Origin Myths

August 22, 2009 | Leave a Comment

Category: Myth/Story, Society

A common argument emerged among evolutionary theorists starting 150 years ago.  Passionate words were exchanged that focused on whether variation was random or not.  If variation was random, then Darwin’s theory of natural selection was the primary player as species evolved.  If variation was not random, then the environment or other variables were deciding what features of an individual natural selection influenced, features possibly preselected for an environment.

If natural selection was choosing among a preselected group of candidates, those forces that determined the candidates being selected could be construed as being more important than natural selection.

The argument for a preselected group of candidate features faded in the 1930s as Darwin’s theory of natural selection became the default frame of reference for a society seeing the world through the effects of capitalism and maintaining a belief on the social level that without government intervention, it was all about the strongest surviving.  With the resurgence of Social Darwinism and free markets beginning in the late 1970s, the wise men of sociobiology and evolutionary psychology, Neo-Darwinists, shared with us the certain knowledge that variation is random and natural selection is the foundation of all evolution.

Times are changing.

Thomas Kuhn, Stephen J. Gould and many others have discussed in detail the influence that society has upon the stories or theories that a theorist can invent.  It’s not just a matter of what ideas can come to mind, but that times can determine if an idea can even draw enough tenured professors to make up a thesis committee.  As our time radically transforms what we believe to be true, how we believe we came to be will be affected.  As our present evolves, our past changes.  As we as a society experience transformed identity, our origin myths will radically transform.

In the West, we have transitioned from mythological origin myths to an origin myth based upon what we understand as science.  We are at the beginning of another origin myth transformation, one that integrates the influence of the environment upon variation in natural selection.  This new origin myth, this modified theory of evolution, is evidencing itself in the work of evolutionary developmental biologists who hypothesize that genes, during ontogeny, are selected in part for their ability to integrate information from the environment to offer individuals opportunities to adjust to the world that they are entering.  The modifications these individuals make are inheritable.  This is single-generation, environment-influenced evolutionary change.  This is not individual survival of the fittest but community-encouraged growth of the most flexible.

There are far more ways that it could be said that Darwin’s social environment influenced his theorizing than his theorizing influenced his social environment.  Then again, separating the two might be an arbitrary act.  Darwin’s theory of evolution has become our origin myth.  The information is shared as fact.  Even among scientists, theorists often fail to differentiate between Darwin’s theory of natural selection and evolution.  The media do not parse out differences, and they are encouraged to confuse the two by the proponents of the theory of natural selection.  A net result, for example, is that without thinking the American Left embraces Darwin’s theory of natural selection.  These Leftists are unaware that there are other theories of evolution complementary to the theory of natural selection, but they are theories that don’t encourage Social Darwinism, social stratification and the protection of the elites.

These are theories that see the individual in the context of a larger whole, deeply influenced by the environment.

Discussing evolution, we are exploring the origin myths of our society.  The two cannot easily be separated.  As we explore and integrate theories of evolution that consider how we are all connected, social change that encourages reverence for the commons will seem as natural as natural can seem.


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