Bob Scott, Director of Trinity Institute at Trinity Wall Street Church and former editor Spirituality & Health magazine (August 21, 2012)
Thanks, David. I read the new version last night and it’s most definitely ready for prime time! It’s very engaging and thought provoking. I appreciate your reference to David Sloan Wilson, and I see the connections between the cosmologies story and the evolution story throughout.
One particular example would be in your discussion of the Grand Machine cosmology, and its connection to the common interpretation of “survival of the fittest” as the stronger dominating the weaker. As you rightly point out, this brings up the specter of Social Darwinism. The latter term is one that Darwin himself would arguably have rejected.
Both David Sloan Wilson and Harvard’s Martin Nowak (in a July Scientific American article on The Evolution of Cooperation) cite a somewhat paradoxical observation made by Darwin. He said that, while for individuals selfishness (or non-cooperation) most often provides an advantage, a group in which people cooperate (i.e., altruists) will outperform a group in which people don’t cooperate every time.
Nowak quotes from the Descent of Man, “a tribe including many members who … were always ready to aid one another, and to sacrifice themselves for the common good, would be victorious over most other tribes; and this would be natural selection.” (SA, July 2012, p. 38)
In evolutionary terms, of course, fitness isn’t necessarily brute strength. It’s whatever encourages survival and thriving. Darwin clearly saw concern for the common good as a sign of fitness, at least at the group level. The question is how to encourage group-level thinking.
Speaking of adaptation, another place of connection is when you observe that Western science has forgotten that materialist reductionism was a methodological choice, not a definition of reality. David Sloan Wilson points out that in modern discourse rational thought is treated as the gold standard. Whatever is not fully rational (and provable) is considered deficient. However, from an evolutionary perspective, adaptive thought is the gold standard. A belief may not be scientifically provable (he actually says it could be literally incorrect) but it may convey considerable survival value, while other beliefs—thoroughly rational though they may be—weaken us.