People say we’re the storytelling ape. I hear that. Though conjuring fiction is beyond me, and I only remember the worst punchlines, I love trading stories and so do you. Storytelling is a definitively human trait. But if stories make us human, what went wrong with the mother of them all?
Human origins should be universally cherished but it’s not even universally known. It just doesn’t appeal to most people. This goes far beyond religion. Human evolution hasn’t caught on despite it being over 150 years old. Where it has, it’s subversive or offensive. We have a problem. How could my life be subversive or offensive? How could yours?
Whether or not we evolved to tell stories, the one about where we came from should be beloved, near and dear to our hearts, not cold, clinical, and pedantic, not repulsive or embarrassing, not controversial, racist, sexist and anti-theist, not merely “survival of the fittest,” end of story, not something that only pertains to the world’s champions of wealth or babymaking. We deserve so much better. We deserve a sprawling, heart-thumping, face-melting epic, inspiring its routine telling and retelling. It’s time for a human evolution that’s fit for all humankind.
Such a human evolution requires a new narrative, both hyper-sensitive to the power of narrative and rooted in science that is light years ahead of Victorian dogma. This is the antidote to a long history of weaponizing human nature against ourselves. Our 45th president credits the survival-of-the-fittest brand of human evolution for his success over less kick-ass men in business and in bed. Pick-up artists and men’s rights activists, inspired by personalities like Jordan Peterson, use mistaken evolutionary thinking to justify their sexism and misogyny. Genetic and biological determinism have a stranglehold on the popular imagination, where evolution is frequently invoked to excuse inequity, like in the notorious Google Memo. Public intellectuals like David Brooks and Jon Haidt root what seems like every single observation of 2018 in tropes from Descent of Man. And there’s the White House memo that unscientifically defines biological sex. Evolution is all wrapped up in white supremacy and a genetically-destined patriarchy. This is not evolution. And this is not my evolution. I know you’re nodding your head along with me.
Without alternative perspectives, who can blame so many folks for outright avoiding evolutionary thinking? We must lift the undeserved stigma on our species’ origins story and rip it away from those who would perpetuate its abuses.
It took me a while to get to this point, to have this view that I wish I’d had from the very beginning. No one should feel defensive in reaction to my opinion, which is…
Evolution educators—even if sticking to E. coli, fruit flies, or sticklebacks—must confront the ways that evolutionary science has implicitly undergirded and explicitly promoted or has naively inspired so many racist, sexist, and otherwise harmful beliefs and actions. We can no longer arm students with the ideas that have had harmful sociocultural consequences without addressing them explicitly because our failure to do so effectively is the primary reason these horrible consequences exist. The worst of all being a human origins that refuses humanity.
So many of us are still thinking and teaching from the charged tradition of demonstrating that evolution is true. Thanks to everyone’s hard work, it is undeniably true. Now we must go beyond this habit of reacting to creationism and instead react to a problem that is just as old but is far more urgent because it actually affects human well-being.
Bad evolutionary thinking and its siblings, genetic determinism and genetic essentialism, are used to justify civil rights restrictions, human rights violations, white supremacy, and the patriarchy. As a result, evolution is avoided and unclaimed by scholars, students, and their communities who know this all too well.
In “Why Be Against Darwin? Creationism, Racism, and the Roots of Anthropology,” Jon Marks explains how early anthropologists, in the immediate wake of Darwin’s ideas, faced a dilemma. If they were to continue as if there were a “psychic unity of (hu)mankind” then they felt compelled to reject an evolution which was being championed by some influential scientific racists. Marks writes, “So either you challenge the authority of the speaker to speak for Darwinism or you reject the program of Darwinism.” Anyone who knows someone who’s not a fan of evolution knows that the latter option is a favorite still today. This is not creationism and it is not science denial. It is the rejection of what we know to be an outdated and tainted notion of evolution. No one can update and clean up evolution as powerfully as we can if we do it ourselves, right there, in the classroom.
We are teaching more and more people evolution which may be exciting but only if we are equally as energetic in our confrontation of its sordid past. I can say this without attracting any indignation (right?) because of the fact that evolution has a sordid present.
Let’s put that to an end.
