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Darwin's Cathedral?? - NOT !
on July 19, 2008
I found the book an interesting read, and I learned a few things from it. However, I do not think that Wilson has made compelling cases for his main theses.
The concept of group evolution is interesting. But how far does displayed average group behavior go beyond acquisition of cultural heritage, customs, and develops without steady enforcement of societal standards such as ethics etc.? To what extent does group behavior represent an expression of the corresponding genome? Wilson doesn't give any hard data that as a biologist with this conviction he may be expected to have. So, for myself I conclude: Maybe it does, and maybe it does not.
Wilson discusses the role of group ideology for the attractiveness of a group, its internal cohesion and its fitness in a larger society. That concept is of course not new to sociology. You can see these concepts illustrated in the role of religious or political movements such as cults or fascism. In fact, the German Nazi type has sometimes been likened to a religious/mystic hybrid movement. So, I accept that much of Wilson's thesis, even though he does not acknowledge the complex role of such groups in society, both trying to adjust to the general framework and to influence that societal framework. It is not obvious how to define the concept of group "fitness" in an interactive human society in analogy to the use of individual fitness in biological evolution. Wilson obviously struggles with the problem.
Finally, one readily acknowledges the specific role that religion has played as a form of group ideology. But have religion or mystic beliefs per se played a positive, or any, role in the biological evolution of our species that would go beyond that of a generic group ideology? Since this was my main reason to buy the book ("Darwin"s Cathedral"), I looked hard in Wilson's book for compelling demonstrations of such a role, but in vain.
The book does not provide arguments against thinking of religion as remnant of a much stronger force driving, or retarding, human cultural evolution, with often troubling consequences. I suspect that our overall fitness as a species on Earth could benefit from a more humane, tolerant secular ethos.