Friday, July 18, 2008

Darwin's Cathedral Part 1

I have just started reading Darwin's Cathedral (Wilson, 2002).  I will pull out a few closely spaced quotes

"The belief that group selection can be categorically rejected belongs on the rubbish heap of history, alongside the earlier belief that groups always function as adaptive units," (pp.17).

"As we have seen, group selection can produce altruistic traits, but it must be exceptionally strong to oppose the strong selective disadvantage of altruism within groups. In contrast, the mechanisms that allow organisms to function as adaptive units do not appear very altruistic," (pp. 18)

"Social control, rather than highly self-sacrificial altruism, appears to solve the fundamental problem of social life at the individual level," (pp.19).

"Social control can be regarded as a form of low-cost altruism that evolves to promote behaviors that would qualify as high-cost altruism if they were performed voluntarily," (pp. 19).

Compared to other books I have read as of late, it is refreshing to read a nuanced author.  I have, unfortunately, grown accustomed to the prescriptions of amateur authors convinced of the validity of their own pet ideas.

The guidelines Wilson portrays on the valid use of multi level selection evolution theory create a strong base for discussion.  It seems like it will be extraordinarily difficult to rigorously discuss religion on these footings.  I think most people will fall into the functionalist thinking that Wilson infers doomed 60's group evolutionists.  As I explore more of this book, it will be interesting to see the extent to which social control informs religious function.

Givens' "People of Paradox" (2007), will be an interesting foil in this exploration.  To what extent do religions truly embrace the Mormon ideal represented by Brigham Young, "in these respects we differ from the Christian world, for our religion will not clash with or contradict the facts of science in any particular," (pp. 65 as cited in Givens, 2007), or Joseph Smith, "intelligence is the great object of our holy religion," (pp. 65 as cited in Givens, 2007)?  It seems as if religion is really several different characters.  It may involve a search for group benefits, personal growth through shared meaning & experience, the gift of placebo-like (or real) assurance.  One thing that seems correct to me, is that if one doesn't take the road of religious fundamentalism, religion grows in the weightlessness that exists with the tensions between fuzzy anchor points.

Now I may be projecting here, but I don't think practical religion can be separated from learning.  Of course in practice, learning can't be separated from leadership, which in these contexts, can't be separated from training.  Because of the circular nature of the situation, I would suspect one would need to be well informed on pragmatics to make much headway.

Givens, T. (2007).  People of Paradox: A History of Mormon Culture, Oxford, Oxford University Press.

Wilson, D. (2002).  Darwin's Cathedral: Evolution, Religion and the Nature of Society, Chicago, University of Chicago.

No comments: