More than ever, the brilliant team with active members such as Robert "@RobertMKadar" Kadar and Hadassah "@Haddie" Head is experimenting with new media possibilities such as videos. Here, leading evolutionary biologist David Sloan Wilson is introducing into the dynamic field of evolutionary studies of religion.
After seeing this well-done tutorial, I decided to add a web-interview and sent him some questions.
1. David, as a leading evolutionary biologist, you initiated the
"Evolution - This View of Life" (ETVOL)-online-magazine which
"approaches anything and everything from an evolutionary perspective".
Why did you do that?
professional life is devoted to expanding evolutionary science beyond
the biological sciences to include all aspects of humanity--in my own
research, in higher education (EvoS), and in the formulation of public policy (The Evolution Institute).
The idea for an online general interest magazine was conceived by one
of my graduate students named Robert Kadar, and it has been an excellent
adventure working with him to make it a reality.
2. Evolutionary Biology has
been a field of intensive debate during the last years. Together wih
only a few allies, you brought group or multilevel selection
successfully back into science after it had been condemned and tabooed
for decades. What do you think - why have colleagues such as Richard
Dawkins have been so active in suppressing empirically viable perspectives for so long?
will have a good time conducting an autopsy on the group selection
controversy (they're already starting in books such as The Price of Altruism by Oren Harmon and Evolutionary Restraints by
Mark Borello). I play the role of historian myself in a series of posts
on my "Evolution for Everyone" blog titled "Truth and Reconciliation
for Group Selection" (start here).
Two major points are worth emphasizing. First, when a large group of
people reaches a consensus that they regard as foundational, it's hard
for them to reconsider, in science no less than other walks of life.
Second, evolutionary theory's individualistic swing in the middle of the
20th century was part of a more general swing toward individualism in
western culture and other branches of academia such as economics.
Evolutionists have been biased by the culture of individualism in the
20th century, much as Darwin and his contemporaries were biased by
Victorian culture in the 19th century.
In your new and partially autobiographical book "The Neighborhood Project", you are reflecting on the
growing sceptisicm among your formerly Protestant family.
Nevertheless, you contributed with "Darwin's Cathedral" heavily to the
now-dynamic field of evolutionary studies of religion. And you won me
over as the religion-editor for ETVOL arguing that the topic should not
be excluded. Why do you think that religion is an important field in
My mother and novelist father (Sloan Wilson, author of The Man in the Grey Flannel Suit and A Summer Place)
were not religious but they had a strong sense of morality, so "do
unto others" was instilled in me as strongly as in most religious
believers. When I started to learn about evolution in college, I was
told that group selection, the most straightforward theory for
explaining the evolution of altruism, had been rejected. I took that as a
challenge. I was also attracted to the study of humans from an
evolutionary perspective from the beginning. I guess you could say that I
had an appetite for controversy!
After decades of studying group
selection and human evolution, it only made sense to study religion from
an evolutionary perspective. It's amazing how fast the field of
Evolutionary Religious Studies has advanced since the publication of
Darwin's Cathedral, thanks to talented people such as yourself and your
great work on the effects of religion on human fertility.
4. In the United States,
evolutionary theory is quite offen criticized on religious grounds. In
Europe, most people accept evolution concerning plants and animals, but
especially older scientists are rejecting it quite often when applied to
human phenomena for the fear of reductionism and social darwinism. Do
you have good advice in dealing with such fears?
in relation to human affairs earned a bad reputation during the late
19th and early 20th century, especially with respect to the
justification of social inequality. As a result, most human-related
disciplines have avoided evolutionary thinking since before most of the
current experts were born. Yet, all human-related academic disciplines
strive for consilience--consistency with other branches of knowledge.
In essence, everyone has been saying "My ideas are consistent with
evolution, without requiring much knowledge about evolution." When this
unstated assumption is put to the test, many ideas in the human-related
disciplines fail the consilience test. The best way to allay fears about
evolution is to show how modern evolutionary science can be used not
just to understand, but also to improve the human condition.
I couldn't agree more. Evolution rocks, and I am looking forward to contributing more to Evolution: This View of Live (ETVOL)! Thank you very much for promoting science, cooperation and evolutionary studies, David.