Sorting out the various notions of evolution

Various adjectives have been put in front of evolution. As a result, there have been many “evolutions,” from “biological (or organic/biotic) evolution” to “cultural evolution,” “gene-culture co-evolution,” “sociocultural evolution,” and, finally, “societal/social evolution” (see Table 2.2 for a summary of these labels)/The proliferation of “evolutions” without explicit definitions brings much confusion, but this section amends this problem.

TABLE 2.2 Social Evolution and Other Labels

2.2a: As Phenomena



Social/societal evolution

The evolution of human society as a system, at various levels (see Chapter 3 for details). Social evolution subsumes both the biological evolution of the human species and ideational evolution in human societies.

Cultural/sociocultural evolution

The evolution of culture in human society. Cultural evolution is only part of the ideational evolution in human societies. Social evolution thus subsumes cultural evolution. Strictly speaking, cultural evolution is only possible in human society.

Gene-culture co-evolution

The co-evolution of gene and culture (i.e.,“dual inheritance”) as a specific mechanism of cultural evolution

Biological evolution

The evolution of organisms, including both nonhuman and human species

Sociocultural evolution

A misnomer or a redundant concept. Its usage should be discouraged.

2.2b: As Paradigms


As paradigms Suitable fields

The Social Evolution Paradigm (SEP)

A scientific paradigm for All fields of social sciences

understanding human (see Chapter 3 for details)

society. SEP is the ultimate paradigm in social sciences.

The Extended Synthesis:

The scientific paradigm for Biological evolution

Beyond Neo-Darwinism (The Biological Evolution


understanding biological evolution.This paradigm is the only viable paradigm for understanding biological evolution.

2.2c: Scientific Fields and Their Suitable Paradigms


Objects of inquiry Suitable paradigms

Social sciences

Human society SEP and other foundational

paradigms of social sciences

Cultural evolution and

Cultural anthropology

The evolution of culture as SEP and other foundational a component of human paradigms of social sciences


Gene-culture co-evolution

(i.e., dual inheritance)

The genetic foundation SEP and other foundational

of culture and the paradigms of social sciences

co-evolution of gene and culture

Social evolutionary psychology'


The social evolution of SEP and other foundational

human psychological traits paradigms of social sciences

The biological foundation of The Extended Synthesis human behavior

Sociobiology (narrowly defined)

The biological foundation of The Extended Synthesis1 animal behavior, especially' the behavior of group animals

Evolutionary biology'

The evolution of organisms The Extended Synthesis

Hence, both sociobiology’ and EP as they stand today are based on a rather dated understanding of biological evolution. For a detailed critique, see Chapter 5. For a more updated understanding of evolution, see earlier.

Biological evolution versus social/societal evolution

In common parlance, evolution is often just change or “change with continuity” or, at best, “descent with modification,” according to Darwin (1859). Yet, these definitions of evolution are way too slippery because almost everything comes via descent by modification and hence with modification or change. Indeed, following such a definition, Lewontin (1974,6), a prominent philosopher of biology, came to assert that geological features and stars also evolve!

For biologists, evolution has a much stricter meaning: A process of change is evolutionary only if it proceeds in three distinct stages, namely variation, selection, and inheritance. Moreover, evolution can only operate in systems heavily populated by living creatures (e.g., the biotic system) or systems developed by living creatures (e.g., human society), and it must lead to some kind of “adaptive complexity” (Dawkins 1983, 404-405; Durham 1991,21-23; Hodgson and Knudsen 2010, Chapter 2).’

As such, there are only two known systems—the biotic system (on earth or any other planet) and human society (or any social system, again on earth or any other planet)—that are genuinely evolutionary. Before the coming of human beings, there was only biological evolution. The coming of human beings adds ideational force as a fundamental new force to evolution, thus producing a fundamentally new and far more complex phenomenon: social evolution (see Chapter 3).

Animal species that live in groups (i.e., ants, bees, termites, wasps, cetaceans, and some non-human higher primates like rhesus macaques and chimpanzees) do exhibit behaviors and other characteristics that are absent among animals that do not live in groups, such as division of labor, patterned communication, and close coordination within the group. As such, these animals do exhibit some group behavior and characteristics. Unfortunately, many sociobiologists have labeled these group behaviors and characteristics of non-human group animals as “social” behavior or even “culture,” and hence the evolution of these behaviors and characteristics of non-human group animals as “social/societal evolution” or “cultural/ sociocultural evolution” (e.g., Alexander 1974; Wilson 1975 [2000], 7-11; Cavalli-Sforza 1975; Trivers 1985;Bourke 2011).

Yet, these group behaviors and characteristics of non-human group animals are fundamentally different from group behaviors and characteristics of human beings. Behaviors and characteristics of non-human group animals have no input from ideational forces simply because there was no ideational force on earth before the coming of Homo habilis about two million years ago. In other words, the behaviors and characteristics of ants, bees, and even chimpanzees are completely determined by material forces (e.g., genetic, developmental, and environmental in the purely physical sense). As such, these non-human group animals cannot possibly have “culture,” if culture is defined as “the patterns of value, idea, and other symbolic-meaningful systems” or “a historically transmitted pattern of meaning embodied in symbols” (Kroeber and Parsons 1958, 583; Geertz 1973, 89; Durham 1991,3-10). Thus, when sociobiologists talk about “social/cultural behavior” or “social/cultural evolution” of ants, bees, or even non-human higher vertebrates, they confuse more than they clarify. Worse, when some of these sociobiologists extrapolate the lessons from non-human group animals to human beings and human society, they are venturing into dangerous terrain. Many extrapolations from group animals to human society have been unsound, utterly wrong, and thus morally dangerous (see Chapter 5).

When we (i.e., social scientists, at least) talk about “social” and “cultural,” social and cultural must mean something about human beings and human society. Ethologists and sociobiologists should stop labeling their work on the evolution of group animals as “social evolution” to avoid further confusion, even if doing so reduces the sales of their books.

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