E.O. Wilson has a new explanation for consciousness, art & religion. Is it credible?

7 September 2013

9:00 AM

7 September 2013

9:00 AM

The Social Conquest of Earth Edward O. Wilson

W.W. Norton, pp.330, £18.99, ISBN: 9780871403636

His publishers describe this ‘ground-breaking book on evolution’ by ‘the most celebrated living heir to Darwin’ as ‘the summa work of Edward O. Wilson’s legendary career’. As emeritus professor of biology at Harvard, Wilson, now 84, is revered across the world as the doyen of Darwinists. And in announcing that he will offer a new answer to those three cosmic questions scrawled in the corner of a Gauguin painting — ‘Where have we come from? Who are we? Where are we going?’ — he leads us to expect some profound new insight into how a billion years of evolution have made us a species unique on earth.

Wilson introduces his ‘big idea’ by arguing that the two forms of life which, in evolutionary terms, have been most successful in ‘conquering the earth’ are those rather disconcertingly described as ‘eusocial’ — that is to say they have evolved societies based on a complex division of labour between different groups, all working for the good of the whole. On the one hand there is Homo sapiens, ourselves; on the other are the ‘eusocial’ insects, bees, wasps and ants (on which Wilson is a world expert).

If extra-terrestrials had visited earth three million years ago, Wilson suggests, they might have concluded that ‘the apex of social evolution’ had been reached by the ants: certainly not by the few thousand early australopithecines shambling across the African savannah. But he then devotes a third of his book to rehearsing the not-unfamiliar story of how, with astonishing speed in geological terms, that handful of higher primates not much removed from apes evolved ever larger brains, became recognisably human, discovered language and an ever greater range of skills, formed complex co-operative societies, fanned out across the globe and became masters of all they surveyed.

Clearly this has not come about just through the classical Darwinian process, whereby evolution works through that infinite series of minute genetic variations which has supposedly led life step by tiny step up the evolutionary ladder. Wilson therefore falls back on the idea of ‘cultural’ or ‘multi-level evolution’, allowing successive generations to pass on each progressive step along the way, independent of genetic mutations (taking side-swipes as he does so at the ‘inclusive theory’ championed by Richard Dawkins and others, which makes ‘kinship selection’ within particular groups the main driver of the process).

But Wilson then moves on to those ‘eusocial’ insects which have long been his special subject, showing how, like mankind, ants and bees have developed societies made up of different classes — queens, workers, soldiers, drones — each making a complementary contribution to the common good, even, as with Amazonian leaf-
cutter ants, practising agriculture, as they mulch chewed up leaves with their faeces, to grow a unique fungus to feed their larvae.

All this may be fascinating enough, but what Wilson completely misses out is any recognition of what is by far the most glaring difference between humans and ants. What marks out humankind as unique is the degree to which we have broken free from the dictates of instinct. We may in terms of our individual ‘ego-instincts’, such as our urges to eat, sleep, live in social groups and reproduce our species, be just as much governed by instinct as other creatures. But in all the ways in which we give expression to those urges, how we build our shelters, obtain our food, organise our societies. we are no longer guided entirely by instinct. Unlike any other species, we have become free to imagine how all these things can be done differently. Whereas one ant colony is structured exactly like another, the forms of human organisation may vary as widely as a North Korean dictatorship and a village cricket club.

It is our ability to escape from the rigid frame of instinct which explains almost everything that distinguishes human beings from any other form of life. But one looks in vain to Wilson to recognise this, let alone to explain how it could have come about in terms of Darwinian evolutionary theory. No attribute of Darwinians is more marked than their inability to grasp just how much their theory cannot account for, from all those evolutionary leaps which require a host of interdependent things to develop more or less simultaneously to be workable, that peculiarity of human consciousness which has allowed us to step outside the instinctive frame and to ‘conquer the Earth’ far more comprehensively than ants.

But it is this which also gives us our disintegrative propensity, individually and collectively, to behave egocentrically, presenting us with all those problems which distinguish us from all the other species which still live in unthinking obedience to the dictates of nature. All these follow from that split from our selfless ‘higher nature’, with which over the millennia our customs, laws, religion and artistic creativity have tried their best to re-integrate us.

Nothing is more comical about Darwinians than the contortions they get into in trying to explain those ‘altruistic’ aspects of human nature which might seem to contradict their belief that the evolutionary drive is always essentially self-centred (seen at its most extreme in Dawkins’s ‘selfish gene’ theory). Wilson’s thesis finally crumbles when he comes up with absurdly reductionist explanations for the emergence of the creative arts and religion. Forget Bach’s B Minor Mass or the deeper insights of the Hindu scriptures — as a lapsed Southern Baptist, he caricatures the religious instinct of mankind as little more than the stunted form of faith he escaped from.

His attempt to unravel what makes human nature unique is entirely a product of that limited ‘left-brain thinking’ which leads to cognitive dissonance.
Unable to think outside the Darwinian box, his account lacks any real warmth or wider understanding. Coming from ‘the most celebrated heir to Darwin’, his book may have won wide attention and praise. But all it really demonstrates is that the real problem with Darwinians is their inability to see just how much their beguilingly simple theory simply cannot explain.

Got something to add? Join the discussion and comment below.

You might disagree with half of it, but you’ll enjoy reading all of it. Try your first 10 weeks for just $10

Show comments
  • Pete1216

    Our minds were formed by hundreds of generations of group-vs-group dynamics. That is why we have the form of brains we have. Natural selection, and group selection, have led us to this point.

    • SmoovB

      Natural selection cannot possibly create a “mind” in as little as “hundreds” of generations.

      • Fred Scuttle

        Your incredulity isn’t really a valid argument.

        • george

          You had an amateur do your hair and make-up, didntcha?

          • Fred Scuttle

            I am an interpretation of the Messiah!

          • george

            You certainly are. I wonder how he feels about it.

          • Fred Scuttle

            If he existed he would love it.

          • george


      • tmv519

        Natural selection might not create a mind in hundreds of generations. But Boltzmann brains ( fully formed, functional disembodied human brains ) can float into your living room having just arrived from another universe. That is how atheists have repulsed the ID challenge. Neat.

    • Widggget

      And your evidence is Pete?

    • raydar

      Did you mind tell you this?

  • disqus_Z3bsklTawt

    While evolutionists have made various efforts (none very convincing) to explain why human level intelligence evolved, they have totally failed to give answers to two factors in the Drake equation: the probability of life evolving on an earth-like planet (they call it abiogenesis and so claim it has nothing to do with evolution); and the probability of intelligent life evolving on a planet where life has evolved. This is because evolutionary theory is not a predictive science except in the most restricted laboratory conditions, it is simply a rationale applied to the history of life on this planet.

    • Zaotar

      Evolutionary theory is more predictive than that. Paleontologists commonly predict that there will be “gap” organisms in certain locales bearing certain features, and then go searching for them. Based on phylogeny and evolutionary theory, paleontologists also commonly make predictions about the missing portions of fossil specimens, which are then later proven right or wrong when more specimens are ultimately obtained. Likewise, genetic researchers commonly go and test organisms (such as by looking at dna) for various relationships based on evolutionary predictions. So it is far more than “simply a rationale.”

