
development, and reproductive strategy: An evolutionary
theory of socialization. Child Development, 62, 647-670.
Daly, M. & Wilson, M. (1988). Homicide. New York: Aldine de Gruyter.
Fromm-Reichmann, F. (1948). Notes on the development of treatment of shizophrenics by psychoanalytic psychotherapy. Psychiatry, 11, 263-273.
MacDonald, K. B. (1992). Warmth as a developmental construct: An evolutionary analysis. Child Development, 63, 753-773.
Mead, M. (1949). Male and female. New York: Morrow.
Phares, V. (1992). Where's Poppa? The relative lack of attention to the role of fathers in child and adolescent psychopathology. American Psychologist, 47, No. 5, 656-664.
by PETER A. CORNING, Institute for the Study of Complex Systems,
560 Waverley Street, Ste. 202, Palo Alto, CA 94301, U.S.A.
Stanley Salthe's newest book represents a second installment in a remark
able intellectual odyssey. While many emeritus professors are content to
write an occasional article or a bland summation (or defense) of their
life's work, Salthe has undertaken a bold and demanding journey to the
frontiers of evolutionary theory. For many years a professor of developmental biology at
Brooklyn College of the City University of New York
and the author in the 1970s of a respected textbook, Salthe has surprised
many of his colleagues first by joining and then becoming a leader in a
rebellion against the dominant paradigm of his discipline, a rebellion that
has been fed by, among other things, the ideas and perspectives of
systems science, self-organization theory, structuralism, semiotics, thermodynamics and what
some have called `infodynamics.' Thus liberated
from the confines of his discipline, Salthe has himself become a paradigm
for evolutionary theorists.
Salthe's 1985 volume on hierarchy theory, Evolving Hierarchical Systems, was (inter alia) a full-length response to the reductionism of the `selfish gene' paradigm. Now Salthe has gone much further, and deeper. In this volume he takes up the broader challenge of explaining the evolution of complexity. The dust jacket blurb describes the book as "revolutionary... another paradigm [of evolution]." However, I would characterize Development and Evolution as, perhaps, a proto-paradigm - somewhere between an excursus on various issues in epistemology, the philosophy of science and evolutionary theory, on the one hand, and a truly novel synthesis that redefines our understanding of the evolutionary process.
Salthe weaves together several related themes, among them: The need for biologists to be more self-critical about their methodologies and to take more seriously the criticisms of various philosophers of science and semioticians; the inadequacy of the `classical' positivist, reductionist approach to science as a framework for understanding complexity; the need for a multi-leveled, hierarchical model of causation in evolutionary theory. But most important is Salthe's extended argument for the use of a developmental paradigm in evolutionary theory. In a nutshell, what he proposes is that complexity is the result of an irreversible, self-organizing developmental process that has been driven by thermodynamics and is focussed on the historical accumulation of information. He sees classical selection processes as secondary in importance. Though his thesis is not original, he does expand significantly on the work of various colleagues.
As one would expect, Salthe's bibliography encompasses an eclectic, multi-disciplinary literature, ranging from Aristotle and Hegel to Ilya Prigogine and Herman Haken. His scholarship is profound, and he brings to his exegesis a professional biologist's knowledge of living systems. There are many interesting insights; connections are made that he is uniquely positioned to recognize; and his critique of his own discipline and its way of doing science deserves to be taken to heart.
This is not the place to undertake a detailed discussion of Salthe's argument, but several brief comments may be in order. One problem, in this reviewer's judgment, is that Salthe does not seem to be sufficiently critical of some of his core concepts, like `information' and `entropy.' For instance, like others in the thermodynamic/entropic school of evolution ists, he seems to associate information only with structural phenomena (thermodynamically `significant arrangements') rather than with functional (cybernetic) control processes. But then I admit to attending a different `school.'
Another shortcoming is that Salthe, inexplicably, does not address systematically one of the major objections to any orthogenetic paradigm but especially to one that is focussed on thermodynamics. How does such a model explain blind alleys, extinctions, simplifications and other deviations from the main course? Equally important, how can a non-functional, non-selectionist theory explain the prevalence of adaptation - functional designs that are specific to the needs of a given organism in a given environment?
