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Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Does Group Selection Explain Religion?

In a profile in today's New York Times, Harvard University biologist E.O. Wilson has a message for science and religion: “Stop quibbling—I’m willing to say ‘Under God’ and to hold my hand to my heart. That’s recognition of how this country evolved, and that we are using strong language to strong purpose, even if we may not agree on how the Earth was created.”
The larger piece introduces readers to the theory of group-level natural selection (as distinguished from gene-level selection) and why Wilson thinks multilevel selection theory should become the foundation of sociobiology. Group selection favors one population over another and "in Dr. Wilson’s view brought into being the many essential genes that benefit the group at the individual’s expense. In humans, these may include genes that underlie generosity, moral constraints, even religious behavior. Such traits are difficult to account for, though not impossible, on the view that natural selection favors only behaviors that help the individual to survive and leave more children," according to the newspaper.
Wilson believes morality and religion are traits based on group selection. "Groups with men of quality — brave, strong, innovative, smart and altruistic — would tend to prevail, as Darwin said, over those groups that do not have those qualities so well developed,” he says. —Heather Wax