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Comments by Donald

Go to: Jonathan Haidt: Religion, evolution, and the ecstasy of self-transcendence

Donald's Avatar Jump to comment 42 by Donald

I received Jonathan's Chapter 9 yesterday (thank you Jonathan) and it is rich with examples of human cooperation and has numerous scholarly footnotes.

I'm still in the process of reading, and find it an interesting, enjoyable and informative read, but already I can see that Richard Dawkins will find plenty of targets for scathing criticisms of this chapter if he reads it.

The essential proposition of the chapter is that (at least in the case of humans) genes for groupish (as opposed to selfish) behaviour have been selected by group selection.

The distinction between cooperation (benefiting the group at no personal expense) and altruism (benefitting the group at personal expense) is blurred. The former could be endorsed even by RD if the term "group selection" were to be discreetly replaced with alternative terminology. The latter is the tricky one, and I didn't see yet any decisive example, argument or reference to research, that might alter the opinion of those who criticise "group selection". To establish the latter, one has to show that the net advantage to genes when occasionally losing individual vehicles is more than compensated by increased number of those vehicles because the group is larger (and/or that surviving individual vehicles have increased fertility). Obviously possible in principle, but one has to show it in practice.

(My guess is that it will eventually be shown,)

Thu, 22 Mar 2012 00:31:51 UTC | #929477

Go to: The God issue: New science of religion

Donald's Avatar Jump to comment 18 by Donald

Meanwhile, society is gradually learning to live without religion by replicating its success at binding people together. This is something secularists ought to take seriously. Only by understanding what religion is and is not can we ever hope to move on

Since the dawn of history, people like ourselves (intelligent non-believers) have been in a minority and observing with dismay the majority. There is a statement attributed to Seneca or Lucretius:

Religion is regarded by the common people as true, by the wise as false, and by rulers as useful

Regardless of the attribution, it comes from the Greeks before the Jesus myth got going.

I think this means that religion has a deep grip on large swathes of humanity and is not simply going to fade away if only we can get our superior understanding spread around a bit more. We should indeed study religions, not merely disparage the ridiculous elements. If anyone thinks pointing out the unreality of their beliefs, or lack of evidence, will do the trick, they should consider Scientology or the Mormons!

Tue, 20 Mar 2012 22:24:07 UTC | #929108

Go to: Jonathan Haidt: Religion, evolution, and the ecstasy of self-transcendence

Donald's Avatar Jump to comment 28 by Donald

I liked Jonathan's talk.

The dispute over "group selection" has intrigued me since I encountered it.

No-one disputes that living in groups can be beneficial, and I think everyone agrees that:

Evolution is the differential survival of competing genes.

Natural selection is the differential selection of individuals to contribute genes into the future.

Also:

The reproductive success of genes is the product of the success of the individual and the success of the group.

So I'm not sure why there is so much antagonism to the term "group selection".

If groups have differing success at propagating the genes within them, why can't we call that "group selection"?

Is it merely terminology? Is it fear that someone will mis-read the term as meaning that groups replicate?

I don't think it is merely terminology. I think it is an attempt to ward off claims that groups can explain altruism. And Jonathan seems to me to be hinting that they can explain some kinds of altruism. I look forward to reading his Chapter 9.

Tue, 20 Mar 2012 21:31:26 UTC | #929100

Go to: Morality without 'Free Will'

Donald's Avatar Jump to comment 113 by Donald

The issue of "free will" seems to puzzle a lot of people, and arouse copious argument.

I suspect that a large part of the problem is that different people have different internal meanings for "free will".

For some, if the universe is deterministic (the clockwork universe view), then it seems to them that free will cannot possibly exist since any decisions made by the "free will" was actually pre-determined and (by their definition) not free will at all.

For them, "free will" seems to be whatever human thought is not determined by "clockwork". It thus requires dualism, or quantum mysticism, or something supernatural.

That view was one that I think Dan Dennett had in his sights when he wrote "Freedom Evolves".

For others, free will is compatible with determinism.

Within both categories there are numerous variants.

“Free will” is also conflated with “freedom”. But to keep my post simple and in the interests of ensuring variety in this thread, I'll offer my view on “free will”:

Free will obviously exists. You agree it applies to you, right? I mean, you aren't a robot are you? (I exclude Zara, because he has previously announced that he is a Zombie.)

