Tuesday, August 1, 2023

Darwin's Cathedral


After seeing the subject book by David Sloan Wilson referenced in a number of other books I've read, I finally got around to reading it. Certainly not a "page turner" -- lots of evolutionary terminology. "Group Selection" is the biggie -- the idea that when groups have characteristics that are more "adaptive", they will be "selected" -- meaning more babies, more babies that live, conversion of other groups, etc.
"Since Darwin's theory relies entirely on differences in survival and reproduction, it seems unable to explain groups as adaptive units. This can be called the fundamental problem of social life. Groups function best when their members provide benefits for each other, but it is difficult to convert this type of social organization into the currency of biological fitness". 
The author is attempting to resurrect "group selection" by putting it on a continuum called "multi-level selection theory" ... genes, cells, organisms, groups -- selection happens across any and all, but what is most interesting to the author is clearly groups, and how religion is a core mechanism of that selection.
 "Moral communities in larger than a few hundred individuals are "unnatural" as far as genetic evolution is concerned, because to the best of our knowledge they never existed prior to the advent of agriculture. This means that culturally evolved mechanisms are absolutely required for human society to hang together above the level of face to face groups. 
At least if you reject any potential for "divine revelation" -- just where DID Newton or Einstein come up with their initial hypothesis? ... just kidding, mostly. The point is, for a pure atheist scientist, there had BETTER be SOME explanation why "unnatural things" are happening with human groups!

The other big evolutionary discussion is the "argument from design" and "functionalism". Naturally, an atheist scientist assumes that the "design" is "random", relative to some function that is adaptive (as opposed to there being a "designer")  He uses the example of a can opener relative to functional design. "The design features that identify an object as a can opener provide such a strong argument that we don't even call it an argument, we call it self evident".  He then points out that a specific religion "Calvinism" is DESIGNED to provide the function of allowing a group larger than "natural" to function -- interestingly, "designed" by Calvin.

On page 228 he really gets down to brass tacks.
" It is true that many religious beliefs are false as literal descriptions of the real world, but this merely forces us to recognize two forms of realism; a factual realism based on literal correspondence, and a practical realism based on behavioral adaptiveness."  
"Rationality is not the gold standard on which all other forms of thought are to be judged. Adaptation is the gold standard against which rationality must be judged, along with all other forms of thought."  
and then ... "... factual realists detached from practical reality were not among our ancestors. It is the person who elevates factual truth above practical truth who must be accused of mental weakness from an evolutionary perspective". 
I could do a MUCH longer review, but I think this is the core. For those that assume there is no God, the fact that humans are able to function in groups larger than a couple hundred people at most is a HUGE problem. It clearly happened, but HOW did it happen?

The answer is just what I harp on -- religion. In the West, Judaism and Christianity -- which CLEARLY were the  "most adaptive", or "divinely inspired" if you are a believer. If you are an evolutionist, they realize that they had damned well better figure out that "practical realism" is FAR superior to "factual realism" (or at least what the consciousness that we have no clue as to what it is THINKS is "factual") from an ADAPTIVE POV!

 Having the "facts" right, but turning up dead (as in "our culture")  -- meaning that you are NOT "among the ancestors" of the future doesn't fit well with having a "superior" brain -- even if you DO feel really great about gay "marriage"! "Superior" means staying in the gene pool in the evolutionary world!No matter how "good" something may be for your own identarian reasoning, if you drop out of the gene pool, your reasoning fails the test of survival.

Is it even POSSIBLE to have civilization as we know it without a huge majority of the people in that civilization fervently believing that the basis for their civilization is divine and sacred, or at the very least "exceptional"?  From what we have seen to date, not without massive coercive force as in National Socialist Germany, USSR, China, North Korea, etc. It remains to be seen in a couple cases if brutal force can be a substitute for belief. Even if it CAN, is that REALLY what our "factual realist" scientists find to be a "good idea"?

All in all, a good book -- most could read the first 20 pages and the last 20 and get 80% of the value out of it. It is worth at least that effort.

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