It’s always a welcome opportunity to give lessons to biologists about “social science” when they ask about it, since they don’t usually get much of it in their training at university. Thus, some of their amateur sociology can be quite right, while other major parts of their sociology are so bad they’re not even wrong, yet still not laughable because usually the biologist is sincere in trying to find an authentic social or cultural ground for their questions.
“I assume that evolution of human societies through genetic inheritance is not likely to play a key role in the short term (within a century or two).” – Kai
Yes, we are agreed. That’s why I used the term “development” instead. It’s a far more widely used term among scholars than “evolution” when discussing change-over-time of human societies. It’s not biology-centric or gene-centric, but rather humanity & society-centric, and sometimes just about economics. Do you wish to challenge this claim as an outsider to the human-social sciences? I was specifically intended toward “the short term (within a century or two)” when I responded to “modern societies”.
One of the reasons to reject or avoid the term “evolution” when speaking of “modern (human) societies” is due to improper (translation of) time scales. My definition of “modern societies” means “within a century or two”. Thus, to me “evolution in modern societies” is largely irrelevant, according to your nature-oriented meaning. It’s the kind of topic only a biologist or geologist would ask about, from the back of the social sciences classroom, during a brief departure from the longer “more human” conversation, which takes up the majority of community time. Do we understand each other, Kai, biologist to sociologist and back again?
“Non-genetic inheritance could play a more influential role.” – Kai
Also agreed. And not only “could”, but “does”. There’s no doubt about that. Yet “inheritance” is a low-order, marginal category in most human-social thinking. Are you aware we don’t use that biological inheritance and indirect “population” language? We use instead sociology and “community” or “group” language. Have you heard of the extended mind thesis, for example? Do you know what “grounded theory” means in the social sciences? “Genetic inheritance” in (modern) human societies thus might indeed seem to be or even be an interesting bio-social topic for some people. It just isn’t of interest for me as a sociologist exploring human development, societal change, and social movements, who steadfastly rejects calling development “evolution”.
“societies change much faster than humans evolve and the effects of the latter are likely small.” – Steve
Again, we are agreed. This is where I’d like to invite Prof. emeritus @Sy_Garte in here to clarify and specify where he draws the line in ceasing to use “evolution” outside of “strictly natural science” applications. I’m quite intrigued that he seems to be trying to do this the right way, though haven’t seen him articulate himself widely on the topic in writing. If Sy were to explain to BioLogos what he sees as unwise in using the term “evolution” outside of natural sciences, for example, in the cultural study of human societies, then perhaps some new awareness might be raised. Would you welcome Sy’s explanation of how & why he limits using the term “evolution” and “evolve” to biology and other natural-physical sciences, Kai & Steve, fellow biologists to Sy?
“the poster used the correct term, since he or she was in fact asking about the biological evolution of modern humans.” - Steve
Carry on discussing “the biological evolution of modern humans” with Kai then, and I will absent myself from that conversation, if that’s all Kai meant to inquire about. My concern instead is with claims about so-called “evolution” when it comes to “modern societies”, as that’s a field I’m trained in. My belief that it is the wrong term to use “evolution” there must be faced on sociological grounds, not on biological or linguistic (semantic) grounds. There are other more accurate terms to use to understand how, when, where, and why societies change. If you don’t want to discuss human societal change, but only animal “societal” change or plant “societal” change (or linguistic “societal” change), then please carry on with me absent also.
Kai seemed to be alluding to more than “just biology”, however, when he asked, “But what about evolution in modern human societies?”. But maybe Steve’s right, and it was just a “biological view of human society” that Kai was speaking about, and thus only a fraction of a portion of a conversation about “modern societies” that all sociologists, and other social scientists are accustomed to.
Shall we call a spade a spade and recognize that the question was biologistic in orientation and not well stated? In any case, it could both please Steve and raise immediate and easily explainable concern with me.
“Either side of biological evolution, the term is an analogy and I agree it’s best not used in the psychology and sociology of the past 100 thousand years, or done so in inverted commas.” - Klax
We are agreed in removing “evolution” when talking about “modern societies” for “the past 100 thousand years”. That would improve the conversation immensely!
So, what is the argument then really about here? Is it about how (some/most) biologists strongly wish to have their voices heard by co-defining “modern societies” with sociologists? Or is it asking a sociologist to defer to the language of a biologist in describing “modern societies”? (Or is it for some here mainly about how a linguist can always enter a conversation with “gracious anger” and “police” peoples’ words involving biology and sociology as a form of “moderation”?)
We’ve heard talk of “evolution of modern societies” before with E.O. Wilson’s sociobiology, right? Did BioLogos like sociobiology? Probably not, but perhaps not really. Where is it’s position on sociobiology explained, one way or another?
Can we agree that “[biological e]volution in modern societies” is a marginal nature-oriented specialist topic that barely addresses the varieties of human-social change happening around us? Kai, why do you think they’re called “Human Development Goals”, instead of “Human Evolution Goals” by the United Nations? It would be VERY helpful if you would answer this question directly as a practising biologist. Would you please share your thoughts about this with us?
“Sociology and biology are two viewpoints to societal change.” – Kai
Well, they’re “fields of knowledge” or “disciplines”, at least, not just “viewpoints”, don’t you think? What is being requested of you, Kai, is to step up your game acknowledging the “edge of fields of knowledge” that you’re familiar with, educated as a biologist, which requires some philosophy of you (did you do your PhD in biology, or a master or bachelor?). Once/if this is done, then “evolution” becomes a more humble natural scientific theory (cf. fact of natural history), instead of a universalistic ideology that sucks in non-biological disciplines, like with the arrival of a Wilson, or a Wilson or a Jablonka/Lamb or a Laland or Mesoudi. Without doing that, since none of those are Christian paths, you instead to me as a sociologist sound ideological promoting “evolution of modern societies” as a biologist who doesn’t primarily study how, when, where, and why human societies change. That’s “ivory tower” distance from reality that biologists sometimes commit, unfortunately. Please be gentle in response if you find that to be an unfair characterization of this “evolution in modern humans” thread.
It’s a question of weights and measures regarding human change & who studies it primarily vs. who studies it peripherally, or as a hobby in their spare time. My suggestion is: listen to the people who study “societal change” primarily, as their main focus of work, rather than those who study it peripherally, or who just repeat pop academia on the topic, instead of showing and sharing a more informed and inquisitive understanding.
In short, my argument is that between biologists and sociologists, by “weight” and “concentration”, it is the sociologists who are the scholars trained to study, both in the field and wrestling with theories, social and societal change. Biologists largely learn about or study “human societal change” peripherally, as that is not the primary focus of their field of study, while studying “biological change” primarily. Do you disagree, Kai, Steve, or Mitchell?
It would be great if we could at least agree it is a good idea to “listen to the specialists” who primarily focus on “modern societies”, instead of the amateurs with their sometimes wild ideas, unless only “biological humans”, instead of “modern societies” is what Kai really meant to address in this thread.
p.s. Happy non-evolutionary Thanksgiving to those giving thanks today!