Here I offer some general suggestions for how to do that and I’m speaking to all of us, whether we teach a course dedicated to human origins and evolution, whether we teach a course dedicated to evolution and only cover humans for part of it, whether we teach a course dedicated to evolution but exclude humans entirely… because we all have to actively fix this. Learners will apply evolutionary thinking to humans, whether or not your focal organisms are human. Making rules in one domain and transferring them to new ones is humanity’s jam. Eugenics is proof that our jam can go rancid.
And while we’re actively disassociating the reality of evolution (which is just a synonym for ‘nature’ and for ‘biology’) from all the terrible things humans do in its name, we can help make it more personal as we all deserve our origins story to be. We deserve a human origins we can embrace.
- Be a model for the personal satisfaction that thinking evolutionarily brings to your own life. Don’t be afraid to bring the humanities into your evolution courses.
- Choose examples and activities focused on the evolution of the human body or focused on the unity of the species. Go there if you don’t already. Here are some awesome lesson plans: http://humanorigins.si.edu/education/teaching-evolution-through-human-examples
- Guide students in composing scientifically sourced and scientifically sound origins stories for their favorite things in life, like their friends or pizza (maybe by tracking down the origins of wheat, lactase persistence, cooking, teeth, or even way back to the first eaters of anything at all).
- Actively dismantle evolution’s racist/etc past and present. I suggest checking out and maybe assigning the following: “Ten Facts About Human Variation” and Is Science Racist? by Jonathan Marks, “Racing Around, Getting Nowhere” by Kenneth Weiss and Stephanie Fullerton, as well as A Dangerous Idea: Eugenics and the American Dream (film).
- Reach out to others. If you are feeling under-prepared or uncomfortable going beyond biology in your course, find a colleague who can help out or do it entirely for you. If they’re on campus, pick their brains about assignments or activities, or ask them for a guest lecture. If they’re not on campus, invite them to campus or connect them to your classroom via Skype. There are all stripes of anthropologists (and there are also historians) who are comfortable and more than happy to help you cover evolution as it should be, which is to explicitly include its sociocultural context and consequences.
Museum of Natural History, “Human Skin Color Variation,” http://humanorigins.si.edu/evidence/genetics/skin-color
Ann Gibbons, “There’s No Such Thing as a ‘Pure’ European—Or Anyone Else,” Science, May 15, 2017, http://www.sciencemag.org/news/2017/05/theres-no-such-thing-pure-european-or-anyone-else
Christopher Ingraham, “A Lot of Southern Whites Are A Little Bit Black,” Washington Post, Dec. 22, 2014, https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/wonk/wp/2014/12/22/a-lot-of-southern-whites-are-a-little-bit-black/
National Public Radio, “From the Belgian Congo to the Bronx Zoo,” Sept. 8, 2006, http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=5787947
Adam Mansbach, “A True and Faithful Account of Mr. Ota Benga the Pygmy, Written by M. Berman, Zookeeper,” http://adammansbach.com/other/otabenga.html
Daniel Kevles, “In the Name of Darwin,” Public Broadcasting Station, http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/evolution/darwin/nameof/
Robert Sapolsky, “Are Humans Hard-Wired for Racial Prejudice?” LA Times, July 28, 2013, https://www.latimes.com/opinion/opinion-la/la-oe-sapolsky-brain-and-race-20130728-story.html
Binyavanga Wainaina, “How To Write About Africa,” Granta, 2012, https://granta.com/how-to-write-about-africa/
Sheela Athreya Rebecca Ackermann, “Colonialism and Narratives of Human Origins in Asia and Africa,” AfricArXiv Preprints, https://osf.io/preprints/africarxiv/jtkn2/
Eric Herschthal, “Frederick Douglass’s Fight Against Scientific Racism,” New York Times, Feb. 22, 2018, https://www.nytimes.com/2018/02/22/opinion/frederick-douglasss-scientific-racism.html
Gavin Evans, “The Unwelcome Revival of Race Science,” The Guardian, March 2, 2018, https://www.theguardian.com/news/2018/mar/02/the-unwelcome-revival-of-race-science
Tina Lasisi, #WakandanSTEM: Teaching the Evolution of Skin Color,” AnthroGrad, March 2018, https://humanhairdiversity.com/2018/02/28/wakandanstem-teaching-the-evolution-of-skin-color/
Susan Goldberg, “For Decades, Our Coverage Was Racist. To Rise Above Our Past, We Must Acknowledge It,” National Geographic, April 2018, https://www.nationalgeographic.com/magazine/2018/04/from-the-editor-race-racism-history/
