Monday, July 09, 2007

The God Delusion #27: David Sloan Wilson's Critique of Dawkins

As we have seen, Dawkins's GD is woefully inadequate when it comes to understanding and critiqueing the philosophical arguments for the existence of God.

David Sloan Wilson, himself an atheist and evolutionary theorist, shows how Dawkins is also woefully inadequate when it come to religion and when it comes to an evolutionary understanding of religion. Here's the essay "Why Richard Dawkins Is Wrong About Religion in the current issue of Skeptic.

I'm mostly making this post as a way of referencing the DSW essay. But here's a few Wilson quotes to whet your appetite.

"The problem with Dawkins’ analysis, however, is that if he doesn’t get the facts about religion right, his diagnosis of the problems and proffered solutions won’t be right either. If the bump on the shark’s nose is an organ, you won’t get very far by thinking of it as a wart. That is why Dawkins’ diatribe against religion, however well-intentioned, is so deeply misinformed." (Emphasis mine)

"As with religion, Dawkins has not conducted empirical research on cultural evolution, preferring to play the role of Mycroft Holmes, who sat in his armchair and let his younger brother Sherlock do the legwork. Two evolutionary Sherlocks of culture are Peter Richerson and Robert Boyd, authors of the 2005 book Not By Genes Alone: How Culture Transformed Human Evolution. One of the sleights of hand performed by Dawkins in The God Delusion, which takes a practiced eye to detect, is to first dismiss group selection and then to respectfully cite the work of Richerson and Boyd without mentioning that their theory of cultural evolution is all about group selection."

"[E]conomist Samuel Bowles estimated that between-group selection was strong enough to promote the genetic evolution of altruism in our own species, exactly as envisioned by Darwin. These and many other examples, summarized by Edward O. Wilson and myself in a forthcoming review article, are ignored entirely by Dawkins, who continues to recite his mantra that the selective disadvantage of altruism within groups poses an insuperable problem for between-group selection."

"When Dawkins’ The God Delusion was published I naturally assumed that he was basing his critique of religion on the scientific study of religion from an evolutionary perspective. I regret to report otherwise. He has not done any original work on the subject and he has not fairly represented the work of his colleagues. Hence this critique of The God Delusion and the larger issues at stake."

To be fair, Wilson indicates areas where he agrees with Dawkins. But his critique is so devastating, striking at the core of an understanding of evolutionary theory and its application to the phenomenon of religion, that one wants now to ignore Dawkins on his "specialty"; viz., evolutionary theory. Whereas it is fairly easy to show how Dawkins is sophomoric when it comes to philosophical thinking about God, it appears he is the same on religion and misguided and even deceptive when it comes to evolution.