Cultured Animals

by Carol Iannone

In a review of David Sloan Wilson’s Using Evolution to Improve My City, One Block at a Time, Jerry A. Coyne writes that he must often tell his undergraduates, particularly the pre-meds, that evolution is purely explanatory. It shows us how every organism is related, but cannot cure human ills. Coyne disagrees with thinkers like Wilson who see evolutionary biology as a panacea for the world’s problems. Wilson’s book is about his attempt to use evolutionary biology to improve education and community involvement in the downscale city of Binghamton, N.Y., where he teaches at the state university. The world we inhabit is no longer the one in which we evolved, says Coyne. How much of human nature comes from nature and how much from culture, evolutionists cannot say.

Really? That certainly reduces the value of evolutionary biology, it would seem. And it follows that evolution cannot reveal where all the ideas for “culture” came from either, or why man is so much more susceptible to being cultured than his many animal relatives.