Sunday, May 11, 2014

Human Biodiversity Supports the Natural Right to Equal Liberty: Responding to Nicholas Wade and Charles Murrray

Nicholas Wade is a famous science writer, who has written for Nature, Science, and The New York Times.  His new book--A Troublesome Inheritance: Genes, Race, and Human History--will provoke a fierce controversy.  (Time has published a short article by Wade summarizing some of the major points of his book.) 

The controversy over this book might even be as fierce as the earlier controversies over Ed Wilson's Sociobiology (published in 1975) and Richard Herrnstein and Charles Murray's The Bell Curve (published in 1994).  The emotional intensity of these controversies is due to the fact that these books challenge  a fundamental assumption of the modern social sciences--that human social behavior, in both its uniformity and diversity, is largely if not entirely shaped by culture rather than biology.

Charles Murray has sketched some of the lines in this debate in his review of Wade's book for the Wall Street Journal.  Last summer, Murray summarized his own position on the biology of human nature and human diversity at the Mont Pelerin Society conference in the Galapagos.  I wrote a post on my assessment of his lecture as largely agreeing with my lecture there on "The Evolution of Darwinian Liberalism."

If this debate were between the assertion that it's all culture and the assertion that it's all biology, then we would have to say that both sides are wrong.  What we need is a science of social behavior that explains the complex interaction in human history of human biology, human culture, and human judgment.  Charles Darwin suggested how to do that--particularly in his Descent of Man--in his theory of human social behavior as shaped by the coevolution of biological instinct, cultural learning, and individual judgment. 

Modern social scientists are afraid of such a Darwinian social science because they are afraid that it promotes two great evils--sexism and racism.  Wade's book is part of a new intellectual movement to allay this fear by arguing that a Darwinian science of sexual and racial differences is both scientifically grounded and morally defensible, and that it does not support sexism or racism.  I would also argue that this Darwinian science of human nature and human diversity sustains the classical liberal principle that all human beings have a natural right to equal liberty.

Wade states his main idea in one sentence that he repeats many times: "human evolution has been recent, copious, and regional" (4).  More fully stated, he argues:
"that there is a genetic component to human social behavior; that this component, so critical to human survival, is subject to evolutionary change and has indeed evolved over time; that the evolution in social behavior has necessarily proceeded independently in the five major races [sub-Saharan Africans, Caucasians, East Asians, Australian and New Guinean aborigines, and American Indians] and others [including ethnic groups such as the Ashkenazi Jews]; and that slight evolutionary differences in social behavior underlie the differences in social institutions prevalent among the major human populations" (242).
The reason this argument will provoke vehement scorn, particularly among academic intellectuals, is that it seems to promote racism.  The biological concept of race as a product of evolutionary history has been used to justify slavery, the forced sterilization of those identified as unfit, and Hitler's campaign to defend the purity of the Aryan race by persecuting and murdering those who were said to belong to inferior races.  After World War II, the revulsion against such horrible events motivated an intellectual strategy to defeat biological racism with two lines of reasoning.  The first was that human biological evolution stopped long ago before modern humans moved out of Africa some 50,000 years ago, and since then all of the evolutionary change in human beings has been purely cultural.  The second line of reasoning was that races have no biological reality because they exist only as arbitrary social constructions.  Wade rejects both of these claims as false and thus seems to vindicate the scientific validity of biological racism as grounded in biological evolution.  Consequently, for Wade to succeed, he must persuade us that human biological evolution has continued throughout human history right up to the present, that racial differences are real products of this biological evolution, and yet that believing all of this gives no support to biological racism.

The deep issue at stake here is whether Darwinian evolutionary science supports or subverts the liberal principle of equal liberty--that all human beings are created equal in being equally endowed with natural rights to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.  If Darwinian evolutionary history has differentiated human beings into racial groups with unequal natural endowments, how is it possible to believe in human equality?

In fact, according to the proponents of creationism and intelligent design theory, this shows that Darwinian science is morally and politically corrupting, because it denies the religious belief in the equal moral dignity of human beings as created in God's image, and it affirms, instead, the brutal rule of the stronger races over the weaker in an evolutionary survival of the fittest.  After all, Darwin himself indicated this in the subtitle of The Origin of the Species, which is The Preservation of Favored Races in the Struggle for Life.  They can insist, as Richard Weikart and others have, that there really is a clear line from Darwin to Hitler.

To be continued . . .


Anonymous said...

Good article. Look forward to reading second half.

A roundup of reviews of Wade's book is here:

Anonymous said...

Actually, the deep issue at stake here is NOT whether Darwinian evolutionary science supports or subverts the liberal principle of equal liberty, its whether HBD justifies inequality. If intelligence is unequally distributed, then, say, admission to top colleges will be skewed demographically, and ultimately so will wealth and power.

dave said...

Rather odd argument about "the brutal rule of the stronger races over the weaker" being indicated by the subtitle of The Origin of the Species, which is The Preservation of Favored Races in the Struggle for Life. . . No mention of human races in that book, the first races mentioned are races of cabbages.

Do you really think that stronger races of cabbages rule brutally over the weaker races, or was this meant to be a parody?

dave said...

On second thoughts, "according to the proponents of creationism and intelligent design theory" indicates that it is indeed parody. Please forget my last remark, apologies to cabbages everywhere.

Dave said...

"Modern social scientists are afraid of such a Darwinian social science because they are afraid that it promotes two great evils--sexism and racism."

The premise that the terms sexist and racist are built upon is that there *are no* inherent differences among the races or sexes. And so to distinguish people by them is morally wrong. Because this premise is incorrect the words are meaningless.