The title of this chapter alludes to a phrase used by Geoffrey Scott in The Architecture of Humanism.1 Scott’s ‘biological fallacy’, however, refers to a rather particular failing of the evolutionary parallel as it was applied to architectural history. This is only one, I would suggest, out of many and various consequences which follow from the mistaken proposition that the evolution of human culture as a whole, and technical evolution in particular, are processes that are directly analogous to the evolution of organisms through variation and natural selection. (Perhaps even to talk of cultural ‘evolution’ implies an element of biological analogy. Possibly, however, we can accept the word in this context as a shorthand term, to convey the meaning which it had before its annexation into biology, of a process of change, development or unfolding of any kind.)

I have already touched briefly on the distinctions between cultural and organic evolution in chapter 8, where the principal differences were indicated between the respective theories of Lamarck and Darwin. I suggested there – relying largely on Medawar’s presentation of the argument – that the evolution of culture has ‘Lamarckian’ properties which, according to modern biological opinion, serve to differentiate its working from that of organic evolution in certain fundamental respects.