Re: Anthropology and Religion

Gerold Firl (
17 Oct 1995 12:44:06 -0700

In article <45ugpi$> (Scott Sellers) writes:

>I say that any specific link made between biology and culture is
>tenuous at best, and even if valid, offers little in the way of explanatory

If you are looking for simple, specific links between biology and culture,
like "gene A causes cultural artifact B", or a mathematical formula which
relates the incidence of rape, murder, or war to androgen/estrogen ratios
in men and women, then you will be disappointed. I have never seen or heard
of a sociobiologist making such claims. What I have seen are people who
act as if such claims are part of sociobiology, who then proceed to
"refute" them.

One of the most important insights which sociobiology offers to the student
of man is the recognition of the _mutual_ influence of culture and biology:
each influences the other, in an iterated process which blends the two.
Biology is imbedded into our cultures, and culture has impacted our
biology. Rather than taking simplistic cause-effect viewpoint, try to see
this from a co-evolutionary perspective, where in each generation biology
and culture interact together; both evolve, both are changed, both are
linked together.

>I consider culture a major adaptation which essentially removes
>humankind from a simple _struggle to survive_ in the biological sense, into
>the realm of economic, political, and social struggle.

Not at all, except in certain special cases. It may be that everyone
reading this paragraph can reasonably be said to have escaped from the
struggle for biological survival, but we are aberations, a tiny, fortunate
fraction of humankind past and present. For most of history, the
possibility of sudden death was much more likely than it is here and now,
for us. Culture did *not* remove man from the struggle for survival, it
just allowed more of them to participate.

Average life expectancy is a good first-cut at measuring the immediacy of
the survival struggle at any given period in time. A society with a life
expectancy of 40 years is certainly further removed from the struggle for
immediate survival than a society where the average lifespan is only 20
years, but in both cases there is ample room for culture to effect
differential survival rates for different phenotypes. As societies become
more affluent, it becomes possible to lower the stakes; instead of life and
death, we compete for more intangible benefits. But don't confuse the
special circumstances of here-and-now for some universal human condition.
*Culture* did not remove man from the biological struggle for survival.
Culture has played a significant role in our past for a few million years
now, and during that time we have evolved enormously. In fact, the
sociobiological interplay of culture and instinct has *accelerated* our

>I think attempts to
>reduce these post-cultural struggles to "bio-logic" is at best grotesque
>simplification, and most likely motivated from within political struggle.

I see this claim made over and over again; I have tried to explain that the
grotesque oversimplifications come from those who are unwilling or unable
to address the real issues. The claim of political motivations seems to be
just as hollow, and again sheds more light on the accuser than on the
science. You try to claim that sociobiology is used to support the status-
quo, but the reverse could just as easily be said. Sociobiology, by
illuminating the links of custom and instinct, gives us a tool by which our
unconscious assumptions can be examined in the broad light of reason. If
you are truely interested in building a more perfect future, such a tool
should be welcome.

>It's nice to see that you've progressed from attacking a word (brute) to
>going after sentences (see my text you quote above). Next time, how about
>giving me a whole paragraph here and there?

I hope you don't feel like I'm quoting you out of context? I do try to
include a minimum of quoted text, but I'm not trying to misrepresent your
position. I try to include enough previous text to convey your meaning;
please explain any areas where that hasn't worked.

Disclaimer claims dat de claims claimed in dis are de claims of meself,
me, and me alone, so sue us god. I won't tell Bill & Dave if you won't.
=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=---- Gerold Firl @ ..hplabs!hp-sdd!geroldf