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Darwin’s Cathedral: David Sloan WIlson or, How far does evolution spread?

David Sloan Wilson - This View Of Life

David Sloan Wilson



I feel as if I have never completely understood religion, though I am an Anglican and a believer. There are so many reasons for this incomplete understanding: rational temperament, a secular age, and a skeptical mind. Despite every modern influence, which largely act as justifications for materialist just-so stories, I have experienced mental events that are outside of the framework of  18th century Humean phenomena. I believe in God because I have done a lot of acid in my youth and felt the mystery and the outside edges of the power. I trust my experiences. These may be inadequate motives for the priest and the skeptic alike. I do not care: they are mine.

Another reason for not understanding religion is that it is like marriage: it has to be experienced. Hence pick your idea of God carefully. And to remind: Meister Eckhart said, “God is not an idea”. Hence the difficulty.

Which brings me to David Sloan Wilson’s Darwin’s Cathedral: Evolution, Religion and the Nature of Society.  I have found it a slog, not because it is excessively complicated or jargon-ridden. Quite the opposite: it is clear. What he is arguing is difficult to understand, for me at least, because Wilson takes issue with two Very large Ideas of  contemporary thought at the same time.

First, it concerns evolution in the Darwinian sense of that term. We are used to evolution being understood at the genetic or the biological level. For materialist purists like Dawkins, evolution is entirely a genetic affair, where the proteins dance to the tune called by the genes, and religion for men like him is so much mistaken balderdash.

The second level of Wilson’s arguments takes issue with a number of schools of interpretation of religion that seek to understand it in every manner except that which it truly is, says Wilson: as a system of behaviour and thought that is highly adaptive – that is, promotes fitness and survival, and which encourages in-group cooperation, trust, cohesion, and group strength. Wilson does not use these words to denigrate religion. He uses words drawn from sociology and anthropology without trying to say that these words define religion, or that secular utility of religion is its essence.

In short, Wilson takes issue with two streams of thought. One, that evolution is confined to the biological. Dawkins and Ernst Meyer would seem to think evolution is confined to the biological. We are so accustomed to this restrictive idea of evolution that it takes some adjustment to see what the issue is. I can hear David Berlinski in my head, asking in his Bostonian drawl about some broadly held tenet of modern nonsense: “really? Really?”. I recall Rupert Sheldrake talking about believing in “a radically evolutionary universe”, where even the laws of nature evolve and thus, are better thought of as habits than as laws.

Wilson inhabits a radically evolutionary understanding of reality.

Religion is a subject that depends radically on what explanatory stance is taken towards it. By explanatory stance I refer to theory: is it exploitation? A mirage? A by-product? A functional response to the free-rider problem and social coordination?

To illustrate the problem of theory Wilson cites Darwin exploring the geology of a Welsh mountain valley with a view to finding fossils.

“We spent many hours in Cwm Idwal, examining all the rocks with extreme care, as Sedgwick was anxious to find fossils in them; but neither of us saw the trace of wonderful glacial phenomena all around us; we did not notice the plainly scored rocks, the perched boulders, the lateral and terminal moraines. Yet these phenomena are so conspicuous that a house burnt down by fire did not tell its story more plainly than did this valley. If it had still been filled by a glacier, the phenomena would have been less distinct than they are now.”

To cite Einstein, “theory determines what is observed.” The study of religion is peculiarly fraught with this risk. Darwin failed to see evidence of glaciation because he had not the idea to guide him. Many a scholar seeking to explain religion is equally blind, says Wilson.

The difficulty of Wilson’s thesis (religion is adaptive in an evolutionary sense) lies in the number of foxholes of opposed ideas he has to clear out before his theory prevails. Unfortunately for the reader, the number is great, and they are resolutely defended.

The second and lesser difficulty is the name that Wilson has chosen for his ideas of evolution: multilevel selection theory. It is called ‘multilevel’ because it sees evolution occurring at the genetic, biological, individual and group levels. It might well have been more sexy to call it the “radically evolutionary theory“, which would have thrown the burden back on the materialists who see evolution as applying to the genetic level only.

David Sloan Wilson is making many proposals regarding evolution and religion in his book Darwin’s Cathedral and it is beyond the scope of this short essay to describe them all. It continues to impress me with its profundity, coherence, and sympathy for what religion actually accomplishes. Above all  – from my perspective – Wilson combats the Dawkins idea that religion is a form of mental parasite.

Wilson looks like a Presbyterian minister,  talks like a well educated Yankee, and  lives in New York state. He is a great scholar and expounder upon Darwin, yet it takes a while to understand that what he is saying is fundamentally important, possibly because he looks like he could be a cousin or neighbour. He looks so ordinary, and he asks and answers such important questions.