In the same vein, Salthe acknowledges in several places the important role of synergistic phenomena (including the subset known as `emergent' phenomena) in the evolution of complexity, as proposed in my volume The Synergism Hypothesis (1983), but he evidently failed to see that this important `mechanism' of complexification is perfectly consistent with a functionalist, selectionist model; it broadens but preserves the essence of Darwin's original vision. (Indeed, Salthe's despair over Darwinian explanations leads him to explore such options as a Hegelian dialectic, but in fact synergistic transformations can be simulated mathematically as `dynamical attractors' in what Stuart Kauffman has aptly called `anti-chaos' models.)
A final criticism is stylistic in nature. Salthe's prose is often discursive and sometimes difficult to follow. It is pitched at a very high level of abstraction, as if addressed to a limited audience of philosophers of science, or structuralists, or entropists (if such a word exists). It also employs an idiosyncratic word usage that, at times, makes his meanings needlessly obscure. Thus, he describes something as having been `accessed' when he really means `created' or `evolved.' An observer is described as being `redundant' when he is only unnecessary. And is the word `entification' really necessary?
Nevertheless, Development and Evolution is an important contribution to the burgeoning science of complexity. It is a major achievement.
by STEPHEN J. POPE, Theology Department, Boston College, CHEST
NUT HILL, MA 02167-3806, U.S.A.
Prof. Philip Hefner's The Human Factor offers a thoughtful and extended
dialogue between evolutionary theory and Christian theology. This book
represents years of research and reflection by an accomplished theologian
from the Lutheran seminary in Chicago, Illinois. Hefner, like other theologically liberal
Protestants, strives to indicate the relevance of contemporary culture to Christian beliefs and symbols. Religion must be "commensurate with" the
findings of science but the former cannot be identified
with the latter. While theological fundamentalists like the so-called "creationists" oppose
orthodox Christianity to contemporary evolutionary
theory, Hefner insists that the latter can inform and enrich the former.
Indeed, theology, "faith seeking understanding," necessarily draws from
contemporary science (though not only from science) knowledge of the
world and human behavior. By extension, theology must be open to
information and insights forthcoming from sociobiology, properly understood as science rather
than as metaphysics or ethics.
Hefner integrates science and religion by assigning to them different functions. Science is the greatest source of knowledge we have regarding the structures and processes of nature, including human nature. Hefner is steeped in evolutionary theory, anthropology, and the philosophy of science. Religion, and especially its myths and rituals, provides broader meaning and coherence to human life than can be provided by the sciences themselves. Religion emerges from all cultures because human beings naturally seek to orient themselves to whatever they conceive as "ultimate reality." Religion does not provide the best explanation of the workings of the natural work but it does interpret the relevance of these structures and processes for human life. The central role of theology is precisely to explore ways in which religious beliefs, practices, and experiences are to be properly interpreted and understood. For Hefner, this means in part that properly interpreted religion will never deny what is affirmed by science.
Hefner regards evolution as the means employed by God for the creation of life forms in all their diversity. Human beings are continuous with other species. We are thoroughly natural creatures, shaped by genes as well as culture and continually manifesting the primordial legacy bequeathed to us by our prehuman ancestors. Human beings are also "unique" as self-aware creators of culture. Our emergence marks a new level of freedom and responsibility. We not only wield increasing power over the planet, we can also deliberately choose either to protect or to destroy aspects of our natural environment.
Accepting Boyd and Richerson's "dual inheritance" model, Hefner believes that religion needs to be appreciated as the element of culture which provides a coherent "world view" as well as motivates moral commitments. The Human Factor argues that Christian myth and ritual can and ought to be interpreted in ways that promote a proper awareness of our integral place in the natural world and a more adequate sense of human ecological responsibility. He takes his theological bearings primarily from religious rituals and the stories (or myths) that they depict rather than from abstract doctrines or conceptions about the divine. As a believer, Hefner believes that the former communicate truths about the ultimate framework of meaning for the world but he does not believe in their literal truth, e.g., that God created the universe in six days. The heart of Hefner's theological position is the belief that human beings have emerged from within and for the sake of the natural world. God intends the well-being of the cosmos, and the central purpose of human life is to contribute to this end.
Religious construals of the world and human life may at times function to encourage adaptive behaviors. Unlike philosopher Michael Ruse, who argues that religion has been valuable when it has deceived believers into behavior that is adaptive, Hefner is a religious believer who acknowledges the existence, benevolence, and creative power of a personal God. Religion encourages behavior that sometimes promotes the survival and flourishing of human communities, but its deepest appeal is that it provides an overarching framework of meaning for human behavior. He believes that human beings have an elemental desire to live in accordance with "the ways things really are" and that religious myths and rituals fulfill this desire more effectively that do any other sources.
