Kerstin Berminge

A short comment on the paper below: This paper was presented, because of a special invitation to give the background of current biologistic intellectual and humanist trend, at a conference (Nordic Tag) at the dept. of Archeology at Göteborg University in 1997. Here it can serve as an introduction to my field of research. Here I also want to stress, that I am definitely not proposing a creationist view, only turning against misuse of the Theory of Evolution.

- A New Macro Paradigm?

Kerstin Berminge Ph.D.
Departement of Theory of Science and Research,
Göteborg University

The aim of this paper is to give a brief overview of the development of neo-biologism (the explaining of human behaviour and social and political activities as mainly results of our biological nature).

It is here suggested that we may be in the middle of a development during which physics will fuse with biology into a new world view, a new "macro paradigm", and that the current rather pronounced biologistic intellectual trend is simply a part of a transition period at which end biology will fuse with physics into a new macro paradigm.

It is also suggested that the current biologistic trend may be a continuation of the biologism/evolutionism, or our history of evolution that dominated the period from the end of the nineteenth century up to the end of the second World War. It is further argued that this trend was temporarily interrupted by Hitler's devastating politics and regimen of horror which made biologism/evolutionism impossible for nearly four decades and therefore delayed the development of this suggested new macro paradigm.

On the History of Evolutionism – A Brief Overview

Darwins book on Origin of Species (1859), stimulated and intensified further discussion about the evolution of the species.
In the social and political sciences, the theory of evolution became popular rather soon after the publication of The Origins of Species. This was mainly due to the work of Herbert Spencer (1820–1903), but also to the efforts of Darwin's cousin Francis Galton (1822–1911) and others, and of course to Darwin's own later publications (Bowler P, 1989, p. 282–2; Oldroyd D R 1983, p. 204–306 ).

The theory of evolution became associated with social, political and technological progress, and with the elimination of inferior people in the struggle for life. This elimination was viewed, by some, as a unavoidable consequence of the natural laws of evolution and progress. The theory of evolution also became associated with the economic policy of laissez–faire with its accentuation of unlimited competition between humans as the most viable route to social and technological progress

There was the further worry that humanity was degenerating. It was supposed that humans were domesticated animals, in the same way as their cattle and other domesticated species. Modern society, it was argued, had neglected the laws of nature, therefore natural selection was no longer operating on humanity, to the result that inferior individuals reproduced to a higher degree than the more intelligent individuals. The poor of course, were the less intelligent people, and hence the inferior ones. Consequently the most hard headed Social Darwinists suggested that aid to the poor only increased the rate of degeneration (Adrian D /Moore J 1992 p. 153–154). Social lierals though, recommended better education for the poor, convinced that this would add to the quality of many of these people, qualities which could also be inherited (Oldroyd D R, 1983 p. 227–228).

Biology in general, as well as the theory of evolution, was also used to justify the oppression of women at a time when women intensified their fight for equal rights. Darwin's theory also offered justification for the oppression of people in the colonies, as well as for racism and oppression of coloured people in the Western World. Efforts were made to devise methods of demonstrating differences in intelligence between the different social classes in the Western World, between women and men, and between the "human races". Craneometry, which was further developed into racist eugenics, was one such method. Frances Galton developed methods to differentiate between more and less intelligent people. He introduced statistics to the behavioural sciences such as the Gauss curve (The Bell Curve) for this purpose. Because of Galton's work, and because of the tests developed by Simon–Binet, the intelligence tests were developed in the beginning of the twentieth century. At the end of the nineteenth century many psychologists developed theories about human types, or archetypes (Gould 1981 p. 147–233). These theories were obviously inspired by the findings in racial biology, in eugenics.

The first World War led to a lapse of discussion but in the aftermath of the war, biologists were able to revive the debate about the degeneration of humankind. There was also a scientific consensus on the gravity of the problem, and differences among scientists were more or less centred on which, among several available solutions was the best. Solutions proposed ranged from punishment of inferior individuals through decreased economic support to encouraging superior ones to reproduce more through schemes of extra support.