And, a la Dennett, if we can establish that free will exists even in a deterministic universe, then all arguments about whether free actually exists must surely be over.

So here is my brilliant insight. You will be disappointed.

Free will is personal will. (Sam’s “intentionality” is probably the same idea). That is, it is individual decision making which is not determined by genetic makeup, and is not determined by social pressures.

I told you, you would be disappointed.

So here is some explanation.

Descriptions of the universe range from the small to the large, from atoms to galaxies. At each level, it is essential that some detail is lost. To describe a galaxy in terms of each atom would not only be impossible from a practical point of view, it would also be exponentially unwieldy, because the description would be larger than the galaxy itself. Useful explanations are simpler than the thing they describe.

So it is with humans, their behaviour, their thoughts and actions.

Innate behaviour is determined by atoms doing their thing in accordance with the DNA. To explain that requires multiple levels of description - atoms, proteins, micromachine molecules, cells, intercell signals, organs, etc. At each level, detail is lost, and descriptive power gained.

Anyway, when a human gets to interact with other humans, their innate behaviour includes not only recognition of other humans, but also reactions to the behaviour of other humans. As we develop, this reaction includes obedience to other humans.

In other words we are engineered (by evolution) to have recognition of other humans, and react to them.

Also, as we grow up, we develop thoughts, and “will”.

Thoughts, about ourselves and the world around us, and others, require the loss of detail. They are approximations, and often horribly inaccurate as a result.

As we grow up, language develops, and that includes mechanisms for other humans to instruct us. I.e. we are engineered (by evolution) to respond to certain inputs via language from others, mediated by thoughts, to do things. This can only happen if thoughts are not only responses to internal biochemistry (which they are routinely) but also INPUTS (to some extent) to behaviour.

I’ve gone on too long AGAIN (memo to self: STOP writing essays in comment threads!!)

Anyway, to cut a long essay short, the claim is:

o) Most of our behaviour is innate

o) Our innate behavour is arranged (by evolution) to allow for modulation by thoughts

o) Thus thoughts can be input to actions

o) Yes, I know that experiments show that many apparent “decisions of thought” are preceded by neurological signals from lower levels, but there are also clear cases where an instruction from another human is obeyed, proving that thoughts can sometimes be the decisive input.

o) Other humans supply some of our thoughts

o) Our decisions are the result of a combination of our history of inputs from other humans (including reading), and our innate (genetic) construction.

So, the key point for the thread is that “free will” is the input of thoughts into behaviour, where such input is the result of the history of inputs from other humans, combined with innate behavour from genes, and is decisively INDIVIDUAL, rather then common to all (derived from genes) or derived from instruction (obeying societal norms).

It seems to each human that they have free will. They do, but it would be better described as “personal will”, and for this thread, it should be regarded as

Memo to self; STOP making posts in comment threads!!

Tue, 31 May 2011 23:56:45 UTC | #632834

Go to: Is Christian morality psychopathic?

Donald's Avatar Jump to comment 38 by Donald

Sam Harris is brilliant.

His "pyschopathic morality" portrait is much stronger than WLCraig's claim that "God defines morality", and Craig's implausible assertion that God is kind, loving etc.

Tue, 24 May 2011 23:12:21 UTC | #630484

Go to: Religious discrimination?

Donald's Avatar Jump to comment 56 by Donald

Could it be reasonably and humanely argued that it is simply cost-effective to select for further examination those people who (though usually innocent like most people selected for screening) are statistically more likely to be terrorists on the basis of the god they pray to?

Perfectly reasonable. And to assist the Police, I suggest the law requires all Atheists to wear a yellow star.

Tue, 24 May 2011 22:13:33 UTC | #630459

Go to: Topic of Cancer

Donald's Avatar Jump to comment 61 by Donald

... Your foes are my foes.

Richard Dawkins

To Richard:

Hitch's biggest foe right now is cancer. I have two suggestions:

(1) Add a box on the front page of RD.net listing cancer research sites that RD.net regards as good recipients for donations stimulated by his plight.

(2) You are known to Craig Venter. Perhaps you could suggest that Venter offers to sequence Hitch's good cells and some cancer cells. There just might be some useful info obtained to guide chemo options. For Venter there may be publicity value in choosing to sequence public figures, and, Venter is an atheist.

