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“Darwin’s heir” E. O. Wilson remembered for ants; his sociobiology is sidelined

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Edward O. Wilson, pictured in 2012, was considered the world's leading expert on ants
Edward O. Wilson, pictured in 2012, was considered the world’s leading expert on ants.

In newspaper work, this is called a “buried lede”:

Edward. O. Wilson, the trailblazing US scientist, professor and author whose study of insects and clarion call to protect Earth earned him the nickname “Darwin’s natural heir,” has died at age 92.

Wilson, whose death was announced Monday by his foundation, was an award-winning biologist and longtime Harvard University research professor, considered the world’s leading authority on ants and their behavior…

But his trailblazing work was not without controversy. In much of his 1975 book “Sociobiology,” he laid out his theory of animal behavior, which earned high praise from fellow scientists.

In the final chapter, though, Wilson caused an uproar by proposing that human behavior is largely genetically based, and that humans acquire a predisposition to such matters as the division of labor between genders, tribalism, male dominance and parental-child bonding.

News, “Scientist E.O. Wilson, dubbed modern-day Darwin, dead at 92” at Phys.org (December 27, 2021)

Had Wilson’s career begun fifty years later, it would have been quickly and fatally Woked.

In his book, The Death of Humanity And the Case for Life, Richard Weikart tackles the metaphysical naturalism part:

Wilson believes that everything about humans—behavior, morality, and even religion—is ultimately explicable as the result of completely material processes. Even our most deeply held beliefs are simply products of mindless evolutionary processes inscribed on our gray matter: “Perhaps, as I believe, it [religion] can all eventually be explained as brain circuitry and deep, genetic history.”[8] Wilson admits that he is a reductionist, and he exudes optimism that scientists will someday explain everything about human behavior. In Consilience (1998), which is a plea to bring the social and human sciences completely under the sway of natural science, he asks, “Given that human action comprises events of physical causation, why should the social sciences and humanities be impervious to consilience with the natural sciences?” Wilson claims that ultimately every phenomena in the cosmos can be reduced to physical laws, so the human mind is simply physical brain activity, and humans have no free will.[9]

In 2009, on the bicentennial of Darwin’s birthday and the sesquicentennial of Darwin’s Origin of Species, Wilson pronounced Darwin’s Origin of Species the most important book ever written, because for the first time it provided us an understanding of humanity based on science rather than religion. Darwin’s theory, according to Wilson, forms “the best foundation for human self-understanding and the philosophical guide for human action.” Apparently, Wilson has little regard for the is-ought divide. Further, he argues that all organic processes—and here he clearly includes human behavior—are ultimately reducible to the laws of physics and chemistry. For Wilson evolution has clearly replaced religion as the source of answers about the purpose and destiny of life. He asserted, “The great questions—“Who are we?” “Where did we come from?” and “Why are we here?”—can be answered only, if ever, in the light of scientifically based evolutionary thought.” What Wilson does not explain is why these questions have any importance if we are nothing more than the result of mindless material processes.[10]

[8] Edward O. Wilson, Consilience: The Unity of Knowledge (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1998), 261.

[9] Edward O. Wilson, Consilience: The Unity of Knowledge (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1998), ch. 6, quote at 11; see also E. O. Wilson, The Social Conquest of the Earth (New York: Liveright Publishing, 2012), 287-88.

[10] E. O. Wilson, “Foreword,” in Evolution: The First Four Billion Years, ed. Michael Ruse and Joseph Travis (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2009), vii-viii. Wilson elaborates on these questions further in The Social Conquest of the Earth (New York: Liveright Publishing, 2012).

Perhaps it was best for Wilson that he did not live to see pure naturalist atheism start to wither before panpsychism.

See, for example, University of Chicago biochemist: All living cells are cognitive. James Shapiro’s recent paper points out, with examples, that bacteria meet the Oxford English Dictionary’s definition of “cognitive.” Future debates over origins of intelligence, consciousness, etc., may mainly feature panpsychists vs. theists rather than materialists vs. theists.

Note: There was also the curious a group selection affair.

this is a copy of my other post: Biologist E.O. Wilson died … he was called “modern-day Darwin” … Wilson was an American (Harvard) Look at some of his fights with Dawkins:
The Guardian “Biological warfare flares up again between EO Wilson and Richard Dawkins” “US scientist (Wilson) dismisses Dawkins as a ‘journalist’ in a BBC television interview about pair’s differing views on natural selection” “The war of words between the biologists EO Wilson and Richard Dawkins has reignited after the Harvard professor described his Oxford counterpart as a “journalist”.” Wilson answered: “There is no dispute between me and Richard Dawkins and there never has been, because he’s a journalist, and journalists are people that report what the scientists have found and the arguments I’ve had have actually been with scientists doing research.””
:))))))))) A top Darwinist calls Dawkins a journalist :))) Made my day ...
“Wilson was asked about his current views on the concept of a selfish gene, to which he replied: “I have abandoned it and I think most serious scientists working on it have abandoned it. Some defenders may be out there, but they have been relatively or almost totally silenced since our major paper came out.” https://www.theguardian.com/science/2014/nov/07/richard-dawkins-labelled-journalist-by-eo-wilson
or here, something from Dawkins:
“I am not being funny when I say of Edward Wilson’s latest book that there are interesting and informative chapters on human evolution, and on the ways of social insects (which he knows better than any man alive), and it was a good idea to write a book comparing these two pinnacles of social evolution, but unfortunately one is obliged to wade through many pages of erroneous and downright perverse misunderstandings of evolutionary theory,” Dawkins writes. https://www.theguardian.com/science/2012/jun/24/battle-of-the-professors
it is funny to see, how TOP Darwinian biologists accusing each other, that one or the other does not understand the theory of evolution :))))))))))))) it is funny to see, that the 'modern-day Darwin' (EO WILSON) is accused of "perverse misunderstandings of evolutionary theory" ... so how should a lay Darwinist (e.g. Seversky, JVL & Co...) ever understand ? :)))))))) martin_r
The hypothetical is tricky in this case. According to some stories, Wilson was a sharp 'salesman' of ideas, adopting styles and concepts to gain maximum influence. He probably would have adjusted nicely to Wokeness. polistra

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