Unlike E. O. Wilson, Hefner does not think it necessary or helpful to suggest that science must construct new myths to replace the religious myths of the past. Hefner believes that the old myths can be properly interpreted in ways that can provide a plausible framework for religious and moral meaning today. Thus the venerable Christian symbols of "creation," "fall," and "grace" indicate, respectively, that human beings are created by God through natural processes, constituted by an ambiguous attraction to evil as well as good, and supported by the divine to live in harmony with what "really is." His theological approach is clearly "liberal" in that he rejects literalistic interpretations of these myths, yet he is not characterized properly as "secular" because he believes that genuine revelation of the divine is communicated in these myths. The myth of Original Sin, for example, expresses not a particular discrete event in our primordial past but the common human experiences of disordered desires for sensual gratification, excessive self-preference, imbalanced familialism, etc. Accordingly, Christian morality based in the "love command" (or agape) corrects some of the narrowness of natural human inclinations by inculcating "transkin altruism" (p. 192). Religious symbols draw an explicit connection between life experiences and their deeper meaning in the wider human and natural world.
Sociobiologists, of course, can admit that religion speaks of "ultimacy" while simply regarding its claims as "unfalsifiable" and therefore as "beyond the pale" of what ought to be considered plausible by reason able, scientifically-informed people. Hefner is aware of the positivist tendencies of most sociobiologists. Myths and religious symbols are, to be sure, vastly "underdetermined" by scientific data. Affirming their mean ingfulness is an act of faith but not a Kierkegaardian irrational "leap of faith." Hefner believes that morality and "counter-hedonic" behavior is much more consistent with the Christian symbol of "creation" - bearing the message that the natural world is a coherent whole created by a benevolent divinity - than it is with the meaningless and incoherent world implied in atheism. Hefner thus advocates a moral rather than scientific justification for faith: belief in a benevolent God provides the advantage of justifying morality. Religion thus offers a different kind of plausibility than that provided by science. For Hefner, religion "makes sense" to the believer living within its "sacred canopy." A degree of plausibility might be provided to the unbelieving external observer when he or she can recognize that religion motivates behavior which is "whole some" (p. 205). Hefner does not consider counter-evidence in this regard, i.e., religiously generated behavior that is "unwholesome" (e.g., religious wats, intolerance, etc.) but presumably he would regard these cases as displaying corruptions of religion rather than genuine expressions. For the believer, altruistic love "makes sense" because it is "in accord with the way things really are" (p. 209).
Two rejoinders would no doubt be forthcoming from the sociobiologist (presumed not to be a believer). First, practical advantages provided by religion do not prove it to be true, only useful. Hefner thus invalidly infers truth from utility. Second, belief in "the beneficent power of the reality system," otherwise known as the "goodness of God" is belied by the ruthless and indiscriminate workings of nature, the pervasive "evil" of nature classically illustrated in the predatory behavior of the ichneumons.
Hefner does not fully take up these or similar criticisms, but he does provide some indication of how he might respond to them. The first criticism might be addressed through his use of the Lakatosian philosophy of science, and specifically by arguing that the existence of a benevolent God is the "hard core" of his theory that can be neither falsified nor verified. This "hard core," however, provides auxiliary insights regarding the multitude of ways in which the natural world is the scene for and provides the means by which human beings and other creatures survive and reproduce. "At the end of the day," he writes, "one must simply acquiesce to the fact that it is equally reasonable to believe or to disbelieve in God and the triumph of goodness, and choose for one of the other on the basis of the overall cogency or lack of persuasiveness of the program" (p. 271). For Hefner nature both bears down on us and provides the conditions for our flourishing and both features are consistent with a benevolent deity, though not with "the best of all possible worlds."
To the second criticism (regarding evil in nature), Hefner seems to hold that the "good" of nature regards the good of the "whole" and not the good of all of its individual "parts." Nature is clearly not always "friendly" to every organism, an impossibility that would forbid evolution itself. The "good" of evolution lies in the emergence of life in all its diversity, plenitude, and complexity. Hefner's good appears to be more aesthetic than moral, but it includes in a significant way the moral good that accompanies the evolution and eventual civilization of Homo sapiens. In a line of reasoning too sophisticated to faithfully replicate here, Hefner points to the moral nobility of human altruism as a practical indication of the height to which the evolutionary process has developed. Cynics will always find reasons for not believing in the existence (let alone divine inspiration) of genuine altruism, but Hefner believes that the evolution of "transkin altruism" in human beings testifies to the beneficence of the Creator as well as to the inventiveness of culture.
