Evolution for Everyone

Archives for January, 2011

The newest effort to place individualism on an evolutionary foundation is led by Alan Grafen and Andy Gardner at the University of Oxford. Their stated purpose is to develop a mathematical framework whereby natural selection leads toward the optimization of individual fitness. They want to be able to say that virtually all adaptations are individual-level…

Individualism according to Williams’ Principle is dead but another version of individualism is also part of George’s legacy. At the time, no one fully appreciated that the two versions are different and incompatible with each other. Some things are only obvious in retrospect.

In addition to showing how to identify a group-level adaptation (see part I), George Williams also made a strong empirical claim: Individual-level selection is almost invariably stronger than group-level selection. Putting his empirical claim together with his principle, he concluded that “group-related adaptations do not, in fact exist” (Adaptation and Natural Selection p. 93). In…

The death of George C. Williams last September coincided with an article that Elliott Sober and I were writing on the significance of his work. The article, titled “Adaptation and Natural Selection Revisited” has now been published in the current issue of the Journal of Evolutionary Biology and is dedicated to the memory of George.…

The Poverty of Affluence

In addition to this blog, I write a monthly column for Big Questions Online, which is sponsored by the John Templeton Foundation. My latest column, titled “Rich Man, Poor Man“, shows how poverty is not the root of all problems and how affluence can actually erode the capacity for cooperation. While you’re visiting my column,…