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God or evolution? Though the debate about our origins has swirled in epic controversy since Darwin's time, David Sloan Wilson bravely blends these two contentious theories. This has been tried before, of course, mainly by religious intellectuals. What makes Darwin's Cathedral stand out is that Wilson does not pursue the classic "intelligent design" argument (evolution is God's hand at work), but instead argues that religion is evolution at work.
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.
Viewing religion from an evolutionary perspective, Wilson (biology and anthropology, Binghamton Univ.) argues that religious belief and other symbolic systems are closely connected to reality in that they are a powerful force in motivating adaptive behaviors. Disconnecting religion from its reliance on supernatural agents as a defining principle, he posits human religious groups as adaptive organisms wherein processes like group selection, evolutionary pressures, and moral systems come into play, offering a new avenue for interpretive insights. To his credit, Wilson looks for a middle ground in this complex confluence of biology, sociology, anthropology, and religion: "I think group selection can explain much about religion but by no means all." He depends heavily on Darwinian theory, sociologists like Rodney Stark, and symbolic thinkers like Emile Durkheim and Terrence Deacon. He ultimately argues for the power of symbolic thinking as a sophisticated adaptive advantage alongside factual thinking. Wilson's readers should be prepared for a tightly argued, highly academic yet satisfying read. Sandra Collins, Duquesne Univ. Lib., Pittsburgh
Copyright 2002 Cahners Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
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 1 month ago by Jackal
Why does he never mention the term 'superorganism'? He seems to be describing exactly that.Published 2 months ago by Karen Wagersmith
Quality book in fine condition delivered in a timely way. Thanks.Published 3 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 3 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 18 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 24 months ago 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