To conclude, Hefner's The Human Factor presents an extended, thoughtful, and constructive reflection on the interplay of evolutionary theory and religion. Members of the ESS would benefit greatly from reading this volume for a number of reasons. It presents a theoretically sophisticated understanding of Christianity which might correct some of the crude interpretations common to sociobiological treatments of this subject matter. Hefner demonstrates that it is possible to endorse Christian faith without embracing superstition or fundamentalism. The author is well versed in evolutionary theory and sociobiology and he strives mightily to find "common good" without distorting either approach to human nature. Whether he does so might be a disputed question raised by advocates of both camps, but his effort at "cross-pollination" is to be admired and emulated. Given the importance of both of these perspectives in the contemporary world, we would be better of if more theologians and more sociobiologists would commit themselves to a similar enterprise.
by GUY RICHARDS, 327, 666 Leg-in-Boot Square, Vancouver, B.C. V5Z
We have but one world; we should be careful with it. Anyone who
agrees will love this book, whose every page is almost too full of important facts and wise
arguments. Hardin has long been a champion of
honest simple reasoned thinking about population and ecology. His
famous essay `The Tragedy of the Commons' emphasizes that where
costs (of grazing) are born in common, and profit (of cattle fed) goes to
the private farmer, the resource (pasture) will be overgrazed and the land
degraded. This applies to publicly owned forests cut by private logging
companies, to fish and whales in the common ocean harvested by the
fleets of rival nations, and wherever costs are commonized and profits
are privatized (the CC-PP game). This is a strong argument against subsidy - agricultural
subsidies especially, but who has the courage to
Humans are not exceptional with respect to population and food. Like other animals people are made of food, and when populations grow, more food is being turned into more people, and it must come from somewhere as close to the consumer as possible. Those dependent on food from another country are in a precarious position, and the next generation is likely to be more numerous and hence even more dependent. It's another form of subsidy, and the cost comes out of the farmed soil of the donor country and the energy consumed in transport to the distant consumers.
A taboo has long inhibited discussion of population, originally in part because of a taboo surrounding the frank discussion of sex. We can sympathize with those in the past inhibited by this difficulty, but the taboo continues to the present day for more sinister reasons. Much has been written on ecology in the last 20 years about the disappearance of forests, fisheries and other species, with scarcely a word about the spread of humans, our cattle and our machine progeny as the primary cause of this environmental damage. Many good thinking environmentally concerned people are puzzled by the steady worsening of pollution and the accumulation of garbage in overburdened land-fills, because they may be unaware of the steady growth of population even in so called developed countries. But powerful forces have an interest in keeping people puzzled about population. The Vatican does not wish to admit it has been wrong about contraception and abortion, and ideologues of both right and left have their reasons for dissuading people from thinking clearly about the subject. Manufacturers like to see more buyers of their products whether they come as babies or immigrants; continued economic growth, the conversion of trees into houses, of iron ore into motor cars, is seen as good at all times. While those on the left like to see plenty of union jobs and union rank-and-file; and in academia `conspicuous benevolence' with public money of which Marxism is an extreme form, earns kudos.
No escape into space
Hardin dismisses ideas that encourage complacency about population. The stars offer no way out. Venus, he rightly points out, has an impossible climate. He is a little too hard on the Moon and Mars, although for practical purposes he is right. Sometime in the next century it may be possible to establish a small research colony on the Moon and even conceivably on Mars, but the material cost of getting there rules out any mass migration. The Ship is a classical science fiction story by Mike Symak about a community migrating to another star system. Symak and Hardin agree that the journey would last many generations, all members of which would have to be scrupulously careful to have no more than 2 children and be perfect at recycling garbage. Such exemplary self-discipline would make them ideal citizens to stay on spaceship Earth, no need to export them, and much easier to persuade the rest of us sloppy over- breeders to be prudent reproducers and recyclers - admittedly difficult enough - than to send anyone to the stars.
