Jon Haidt on religion, self-transcendence, and altruism: are they evolutionary?

Jonathan Haidt is a professor of social psychology at the University of Virginia and a bit of a woo-ish self-help guru.  He’s also known for attacking New Atheism. In an essay on “Moral psychology and the misunderstanding of religion” at Edge, for example (drawn from his first book, The Happiness Hypothesis: Finding Modern Truth in Ancient Wisdom), Haidt accused the Gnus of superficiality in their treatment of religion and of “polluting the scientific study of religion with moralistic dogma and damaging the prestige of science in the process”. Sam Harris provided a characteristically acerbic response on Richard Dawkins’s site, including the following:

Haidt concludes his essay with this happy blandishment: “every longstanding ideology and way of life contains some wisdom, some insights into ways of suppressing selfishness, enhancing cooperation, and ultimately enhancing human flourishing.” Surely we can all agree about this. Our bets have been properly hedged (the ideology must be “longstanding” and need only have “some” wisdom). Even a “new atheist” must get off his high horse and drink from such pristine waters. Well, okay….

Anyone feeling nostalgic for the “wisdom” of the Aztecs? Rest assured, there’s nothing like the superstitious murder of innocent men, women, and children to “suppress selfishness” and convey a shared sense of purpose. Of course, the Aztecs weren’t the only culture to have discovered “human flourishing” at its most sanguinary and psychotic. The Sumerians, Phoenicians, Egyptians, Hebrews, Canaanites, Maya, Inca, Olmecs, Greeks, Romans, Carthaginians, Teutons, Celts, Druids, Vikings, Gauls, Hindus, Thais, Chinese, Japanese, Scandinavians, Maoris, Melanesias, Tahitians, Hawaiians, Balinese, Australian aborigines, Iroquois, Huron, Cherokee, and numerous other societies ritually murdered their fellow human beings because they believed that invisible gods and goddesses, having an appetite for human flesh, could be so propitiated. Many of their victims were of the same opinion, in fact, and went willingly to slaughter, fully convinced that their deaths would transform the weather, or cure the king of his venereal disease, or in some other way spare their fellows the wrath of the Unseen.

But I digress. Haidt has published a new book,  The Righteous Mind: Why Good People are Divided by Politics and Religion, which he summarizes in the TED talk presented below.

His thesis is that spirituality, religion, and true human altruism (in which individuals sacrifice themselves for others who are unrelated, as with soldiers at war) are all the products of evolution, and came about by group selection.  He sees humans as Homo duplex, a conflicted bundle of the profane and sacred, with the profane instantiated by our luxurious everyday lives and the sacred represented by our spiritual longings—a “staircase” upward—that Haidt sees in his own students.

At  7:00  he asks the question, “Is the staircase a feature of evolutionary design? Is it a product of natural selection, like our hands? Or is it a bug–a mistake in the system? This religious stuff is just something that happens when the wires cross in the brain. . . ?”

His answer, of course, is yes—the Staircase to Spirituality was built by evolution.  And that evolution occurred evolved by group selection: those groups that were more spiritual/altruistic/religious than others reproduced themselves better (spawning other, similar groups), so that even if religion or altruism caused an individual loss of fitness (reproductive output), those traits would still spread via a higher “fitness” of religious than of nonreligious groups.

Haidt first gives cachet to this controversial form of selection by saying that Charles Darwin accepted it.  Well, perhaps Darwin did, but not as the main engine of evolution. And since Darwin’s time, our understanding of the limitations of group selection have caused that process to lose considerable support: because of its theoretical weaknesses and lack of evidence for group selection in nature, few evolutionists now see it as important.  Haidt notes that E. O. Wilson’s new book, The Social Conquest of Earth, will cause the gospel of group selection to sweep the planet, but I doubt it.

Haidt then presents three examples of things that evolved by “group selection,” in which the “free rider problem” (i.e., selfish individuals within groups would take over before the more altruistic groups could reproduce themselves) is supposedly solved. One is the invention of “superorganisms,” like the first cells that absorbed bacteria, becoming mitochondria-containing “superorganisms” that proliferated.  (He shows a cartoon animation how these cells might drive out the selfish individuals.) But this isn’t really a case of a disadvantageous trait propagated by group selection: it’s a case of a new symbiotic “organism” having higher fitness than other organisms.  There is no “altruism” involved here, and even if there were, the cases of “altruism” which so motivate Haidt—those in humans—don’t involve such symbiosis.

Haidt then promotes the example of eusocial wasp colonies as a case of unselfish groups (in eusociality, workers are sterile and are obviously sacrificing their own fitness).  As we’ve seen previously on this website, wasps and other eusocial insects like bees almost certainly arose not via group selection, but via “kin selection.” Their “altruism” is not true altruism because sterile individuals actually gain in fitness because, though sterile themselves, they pass on extra copies of their own genes by tending the highly related queen.  This is kin selection caused by an increase in inclusive fitness. Eusocial insects are not a good analog for “true” human altruism, in which humans are supposed to help unrelated individuals at the cost of their own fitness.

Well, did “true” human altruism evolve by group selection?

First of all, we need to know whether humans do indeed sacrifice their fitness with no potential gain for themselves.  This is undoubtedly true in cases like policemen and firemen, but in other cases what looks like “altruism” may simply be a way to get benefits at a slight risk to oneself.  We may help relatives at our expense, but if that behavior evolved (and it certainly did in the case of parental care), it probably evolved by kin selection, not group selection.

And we may help others in our social group, but that may well have evolved not by group selection, but by a form of individual selection that occurred by reciprocal altruism. That is, if we evolved in small social groups in which individuals recognized and remembered each other, then there can be an individual advantage to helping another group member if that member remembers you and one day returns the favor.  This can occur by simple Darwinian individual selection, as has been known since the work of Robert Trivers in 1971. (There is other biological evidence that reciprocal altruism evolved by individual rather than group selection.)

Note that reciprocal altruism is not really “true” altruism because the “sacrificing” individuals actually benefit in a long-term Darwinian sense (i.e., they pass on more of their genes) by their temporary loss of fitness, which eventually is more than repaid.  “True” altruism in humans constitutes only a fraction of all cases of “helping behavior”, and is probably the byproduct of faculties evolved to help others in small groups, not an evolutionary adaptation in itself.  Is the human desire to go to war an evolved phenomenon, in which those societies who contained “genetically warlike” individuals replaced those who were less bellicose?  Or do soldiers serve because they’re conscripted, and have no choice—or have had patriotic instincts instilled in them since youth? Modern warfare may be a cultural rather than an evolved biological phenomenon.

