Biological and cultural evolution: Similar but different

Biological Theory 2 (2):119-123 (2007)
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Abstract

Ever since The Origin of Species, but increasingly in recent years, parallels and analogies have been drawn between biological and cultural evolution, and methods, concepts, and theories that have been developed in evolutionary biology have been used to explain aspects of human cultural change (e.g., Muller 1870; Darwin [1871] 2003; Pitt-Rivers 1875; James 1880; Huxley 1955; Gerard et al. 1956; Campbell 1975; Cavalli-Sforza and Feldman 1981; Durham 1992; Henrich and McElreath 2003; Mesoudi et al. 2004, 2006; Boyd and Richerson 2005; Richerson and Boyd 2005). Many others, however, while accepting the need for some form of evolutionary approach to culture, have consistently emphasized the differences between biological and cultural evolution (e.g., Gabora 2004; Sperber and Claidiere 2006; Tëmkin and Eldredge 2007), with these differences often presented as being problematic for existing evolutionary analyses of culture. Here I argue that this is largely a false debate, given that its protagonists agree on the majority of key points. Apparent disagreement may stem partly from simple differences in emphasis, and partly from the diversity of both biological and cultural evolutionary processes.

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