Jerry Bergman


Atavism is the theory that some individual animals for some reason revert back to an earlier evolutionary type. In the case of humans, many behavioral scientists once believed that atavisms caused certain persons to revert in a major way, both physically and mentally, to their animal origins. Many criminologists adopted this theory to explain crime, and partly for this reason it influenced public opinion and official policy. The "criminal physical type" stereotype is still very much with us, even though the theory of atavism as a causative factor in criminal behavior has been empirically disproved. The concept of atavisms has today gone the way of vestigial and nascent organs.

Most disciplines try to accommodate without adequate examination that which they believe is the "accepted" conclusion of other fields. As Gould (1977 : 223) noted, especially great was the influence of evolution in fields far removed from its biological core. One example is an uncritical acceptance of the theory of evolution into social pol icy. The result was the development of many unfounded theories which have been completely discredited today, some of which have had tragic consequences for multi-thousands of persons (Gould, 1981) . The aspect of evolution discussed here is human organism atavism, or the view that certain physical traits appear in humans which are a "throw-back" to an earlier stage of our evolutionary history.


Creationism, biological theory, atavism, social policy, evolution


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