The Nature versus Nurture debate is quite old. Sir Francis Galton first used the phrase "Nature versus Nurture" in 1871 (Harris,1998). But this debate is far older than that. It dates at least back as far as the early Greeks. They were perhaps the first to debate the nature of fate versus free will in literature (Oedipus). For hundreds of years, humans have been plagued with the question "Do we have control over our own destiny or is it preset?" As a way to gain a better understanding of this question, this paper hopes to document and discuss the debates origin and recent conclusion. Even though the debate may finally be over, its arguments began nearly a century ago, with another controversy by Galtonís cousin Darwin.
In 1859, Charles Darwin published his well-known book Origin of Species. This book was probably the most influential work of the 19th century. The implication of this work was that man evolved from primates. This theory of evolution caused a controversy of itís own. However, what was most important to the Nature versus Nurture debate was the idea that species such as ours could change over time.
The theory of evolution was not new in 1859. Darwinís own grandfather Erasmus Darwin, had published works on evolution theory sixty years earlier (Simison, 1995). What was new was Darwinís mechanism for evolution. This mechanism is known as Natural Selection. Natural selection occurs when the environment selects for stronger animals. Natural Selection is commonly defined by the phrase "survival of the fittest (Wallace, King & Sanders, 1986)."
It was from this work that much of Nature/Nurture debate developed. In the decades since Darwin first presented his enormously influential work, we have developed the mechanism of Natural Selection (Genetics) and also developed an entirely new branch of science (Psychology). The science of the mind "Psychology" led us to question the impact our genetics has on us. Do we have free will to decide our destiny, or is it predetermined? This study of the mind though began with Darwinís cousin Sir Francis Galton.
Darwinís publication Origin of Species had a profound influence on the life of Sir Francis Galton (1822-1911). Here is how he describes this influence in his autobiography, Memories of My life, p. 287
The publication in 1859 of the Origin of Species by Charles Darwin made a marked epoch in my own mental development, as it did in that of human thought generally.
At the publication of this work Galton, to that point had been a medical student, a naturalist, anthropologist, and an explorer. From 1865 on, Galton devoted his life to the study of Eugenics (Galton the Scientist, 2000).
In 1869, like his cousin Charles Darwin before him, Galton published his own highly controversial work Hereditary Genius. This work by some has been named as the starting point of the "Nature versus Nurture" controversy. Although it may not be the starting point but it certainly brought this controversy into the limelight. Galtonís first words in the book explain his purpose:
I propose to show in this book that a manís natural abilities are derived by inheritance, so it would be quite practicable to produce a highly gifted race of men by judicious marriages during several consecutive generations.
Hereditary Genius p. 46
In this work Galton immediately takes the side of Nature (biodeterminism) in this debate. The following describes his viewpoint:
I have no patience with the hypothesis occasionally expressed, and often implied, especially in tales written to teach children to be good, that babies are born pretty much alike and that the sole agencies in creating differences between boy and boy, and man and man, are steady application and moral effort.
Hereditary Genius p. 56
Galton, of course, is referring to the view commonly held idea that a child was born into the world a blank slate, a "tabula rasa" in the words of British Empiricist David Hume (Csongradi, 2000; Feiser, 2000). Hume was a philosopher born in 1711 (Feiser, 2000). By Galtonís time Humeís philosophy, which would now be called "environmentalism," was the quite prevalent (Kimble,1993; Steen, 1996). So it was against this "environmentalist" viewpoint that Galton resisted and proclaimed his new "science" of Eugenics.
Galton began by identifying the most "eminent" men of his day. These "eminent" men were those that he considered to be the brightest individuals of the land. So in a short time Darwinís "survival of the fittest" doctrine had been applied to humans with the Elizabethan aristocracy as the fittest of humanity. The fit were "eminent" (well bred and well educated).
This of course could all be shown and documented with statistics. To support his claim Galton calculated the relatedness of these "eminent" individuals (Galton, 1962). Galton referred to the most famous person in a family as a "referent", and determined the likelihood that a referent would be related to another by blood. In an effort to quantify his findings Galton made the first steps to develop the correlation method that we now use in statistics (Nunnally, 1967).
