Why the uproar around E. O. Wilson’s new “group selection” book?
A friend wonders what the ruckus is around E. O. Wilson’s new book, The Social Conquest of Earth , reviewed (“Evolution Revolution Group think helped produce ant colonies and bee hives—and the heights of human culture,” Wall Street Journal, April 6, 2012) by neuroscientist Michael Gazzaniga.
In addition, “The Social Conquest of Earth” is a reversal of Mr. Wilson’s own earlier view that the evolution of altruism was driven by kin selection rather than group selection.
This issue is brought to the fore by social insects like bees and ants, which exhibit the Darwinian paradox of evolved sterility. How can sterility evolve by a process that favors the best-reproducing? On the kin-selection theory, sterile workers that serve the hive were selected for because they were spreading their genes through helping their mothers, sisters and brothers reproduce. Now Mr. Wilson promotes the highly contested idea that group selection—the competition of one group against others—is the driving force, favoring self-sacrificial behaviors in individuals that benefit all group members, even those that aren’t related.
That this should be some kind of insight just shows how bankrupt Darwinism is, and probably always has been. And it doesn’t even cover helping strangers, even hostile people, which is commonplace in high trust societies.
Anyway, as to what Wilson now thinks,
In the end, Mr. Wilson comes down on the side of what is called multi-level selection—the view that evolution involves a combination of gene selection, individual selection, kin selection and group selection. Although he says his new theory opposes the idea of kin selection, in another sense he is simply maintaining that everybody is right. Genes are being selected to benefit the individual and their kin. Genes are also being selected that encourage the individual to participate in a group. And sometimes the drives produced by the different sets of genes conflict—thus the “poorer and the better angels of our nature.” This takes Mr. Wilson back to answer the Gauguin trilogy of great questions—”Where from?,” “What?” and “Where to?”—by saying we came out of biology, we are the greatest of all animals and because of our heightened social skills—our special human eusociality—we are being driven to greater cooperation and together will conquer the ills of the world.
Well, if everybody is right, we should quit funding all of them. These aren’t insights, just commonplaces, trivia, and faux uplift.
Look at what has happened here: Endless theories based on Wilson’s sociobiology were spewn in evolutionary psychology journals about what kin selection supposedly explains. Prosperity forever for fourth rate intellects pretending to be scientists. Then the founder disowns it all.
No wonder the followers want to get him. The only solution for the rest of us will be: the circus leaves town and others can get on with whatever science is left in this area.