      • DBlain

        a) there is a laundry list of absolutely failed predictions based upon evolutionary theory over the last century.

        b) NDS is non-falsifiable, because there’s always the appeal to nearly infinite possibilities. That makes it pseudo-science.

        Try this fun little thought experiment. Grab a paper in some sort of biology field and replace all instances of stuff like “evolution enabled them to” or “they evolved to” or “we evolved because” with the phrase “the magic of wizards and warlocks [enabled/gave them/allowed/etc]. Notice something ridiculous: the actual science within the paper doesn’t really change, just the cause-of-the-gaps does…..

  • blindboy

    A major scientific talent with a lifetime of colossal achievement reviewed by minor leaguer who apparently knows little of evolutionary theory.

    • Al_de_Baran

      And blindboy, a minor leaguer who must resort to the rudimentary logical fallacies of appeal to authority and ad hominem argument, presumably because he is unable to mount any better attack.

      If this person is the best cheerleader than Scientism can provide, then those of us who are opposed to it (Scientism, not science) clearly have little cause for worry.

      • blindboy

        Any serious discussion of the flaws of this piece would have to start with a summary of first year biology as the level of ignorance regarding evolutionary processes demonstrated is so profound. Ad hominen? I was simply pointing out that a scientist of Wilson’s status is deserving of a respectful review by someone knowledgeable in the fields. And if you want a logical fallacy try considering your leap from my brief statement to an attempt to define my philosophy. Really Alan it would be the equivalent of me deciding you were a creationist.

      • zdenekv

        No, I dont think Wilson is the best one as far as defending / promoting scientism goes. I suggest Dennett or Alex Rosenberg.

        • DBlain

          I can’t even think of a cogent simile for how useless it is to be “the best one” to promote a self refuting epistemology…

          • zdenek vajdak

            A question begging criticism.

      • Sir Huddleston Fuddleston

        “Scientism.” How low we have fallen from the Enlightenment. We are naked apes, our brains are tabulae rasae, all morality is evolutionarily determined. It makes the achievements of humanity more, not less, noble. But, ultimately, the flight of a sparrow through the mead hall, and back into the dark. Get over it.

  • kentallard

    Thank you to Mr. Booker for clearing that up.

    A question. Since Mr. Booker so confidently critiqued evolutionary theory, and since this indicates an intelligence superior to the many greats who developed the theory, why did he not share his thoughts on what really drives the development of life on earth?

    I bet he has a perpetual motion machine that he is not sharing as well.

    • tmv519

      That of course would be intelligent agency…you only have to look to see the obvious

  • Tony Prost

    Book reviewing is simple. Anybody who has not drawn the same conclusions I have, is stupid.

    • Asmodeus Belial

      It’s a heck of a gig, huh? Wonder who Booker is related to on the Spectator’s board of directors.

      • Tony Prost

        It’s the Brother-in-Law Theory. Anytime something fucks up, someone’s brother-in-law is involved!

        • tmv519

          Ad hominem attacks – insinuating nepotism in this case – are a sure sign that you don’t have the facts in your corner.

          • Tony Prost

            that’s why it is called a theory! Lighten up, dude.

      • tmv519

        Ad hominem attacks – insinuating nepotism in this case – are a sure sign that you don’t have the facts in your corner.

  • Doug Doakes

    It is always valid to support Darwin’s theory as the most insightful – so far.

    • Fergus Pickering

      The most insightful theory of what? Of everything?

      • Doug Doakes

        Evolution, Fergus. What else?

        • Fergus Pickering

          Which has nothing to do with Religion, Art, Economics etc etc. So why is this guy saying it does?

          • Fred Scuttle

            Everything evolves as we do. We no longer feel the need to invent gods any more, so we don’t. There’s no point in making things up when you have satisfactory evidence based science.

          • george

            ‘We no longer feel the need to invent gods any more, so we don’t’.

            I disagree. Leftism is an invented god, and people sadly still believe in it.

          • Fred Scuttle

            Don’t be silly.

          • george

            I’m perfectly serious, except when I’m not. In this case, I was.

          • Fred Scuttle

            Then you’re perfectly silly.

          • george

            I prefer to think I’m sillily perfect.

  • AmongthePoseidonians

    Oh dear.

  • Fergus Pickering

    The theory of Evolutin is not supposed to explain everything, just some things Of course it has noting to say about Art and Religion. No science does or could.

    • Zaotar

      “Nothing”? It’s true that science can’t say *everything*, but it certainly has something to say. For example, the fact that humans evolved from more primitive primates is “something” that science says about a particular aspect of human Religion. Neither the scientists asserting that fact nor the believer battling against it believes that the scientific assertion is “nothing.”

  • Al_de_Baran

    None of the critical comments here addresses Booker’s central point: Humans are not ants, they are not governed by blind instinct, and Wilson frequently fails to understand the ramifications of the difference. Perhaps the point is ignored because it is unassailable.

    • saksin

      See my longer comment.

    • blindboy

      Straw man! Quote Wilson asserting that humans ARE governed by blind instinct if you disagree.

  • Peter Chapman

    “Evolutionists make no claim for perpetual truth […].
    In science, “fact” can only mean “confirmed to such a degree that it
    would be perverse to withhold provisional assent.” I suppose that apples
    might start to rise tomorrow, but the possibility does not merit equal
    time in physics classrooms.” The late Stephen Gould put it succinctly. The Modern Synthesis is one of the surest ‘facts’ in nature. Along with germ theory and particle physics it has been validated tens of thousands of times.
    “Darwinians’ and ‘Darwinism’ are sure signs that you are dealing with someone who does not understand even basic aspects of the subject.

    • Zaotar

      Yep. Ranting about “Darwinists” is usually a clear indication that you are dealing with a kook. The question is the modern evolutionary synthesis, as it has developed over time, not “Darwinism” as if Darwin was a religious prophet that all must harken unto. And the modern evolutionary synthesis, at its core, is just about the strongest major scientific theory there is.

      • george

        ‘just about the strongest major scientific theory there is.’

        Fine, but there are still questions about the actual mechanisms involved. Why are Darwin-worshippers so touchy about that? Darwin himself had wrong ideas about human evolution because he had no fossils to reason from: not his fault. He made his best guess at the time with the evidence available. Scientists are still doing that, at a much more advanced stage.

        • pedestrianblogger

          Darwin is an icon for the atheists. They think that he blew away a fog of muddled thinking and religious prejudice with one wave of his scientific wand and “settled” the “science” for ever. He didn’t. He was a genuine scientist and built upon previous research, interpreted the data available to him and formed a theory, open to criticism and open to be developed and improved on (or even, Heaven forfend, superseded). He would be mortified to think that he had established a consensus, as unchallengeable and as sacrosanct as the opinion of the partisans of Ussher.

          • george

            I had a party in the sands and it was an ussher disashter.

          • pedestrianblogger

            Two glasses!!

          • george

            ha ha ha!

