An excellent argument that evolution applies to culture as well as organisms.
Most people, the uneducated included, have no objection to the concept of the Darwinian evolution of plants and animals. Evolution of humans won over scientists long ago. Applied to human behavior in the form of politics, economics, business, and war, evolutionary theories existed before Darwin but acquired a bad reputation by equating Darwinian “fitness” with wealth, social status, and belligerence. Evolutionary biologist Wilson (Biology and Anthropology/Binghamton Univ.; Does Altruism Exist?: Culture, Genes, and the Welfare of Others, 2015, etc.), the president of the Evolution Institute, points out that the 20th century was nearly over before scientists began to examine human institutions without the ideological distraction of social Darwinism. Ironically, this happened because of spectacular advances in biology, especially genetics: “Evolution…became associated with an incapacity for change (being stuck with our genes), with our capacity for change somehow residing outside the orbit of evolution. The term ‘Social Darwinism’ helps to buttress this bizarre configuration of ideas in ways that are almost childish, once they are seen clearly.” A masterful educator, Wilson begins with basics and then carefully amplifies them. To understand any product of evolution (a hand, cancer, aggression), one must address four areas: function, history, mechanism, and how it develops. A snowflake may be more complex than a hand, but it doesn’t qualify because it has no function. The problem of evil torments theologians but yields to evolutionary analysis. Thus, altruism seems a trait for wimps because selfish individuals prosper, but a group where everyone cooperates always outcompetes a group with selfish members. The author emphasizes that cultural evolution is a multilevel process. A learned behavior spreads by benefiting individuals compared to other individuals in the same group or the whole group compared to competing groups.
One of the major advances in modern biology receives a splendid overview.