More intriguing is Hardin's analysis of mistaken theories held by many social scientists, even by a few demographers. If you look at the population statistics of the countries of the world you find that the `less devel oped' (politically correct term for `poor') have high growth rates and the `more developed' (PC for `rich') have much lower growth rates. It's worth spending some time on this because many clever people say `Ha, there's a correlation between poverty and high growth rates, therefore poverty causes high growth rates.' With this belief go others held by many intellectuals: (1) Poor people have many children in order to make up for a high infant mortality; (2) better child survival will cause birth rates to fall; (3) food and development are the best contraception. The trouble with all these beliefs is that they are plausible, but they obscure the real direct causes of population change. Poverty never increased anyone's fertility - except in that it may have hindered their contraceptive response to better survival of their children. Most demographers agree that the fast growth of less developed countries is because fewer children die than formerly, because they are getting more food than formerly and conditions are somewhat better, and parents have not been able to re-adjust their reproductive habits to the new situation.
The child survival hypothesis
(1) To say that parents have many children in order to offset the high infant mortality implies more knowledge of demography and control of their own fertility than most parents, even the most calculating couples, are likely to have. It implies that less developed countries enjoyed an earlier period in which infant mortality was lower than now and contraception was practiced, but now with less food and rising infant mortality parents decide to refrain from contraception in order to make up for increasing loss of children. Most demographers agree that this is not the right picture of the past, and more conceiving is not a good response to a shortage of food. It leads to more spontaneous abortions and infant deaths and maternal morbidity, at best a dangerous waste of female energy. By contrast the countries of eastern Europe are now responding to poverty by careful contraception and actually reducing their populations.
(2) `Better child survival will lower birth rates' (the Child Survival Hypothesis) is wrong. It is desirable but it is not contraceptive. Eventually parents may respond to their larger families by contracepting more effec tively, but the present fast rate of world population growth (nearly 90 million per year) is in large part because more food is being turned into more people and children are surviving better and old people are living longer.
(3) `Food and development are the best contraceptive.' They are not. They may be desirable for other reasons, but they are not contraceptive. The immediate effects of better nutrition are fewer spontaneous abortions, fewer infant and child deaths and therefore population growth. Eventually, again, parents may respond contraceptively but there is a lag of one or more generations before this occurs; meanwhile population grows.
The population changes described above are summarized by the theory of demographic transition. Countries are seen as passing from an earlier stable state of high birth rates compensated by high death rates, through a stage of lower death rates, but persisting high birth rate, and consequent population growth, to a new stable state of low death rate compensated by low birth rate. As social theories go this is a good one for explaining a lot of social changes, but it does not do much explaining of demographic changes. So Hardin doesn't think much of it as a theory, but I think of it just as a useful descriptive generalization. He credits French demographer Adolphe Landry writing in 1934. I would have credited pioneer American demographer Warren Thompson (1929) who recognized that countries fall into three groups according to their stage in what we now call the demographic transition.
Wilson (1975) uses the word intercompensation for a necessarily limited period in which population controls are not compensated, so that births exceed deaths, because some sovereign population control has been lifted. Population therefore increases until some new density dependent control operates more forcefully at a higher population density. This is close to what Hardin calls the `demostat', and the demographic transition can be seen as a special case of intercompensation. For most species most of the time food is the sovereign population control, but at high densities depletion of other resources, pollution, infectious diseases, conflict, spontane ous abortions, lack of safe sleeping sites and predation (e.g. crime) may operate. The essentially kind, but often much maligned, Reverend Thomas Robert Malthus in 1798 saw misery resulting from pressure from any of these density dependent population controls.
The application of science to industry, agriculture and medicine, and the vigorous consumption of fossil energy have temporarily lifted some population controls. Malthus (1798) had the misfortune to write just as British industrialization was taking effect and to some extent relieving the pressure of these controls which he saw as the cause of misery. He had the diagnosis right, but his prescription of late marriage and `moral restraint' was not popular. Advocates of present pain for future gain seldom are. His essay written in response to radical utopians such as Godwin and Condorcet earned him much bitter criticism. Population has been a neglected topic. Intellectuals do not like being reminded that they should have been thinking about it all along.
Hardin suggests that some cultural artifacts may serve as more benign population controls, for example a shortage of houses or motor cars, and attractive careers for women. The aim of keeping one's family mobile, and therefore small enough to fit in a car, is a potent contraceptive idea. But the most powerful contraceptive force is education. Education of men helps; education of women helps immensely.
Sociobiologists will like all of this book, but chapter 22 `Discriminating Altruisms' will especially interest us. The Oxford Dictionary definition of altruism `regard for others as a principle of action' does not require that there be no benefit to altruist, which simplifies its use in biology. That pleasure comes from helping genes and memes in others to survive and replicate, should therefore cause us no qualms in calling it altruistic. Gestating another in one's womb in my country qualifies as altruism.