Elizabeth Kolbert, “There’s No Scientific Basis for Race—It’s a Made-Up Label,” National Geographic, April 2018, https://www.nationalgeographic.com/magazine/2018/04/race-genetics-science-africa/
Linda Villarosa, “Why America’s Black Mothers and Babies Are in a Life-or-Death Crisis,” The New York Times, April 11, 2018, https://www.nytimes.com/2018/04/11/magazine/black-mothers-babies-death-maternal-mortality.html
Dána-Ain Davis, “The Labor of Racism,” Anthrodendum, May 7, 2018, https://anthrodendum.org/2018/05/07/the-labor-of-racism/
Olga Khazan, “Being Black in America Can Be Hazardous To Your Health,” The Atlantic, July 2018, https://www.theatlantic.com/magazine/archive/2018/07/being-black-in-america-can-be-hazardous-to-your-health/561740/
Emily Bazelon, “White People Are Noticing Something New: Their Own Whiteness,” The New York Times, June 13, 2018, https://www.nytimes.com/2018/06/13/magazine/white-people-are-noticing-something-new-their-own-whiteness.html
John Terrell, “Ancestry Tests Pose a Threat to Our Social Fabric,” Sapiens, Aug. 22, 2018, https://www.sapiens.org/technology/dna-test-ethnicity/
Tina Lasisi, “Surprise! Africans Are Not All The Same (Or Why We Need Diversity in Science),” AnthroGrad, Oct. 18, 2017, https://anthrograd.com/2017/10/18/surprise-africans-are-not-all-the-same-or-why-we-need-diversity-in-science/
Amy Harmon, “Why White Supremacists Are Chugging Milk (And Why Geneticists Are Alarmed),” The New York Times, Oct. 17, 2018, https://www.nytimes.com/2018/10/17/us/white-supremacists-science-dna.html
Ed Yong, “Everyday Discrimination Raises Womens Blood Pressure,” The Atlantic, October 2018, https://www.theatlantic.com/health/archive/2018/10/everyday-discrimination-raises-womens-blood-pressure/572518/
Eric Michael Johnson, “On the Origin of White Power,” Scientific American, May 21, 2014, https://blogs.scientificamerican.com/primate-diaries/on-the-origin-of-white-power/
Aja Romano, “How the Alt-Right’s Sexism Lures Men Into White Supremacy,” Vox, Dec. 14, 2016, https://www.vox.com/culture/2016/12/14/13576192/alt-right-sexism-recruitment
Claire Ainsworth, “Sex Redefined,” Nature, Feb. 18, 2015, https://www.nature.com/news/sex-redefined-1.16943?fbclid=IwAR2QNl_esA0ooF5dfaq0x7_FN7kB6rpi0V0KFfqnq8rdxnMn37xYi6Vm8QU
Robert Sapolsky, “Peace Among Primates,” The Greater Good, Sept. 1, 2007, http://greatergood.berkeley.edu/article/item/peace_among_primates
Tim Ingold, “Against Human Nature,” https://www.mecon.nomadit.co.uk/pub/conference_epaper_download.php5?PaperID=23652&MIMEType=application/pdf
(Header image from Ernst Haeckel, Natürliche Schöpfungsgeschichte, 2nd edition (Berlin, 1870).
Thank you Holly for an important piece about the focus and ethics of evolution education. I largely would agree with your main argument and many of your justifications. I’d like to just offer a comment on a main thrust of your perspective, namely that “Now we must go beyond this habit of reacting to creationism and instead react to a problem that is just as old but is far more urgent because it actually affects human well-being.”
I would push evolution educators to go one step further and go beyond our habit of merely “reacting” to anything, and instead become pro-active in shaping an evolution education that is positively impacting human (and non-human) well-being. The references you cite not only frame the historical dimensions of ethically questionable views supposedly bolstered by evolution theory, they also (in-part) frame the biological context of human tendencies towards, eg., ethnocentrism, as well as our capacities to overcome such tendencies. Evolution education can and should incorporate perspectives on the evolution of human behavior, cognition, and culture, with an eye towards positive aspects of humanity (e.g. empathy, perspective taking, imagination, cooperation), and an emphasis on our capacity (i.e. developmental plasticity and psychological flexibility) to move towards prosocial communities at all scales of society. Not all evolutionary biologists or anthropologists agree on all theoretical aspects of these aspects of our species, but these academic disagreements are not so vast that nothing of these issues can be taught to general education students. An evolution education focused on having an ethical influence in society should include helping students resolve the evolutionary context of ethical human behavior itself. Your article hints at this, but misses the mark by remaining “reactionary” rather than pushing for proactive change in how and what we teach about this foundational science. Still – thank you for a thoughtful contribution to the role of societal ethics in evolution education.
