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The fittest conscience: new take on evolution

By Jane LampmanStaff writer of The Christian Science Monitor / August 3, 2000



Suppose you were on a prime-time quiz show and were asked: "What did Charles Darwin see as the prime motivating force in human evolution? (1) survival of the fittest, (2) natural selection, (3) the 'selfish gene,' (4) the moral sense."

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Most likely you wouldn't make it to No. 4 before pushing the button. But alas, your run would end there, because the answer is "the moral sense," according to a rather astonishing and provocative new book by psychologist, system scientist, and evolution theorist David Loye.

In "Darwin's Lost Theory of Love," written after a decade of research into evolutionary theory and scientific foundations for morality, Dr. Loye presents the dramatic story of the pioneer scientist seeking to pull together near the end of his life his ideas on the "second half" or "completion" of his theory of evolution.

Here the concern is human evolution, which Darwin explored in "The Descent of Man," a dense book Loye says has been largely ignored over the past 100 years. His monumental "The Origin of Darwin speaks of 'an ennobling belief in God' as important for human evolution.

Species" focuses on pre-human evolution, and undergirds all subsequent evolutionary theory.

Delving deeply into "Descent," Loye finds Darwin not only exploring the origins of morality and conscience but reaching the conclusion that in human evolution, they are "by far the most important." Darwin says he "perhaps attributed too much to the action of natural selection or survival of the fittest."

For Loye the discovery is galvanizing because it provides hope for developing a more complete and useful theory of evolution for the 21st century, one that goes beyond the neo-Darwinist focus on selfishness as the driving force of human nature and provides a scientific grounding for moral action. It opens the way, he adds, to drawing a link between science and spirituality. "Here is the granddaddy of them all, confirming that what your heart tells you is right is really right," Loye says in an interview. "Darwin is saying: Yes, we're selfish, but there is also this other motivation system, this other thrust that is oriented to others and to doing good for others."

Biology and morality

From his observations of the animal and human worlds, Darwin sees the "social instincts," rooted in biology, as the foundation of morality. Loye details Darwin's perceptions of the development of sympathy and caring, use of language and reasoning about experience, community influence and the power of habit, the capacity for choice, and the moral qualities leading to what we call the golden rule, which appears in almost all cultures.

Although an agnostic, Loye says, Darwin speaks of "an ennobling belief in God" as important for human evolution. Darwin specifically denies that "the foundation of the most noble part of our nature" lies "in the base principle of selfishness."

This flies in the face of the prevailing evolution paradigm, however, a form of neo-Darwinism in which sociobiologists are vigorously pushing the idea that even altruism must be understood as motivated strictly by selfishness. Loye's book will not win any plaudits from that camp.

"The sociobiologists and evolutionary psychologists will probably hate it," says Bruce Weber, professor of biochemistry at California State University at Fullerton, who teaches a course covering the range of views on evolution. But "it will be well received by anyone familiar with systems theory, or trying to look at human action in an interdisciplinary framework."

Loye himself is part of a 15-year-old international scientific endeavor called the General Evolution Research Group (GERG), in which researchers from many disciplines are working toward a general evolution theory that would go beyond biology to find related concepts in many fields (i.e. psychology, politics, economics, technology, brain research).

This broad perspective on new directions in scientific research helped Loye find in Darwin intuitions far ahead of his time, he says. "The reason all this material has been overlooked for so long," Loye says, is first, the dominating influence of those pushing the "prevailing paradigm," and second, that Darwin "was seeing at a level science has only reached in the last part of the 20th century."