He has overturned the gene-centric evolutionary model. He has re-founded our understanding of religion in evolutionary terms. He has been a lone voice crying in the wilderness, and has been vindicated by the passage of time. More people should know of him and his work.


Wilson in real life talks here.

And gives a speech at UBC here.



Quotations from David Sloan Wilson:

“For me, the failure of religion to achieve universal brotherhood is like the failure of birds to break the sound barrier.”

[to make a bird fly faster than sound] “you will need to discover a design breakthrough that was missed by the natural selection process….When we criticize a religion or a social system for failing to perform better or to expand its moral circle still wider, we often implicitly assume that the problem is like a broken wing with an easy solution….Improving the adaptedness of society may require appreciating the adapted sophistication that already exists.” [p.217-218]


“Much religious belief does not represent a form of mental weakness but rather the healthy functioning of a biologically and culturally well-adapted mind. Rationality is not the gold standard against which all other forms of thought are to be judged. Adaptation is the gold standard against which rationality must be judged, along with other forms of thought….If there is a trade-off between two forms of realism, such that out beliefs can become adaptive only by becoming factually less true. then factual realism will be the loser every time…..It is the person who elevates factual truth  above practical truth who must be accused of mental weakness from an evolutionary perspective.” [at p 228]


and now we go over the edge….

This is what the evolutionary theorist Donald Hoffman says in his book “The Case Against Reality” “What you see is an adaptive fiction”.  

Hoffman has taken the adaptiveness argument to its logical extreme. Evolution is there to guide us to adaptive behaviour, not to elucidate reality. The Hoffman argument treats the representations we experience in the same light as icons on the desktop. The voltage changes inside the computer that cause email to be written are forever hidden from the user. Adaptedness gives us the desktop, not the innards.

And this is the point that Stephen Pinker does not quite get in his book “Rationality”.

So many theories, so little time.





Freeman Dyson – how I miss him

“Now it has become a scandal that so many people are telling lies.”

“The models are being  contradicted by observations”.

“A computer model is essentially just fluid dynamics.”

Interviewer “Are you saying the whole history of global warming is based on fluid models, computer models and less on  observations? FD “Yes that is true”.

And more. The warmists “live by scaring the public.” (at 7:37)

Interviewer; “Are we saving the world or missing the point?” FD “I would say missing the point”. (at 9:00}



If you imagine a world in which nothing is real

If you imagine a world in which nothing is real, then you can imagine that nothing matters except racial, sexual and other quotas. Listen to Brett Weinstein at 1:14:30.



Bridges and planes will have to fall out of the sky before this problem is fixed. My observation from life is that the Left are all nominalists: they think that relabelling things changes their nature. The world is not actually real to these people. Like Wile E. Coyote,  you only fall when you recognize that you are in mid-air and that the force of gravity actually operates. Not so. They believe but do not actually say that,  if I can control all the means of communication, and prevent anything contrary from being said, I can prevent the law of gravity from working. It is that absurd.

Claude Shannon

Claude Shannon is among the most significant mathematicians of the 20th century, and nothing I have heard about him in the past thirty years has dissuaded me from this view. His ideas about condensing information and sending it along wires dominate the computer communications industry on which everything now depends. Here is a book on him,


He spent his spare time inventing and making clever toys, juggling, playing with his kids and riding unicycles. A life devoted to intelligent play. He was also a first rate investor. He spent very little time doing useful work. Everything in the computer world has vindicated his 1948 paper on the limits of what can be communicated.

If that does not make you interested in Claude Shannon, nothing I can say will suffice.

Here is an entertaining video on his life and the issues he dealt with.  As the video says, “Today, everyone carries around Shannon in their pocket”.






Karen Stenner on Authoritarians

Dr Karen Stenner | University of Surrey


  1. Authoritarians don’t like difference, complexity and diversity, which is associated with space
  2. Conservatives don’t like change, which is measured over time

And Stenner thinks it is insane to exclude the one third of the population that does not like complexity and diversity, the potential authoritarians, from political discourse.

For many people modern life overwhelms: one third of humanity does not like change, diversity, variety, multiple ethnicities and religions, it is a largely heritable condition, and cannot be eradicated by education and propaganda. Liberal democracy has exceeded the capacity of a large segment of people to tolerate, says Stenner. 

Loss of a sense of shared values is the bugaboo of authoritarians. Reminding them constantly about diversity drives them up the wall. Patriotism unites, diversity divides. Deal with it.


Czeslaw Milosz on “The Captive Mind”


Czeslaw Milosz (pronounced roughly as Cheswav Miwosh) wrote The Captive Mind in 1950, when Stalin still had three years to live. He was an escapee from Communist Poland, where he had served in the post war Polish communist government for a time as a diplomat.

In the era of Wokeness, it is important to recall that we have been through this before,  albeit on the other side of the Iron Curtain.