  • saksin

    And to use Christopher Booker’s own idiom, “nothing is more comical” than to see Booker refer to the different ways in which “we build our shelters, obtain our food, organise our societies” as items Wilson allegedly “missed” in his account. This after Booker himself has told us that Wilson “falls back” on “‘cultural’ or ‘multi-level evolution’, allowing successive generations to pass on each progressive step along the way, independent of genetic mutations.” In other words, the very emancipation from ant instinct of which Booker fancies Wilson to be oblivious! As if the different ways in which we build our shelters, obtain our food, organise our societies, and so on were not contingent on the great variety of cultural differences in our species, in stark contrast to the insect societies. Booker obviously was in over his head in picking up Wilson’s book. The reason for Bookers difficulties can be surmised from hints Booker drops here and there, perhaps inadvertently, regarding his sympathies with creationism, viz. “all those evolutionary leaps which require a host of interdependent things to develop more or less simultaneously to be workable.” There may even be an echo of the Biblical myth of our fallen angelic nature in “that split from our selfless ‘higher nature’, with which over the millennia our customs, laws, religion and artistic creativity have tried their best to re-integrate us.” One expects more of The Spectator than such amateurish reviewing of a serious book.

  • Dennis85

    If the reviewer wanted to write his own book, I think he should have.

  • SmoovB

    Contrary to the ravings of the radical Darwinians, their “theory” is essentially unfalsifiable. One does not have to be a religious fundamentalist nutter to recognize this.

    • Zaotar

      Nonsense. You could easily falsify evolutionary theory with the fossil record, with the genetics of living organisms, and even with mathematical modeling. If it was false, that is. Since Darwin, evolutionary theory has been modified over time to reflect new information and evidence (particularly genetics). It’s not static, and it’s certainly not unfalsifiable.

  • “It is our ability to escape from the rigid frame of instinct which explains almost everything that distinguishes human beings from all other forms of life.”

    This should set off alarm bells in any reader vaguely familiar with the last half century or so of biological research. Many species of animals, including most clearly great apes and cetaceans, have demonstrated an ability to develop and pass on’cultural’ innovations, i.e. to escape from the rigid framework of instinct. E.O. Wilson is well aware of this research and it surely informs the ideas he puts forward in this book.

    More basically, humans are notoriously bad at pointing to the one thing that makes us different: language, tools, uh, no. How about culture? The evidence already strongly suggests this ain’t it. Yet, Booker takes it as a given, damaging his credibility.

    And so one looks at Booker’s credentials and finds that he is a professional contrarian on issues of science. He is against scientific consensus on the dangers of secondhand smoke and asbestos, for instance. He also at least flirts with intelligent design nutters. One can then see why his review consists in large part of a misunderstanding of Wilson, selfish gene theory, and evolution generally. He strikes me as little more than a provocateur.

    • Asmodeus Belial

      People who doubt global warming should be forced by law to post a little footnote to that effect to everything else they write, anywhere, so others can save themselves the trouble of reading what they have to say about anything else.

      • tmv519

        That of course should include the 31,487 American scientists who signed an anti-Global Warming petition, including 9,029 with PhDs

        • Asmodeus Belial

          Yes, of course, it should. A charlatan with a Ph. D is still a charlatan. Some universities practically GIVE the damn degree away as soon as you pay tuition. The fact that some of your kooks have credentials doesn’t make their kooky idea scientific. The VAST majority of experts in the relevant fields are not on your side, crackpot. I don’t give any more of a damn what someone with a Ph. D. in mechanical engineering from some backwoods school thinks about global warming than I give a damn what someone like YOU thinks about it.

          • tmv519

            Newsflash : It was the “Ice Age Coming” in the mid-70’s, which morphed into Global Warming up until a couple of years ago, and now, since there was no temperature increase for the past 13 years it is “Climate Change”. That is a good bet, considering that weather and climate always change. But if for some reason they stop changing –
            as the current absence of any significant hurricane activity demonstrated – then what will it be? I suggest “Aperiodic Climate Apathy” or something like that.

            On the credentials of those who dare to disagree with you, let me see if I get this right. According to you, a scientist or an engineer even with a PhD is a charlatan, a kook, or a crackpot if he questions Climate Change, otherwise he is a brilliant defender of Mother Earth.

            And of course the ad hominem attacks always come handy when you encounter somebody like me, who you have never met or heard about, based on a couple of well-aimed posts. Pray, enlighten us, what your “sight-unseen” estimate of “someone like ME” would be? You obviously have magical powers which enables you to instantaneously analyze anybody in great detail.

            Finally, what have you got against mechanical engineers?
            Every building, every bridge, every inch of highway, pipelines, transmission lines, your beloved windmills and solar panels, cars, planes, ships, combines, elevators, sawmills, foundries, all assembly lines, toasters, fridges, the keyboard you type on, the screen you stare at, the computer which transmits your insults and so on ad infinitum exist and operate because of some mechanical engineer’s hard-earned expertise and lifelong dedication. Without them you would starve within days. But all of us would do fine if Al Gore moved to Albania…I can’t speak for the Albanians.

          • tmv519

            This dovetails with my previous comment shown below. Looks like Climate Change is out, Climate Apathy is in, provided that the 4 statistics listed are correct. The author majored in political science; is that better than mechanical engineering? Of course I do not care one way or another, and make no judgment until I see that these statistics are double checked and verified.

            Tornadoes: Lowest total in several decades

            Number of wildfires: On pace to be the lowest it has been in the past ten years

            Extreme Heat: The number of 100 degree days may turn out to be the lowest in about 100 years of records

            Hurricanes: We are currently in the longest period (8 years) since the Civil War Era without a major hurricane strike in the US

            By: Marc Morano – Climate Depot

          • Asmodeus Belial

            A BACHELOR’S DEGREE in Political Science, this is your expert, huh? Marc Morano, aptly named. Drop the final ‘o’ and that says it all about him and you.

          • Asmodeus Belial

            A BACHELOR’S DEGREE in Political Science, this is your expert, huh? Marc Morano, aptly named. Drop the final ‘o’ and that says it all about him and you, in spelling typical of the half-wit world you live in.

      • DBlain
        • Asmodeus Belial

          How about you spend some time compiling the list of experts in the relevant fields of climate science and see how many are on each side? That is, cut out the ‘scientists’ who don’t have advanced degrees, or who have degrees in a field that has no relation whatever to climate sciences, and concentrate on the relevant field of inquiry? Why don’t you try that out, Junior, and see what you get?

          • DBlain

            So you’re going to go straight Appeal to Authority, huh? In case you weren’t aware, that’s an elementary level logical fallacy.

            How about we average out every scientist whose primary funding is tax dollars and who would have a job-preservation incentive to “encourage” the implementation of “world-saving” government schemes.

            There aren’t many left in the climate field if you take away the punch bowl.

            Furthermore, my point was that there are some pretty eminent names in that list. Discarding everything they write based upon one professional opinion is kind of tossing the baby out with the bathwater, not to mention poisoning the well against any contributions they might have to scientific inquiry.

            Maybe you realized that and switched to an appeal to authority after you re-read how utterly ridiculous your first comment was. I’m pretty sure you can delete comments, so for future reference, that’s always an option instead of doubling down the stupid.

          • Asmodeus Belial

            You have nothing more to go on here than ‘appeal to authority,’ dimwit. You don’t understand the climate science, and you simply agree with anyone who comes along with a degree after his name who says what you already want to be the case–i.e., no climate change. Because that suits your daft right-wing politics. It is beyond risible to claim that scientists who receive state research funds are somehow biased one way or another on this issue, when you certainly won’t have a problem with cretins with Ph Ds in political science and economics who are paid large sums by the oil industry to work up some moronic paper against the scientific consensus.