Further, I know of no evidence for “true” altruism in any other species in which one can rule out the action of kin selection or reciprocal altruism. If, as Haidt maintains, group selection is so efficacious in promoting the evolution of true altruism, why do we never see true altruism in nature? Why does “altruism” inevitably involve helping kin or getting reciprocal benefits from group members?  The inevitable conclusion is that group selection hasn’t been successful in promoting the evolution of traits, like true altruism, that are disadvantageous to individuals but good for groups.  The old nature-show bromide that “evolution involves benefiting the species” is simply wrong.

At any rate, here’s Haidt’s presentation with its three-minute summation: “We evolved to be religious . . We evolved to see sacredness all around us, and to join with others in teams that circle around objects, people, and ideas.”

That’s facile and misleading, and not just because he assumes without evidence that religion is simply a form of evolved altruistic behavior.  It is Haidt, not the New Atheists, who is damaging the prestige of science by distorting it to buttress people’s idea that religion and spirituality have been placed in our genome by evolution.

77 Comments

  1. Posted April 14, 2012 at 6:58 am | Permalink

    Policemen and firemen do not proactively chose their profession in order to die for strangers. Yes, they have a motive to do good. The same can be said for teachers, engineers, entrepreneurs, lawyers, ad infinitum.

    It is simply part of the bargain for a fireman that his job description includes the possibility he might give his life. That is a considered risk. It happens to only a tiny fraction of first responders.

    Meanwhile, the concept of “true altruism” wherein one’s actions and choices have no element of reward? This would be Kant’s “devoid of inclination” taken at its radical essence. The result is not some happy saint. It is a person with no will, no joy of action, no goal, no desire for desire. A zero.

    I suggest that nature would not be so inclined to evolve such a creature. Evolution is the celebration of the quest for life. The zero has only one destination: death.

  2. chascpeterson
    Posted April 14, 2012 at 7:04 am | Permalink

    We may help relatives at our expense, but if that behavior evolved (and it certainly did in the case of parental care), it probably evolved by kin selection, not group selection.

    The concept of ‘kin selection’ (and ‘inclusive fitness’) is unnecessary to explain the evolution of parental care. Parents are directly increasing their own individual Darwinian fitness. That’s straight old-fashioned unadorned natural selection.

    Yes, I understand that once you introduce the concept of inclusive fitness and model everything mathematically, parental care can be viewed as merely a subset of kin selection processes. To which my answer is: so what? Biology is not a branch of mathematics.

    I remain baffled by the insistence of Jerry Coyne (and, in an earlier thread at this website, Richard Dawkins) that the evolution of parental care is best explained as kin selection. Since both those guys are smarter than me, this is worrisome. I admit I do not know the mathematics of advanced population genetics; perhaps taking the time to work through all that would induce an epiphany. But my argument is at the conceptual level. Enhancing the survival and reproduction of direct offspring is something that can be explained entirely without the concepts of incusive fitness and kin selection. These concepts are necessary for explaining other phenomena. Fine. Why muddy the waters? I don’t get it.

    • whyevolutionistrue
      Posted April 14, 2012 at 7:11 am | Permalink

      It’s simply a continnuum in which you take care of your kids, your sibling’s kids, and the kids of your cousins for exactly the same reason: you’re promoting reproduction of your own genes (in decreasing order of likelihood). I like to see parental care as an example of inclusive fitness because it puts it in a wider framework of care for relatives. Too, there are phenomenon of parental care that seem to make clearer sense from an inclusive fitness perspective, like weaning conflict (parent-offspring conflict), and the withdrawal of parental care from those offspring unlikely to survive in favor of those who are. Weaning conflict in particular shows a balance between taking care of one’s own offspring versus investment in future offspring—i.e. parents maximizing their fitness at the expense of their offspring’s fitness. The interests of parents and offspring are not coincident because a parent shares only half his/her genes with the kids.

      • jay
        Posted April 14, 2012 at 5:02 pm | Permalink

        And even adopted kids. Evolution evolved some basic rules including ‘take care of kids that are in your household’. That rule worked good enough to get the job done, there was no need to create a DNA testing rule This rule works adequately.

      • chascpeterson
        Posted April 15, 2012 at 8:50 am | Permalink

        I like to see parental care as an example of inclusive fitness because it puts it in a wider framework of care for relatives.

        I get that; this is what I said: “once you introduce the concept of inclusive fitness…parental care can be viewed as merely a subset of kin selection processes.[emphasis added]” Conceptually, I just don’t think it ought to be.

        Isn’t this analogous to the possible continuum of individual-to-group selection? Your argument (with which I agree) is that it’s pointless to invoke group selection for phenomena that can be explained in terms of individual or kin selection. In the same way, isn’t it pointless to invoke kin selection where it’s unnecessary? Inclusive fitness theory might make an interesting context in which to consider parental care, but it’s completely superfluous to explaining the evolution of parental care.

        As for parent-offspring conflict, etc., those are fascinating nuances that may well be clarified by a gene-level interpretation, but they all presuppose the existence of parental care already. I’m talking about the evolution of parental-care behavior itself. A parent that was truly maximizing its own fitness “at the expense of their offspring’s” would clearly provide no care at all (and the vast majority of animal species are probably good examples).

        Consider for a moment the opposite case: offspring foregoing their own reproduction to help their parents raise younger siblings (or half-siblings). The cost of such behavior is obvious. Behavioral ecologists who study this phenomenon (e.g. birds helping at the nest) divide the possible countervailing benefits into direct benefits (increase in the helping bird’s own individual fitness, perhaps through learning or a possibility of taking over the territory) and indirect benefits through kin selection. In that context, parental care has entirely direct benefits, and no indirect benefits need be ascribed to explain it. This seems to me a much more logical and satisfying way to look at things.
        But I’ll shut up about it.

        • Gregory Kusnick
          Posted April 15, 2012 at 9:41 am | Permalink

          Maybe I’m missing something, but if my son shares 50% of my genes and so does my brother, then by what evolutionary logic does caring for one count as a “direct” benefit to me, while caring for the other counts as “indirect”? In both cases I’m helping carriers of my genes survive and reproduce, so why should natural selection prefer one over the other? It seems like a distinction without a difference.

          I grant that there could be a socially pragmatic difference of the form “Care more for younger kin for whom you are the primary caregiver,” and that parental care could be explicable along those lines. But that’s a different metric than the direct-v.-indirect distinction you’re trying to draw.