Initially Galtonís ideas were not well received and were thought to be highly controversial. However due in part to his efforts, the latter half of the 19th century saw a rise in the popularity of hereditability of traits. The heredity of intelligence took two paths based upon the emergence of two new sciences (Genetics and Psychology) that finally recombine in the late 20th century in a new version of the Nature/Nurture debate. Eventually Galton was knighted for his service to the crown in 1909, just two years before his death.
The mechanism of heredity (Genetics) was actually discovered several years before Galton wrote his controversial book Hereditary Genius. However Galton and few other scientists took notice of this work by an Austrian Monk named Gregor Mendel.
In 1866, Abbot Gregor Mendel, a member of an Augustinian order, published the results of a long-term study that professed to describe the principles of heredity (Otto& Towle, 1985). Mendel after many years of experimenting was able to predict and control several observable traits of garden peas (phenotype). Through the manipulation of these traits and the application of statistics he was able to describe the basic principles of genetics (Wallace, King & Sanders, 1986).
By experimenting with seven observable traits Mendel was able to determine that some traits tended to be dominant and some recessive. Mendelís basic approach was to cross true breeding strains that differed in only one trait (such as seed color) (Wallace, King & Sanders, 1986). Even though heredity research was quite popular, researchers before him (i.e. Darwin) had failed to concentrate on single traits and thus were confounded by their results.In 1865, after seven years of experimenting Mendel presented his work to the Brunn Natural Science Society (Wallace, King & Sanders, 1986). Sadly this audience did not understand the significance of his work. After his discussion they even began to discuss natural selection. Unfortunately, they failed to see the connection between the two. The next year Mendel published his work in the societies proceedings. Again the world failed to recognize the significance of his discoveries (Wallace, King & Sanders, 1986).
Several authors have conjectured as to why Mendel was forgotten by science. Most conclude that Mendelís work was forgotten because Heredity and Development were not well understood and thought to be one process (Hartl & Orel, 1992). Darwin was even said to have seen an account of Mendelís work but failed to grasp the importance of his ideas (Wallace, King & Sanders, 1986).
Sixteen years after Mendelís death, three botanists, Hugo de Vries, Carl Correns, and Erich von Tschermak, independently rediscovered his work in 1900(Tamarin, 1991). De Vries and Correns having done some similar experimentation with several plant species immediately understood its significance. Through their efforts and others, Mendelís work immediately became well known and its significance was finally understood.
By the time, Mendelís work was rediscovered in 1900; cell biologists had observed chromosomes and believed that they were responsible for the transmitting hereditary information (Otto& Towle, 1985). In 1903, Walter Sutton, a young graduate student at Columbia University, came up with an intriguing hypothesis. He theorized hereditary particles, which he called "genes" are components of chromosomes He later published his hypothesis in the Biological Bulletin (Otto& Towle, 1985).Later at Columbia University in 1910, Thomas Hunt Morgan, began a series of breeding experiments with the common fruit fly, Drosophila melanogaster.
Drosophila were chosen because they were easy to raise and had a relatively short reproductive cycle (Wallace, King & Sanders, 1986). Morganís experiments with Drosophila proved to be extremely productive. He was able to determine that some traits were sex-linked and would only be found in males or females (Wallace, King & Sanders, 1986). Researchers in Morganís lab were able to determine that during gamete production (meiosis) some genetic material can and does cross over and recombine with other genetic material. This process is now known as Genetic Recombination. In an attempt to better understand genetic recombination, A. H. Sturtevant, an undergraduate working with Morgan, was able to produced the worldís first Genetic Map. In 1915, Researchers in Morganí lab (Thomas Hunt Morgan, Alfred Henry Sturtevant, Calvin Blackman Bridges, and Hermann Joseph Muller) collaborated to write The Mechanism of Mendelian Heredity. This above described work and work that followed, earned Morgan the first Nobel Prize given for Genetics in 1933.
The processes described above (genetic recombination and genetic mapping) have become increasingly important in the latter half of the 20th century. Many scientists around the world are involved in mapping all of the genes of man. This work is now better known as the Human Genome project.