I am reading it with great enjoyment.

One chapter of the book concerns a practice call “ketman”, which is taken from Islamic Persia. It was described by the French diplomat Arthur de Gobineau in the 1850s. Ketman is a term for the practice of total deception as regards one’s adherence to Islam. Ketman had to be practiced in the era of total control of thought by the Islamic mullahs (in which we have seen no change in Iran since the 1850s).

Milosz quoting Gobineau (at page 57)

“The people of the Mussulman East believe that “He who is in possession of truth must not expose his person, his relatives or his reputation to the blindness, the folly, the perversity of those whom it has pleased God to place and maintain in error”. One must . therefore. keep silent about one’s true convictions if possible.”

The Ketman of the 20th century was of course the degree of necessary deception regarding one’s adherence to Communist doctrine. Milosz writes “nevertheless, Ketman in its narrowest and severest forms is widely practiced in the people’s democracies. As in Islam, the feeling of superiority over those who are unworthy of attaining truth constitutes one of the chef joys of people whose lives in general do not abound in pleasures.” (p. 60)

[Ideological] “deviations… are not an illusion. They are cases of accidental unmasking of Ketman; and those who are most helpful in detecting deviations are those who practice a similar form of Ketman. Recognizing in other acrobats the tricks they themselves employ, they take advantage of the first occasion to down an opponent or friend. Thus they protect themselves; and the measure of dexterity is to anticipate by at least one day the similar accusations which could be levelled against them by they man they denounce. Since the number of varieties of Ketman is practically unlimited, the naming of deviations cannot keep pace with the weeding of a garden so full of unexpected specimens of heresy.”

Now apply this to contemporary universities in the grip of Wokeness and watch for the practice of systemic Ketman , and for it to be exposed by other practitioners of the same devious arts.

Censoring the dead: E O Wilson, Darwin, Mendel, and so on

This is from Scientific American’s non-eulogy to the great entomologist and founder of sociobiology EO Wilson. A careful reading reveals that the author calls for a complete scheme of censorship of scientific publications  by “experts” – in wokeness I assume – so that the reader will be continually reminded of the dangers associated with reading “problematical” authors whose thought is <gasp> “racist”.


“To put the legacy of their work in the proper perspective, a more nuanced understanding of problematic scientists is necessary. It is true that work can be both important and problematic—they can coexist. Therefore it is necessary to evaluate and critique these scientists, considering, specifically the value of their work and, at the same time, their contributions to scientific racism….

“First, truth and reconciliation are necessary in the scientific record, including attention to citational practices when using or reporting on problematic work. This approach includes thinking critically about where and when to include historically problematic work and the context necessary for readers to understand the limitations of the ideas embedded in it. This will require commitments from journal editors, peer reviewers and the scientific community to invest in retrofitting existing publications with this expertise. They can do so by employing humanities scholars, journalists and other science communicators with the appropriate expertise to evaluate health and life sciences manuscripts submitted for publication.

“Second, diversifying the scientific workforce is crucial…feminist standpoint theory is helpful in understanding white empiricism and who is eligible to be a worthy observer of the human condition and our world….

“Undoing scientific racism will require commitments from the entire scientific community to determine the portions of historically problematic work that are relevant and to let the scientific method function the way it was designed—to allow for dated ideas to be debunked and replaced.”

The author is Monica McLemore, pictured below. This is the future of science people. Prepare for political control of speech, thought, research and the elimination of the scientific method.


Monica McLemore, PhD, MPH, RN, FAAN | ANSIRH


For more of the same you can read about “white empiricism”.

Chanda Prescod-Weinstein writes:

“I introduce the concept of white empiricism to provide one explanation for why [there are so few black women in physics] . White empiricism is the phenomenon through which only white people (particularly white men) are read has having a fundamental capacity for objectivity and Black people (particularly Black women) are produced as an ontological other.”

I cant do the maths either, and I feel happier that my mathematical incompetence is not impeding the development of physics, whereas this new mafia of semi-intelligent black women in “science” is stting about to turn it into a branch of affirmative action.

The stupid shall prosper, the wise decline

Teacher candidates win ‘huge victory’ over province’s mandatory math test for educators


Different results by racial origin mean that a test is racially discriminatory, and hence, unconstitutional, says Ontario Court.


“Ontario introduced the Math Proficiency Test (MPT) as part of a package of provincial strategies to improve student math skills after test scores began to dip. As of last year, the MPT was a requirement for all new teacher candidates who want to teach in publicly-funded schools.

The Ontario Teacher Candidates’ Council requested a judicial review, arguing the test had a disproportionately negative effect on racialized candidates.