          • chascpeterson
            Posted April 15, 2012 at 10:23 am | Permalink

            For one thing, I don’t know that any single brother shares 50% of my genes. I’d have to help several brothers to be confident that the same number of my genes are present in my brothers as in the same number of my own offspring, which is damn near 50% every time.

            More importantly, helping my brother only benefits my inclusive fitness if my brother goes on to successfully reproduce. No guarantee there. My offspring, in contrast, is already in the next generation.

            • Gregory Kusnick
              Posted April 15, 2012 at 12:42 pm | Permalink

              If you’re saying that there might be some uncertainty about a brother’s parentage, i.e. whether he’s a full sib or a half sib, then OK, that’s a fair point. (If that’s not what you’re saying, then I don’t understand your point about brothers not sharing 50% of their genes.)

              But setting that aside, let’s suppose I have a (full) brother who happens to be the same age as my own son. In what sense then is “already in the next generation” meaningful or relevant? What I have is two individuals of the same age, the same degree of relatedness, the same probability of sharing any given gene with me, and (all else being equal) the same contingent risk of dying before reproductive age. Why should it matter to natural selection whether the genes in question came directly from me or indirectly through my parents?

              Isn’t it exactly this equivalence that enables eusociality in termites and naked mole rats?

              But again, maybe I’m just being dense.

              • chascpeterson
                Posted April 15, 2012 at 1:47 pm | Permalink

                I was referring to the vagaries of meiosis and independent assortment–on average I’ll share 50% of my genes with a sibling, but for any individual sibling it could be anything from 0% (plus crossing-over) to 100% (minus crossing-over).

                Thinking about the other issue is hurting my brain and keeping me from stuff I have to do. I do not believe that brothers and sons are fitness equivalents, with or without overlapping generations, but I’m out of my depth and hope somebody else can explain why. Or why I’m wrong.

              • gbjames
                Posted April 16, 2012 at 4:36 am | Permalink

                Given the shear number of genes involved, the probability of not being very near 50% would be vanishingly small. So it may be theoretically possible that you would share no genes with your full brother (or 100% unless you are identical twins), that suggestion is a bit of a red herring.

    • gbjames
      Posted April 14, 2012 at 8:16 am | Permalink

      Perhaps it will make more sense if you look at it from the gene’s point of view. Genes are what replicate and how their replication machines behave is better explained by inclusive fitness than the alternative. This was Dawkins’ brilliant insight. It clarifies much about why creatures behave the way they do.

      • Posted April 14, 2012 at 4:50 pm | Permalink

        This was Dawkins’ brilliant insight.

        Or Brian Aldiss’s?

        Genes build themselves into cells and cells into the gene hive called man in order to develop their potentialities, not man’s. The idea of man’s being able to develop was purely an anthropomorphic concept.

        From “Gene Hive”, first published, as “Journey to the Interior”, in 1958 in Nebula Science Fiction #30.

        /@

      • chascpeterson
        Posted April 15, 2012 at 8:12 am | Permalink

        This was Dawkins’ brilliant insight. It clarifies much about why creatures behave the way they do.

        The insight was not Dawkins’s. GC Williams, maybe.
        And I certainly agree that kin selection and inclusive fitness theory clarifies much about some of the things animals do. My only point is that parental care is not one of those things.

        • gbjames
          Posted April 15, 2012 at 9:17 am | Permalink

          Perhaps. But The Selfish Gene is the book that made this case clear enough to make a dent in how most folks understood Evolution. For that he gets credit.

          • chascpeterson
            Posted April 15, 2012 at 9:36 am | Permalink

            oh, agreed, 100%.

    • steve oberski
      Posted April 14, 2012 at 8:40 am | Permalink

      As J. B. S. Haldane replied when asked if he would give his life to save a drowning brother:

      No, but I would to save two brothers or eight cousins.

      • Posted April 14, 2012 at 6:28 pm | Permalink

        That is easy to say…

      • Posted April 15, 2012 at 6:09 am | Permalink

        I’ve always been frustrated by the math implicit here. Two brothers would only net you 75% of the same genes, statistically, since everything is randomly shuffled. As for eight cousins, that would net you…65.63910841941833% of the same genes, if my calculations are correct (which I doubt).
        Okay, I know, I’m being pedantic…sorry.

  3. penn
    Posted April 14, 2012 at 7:19 am | Permalink

    I think part of the problem is assuming every human trait is evolved. Suicide is a leading cause of death in young people. Is propensity for suicide an evolved trait? Or is it an emergent behavior from a combination of genetic and environmental influences. If culture is capable getting people to kill themselves with an obvious fitness penalty, why can’t culture get people to act ‘truly’ altruistically?

    • Posted April 14, 2012 at 6:32 pm | Permalink

      Good point. But it looks like culture isn’t important when it comes to evolution.
      They don’t meet. We are still like the first homo sapiens, we didn’t evolve since…
      Just look at the genes.

  4. Jeremy Nel
    Posted April 14, 2012 at 7:28 am | Permalink

    Richard Dawkins’ own take on it can be seen here:
    http://richarddawkins.net/videos/645362-jonathan-haidt-religion-evolution-and-the-ecstasy-of-self-transcendence/comments?page=1#comment_928880

  5. Neil
    Posted April 14, 2012 at 7:41 am | Permalink

    I am having trouble controlling my gag reflex.

    • Neil
      Posted April 14, 2012 at 5:37 pm | Permalink

      I apologize for and retract this comment. After reading Haidt’s views more thoroughly I realize that his argument is thoughtful and worth considering (even if I do not subscribe to it). My comment was inappropriate.

  6. darrelle
    Posted April 14, 2012 at 7:58 am | Permalink

    Too lazy or too ignorant to take the time to attain a solid understanding of evolution before trying to change the paradigm. Which came first, his conclusions or his “research”? Sure looks like Haidt just made this shit up after thinking about it for a while. Nothing wrong with that in its proper place, but this ain’t the proper place.

    I can not take this guy seriously. How does someone reach such a level in the academic community with such poor scholarship? He should be in the theology department.

    • jay
      Posted April 14, 2012 at 5:24 pm | Permalink

      Actually what is far more interesting in that book is the testing of human behavior and what that reveals. The fact that he he is weak on the evolutionary details is a flaw but not much more so than a novelist who gets some details of auto mechanics wrong in the story.

      Some points that jump out at me from reading this book are:

      1) there are key underlying feelings behind people’s perceptions of morality. It’s not something they come to logically. While they are not destiny, they do exert a powerful influence through life.