When you teach evolution, you are teaching science, not ethics. If you want to teach ethics there are plenty of avenues to do so. But hands off our science classes.
In practical terms, your advice to educators is great, but I would add that for points 3 & 4, there may be untapped learning opportunities by having students explore the evolutionary origins and biological context of human behavioral , cognitive, and cultural change. What is the role of ethnocentrism and cooperation in human evolution and development? How are these dynamics from our past relevent (or not?) to our current global and multilevel social dilemmas? These kinds of big questions can be productively used in real world general education biology classrooms and offer an important context for understanding the historical and current mis-uses of evolution science.
…inspired by personalities like Jordan Peterson, use mistaken evolutionary …
I don’t agree with everything Peterson says, but I do see the positive impacts he is providing many people. I suggest moving beyond initial emotional-only responses and perhaps listen, with an open mind, to what Peterson has to say.
tl;dr: sometimes science produces uncomfortable findings that unsavoury people like. This does not make those findings wrong.
Professional philosopher of evolutionary biology here. I see nothing problematic and some things worth discussion in this post. The first few comments are helpful, the rest a cesspool. Shrug.
Oh, also, I am a historian of biology.
What’s worth discussing?
“We are teaching more and more people evolution which may be exciting but only if we are equally as energetic in our confrontation of its sordid past.
It is unethical to teach evolution without confronting racism and sexism.”
So, teaching evolution is only going to be “exciting” if equal bandwidth is devoted to airing its already-aired dirty laundry? And given that some of us are struggling to get evolutionary theory embedded in our syllabi *at all* (as is my own case with teaching evolutionary theory in business/management/leadership classes), we are somehow ethically compromised if we don’t spend equal time teaching evolutionary principles AND hauling the theory’s most nefarious representatives and co-opters over the coals? Every time I invoke what we’ve learned about evolution to make propositions about how we could make business and leadership better for the world, I then need to spend equal time performing a dressing down of the Herbert Spencers and Jordan Petersons of the world, lest I be considered “unethical”? Really?
I don’t doubt that this article was ultimately well-motivated, and it’s important that any scientific endeavour take stock of its historical baggage (particularly when human and civil rights are at stake), but there is an underlying tenor of smug, self-righteous, social justice judgementalism about this piece that strikes me as decidedly unhelpful.
I think you are confused about different domains. Sure, science can be misused by left and right to justify or oppose certain positions. But blurring the distinctions just because the other side do is not the answer. Average differences between the sexes seems to be a real thing, how ever much you hate Mr. Damore. “Race” on the other hand seems to have little scientific basis. Neither sets of is statements should limit the society we can imagine. Universal equality as an aspiration is not dependent on scientific claims.
[…] Holly Dunsworth cuts to the chase (I’ve been noticing that a lot of anthropologists are coming to the forefront in the battle against evolutionary ignorance): […]
Thank you Prof. Holly Dunsworth for this essay. Scholars and educators need to be both up to date on evolutionary biology and cognizant of the misunderstandings and misrepresentations of evolutionary thought (and processes) in the past and in the present. The points you make are spot on and the sources you list can be of great use for those interested in engaging this topic effectively and honestly. Understanding science as a process coupled with honest presentation of the data and complexities of evolutionary patterns are critical if we seek to change public understandings, perceptions and attitudes about evolution. That is why it is so disheartening that many of the comments to your post are laden with vitriol and anger.
Those comments reflect exactly why we need to do a better job teaching and communicating about evolutionary biology in general and human evolution in particular. They illustrate why anthropological and sociological data need to be integrated into the discourse on evolution and why we need to make sure that the actual data from human evolutionary studies are conveyed to the public. Misrepresenting evolutionary theory, processes and data harms all of us.
I have no doubt that your post will continue to receive a slew of derogatory comments. But don’t pay any attention to them. Your call is to those scholars who truly care about evolution, education and science, and it is well received. No matter what snide remarks are cast in our directions, we’ll just keep doing good science, publishing in peer reviewed journals, presenting work at professional conferences, and working to bring evolutionary understanding to the public. Thanks Holly, keep up the great work.