`Speak the truth but leave immediately after' is an old Slovenian proverb. Yes, like `warning calls', the most intriguing issues are those which are slightly dangerous, because they may cost you your membership in some ideological group to which you had hitherto adhered. Poor Reverend Malthus' unusual male concern for the outcome of too many pregnancies cost him the friendship of both radical and moderate liberals (`Whigs' as they were then called) of the early 19th century. Teaching sociobiology in a sociology department is another marginalizing experience with which I am familiar. Nearly every page of Hardin's book carries truths of this kind, and sociobiologists, unafraid of being marginal, will value these pages. Hardin has given us the altruistic `warning call' of the prophet with a dangerous message - dangerous to give and dangerous to ignore. Somewhere he should get a genetic reward.
Incidentally are we guilty of `conspicuous marginalization'?
Malthus, T.R. 1798. An Essay on the Principle of Population, as it affects the
Future Improvement of Society, with remarks on the Speculations of Mr.
Godwin, M. Condorcet, and other writers. London: J. Murray.
Thompson, W. 1929. `Population', American Journal of Sociology, 34;6: 959- 75.
Wilson, E.O. 1975. Sociobiology: The new synthesis, Harvard University Press: 89.
by DOROTHY TENNOV, RD 9, Box 251, Millsboro, DE 19966, U.S.A.
The difference between the living and nonliving is conceived by many,
including many biologists, as a gulf big enough to justify the contention
that biology is basically and necessarily different from physical sciences
and not to be classed among them. While in the twentieth century we
have come closer to bridging the gap, especially the conceptual gap, there
remain salient differences that cannot be overlooked. Physical sciences
deal in laws of universal generality; biology is about particular "cases"
(individuals or species) existing at particular times under nonrepeatable
Some may argue that certain differences are inevitable and undeniable, others contend that it is only a matter of time before the precise nature of the borderline between the animate and inanimate will be understood. But to practicing biologists who collect and interpret the meaning of observables, such issues are without immediate consequence and are typically eventually settled as the result of the interplay between theory and observation, sometimes over the course of a long period of time in gradual steps.
Conceptual Issues in Evolutionary Biology is a collection of twenty-three essays and excerpts reprinted from journals and books. Almost half of them are new to this edition. The original dates of publication span thirty-five years from an excerpt from Ernst Mayr's (1959) Evolution and the Diversity of Life to Bradie's (1994) evolutionary perspective on epistemology published in this book for the first time. At times deviating from chronological order, editor Elliott Sober arranges the selections to resemble a discussion of "foundational" issues in the theory and practice of evolutionary biology.
In some cases, the issues have already been settled, or at least recast; others still rage or seem to be only temporarily quiescent. Among topics included in the book are disputes over the concept of "species," competing categorization systems (systematics), differences among theorists regarding the appropriate units of natural selection, essentialism, functions (and teleology) and reductionism. Two of the essays concern direct applications of biological theory to human affairs. Hull (1974) commented that "problems in the philosophy of biology are both difficult and very closely interconnected. Biologists have emphasized the complexity and consequent uniqueness of biological systems, their stratified, teleological organization, and the central role of historical considerations in biology" (Hull, 1974, p. 142).
With the term, "conceptual," Elliott Sober nicely evades the issue of whether the book sits more rightly in the biology section or in that of philosophy. Sober is emphatic that it is both. Nine of the twenty-three included items came from philosophy journals, ten are from scientific journals.
In the first selection, Mills and Beatty (r1979) use a propensity theory of fitness which "captures the intended reference of the term as it is used by evolutionary theorists" (p. 3) in an attempt to rescue the theory of evolution from the nonscientific circulatory status some critics would give it. Expected number of descendants, is based on estimates from data from previous generations under comparable conditions enabling fitness, or rather the penchant for fitness, to be treated statistically. Whether this tactic is judged to solve the problem is a matter of published disagree ment, e.g. Rosenberg (1985).
Some view biological systems as differing from physical systems in being "goal-directed." In his introduction, Sober notes that although functional claims (the rock wanted to fall off the cliff) were long ago expunged from physics, they remain in biology. Organisms are goal-directed because they have evolved. Their behaviors are suited to the tasks of survival and reproduction because natural selection has allowed some traits, but not others, to be passed from ancestors to descendants (p. x).
There are those who maintain that "teleological" phraseology, even if
stripped of its user of a concept of intention or consciousness, runs the
risk of confusing the uninformed, but such usage is prevalent, even
among physicists speaking of subatomic events.