      2) ‘sacredness’ is a vague concept that people use when their mind assigns special not fully rational significance to a particular object, person, or behavior. It need not be religious, or even ‘spiritual’. Some people view the flag as sacred, others view places, or wilderness* as sacred… not to be touched, not to be violated even though they can’t logically explain why.

      3) In many cases (and this has been born out by the ‘runaway train’ scenarios, people come to a moral conclusion first, then they try to justify it logically. Sometimes it gets uncomfortable because if you follow this logic into other, similar situations, you come to conclusions that person (and others) might find objectionable.

      4) One takeaway from this, in my mind, is another reason while Sam Harris’ dream of a logically based system of morals, generally acceptable, will simply not work (I had problems with Sam’s approach even without this). The sense of morality is not, and never was logical. The logic was applied post hoc, and will hold only until it conflicts with another emotionally rooted component of moral feeling.

      [* I noticed this when working with some environmentalists years back who were pushing on a wilderness preservation push. Most of these people would never go there, by definition almost no people would ever go there. Even if roads were to pass through there would not necessarily be a major environmental impact. But just the EXISTENCE of the wilderness place was important to them… a sacred talisman of sorts.]

    • Posted April 14, 2012 at 7:26 pm | Permalink

      It think a more relevant question would be:
      What came first? My bias or his?

      • darrelle
        Posted April 17, 2012 at 5:25 am | Permalink

        Yes, I deserved that. Thank you. I was in a foul mood. Not an excuse, merely an explanation.

        Apologies to Haidt.

  7. Grania Spingies
    Posted April 14, 2012 at 8:05 am | Permalink

    I don’t see how he gets from altruism to religious. In fact, I can’t see how he manages to conflate religion and sacredness.

    Concepts of what is sacred vary wildly between the different religions and often bear no relation to each other, let alone the fuzzy-wuzzy ‘isn’t the world beautiful’ version he seems to be espousing.

    • DiscoveredJoys
      Posted April 14, 2012 at 9:50 am | Permalink

      Although I don’t fully agree with Haidt, in the chapter ‘Divinity With or Without God’ of his book ‘The Happiness Hypothesis’ he argues that (by observation) there are three dimensions of social space:- Hierarchy, Closeness and Divinity. He suggests that the Divinity axis is anchored by a ‘disgust’ emotion one end, and a ‘purity’ emotion the other.

      As far as I can tell his argument is that the evolutionary benefits of feelings of disgust and purity (not eating or handling bad food or water, blood, feces, etc.) become embedded in cultures as ethics of Divinty.

      He says he is a Jewish Atheist, but his time in India (where the sacred is far more obvious) awakened his appreciation of the ‘elevated’ feelings even though he doesn’t infer that God caused those feelings.

      But I don’t think he has made the case for group selection.

  8. Ken Pidcock
    Posted April 14, 2012 at 8:12 am | Permalink

    I first became aware of Haidt from the transcript of a presentation arguing that social psychology being an overwhelmingly left discipline was probably not a good thing. I thought it was good. Having listened to a couple of interviews around his current book, however, I’ve about had enough of the guy.

  9. DV
    Posted April 14, 2012 at 9:27 am | Permalink

    Haidt is two steps shy of Chopra.

  10. Posted April 14, 2012 at 9:44 am | Permalink

    Prof. Coyne:
    Thanks very much for this critique. Your summary of my argument is basically correct, but I’d like to respond to or clarify a few points:

    1. “Well, perhaps Darwin did [endorse GS], but not as the main engine of evolution.”
    –Correct, for me too. Both Darwin and I say that most of human morality was caused by natural selection operating at the level of the individual. The debate is whether group-level selection GS) played ANY role, or whether everything about our moral/political/religious lives can be explained straightforwardly, without contortions, at the level of the individual. To put it in Dawkins’ terms: I fully agree with Dawkins that the genes are the replicators, and that organisms can be understood as the vehicles by which replicators make copies of themselves. I like the selfish gene perspective very much. The entire disagreement comes down to whether for humans (and only for humans), groups were sometimes, or to some small degree, also vehicles for the replicators. Do we have the genes we have today in part because some groups beat out other groups? I (and DS Wilson and EO Wilson) say yes, Dawkins and you say no.

    2. “since Darwin’s time, our understanding of the limitations of group selection have caused that process to lose considerable support: because of its theoretical weaknesses and lack of evidence for group selection in nature, few evolutionists now see it as important.”
    –This statement was perfectly true in the 1980s. There was widespread agreement that Multi-Level Selection is the correct way to look at evolution, and that group-level selection is possible in theory, but in practice it made no contribution. The belief was that selection between groups was always weak or zero, while selection pressures within groups were always high, in large part because free-rider problems are so hard to solve. But since the 1980s, consensus on both of those terms has been changing. A)Intergroup competition turns out to have been much more intense, for humans, than anyone had ever thought (see Keeley, War before Civilization; and see Pinker’s new book); and B) Work on norms, moral emotions, and religion have all shown ways that people are quite good at solving free rider problems. What I’m arguing in my book is that if group-level selection is much stronger than we thought, and free rider problems are much more soluble (for humans) than we thought, is it not time to re-examine the issue?

    3. You then critique my examples:
    A) “One is the invention of “superorganisms,” like the first cells that absorbed bacteria, becoming mitochondria-containing “superorganisms” that proliferated. But this isn’t really a case of a disadvantageous trait propagated by group selection: it’s a case of a new symbiotic “organism” having higher fitness than other organisms. There is no “altruism” involved here, and even if there were, the cases of “altruism” which so motivate Haidt—those in humans—don’t involve such symbiosis.”
    –My point here was that once you get a membrane or other border around a group of individuals, so that the benefits of cooperation are locked inside, at that point extensive cooperation pays, and any mutation that made one internal element selfish would weaken the whole group, so that the group would fare poorly in intergroup competition. [I did not show this second step in the animation]. Same for human groups: coming together into tribes, which do not have high relatedness, is not altruism in itself. But once you get tribal boundaries around the group, the benefits of cooperation stay locked inside, and the group can prosper in exactly the way that Darwin said. At that point, you can get some “true altruism” as well, because there’s so much less risk of exploitation. But more importantly, you begin to get the group related adaptations for tribalism that really interest me.

