LETTER : How do I know that Lewis Wolpert exists?

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Professor Wolpert's search for a gene which selects for metaphysical beliefs misunderstands the contribution of the social sciences to the explanation of such phenomena. Oh, were it so easy, that one could just explain religion and history through a gene!

There is more than enough solid evidence to explain the generation and reproduction of such beliefs by using social science analysis. One can start from the notion of the utility of beliefs for survival as he does. But these perceived lessons of survival are rationalised and transmitted through culture, socialisation, social and economic institutions, political structures and the like, rather than through some biological imperative.

One could get the impression that some scientists, like some metaphysicians, have an irresistible urge to try to explain everything - even when their approach is inappropriate. Perhaps they have some form of scientific megalomania gene.

Philip G Cerny

Professor of International Political Economy

University of Leeds