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Thread: Dawkins on Group Selection

  1. #1 Dawkins on Group Selection 
    Forum Freshman portcontrol7's Avatar
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    Jun 2008
    Please bear with me as I am fairly new to the theory of Group Selection.

    Dawkins maintains that the theory of group selection,
    is one that is in his estimation unnacceptable as an
    explanation for the ubiquity of religiosity. Maintaining
    that at lower levels of evolution, we have quicker
    and more immediate results, and that martyrdom for example
    may be weeded out by these lower levels of evolution.

    While I understand how this works in theory, this seems
    to assume something I find potentially very pertinent; namely that the propensity towards martyrdom
    is not benificial in the short term because of the very
    high probability of death in such cases. This seems to
    exclude what Nietzsche referred to as the "Will to Power", but
    I can sum up in this example as relative to social status among
    fierce believers.

    Take the example given in Dawkins "God Delusion" of
    a hypothetical group of fierce martyr oriented religious villagers
    pitted in an evolutionary struggle with its perhaps
    pacifistic or atheistic neighbors.

    Take marty group A (10 individual warriors),
    and their bloodthirty rush into battle, not specifically for religious reasoning, but also
    in context of the Will to Power (and perhaps these are rather similar).
    Lets say in this example their casualties are 80 percent leaving us with only 2 blood soaked
    would be martyrs returning to battle.

    Now lets take group B (10 more fearful warriors), and theyre standing behind their more fierce
    counterparts. Say they suffer only a loss of 2 warriors, and return home to procreate.

    In this example, the 2 warriors from group A are recognized as superior to their 8 counterparts and
    have wives offered to them by many grateful villagers. If they are offered 5 wives each, vs. the other
    less heroic 8 from group B's 1 wife each, this is potentially a strong counterbalance against lower levels
    of selection subverting the religiosity of a group, is it not?

    In other words, in the brief example given by Dawkins (and I'm sure he has a wealth of data to back up his
    caution from subscribing to group selection theories) he seems to not address the issue of social status.

    What am I missing here?

    Thanks in advance for any helpful clarifications regarding misconceptions on my part.

    "The most monstrous effect of the indoctrination of the young by religion, is not that they are mislead, but are trained to mislead themselves." - Me
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  3. #2  
    Forum Cosmic Wizard paralith's Avatar
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    Jun 2007
    Since I'm not very familiar with the details of Dawkins' arguments on this point, I'll just respond to the specifics of your example.

    There's more to reproductive success than how many wives you earn - can a village with only two men amply provide for 10 wives and all their resulting children? Even if the village of 8 men only get one wife each, they still come out on top with 16 total adults to care for all the resulting offspring, including a solid group of men to handle male-specific supportive tasks.

    And, now that the martyr tribe is down to two men, the "fearful" tribe of 8 may feel courageous enough to go on and take out their remaining competitors, and perhaps snatch all their wives while they're at it.

    You're right to point out that social status is a very powerful force, but that's because social status, especially with males, tends to correlate with that male's resource status. And not only resource status, but also number of social connections with other members of the group that would be willing to help you out.

    However, I would say that a flexible martyrdom behavior, wherein all individuals have the potential for it but only one or two actually "activate" it, and where the act of martyrdom has an effect that significantly increases the reproductive success of the group containing many of that martyrs relatives, then the behavior could potentially arise and be maintained in the population. But that's a lot of ifs, and I'm not familiar enough with existing research to know how likely this is.

    Man can will nothing unless he has first understood that he must count on no one but himself; that he is alone, abandoned on earth in the midst of his infinite responsibilities, without help, with no other aim than the one he sets himself, with no other destiny than the one he forges for himself on this earth.
    ~Jean-Paul Sartre
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  4. #3  
    (Q) is offline
    Forum Isotope (Q)'s Avatar
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    Martyrs are not martyrs unless the die for their cause, they are merely soldiers, or some other form of combatant; terrorist, etc.

    What Dawkins alludes to is that the mindset of would-be martyrs, those who have the intention of dying for their cause, would not last long in a group environment, as those soldiers who do not have the martyr mindset might be prone to survive the battle and return home to procreate.

    Is this what you're looking for?
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  5. #4  
    Forum Freshman portcontrol7's Avatar
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    In my example I should have been more clear. Both group A and group B are in the same tribe. Group A possesses martyr instincts, group B does not so much. They head into battle together, group B tends to not engage in the risky behavior that group A does. They return home after battle together, with the 2 'heroes' of group A exalted by the tribe.

    You have given me some other variable to the example, notably resources, and adultery.Thank you Paralith. I suppose many much smarter have me have done the math on the plausibility of Group Selection, but it still feels very possible perhaps in correlation with Dawkins memetic interpretation of religiosity.


    Your martyr point is well taken and I'm embarrassed to not have thought that out before making the post, but still a martyr instinct can vary in intensity and will not guarantee death but will very likely result in fiercer combat than one who doesn't possess it in theory. Martyr can be substituted for Crusader perhaps.

    You summed up what Dawkins thoughts were on the plausibility of Natural Selection as a theory of the "Roots of Religion" nicely.

    Its a pretty complex concept and one that I will need to explore further. Perhaps Dawkins sees memes as the true root, but I think that Group Selection is a very powerful idea that could explain why Religion is so ubiquitous. Maybe the Atheist tribes were all killed off millennia ago, in several incarnations.

    Thank you both for the posts.

    "The most monstrous effect of the indoctrination of the young by religion, is not that they are mislead, but are trained to mislead themselves." - Me
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  6. #5  
    Time Lord
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    This may sound cheesy, but I think that in the age of face-to-face combat the martyr personality often stands a better chance of survival.

    Let's separate the religious aspect for now, by examining samurai. The samurai were martyr types, for sure, they were supposed to accept death in battle and even look forward to it, yet their philosophy was essentially martial. They weren't expecting reward in death, rather "the void" regardless of how they died. I think it interesting that while most folk did believe in reincarnation, the samurai generally rejected the notion or downplayed it.

    The schools taught fighters, first, to let go their selfish interest in survival. With that inhibition removed, the samurai were trained to take lethal initiative. Drawing the sword for example was a key study - all about whisking the sword out and cutting at the first hint of a fight. They trained to do this quick as thought, in a blur. For armed opponents, samurai were conditioned to rush into harm's range and strike first. Everything depended on seizing the initiative i.e. acting more the martyr than the other guy.

    The result was that any people with the slightest fear or hesitation in combat were dominated, chased, and cut down by bolder warriors. Samurai often prepared for battle but in fact performed slaughter on shocked victims.

    I've thought before that the bible, in some ways, functioned as a military manual. So monotheists arrived by different paths to formalised lethal initiative. Glory of God, paradise reward, whatever. The result was the same. That's what matters.
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  7. #6  
    Forum Freshman portcontrol7's Avatar
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    Interesting points Pong.

    Perhaps along that line of thought, that helps to explain the two seemingly opposite deities of the Old Testament vs. the New Testament. The Christians were in no position to be Holy Warriors like the Jews were under Roman domination, that would have been suicide. So they licked the boots and "turned the other cheek" until the rise of Constantine.

    "The most monstrous effect of the indoctrination of the young by religion, is not that they are mislead, but are trained to mislead themselves." - Me
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  8. #7  
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    The Edge
    Dawkins 'recently' (on his web-page, I think), gave 'group selection' as something he'd changed his mind about. He's on-board now, he says.

    He was lauding people who could 'change their minds'. Like, him.
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