    B) “Haidt then promotes the example of eusocial wasp colonies as a case of unselfish groups (in eusociality, workers are sterile and are obviously sacrificing their own fitness). As we’ve seen previously on this website, wasps and other eusocial insects like bees almost certainly arose not via group selection, but via “kin selection.” Their “altruism” is not true altruism because sterile individuals actually gain in fitness because, though sterile themselves, they pass on extra copies of their own genes by tending the highly related queen. This is kin selection caused by an increase ininclusive fitness. Eusocial insects are not a good analog for “true” human altruism, in which humans are supposed to help unrelated individuals at the cost of their own fitness.”
    –I agree with you here. For the eusocial animals, group selection and kin selection seem to be equivalent ways of looking at it. I don’t side with E.O. Wilson in his fight with his field over kin selection. I don’t understand the math behind the fight, and it seems to me that kin selection is very powerful and important. But once you get eusociality, you get ever more group-related adaptations. It really is hive versus hive, and the most cohesive hives win. I presented this one as an analogy for humans, it’s not a homology for the formation of human groups. I think the human case of tribes is more like the earlier case of bacteria coming together within a membrane to form a eukaryote.

    4. “Well, did “true” human altruism evolve by group selection? First of all, we need to know whether humans do indeed sacrifice their fitness with no potential gain for themselves. This is undoubtedly true in cases like policemen and firemen, but in other cases what looks like “altruism” may simply be a way to get benefits at a slight risk to oneself. “
    –Here too, I agree with you. If you focus on hard-core altruistic behaviors – costly sacrifices with no hope of personal gain, then there’s not much there to find. There’s usually some degree of self-interest especially reputational concerns. But if we would stop obsessing about hard-core altruism, which is hard to prove either way, and focus instead on what Williams called “group-related adaptations”– things which help a group stay cohesive and effective in intergroup competition–then I think it’s very hard to explain them at the individual level. Take the urge to rally around the flag, or to kill traitors and apostates, or to enjoy the sorts of groupish activities that promote self-loss and bind people tightly to a group. Do we have these traits today because INDIVIDUALS who did these things beat out their neighbors who did them less well? It’s hard to see how that could have happened. But it’s obvious that GROUPS who did these things well (i.e., who developed cultural innovations that meshed with biologically based tendencies) would outcompete neighboring groups.

    5) “Modern warfare may be a cultural rather than an evolved biological phenomenon.” Granted, modern warfare bears little resemblance to ancient warfare. But I think you’ll agree with me that practically nothing is purely a social construction. If you read books like War (Junger) and The Warriors (Gray), it’s clear that there are some very deep, powerful, and probably ancient group-binding mechanisms at work.

    6) “Further, I know of no evidence for “true” altruism in any other species in which one can rule out the action of kin selection or reciprocal altruism. If, as Haidt maintains, group selection is so efficacious in promoting the evolution of true altruism, why do we never see true altruism in nature?”
    –Exactly! This is one of my main points: Ever since the 1960s we’ve been looking to other species with the assumption that there’s no qualitative difference between them and us. Two of my four “exhibits” in the case for a retrial of GS are that shared intentionality (Tomasello) and gene-culture co-evolution (Boyd and Richerson) made our evolution veer off on a very different path. I would be very surprised to find “true altruism” in any non-human species. You rarely even find it among humans. But in humans, you find so many things that sure look like group-related adaptations that bind together groups that are not kin. I agree with Williams that a fleet herd of deer is really just a herd of fleet deer. But is a cohesive group of humans really just a group of cohesive humans? Humans are mostly like chimps, but we show some “finishing touches” of group-level selection. I don’t think any other non-eusocial animals does. We are the only species able to cooperate in large groups that are not kin. And the key to our ability is our unique psychology of morality/politics/religion. That’s what my book is about.

    7) “The old nature-show bromide that “evolution involves benefiting the species” is simply wrong.”
    –I totally agree. I correct people whenever I hear that phrase.

    8) Haidt “assumes without evidence that religion is simply a form of evolved altruistic behavior.”
    –No, in ch. 11 of my book I consider the empirical evidence very carefully as to whether religion dos or does not do what it would have to do to make the D.S. Wilson GS story work. I conclude that it does. Much of this evidence is new in the last 10 years, and you probably don’t know about it (e..g, Richard Sosis, and Azim Sharif).

    In conclusion, I hope you won’t judge and dismiss my entire argument based on an 18 minute TED talk, in which one is supposed to present provocative new ideas, and one cannot include footnotes. I hope you’ll read my book. Barring that, if you or any of your readers email me (Haidt at virginia.edu) I’ll be glad to send you chapter 9 of my book, which lays out my full argument about multi-level selection. If you want to see my review of the evidence on religion, ask for ch. 11 to. I ask only that nobody repost or otherwise publish these manuscript chapters.

    Jon Haidt

    • Posted April 14, 2012 at 11:45 am | Permalink

      While you may be able to partition the actions of selection to between group effects and within group effects, this does not necessarily imply the existence of group level adaptations. Group level adaptations require clonal groups or groups featuring a complete repression of competition; “group adaptation is not simply a response to between-group selection, but instead a rather stronger notion of group optimization – that only obtains if within–group selection is completely abolished” (Gardner and Grafen 2009: 666). To adequately make your case that human societies exhibit group level adaptations you would have to demonstrate that societies completely repress within group competition. I think it is highly unlikely that even with culture this would be the case.

      You point to morality, politics and religion as factors that allow humans to cooperate in large groups, but I do not think these factors lead to the abolition of within group competition that is required for group level adaptations. Take politics for example, as Johnson and Earle (1987) point out, as societies grow, the total needs of subsistence grow, which forces an expansion of the subsistence economy. Such growth in the subsistence economy can lead to situations such as the “tragedy of the commons”, so successful human groups develop codes of behavior to regulate common resources. These codes of behavior form the basis of the political economy. As societies grow larger and societal complexity increases, the political economy can only survive through its ability to mobilize a surplus from the subsistence economy, which can be used to finance political institutions. This creates an inherent instability in the system as the subsistence economy is geared to meeting household needs, whereas the political economy is geared to maximizing production, which can be used by those in charge of the political economy. This produces the potential for conflict between the two economies, “conflict between subsistence and political economies—between household needs and the demand of the political sphere—is commonplace” (Johnson and Earle 1987: 27). If conflict between different elements of a society is commonplace, does it make sense to argue that within-group competition has been negated for that society? If it has not been negated, how can you make the argument for group level adaptations?

      Gardner, A. and A. Grafen. 2009. “Capturing the superorganism: a formal theory of group selection”. J. Evol. Biol 22: 659-671.

      Johnson, Allen W. and Timothy Earle. 1987. The Evolution of Human Societies – From Foraging Group to Agrarian State.

