Wilson on Dawkins on religion

Posted on July 9, 2007


Not E. O. Wilson of sociobiology fame but David Sloan Wilson, anthropologist and evolutionary biologist, who has written on the biological roots of religious behaviour – his book, Darwin’s Cathedral, came out in 2002. His review of Dawkins’ The God Delusion is probably the best thing that I have read on Dawkins’ book. Wilson manages to state very clearly the reservations that I, myself, have felt toward Dawkins’ book, as well as to lay out the basic picture in relation to evolutionary studies into religious behaviour. As he writes:

When Dawkins’ The God Delusion was published I naturally assumed that he was basing his critique of religion on the scientific study of religion from an evolutionary perspective. I regret to report otherwise. He has not done any original work on the subject and he has not fairly represented the work of his colleagues.

 Wilson’s analysis is in-depth, giving some insight into the general issues, and highly valuable to understanding where Dawkins’ falls short and what a more careful scientific approach reveals about religion. The picture revealed is not necessarily one that would be any more pleasing to ‘the divines’ than that put forward by Dawkins but it is one that is far more complex.