In the USA, laws were passed to prevent immigration of "inferior people", and psychological tests were used to select those who could be allowed to immigrate. (Gould 1981, p. 157). In Europe discussions about the domestication/degeneration were intensified during the twenties, and biologists and physicians suggested sterilisation of inferior people. Before 1929, and the economic crises, it was not possible to get enough political support for these measures, but as a consequence of the stock market crash in 1929, and with the argument that it was too expensive to support mentally retarded people, laws of this kind were passed in Germany, as well as in other European countries (Weingart/Kroll/Bayertz‚ 1988; Deichmann U, 1996 p. 232). In 1933 Hitler, who based his ideology on biology and on old German romantic idealism and nationalism, passed a law about compulsory sterilisation of the mentally retarded. In 1939 physicians started to euthanise mentally retarded people, and from December 1941 the gas chambers were put into practice. After the second World War Holocaust made biologism impossible. Now it is reoccurring again.

The development in biology

The purely biological question about how biological evolution really works, is a different matter. Darwin's theory of evolution stimulated intense discussions among theorists of evolution during the last part of the nineteenth century and at the beginning of this century.
The mechanism for biological inheritance was not known to Darwin and his contemporaries. Many scientists therefore tended to become Lamarckian a few decades after The Origin (Darwin 1982. p. 37–38, 121). These mechanisms were penetrated and disagreed upon. There was the debate about vitalism contra materialism (the mechanistic view), the discussion about a slow gradual contra sudden and catastrophic changes of the species. There was the discussion about how traits were really inherited etc. During the last decades of the nineteenth century scientists tended towards Lamarckism. August Weissman on the other hand, insisted on a purely biological inheritance of traits, and that inheritable traits were never influenced by the environment or experience of the parents. He did not know about genes, as these were not known by then, but he managed to demonstrate that acquired traits could not be inherited (Bowler P J, 1989, p 246–253)

In 1900 Gregor Mendel's research was rediscovered. He had published his results more than thirty years earlier, but his paper was not noticed at that time. The discovery of his paper about experiments with peas, and his suggestion about dominant and recessive mechanism for inheritance, was paradoxically interpreted as a support for a Lamarckian approach. Later though, it was viewed as a support for the hypothesis that there was one gene for every trait. This was taken by many as a confirmation of Galton's suggestion that intelligence was inherited. This belief was also one of the reasons why psychologists started to develop intelligence tests in order to reveal the intelligence of different individuals (Bowler P J, p. 274–281).

It is important to note however, that although the experts were, for the most part, convinced that acquired traits were not inheritable, the old Lamarckist view continued to influence politicians and non experts for many decades. The opposition against the theory of evolution remained for nearly eighty years after Darwin had published his book about the biological evolution.

It was not until in the thirties that the modern view of the biological evolution, the so called New Syntheses was formulated. It was developed as the result of communication between population geneticists and zoologists (Mayr E, 1991 118–124, 141). The New Syntheses stipulates a slow, gradual evolution of the species. In the sixties J S Gould and J Eldridge suggested their theory of punctuated equilibrium, according to which the evolution of the species was a result of periods of equilibrium interrupted by periods of rather rapid and dramatic changes. This theory was severely criticised. Researchers in the field of evolution still do not agree on this point, and their is a continued debate going on about how the biological evolution of the species really takes place. (Smith J M, 1989, p.131–1479).

In 1953 Crick and Watson managed to reveal the structure of the DNA–molecule. This was the beginning of a tremendous progress in genetics and ultimately it gave rise to a new sub discipline, molecular biology, in which many spectacular discoveries have been made. In 1973, for example, Stanley Cohen and Paul Berg, managed to transform genes from one bacteria to another. Thereby giving birth to gene technology.

The introduction of gene technology opened up new avenues of support for genetics and molecular biology because of the expectations that there could be new and profitable future use of the results emanating from these fields of research. Today an enormous amount of resources are put into gene technology, and in the HUGO (Human Genome) project, aimed at screening every human gene, a project in which thousands of geneticists all over the world are involved. Hence molecular biology has become the most fruitful, and one of the most commercially interesting scientific discipline of our time.

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