• Higher levels of organization limit reductionistic explanations of behavior.

    Time cover--'Infidelity: It may be in our genes' Understanding how morality can be explained on multiple levels is valuable for correcting a widespread, but mistaken popular belief: that all biology — including behavior — can be reduced to genes (Gould 1981; Lewontin 1993; Rose 1997). Such a flawed view, known as biological determinism, disregards the relevance of learned behaviors at the psychological level and the regulation of behavior by interactions at the social level. It fails to acknowledge the role of emergence, the appearance of new interactions at higher levels of organization (Holland 1998; Camazine et al 2001). The new dynamics may define a system that functions on its own principles and can even modify how component parts act. For example, social punishments limit individual "selfishness." Learning can disarm efforts by others to defect. Kin selection may well inform our understanding of the evolution of morality among Belding ground squirrels or honeybees, but it does not fully explain human behavior. Psychology and sociology, as distinct fields, thus complement standard biology in understanding moral behavior.

    The errors of biological determinism are significant because of their political overtones, not justified by science. Characterizing society as "merely" biological implies that any social organization — disparity in wealth or power, for example — is inherent in nature and cannot be changed. The appeal to nature obscures how human politics — at the social level — contributes to the outcome. Biological determinist claims tend to support the status quo and eclipse moral discourse. Further, the appeal to science and its authority implies that the view is proven and cannot be challenged, further concealing the role of politics (Lewontin, Rose and Kamin 1984).

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