Podium: Darwinism may hold the key to knowing what it is to be human

Share
Related Topics

"Darwinism" is often associated with a quite narrowly defined scientific picture. Central to this are the view of evolution as change in the frequency of genes; evolution as overwhelmingly driven by competitive natural selection; and the assumption that living things can be arranged on a branching tree, the branches of which are genetically isolated from one another.

I believe that this picture has largely outlived its usefulness, and that evolutionary theory is in the midst of a period of radical rethinking that is shifting the boundaries of how we understand evolution. There is a growing realisation of the importance of cooperation in evolution, an idea that has often been sidelined by an excessive emphasis on competition.

Mutualism and symbiosis, lateral exchange of genes and endosymbiosis, in which one biological entity is integrated into another, and the evolution of many forms of sociality, are among the phenomena that can be included under the concept of cooperation.

Two conclusions follow from the rapid changes that evolutionary ideas are currently undergoing. First, we should adopt a much more open-ended conception of Darwinism. It is hardly a compliment to one of our greatest scientists that we should tie his name to a frozen and dogmatic conception of a scientific theory that we are rapidly leaving behind. I assume that Darwin would have been delighted that evolutionary science had progressed far beyond his first conclusion.

Second, and turning to a different sort of boundary, Darwinism in the narrow sense is widely advertised as providing us insights into human nature and even, consequently, the way we should live. I think particularly of the school of so-called Evolutionary Psychology. Basing our self-conception on increasingly obsolete understandings of science is clearly a bad idea and illustrates where we should draw firm boundaries to Darwinism in the narrow sense even as we expand them in the sense above. However as a young but developing science, and if understood in a properly cautious way, Darwinism may indeed be expected gradually to provide us clearer insight into what it is to be a product of the evolutionary process and, more specifically, what it is to be human.

Professor John Dupre gave the Darwin College Lecture in Cambridge last month

React Now

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Ashdown Group: Marketing & Sales Manager

£40000 per annum: Ashdown Group: A reputable organisation within the leisure i...

Tradewind Recruitment: Science Teacher

£90 - £140 per day: Tradewind Recruitment: I am currently working in partnersh...

Recruitment Genius: Doctors - Dubai - High "Tax Free" Earnings

£96000 - £200000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Looking for a better earning p...

Recruitment Genius: PHP Developer

£32000 - £36000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A rapidly expanding company in ...

Day In a Page

Read Next
British Prime Minister Tony Blair (L) pictured shaking hands with Libyan leader Colonel Moamer Kadhafi on 25 March 2004.  

There's nothing wrong with Labour’s modernisers except how outdated they look

Mark Steel
 

Any chance the other parties will run their election campaigns without any deceit or nastiness?

Nigel Farage
Isis hostage crisis: The prisoner swap has only one purpose for the militants - recognition its Islamic State exists and that foreign nations acknowledge its power

Isis hostage crisis

The prisoner swap has only one purpose for the militants - recognition its Islamic State exists and that foreign nations acknowledge its power, says Robert Fisk
Missing salvage expert who found $50m of sunken treasure before disappearing, tracked down at last

The runaway buccaneers and the ship full of gold

Salvage expert Tommy Thompson found sunken treasure worth millions. Then he vanished... until now
Homeless Veterans appeal: ‘If you’re hard on the world you are hard on yourself’

Homeless Veterans appeal: ‘If you’re hard on the world you are hard on yourself’

Maverick artist Grayson Perry backs our campaign
Assisted Dying Bill: I want to be able to decide about my own death - I want to have control of my life

Assisted Dying Bill: 'I want control of my life'

This week the Assisted Dying Bill is debated in the Lords. Virginia Ironside, who has already made plans for her own self-deliverance, argues that it's time we allowed people a humane, compassionate death
Move over, kale - cabbage is the new rising star

Cabbage is king again

Sophie Morris banishes thoughts of soggy school dinners and turns over a new leaf
11 best winter skin treats

Give your moisturiser a helping hand: 11 best winter skin treats

Get an extra boost of nourishment from one of these hard-working products
Paul Scholes column: The more Jose Mourinho attempts to influence match officials, the more they are likely to ignore him

Paul Scholes column

The more Jose Mourinho attempts to influence match officials, the more they are likely to ignore him
Frank Warren column: No cigar, but pots of money: here come the Cubans

Frank Warren's Ringside

No cigar, but pots of money: here come the Cubans
Isis hostage crisis: Militant group stands strong as its numerous enemies fail to find a common plan to defeat it

Isis stands strong as its numerous enemies fail to find a common plan to defeat it

The jihadis are being squeezed militarily and economically, but there is no sign of an implosion, says Patrick Cockburn
Virtual reality thrusts viewers into the frontline of global events - and puts film-goers at the heart of the action

Virtual reality: Seeing is believing

Virtual reality thrusts viewers into the frontline of global events - and puts film-goers at the heart of the action
Homeless Veterans appeal: MP says Coalition ‘not doing enough’

Homeless Veterans appeal

MP says Coalition ‘not doing enough’ to help
Larry David, Steve Coogan and other comedians share stories of depression in new documentary

Comedians share stories of depression

The director of the new documentary, Kevin Pollak, tells Jessica Barrett how he got them to talk
Has The Archers lost the plot with it's spicy storylines?

Has The Archers lost the plot?

A growing number of listeners are voicing their discontent over the rural soap's spicy storylines; so loudly that even the BBC's director-general seems worried, says Simon Kelner
English Heritage adds 14 post-war office buildings to its protected lists

14 office buildings added to protected lists

Christopher Beanland explores the underrated appeal of these palaces of pen-pushing
Human skull discovery in Israel proves humans lived side-by-side with Neanderthals

Human skull discovery in Israel proves humans lived side-by-side with Neanderthals

Scientists unearthed the cranial fragments from Manot Cave in West Galilee