To Hitch:

Your writing and fighting spirit is an inspiration to us all. Thank you.

Thu, 05 Aug 2010 14:22:27 UTC | #496182

Go to: An evolutionary fights back

Donald's Avatar Jump to comment 32 by Donald

I liked this article.

Dawkins is getting some good publicity in Oz (a welcome change from the focus on the website mismanagement - BTW, why is the "latest comments" disabled?).

The newspaper highlighted one Dawkins comment "Why would anyone push for ignorance? An active dislike of knowledge is a very weird thing."

I was reminded of the perceptive comment attributed to Seneca
"Religion is regarded by the common people as true, by the wise as false, and by the rulers as useful".

The rulers, and the clerics, don't want knowledge that their myths are not real.

Tue, 02 Mar 2010 23:55:00 UTC | #446072

Go to: Islamic scholar Tahir ul-Qadri issues terrorism fatwa

Donald's Avatar Jump to comment 42 by Donald

"Well, infidels by definition ARE NOT innocent" - Comment #465881 by Colwyn Abernathy
"Have you got chapter and verse for that?" - Comment #465896 by PERSON

I give a few I picked below.
Note that a muslim who is friends with an infidel is also NOT innocent.

The Koran also treats separately suicide and martyrdom (martyrdom is dying while fighting infidels).

So ul-Qadri's statement (as reported in English) that Islam forbids the massacre of innocent citizens and suicide bombings is profoundly un-impressive to me. I know Islam forbids that. It all hinges on the definition of innocent and suicide.

What makes matters worse is the official way by which one becomes a Muslim, which is to state "Mohammed is the final messenger of god". The Koran (dictated by Mohammed and declared by Mohammed to be the direct word of god) is clear - Sam Harris is right - everyone should read it. There isn't much theological wiggle room.

So will the main effect of ul-Qadri's 600 pages be:
to steer other muslims to re-interpret Islam,
to steer politicians into thinking they should now be a little bit more receptive towards Islam?

Of course I welcome ul-Qadri's attempt to begin a reformation of Islam if he is sincere, but I'm not convinced there is anything of substance here.

I draw more comfort from the council of ex-muslims (http://www.councilofexmuslims.com). Now that is a movement worth supporting.

-------
Here are a few verses I picked, for example:
2:89 [...] The curse of Allah is on disbelievers.
2:99 Verily We have revealed unto thee clear tokens, and only miscreants will disbelieve in them
2:254 [...] The disbelievers, they are the wrong-doers.


Then there is what Allah will do to them, for example:
2:39 But they who disbelieve, and deny Our revelations, such are rightful Peoples of the Fire. They will abide therein.
2:90 Evil is that for which they sell their souls: that they should disbelieve in that which Allah hath revealed, grudging that Allah should reveal of His bounty unto whom He will of His slaves. They have incurred anger upon anger. For disbelievers is a shameful doom.


Plus there are the Koranic instructions not to cooperate or be friends with infidels, for example:
60:1 O ye who believe! Choose not My enemy and your enemy for allies. Do ye give them friendship when they disbelieve in that truth which hath come unto you, driving out the messenger and you because ye believe in Allah, your Lord? If ye have come forth to strive in My way and seeking My good pleasure, (show them not friendship). Do ye show friendship unto them in secret, when I am Best Aware of what ye hide and what ye proclaim? And whosoever doeth it among you, he verily hath strayed from the right way.

And there is plenty more where that came from.

Tue, 02 Mar 2010 23:39:00 UTC | #446065

Go to: An Apology

Donald's Avatar Jump to comment 139 by Donald

Richard,

I am impressed by your willingness to apologise when things go wrong (a huge strength IMO), and I am glad to hear of the modification you propose (retain searchable read-only old forum). However...

You say "OF COURSE the vile comments I quoted were not made on our forum, and it was never my intention to suggest that they were, or that it was these comments that had led to its closure", but your outrage statement did say "the forum has in fact been closed to comments (not taken down) sooner than the 30 days alluded to in the letter. This is purely and simply because of the over-the-top hostility of the comments that were immediately sent in".

I am very glad to hear the explicit acknowledgement that the 'vile' comments were NOT made on RD.net, as the media and feedback to me from friends showed that the world at large had assumed they were.

