Professor of Geology Stephen Jay Gould argued, before a crowd of 200 at Hillel last night, that the classical Darwinian theory of evolution must be revised to explain phenomena other than competition among individuals.
Gould said the Darwinian concept of individuals struggling for personal reward has never been disproven, but the equally valid concepts of competition between groups and even whole species requires a broader theoretical approach.
"It is not so clear any more what an individuals is," he said.
The view that the individual organism is the sole contender in the struggle for survival fails to explain how ants and other animals live in colonies, cooperating instead of competing among themselves.
Any entity with a bounded lifespan, stability, and the ability to reproduce is a struggling agent subject to natural selection, Gould said. "But organisms are not the only things with these properties."
"It is not outdated liberalism but good biology to say that in a Darwinian world, regulated by struggle among individuals, integration is possible."
Gould, who teaches the popular Core course, Science B-16, "History of the Earth and of Life," was invited to speak at Hillel as part of a continuing series of "Sabbath Table Talks."
Gould cited siamese twins, clones, and animals like the Portuguese man-of-war which exist only as colonies, as "phenomena which would call into doubt" any sharp distinction between individuals and "collectivities."
Gould said the coexistence necessary for human survival is biologically possible. Whether it will happen socially, in light of the "intrinsic conflicts" between the individual's self-interest and the interest of the species at large, is questionable, he said.