The outlook seems grim. Natural selection under civilized conditions may lead mankind to evolve towards a state of genetic overspecialization for living in gadget-ridden environments. It is certainly up to man to decide whether this direction of his evolution is or is not desirable. If it is not, man has, or soon will have, the knowledge requisite to redirect the evolution of his species pretty much as he sees fit. Perhaps we should not be too dogmatic about this choice of direction. We may be awfully soft compared to paleolithic men when it comes to struggling, unaided by gadgets, with climatic difficulties and wild beasts. Most of us feel most of the time that this is not a very great loss. If our remote descendants grow to be even more effete than we are, they may conceivably be compensated by acquiring genotypes conducive to kindlier dispositions and greater intellectual capacities than those prevalent in mankind today.
The frequent allegation that the selective processes in the human species are no longer 'natural' is due to persistence of the obsolete nineteenth- century concept of 'natural' selection. The error of this view is made clear when we ask its proponents such questions as, why should the 'surviving fittest' be able to withstand cold and inclement weather without the benefit of fire and clothing? Is it not ludicrous to expect selection to make us good at defending ourselves against wild beasts when wild beasts are getting to be so rare that it is a privilege to see one outside of a zoo? Is it necessary to eliminate everyone who has poor teeth when our dentists stand ready to provide us with artificial ones? Is it a great virtue to be able to endure pain when anaesthetics are available?
From the early days of Darwinism analogies have been drawn between biological evolution and the evolution of culture. Darwin's contemporary Herbert Spencer studied the evolution of civilizations, which he viewed as progressing towards an ideal something like that of Victorian English society. Lewis Morgan's evolutionary theory of society included the three stages of savagery, barbarism, and civilization. The historian Arnold Toynbee used evolutionary ideas in identifying over thirty distinct civilizations some of which were derived from others and some of which went extinct, and even Karl Marx used evolutionary analogies in his analysis of society. Fifty years after Darwin, the American psychologist James Baldwin said that natural selection was not merely a law of biology but applied to all the sciences of life and mind, an early version of Universal Darwinism (Baldwin 1909), and he coined the term 'social heredity' to describe the way individuals learn from society by imitation and instruction (Baldwin 1896).