I'm less sure about the "never my intention to suggest that the comments had led to its closure" as your original wording does seem to me to be fairly clear, but it is also clear to me that you had not got full information at the time of posting the "outrage" comment.

Also I remain uneasy about the administration of the website because of the chronology provided by Topsy, backed by evidence such as the deleted thread partially saved by a reader, and also uneasy as a result of the credible claims by several volunteer moderators to have been explicitly misled and then censored, plus an extraordinary claim that administrator logs were explicitly edited to remove evidence of the deletion of entire moderator accounts, including tens of thousands of posts.

Nevertheless I wish the remainder of your Australian tour well, and I hope that when you return you will be able to provide some additional clarifications about the fate of past posts by the deleted moderators (will they be restored as part of the read-only old forum?) and of the operation of the new forum.

I remain a strong supporter of your outstanding efforts to educate people and dispell damaging false beliefs.

I hope that the website can recover its reputation in due course - perhaps it would help if Josh and Andrew were to follow your excellent example by issuing apologies for any misjudgements they might now think they made?

Best wishes.

Sun, 28 Feb 2010 23:12:00 UTC | #445074

Go to: What Is Time? One Physicist Hunts for the Ultimate Theory

Donald's Avatar Jump to comment 10 by Donald

Sean Carroll also gave a TED talk:
http://www.ted.com/talks/sean_carroll_on_the_arrow_of_time.html

Interesting and thought-provoking talk.

Sun, 28 Feb 2010 20:22:00 UTC | #444912

Go to: Pacific under tsunami threat after massive 8.8 quake strikes Chile

Donald's Avatar Jump to comment 16 by Donald

I had a look to see if Doctors Without Borders (Médecins sans Frontières) or the International Red Cross were asking for disaster-relief funds for the Chilean earthquake. Not so far.

That implies the eathquake effect is not as bad as Haiti. That's good of course, but it put me in mind of the Haiti disaster and the Non-Believers Giving Aid set up by the RDFRS. I had wished to donate through NBGA but decided instead to make direct donation to MSF because it increased the value of my donation compared to giving through NBGA.

On January 17, I received a reply from Elisabeth Cornwell to my email about UK tax issues affecting the NBGA (I am sure I wasn't the only UK person raising this issue, but she was kind enough to respond to me individually).

She said the RDFRS would try to set up a page so that UK donations could have the tax reclaim handled electronically (and therefore cost-effectively). I was pleased to receive this reply, and I note that the NBGA page now has a section asking UK donors to send cheques rather than PayPal donations so that the tax reclaim can be made.

However, it is now over a month later, and the NBGA pages still do not provide for electronic tax efficient UK donations.

Yet there is a time-consuming fiasco over the RDF forum, including vapourware claims of a new and better forum to come, whilst the existing forum is locked, and respectable people are deeply upset over the announced deletion of the entire existing forum data. (I have decided not to make further donations to RDFRS as a result of this fiasco, although I would be willing make future donations via NBGA.)

I can't help wondering - is there a misjudgment of priorities within RDFRS?

Sat, 27 Feb 2010 20:44:00 UTC | #444666

Go to: Right wing slams White House for meeting with atheist ‘hate groups’

Donald's Avatar Jump to comment 31 by Donald

The linked article is on USA today which has a comments facility, so Obama-supportive comments can also be made there (he could do with them).

Does anyone have any clue what on earth monoape is talking about? - 30. Comment #464340 by Steven Mading
There is an open letter containing explanations on http://www.rationalskepticism.org/rdf/

Sat, 27 Feb 2010 08:32:00 UTC | #444493

Go to: The godless guru

Donald's Avatar Jump to comment 1776 by Donald

Last night I posted a comment on this thread. It was polite, relevant to RD.net, contained no insults and no accusations, but it raised a question about the forum deletion and suggested an additional reason for some people being so upset at the proposed change.

It was deleted within minutes.

In addition to the sacking of the forum moderators, there now seems to be silent censorship of any reference to the forum change. The deletion of the forum and the prevention of discussion about it, reminds me of a certain religious forum in Scotland...

The purpose of this comment is simply to record my dismay at the introduction of silent censorship.

This comment is less polite than my previous one. I wonder how long this one will last...

Fri, 26 Feb 2010 19:15:00 UTC | #444360

Go to: The Richard Dawkins - Thunderf00t discussion

Donald's Avatar Jump to comment 126 by Donald

I looked back at my comment #446795 and Richard Dawkins’ reply.