The challenge issued in 1978 by Gould and Lewontin in their Spandrels of San Marco's analogy named a principle in evolutionary analysis: "spandrels" are characters which are not adaptations, only by-products, but by-products so useful ("adaptive") that they appear to the Panglossian spinner of tales to have been "designed" or "adapted," for the benefits they bring. Although he is not always agreed with, and is an outspoken critic of sociobiology, Lewontin's influence on the field of evolutionary biology is attested to by his being, along with David L. Hull, most often cited by this volume's authors. And evolutionary theorists are in general agreement that the constraints on what can be "adapted" are substantial.
An article by John Maynard Smith (r1978) follows that of Gould and Lewontin. It addresses the difficulty of testing hypotheses generated by evolutionary theory and outlines a methodology program based in game theory utilizing "statistical methods with the same care as in the analysis of experimental results" (p. 114).
An array of opinion and conjecture exists on the question of the level at which selection occurs that results in phenotypic adaptation. Is it the gene, the organism, the colony, or the species? To begin the units of selection section, Sober,2 turns to group selection critic, George C. Williams (r1966). In excerpts from Adaptation and Natural Selection, a work which unarguably influenced evolutionary theory, Williams contends that "only the gene is stable enough to be effectively selected." Written almost thirty years ago, this seminal work undid the vague and unsupportable "good for the species" idea espoused until well past the first half of the twentieth century. Although a major proponent of genic, as opposed to group, selection, Williams concedes the possibility of group adaptations but asserts that higher level selection "should only be invoked when the simpler selection is clearly inadequate" (p. 138), a situation he does not expect to see often.
Virtually all who speak to the matter agree that group selection is theoretically possible under certain circumstances. Disagreements are over likelihood. For David Sloan Wilson, group selection deserves to be better recognized. He deplores the tendency of researchers to average across groups thereby rendering them invisible and erasing any possibility of group analyses. Wilson feels that even "higher entities such as biological communities and human societies can be organisms in their own right." (p. 153) He does not, he says, speak about groups metaphorically:
Levels-of-selection theory show that single-species groups and multispecies communities can become functionally organized by the exact same process of between-unit selection that causes the groups of genes known as individuals to become functionally organized. For the first time, the hierarchical view in biology now enjoys a solid mechanistic foundation. Perhaps its foundation also will be useful in the human sciences to show how people sometimes coalesce into society-level organisms. (p. 153)
Many branches of the human sciences are dominated by the individualistic view. But in
Wilson's view organizations higher than the individual
can behave as single, purposeful organisms.
On essentialism and population thinking, Ernst Mayr (r1959) rails against the former in biology. Sober (r1980), although also an advocate of population thinking, disagrees with Mayr's contention that averages have no "reality" and the essentialist's ideal has no counterpart in reality. His aim in the essay, he said, was to compare the two views and clarify Mayr's view that population thinking constitutes a shift in the concept of biological theory. With genetic material recombining randomly (to a large extent) making each individual unique, there is no ideal type at base. In Sober's words, "the requirement that species have nontrivial necessary and sufficient conditions runs afoul of the kind of continuity that exists in nature" (p, 166). Sober (r1980) surveys the decline of essentialism from Aristotle's natural state model to contemporary rejection of it. Galton saw "the population as a unit of explanation" (p. 187, n). Whether evolution proceeds gradually or in jumps, species do not have "essences" in the sense over which philosophers had argued about for millennia. No character is necessary and sufficient for inclusion in a particular taxon. Probability estimates are calculated instead.
The process of changes in scientific conceptions may be seen in the more practical issue of how organisms are to be categorized. Sober in cluded writings from major figures in the three-way taxonomic controversy among (1) genealogists (cladists) concerned with the splitting of phyletic lineages, (Hennig, r1965 and Farris, r1985); (2) the pheneticists who, according to spokesperson Sokal (r1985), work only with observable characteristics the labels of which can be computer-tallied and objectively identified; and (3) the Darwinian, "evolutionary" method which uses a "synthetic" approach, represented here by Mayr (r1981). In his overview, Hull (r1970) evaluates the various approaches to systematics. He observes that as species are inherently polymorphic, they should be classified by genealogy, not on the basis of possession of essential traits. Felsenstein (r1988) sees phylogenetic inference as "statistical" and deplores past communication blockages between systematicists and population geneticists, but foresees a brighter future in which the hypothetico-deductive method will be replaced by statistical procedures. The problems are complex, but the consensus of several contributors see ecumenicism well under way in systematics.