In 1879, Wundt succeeded in securing a laboratory for the sole purpose of studying Psychology at the University of Leipzig. Most historians have named this as the date of birth for Psychology (Weiten, 1995).At the time it was quite common for Americans to travel abroad and receive their educational training in Europe. One of Wundt's students, American G. Stanley Hall came back to the United States to found the first research laboratory in psychology at Johns Hopkins University in 1883. Hall was remarkably successful in establishing Psychology in America (Weiten, 1995). He later established the first Psychology Journal in the United States. After this he also began the American Psychological Association (APA) (Weiten, 1995).
As mentioned before Sir Francis Galton was quite interested in the mental abilities of "eminent" humans. He conducted many of the first surveys to better understand human intellect. He was even the first to coined the term "mental test (Nunnally, 1967)."
In1905 Albert Binet was commissioned by the minister of public education to develop techniques for identifying those students who needed special education (Gould, 1996). He determined a scale by which a students "mental age" could be determined. Later in 1912 a German Psychologist, W. Stern, argued mental age should be divided by chronological age (Gould, 1996).H.H. Goddard, director of research at the Vineland Training School for Feeble-minded Girls and Boys, eventually translated Binetís published works and made use of them here in the United States (Gould, 1996).Goddard may have brought Binet to the United States but it was Lewis Terman, a professor at Stanford University, that made it popular (Gould, 1996). Terman revised the test a number of times, eventually to include "superior adults." This new test the "Standford-Binet" Test became the standard for virtually all "IQ" tests that followed (Gould, 1996). In 1916 he coined the term IQ (Intelligence Quotient) in The Measure of Intelligence (Gould, 1996). †In this work he advocated "a mental test for every child"
With the approach of World War I, America was faced with the momentous task of building an Army almost over night. Colonel Yerkes, who had been a Psychologist at Harvard University since 1902 decided that the Army needed to test its enlisted men and thus the Army Alpha and Beta test were born (Gould, 1996). This event like no other propelled Psychology and Psychological testing to the forefront.
By the 1920ís Galtonís ideas about Eugenics had begun to gain considerable ground both here in the United States and in Europe. The American Eugenics Society began to frequent US state fairs and exhibitions. There they distributed and promoted text for high school and college students (Selden, 2000).
The IQ testing of immigrants began to be done with increasing frequency. IQ test at this time were culturally biased. These biases led many to believe that different races had strikingly different mental abilities. Psychologist Henry Goddard even claimed that two out of five immigrants should be classified as feebleminded. In addition he described the Mediterranean races as intellectually inferior to the Nordic race (Nelkin, 1998). In response to these ideas President Calvin Coolidge signed into law the Immigration Restriction Act of 1924. This legislation imposed severe restrictions on the immigration of people from central, south, and eastern Europe (Nelkin, 1998). The influence of eugenics declined in the United States after 1935.
However after the Second World War, references to "good and bad stock,"
continued. But it was far less likely to make it into the scientific literature.
These ideas weren't entirely gone though. Small groups continued to foster the
ideas that were prevalent in Nazi Germany. One group in particular is still
alive and well today. Here is their mission statement as it reads from their
Pioneer Fund Mission
"To conduct or aid in conducting study and research into the problems of heredity and eugenics in the human race generally and such study and such research in respect to animals and plants as may throw light upon heredity in man, and research and study into the problems of human race betterment with special reference to the people of the United States." http://www.pioneerfund.org/
Several modern Psychologists have put forth their own views of the Nature/Nurture Controversy. Perhaps the first was John B. Watson. He founded the school of behaviorism with his 1913 Presidential Address to the American Psychological Association, entitled Psychology as the Behaviorist Views It. Interestingly enough Watson believed was 100% on the side of Environment (Nurture). Here are some of his statements that show this view.
Give me a dozen health infants and my own specified world to bring them up in, and Iíll guarantee to take anyone at random and train him to become any kind of specialist I might select : doctor, lawyer, artist, merchant-chief and yes beggar and thief, regardless of his talents, penchants, tendencies, abilities, vocations and race of his ancestors.
B.F. Skinner, the father of Operant Conditioning, would have told the ancient Greeks that free will is an illusion. These were basically his words in his book Beyond Freedom and Dignity (1971) (Weiten, 1995).