      • BSimon
        Posted April 14, 2012 at 2:20 pm | Permalink

        “To adequately make your case that human societies exhibit group level adaptations you would have to demonstrate that societies completely repress within group competition. I think it is highly unlikely that even with culture this would be the case.”

        This is simply false. What if groups break into pieces well before the cooperative trait disappears, and the pieces don’t have exactly the same genetic makup? And then those groups grow and break apart, etc. etc. This is probably what hunter-gatherer tribes did for thousands of generations. Do the thought experiment. The formal theory of group selection in the paper you reference is based on the Price equation, which is an incomplete theory. It has nothing to say about group-level events – which is what group selection is really about.

        • Posted April 14, 2012 at 5:09 pm | Permalink

          The Price equation itself might not have anything to say about group level events, but the point of the cited paper is to link the price equation to the mathematics of optimization in order to demonstrate how selection can act on the group-as-maximizing agent. As the goal of the paper is to provide a mathematical formalization for the group as the agent of fitness maximization, it does seem to be saying something about group level events. But if you don’t accept the Price approach to group level selection, what mathematical formalization of group selection do you prefer, the contextual analysis approach or the neighbor modulated fitness approach? Either approach contains significant difficulties as both approaches lead to the conclusion that there can be group selection even when all groups have identical fitness. Since natural selection requires heritable variation in fitness, this result is counterintuitive and unsatisfying, see Samir Okasha (2004) “Multilevel selection and the partitioning of covariance: a comparison of three approaches” Evolution 58(3). I am curious to know what mathematical approach to group selection you prefer that allows you to reach the conclusion that human groups exhibit group level adaptations, as I only know of the three approaches listed above, none of which seem to support the conclusion that human groups exhibit group level adaptations (of course I always can be wrong).

          • BSimon
            Posted April 14, 2012 at 5:57 pm | Permalink

            Please take a look at
            http://www.math.ucdenver.edu/~bsimon/EER%20journal%20version.pdf
            or
            http://www.math.ucdenver.edu/~bsimon/HamiltonsRule.pdf
            and let me know what you think. This is a different approach as you will see.

            Also, please note that I am not claiming that any particular thing (like religion in human groups) evolved by group selection. My main point is that the typical dismissive attitute is unwarrented.

            • Posted April 14, 2012 at 6:55 pm | Permalink

              Excuse my ignorance but is there a debate going on about the inherent social nature of morality, religion, politic and altruism?

            • Matt Dunn
              Posted April 14, 2012 at 7:21 pm | Permalink

              Thanks for the links, I will work through them (slowly, as math isn’t my field of expertise!).

              • Posted April 14, 2012 at 7:57 pm | Permalink

                Objectivity will help you to get you through this.

    • superatheist
      Posted April 14, 2012 at 8:24 pm | Permalink

      “I fully agree with Dawkins that the genes are the replicators, and that organisms can be understood as the vehicles by which replicators make copies of themselves”. Well, I don’t. The phenotype is much more complicated than a passive vehicles that the genes control. Everyone knows that genes influence not make phenotypes. Changes at the phenotypic level – developmental reprogramming – is affected by things like contingency and developmental bias, not just genomic changes.

  11. Corpus Christy
    Posted April 14, 2012 at 9:51 am | Permalink

    Haidt makes the rather innocuous point that there is some wisdom to be found in long-standing ideologies and ways of life.

    Harris “counters” this by citing how atrocious many ways of life actually were. Holy non sequitur Batman!

    Even an obtuse non-philosopher should be able to see what’s lame about Harris’ riposte.

    I wouldn’t say it’s “acerbic” so much as moronic.

    • Greg Esres
      Posted April 14, 2012 at 11:01 am | Permalink

      While you are correct, Harris is probably reacting to the word “wisdom” that, to me, has deeper connotations than merely the fact that these societies discovered a few useful ways to manipulate the public.

  12. Greg Esres
    Posted April 14, 2012 at 10:37 am | Permalink

    “we need to know whether humans do indeed sacrifice their fitness with no potential gain for themselves. This is undoubtedly true in cases like policemen and firemen”

    That seems too easy of a surrender. Both are manly professions and would arguably increase the sexual attractiveness of the males engaged in these professions, leading to more offspring.

    • DV
      Posted April 14, 2012 at 11:02 am | Permalink

      agree. being a policeman or a fireman is hardly a sacrifice. first of all one gets paid and gets to carry a gun as a policeman. As a fire volunteer you may not get paid, but you get to ride in a fire truck and have some community status. a job is not a sacrifice if considering all available options one decides it is the best.

    • Gregory Kusnick
      Posted April 14, 2012 at 11:21 am | Permalink

      In addition, police gain influence and special treatment for themselves and their families; a cop’s son busted for drugs or drunk driving will be treated differently than a bus driver’s son.

      Firefighters are lauded as heroes just for signing up, and reap the rewards of that enchanced social status.

      • Gregory Kusnick
        Posted April 14, 2012 at 11:22 am | Permalink

        Urg. “Enhanced”, obviously.

      • Posted April 14, 2012 at 11:35 am | Permalink

        But that happens whether or not the policeman (whose son was busted) has given his life or not, since most don’t get the opportunity).

    • Posted April 14, 2012 at 11:22 am | Permalink

      But even then, when they face the choice of giving their life, or walking away, some do indeed choose the former option. I think that’s the question, rather than why they joined the profession itself.

      • Gregory Kusnick
        Posted April 14, 2012 at 11:25 am | Permalink

        Peer pressure? To walk away would tarnish the whole profession and undermine the social status of one’s colleagues.

        • Posted April 14, 2012 at 11:34 am | Permalink

          But you would live! Somehow, life seems fair compensation for a tarnished reputation. (Of course, that may be the reason I would make a poor fireman.)

          • Gregory Kusnick
            Posted April 14, 2012 at 11:50 am | Permalink

            You would live as a known cheat and free-rider who reneges on social contracts. That can’t be good for your overall fitness. Whereas if you die a hero, the fitness of your surviving kin will be enhanced. So it may well be that giving your life turns out to be the best way to maximize inclusive fitness in some cases.

            Not that anybody performs these calculations consciously. But they are programmed into our social instincts.

            • Posted April 14, 2012 at 12:30 pm | Permalink

              I actually like that interpretation!

              • Michael Fisher
                Posted April 14, 2012 at 1:37 pm | Permalink

                In combat it is normal behaviour for soldiers [both men & women!] to “go over the top” & expose themselves to almost certain death. It’s part of unit training to build a web of tight bonds that makes the ‘correctly’ conditioned individual see his comrades as closer than brothers ~ unit pride is all. Death before disgrace is an essential & honourable military value. No soldier fights for “King & Country” though they may sign up for that reason.

