Dobzhansky

Dobzhansky

Theodosius Dobzhansky (1900-1975) 

I have said many times that the subject of my basic idea is the species Homo sapiens species. That was my first intuition, to consider that it is Man, with a capital letter, who has the obligation to try his own survival. The Man composed by the living men in each moment. The men who make up the human race right now, when I'm writing and when you're reading me. You, dear reader are one of those compelled living beings. Obligation that, normally, you are fulfilling even if you have not noticed. And for that it is that you are happy.

This idea is the one that "shocks" the most philosophers, theologians and "organismic" biologists, who are the usual ones. That's why I was very happy to discover three great evolutionary biologists. In Survival. Ideas for a Universal Ethics (Corral, 2015) are the original notes that I wrote about the first two. In the Blog of the website is the one of Ernst Mayr. A pity that the three have died, although not long ago. I summarize and comment on some of their ideas.

I discovered Dobzhansky, Ukrainian and Orthodox Christian in June 2014 and it was one of my greatest joys. He is one of the most illustrious founders of the synthetic theory of evolution with Stebbins and Mayr. And I enjoyed his ideas in the most expensive book I have ever bought: Evolution (Dobzhansky, Ayala, Stebbins and Valentine, 2009). It deals with species as evolutionary systems. And among his many technical considerations of geneticist says, superficially, our two basic ideas. But without fully realizing the importance of what he says. It was soon and he was saying other very important things. He was putting one more step on the scale of knowledge of our evolution as living beings. Step that now serves to us to contrast and see better our hypotheses.

 I quote widely, from Evolution, the most significant to them:

Regarding the mandate or vital imperative. Says on page 97:

"The structure, function and behavior of each species are adapted to their particular way of life."

"Living beings seem inventions designed with the objective of their survival and reproduction."

"Living beings have an internal or natural teleology."

"The origin of organic adaptation or internal teleology is a fundamental problem, perhaps the most fundamental of biology." 

His ideas are geneticist and referred to individual organisms, but it is clear that he is saying that living beings have something within them that drives them to survive and reproduce, however and primarily. And that the object, origin, or biological cause of this impulse, remains a fundamental problem. But internal teleology, the basic mandate or cause, exist. It seems that they must exist since their effects exist and are clear.

About the species says, among many other things: 

Page 126: "...it is necessary to ask whether in addition to natural selection at the individual level there may be a group selection, that is, selection of groups of individuals such as those of a Mendelian population"

Pgs.132-13: "A species with sexual reproduction constitutes a breeding community whose members are all connected by ties of couples, kinship or because they are descendants of common ancestors. The breeding community has a common set of genes. "

"The possession of a common set of genes makes a species with sexual reproduction and cross-fertilization a Mendelian population. More accurately, it is a set of subordinated Mendelian populations interconnected with one another through regular or occasional gene flow."

"The Mendelian population constitutes a form of supraindividual integration and ...on the other hand, a Mendelian population constitutes a supraindividual evolutionary system"

"In the human race, or in other species with sexual reproduction and cross-fertilization, there are no pure races or have ever existed." 

In this chapter he is trying to show that human races are not species. And to this he dedicates his efforts. But, to our effect, in this last paragraph confirms, by passing, something obvious to him: that the human race is a species with sexual reproduction. To which is therefore applicable what he has said above. Namely, that the species Homo sapiens species is system whose members are all connected. That is to say that our species is "a great family", with common genetic norms that originate common behaviors. Rules that have a common origin although we do not know which it is. And that we do not mind knowing because our idea is not based on the origin but on the common behavior of all species with sexual reproduction.

Although I may repeat it later, I can not resist quoting now three objections to our hypotheses:

The first one refers to the fact that our species is not a system or an operational subject because there is not yet a world government or someone to set the goal of survival and dictate the rules for it. I think it is clear that species are systems, from their origin, whatever this may be. Evolutionary and operative systems that, through their individual organisms and vice versa, have the vital objective of surviving and the imperative to try it. With the internal rules of behavior registered in each of its members in the proper language of each species.

The second is from someone, a religious believer, who thinks that we are not a species but, in any case, we are a family. To this objecting person I suppose that it bothers him, like many, that we have things in common with other animal species. And that, in addition, that possible common origin, seems to make it difficult to understand that God created us in his image and likeness and has provided us, one by one, with an individual immortal soul. I believe with Dobzhasky, an orthodox Christian, that one thing does not prevent the other and that if God exists he could create and maintain Man, and every man, as he wished: once or in instalments. And in a group or one to one. I believe that our thesis is valid for theists, deists, agnostics, neutral atheists and belligerent atheists.

A third objector says that the species are "A construct". Something that men have invented. He says, I suppose, using the term species in its meaning of class and taxonomic term. The species are more than their name. We are a construct but they were not built by men. At least until recently. They existed before men existed to name them. And before the men themselves knew what the species were and that these constructs were primarily about surviving. In fact, men still do not know it, despite the fact that Sapiens is self-ligating. If they knew, I would not have to write this book.

Before the ideas of some to create subspecies based on races or other differential characters, he then says some phrases that I think are interesting to understand the unity of our species and its behavior:

 Page 139: "Homo sapiens is a politípica species" (geographically differentiated). "...In the species considered as a whole, genetic diversity has become convergence." P. 147: "...The racial differences are, therefore, adaptations to different environments in different points of the distribution area of the species". 

On page 168 he asks in capital letters and bold. WHY ARE SPECIES TO EXIST? And he says later:

"If life has only arisen once, all living organisms are products of a divergent evolution [...] life is not only presented to us in the form of discontinuous quanta called individuals, but generally individuals appear in discontinuous sets". Earlier we mentioned some examples of such sets: the man, the chimpanzee, the gorilla and the orangutan. What is the meaning, the biological function of these discontinuous assemblages that we call species?

