Truth and Reconciliation in Group Selection

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Rest In Peace, George C. Williams

George Williams, the man whose name will forever be associated with the rejection of group selection in the 1960’s, passed away on September 8. He previously suffered from Alzheimer’s disease, so his voice has not been heard for a number of years. He was my intellectual opponent but also a good friend.

Obsessing about different accounting methods runs the risk of turning evolutionary theory into a kind of postmodernism in which there are no facts, only different ways of viewing. In his book Fear of Knowledge: Against Relativism and Constructivism, philosopher Paul Boghossian shows, for anyone who needs reminding, that nothing has happened in philosophy to prevent…

The evolutionary community is as active as an alarmed beehive over the critique of inclusive fitness theory recently published in the journal Nature by Martin Nowak, Corina E. Tarnita, and E.O. Wilson. I do not agree with them in every respect but I’m glad that they have aroused the evolutionary community from its stupor. The…

Dear Richard, I do not agree with the cynical adage “science progresses–funeral by funeral”, but I fear that it might be true in your case for the subject of group selection. In your response to the recent article in Nature by Martin Nowak, Corina Tarnita, and E.O. Wilson, which critiques inclusive fitness theory, you say…

One of the most stimulating workshops that I attended during 2009, the year of Darwin, was titled “Evolution–the Extended Synthesis” and held at the Konrad Lorenz Institute in Altenberg, Austria. Sixteen evolutionists met to discuss how our field has changed since Julian Huxley’s Evolution: The Modern Synthesis, which was published in 1942 and represented a…

Today’s “Science Saturday” at bloggingheads.tv features an interview between Razib Kahn (Gene Expression) and myself. The interview begins with a discussion of multilevel selection, the subject of my recently concluded “truth and reconciliation” series, and ends with a discussion of the Evolution Institute and its mission to connect the world of evolutionary science with the…

We have reached the end of the T&R series. In a truth and reconciliation process, truth is required for reconciliation. There must be a consensus on what happened, even if all wrongs cannot be righted. I have had my say on what happened during the group selection controversy. Anyone who wishes to challenge my account…

August 22, 2009. I am at the annual meeting of the European Society for Evolutionary Biology (ESEB) in Turin, Italy. Twelve hundred evolutionists have gathered to strut their stuff and party over a five-day period. I’m here to speak at a symposium on levels of selection that is being held on the first day. The…

John Maynard Smith and Eors Szathmary boldly expanded the symbiotic cell theory of Lynn Margulis to include other major transitions. They were a bit timid in their discussion of human evolution, however, restricting themselves to the genetic basis of language. Now it appears likely that human evolution was a full-fledged major transition. The reason that…

Just as Brutus was a close companion to Caesar but proved to be his undoing, evolutionary theory seemed to provide a rock-solid foundation for individualism– until Lynn Margulis came along. Lynn is famous so you might already know her story. In the 1970’s she proposed the radical theory that nucleated (eukaryotic) cells evolved not by…