Thursday, October 22, 2009

David Sloan Wilson on ScienceBlogs

 
David Sloan Wilson has joined ScienceBlogs of the SEED consortium. You can read the new version at: Evolution for Everyone.

This is going to be fun since Wilson is a strong advocate of group selection and, in addition, he is a firm opponent of the co-called "New Atheists."

Here's his opening salvo in Goodbye HuffPost, Hello ScienceBlogs: Science as a Religion that Worships Truth as its God.
Thinking of science as a religion that worships truth as it god enables me to praise its virtues and criticize its shortcomings at the same time. In my previous blogs, I have played the role of scientific reformer for two major issues. The first is the "new atheism" movement spearheaded by the so-called four horsemen: Richard Dawkins, Daniel Dennett, Samuel Harris, and Christopher Hitchens. Isn't it wonderful how scientists and rationalists reflexively adopt religious imagery? I am an atheist in the sense that I regard religion as 100% a human construction, but I'm here to testify that the "new atheists" depart from factual reality in their own way. So did Ayn Rand, the "new atheist" of her day, as we are learning to our sorrow from the collapse of the free market belief system that she helped to create. If we worry about religions for their departures from factual reality, then we should really worry about "stealth religions" that do the same thing without invoking the gods, because they do a better job of masquerading as reality. As someone who is seriously committed to studying religion from a scientific and evolutionary perspective, I'm here to say that the new atheists can't bring themselves to accept the facts about religion as a human construction. Read my six-part series on "Atheism as a Stealth Religion", now archived on my ScienceBlog site, for more. Even better, start acquainting yourself with the emerging field of evolutionary religious studies, whose members are more serious about holding each other accountable for what they say about religion.
Hmmmm ... my sympathies lie with Dawkins et al so I guess this is aimed at me. I was completely unaware of the possibility he mentions; namely, that I don't accept the facts about religion as a human construction. I'll have to think carefully about that one. Is it possible that, as an atheist, I was secretly thinking that religion might actually have been constructed by supernatural beings? Nope, I don't think so.

I was also under the impression that I was "acquainted" with the emerging field of evolutionary religious studies. After all, didn't I just post an article about Michael Persinger [Religion Makes Women Stupid?]? Perhaps David Sloan Wilson is confused about the difference between "getting acquainted" and "recognizing scientific nonsense"?
The second major issue that requires scientific reform is group selection, a theory that explains how groups can become well adapted to their environments in the same sense that individuals do. The theory of group selection began with Darwin and involves a simple set of issues that anyone can understand. Yet, it remains endlessly controversial. Next year marks the 35th anniversary of my first publication on group selection and I'm confident that the controversy will continue for decades more unless something is done. That "something" is a truth and reconciliation process, similar to the resolution of political conflicts that otherwise might continue forever. The idea that a scientific controversy might require a truth and reconciliation process similar to a political controversy speaks volumes about science as a fallible and culturally influenced process.
I don't have a dog in this fight. It will be interesting to watch and learn.


6 comments :

  1. I think Wilson speaks for many, if not most, atheists on this point, myself included.

    Not to mention the fact that people in the "Dawkins et al" camp (including Larry) are perhaps the worst thing for science since the Catholic church.

    Fortunately this is a blog for the converted, so the damage is minimal. Nonetheless — although I wholeheartedly support the fact that atheism is finally on the map in the general public, and recognize the fundamentally radical nature of that fact — I can't help but think that Darwin would be rolling in his grave.

    That Larry will write a lengthy, unambivalently negative post on virtually anyone who dares reject his views (as though they were Emmanuel Goldstein) is not a testimony to the "open-mindedness" of the New Atheists.

    What's more, most of his "refutations" are merely one- or two- sentence put-downs, nothing like a sophisticated argument.

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  2. Wilson is screening comments, but to his credit he is willing to approve comments which are negative.

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  3. Ford Prefect says,

    What's more, most of his "refutations" are merely one- or two- sentence put-downs, nothing like a sophisticated argument.

    David Sloan Wilson posted an article that said the following (in three sentences).

    As someone who is seriously committed to studying religion from a scientific and evolutionary perspective, I'm here to say that the new atheists can't bring themselves to accept the facts about religion as a human construction. Read my six-part series on "Atheism as a Stealth Religion", now archived on my ScienceBlog site, for more. Even better, start acquainting yourself with the emerging field of evolutionary religious studies, whose members are more serious about holding each other accountable for what they say about religion.


    I replied by saying that I understand that religion is a human construction and I'm familiar with evolutionary religious studies.

    It seems to me like an appropriate response to his accusations.

    What would you have preferred? Should I have mentioned that you can see my numerous articles and postings for more information?

    That Larry will write a lengthy, unambivalently negative post on virtually anyone who dares reject his views (as though they were Emmanuel Goldstein) is not a testimony to the "open-mindedness" of the New Atheists.

    I can't win for trying, can I? Now you're complaining that I write too much. You can't have it both ways. Which is it? Are you upset because I write "lengthy posts" refuting those I disagree with or are you complaining that most of my refutations are merely one sentence put-downs?

    I'm confused.

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  4. David Sloan Wilson has some interesting ideas, no doubt, but he doesn't seem to think them through. I mean, I've read his book Darwin's Cathedral, and at first approximation his ideas on functionalism and group selectionism of religion look good. But then you think it through, and there's a lot from related fields of science that just flies in the face of his thesis.

    It's almost as though science IS a religion of truth for him, even if science is really about curiosity + skepticism for the rest of us.

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  5. If a guy can't be bothered to understand free markets and how a regulated and subsidized business economy is not one and yet comment on it as evidence of a failure of 'new atheism' (which is ludicrous given that Rand was far from a secular humanist), I can't be bothered with the rest of it.

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  6. We do not want to know the truth, unless we can manipulate it to our own profit.
    In competition a complex truth is not as effective as a simple one-sided illusion as multilevel selection theory so marvelously describes. To fight "the evils" of religion Dawkins instinctively adapt religious characteristics, us/them thinking, to be more effective. Defining neutrally advantages and disadvantages of religions as with multilevel selection would take the edges of his crusade. Us/them thinking is also more media attractive. Media want to tell people what is wrong and how it can be manipulated to become right. There lies the power of Dawkins' distortion of evolution theory.
    Belief is a prerequisite for religion. By revealing multilevel selection in the evolution of religion the mechanism of religion becomes evident, thereby threatening its power. That is why anybody who is religious will have a hard time to accept the truth.

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