The Concept of Evolution

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The Concept of Evolution In the middle of this century, both biological and cultural anthropology experiences a major change in theory. In biological anthropology, biological anthropologists adopted an approach which focused on the gene. They saw the human evolution as the process of genetic adaptation to the environment. In the mean time, there were also cultural analogies to evolution. Cultural evolution also followed a process of adaptation. In the field of anthropology, a very important theory is that of the sociobiologists. Sociobiologists focus on adaptation and reproductive success rather than progress toward perfection. Edward O. Wilson was one of the most important of them. He adopted an approach that focused on the level of the gene. He saw social behavior as controlled, in principle, by particular genes, and he saw evolution as occurring at this level because reproductive success amounted to increasing the frequency of certain genes in future generations. However, the insistence of sociobiologists on grounding at least some behavior in universal human genetic predisposition runs contrary to cultural anthropologists' emphasis on the primacy of culture itself as the determinant of human social life. Several distinct approaches can be identified in contemporary sociobiology. The first one is evolutionary psychology. Evolutionary psychology is concerned primarily with the analysis of the mind as a device formed by natural selection. The second focus is human behavioral ecology. It emphasized populations rather than cultures, human population biology, as well as evolutionary ecology. The difference from evolutionary psychology is that it focuses on testing the hypotheses that culturally patterned traits actually enhance fitness rather than mind. The third approach involves the search for human universals. People advocating this kind of approach concentrate on discovering the characteristics found in all human societies. (McGee and Warms, 1996) However, this universal evolution point of view is rejected by other anthropologists such as Julian Steward. Steward developed an ecological approach that focused on the adaptation of individual cultures to specific environmental circumstances rather than trying to find out the universal law of human evolution and adaptation. He devoted most of his energy to the study of the environmental adaptation of specific societies. He did not believe that cultures followed a single universal sequence of development. Instead, he proposed that cultures could evolve in any number of distinct patterns depending on their environmental circumstances. He called his theory multilinear evolution. He also proposed that cultures in similar environments would tend to follow the same developmental sequences and formulate similar responses to their environmental challenges.
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