“They illustrate why anthropological and sociological data need to be integrated into the discourse on evolution”
‘The fact that people disagree with our ideological entryism shows why we need to do it’ is a hilarious and weirdly intellectually honest answer.
Thank you for this essay Dr. Dunsworth. I think it includes some very important points and some great resources for people who teach about evolution (like I do). When I was an undergraduate I took a course that was titled “Evolution” and I was surprised when the professors spent a lot of time discussion the misuses of evolutionary biology and evolutionary theory right from Day 1. What those professors did seemed strange at first but by the end of the class it was clear to me that one could not separate the science from how the science was being used and misused. I also note – learning about the uses and misuses of evolutionary biology and theory was also a really good way to learn the underlying science.
Thank you for sharing this story.
I think if you are going to charge fellow scientists with any accusations you should provide your evidence against their work as a professional courtesy. To make broad political claims against work you have presented no evidence you are even familiar with sours the discourse and is likely why this post is receiving any attention at all. Taking swipes at Trump, Jordan Peterson, James Damore, David Brooks and Jon Haidt is woefully unhelpful in raising the level of public discourse and likely only serves to perpetuate a war between science and the general public that’s not good for either parties.
Look at how many similar comments like this one there are. They should all be taken seriously, not ignored or labeled derogatory or cesspool. We care about science, that is why we are commenting here.
I am in complete agreement with those who view Holly Dunsworth’s article as an utter joke and are wondering why The Evolution Institute would publish such drivel. When writing a persuasive article, your job is to present a persuasave case built on verifiable facts and logical reasoning. Simply making wild assertions and then declaring that the reader must agree with them won’t cut it. “I know you’re nodding your head along with me.” No, I am not nodding my head in agreement. I’m shaking my head in disbelief that you write such things. So are most other readers, to judge by the comments.
“Such a human evolution requires a new narrative, both hyper-sensitive to the power of narrative”. No, there is no reason why any scientific researcher should spend a single minute considering “narrative”. Scientists are concerned with facts. Facts that are testable and verifiable. Dunsworth waged a very public word battle against Jerry Coyne, who is actually a biologist, concerning the evolutionary basis of sexual dimorphism in humans. Coyne won with facts (search for posts about Dunsworth on his blog to see the details.) In response, Dunsworth referred to Coyne’s “story”.
Thank you, you said it well.
Leave science classes alone. First it was the creationists. Now it’s the ideologues. How many times does science need to defend science against religion and ideology. Leave science classes alone.
Thank you for brilliant response!
Thank you, Dr. Dunsworth. What many of the commenters on this piece miss (or are unwilling to acknowledge) is the long and sordid history of attempts to use evolutionary biology to justify systematic societal inequality. Science as a process may not be political, but scientists definitely are (we are human, after all!), and our biases have certainly shaped which questions are asked, who has access to the education and financial resources to conduct research, and so forth. Understanding the history of each field is an important component of any graduate education, and this is certainly true for the history of evolutionary biology!
[…] "It Is Unethical To Teach Evolution Without Confronting Racism And Sexism – The Evolution… […]
Dear Dr. Dunsworth,
I tend to agree with your main argument. Evolutionary theory has been, and is being, used to justify a lot of injustice. I agree that it’s our job to deal with it and use our position to make sure that both the students and the public are aware of it. At the same time, I also feel sympathy towards some of your critics. It may require some (unwarranted?) assumptions about your motivation, but I understand why this call for a “new narrative” can sound like (a) a call for sweeping under the carpet scientific truths, or at least scientifically-sound hypotheses, that are potentially problematic; and (b) a weaponization of science to a political end rather than a genuine concern about the potential harm.
To highlight these points, I would like to ask two somewhat provocative questions:
1. At the end of a lecture, a student asks you the following: “Given that some psychological and cognitive traits vary between individuals and that some of this variance is genetically heritable, is it theoretically possible that populations would differ in the distribution of these genes and hence traits?”. What do you answer? How can we square the uncomfortable short answer (“yes, it’s theoretically possible”) and the unavoidable negative interpretation thereof?
