Are the behaviors of women different from those of men for genetic reasons? The decoding of human life by Darwin is indeed a revolution, according to Peggy Sastre, author of “No Sex” and “Ex Utero”. Those who criticize it may also misunderstand or underestimate its importance.
The Darwinian theory of evolution is one of the most important discoveries of all time and can be summarized in four basic propositions:
- There is competition between individuals because the resources of their environment are limited and organisms generally produce more individuals than they can survive.
- There is inter-individual variability within each population. Some of these variations are hereditary.
- There is an adaptive fitness advantage associated with certain variations in a given environment, with some individuals being more efficient ( fittest ) than others in the struggle for survival and reproduction.
- Under the first two propositions, individuals with advantageous traits reproduce more than others and transmit their inheritable traits to their offspring. As a result, the population is gradually changing over generations. This process is called natural selection, adaptation is the consequence.
Along with other scientific revolutions (Copernicus, Galileo, Newton or Einstein), Darwin’s strength is twofold: first, that’s life and the man he deciphers, not abstract laws of organization Of matter and, on the other hand, his theory answers in a single movement to the question of “why” (adaptation) and that of “how” (selection).
But the Darwinian idea is perhaps one of the most detested scientific paradigms of all time if only by all the harm it does and has done to religions. In France, in particular, it is also one of the most underestimated, poorly understood and poorly understood. I no longer count the times when trying to expose and use it, I was told stuff like “it’s only a theory, nothing proves it”, “we can not apply it to humans “,” it’s just a big Anglo-Saxon delirium “,” here are odious ideas that justify the extermination of the weakest, we all end up in a stadium with a number on the arm Rhythm! “And so on.
Darwin’s rotten kingdom?
I have recently come across three articles which, though very different in their form and their expectations, conveyed globally the message that there is something fundamentally rotten in the Darwin realm:
– The first (most “serious”), published on a young blog that gives itself as an honorable mission, to be a sort of critical observatory of scientific popularization, warned against the supposed ” Evolutionary psychology “,” ideologically suspicious discipline because of its links with sociobiology and Anti-feminism “;
– The second, written by Mona Chollet in response to the latest book by Nancy Huston (which I will soon), saw the application of the theory of evolution to human behavior in general and sex in particular, ” theses Reactionary and indigent “;
– Finally, the third, written by Agnes Giard, did not go by four paths: for her, all these stories are only a ” doubtful, even fickle” theory. It will have been well understood: even before attempting to understand it, the dangerous Darwin must be wary of it or even turn away from it.
A little tired of having to fight these received ideas (politely speaking) with my small self-taught arms, I wanted to talk with some specialists stamped “official” to see if the situation was really as desperate as it Or if it was, once again, my sick mind playing tricks on me.
To cut the grass under the feet of those for whom the theory of evolution and France are incompatible (I am sometimes, I confess, when I am very upset), I turned to Michel Raymond , Director of research at the CNRS, head of a research team in human evolutionary biology at the Institute of Evolutionary SciencesOf Montpellier  . In her laboratory, I also asked Charlotte Faurie, a specialist, among others, about the evolution of laterality in human populations.
For them, the situation is just beginning to unlock, especially since 2009, the famous “year Darwin”, which celebrated the two hundred years of its birth and the hundred fifty years of the first edition of “From the origin of species “.
But, they explained to me, “the mechanisms underlying evolution are generally poorly known, little taught, and poorly popularized. The caricature of the principle of natural selection is also sometimes rejected for reasons Ideals, but it is necessary to adapt to the rules that govern the world since our opinions will not change them. Thus, if one plans to go to the Moon, whatever our personal opinions, it is prudent to The same is true of biology. The understanding of the living world requires knowledge of the rules of evolution, and natural selection is one of them. Which alone can account for the adaptations of living things and the existence of a “Complex organs. ”
And the human race? It obviously does not escape it: “human culture does not take our species out of the broad field of evolution”, continue Faurie and Raymond. Admittedly, “the human species has specificities, such as an extremely developed language and a complex culture”, but “many animal species possess a culture, sometimes not so rudimentary as that, and here again natural selection is indispensable for Understand evolution “.
Ideological and institutional blockages
It is, however, this kind of mantra that the super-complex human escapes evolution, some even say that the human is no longer evolving -that one is re-examined here or there, and in particular in articles mentioned above. For Faurie and Raymond, this is explained by ” blockages of an ideological and institutional nature.” The social sciences in the 20th century defended and built scientific paradigms based essentially on purely environmental determinants. Were inconceivable (and inconceivable to some). Obviously, the opposite position – everything biologically explained – is also extreme and false. ”
According to the researchers, “the real problem is that human culture is studied in our institutions as a peculiarity that escapes the rules of life, particularly in France: humanities universities have campuses separated from others, this separation is also found Within the CNRS … As an institutionalized dualism, but nothing scientifically supports such a separation: on the contrary, it is now known that it is the interactions between biology and culture that have shaped what we are, Very strong interactions: each change on one side modifies the selections of the other, which in turn changes the initial trajectory, and so on .. The examples are more and more numerous.With this institutional break, ill equally-equipped to approach this kind of interaction serenely. ”
Blocking between blockages: sexual differences. For Charlotte Faurie, this subject is even “the object of an astounding obscurantism”:
It seems indispensable to understand why and how evolution has led to such differences, that is to say, what selective pressures have shaped and maintained these differences in the course of evolutionary history. Those who deny these facts, and therefore reject their explanations, do so for ideological and affective – non-scientific reasons. ”
What Michel Raymond confirms:
“The position that differences between brains of men and women are only cultural in origin is based on an ideology, but it is repeated in the media because it is politically correct. That in all the animals studied the difference is very strong between male and female brains, for genetic reasons it would be necessary to propose a particular mechanism explaining why and how this difference was erased in the line leading to the human species .
To my knowledge, there is no credible one, because none has been proposed. Brains are biologically different because the selective forces acting on males and females are not the same, so behaviors selected for hundreds of millions of years are also different. The constraints and issues related to the reproduction of men and women are also different in all known cultural groups. At birth, newborn boys and girls already have different behaviors, so biologically different brains.
Obviously, the family and social environment will also help to increase or decrease these differences, and the result will be a difference to the biological and cultural bases. Social equality between men and women can obviously be built without denying biological differences, including in the brains. Ignoring or denying a biological contribution is an aberration, ideological blindness can lead to nothing good. ”
How could we manage?
Again, and always, the best enemies of obscurantism are education and information. According to Charlotte Faurie, popularization must be placed first and foremost in the hands of researchers, who should be “encouraged to be involved in popularization activities”, by enhancing this work by CNRS and universities As a leisure and / or a waste of time, which must be done outside working time) “.
As for journalists, it is in close collaboration with academics that they should work, without simply “making a phone call for ten minutes to a researcher before writing in a hurry and publishing without re-reading a Article on a scientific question “.
Finally, at the level of education, Faurie and Raymond agree that “evolution and evolutionary biology, including the human species, must be taught at the college, in order to give students adequate tools for a true understanding of the biological world, in the same way that gravity is offered to them to understand the physical world. ” And in this sense, they are in line with the Nobel prize Francois Jacob , for whom “this would simplify the understanding of children if we began the study of the living world by the study of evolution”.