Not that the road will be easy. In defense of pluralism, botanists Mischler and Donaghue (1982) note that
Morphological divergence and the attainment of means of reproductive isolation can be uncoupled events in time and space... A universal criterion for delimiting fundamental, cohesive evolutionary entities does not exist (p. 221).
They point out the danger of making large generalizations on the basis of
knowledge of very few of the existing types of organisms and they cite
examples outside the animal kingdom (e.g., fungi, who lead a varied
number of sex lives) which are not readily handled by taxonomic systems
steeped in animal world "chauvinism." According to Hull (p. 204 in
Rosenberg, 1984), species are not kinds (classes) of organisms, but each
species is an individual, a cohesive entity spatiotemporally restricted. Its
members are its components and parts, not its instances.
Television documentaries highlight the shaky, disputed borders of knowledge, but neither the temporary influence of fashions nor the power of science to build lasting accord on basic conceptions should be underestimated. Recently, evolutionary books concerned with human morality have hit best seller lists (e.g., Robert Wright's The Moral Animal). Are we somehow programmed to obey the Golden Rule or are we doomed to phenotypic selfishness as ruthless as that of our genes? In tit-for-tat strategies, good guys win if they join together, but a few bad apples can spoil the game. If groups are separate and in competition, groups consisting of cooperators (altruists, by some definitions) will be fitter than those heavily weighted with defectors (out for immediate wins and devil take the hindmost). Thus the possibility of group selection is the possibility of "morally uplifting," heritable attributes.
Ruse and Wilson (1986) applied sociobiological thinking to human morality:
[W]e think morally because we are subject to appropriate [genetic predispositions or] "epigenic" rules. These predispose us to think that certain courses of action are right and certain courses are wrong (p. 426).
Sober expects Conceptual Issues in Evolutionary Biology will be useful to
evolutionary biologists and philosophers of biology. He also suggests,
and I heartily agree, that for students it is best read along with a text
book. Sober recommends four textbooks in philosophy of biology.3
New technologies will likely make moot the issues over which so
blood was shed in the journals of systematics while the dispute raged at
its most heated. Approaches to categorizing living things will eventually
combine changed technology with new scientific insights. A taxonomy is
neither a theory nor a test of a theory; it is a needed way of dealing with
the millions of possible categories. Usefulness, convenience, and storage
and retrieval efficiency will win out.
By academic tradition, the history of science falls into the lap of philosophy. But maybe the theorist should be wary of that which is called "philosophy." In his essay from this volume, Hull (r1978) states:
[P]hilosophers have felt free to resort to hypothetical, science fiction examples to test their conceptions, while biologists rely on actual cases. In each instance I prefer the biologists' strategy... But most important, real examples tend to be much more detailed and bizarre than those made up by philosophers... New information cannot force the philosopher to improve his analysis the way that real examples can (page 200).
As Bradie (1994), a "philosopher," writing on epistemology in the most
recent of the included writings, concludes, the questions are really empirical. Problems posed
in this book may become irrelevant due to as yet
unimagined alterations in our knowledge, and the means we find to
function in better relation to what we decide are our own goals. Evolutionary science has
placed on its agenda the goal of understanding ourselves. Pandora's Box? Perhaps some implications are too awesome for
consideration as yet. Sober's tone is pessimistic about the degree to which
models of social evolution will influence investigations within the social
sciences. The social and biological sciences of today are not even in
combat, he says, they are "talking past each other" (p. 490). Unfortunately the rapid pace of
change means that delay in the application of
evolutionary analyses may mean finding answers too late to be of use.
Hull, David (1974). Philosophy of Biological Science. Englewood-Cliffs, NJ:
Rosenberg, Alexander (1985). The Structure of Biological Science. Cam bridge: Cambridge University Press.
Ruse, Michael (1973). The Philosophy of Biology. London: Hutchinson.
Sober, Elliott (1993). Philosophy of Biology. Boulder, Colo.: Westview.
Wright, Robert (1994). The Moral Animal. New York: Random House.
1. I am inserting the dates of publication of the original work for
informational purposes. Articles from Conceptual Issues in Evolutionary
Biology are differentiated from references by the letter "r" to stand for
"reprinted from" followed by the year of original publication.
2. This is a topic on which the editor has recently expressed himself in a target article with co-author David Sloan Wilson (r1994).
3. They are Michael Ruse (1973) David Hull (1974), Alexander Rosenberg (1985), and Sober (1993).