X-Message-Number: 21886
Date: Thu, 5 Jun 2003 09:40:59 -0400
From: Thomas Donaldson <>
Subject: CryoNet #21863 - #21871

To David Stodolsky: 
In one sense I am guilty of the same sin you are: I give references
but do not discuss them at all, as if the mere reference would be
enough to convince someone.

So I will say a bit more about "group selection" and why many 
evolutionists now think poorly of it, as I understand it.

First, like most such ideas, group selection isn't fully true or
false. Special situations can exist in which something that at
least looks like it might apply. However it suffers from one
major problem: just how is it that natural selection can apply
to groups rather than individuals? I am talking about genes here,
not beliefs or customs, and in virtually all human cases yes, 
groups may be selected against, but NOT genetically. When we
consider animals and plants in general, there simply is no handle
by which selection can choose among groups. Sure, some group
of animals may all share a particular gene, but that's far more
easily explained in terms of selection against holders of that
gene than selection against a group. 

It's also important to point out several other ways in which
selection might APPEAR to work for or against a group, but
really does not. Families, both extended and restricted to 
husband, wife, and children, usually share genes. Selection for
that gene will look, again, like selection for a group. Not 
only that, but it's exactly that sharing of genes which can
mean that one member of a family (for instance) may have no
children but support other members, with positive effects on
the number of descendants with the gene, even if not the progeny
of that family member. The classical instance of that kind
of selection is provided by the communal insects, ants, bees,
and termites, most of whom are sterile but work to support
their queens (or kings and queens for termites). In human 
societies, rewards to the relatives of someone who sacrifices
him/herself for a group will promote such sacrifices: once more
an apparent group selection which turns out on analysis not
to be such at all.

The major point here, however, is that in order to work on
groups selection must somehow have a way of distinguishing
them AS GROUPS, rather than as a set of individuals. At
some future time, we may indeed INVENT ways to do exactly
that (not that it's likely to have very good results!), but
that is an entirely separate question. Just how do you claim
that selection distinguishes a GROUP rather than simply
individuals with particular genes? (And note, for instance,
that membership in a group need not imply and often doesn't
imply that the member shares any but the genes which make
us human with other members of the group).

So, David Stodolsky, over to you.

              Best wishes and long long life for all,

                    Thomas Donaldson

PS: Incidentally, for what it's worth, I learned what I know
about evolution not from Dawkins but from the people I cited,
and others: Hamilton, GC Williams, Simpson, and others.

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