I now think I made the mistake of not realising the meaning of the phrase “group selection” as used by Richard.

I had been taking the phrase to mean:
group selection = different groups give rise to different reproduction success
(so gene reproduction = genetic fitness of individual multiplied by group fitness)

The question that interested me was how much influence group formation had had on evolution. In other words a debate about whether group formation has been critical throughout the evolution of animals, or merely a minor influence.

And hence also a debate about whether it is essential to include consideration of group formation in evolutionary models, or whether good enough answers can be obtained from simply tracking the gene frequencies in the total population disregarding the distribution of those genes amongst any groups that might exist.

Of course, I was aware that supporters of group selection thought it could explain altruism, but given my (faulty?) understanding of the phrase, I thought they would need to be explicit about that as a separate claim from mere group selection.

However, amongst the protagonists in the decades-old “group selection” dispute, the phrase seems to mean:
group selection = differential advantage for a group resulting in genes for altruism appearing

In other words, anyone saying they believe in group selection
is liable to be misinterpreted as saying they believe in group selection.

It seems to me that Richard is saying group selection is a delusion: when altruism arises it does not do so merely because of group selection - there would have to be additional specialised circumstances. That makes perfect sense to me.

Now I can make sense of why Richard rejected my use of group selection in the comment sequence:

A more balanced view is that a reasonable model for the reproduction rate of an individual (statistically speaking) is the relative reproduction success within the group multiplied by the relative success of the group. […] For example, a small jungle-dwelling group that relies on ancient hunter-gatherer survival culture would probably be barely able to maintain their population, but a larger group that cut down some forest, and replaced it with farmland and a town has (ancestorally speaking) had a population explosion. […] If there is a contribution to the different lifestyles made by group-forming genes, then the genes for group-formation would eventually dominate in the total population. […] I think the evolutionary process could reasonably be called "group selection" in some sense, even if that term is tainted by earlier misunderstandings. - Donald
Nobody disputes that living in a group is different from living alone, and that an individual may benefit from living in a group. But that is NOT group selection. - Richard

Sun, 17 Jan 2010 23:58:00 UTC | #432423

Go to: Monkeys go out on a limb to show gratitude

Donald's Avatar Jump to comment 6 by Donald

Nice piece of research.

I wonder if future research might look at the question of reputation as well as reciprocity.

In humans, as well as reciprocity, there is another mechanism that motivates generosity. That is: if a generous act is witnessed by others in the community, the reputation of the benefactor goes up, and the chances that he/she will enter into mutual reciprocal beneficial exchanges with third parties are improved, and there may be some benefit in respect of position in the social hierarchy.

I wonder if reputation is a mechanism that exists in species other than humans?

Sun, 17 Jan 2010 23:38:00 UTC | #432416

Go to: Atheist Richard Dawkins aids Haiti, touts God-free giving

Donald's Avatar Jump to comment 17 by Donald

I was pleased to see the Non-Believers-Giving-Aid initiative. I would like my charitable giving to be visible as non-religious. The religious often think that charitable giving is primarily driven by religious belief, and I would like to counter this widespread false assumption by making my charitable donations more visible as Non-Religious.

However, as a UK taxpayer, I chose not to use the Non-Believers-Giving-Aid page.
The reason is that there is no explicit treatment of UK tax reclaim. In the UK, it is expected that the charity will claim an additional 28 for every 100 donated by UK taxpayers. If I donate via the RD.net page as it currently stands, a potential 28 from the UK government goes to waste.

I donated directly to MSF instead.

I have emailed Josh about this, in the hope that he might be able to make improvements to all the donation pages on RD.net so that UK donations can be uplifted by the 28%.

Sun, 17 Jan 2010 22:46:00 UTC | #432397

Go to: The Richard Dawkins - Thunderf00t discussion

Donald's Avatar Jump to comment 84 by Donald


Groups do not send genetic information into the future. Individuals do. - Kiwi

It's not quite that simple. Yes, the gene information is in the individuals. But the composition of the group - the aggregate of the genes in the group - is also information, in the form of gene frequencies. So there is information in the group in addition to the information in the individuals. If groups are of unequal size this means that a mathematical treatment of gene progagation over evolutionary time has to include a factor for group size (= group success). Gene frequency in total population = relative frequency in group multiplied by group size.
Or in other words, gene success = relative success within group multipled by relative success between groups.

