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| In 1971 a Professor at Harvard, the prominent
entomologist E. O. Wilson, published a book entitled The Insect
Societies. Four years later in his study entitled Sociobiology:
The New Synthesis, (an enormous volume comprised of 697
extra-sized pages), Wilson sought to extend the understanding he
had gained of the principles of the intricate behaviors of social
instincts to vertebrate animals. A third book, entitled "On Human
Nature", which followed in 1978 was concerned with the further
extension of these same principles to the human species.
These last two books gave rise an initial storm of controversy that has somewhat abated as the evolutionary behavioral ideas as suggested by Wilson have gained more acceptance. Both within and beyond academic circles it was inevitable that ideas that are effectively concerned with fundamental questions of Human Life: its meaning and its inherent dignity would have the potential to be enormously controversial.
In the very first paragraph of Sociobiology: The New Synthesis he states his view of life in quite unequivocally reductionistic terms as follows:
In a Darwinian sense the organism does not live for itself. Its primary function is not even to reproduce other organisms; it reproduces genes, and it serves as their temporary carrier... Samuel Butler's famous aphorism, that the chicken is only an egg's way of making another egg, has been modernized: The organism is only DNA's way of making more DNA.
The overall message carried was a startling one: that various kinds of social behavior are genetically programmed into any species, including our own, and that this programming is particularly true of the social behavior human beings label "altruism," which Wilson defines as "self-destructive behavior performed for the benefit of others."
People are animals, their behavior has evolved just like that of the animals, and our culture has a biological component, he announced. Human sexuality has evolved in certain ways for specific reasons, all through natural selection. It seemed to some that Professor E O Wilson of Harvard University was dramatically undermining human dignity.
Sociobiology "versus" Culture
E O Wilson
Sociobiology: The New Synthesis