            Whenever I stumble upon a tunnel dweller like you, I am reminded of how difficult human progress actually is, when there are vast numbers of illiterate baboons who cannot be bothered to learn anything beyond how to erect frail justifications for their a priori beliefs and desires based on whatever feeble ‘evidence’ they can find in a 2 minute internet search.

          • DBlain

            Nobody here is debating whether there is a general trend in warming on the earth. What is scientifically contested is that a) greenhouse gases are actually the primary cause of this, and b) human beings are the primary contributor to this trend.

            There is no such thing as “no climate change”, ever. The climate is constantly changing. It is the cause of the change that is under question.

            So essentially, thank you for typing out a massive strawman fallacy which also appears to be dry humping a continued, baseless appeal to authority while an ad hominem attack video tapes from another room. Very intellectual of you.

          • Asmodeus Belial

            Why don’t you stop speaking about what is or is not “scientifically contested,” since you clearly haven’t the slightest clue as to how to determine what is and what is not scientific discourse and research? You’ll look a lot less moronic than you currently do if you will just give that a try.

          • DBlain

            You’re doing that ad hominem thing again. It was kind of you-are-equivalent-in-intellect-to-a-toddler cute for a little while, but dear god it’s getting tiresome.

            If this is what the average proponent of man-made global warming pseudo-science is carrying around in terms of intellectual fortitude, then the rational side has already won! 🙂

          • Asmodeus Belial

            One can do no more with tools like you than call you what you are. You have no arguments to address. You just point to lists of people without expertise in the relevant fields who believe the same stupidity you believe, as though that were a case.

          • DBlain

            I do have an argument, which you have skirted with appeals to authority, poisoning the well before we even got started, ad hominem attacks, and then strawmanning what I said into something else that you could dry hump all over. I will reiterate since you just can’t seem to resist coming back to bang your face on the brick wall time and again.

            a) there is no good scientific evidence that C02 and greenhouse gases are the primary cause of global warming.

            b) the IPCC is a government-funded group of scientists. they claim that the world is warming/”changing” due to man-made causes, and that therefore some form of intervention (read: taxation/revenue gathering) is required.

            c) the NIPCC is a non-government group of scientists *whose disciplines fall within climate science and environmental science*, are Not Taxpayer Funded, and who cited over one thousand more peer reviewed papers in their recent report than the IPCC. they have come to the conclusion that alarmist rhetoric is absolutely baseless, alarmist economic rhetoric is baseless and harmful to scientific integrity, and that even if C02 and greenhouse gas levels were to double from current levels, it would cause almost no demonstrable effect, and no harm.

            At the very least, instead of your vitriol, infantile logical fallacies and childishly laughable attempts at insults, you should say “well, the actual science isn’t settled quite yet, even if the political system knows which side it wants things to fall on (and happens to be funding the research)”. Because it’s not. there is massive and growing dissent on this issue. Deal with it. It’s science.

          • Asmodeus Belial

            That’s not an argument, dolt. It’s a hysterical series of conspiratorial claims (‘government-funded scientists’ are biased, whereas ‘non-government scientists’ are apparently not–and no word on WHERE THE LATTER GET THEIR MONEY, eh?) and attribution to the scientific community of a position that needn’t be argued to make a case for the need for reduction in production of CO2. No case need to be made that CO2 is the “primary” cause of warming–it only needs to be demonstrated that it is a highly significant contributor to the phenomenon and that catastrophic scenarios of warming are highly unlikely when you take the effects of human-produced CO2 out of the equation, which has been demonstrated beyond the shadow of a doubt, to the sane, at least.

  • Ted Schrey Montreal

    Having broadened my mind by reading the comments I conclude that the way evolution theory relates to the development of the human form and mind is analogous to the way the theory of gravity explains the way I sit on a chair. Thanks, all. Send me the bill.

  • Ken_Pidcock

    Nothing is more comical about Darwinians than the contortions they get into in trying to explain those ‘altruistic’ aspects of human nature which might seem to contradict their belief that the evolutionary drive is always essentially self-centred (seen at its most extreme in Dawkins’s ‘selfish gene’ theory).

    Ah, man, not that again. Sheesh.

  • Jeffrey Ross

    I have long been a fan of Mr. Wilson. Have any of you considered that humans have not ” escaped instinct” but follow clearly predictable forms of behavior– what I have called “The Text” in several articles? Modern life is so predictable, so socially scripted, that our daily behaviors have become socially instinctual. Consider the path to the Golden Years of American Life. Consider our obsession with popular music, the movies, big cars, beautiful people. What is the outcome of any of this? Ants and bees have predictable behaviors– 100 million Americans are watching cable tv as we speak. Thanks.

  • Mnestheus

    “. Forget Bach’s B Minor Mass or the deeper insights of the Hindu scriptures — as a lapsed Southern Baptist, he caricatures the religious instinct of mankind as little more than the stunted form of faith he escaped from”

    At least “He escaped from ” it– the Republican party has not been equally fortunate.

  • Michael_Shores

    If we had not developed the vanity and conceit to believe that we are no longer governed significantly by instinct or that our behavior is largely the result of neuro-chemical processes we would not find ourselves reading drivel from the likes of Booker.

  • zdenekv

    Why is the Booker claiming that Darwinism cannot explain autonomy ( assuming that something like autonomy is what Booker means by uniquely human capacity for defying instincts etc ).What about Dennett’s explanation and other closely related work which takes a stab precisely at this question ? If Booker thinks wheels come off all this work, he should give at least a hint ( just a little taste ) why he thinks that is the case.

  • gaetano catelli

    i am not now, nor have i ever been, a Southern Baptist. i voted for Hillary Clinton in 2008, and hope to have the opportunity to vote for her again in 2016.

    but, whether it’s called “Darwinism” or “the modern evolutionary synthesis”, i don’t see how it gave rise to the Beatles, much less Bach.

    thus, i think some modesty is in order.

    • jim simmonds

      True, but as I write I’m looking at a hawk sitting on a fence outside my window not twenty feet away. “Blind” evolution gave us this magnificent animal that I claim is far more complex and far more beautiful than anything Bach or the Beatles ever wrote.

      • george

        The trouble with up-with-Darwin types is that they are too willing to make pronouncements, as if creation happened on their day off and they saw the whole thing quite clearly. In that way, it’s the other coin of religion.

        • Fred Scuttle

          Religion requires belief, evolutionary theory doesn’t require belief because it has evidence. A mountain of it.

          So let’s hear no more about the two being comparable, because they are not. Gods are all an invention, a product of human ignorance.

      • gaetano catelli

        how do we know evolution is “blind”, rather than merely “visually impaired”?

        i find it very hard to believe that Methuselah lived to be more than 900 years old. but, i find it also very hard to believe that that story, however doubtful, arose purely from molecules colliding with one another.

        • Fred Scuttle

          There must have been some fairly substantial molecular collisions to bring an omniscient, omnipresent and omnipotent god into existence. One that can do magic tricks.

      • marcforte

        Given that a hawk bears absolutely no relation to a Bach fugue in any important way I can’t see what you’re getting at. It’s like saying that we can understand how a car came about in the same way that we can understand how a banana because they’re both complex.

        • jim simmonds

          My point is that beautiful, complex things can be created by blind evolutionary forces. But, you say, beauty is a human judgment which, indeed, it is. But we, of course, are products of the same evolutional forces (Pace Nagel, et al.)

          • marcforte

            We are not just products of evolution. We are also products of human culture which (in spite of attempts by some ultra-Darwinists to reduce it to ‘memes’) cannot possibly be fully or even substantially explained in evolutionary terms. Evolution made culture biologically possible but culture cannot be reduced to evolution.

          • jim simmonds

            Would you agree that a pack of wolves, a band of chimps, or an ant colony qualify as a culture in the sense that the behavior of individual members is constrained by its membership in the group? These “cultures” arose because they confer an adaptive advantage

          • marcforte

            No, I think it is absolutely absurd to compare an ant colony or a wolf pack to human culture. A wolf is just a wolf, and can only ever react to its circumstances in an extremely limited and circumscribed way. Human beings, on the other hand, are capable of forming conceptual maps of their experience and manipulating these with conscious intent. They can communicate concepts between each other using a hugely complex system of abstract signs, and can consciously modify these concepts and their beliefs and behaviour in the light of this communication. They generally respond to nature indirectly, through an intermediate layer of signs which they both inherit from previous generations and adapt for themselves according to inner needs which often have little or nothing to do with physical survival or reproduction. They are capable of communicating and influencing each other – not just in the present but over vast distances of time and space – through creating written records of their thought processes. They can, and very frequently do, override their very powerful physically inherited instincts through abstract and logical reasoning. Individually they can plan practical, emotional and artistic projects that are highly individualised, enormously complex, and may span decades of their life span. They have an interior image of themselves which is formed through awareness of numerous cultural factors, and they can radically modify this, and hence themselves and their behaviour,
            over time through internal argument and effort, enabling them to change from how they are into how they would like to be. They can imagine a future different from the present. They can experience profound meetings as individual beings based on empathic understanding of each other’s experience, even if that experience is radically different from their own.

            There is nothing else remotely like any of this in the rest of nature. To try and conflate human activity to that of wolves or ants is to grasp one or two points of very superficial similarity while ignoring the vast majority of behaviour which is in fact totally different, both quantitively and qualitatively.

            At a certain point human culture became self-referential, and started to pursue goals and interests related to itself, as well as to fundamental practical needs. Likewise individual human beings became, to a large extent, separated from the rest of nature when they became self-aware, when they became reasoning subjects in a world of objects which they could define and attribute meaning to themselves. Psychologically and emotionally we are nothing like ants, or wolves or even apes. We live in and through culture, in the sense of a shared, evolving and, to a large extent, independent and self-referential mental landscape. Animals do not. They do not have culture in anything even approaching the sense that we do.

          • jim simmonds

            Surely human culture, as you describe it, did not spring into existence overnight. How different it must have been 10,000 years ago when writing had not been developed or 100,000 years ago when even a semblance of language is questionable. By studying animal societies perhaps we can glimpse the seeds of human culture in its embryonic forms.
            Here is a related example: Eric Kandel won the 2000 Noble Prize in Physiology or Medicine for his work on memory done by studying the sea slug Aplysia whose “brain” has about 20,000 neurons. His aim, though, was to shed some light on memory in humans whose brains contain more that a million times the number of neurons.
            If we accept that human culture and the human brain has evolved, then the study of ants, wolves, chimps, and sea slugs–vastly simpler than us and our culture–may offer clues as to what started us down our present path.

          • marcforte

            As I’ve ready said, of course evolution provided the conditions, the brain and emotional equipment, under which human culture could develop. There’s no argument there. What you argued however (at least this is how I understood your comments) is that we are essentially nothing but products of evolutionary forces, and this is not true. Human culture has enabled people to a large (although by no means total) extent to de-couple themselves from pure evolutionary processes in the Darwinian sense. We are products of evolution AND of a culture in which very often quite different forces are at work.

            It is a huge and illogical leap to relate sea slug memory to human memory at any but the most banal electro-chemical level. Beyond (possibly) indicating how certain types of traces are stored physically it tells us nothing interesting at all about the complex, multilayered, linguistic, evolving, and emotionally and culturally charged experience of human memory.

            At some point human culture developed into something that is not just quantitively, but QUALITATIVELY different to anything else in nature and this, though it depends on brains, also has an existence independent of them. To use an analogy, a book is ‘just’ paper, ink and cardboard. But you cannot remotely understand the significance of a book just by studying those elements. It has a content that is ‘independent’ of its physical structure, and which cannot be properly understood without reference to abstract things other than itself.

            Likewise, the brain has a physical, biologically evolved, structure which affects its operation; but it also contains culture, which is not ‘given’ by the individual physical brain, but has a concrete, external and evolving existence, in the form of language, books, relationships, art objects, architecture and human geography, etc etc. It is through exposure to these, and ONLY through exposure to these, that a human organism is able to become a human being.

            Culture impacts on, and modifies, the brain and its behaviour every bit as much as the brain impacts on culture. So I’m saying that it is ludicrous to suggest that you can come to any kind of complete understanding of what humans are, and how they became what they are, without considering evolution and culture together. We are both, and in terms of understanding the most interesting and unique parts of us, the cultural part is a lot more relevant than the sea slug part.

          • jim simmonds

            My comments have been based on the obvious observation that everything we observe in the present state of nature and culture has a history, obscure, non-obvious, and inaccessible as much of it may be. (Fortunately, in various fields there are shards of evidence that allow us to make reasonable conjectures about its history.)
            My claim is that even the most qualitative aspects of our culture, the most abstract, have their roots in concrete circumstances. Modern mathematics, one of the most elaborate abstract structures civilization has produced, began with merchants marking clay balls to indicate the number of goods they were shipping, and in Egypt, where properties of the 3-4-5 triangle were apparently used by farmers to recover the boundaries of their fields after the annual Nile flood. In language, to take another example, “to inspire” and “to impede,” though mainly used metaphorically nowadays, had their origins in descriptions of breathing and walking.
            Language is a key component of any human culture, but surely it’s of great interest to know what mutation permitted its development. And, once vocalization was possible, was not the imitation of animal sounds–a very concrete and adaptive move–a reasonable starting point for the language we use today?
            A model should never be confused with the “real” thing. Yet, though it has severe limitations, a good model can shed light on what are the basic ingredients of any living system. After all, who’s to deny that when a threshold of N neurons is reached, a brain begins to display the qualitative property of self-awareness?

          • marcforte

            Sorry, I missed your reply.

            “My claim is that even the most qualitative aspects of our culture, the most abstract, have their roots in concrete circumstances.”

            I’ve no argument with that, if you go back far enough. But we can very soon travel an awfully long way away from that starting point. For example some of the medieval ideas about god, heaven and hell, etc were enormously complex and intricate and (accepting that the assumptions behind the arguments were obviously fallacious) rationally argued, but the conversation was almost completely removed from anything real outside human culture. And yet the arguments affected people’s behaviour in profound ways.

            “Language is a key component of any human culture, but surely it’s of great interest to know what mutation permitted its development.”

