Re: Heretics in the Laboratory

Neil Haave (
Sun, 6 Oct 1996 23:27:48 +0000

On 1 Oct 96 J. Raymond Zimmer said,

>The idea of individuals with evolved behavioural propensities (or
>psychological adaptations) directly challenges the idea of culture
>as an autonomous cause for human action, which is basically what
>Lewontin says when he says:
> "There is nothing in Marx, Lenin, or Mao," he wrote in
> collaboration with Richard Levins, "that is or can be in
> contradiction with the particular physical facts and processes
> of a particular set of phenomena in the objective world." [p.
> 346]
>So while Steve may be correct in the hypocrisy of Gould's
>position, the irony may be that the next wave of the attempt to
>apply insights from evolutionary biology to understanding human
>action will capsize his little Marxist boat which claims that
>culture is autonomous of physical (or biological) phenomena.


I do not know much about the details of marxist theory, but I do
know that Lewontin would vehemently disagree with the
interpretation you have given him:

"The contrast between biological and cultural determinism is
a manifestation of the nature-nurture controversy that has
plagued biology, psychology, and sociology since the early
part of the nineteenth century. Either nature plays a
determining role in producing the similarity and differences
among human beings, or it does not, in which case, what is
left but nurture? We reject this dichotomy. ... Moreover it
is perfectly obvious that human social life is related to
human biology (1)."

Likewise, Gould:

"Of all the baleful false dichotomies that stymie our
understanding of the world's complexity, nature vs nurture
must rank among the top two or three ( a phony division only
enhanced by the euphony of these names). I don't think that
any smoke screen infuriates me more than the biodeterminist's
frequent claim "But we are the sophisticated ones; our
opponents are pure environmentalists, supporters of nurture
alone; we recognize that behaviours arise by an interaction of
nature and nurture." May I then emphasize again as the text
of "The Mismeasure of Man" does throughout, that all parties
to the debate, indeed all people of good will and decent
information support the utterly uncontroversial statment that
human form and behaviour arise from complex mixtures of
genetic and environmental influences (2)."

Both Gould and Lewontin understand that both biology and society
impact human development and behaviour. Lewontin also adds that

"... all organisms - but especially human beings - are not
simply the results but are also the causes of their own
environments (3)."

Thus the physical and social environment which forms human beings
is in turn formed by human beings. Nature and nurture are in a
much more complex inter-relationship than the nature-nurture
argument would lead us to believe.

Does this make sense to you in terms of Gould's and Lewontin's
stand on cultural versus biological deteminism?



1. Rose, S., R.C. Lewontin & L.J. Kamin. 1984. Not in Our Genes:
Biology, Ideology and Human Nature. Penguin Group, Toronto,
ON, p. 267.

2. Gould, S.J. 1996. The Mismeasure of Man, revised and expanded
edition. W.W. Norton & Co., New York, NY, pp 33-34.

3. Rose et al. 1984. p 275.

Neil Haave, Ph.D.
Associate Professor
Division of Biology and Chemistry
4901 - 46 Avenue
Camrose, AB T4V 2R3
fax (403) 679 1129
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