Leaving the Cave: Evolutionary Naturalism in Social-Scientific Thought

By Pat Duffy Hutcheon | Go to book overview

Twenty-Four
Modern Evolutionary Theory Richard Dawkins and Stephen Jay Gould

The lime in our bones, the salt in our blood,
Were not from the direct hand of the Craftsman,
They were, instead, part of our heritage
From an ancient and forgotten sea.

-- Loren Eiseley, The Firmament of Time

E ver since Darwin, many social theorists have recognized the necessity of grounding their world views in evolutionary theory. However, only a few modern thinkers like Durkheim, Mead, Huxley, Popper, Piaget and Skinner -- and, more recently, Edward O. Wilson -- have tried to spell out the specific implications of that theory for our understanding of human behaviour and culture. Nonetheless, ever since Darwin, there has been a slowly growing acceptance of the idea that questions about the origin and nature of life, and about internal and external constraints upon human existence, are matters to be explored within a biological -- rather than a transcendental -- frame of reference.

But evolutionary theory is itself evolving. Nothing is more exciting, or more immediately relevant to social science, than recent refinements and elaborations of Darwinism. Fortunately, two of the world's foremost evolutionary biologists just happen to be gifted communicators as well as philosophical naturalists. They also happen to represent two major thrusts at the leading edge of the ongoing knowledge-building process concerned with the nature of evolution. They are Richard Dawkins of Oxford, England, and Stephen Jay Gould of Harvard, USA. A comparative analysis of their ideas is not only an opportunity to examine the state of modern evolutionary theory; it should shed light as well on what Popper described as the evolution of scientific knowledge.

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