                The British military historian Sir John Keegan has written extensively [& accessibly] on this & he’s well worth a read. Everything he’s written is worth reading in fact ~ full of counter-intuitive insights. Soldiers love his work.

                Also Band of Brothers, a 1992 book by Stephen Ambrose conveys very well the psychology used in training to turn a bunch of civilians into a fearsome paratrooper unit [he’s not to be trusted in historical detail, but he draws a correct picture over all]

          • Posted April 14, 2012 at 8:20 pm | Permalink

            I’ve seen no evidence that police officers chose to sacrifice their lives under the circumstances you describe, that of a choice of dying or walking away, any more often than any other individual. (Those that get killed in the line of duty without expecting to die don’t fit it.)

            In fact, police are generally dismissed as being too reckless if they take chances like that. Policy will generally result in hostages getting killed rather than an officer voluntarily sacrificing himself to save them. It just doesn’t happen, as far as I can see. At least not more often than anybody else.

  13. Posted April 14, 2012 at 11:32 am | Permalink

    I’ve always thought of religion as a secondary contraption, i.e. as produced by behaviours that evolved for completely different reasons. If a penchant for explanation (as a way of acquiring new knowledge) improved fitness, for example, it may very easily result in the explanation of other things not directly related to survival, and what do you know, something that resembles religion results! I highly doubt it ‘evolved’ by itself, and I highly doubt religion is hard-wired into the genes. Even if most (all?) civilisations have religion, it may as well be a product of the over-active imagination of humans (which, conversely, could have some kind of genetic basis).

    It should also be noted that endosymbiosis is not ‘altruistic’. It’s mutually beneficial (although it doesn’t stop either party from attempting to exploit the other). As in the post above, I think it makes a poor analogy for human cooperation.

    I have also always thought that ‘altruism’ is inherently selfish. Even seemingly ‘altruistic’ acts, i.e. those that benefit genuine non-kin come with some kind of reward. E.g. if I give a beggar on the street whatever change I have in my pocket, I’m not being altruistic, as much as I derive some kind of pleasure from the thought that I am altruistic. I.e. it is a selfish act. If I didn’t get a warm, fuzzy feeling inside from feeling superior by dropping a few pence in a bowl, I wouldn’t do it.

    • Pete Cockerell
      Posted April 14, 2012 at 2:15 pm | Permalink

      Your theory of religion is reminiscent of Pascal Boyer’s. Have you read him? Worthwhile having a look if not.

  14. Bob Carlson
    Posted April 14, 2012 at 12:11 pm | Permalink

    Perhaps it is pertinent to point out that, in 2001, Jonathan Haidt was awarded the Templeton Prize in Positive Psychology. I recall him lashing out at a critic of Templeton in the video of the 2007 Beyond Belief conference, and I found his discussion of that incident here.

  15. John Scanlon, FCD
    Posted April 14, 2012 at 2:02 pm | Permalink

    Haidt: “Do we have the genes we have today in part because some groups beat out other groups? I (and DS Wilson and EO Wilson) say yes, Dawkins and you say no.”

    This is incomplete, the question should be “Do we have the genes we have today in part because some groups beat out other groups BECAUSE those genes differed in frequency between the groups AND they had phenotypic effects that were individually deleterious BUT favourable to group survival?”

    It’s obvious that most genes that happened to differ between groups in conflict would be causally unrelated to the outcome, so I presume the Wilsons would not endorse Haidt’s version. It comes down to the frequency of group-selectable-but-non-kin-selectable genes, and the genetic isolation of groups on relevant timescales, which are empirical questions outside my expertise. For all I know, there may be extremely rare cases where group selection does something. Or not. But a major mechanism of evolution? – pfft.

    • BSimon
      Posted April 14, 2012 at 2:58 pm | Permalink

      The proper question is whether or not we would have certain traits if humans did not live in distinct and long-lasting groups in the past. If the answer is no, (without the group structures the trait would not evolve), then I think you have to admit that the trait is due to group selection, i.e., due to the way groups were born (i.e., from the fissioning of existing groups) and died (i.e., in battle or by plague).

      • whyevolutionistrue
        Posted April 14, 2012 at 3:02 pm | Permalink

        That’s not true at all. Individual selection can create adaptations for living in groups simply because of the nature of the interactions with others. And that doesn’t have to have ANYTHING to do with group selection. Even if all groups were permanent and there was no fission or extinction, differential reproduction of genotypes would select for those individuals with traits best suited for group living. With a little migration, the traits would spread to all groups.

        I presume you understand what group selection is.

        • BSimon
          Posted April 14, 2012 at 3:18 pm | Permalink

          If the individuals in the groups create adaptations (like cooperation) that would take hold even it there were no group-level events (e.g., fission, fusion, extinction) then the adaptation was due to individual-level selection, not group selection. We agree. It is group selection when the trait would *not* evolve without the group-level events. This scenario is very easy to demonstrate with mathematical models. The parameters of the model do not have to be in some extreme condition for the phenomenon to occur. It is not as unlikely a scenario as you think.

          • DV
            Posted April 14, 2012 at 4:57 pm | Permalink

            That’s not what you first said. But anyway, the onus is on the group selectionists to show evidence that a trait could not have evolved without group selection. So far I have not seen any trait put forward that cannot be explained (better in fact) by individual/gene selection.

            • BSimon
              Posted April 14, 2012 at 5:08 pm | Permalink

              Sorry if I wasn’t clear. But why isn’t there symmetry in where the “onus” lies? In many models it’s quite obvious that a trait cannot evolve without group selection. For example, suppose that within groups the individuals play a public good game with birth rates proportional to payoff. Then without group-level events cooperators will go extinct in every group and therefore extinct in the environment. So, if cooperation thrives when group level events (fissioning and extinction) and introduced to the model, then the group-level events must be responsible for the evolution of cooperation in that model, i.e., group selection.

            • Thanny
              Posted April 14, 2012 at 6:08 pm | Permalink

              I haven’t seen a single trait that can be explained by group selection, period. It’s not that other explanations are better, it’s that group selection explains nothing at all.

              • BSimon
                Posted April 14, 2012 at 7:09 pm | Permalink

                How about cooperation. Is that good enough for you?

              • DV
                Posted April 15, 2012 at 9:17 am | Permalink

                Individual selection explains cooperation. Selfish genes explain cooperation. Ever heard of The Selfish Gene published in 1976? Where have you been all these years?

