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David Wilson’s Speech on Darwin’s Cathedral Essay

The speaker, David Sloan Wilson, believes that societies function as single organisms, and morality and religion biologically and culturally evolved adaptations that enable human groups to function as single units rather than an assortment of individual unites. His lecture was a poor attempt to explain group selection, which is selection for a characteristic specifically because the characteristics enhance the reproductive success of the group as a whole, rather than solely the individual.

The beginning of his lecture was not very helpful in proving anything; he merely quoted several phrases from scientists and read them to the audience. I wasn’t really sure where he was going at this point. Then, he went on to explain examples or should I say a lack of examples, which he considered to undergo group selection. He allegedly did some sort of experiment with chickens and their eggs. He tried to say that under group selection the experiment showed that there was an increased production of all the chickens’ eggs. However, within a group selection only certain individuals benefited.

There was also some weird twist in this experiment, he tried selecting for the best individuals and then put them all together in one cage, and they got violent with each other and de-feathered each other, while at the same time he used the best group of chickens together in the same cage that produced the most eggs as a group. Then, he compared the group of the best selected individuals with the best group, and somehow he tried to prove his point. I don’t really think anyone was convinced except for himself. It seemed like the only thing he tested for was who works the best in a cage, because that situation would never occur in nature.

Another example of group selection according to him had to do with bees. But, once again he was most likely wrong because it appears that bee’s act according to kin selection, which is selection for characteristics that enhance the fitness of the individual indirectly by enhancing the reproductive success of the individual’s relatives, because all bees are related. There is only one female queen bee and the rest are workers who have no choice, but to work like slaves for the benefit of the queen and its relatives. Then, at the end of the lecture someone posed a question about how could he explain the endosymbiotic theory according to group selection, I think this question may have stumped him, because whatever he said didn’t seem very convincing , but yet he tried to defend his point, even though the endosymbiotic theory seems to explained by many as a mutualistic relationship.

He also tried to explain group selection in relation to religion. He attempted to demonstrate how religions have enabled people to achieve, by working as a unit, what they could have never done alone. Apparently, he examined specific examples of religious culture from Calvinism to Balinese water temples in hopes that his group selection theory would be confirmed, and somehow he supposedly did verify this.

But all in all, I think he needs to attain more believable concrete research, and then present experiments that will clearly prove his point without too much doubt. If he wants people to buy into his theory of group selection he really needs more data to back his theory up with because I wasn’t really impressed with what I saw, most of it was really confusing, hard to sit through, hard to believe, and didn’t make much sense. He cant simply prove group selection through theory alone he needs more empirical data, so that he can prove to people he is right, instead of trying to convince us through babbling on and on about nothing, but I do give him credit for his speech.

His answers and conclusions may not be correct, but at least he is questioning and examining things like a good scientist should do. He is obviously a firm believer in himself, and did put forth some thought and effort in trying to prove his theory and he demonstrated some real courage by trying to go outside of his own field of evolutionary biology into matters of religion and trying to connect the two. Even though his book may not prove his theory of group selection, the controversial title should make him a lot of money.

Group selection is selection for a characteristic specifically because the characteristics enhances the reproductive success of the group as a whole.

Kin selection is selection for characteristics that enhance the fitness of the individual indirectly by enhancing the reproductive success of the individuals relatives.


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