Re: Bio-cultural evolution.

Dave Rindos (arkeo4@UNIWA.UWA.EDU.AU)
Sat, 7 May 1994 16:19:41 +0800

On Fri, 6 May 1994, Matt Tomaso wrote:

> I would like to second Bob Graber's position concerning the
> non-valuative position of contemporary evolutionary approaches to
> diachronic analyses of culture. The evolutionary model, as I
> understand it, does not predict optimal features of any optimally
> adapted species, but rather, suggests that social and biological
> environmental factors constrain the range of options and choices
> available for human adaptation. I do not mean to conflate culture to
> the level of an adaptive mechanism, but I would argue that this is a
> valid way of looking at one very important side of it.

While not really disagreeing with the above, I would stress that the
fundamental distinction between fitness and adaptation is all too
frequently overlooked in treatments of bio-cultural evolution. That is
where an awful lot of the problems come in. Not to go into details here
(as I have elsewhere, back when I could spend time on such trivia :{( ),
the important thing to recall is that fitness is (at least theoretically)
MEASURABLE and is THE SOLE driving force underlying any and all
evolutionary change. Adaptation is quite another thing entirely -- it
involves a JUDGEMENT regarding certain relationships which might hold
between the organism and the environment. Adaptation, we might say,
implies a prepositional phrase (e.g. to or for some particular problem or
condition). Fitness in contrast involves relative reproductive
(replicative) success. Given the fact that increased adaptation would be
expected to lead to (a propensity for) increased fitness, the confusion
between the two concepts is quite understandable, and in most cases
forgivable. However, as in those who baldly reduce evolution to function,
it *can* lead to exceedingly serious errors in understanding.

> The main
> problem that I see in applying evolutionary theory in anthropology is
> that most of the critics of cultural evolutionism have not read and/or
> understood evolutionary theory.

Right now, I think the main problem with applying it has been that we have
spent too much time defending it. That has been needed (and sadly remains
so) since many of the most vehement "opponents" have, as you note, never
read or understood the subject and critiques of darwinian anthropology, at
least to date, have been of other theoretical approaches entirely. Oh
well, at least we understand this since, as you note,
> Secondly, of course, we have the critic's claim that evolutionists will
> never be able to live down their historigraphic ties to Spencer, Huxley
> and other hegemonists and eugenecists.

who wishes Darwin NEVER had accepted Spencer's awful phrase 'survial of
the fittest'

Dave Rindos
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