Recently, the Ontario Superior Court of Justice Divisional Court found the requirement infringes on the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms. The court’s Dec. 17 decision noted that racialized teachers were under-represented in Ontario and that there were alternatives to the MPT.

“Racialized students benefit from being taught by racialized teachers,” the court decision stated. “The deleterious effects of the MPT on racialized teacher candidates who have been unsuccessful in the test outweighs its benefits.”

Ottawa teacher Bella Lewkowicz, one of the founders of the Ontario Teacher Candidates’ Council, called the decision “a huge victory.”

“It’s not often that educators can claim victory over the Ministry of Education,” she said.

The province started officially administering the test last May. The demographic data shows disparities in success rates, the court heard. Candidates who identify as Indigenous and Black have success rates 20 per cent lower than white candidates.”



How soon will airplanes fall out of the air because people to stupid to fly them or design them are hired because they are “racialized”. Wait for it. Five years? Ten years?


Richard Atimniraye Nyelade, who has his master's and bachelor's degrees from his native Cameroon and did another master's degree in Norway as well before coming to Canada in 2018, had no problems with the mathematics content questions, but didn't succeed on the pedagogy portion of the test.

Richard Atimniraye Nyelade, who has his master’s and bachelor’s degrees from his native Cameroon and did another master’s degree in Norway as well before coming to Canada in 2018, had no problems with the mathematics content questions, but didn’t succeed on the pedagogy portion of the test. PHOTO BY JULIE OLIVER /Postmedia

40% of science writing is junk: the replication crisis

An article by Peter Shawn Taylor in the C2C Journal covers the replication crisis in science. The result is in the title above: 39, not forty, percent of what is touted to be science is not reproducible. “Study shows”. That means that important assertions of science in every field, particularly politically important fields, such as climate change, or classes of inquiry, such as systemic racism, are false.

As regards social psychology (viz the Staley Milgram experiments in inducing people to administer shocks to others), the man who studied the field, Augustine Brannigan wrote:


“They are all very entertaining studies, and they ask some really interesting questions,” admits Brannigan. These dramatic “high-impact” experiments are also hugely influential, occupying large sections of undergraduate textbooks and representing the very foundations of the field. “But as science, they’re terrible,” Brannigan says. “Much of what passes for science in social psychology is just morality in an experimental idiom.” Asked what such a revelation might mean for the future of the discipline, he retorts, “If the entire field were to disappear overnight, I don’t think the world would be any worse for it.”

Taylor concludes:

If there’s an overarching message arising from the replication crisis beyond the fate of social psychology, it’s that relentlessly questioning all scientific work is the most effective cure for bad science. This includes scrutinizing new and flashy claims as soon as they are unveiled as well as re-evaluating long-accepted ideas that have already gained status as scientific certainty. Along with renewed emphasis on tough and unsentimental scientific replication must also come more rigorous fact-checking by scientific journals and a less chummy attitude towards the peer review process, with more emphasis on “review” and less on “peer.”

Why you don’t get to vote on the woke revolution

From Zero Hedge:

In fairness, broad swaths of the culture always operate and evolve outside of politics. The world of ideas and entertainment – the books we read, movies we watch, groups we join – must never be subject to electoral will. But the woke revolution feels different. First, it is an explicitly political ideology that is, at bottom, about power. Second, it is remarkably ambitious: It seeks a wholesale transformation of America’s past, present and future. Third, while some of its ideas resonate with plenty of people, it is a top-down movement that seeks to impose aien ways of thinking and being on everyone – hence the rise of cancel culture and other illiberal mechanisms to silence and punish those who fail to conform.

One of the great paradoxes of the social justice movement is that even as it claims to fight inequality, it is itself a reflection of the growing inequality in America: both of wealth and culture. Like most revolutions, it is not led by the downtrodden but by the elites. It is not the person of color on the streets but the swells at the top (most of them white) who are imposing the new order.

Although it might seem that the woke revolution erupted in 2020 with George Floyd’s murder, or with the rise of the Black Lives Matter movement following Michael Brown’s shooting in Ferguson, Mo., in 2014, its intellectual framework – which includes critical race theory, postmodernism, anti-colonialism, black power and queer/gender studies – emerged at America’s universities in the 1960s and 1970s. Heavily influenced by Marxism, leftist scholars suffered a crisis of confidence after communism was discredited 30 years ago as the Soviet Union collapsed. In response, activist academics essentially repackaged their old ideas. They still saw politics as a zero-sum battle between oppressors and the oppressed, with themselves in the moral vanguard, but they replaced the concept of class with new identity markers: racial and sexual identity. The struggle was no longer between capitalists and the proletariat, but privileged “cisgendered heteronormative” whites versus the rest of humanity.


Communism is alive and well, it has just dropped the nonsense of Marxism which was its only link to reality, however wrong it was. – Dalwhinnie