Saturday, June 1, 2013

Wilson on Human Nature

The late political/social scientist James Q. Wilson made a name for himself studying crime (most famously his "broken windows theory"),[1] which eventually led him to study mankind's innate moral sense as well as the familial context in which this sense is nurtured. This wide range of research and reflection enabled him to pen the following paragraph, which is a beautiful summary of human nature:

James Q. Wilson
Evolution by selection, though of great importance to human life, is an incomplete explanation unless we first understand that what it produced were not robots that acted automatically on biological instincts but thinking, feeling people equipped by nature with a complex psychology that predisposed but did not compel them to act in certain ways...Part of the reason we help others at some sacrifice to ourselves is that they are our children; by helping them we perpetuate our genes. And another part is that we help people who are not our children in order to impress these people with our dependability and win from them some reciprocal help in the future. But these two explanations, inclusive fitness and reciprocal altruism, while quite powerful, do not clarify everything...To explain all of altruism, it is necessary to first understand that what evolution has given to us is not a fixed mechanism to achieve a specific goal, but an emotion that not only serves that goal but achieves related ones as well. Let us call that emotion a desire for affiliation or, in simple language, a desire to be part of a social group.[2]

With increased socialization being linked to our evolutionary development (i.e. "the social brain hypothesis"), it is little wonder that covenants, family, and Zion are integral components of our eternal progression.[3]

1. For more on this theory, see the City Journal articles by Heather MacDonald, Charles Sahm, and George Kelling.

2. James Q. Wilson, The Marriage Problem: How Our Culture Has Weakened Families (New York: HarperCollins, 2002), 35-36.

3. Unfortunately, I fear that Mormons overwhelmingly reject evolution. A 2009 Pew Forum survey found that only 22% of Mormons believed that "evolution is the best explanation for the origins of life on earth": the second lowest percentage among religious groups (the lowest being Jehovah's Witness at 8%). Granted, I may cut us some slack due to the fact that the question asked if evolution was the "best explanation for the origins of life on earth." Evolution is about the diversification of life after it has already begun. There are multiple theories as to how life began. For an excellent article on LDS theology and evolution, see Steven L. Peck, "Crawling Out of the Primordial Soup: A Step Toward the Emergence of an LDS Theology Compatible with Organic Evolution," Dialogue: A Journal of Mormon Thought 43:1 (2010).

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