2. A bit of whataboutism: Your main argument is that evolutionary biology has been used to justify injustice, and therefore it cannot be taught or discussed without acknowledging this past. Similarly, calls for equity, anti-racism and anti-fascism have been used in the past to justify the oppression of hundreds of millions and the murder of millions. Is it ethical to talk about social justice without always reminding how bad advancing these goals can go? Or are we on the left exempt from providing this disclaimer?
Well made point, me. Evolution has been (mis)used. And many comments here are lazy. Disagree with the argument, but do it with intellect, not ad hominem attacks.
But, the premise of the above is wrong. Physics is used not to justify things but to build weapons of war. Some of those weapons are used to abuse people, and always used to try to hurt and kill people. Should physics not be taught without also considering all its misuses? History is taught in ways that often distort the facts to shape a particular narrative that serves the dominant culture. Should we teach that history can be misused?
When it is relevant, you should flag misinterpretations of data or theory. If you talk about local adaptations, you should explain the limits and why it doesn’t provide an explanation for racial differences. If you talk about mate choice, you need to give context to any preference (we are all come as a package and have to evaluate others as a package. E.g., even if symmetry is preferred by humans , how important is it relative to many other factors?). Good teaching should show how things work and where they stop working. But that doesn’t mean teaching all the past bad practices.
I just finished watching the latest Joe Rogan interview with Jordan Peterson (#1208 on YouTube). I suggest everyone take the time and watch the whole thing. If you already have your mind made up about Peterson and don’t like him, put that on hold and please watch this, within the first few minutes one will understand what he is all about.
I am and have always been a Bolshevik and I have always been a strong supporter of science. Indeed, it can and has been argued that anyone who really does utilize scientific and critical thinking should be calling for an end to capitalism. So, flipant responses to critiques about why and how we should teach evolutionary science don’t help the situation. I disagree with Holly Dunsworth in her singling out of evolutionary science when it comes to its contribution to racism and sexism. The entire Western intellectual enterprise is mired in these -isms. Thus what needs to be examined is how particular individuals and their ideas have either supported or eroded these ideologies. I have pointed out many times, that Charles Darwin was politically progressive (for his time period, see my discussion in Graves, J.L. The Emperor’s New Clothes: Biological Theories of Race at the Millennium, RUP, 2005). This doesn’t mean that he did not harbor racist and sexist views, but on the balance his work moved us forward in eroding these ideologies. There has also been a faction of evolutionary scientists in the 20th century who have actively worked against these isms, so painting all of us with the same brush isn’t helpful. When I teach evolutionary science (and all science for that matter) I always include material when appropriate that links the enterprise of science to social issues. This practice has helped me contribute to bringing in greater numbers of underrepresented minorities and women compated to the field as whole. Indeed I argue that only when socially-subordinated groups are represented in this group in greater numbers will we really be able to move away from its unquestioned allegience to Eurocentrism and sexism.
Thoughts are representations, they are not the things that they are representing. Thoughts happen in nervous systems. Nervous systems clearly provided a reproductive benefit to the organisms that possess them. So evolution must have evolved a way of having thoughts that represent the environmental reality around the organism. In our case it is our sense organs, sight, sound, smell, touch and taste. As I see it the scientific method is a method that we have developed to extend the reality checking ability of our 5 senses in order to try to ensure that our thoughts represent reality. Like all scientific theories evolutionary theory is a work in progress but my feeling is that it has made sufficient progress for it to be applied to current human situations in need of effective solutions.That is why, even though my background is in Information Systems not life sciences, when I discovered the Evolution Institute I became a member.
Humans are political animals so it is almost inevitable that scientific theories are going to be appropriated to serve political purposes and that the theory can become distorted in service of the political purpose. It is the task of those of us, who accept evolution theory as humankind’s best effort to date at explaining us to ourselves, to try to correct these political distortions.
Holly, thank you for a great article.
To the critics I say this; anyone who cannot see that the promotion of Darwin’s ideas by Huxley was profoundly influenced by Victorian social attitudes is simply not paying attention.
That Victorian influence is still affecting evolutionary thought today, with the dogma of Hamilton’s “inclusive fitness” being an expression of the cult of individualism that has permeated British culture for almost a thousand years.
Phew. First off, emotions of any kind are absolutely related to evolution.
