Sunday, July 20, 2008

Darwins Cathedral Chapter 1 pt 2

As I finish up chapter 1, Wilson mentions how genetic evolution does not only lead to closed ended processes. He references Plotkin`s (1994, as cited in Wilson 2002) concept of Darwin machines. As I understand it, these are processes which have evolved to certain levels of adaptability. The immune system and anti-body creation is cited as an example. Since Wilson`s book is about an evolutionary approach to religion, here is a quote with some far reaching implications (pp. 31, Wilson 2002),

"When physical and social environments become sufficiently variable, juke-box solutions are inadequate and the only recourse is to evolve Darwin machines."

In mormon circles, most members tend to take the approach that a restored religion will be quite similar to post iterations of the same. Now, I don`t think this implies the structure or appearance of the a church will or even should be the same. Aplogetics certainly do try and cite the similarities between early mromonism and the early Christian church - with some successes and some failures in my estimation. People tend to have an easier time projecting tight correlations between Book of Mormon religions and modern Mormonism. The viability of this approach gets clouded a bit depending the degree to which Joseph Smith`s own understandings affected his translation process.

One can dichotomize the restoration issue into two branches; 1) chruch structures should be congruent over time 2) only fundamental religious elements should be congruent over time. The first option meshes well with a positivist approach to religion. Religion is designed to reveal essential behaviour, rules, or standards. I will ignore this option as I find it rather problematic when taken to logical extremes. The second option forces a hard look at what is immutable over restoration cycles. I think such an approach would also be well informed from a universalist approach to religion. However, I think one needs to look beyond *what essential elements are common in religions" to "what essential elements are common in religions where distincitions between normal and extra-normal influence are overt".

This light takes some leverage from Wilson`s ideas. Religion should look different in different iterations because the conditions to which it responds are different. One can think of religion as a tool that allows the growth of sucessful developmental adaptations. However this doesn`t distinguish between what is momentarily beneficial and what benefits are more time independent. I think practical mormon theology is quite informed by the latter question.

For practical people, I suspect the following personal question emerges, to what extent does the learning associated with religion depend on leveraging what Darwin Machines can spit out?  Is religion about learning absolutes, or is it about knowing how to leverage fundamental routines?

2 comments:

chris g said...

I think another quote of Wilson's (pp. 35) is relevant here, " we should think of religious groups as rapidly evolving entities adapting to their current environments"

chris g said...

A nice interchange between Wilson and Massimo Pigliucci is up at secular philosophy. I tend to think Wilson has made the stronger case. It really is hard to argue against moderate positions that understand each side. Religion is most likely a normally distributed fundamental human characteristic. In the science/ religion debates, I have a feeling that will need to be the default starting position for any fruitful inquiry.