David Sloan Wilson has an article in the eSkeptic, "Beyond Demonic Memes," (the same article is on this blog), that attacks some of Richard Dawkins' speculations in The God Delusion. For example, Dawkins speculated that religion is "just" a side-effect of children's uncritical acceptance of their parents' beliefs and teachings.
Mr. Wilson sees a more complex and adaptive role for religion and he criticizes Dawkins for dismissing groups selection as an evolutionary factor. It has little to do with religion. Dawkins has always, and in all his works strongly resisted group selection, no matter the context.
I tend to agree with Mr. Wilson's ideas about a more complex and adaptive role for religion. I encountered the concept of group selection in The Lucifer Principle: A Scientific Expedition into the Forces of History by Howard Bloom. The Official website for the book has two sample chapters, Superorganism and Isolation that introduce some of the concepts.
But Mr. Wilson also makes an ad hominem attack saying that Dawkins is "just another angry atheist, trading on his reputation as an evolutionist and spokesperson for science to vent his personal opinions about religion." Dawkins doesn't really come off as angry, at least he is not as angry as I am. I'm far more pissed off at the lies and the blinders of religion's advocates than Richard Dawkins.
There's a lot to be angry about if you're an atheist in America, just look at the other posts on my blog. A religion usually benefits its own believers to the detriment of the non-believers, it tends to make people more compassionate towards their co-religionists, and less compassionate towards the heretics and infidels they use as scapegoats.
Mr. Wilson is also taking money from the Templeton Foundation. This fact might distort Mr. Wilson's conclusions. Just because religion is adaptive doesn't mean it is good for us. If it really is putting blinders on delusional believers then they'll suffer too for their lack of contact with, and understanding of, the real world. Truth matters and the Templeton Foundation is committed to finding some kind of metaphysical truth in religion. Remember what kind of world we are adapting to, a world of continual war and predation.
Check out the Barefoot Bum's posts "Wilson on Dawkins" and "Statistical fallacies" and also the comments on Stranger Fruits' "Wilson on Dawkins" for more information on the arguments that have been going on.
The Barefoot Bum does not think Wilson correctly uses statistical methodology, the Bum accuses Wilson of presenting statistical concepts in a way that harms rather than helps the reader's statistical intuition.
UPDATE: Richard Dawkins Replies to David Sloan Wilson.
UPDATE II: The electronic ghost of Douglas Adams Replies to Richard Dawkins and David Sloan Wilson via a 1998 speech called 'Is there an Artificial God?':
"So, my argument is that as we become more and more scientifically literate, it's worth remembering that the fictions with which we previously populated our world may have some function that it's worth trying to understand and preserve the essential components of, rather than throwing out the baby with the bath water; because even though we may not accept the reasons given for them being here in the first place, it may well be that there are good practical reasons for them, or something like them, to be there. I suspect that as we move further and further into the field of digital or artificial life we will find more and more unexpected properties begin to emerge out of what we see happening and that this is a precise parallel to the entities we create around ourselves to inform and shape our lives and enable us to work and live together. Therefore, I would argue that though there isn't an actual god there is an artificial god and we should probably bear that in mind. That is my debating point and you are now free to start hurling the chairs around!"