Biological determinism, also called genetic determinism, is the hypothesis that biological factors such as an organism's individual genes (as opposed to social or environmental factors) completely determine how a system behaves or changes over time.
Consider certain human behaviors, such as having a particular taste in music, committing murder, or writing poetry. A biological determinist would look only at innate factors, such as genetic makeup, in deciding whether or not a given person would exhibit these behaviors. They would ignore non-innate factors, such as social customs and expectations, education, and physical environment.
Biologists sometimes regard a charge of biological determinism as a straw man, as there is currently no support for strict biological determinism in the field of genetics or development, and virtually no support among geneticists for the strong thesis of biological determinism. However, individual scientists may disagree as to the role that genetic and environmental factors play. Modern genetics, in large part, is concerned with studying the dialogue between genes and environment.
Biological determinism is the opposite of social determinism.
A critique has been developed against the uncritical use of biological determinism or biology as ideology (something that has been termed "biologism"). The most famous book on the subject is Richard Lewontin's "Biology as Ideology: The Doctrine of DNA" (1991). Lewontin argued that while traditional Darwinism has portrayed the organism as passive recipient of environmental influences, a correct understanding should emphasize the organism as an active constructer of its own environment. Niches are not pre-formed, empty receptacles into which organisms are inserted, but are defined and created by organisms. The organism-environment relationship is reciprocal and dialectical.
- Cultural determinism
- Environmental determinism
- Genetic determinism
- Nature versus nurture
- Social determinism
- Mudsill theory