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Darwin's Cathedral


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About the Author

David Sloan Wilson is a professor of biology and anthropology at Binghamton University. He is the author of The Natural Selection of Populations and Communities and coauthor of Unto Others: The Evolution and Psychology of Unselfish Behavior.


Viewing religion from an evolutionary perspective, Wilson (biology and anthropology, Binghamton Univ.) argues that religious belief and other symbolic systems are closely connected to reality in that they are a powerful force in motivating adaptive behaviors. Disconnecting religion from its reliance on supernatural agents as a defining principle, he posits human religious groups as adaptive organisms wherein processes like group selection, evolutionary pressures, and moral systems come into play, offering a new avenue for interpretive insights. To his credit, Wilson looks for a middle ground in this complex confluence of biology, sociology, anthropology, and religion: "I think group selection can explain much about religion but by no means all." He depends heavily on Darwinian theory, sociologists like Rodney Stark, and symbolic thinkers like mile Durkheim and Terrence Deacon. He ultimately argues for the power of symbolic thinking as a sophisticated adaptive advantage alongside factual thinking. Wilson's readers should be prepared for a tightly argued, highly academic yet satisfying read. Sandra Collins, Duquesne Univ. Lib., Pittsburgh Sports & Recreation The Cooperstown Symposium on Baseball and American Culture, 2001. Copyright 2002 Cahners Business Information.

"As always, Wilson writes well and clearly and in a stimulating and provocative style. The book is interesting and important, and there can be no higher praise. . . . I applaud the approach taken by Wilson, and I urge you to read Darwin's Cathedral."--Michael Ruse " Science"
"It is not until biologist Wilson published Darwin's Cathedral that the evolutionary study of religion appears to have passed a Rubicon. . . . Fifteen years after . . ., Wilson continues to make substantial contributions to the evolutionary study of religion. . . . We appreciate and celebrate the fifteen-year anniversary of Wilson's seminal theoretical contributions in Darwin's Cathedral, which propelled the contemporary evolutionary study of religion forward. We hope that his current work has a parallel impact, encouraging collaborative fieldwork, which will ultimately advance the empirical study of religion."--Robert C. Fuller "Religion, Brain & Behavior"
"Obviously, the main subject of Darwin's Cathedral--religion--is widely contentious. In addition, many of the subjects which Wilson draws to interpret religion--subjects such as group selection, adaptation, hypothesis testing, and how to 'do' science--are contentious among scientists. Discussions of these subjects tend to be partisan, oversimplified, and riddled with misstatements. A great virtue of Wilson's book is the scrupulous fairness with which he treats controversial matters. He is careful to define concepts, to assess both their range of applicability and their limitations, and to avoid posturing, misrepresentations, exaggerated claims, and cheap rhetorical devices. Thus, Wilson's book is more than just an attempt to understand religion. Even to readers with no interest in either religion or science, his book can serve as a model of how to discuss controversial subjects honestly."--Jared Diamond "New York Review of Books"
A Times Literary Supplement Book of the Year--Michael Ruse "Times Literary Supplement"

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