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Darwin's Cathedral: Evolution, Religion, and the Nature of Society Paperback – June 1, 2002
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Wilson sees religion as a complex organism with "biological" functions. He argues that the social cohesiveness of religion makes it analogous to a beehive or a human body--and, in fact, religious believers sometimes employ these metaphors. He writes, "Thinking of a religious group as like an organism encourages us to look for adaptive complexity.... Mechanisms are required that are often awesome in their sophistication." To Wilson, therein lies the astonishing complexity of religion, just as in the biological world.
Following Wilson's argument requires understanding the rudiments of evolutionary biology; a smattering of theology, history, anthropology, sociology, and psychology is helpful, too. But the reasoning isn't as challenging as Wilson warns in the introduction. For educated readers, it's an accessible book.
In just 260 pages, Wilson can't begin to do justice to the broad swath of intellectual work he's cut out for himself. And ultimately, the book's main failing is its simplicity. In addition, his approach to religion is so clearly an outsider's that he is unlikely to win many converts. Adaptive-mechanistic explanations of forgiveness and altruism may be intriguing to the atheist in the ivory tower, but they are likely to elicit little more than a bemused and passing interest from believers. --Eric de Place --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
From Library Journal
Copyright 2002 Cahners Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
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Top Customer Reviews
David Sloane Wilson first acknowledges that traits which promote us to sacrifice ourselves "for the good of the group" are unlikely to spread in a population. He find great value in fields like evolutionary psychology for finding innate human psychological traits that promote individual reproduction and survival. However, he also takes a thought provoking look at important transitions in evolutionary history and finds that under certain special conditions, individuals become united and begin to function in a very real sense as a larger organism. Genes become united into chromosomes, cells become organisms, organisms become hives.
None of this is new so far of course. What is unique is the claim that some of these transitions cannot be explained without having some form of competition between groups whose traits are widely divergent. The basic problem is that behavior that allows one group to fare better than another must also allow the individuals to survive and reproduce within their own group.Read more ›
To Wilson's credit, he has written carefully about both scientific and religious issues, and readers with an interest in either field will find that he has covered both fairly. His coverage of the science involved begins with an interesting history of "the wrong turn" evolutionary theory took fifty years ago, when it deliberately ignored the influence of group selection.Read more ›
Group selection long ago became passé among evolutionary biologists, but it may be time for its revival. In the 60's, it was believed that evolution takes place entirely by mutational change. Since then, it has been shown that evolution also occurs along a different pathway: by social groups becoming so functionally integrated that they become higher-level organisms in their own right. So why aren't groups--particularly religious groupings--receiving the attention they deserve in the evolutionary field?
Wilson wants to study religious groups in the same way biologists study guppies, bacteria, and other forms of life. Does the rational choice theory fit religion? Functionalism? Using Calvinism as his primary case study, he determines that characteristics of social groups can be predicted via group selection theory.
Intelligent and cutting edge, Wilson does have something to say, but this is not an easy read; it reads like a university thesis, scholarly and reference-infested. It's not because the theory isn't fascinating, but because I had a hard time concentrating on the presentation, that I ranked it only three stars.
Most Recent Customer Reviews
In a book about religion the author starts with a pet project about group selection. Most experts would agree that group selection is possible, but rare or non-existent in... Read morePublished 5 months ago by Jackal
Why does he never mention the term 'superorganism'? He seems to be describing exactly that.Published 7 months ago by Karen Wagersmith
Quality book in fine condition delivered in a timely way. Thanks.Published 7 months ago by thomas e.
Why do people always point out hypocrites who preach forgiveness yet are judgmental about others? Why do religions believe in peace, yet go off on crusades and war? Read morePublished 8 months ago by J. C.
"Darwin's Cathedral" is a groundbreaking work that integrates biology, sociology, anthropology, psychology, and theology in such a way as to fill the gaps left by theories of one... Read morePublished 22 months ago by Richard Bargielski
This debate is complicated even for the evolutionary biologist experts. Seems simple enough that religious groups are as adaptive or maladaptive as any military group, some survive... Read morePublished on October 7, 2013 by John S. Pieri
This is a very believable account of how and why religion became such a dominant aspect of human society, from primitive hunter-gatherer societies to modern multi-cultural... Read morePublished on September 27, 2013 by M. L White
This is a relatively early book by a scientist looking at religion. Religion is a messy subject, which only a few scientists have attempted to deal with. Read morePublished on December 15, 2012 by Tim Tyler