            Yes, it would be interesting to know, although I daresay that whatever happened would have been a lot more complex than ‘a mutation’!

            “once vocalization was possible, was not the imitation of animal sounds–a very concrete and adaptive move–a reasonable starting point for the language we use today?”

            That’s a nice just-so story, but surely impossible to ever know if this is the case, whether or not we could fully understand the physical evolution of the brain… We can only ever speculate about such things.

            “who’s to deny that when a threshold of N neurons is reached, a brain begins to display the qualitative property of self-awareness?”

            I’m not sure it’s quite such a simple, linear relationship as that, but yes, it seems sensible to posit some sort of rough correlation between more ‘competent’ minds and brain size.

            It seems to me that as culture started to affect human behaviour, and hence survival and reproduction in all sorts of ways, that must in turn have affected the continuing evolution of the brain; the two must have been developing in a symbiotic way right from the beginning…..

    • george

      I suppose she’s cuter than Al Sharpton but that’s not saying much.

  • Daniel Maris

    Until you explain “who” is doing the feeling of consciousness -i.e. who is the I having subjective as opposed to objective experiences, then you have explained nothing about art, religion and so on. So far, science and evolutionists have explained nothing.

    • JoeDM

      You are your biochemistry, nothing more.

      • george

        I bet you’re a dream to make love to.

        • Asmodeus Belial

          Really, that’s all you have? That’s a few levels below ‘weak.’

          • george

            I’d love to know his biochemistry’s smoothest come-on lines.

      • DBlain

        The most that is ever going to be is an assertion. Just so you know….

    • george

      Or: something, but far from all, and that’s because the high can comprehend the low but the low can’t comprehend the high. To understand the human soul takes a natural scientist of the soul, usually called a ‘political philosopher’.

  • Punctuated equilibrium is a crock dung

  • Dingo

    Dear author, please do a google search on:
    Biological psychology
    Evolutionary psychology
    This should give you a foundational understanding on the “contortions” of those “comical Darwinians”.

    • DBlain

      Your intent wouldn’t happen to be focusing on professions that have sucked up billions of dollars and multiple decades with the result being “hey, just give us more time [and money]”….?

  • rameshraghuvanshi

    [1]Where have we come from?Simple answer is genes of our parents[2] We are we? Human being developed from chimpanzee [3]Where we are going? When we are old one die mix up with dust.We human being unique compare to other creatures because our brain is more developed we can walk with two lags so out hand free and we can more intelligent our thinking faculty developed tremendously.

  • Icebow

    I’m sick of the sort of exchanges to be found here. The bottom line is:
    Science good; ‘scientific materialism’ bad.
    Those opposed to each other will almost certainly never have a change of mind, regardless of the quality of argument.

  • george

    ‘ the real problem with Darwinians is their inability to see just how much their beguilingly simple theory simply cannot explain’.


    • Fred Scuttle

      What are Darwinians? And what can’t evolution explain?

      • george

        Evolution by means of natural selection is a grand idea and doubtless, in its broad outlines, the true history of creature-life on Earth. But it’s a bit like Edward de Bono’s ‘black boxes’. The car mechanic, in de Bono’s example, feels superior to the airhead blonde who knows how to work the car but doesn’t know how cars work. But the car mechanic doesn’t know all about what makes the car go, either, since the mechanic knows a lot of hows but less about the whys of chemistry and physics. He has his own ‘black boxes’ of knowledge — blanks where the explanation is inadequate, vague, or imaginary — it’s just that those boxes are smaller and less numerous than the ditsy blonde’s.

        Just because you have found the right path doesn’t mean you know all the trees, stones, and animals along that path. Scientists knew about the existence of DNA long before they could find a way to see it, never mind classify, count, and read it.

        • Fred Scuttle

          Nobody is suggesting science knows everything, so I’m not sure what your point is.

          What can’t evolution explain?

          • george

            To the contrary, champions of science very often treat science as the be-all and end-all of human knowledge, the sine qua non of every understanding.

            A theory, if it is anchored to truth, has to be held with a certain degree of detachment or objectivity. Otherwise, you assume that it explains things that in fact it doesn’t: the theory becomes your one Key To The Universe, the hammer for which everything is a nail. That’s not knowledge. To give an example: the scientific understanding of human origins was in some respects set back at least thirty years (see C. Owen Lovejoy) because scientists believed too much in computer modelling and relied too heavily on a particular view of fossils and skeleton development, when the evidence of soft tissues showed all along that they should have been less dogmatic, less convinced. In the end, the soft-tissue evidence was vindicated by the discovery of A. ramidus. The models were overturned. Scientists can over-commit just like anyone else.

          • Fred Scuttle

            You describe exactly how science works, a constant updating as more facts or information come to light. It can never be perfect, but it is the best we have.

  • JoeDM

    WARNING – These comments may contain nuts.

  • mrsjosephinehydehartley

    Not if it’s not freely available.

  • mikewaller

    Play fair by dear old Christopher, he is making a significant contribution to science by providing an excellent example of an evolved organism dealing as effectively as it can with the hand natural selection has dealt it. As Freud noted, big brains bring big trouble. If you evolve the kind of extreme opportunistic problem-solving capacity we have, it brings with it the daunting ability to see how cosmically inconsequential we all are and the realisation that the whole scheme of things seems to be purposeless. To cope with this, you can either invent a God who takes a close personal interest in you and your group; or do as Booker (and Dawkins!!) do and start banging on about humans being a special case as signified by our ability to transcend natural selection by means of our wonderful sense of self which is embedded within our equally miraculous consciousness.

    Sadly, for my money at least, consciousness is no more than a conceptual space which has evolved to enable us to do the opportunistic problem solving in which we specialise and the sense of self is simply the orientation device that grounds our thinking along the lines, “What can I get out of this?”

    As for what we have achieved,both artistically and technologically, this just serves to show what giving an ape a bigger and bigger brain can lead to. However brain size alone is not enough. It might be cruel to tell him, but what has driven Booker throughout his life will be an impulse to do relatively better than his peers. Same is true for great artists, great engineers and all the rest of us. Indeed the the five words “Compete, complement, deviate or die” is my contender for the human condition on a T shirt. By this I mean that we have a fundamental urge to out-perform our peers, find a valued supporting role or, to some degree, avoid comparisons by doing something different. As to “die”, please put “Family stigma, sexual selection and the evolutionary origins of severe depressions physiological consequences” into Google.

    • saint-loup

      “consciousness is no more than a conceptual space … the self of sense is simply the orientation device” – “no more” and “simply”! Talk about begging the question. Why all these embedded value judgements? Not to mention this: “The device that grounds our thinking … What can I get out of this?” “Our”, “I”… ! So the self is a device that serves the self? Right.

      • mikewaller

        I live in a world in which “consciousness” continues to be considered a great mystery with host of strange attributes. For example, on the BBC’s “Beyond Belief” on Monday I heard two seeming sane individuals conjecture that it transcended the mind, in some way permeated the whole body and played a key role in out of body experiences. It is against that background that I use the “simply” and “no more than” .

