Following Which Science?

Brad Miner | January 17, 2022

This world recently lost several luminaries – Alice von Hildebrand and Joan Didion, Terry Teachout and Sidney Poitier, John Madden and Betty White. Our world is a little poorer without them, and the next world – theologians of the Strict Observance, please allow a metaphysical license here – shines a little brighter. But amid those departed – people like ourselves with great gifts and human flaws – was one who has both fascinated and puzzled me for decades.

E.O. Wilson was for many years Professor of Science at Harvard and a significant figure not only in science but in public affairs. He became embroiled in cultural debates because he popularized the notion of “socio-biology” – put simply, the quite reasonable view that the biological characteristics of many living things are adapted to the external environment, but also to interactions with other members of the same species – wherever there was some sort of biological “society.”

Wilson grew up in Alabama and early on became fascinated with ant colonies, his academic specialty years later. Sociobiology has some utility; it may even provide some insights into human societies.

But to talk about biological structures that have social consequences is a postmodern No-No. Feminists were outraged. (“Biology is not destiny.”) Gays too. (“Born that way” is allowed to point in only one direction in our deeply confused time.) Harvard colleagues, of course, protested publicly.

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