Even though Jean Piaget came from a different school of thought but basically had the same ideas. He defined intelligence as "an evolving biological adaptation to the outside world; as cognitive skills are gained adaptation increases, and mental trial and error replace actual physical trial and error." He believed experiences require cognitive organization or reorganization in the mental structure of Schema (Slavin, 2000).
In 1969, Arthur Jensen caused quite a controversy in the academic community by suggesting that intelligence was due nearly exclusively (80 percent) to hereditary factors (Gould, 1996).
But perhaps one of the most controversial individuals of the late 20th century was E. O. Wilson. Wilson wrote Sociobiology: The New Synthesis, in 1975. This book ignited the academic community. Wilson was threaten physically and accosted at the annual meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science in 1979. Interestingly enough, Wilson an Ant Behaviorist, basically summed up the sentiments of the most famous Biologist and Psychologist in his 1975 book (Wilson, 1995). What angered everyone so? He proposed a genetic theory of social behavior.
Today though most scientist believe that both Nature and Nurture contribute to human behavior. This has been described as "interactionism.(Gould, 1996)."
In recent years another book has again aroused great public interest. Gould sums up The Bell Curve nicely in his 1996 book The Mismeasure of Man:
"We shall not get this issue straight until we realize that the "Interactionism" we all accept does not permit such statements as ĎTrait x is 29 percent environmental and 71 percent genetic. A 60 percent biodeterminist is not a subtle interactionist, but a determinist on the Ďlittle bit pregnantí model (Gould, 1996).
This book received quite a lot of attention; and the authors appear in the media in order to bolster sales of their book. As it turns out, The Pioneer Fund, the Eugenics group that I mentioned earlier funded Herrnstein and Murrayís research. This in of itself is not bad but the Pioneer Fund was closely tied with eugenics advocates from Nazi Germany (Kincheloe, & Steinberg, 1997).
So how then is The Bell Curve a problem? The rhetoric of The Bell Curve †harkens back to the eugencists of the 1920s. Herrnstein and Murray brought back the old arguments promoted then as well, with a 1990ís twist. Now itís not immigrants that have a low IQ itís people from a lower Socioeconomic Status. The problem is that these authors are not professing science, as they would have you believe. They are professing a destructive psuedo-scientific philosophy. This is the heart of the problem.†
Most of our public does not have a college degree and they lack the specialization necessary to understand the issue. In addition they lack the skepticism that these degrees teach. Most would groan at that statement and say, "you donít have to have a college degree to be a skeptic." I agree, but more than anything an education teaches you "not to believe everything you hear." Sadly many take text as truth. If it is written, then it must be true. In addition to this Herrnstein and Murray stand behind the veil of statistics and "psuedoscience" (something most layman cannot see through). Humans sadly are "gullible."
This is why we have candy-coated television programming. They give us what we want! These forms of entertainment can be very powerful in shaping public opinion. Some would say "oh this is just sensationalism. Nothing to worry about." I disagree. The public expects "scientists" to be professionals. They expect the "truth." Even though "truth" is a difficult concept for the layman, scientists do have a method for finding facts that corroborate "warranted assertions."
Herrnstein and Murray even have a few "warranted assertions" but as a whole their book is not science. Here is how the APA describes The Bell Curve: "While members of an APA task force agrees with some of the data in The Bell Curve, some find the book's political agenda racist. "† Notice the words "some of the data." Herrnstein and Murray could not include data that was completely false; else the Scientific Community would discount them.
The Bell Curve would be believable science if Herrnstein and Murray, after years of studying the human genome were to come to the scientific community with their findings. But what they have offered the world is a book designed to create controversy. These individuals are not scientist they are "snake oil" salesmen out to make a buck and con a believer.
Historians have called this debate "Nature versus Nurture," because of Sir Francis Galton, but this argument soon became Biodeterminism versus Environmentalism in the 20th century (Kimble, 1993). Now that the 20th century is over, most (not all) scientists believe that nature and nurture combine in a complex mixture to produce human behavior (Steen, 1996; Gould, 1996). It is quite interesting that a compromise was made and Biodeterminism and Environmentalism have combined to become "interactionism.(Gould, 1996)"
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Csongradi, C. (2000) Why the Topic of Bioethics in Science Classes?
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 Eugenics can be defined as the use of science applied to the qualitative and quantitative improvement of the human genome (Galton & Galton, 1998).