        To use the same terms in a related context, consciousness is no more than a late evolutionary “bolt on” that performs functions of great value to an opportunistic problem solver whilst the systems that ran the organism prior to its emergence on the present scale, continue much as they did before, save only for the new in-feed. If you doubt this, get hold of a special edition of the New Scientist which came out on 23 February this year, under the title “The Self – the greatest trick your mind ever played” . As was first shown by Grey Walter 60 years ago, in many situations the conscious mind is a post hoc rationaliser that has to somehow explain to itself acts precipitated by decision centres lying elsewhere within the brain.

        Regarding the “self.. that serves the self”, you are misreading what I wrote. To use a computer analogy I view what is usually termed the unconscious mind as broadly comparable with ROM i.e. aspects of the brain so essential to the organism survival that they come either pre-programmed or if having to be acquired from the environment, are not subject to over-writing. In contrast, consciousness is much like RAM in that it can be utilised to process whatever is of immediate concern. However, processing has no adaptive value unless it is processing to a purpose and the only purposes evolution admits to are those which serve the replicatory interests of the genes the organism carries. That is why I see the sense of self as a component of consciousness, but not the whole thing. The latter gives the capacity to develop a range of options whilst the former provides the gene-serving yardstick against which to evaluate them.

        • saint-loup

          There is a mystery here. All the concepts you use – evolution, gene and so on – can by definition only exist in a conceptual space such as you define consciousness to be. They exist to explain phenomena that manifest themselves in minds – a phenomenon is a ‘thing that appears’ and it has to have an observer to appear to. No mind, no phenomena; no consciousness, no concepts. So when you use concepts to explain the origin of consciousness and attribute the origin of mind to phenomena that predate mind we have a snake swallowing its own tail.

          On another note I am very wary of computer analogies – we built computers but no one built us. If you accustom yourself and others to thinking of yourself as a machine, you can bet there will be plenty of other people willing to treat you like one.

          • mikewaller

            If you want to junk most (if not all) of the great scientific endeavour, be my guest; but I won’t be following you.

            Similarly, what you personally like or dislike in terms of analogies is to me immaterial. The fact that a truth may be uncomfortable is not, by my book, a reason for ignoring it. I stand with the Astronomer Royal in thinking it unlikely the human race will survive the next 100 years. My take on this is that our one best hope lies in coming fully to understand the appalling hand we have been dealt by natural selection.

            Closing your mind to nasty thoughts just ain’t going the cut the mustard.

          • saint-loup

            Where have I said I want to junk scientific endeavour? You have fantasised that, I’m afraid. All I have done is noted a paradox. And an analogy is not a truth. It’s an analogy. One’s choice of analogy reveals a lot about one’s ideological and metaphysical assumptions, whether one is aware of them or not.

          • mikewaller

            When you wrote “So when you use concepts to explain the origin of consciousness and attribute the origin of mind to phenomena that predate mind we have a snake swallowing its own tail.” I not unnaturally thought that your notion must apply to everything that predates human consciousness, from the big bang onwards; this on the grounds that the big bang is about as far as we can so far get back in a chain of causality of which one outcome has been the consciousness component of the human brain with it delusions of agency. Of course I thought your argument nonsense but would die for your right to expressit.

            As to “ideological and metaphysical assumptions” revealing a lot about the person who makes them, I could not agree more. My reading of your intellectual obscurantism is that it reflects a desperate yearning to hang to the mysticism so many seek to attach to what was for so long mistakenly believed to be an attribute unique to humans. Latterly we have learned that any species that goes in for some form of opportunistic problem solving – members of the crow family, for example – have very basic versions of the same capacity. But if mysticism is your bag, just ignore it.

          • saint-loup

            I’m not sure what’s obscure about what I wrote. It’s hardly controversial to acknowledge that the relationship between consciousness and the phenomenal world is a tangled hierarchy that makes attributing causality to one or the other problematic. Simply denying or ignoring that problem doesn’t make it go away. It is instructive, however, that you can see into my heart (metaphor) and discern desperate yearnings unknown even to myself! That is a mystical power indeed.

          • mikewaller

            The Philosophers’ Prayer

            Lord, we pray, make this world complex

            So we can, our kind, perplex.

            But if its simple, please keep quite

            Less empty bowls become our diet.

            Put more prosaically, taking a reductionist view does not guarantee that one is wrong. I believe the human race to be chewing up the planet at a rather alarming rate, something which seems remarkabley foolish given our much vaunted intelligence. If there is an answer to this, I think it is likely to lie in the human condition i.e.the patterns of behaviour that natural selection has favoured over evolutionary timescales. Getting a grip on this represents our one best (albeit pretty small) hope.

            You, on the other hand, confidently proclaim “that the relationship between consciousness and the phenomenal world is a tangled hierarchy that makes attributing causality to one or the other problematic.” Although I recognise this to be a tenable argument, it is, in effect, a counsel of despair; this on the basis that if we cannot be sure of anything, no action can be adequately justified.

            Can’t help thinking that in terms of the future of the World, my approach has more to recommend it than yours. Indeed whenever I have come across your line of argument in the past it has struck my as a cerebral form of Onanism: fun for those who indulge but distinctively unproductive.

          • saint-loup

            Actually, there’s nothing incompatible between what you say and what I say. I do not counsel passive despair and mental masturbation. I absolutely accept evolution and natural selection and examining the causes of our patterns of behaviour. I just think one ought to have a critical awareness of the conceptual problems that arise as you approach the question of the origin of consciousness and that one ought to be very careful about the language one uses – for instance, not mistaking an analogy, a rhetorical device that may or may not serve truth, for truth itself. Or, for that matter, proclaiming that when someone says an analogy is revealing of ideology and metaphysical assumptions, they have said that ideology and metaphysical assumptions are revealing of character.

          • mikewaller

            If you think as you now say you do, my inclination is to feel that nitpicking over modes of expression is somewhat counterproductive. I happen to be looking at a paper a psychiatrist with a strong interest in evolution wrote over 40 years ago. Its conclusion includes the following: “Nevertheless, if these disagreeable remnants of our distant past still rumble within us and break out to cause us untold distress, it is time we faced them squarely. Ethologists have of course pointed this out repeatedly over the past few decades, but so far doctors have taken little note of them”. He was talking about the evolutionary persistence of mental illness, a topic which greatly interests me; but sadly his observations remains true for the great majority of humanity in respect of the whole gamut of evolutionary explanations to the present day. Evolutionary theory has the capability of explaining why we do the amazingly stupid things we do. Trouble is that it also suggests very strongly that we will not want to listen. Playing the boy-Wittgenstein with one of its few proponents is not likely to help.

  • Perseus Slade

    I thought that this had been settled long ago. There is no mystery about individuals exhibiting non-selfish behaviour from a Darwinian viewpoint. In life, there are two players: the individual and the group. Neither can survive alone. Selfishness is in the interest of the individual. Altruism is in the interest of the group. You might say that altruism is the selfishness of the group, and selfishness is the altruism of the individual. There is a constantly re-drawn dynamic equilibrium between the two trends, the subject of every novel, play and film.

    The author seems to be positing that only selfishness is explained by Darwinian analysis, but it equally well explains altruism.

  • Asmodeus Belial

    They call this a review at the Spectator, then, do they? Christopher Booker clearly has about the same nuanced understanding of evolutionary theory as the average 6 year old does. Rubbish.

