Darwinian takeover

February 21, 1997

I ACCEPT Derek Freeman's claim (THES, February 7) that he believes in "a synthesis I of both the genetic and exogenetic" in the determination of human behaviour. Everyone, sociobiologists and cultural determinists alike, pays lip service to the need for a balance between the two.

Just as there are phylogenetic universals of human behaviour, so there are also variations which have appeared since the hunter-gatherer phase of human evolution, and which now vary from society to society. This is hardly news. The question is one of emphasis, and just as in the past the humanities have virtually ignored genetic factors, so there is now a danger that they may - as in recent excursions by Darwinists into aesthetics and literature - in practice underplay the significant role of the exogenetic.

The mood among some universalists that no variation is to be allowed in theories of the balance between the two is disturbing. The full extent of genetic determination has not been, and perhaps never can be, subject to "scientific" demonstration. The more complex the organism, the greater its adaptation to exogenetic influence.

The Darwinian challenge to the stranglehold of cultural determinism is leading not to a sensible "synthesis", but to a new totality.

Guy Cook

Reader in education, Institute of Education, University of London

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