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Reviewer on E. O. Wilson human evolution book: “Unable to think outside the Darwinian box, … ”

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British journalist and author Christopher Booker, in Britain’s Spectator has some very interesting things to say about E.O. Wilson’s most recent explains-human-nature book. Wilson is described by his publisher as “the most celebrated living heir to Darwin.” That’s probably true in the academic world, though the Dawkins sideshow is much better known to the public. What’s interesting about Booker’s review of The Social Conquest of Earth is that he takes for granted, as a cultural fact, that Darwinism is overblown. For example,

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.

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.

Unable to think outside the Darwinian box, his account lacks any real warmth or wider understanding.

Never mind that Baptists might take issue with Booker’s opinion of their faith, the interesting thing is that it isn’t some kind of revolution for Booker to criticize the book in those long overdue terms.

Wilson’s thesis, as set out by Booker, is yet another Down from the Trees: A True History, but this time with ants. He will have plenty of readers, as always. The next Darwinian to make it to the top will too.

In reality, the history of the human race, whether in whole or in part, is not best dealt with by reductive explanations of any kind. Every single human being is a nearly unfathomable challenge to any other human being’s understanding, a challenge whose size and shape is constantly changing. So explanations of human history, at best, either add insight or they don’t.

Psst: Don’t tell Darwin’s followers this. But for them, we’d be stuck for really easy news stories.

2 Replies to “Reviewer on E. O. Wilson human evolution book: “Unable to think outside the Darwinian box, … ”

  1. 1
    Barb says:

    I’ve always found it amusing that proponents of Darwinian evolution–which supposedly is the “greatest engine for atheism” ever invented–attempt to explain away religious belief as the byproduct of natural selection.

    How can a theory that presupposes materialistic, naturalistic processes as the source of all life on Earth allow for the human development of spirituality?

    It reminds me of the scripture at Romans 1:25, which speaks of “those who exchanged the truth of God for the lie and venerated and rendered sacred service to the creation rather than the One who created.”

  2. 2
    bb says:

    I think you hit the nail on the head Barb. At least I’ve long thought the same. I like that rendering of Romans 1:25. What version is it?

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