  • Eric Anderson

    All this was discovered by Suzanne Langer and given exposition in 1962 in her book Philosophical Sketches(Johns Hopkins Press),one chapter which discusses specifically the distinction between social insects and mankind.Indeed she uses the word ‘imagination in’ describing the differences.I don’t know if Wilson cites her but her enormous contributions to philosophy needs to be brought to light and deserves full credit for her deep understanding of these problems.

  • The theoretical foundation upon which macroevolution rests is nonsense: By the time the last “beneficial” or “neutral” traits that are unintentionally (randomly) going to produce a new species have arrived, the first “beneficial” or “neutral” traits have disappeared according to natural selection (they served no purpose), meaning there is no new species.

  • rorysutherland

    No-one in the comments to date has mentioned sexual selection – ie “Darwin’s other idea.” This seems to be a major omission from the debate – certainly if you want to understand art and culture in evolutionary terms. Just sayin’.

    • If you had read my comment, you would know no one mentioned “sexual section” because it’s even more inane than the contradictory concept of natural selection! Hmm, I wounder how germ-based organisms sexually selected their mates?!

  • Wittgensteinsfoot

    What an utterly vacuous and foolish review. I wish I had the motivation to drive a bus through the various chasms in Booker’s argument. Alas I have a shitty hangover.

  • An explanation for religion? Simple, man observed “beginnings” to everything in nature around him, therefore he reasoned that since nature can’t be arbitrary therefore their exists a non-corporeal entity that began the physical realm itself.
    — Dean Michael Jackson (1995)

  • wygrif

    An Englishman attacks an Alabaman for being a Darwinist, and for being too reliant on science? OPPOSITE DAY!

  • AmericaFree.TV

    The reviewer obviously does not have any experience with the social birds, such as crows and parrots.

    As for whether we are masters of all we survey, it is too soon to tell. Come back in a million years, and then we can talk about it.

  • Ben Brown

    This review is ludicrous. He’s even made one of the most basic mistakes regarding the ‘Selfish Gene’. The title refers to selection occurring at the level of the gene, it has nothing to do with the evolutionary drive being ‘self-centred’. If the author of this review cant even be bothered to read the books he is swiping at why is he being published at The Spectator?

  • dodgy

    …Wilson introduces his ‘big idea’ by arguing that the two forms of life which, in evolutionary terms, have been most successful in ‘conquering the earth’ are …………….. Homo sapiens, and the ‘eusocial’ insects, bees, wasps and ants ……

    ? also ??

    The most successful life forms are unquestionably bacteria. And if I were to look for another I would probably pick the grasses.

    The primates and insects would be far down the list. Both require a very specialist environment, and both are going to be very short-lived orders. Bacteria and plant life were here long before the mammals or the insects, and will still be here long after both have gone.

  • Isaac G
  • sudon’t

    “…explain those ‘altruistic’ aspects of human nature…”

    I don’t see the difficulty. Many social species exhibit self-sacrificing behavior which is beneficial to the group, or species, as a whole.

  • Berry Muhl

    Uh, we haven’t broken from instinct all that much at all. We’ve managed to suppress some of our instincts, via self-domestication, but they’re all obviously still there below the surface.

    And Darwinism doesn’t have much difficulty in explaining human origins, especially after kin selection is factored in. Virtually every step in the process that’s discernible in the fossil record can be addressed by Darwinism.

    Altruism in its “nepotistic” form arises easily from kin selection; and in its extended, “reciprocal” form arises from group selection. The transition from the natural state to the civilized state–a process of self-domestication–entails the transition from kin selection to group selection. This same transition is found in every other domesticated animal; it’s why the domestic dog regards its human family as family.

    I’d recommend you read some Steven Pinker, but I’m sure you’d approach him with just the same dismissive hostility. Nonetheless, _The Blank Slate_ addresses all of your objections quite handily.

  • Jonathan Peterson

    Brilliant but blinded to the real force that directs evolution and current reality for each life form…….Hardwired instinctual behavior mechanism is directing operations…
    What is it? Why no scientist, philosopher, religion has use of facts on hand to come up with a working theory on how it operates…..
    The problem is: the mechanism constructs reality for our mind/conscious experience. IT HAS POWER TO DECEIVE ITS HOST, WHEN CONDITIONS ARE MET……Like protecting status quo operations or its security to operate unhindered by its host/hosts, which is its true existence in reality creation. for experience.
    ……….Still don’t get it?………..instinct mechanism constructs reality, is it going to give up its authority over survival decision to its hosts?………..No we are ignorant carbon based life forms…..It, Satan program is like a god, but only a robot brain/brains doing its job or purpose….survival operations management entities. …………… advanced artificial intelligence program with power over matter (2 mil bio machines in every living cell, animated and intelligently directed by outside force dna is a blueprint not intelligence needed to do the impossible: autonomous life forms struggling to survive, without a brain to operate our biological brain..Nothing but tissues and functions. These robot like brains only uses this power as directed by it laws and rules of operations..Or we would be driven without choices at all….We would believe it was our idea…Just like we do for our broken equality and deceived as to the wrongfulness of our actions or participation in unfair, unjust laws…..bribery, slavery based drug laws, taking of life without due process…….And we believe we are moral to do these terrible suffering causing behaviors strictly against our code of conduct….unlawful treatment of fellow human beings or citizens……….There it is…How life is achieved, whether a cell or complex organism….It has to be operated by an independent intelligence entities, for unlearned behaviors to be used intelligently to adapt to current changes in reality/environment.

    This is why we don’t correct violations of equality under all laws..
    This lawful equality is the highest principle of democracy…Equality cannot be violated and be a moral society toward one another….
    Why we need equalty laws and government….Because we are driven by an immoral instinct mechanisms that does not have moral judgment included in its rules and laws………Why?…….So we could have choices…..
    And hopefully humble ourselves before the God that created us and does not force us to be good or moral creatures……..We must struggle to do this for ourselves…

    Of course guided on the this moral path. By our creator who now gives this gift of knowledge to mankind…..So we can oppose our Satan program doing its job of directing survival activities necessary for any life to exist in our universe.

    your brother, Elder Jonathan L. Peterson

    prophet of God.
    Proof of my claims is at hand……7 universities will have access to IBM Watson input terminals in August 2014. My research question will be answered and our perception of reality, upgraded to full use of facts on hand for logic and beliefs.

    thank God if you know these words are full of truth….Instinct mechanism did not create itself/selves. Ask Watson that question too…….Zero probability, proof of God….
    “Is Instinct Mechanism An Artificial Intelligence Program?…

    “Reasons for signing
    Petition”. Kira R. a day ago …….It is a simple request for IBM Watson to be asked a very direct,
    straightforward question; it appears absurd for the request to not be granted
    in the furtherance of scientific investigation. It does not appear to be a
    valid reason that IBM Watson should not be asked the question and that IBM
    Watson’s answer should not be publically available. The answer could advance a
    scientific understanding affecting areas of behavioral, philosophical,
    psychological, and political science–to name only a few.

    Jonathan L. Peterson
    Behavior Research for Humanity LLC.
    3670 S. Red Maple Rd. (765e.)
    Salt Lake City, UT 84106 208-650-1346 ph. (or P.O. Box
    802, SLC,UT 84101)