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Darwin's Cathedral: Evolution, Religion, and the Nature of Society (2002)

de David Sloan Wilson

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One of the great intellectual battles of modern times is between evolution and religion. Until now, they have been considered completely irreconcilable theories of origin and existence. David Sloan Wilson's Darwin's Cathedral takes the radical step of joining the two, in the process proposing an evolutionary theory of religion that shakes both evolutionary biology and social theory at their foundations. The key, argues Wilson, is to think of society as an organism, an old idea that has received new life based on recent developments in evolutionary biology. If society is an organism, can we then think of morality and religion as biologically and culturally evolved adaptations that enable human groups to function as single units rather than mere collections of individuals? Wilson brings a variety of evidence to bear on this question, from both the biological and social sciences. From Calvinism in sixteenth-century Geneva to Balinese water temples, from hunter-gatherer societies to urban America, Wilson demonstrates how religions have enabled people to achieve by collective action what they never could do alone. He also includes a chapter considering forgiveness from an evolutionary perspective and concludes by discussing how all social organizations, including science, could benefit by incorporating elements of religion. Religious believers often compare their communities to single organisms and even to insect colonies. Astoundingly, Wilson shows that they might be literally correct. Intended for any educated reader, Darwin's Cathedral will change forever the way we view the relations among evolution, religion, and human society.… (mais)
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One of the great intellectual battles of modern times is between evolution and religion. Until now, they have been considered completely irreconcilable theories of origin and existence. David Sloan Wilson's Darwin's Cathedral takes the radical step of joining the two, in the process proposing an evolutionary theory of religion that shakes both evolutionary biology and social theory at their foundations.

The key, argues Wilson, is to think of society as an organism, an old idea that has received new life based on recent developments in evolutionary biology. If society is an organism, can we then think of morality and religion as biologically and culturally evolved adaptations that enable human groups to function as single units rather than mere collections of individuals? Wilson brings a variety of evidence to bear on this question, from both the biological and social sciences. From Calvinism in sixteenth-century Geneva to Balinese water temples, from hunter-gatherer societies to urban America, Wilson demonstrates how religions have enabled people to achieve by collective action what they never could do alone. He also includes a chapter considering forgiveness from an evolutionary perspective and concludes by discussing how all social organizations, including science, could benefit by incorporating elements of religion.

Religious believers often compare their communities to single organisms and even to insect colonies. Astoundingly, Wilson shows that they might be literally correct. Intended for any educated reader, Darwin's Cathedral will change forever the way we view the relations among evolution, religion, and human society. ( )
  aitastaes | Aug 5, 2019 |
Can evolutionary methods be used to study the development of religion? David Sloan Wilson, a renowned evolutionary biologist, proposes that religion evolved because of the advantages it confers on those who share in it. Religion may even have contributed to humanity’s rise as the dominant animal on earth. By studying religious concepts in their group settings (religions are well known for their in-group morality and out-group hostility), Wilson places the evolution of social behavior, and religion in particular, on the same playing field as biological entities.

Group selection long ago became passé among evolutionary biologists, but it may be time for its revival. In the 60’s, it was believed that evolution takes place entirely by mutational change. Since then, it has been shown that evolution also occurs along a different pathway: by social groups becoming so functionally integrated that they become higher-level organisms in their own right. So why aren’t groups—particularly religious groupings—receiving the attention they deserve in the evolutionary field?

Wilson wants to study religious groups in the same way biologists study guppies, bacteria, and other forms of life. Does the rational choice theory fit religion? Functionalism? Using Calvinism as his primary case study, he determines that characteristics of social groups can be predicted via group selection theory.

Intelligent and cutting edge, Wilson does have something to say, but this is not an easy read; it reads like a university thesis, scholarly and reference-infested. It’s not because the theory isn’t fascinating, but because I had a hard time concentrating on the presentation, that I ranked it only three stars. ( )
1 vote DubiousDisciple | Oct 28, 2011 |
In the US it seems that half the poeple are reading Richard Dawkins "God Delusion " and the other half are trying to prove Evolution a fraud , its nice to find something that explains religion without picking on it - and knows there is more to religion than American Evangelicals, Jihadist Muslums and Deepak Chokra.
I am a committed Atheist , but I see using religion as a scapegoat for societies ills as being phony, and would rather understand religion as a phenomenon. ( )
4 vote CelleryStalker | Mar 21, 2008 |
$10-16. Excellent Condition.
  susangeib | Nov 1, 2023 |
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One of the great intellectual battles of modern times is between evolution and religion. Until now, they have been considered completely irreconcilable theories of origin and existence. David Sloan Wilson's Darwin's Cathedral takes the radical step of joining the two, in the process proposing an evolutionary theory of religion that shakes both evolutionary biology and social theory at their foundations. The key, argues Wilson, is to think of society as an organism, an old idea that has received new life based on recent developments in evolutionary biology. If society is an organism, can we then think of morality and religion as biologically and culturally evolved adaptations that enable human groups to function as single units rather than mere collections of individuals? Wilson brings a variety of evidence to bear on this question, from both the biological and social sciences. From Calvinism in sixteenth-century Geneva to Balinese water temples, from hunter-gatherer societies to urban America, Wilson demonstrates how religions have enabled people to achieve by collective action what they never could do alone. He also includes a chapter considering forgiveness from an evolutionary perspective and concludes by discussing how all social organizations, including science, could benefit by incorporating elements of religion. Religious believers often compare their communities to single organisms and even to insect colonies. Astoundingly, Wilson shows that they might be literally correct. Intended for any educated reader, Darwin's Cathedral will change forever the way we view the relations among evolution, religion, and human society.

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