Is man’s behavior to be understood and accepted in terms of the selfish genes?

At the 1978 meetings of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, a group of protesters from the International Committee Against Racism marched into the final session of the seminar “Beyond Nature—Nurture.” They were shouting slogans against racism, sexism, fascism, and other social inequities. Believing Edward O. Wilson of Harvard was using science to maintain the social status quo, they doused him with a bucket of water, crying, “Wilson, you’re all wet!”

What had angered these people was the relatively new science, sociobiology, of which Wilson is a principle proponent through his monumental book, Sociobiology: The New Synthesis, published in 1975. According to the New York Times, Wilson has claimed that sociobiology is a well-established discipline of biology and has been for 25 years. The general public, however, and even most scientists, have not been aware of its growing influence until the last few years. Consistently applied, its principles can promote different moral standards for different situations. They view hypocrisy and deception (if undetected) as beneficial. And they can encourage abortions, euthanasia, and killing of malformed infant children. Apparently, according to Wilson, they might even lead to “worship” of the human brain.

Wilson defines sociobiology as “the systematic study of the biological basis of all social behavior.” By “biological basis” he refers specifically to genetics and ultimately to evolutionary theory. Sociobiology is the application of evolutionary theory not only to animals, but also to human social behavior.

Many view sociobiology as a return to nineteenth-century social Darwinism. It maintained ...

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