[ExI] Group Selection Advances

spike spike66 at att.net
Fri May 1 04:47:27 UTC 2009

> ...On Behalf Of Lee Corbin
> Subject: [ExI] Group Selection Advances
> Early on, I naturally believed in group selection, and Darwin 
> did too; it seemed rather obvious and logical.
> Then along came Dawkins who spread the views of the critics 
> of Wynne-Edwards (a great group selection advocate), and 
> finally in "The Selfish Gene", "The Extended Phenotype", or 
> "The Blind Watchmater" Dawkins penetrated my thick skull.
> Lee

When debates over group selection in evolution take place, humans get into
the picture.  Perhaps we have a hard time discussing humans in evolution
because we are too close to the situation.  Furthermore humans evidently
have all these meta-memes which mess with our instincts.  For this reason it
is perhaps easier to debate the topic by looking at the example of the Irish
elk, which apparently evolved themselves into a corner:


The canonical version of the story is that the Irish Elk went extinct about
10k years ago because the females persisted in choosing the mates with the
largest antlers, to the point where the females could not bear their weight
upon being mounted, which eventually made it impossible to copulate

There is plenty of room to doubt that theory, altho it does make a good
story.  But what if that version is true?  Then we have an example of group
selection, for there are elk genera that did survive.  We still have elk
today.  The Irish elk and his ilk perished, but related species did not.  So
wouldn't that be an example of group selection?  The elk that did not get
turned on by huge antlers, as a group, had a survival advantage over those
that did so, to their detriment.

The notion of group selection appears to me to be too readily dismissed,
perhaps because we do not like the implications it could have on humanity.
If one reads Origin of Species, Darwin apparently anticipated the problem of
the philosophical implications of evolution.  His solution was to leave
humans out of the book, or leave it for a later work, the Ascent of Man.
Following his example, I focus on the elk.  I don't see why, in principle,
group selection is impossible.  Group selection could even lead to
speciation, altho it isn't clear that it did in the elk example.

Your first comment was "...I naturally believed in group selection..."  Why?
"...Darwin did too..."  Why?  I know Dawkins makes a strong case, but why do
we naturally believe in group selection before we read Dawkins and Gould?  


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