One big example is the biology of tribal identity. There is a real and evolved mechanism in our brains that processes our sense of membership and the defense of our groups that we feel we belong to. This is called tribal identity. These groups are familial, religious, political, sport and many more. The most important factor though is not that we can process a feeling of belonging, it’s that tribal identity processing is so strong that it inhibits logical and even sensory processing. That sense of belonging we have can and does blind us to reality. For some good reason, evolution has seen fit to make tribal identity processing so strong that it puts us as individuals at risk for the sake of our group.
That is a gigantic finding of evolution and neurobiology that is incredibly important for understand any type of group behavior. And yes, its a huge warning for how to react when a group goes off the rails.
There are more. Brain development happens in stages with many important survival aspects (attachment, trust, empathy) happening very early: birth to maybe 3 yrs at most. Attachment is done by 18 months. Your ability to process trust and empathy are largely determined by your first 3 yrs of life! Why has evolution seen fit for this? Because humans are born for earlier and more vulnerable than other species. Years before reproductive viability. Better have a 12 year plan for survival!
Or how about the stages of brain development in our teen years? Our brains are relatively silent from maybe 5 to 12. Then pow, our emotional brains turn on! Our ideas of right and wrong, as well as group identity and gut feelings are largely determined during this stage., which ends in about 8 years. Why has evolution seen fit for this adaptation?
Now I am not saying anyone will change their emotional minds or tribal identities based on learning evolutionary and biological mechanisms. But… if you want to understand others including political and religious others, you must have an understanding of this stuff. It’s how we work and it’s evolution that has seen fit to make us work this way.
On a slightly different track, many of us try and find moral justification within science. As others have said the mechanisms of the world is no good or bad, moral or amoral. It just is. While mechanism are the treason we do what we do, they are themselves just mechanisms. In some cases, they are super strong and might detrimental to us or others around us. Or super strong and make living possible for us and others. They are how we work. But they are mechanisms.
I do have one beef with these kinds of arguments though. Science really does have a “bias” toward avoiding anything that has a whiff of human emotional content. This is of course greatly needed. Our intuition, emotion, is built for understanding and living in our scale not for the far large scale of reality. Think physics here. But, emotion is biology at work and I find a lot of topics are science seems to think are outside of its domain. The result is the public looks elsewhere for insight into love, trust and artistry. It’s as if understanding how these things work will somehow make them stop functioning. Or maybe it’s that I will discover I am not that great an artist after all! The danger here is that other groups are more than happy to provide answers. Answers that enhance their often nefarious agendas.
So yea. Scientists Everywhere… Engage!
I actually thank David Sloan Wilson for allowing this Type-One-Error article to be published and for conducting the interview with the author, now posted on YouTube. I have read the article numerous times, watched the interview carefully, and seen David’s effort to gently educate the author in the name of open discourse and dissent.
[…] [19-Nov-2018] It Is Unethical To Teach Evolution Without Confronting Racism And Sexism […]
It has to be…
I agree with the diagnosis but not with the solution.
While it is essential that racism and sexism (and why biology doesn’t support them) should be teached, it should not be teached in a way that suggests or commitment to (formal) equality somehow relies in a belief in biological equality.
What should be taught himself is that you can’t derive “ought” from “is”. That we shouldn’t deduce our values from facts. THIS is the only way to durably fight bigotry while preserving science as a truth-seeking enterprise.
Imagine that one day you discover that your conclusions about gender and racial differences are false and that they do exist and are significant. How would you react? I hope you won’t conclude that it justifies racism and sexism. After all we readily recognize that people with disabilities have reduced capabilites, what we conclude is not that they’re “morally inferior” but that we should help them and make everything accessible.
If course you’d first have to convince everyone that the fact-to-value fallacy is indeed a fallacy. Tremendous task when nearly half of philosophers don’t think it’s the case. (Source: https://philpapers.org/surveys/results.pl?affil=Target+faculty&areas0=0&areas_max=1&grain=coarse)
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I think anyone who bothers to read through the comments can at least partially understand why I wrote what I wrote in my essay and why The Evolution Institute read it on my blog and then asked if they could re-post it here. (And no they did not post it in order to have the opportunity to educate me as one commenter suggests). While I’m glad they did post it here so that more people could read it. One does have to wonder why The Evolution Institute allows so many of these comments to remain published under my essay…
Undeniably true? Connect the dots between organic and inorganic matter, and then you may be able to make that claim.
In the mean time, nice job taking on one of the great black marks on the history of science and progress: Social Darwinisn.
Evolution proves the “racists” right so you want to censor them, lol.