And after exposing Wright's adaptive "peaks" and "valleys" gene map, he responds on page 170: "...A species consists of a set of related genetic combinations..." Those genotypes that are better adapted to those that the species live, constitute the elite and live in "the peak" of the map and survive. The less fit that live in the adaptive valleys perish. "To the question of why there has to be species can be answered because there are many adaptive peaks." 

That is, species exist because they are a means, a system, a something, to survive. In other words, the purpose or object of the species is its own survival. Trying that the most possible of their organisms survive. And for this they have to try to always be at the peak of the map of their environment that in our case is the whole Earth or the whole universe. The goal of all species is that all or many of their organisms become and remain elites in their changing environment and in all times and circumstances. In other words, they have to try that their species, their breeding community, survives. And that is the mandate that everyone has implicit although they/we do not know.

As for altruism, he treats it quickly when talking about group selection and then more broadly in the chapter dedicated to the evolution of the human race. Says first on page 127:

"It might seem that natural selection acts against altruism and favors self-preservation and egotism. However, a population, colony or tribe with many altruists can thrive more than a population laden with egotists. "  

 And then he quotes Wilson and his work on the altruism of social insects. And to Hamilton and Trivers for the theory of kinship selection and reciprocal altruism. And to Wynn-Edwards who considers as the result of the group selection the decrease of the reproductive rates in some species when they surpass an optimal size.

In the chapter dedicated to the evolution of the human race (pp. 436-461), he discusses whether ethics is biological or cultural and says:

 "There are two important sources of ethics and values: cultural and biological." [...] "Ethics is acquired, not biologically inherited" [...] "What is inherited is a potential ability to moralize. That capacity is expressed according to the civilization in which the individual is born." 

And he asks: "...as our ancestors were non-human animals, have we inherited from them some instincts or genetically conditioned tendencies that can agree or on the contrary contrast with the ethics that has been culturally implanted? And secondly, do other animal species possess a rudimentary capacity for ethics? 

He says later: " ...Without trying to solve the problem, it can be said without contradictions that certain types of behavior found in animals could be considered as ethical or altruistic and others as unethical and egotistical."   He puts this last quote in italics because he says that we have to agree with Simpson that: "It does not make sense to talk about ethics in connection with animals that do not belong to the human species".

He says then: At the risk of effecting a supersimplification, we can distinguish two types of ethics: family ethics and group (or species) ethics. Family ethics is shared by man with the "almost-ethics" of at least some animals; in animals, as in man, many aspects of family ethics are genetically conditioned provisions (although in the case of man they can be overcome by an act of will). Family ethics can be considered as a product of natural selection, which establishes the genetic basis of the same in our ancestors as in other animal species. Group ethics is a product not of biological evolution but of cultural evolution. It does not confer any advantage and may be disadvantageous to the individuals who practice it, even if it is indispensable to maintain human societies. Natural selection has not made man bad... Whatever man's propensity towards selfishness and hedonism, he also presents a genetically determined educability that allows him to counteract that propensity through culturally acquired group ethics. Natural selection in favor of the educability and plasticity of behavior, and not in favor of selfishness or fixed genetic altruism, has been the main directing factor of human evolution". 

I have allowed myself these long quotes because they reflect some of the causes of not seeing the basic ideas. Among them: 

The different use of the word ethics. Biologists do not dare, rightly, to use it for animal behavior. And philosophers and theologians only use it for moral behavior. To judge and qualify behaviors and morals acts of the men. That, in order to be morally qualified, they need different spiritual, teleological and deontological requirements according to the norms of each group or collective: moral acts must be free, intentional, anticipate the results, whether they are virtuous or not, that are or are not in accordance with the norms and precepts of the group... This makes it enormously difficult, not for they to agree, but rather on biologists and philosophers or theologians. And so we are.

The other serious problem is knowing which acts are moral and which are not since we do not know what the objective is: getting shelter, eating, procreating, taking care of the children... they can be moral or "natural" like those of animals. On the other hand killing, stealing, lying, committing suicide seems to be bad if it is for oneself but it is not bad if it is done to protect or achieve another "superior" good: Honor, Homeland, Paradise... And for oneself one also can steal, kill and lie, in case of extreme necessity and according to the circumstances, cultures and moments of the history of each group.

Dobzhansky also says about it on page 454:

It can be reasonably supposed that some human behavior patterns loaded with ethical valuations have been modeled during evolution under the control of natural selection. It is not surprising that these patterns of behavior are exactly those that most resemble the behavior of animals that do not belong to the human species. 

I believe that doubts and discussions are solved if it is "seen" that all social animals and men have the same vital imperative as living beings: trying to make their species survive. And that, as members of species that need to coexist in groups to survive, they have the predisposition and the cultural mandate to exercise the altruism that each species and group has incorporated and incorporates into the norms of behavior of each individual from before his birth and afterwards. The mechanisms are different for each species and circumstance. But the basis of the rules of behavior -ethical, quasi-ethical, instinctive or operational- is the same: what is good/better is good/better for the survival of the species.

I think Dobzhasky tries to say the same thing, but without seeing it at all. Possibly because it is influenced by the environment and by the ideas in force of philosophers, sociologists, theologians... And perhaps not to dispute with the so-called sociobiologists, and others, who at that time had a lot of predicament. I would have loved it if he knew my hypothesis and gave his opinion about them. I think he was a great sage and an excellent man. Dr. Francisco J. Ayala knows.

Madrid, 19.10.2018 at 20.20