[ExI] Ants for spike! Dawkins and Wilson

Robert Masters rob4332000 at yahoo.com
Sun Nov 15 23:15:20 UTC 2009

Recap: Keith Henson wrote:

<<On Thu, Nov 12, 2009 at 4:00 AM,  < Robert Masters <rob4332000 at yahoo.com> wrote:

> Keith Henson wrote:
> <<There is no logical way for biological evolution to take place at any level above the gene.
> This is the central dogma of St. Dawkins.>>
> ================
> According to E.O. Wilson (founder of sociobiology) and David Sloan Wilson, this dogma has been overthrown. See their article in THE QUARTERLY REVIEW OF BIOLOGY, Dec. 2007:
> http://www.journals.uchicago.edu/doi/pdf/10.1086/522809
> For an "abridged, edited" and somewhat less technical version of the two Wilsons' argument, go to D.S. Wilson's homepage--
> http://evolution.binghamton.edu/dswilson/publications.html
> --and click on the third article listed ("Survival of the Selfless," NEW SCIENTIST, Nov. 2007).
> Comments?

I read this when it came out, and no, it does not overturn the central
dogma of where evolution occurs.  If you think it does, please


Well, most simply, you said the Dawkins dogma is that evolution takes place on a single level--that of the gene--while the Wilsons are advocating what they call a "multilevel" theory.  That seems like a direct contradiction.

More specifically, in your 14 Nov. post you defend the view that group selection is never a significant factor in evolution.  I assume that's the sort of thing you mean by "level" (i.e., natural selection never operates at the "level" of the group).  But the denial of group selection is precisely the dogma the Wilsons reject.  They're saying that that denial was an unfortunate detour in evolutionary theory, and a mistake.

The following passages clearly affirm the possibility and importance of group selection:

(From the abstract of the QJB article:)

"In this article, we take a 'back to basics' approach, explaining what group selection is, why its rejection was regarded as so important, and how it has been revived based on a more careful formulation and subsequent research. Multilevel selection theory (including group selection) provides an elegant theoretical foundation for sociobiology in the future, once its turbulent past is appropriately understood."

(From the NEW SCIENTIST article:)

"[T]he consequences of regarding evolution as a multilevel process, with higher-level selection often overriding lower-level selection, are profound."

"Multilevel selection theory... can help explain the origin and major
transitions of life, the structure of animal societies and multi-species ecosystems, and human evolution – even including the rise and fall of empires and the nature of religion."

"The case against group selection during the 1960s rested upon three arguments: it is theoretically implausible as a significant evolutionary force; there is no solid empirical evidence for it; and there are robust theoretical alternatives. All these arguments have failed in the face of subsequent research."

"The old arguments against group selection have all failed. It is theoretically plausible, it happens in reality, and the so-called alternatives actually include the logic of multilevel selection. Had this been known in the 1960s, sociobiology would have taken a very different direction. It is this branch point that must be revisited to put sociobiology back on a firm theoretical foundation."

"Anyone who studies humans must acknowledge our groupish nature and the importance of between-group interactions. Explaining these obvious facts without invoking group selection involves needless contortions."

"Group selection is an important force in human evolution partly because cultural processes can create variation between groups, even when they are composed of large numbers of unrelated individuals. A new cultural 'mutation' can quickly spread within a group, causing it to be very different from other groups and providing a decisive edge in direct or indirect between-group competition."

"These ideas might explain the broad sweep of recorded history in addition to the remote past. In his book War and Peace and War: The rise and fall of empires, biologist Peter Turchin argues that virtually all empires arose in areas where major ethnic groups came into contact with each other. Intense between-group conflict acted as a crucible for the cultural evolution of extremely cooperative societies, which then expanded at the expense of less cooperative societies to become major empires."

"It is difficult to revisit an important decision that has been made and acted upon, but that is precisely what needs to be done in the case of the rejection of group selection in the 1960s."

I don't see how any of this can be seen as consistent with the view that evolution (natural selection) cannot take place at the "level" of the group.  Have I misunderstood your position?  Am I missing something?

Rob Masters


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