Do "selfish genes" program men to be more promiscuous than women?
Beneath the veneer of civility, are people innately aggressive?
Some researchers - and a growing segment of the general population - would answer "yes" to those and a host of other questions, suggesting that we are tightly programmed by our genes.
But according to Stanford evolutionist Paul R. Ehrlich, there is little scientific basis for such widely accepted notions.
Ehrlich challenges the so-called "selfish gene" and other tenets of evolutionary psychology in his wide-ranging new book, Human Natures: Genes, Cultures and the Human Prospect (Shearwater Books/Island Press, Washington, D.C.).
In this well-documented book, Ehrlich discusses a number of controversial issues: why people evolved an upright posture; what happened to the Neanderthals; how our brains work; how language evolved; what led to the very sudden appearance of modern human beings; why race is an outdated concept; how can we account for altruism and aggression; why humans enjoy sex all year round; why women have orgasms; why many of us crave hot fudge sundaes; how religion and states evolved; and the origin of ethics.
Ehrlich, author of The Population Bomb and many other books and scientific articles, is Bing Professor of Population Studies and president of the Center for Conservation Biology at Stanford.
In Human Natures, he expresses concern about the growing resurgence of genetic determinism - the belief that human DNA contains "instructions" that dictate behavior, including so-called "genes for rape," "gay genes," "criminal genes" and "genes for intelligence."
"There is an unhappy predilection, especially in the United States, not only to overrate the effect of genetic evolution but also to underrate the effect of cultural evolution," writes Ehrlich.
"Uniquely in our species, changes in culture have been fully as important in producing our natures as have changes in the hereditary infor
Contact: Paul Ehrlich