Saddling evolution theory with undue responsibilities is foolhardy

To the Editor:

In his recent column, Peter Johnston paints a caricature of evolution (or some evolutionists) that is all too easy to criticize (“Evolution doesn’t preclude religion,” 4/6). He calls it “ideological evolution.” I believe (but not Believe) that the theory of evolution is the best we have as a unifying theory of biology that explains how the species of this planet came to be. I don’t believe that it explains everything about human nature — it simply can’t, because that is completely outside its scope.

That would be almost as absurd as trying to explain human nature using atomic theory. Yes, humans are made out of atoms, and if you analyze them with enough detail you will see that they don’t deviate from the laws of physics — but that would be looking at humans at the wrong level of detail. That’s why we have the humanities and the social sciences (and religion, for those who are religious).

The only alleged advocate of ideological evolution that Johnston mentions by name is Richard Dawkins. I would suggest he reread Dawkins’ work more carefully. For example, I can find no “ideological” evolution in this quote from “The Selfish Gene,” where Dawkins explicitly warns against taking what we learn from evolution too far out of context and trying to use it to justify human behavior: “I am not advocating a morality based on evolution. I am saying how things have evolved. I am not saying how we humans morally ought to behave. … If you wish to extract a moral from it, read it as a warning. Be warned that if you wish, as I do, to build a society in which individuals cooperate generously and unselfishly towards a common good, you can expect little help from biological nature. Let us try to teach generosity and altruism, because we are born selfish. Let us understand what our own selfish genes are up to, because we may then at least have a chance to upset their designs, something that no other species has ever aspired to do.”

Ivan Tubert-Brohman GRD ’07

April 6, 2006

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