  16. John Scanlon, FCD
    Posted April 14, 2012 at 2:03 pm | Permalink

    ‘Scuse me, forgot to close italics.

  17. Posted April 14, 2012 at 2:40 pm | Permalink

    These kinds of pronouncements by Haight are transparent tactics to get money and power/influence/eyeballs. The best way to do this is to lie and argue that pop platitudes and magical/silly beliefs are true.

    Life after death, meaning to existence, the basic morality of everyone around you — are are childish notions that gather attention and money/eyeballs easily and quickly.

  18. superatheist
    Posted April 14, 2012 at 6:34 pm | Permalink

    One of the things that confuses me about this debate is that both sides want to use natural selection to explain a particular behaviour. Not all traits of organisms are explicable by just natural selection. For example, I would like for someone to explain to me why does adoption happen in nature? humans, chimpanzees and some insects adopt totally unrelated individuals. This can be explained by delayed reciprocal altruism, but I don’t see how it increases the fitness of the altruist?
    It is possible that it is a by-product of sociality or some other thing.

    • Posted April 14, 2012 at 7:20 pm | Permalink

      Yeah. Would it be possible that when a specie becomes more and more social, the social interaction itself produces some kind of a trait that doesn’t need to be coded in the genetic, especially when it comes to self aware creatures like humans?

      I’m a musician so the analogy of a song is what comes to me first.

      Even if you are able to write perfectly what all the instruments are playing independently, it won’t tell anything about the groove of the song. The groove lies in the interaction of all the instruments.

    • chascpeterson
      Posted April 15, 2012 at 7:46 am | Permalink

      Sure-it’s likely a by-product of strong (individual) selection for parental care. Why do robins raise baby cowbirds?

      • superatheist
        Posted April 15, 2012 at 8:03 am | Permalink

        Yeah that is what I meant. It doesn’t have to be a direct adaptation selected for by natural selection, and as Gould have said a lot of traits in organisms are by-products of something else. So some forms of altruism can be explained by kin selection, and others are by-products. I don’t see why we need to debate that one or two explanations – kin selection and reciprocity – vs. group selection can explain a particular phenomenon, as appose to looking for other explanations and testing them!

  19. michaelbdowd
    Posted April 15, 2012 at 5:24 am | Permalink

    Oh, Jerry. As much as I absolutely most of what you write, on this issue you consistently speak out of your league and betray the fact that you’ve not kept up with the literature. I know it’s not easy to hear and take in, but for the sake of your own reputation (if for no other reason), please read David Sloan Wilson’s post and the papers referenced in in, and take this to heart:

    “Jerry Coyne on Group Selection: What Does He Know?” http://scienceblogs.com/evolution/2011/09/jerry_coyne_on_group_selection.php

    Re your post above, no one is saying that Darwin is saying that the driver in biological evolution is group selection, but to fail to acknowledge that it IS an important factor in HUMAN evolution is simply no longer intellectually credible.

    In an early draft of his book, Haidt crafted an analogy to illustrate the difficulties that advocates of “multi-level selection” are facing in their encounter with the reigning paradigm of individual- and gene-level selection. In a passage that unfortunately didn’t make it into the final manuscript, after outlining four distinct lines of evidence in support of multi-level selection, Haidt illustrates how unique humans are in the animal kingdom (with respect to good will beyond kin selection and reciprocal altruism) while poking fun at those such as yourself who argue against group-level selection in human societies by pointing to examples of where it doesn’t exist among other animals:

    “Imagine going to the zoo with a friend who has never seen a giraffe and doesn’t believe they are real. He declares: ‘It is possible in theory for an animal to have a neck longer than ten feet. But I shall endeavor to prove that such long necks do not in fact exist.’ Your friend takes you to see lions, bears, elephants, snakes, and penguins. He takes measurements at each exhibit, each time exclaiming, ‘No long necks here!’ Each time you say, ‘Enough! Can we go to the giraffe house now?’ But your friend doesn’t seem to hear you.

    Human beings are the giraffes of altruism. Yes, most of human nature was shaped by natural selection operating at the level of the individual. Most, but not all. We have a few group-related adaptations too, as many Americans discovered in the days after 9/11. We humans have a dual nature—we are selfish primates who long to be a part of something larger and nobler than ourselves. We are 90% chimp and 10% bee. If you take that claim metaphorically (not literally), then many of the groupish and hivish things that people devote their lives to doing will make a lot more sense. It’s almost as though there’s a switch in our heads that activates our hivish potential when conditions are just right.”

    I have read Haidt’s book, “The Righteous Mind,” and E.O. Wilson’s latest, “The Social Conquest of Earth” (both current NYT bestsellers). Before you go further in your criticism of Haidt, Wilson, and multi-level selection, I invite you to actually read their works, in addition to David Sloan Wilson’s blog post linked above.

    • DV
      Posted April 15, 2012 at 10:20 am | Permalink

      The many groupish and hivish things that people do makes a lot of sense if you remember that for most of human history we lived in small bands composed of relatives or people you are going to meet again and again.

      The time when humans lived in larger groups, since the invention of agriculture is far too short a time to evolve group selection traits, IF (and that’s a big “if”) that is even possible at all.

    • John Scanlon, FCD
      Posted April 15, 2012 at 11:44 am | Permalink

      Humans are, without any doubt, the giraffes of culture. Altruism? Meh.
      People are also very clever at coming up with explanations for human exceptionalism, but as you know they’re mostly religiously motivated (or otherwise wish-thinking) BS.
      Nobody can do group selection experiments on human populations, so our species should be no part of an argument for group selection being an explanation for any traits in species-in-general.

  20. Posted April 15, 2012 at 12:01 pm | Permalink

    Since the dawn of human consciousness, a moral code for the individual who takes responsibility for his values, choices and actions is not primarily driven by genes or any other type of collectivist meme.

    While lurking in this forum I have noticed that in an effort to squash supernatural belief, many of your contributors tolerate — or even rejoice in — an iron determinism that laughs at free will. “I’m willing to accept that humans are machines at the effect of species-evolved urges as a trade-off for annihilating any hint that that god is at play.”

    I am atheistic, so don’t think I am attempting to resurrect god as a by product of championing free will. I am simply astounded that so many champion absolute determinism.

  21. Posted April 15, 2012 at 12:22 pm | Permalink

    I could not figure out how to format this the way I wanted, so I wrote a post on my own blog. Here is the link:

    http://wp.me/p20XCb-3s


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