Human nature after Neo-Darwinism
Jos de Mul (Erasmus University of Rotterdam )

part of: 2015 Humane Philosophy Project Conference: Humane Philosophy and Human Nature
September 24, 2015, 5:00am - 6:00am
Philosophy of Culture Department, Institute of Philosophy, University of Warsaw, Poland, Institute of Philosophy, University of Warsaw, Poland

Sala im. J. Brudzinskiego
Krakowskie Przedmiescie 26/28
Warsaw 00-927

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  • Dalai Lama Centre for Compassion, Oxford
  • Ian Ramsey Centre for Science and Religion, Oxford
  • Fundacja Uniwersytetu Warszawskiego


Przemys?aw Bursztyka
Institute of Philosophy, University of Warsaw, Poland
Samuel Hughes
Faculty of Philosophy, University of Oxford
Agata Lukomska
Institute of Philosophy, University of Warsaw, Poland
Jonathan Price
Leiden University
Warsaw University
Ralph Weir
University of Oxford

Topic areas


The naturalization and mechanization of the world view that characterizes modernity has not only lead to a disenchantment of living nature surrounding  human beings, but has profoundly affected human nature and the human place in the cosmos as well. Especially Neo-Darwinism, which culminated in the 20th century in the so-called Modern Synthesis of evolutionary theory and molecular genetics  (popularized by Richard Dawkins in The Selfish Gene, 1976), did not only question the alleged gulf between human beings and other animals, but even the very gulf between animate and inanimate nature.  Darwin’s ‘dangerous idea’ that a simple mechanistic algorithm of reproduction, variation and selection is responsible for the entire evolution of life on earth unavoidably seems to lead to a reductionist , deterministic and even nihilistic image of man, leaving little room for meaning, morality and art.

 In the Western World, from the very beginning, the ‘greedy reductionism’ of Neo-Darwinism has met severe criticism, especially from representatives of Christian and humanistic traditions. As these criticisms are often motivated by a no less ‘greedy transcendentism’, they fail to convince those who adopt a modern, scientific world view. However, in the last decades there is also a growing body of critique on Neo-Darwinism emerging from biology itself. Recent developments in epigenetics and systems biology necessitate a fundamental reconsideration of some of the basic presuppositions of Neo-Darwinism, including its so-called ‘central dogma’ that genes are sealed off the outside world, so that the dna code is not affected by the organism and environment. Although at first glance these discussions are quite technical and detailed, they have far-reaching implications for human self-understanding. Taking The Music of Life. Biology Beyond Genes (2006) of systems biologist Denis Noble as a starting point, the focus in this lecture the focus will be on the evolutionary emergence of meaning, morality, and art. 

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