Mon, 04 Jan 2010 00:50:00 UTC | #428197

Go to: The Richard Dawkins - Thunderf00t discussion

Donald's Avatar Jump to comment 78 by Donald

My use of the word "curve" was intended to imply that your questions were subtle, well "delivered", so to speak, and even a little difficult, especially for a non-biologist like myself.
If that is the case, then please put it down to slight transatlantic differences in expression, or, my own misunderstanding of the usual meaning of that expression.

Incidentally, my original post was not phrased as a question directly to Richard. I am indeed grateful to him for replying at all.

[EDIT] And thank you for your reply. It has caused me to reflect on my reply to you and remove the bit about "huge bat".

Mon, 04 Jan 2010 00:05:00 UTC | #428179

Go to: The Richard Dawkins - Thunderf00t discussion

Donald's Avatar Jump to comment 76 by Donald

j.mills:
"for numerous groups to exist, all of them would have to already contain your proposed 'group-promoting' genes"

Not so. There could be a variety of genes, more and less successful at forming groups, starting with almost no group-forming power. Over evolutionary time, populations that formed groups, if they were more successful at gene propagation, would increase the group-promoting genes. For example, small fish, over evolutionary time, evolved behaviours to form shoals. This reduces their loss from predation and helps them find food-rich areas. I would guess the shoal-promoting genes took some time to evolve and there were groups that formed far-less-than-optimal shoals initially but were better than nothing, before a sophisticated shoal-forming gene complex evolved.

"On what then are they 'competing'?"
For territory, food, survival. The usual.

"What differentiates them"
Their ability to operate coherently as a group.

"what is 'selected'?"
The genes in the most numerous groups after evolutionary time.

"What is a 'successful' group? One that reproduces itself, or one that gets larger, or one that simply endures,..."
Usually NOT reproduction (although that could occur).
Getting larger yes. Displacing other groups from the best territory, enduring if others are dying yes.

Sun, 03 Jan 2010 23:46:00 UTC | #428176

Go to: The Richard Dawkins - Thunderf00t discussion

Donald's Avatar Jump to comment 74 by Donald

He makes it look so easy.
Yes, the Good Professor can still hit the curve ball. Right out of the park, in fact. - SS

Don't know about curve ball. My questions were straight.

Sun, 03 Jan 2010 23:24:00 UTC | #428170

Go to: The Richard Dawkins - Thunderf00t discussion

Donald's Avatar Jump to comment 73 by Donald

Do humans today have a genetic component to their tendancy to establish hierarchial groups? If it is even partially genetic, then I think the evolutionary process could reasonably be called "group selection" in some sense, even if that term is tainted by earlier misunderstandings. - Donald
But that is NOT group selection. - Richard

Perhaps I could have been a little clearer. By "group selection in some sense", I meant that selection pressure acting differentially on groups according to the collective behaviour of the group, would affect the eventual gene pool of the population.

I did not, of course, mean that groups reproduce or that the selection works mainly by groups dying.

Sun, 03 Jan 2010 23:15:00 UTC | #428168

Go to: The Richard Dawkins - Thunderf00t discussion

Donald's Avatar Jump to comment 71 by Donald


If, say, living in a forest benefits individual survival, you wouldn't talk about 'forest selection' would you?

No, because the forest is not part of the changes being examined. (It might be different if the forest was part of a co-evolution of animal and forest, and simultaneous evolutionary changes in the forest genes and animal genes were of interest.)

The group is just an aspect of the environment, like a forest or a desert, in which the individual survives and reproduces.

This is a crucial point. If the individual's genes vary in their capability to create or promote groups, then the groups are part of the evolving system, not part of the environment. Is it right to say "The group is just an aspect of the environment." when the group is formed by the individuals under (presumably) some influence of their genes?

Where am I going wrong?

Sun, 03 Jan 2010 22:21:00 UTC | #428160

Go to: The Richard Dawkins - Thunderf00t discussion

Donald's Avatar Jump to comment 70 by Donald


Why, then, do you talk about 'group selection', when all you mean is that group living benefits individuals - Richard

Because it is useful to understand that benefit to the individual came from the collective efforts of the group, and that natural selection will result in some groups thriving and others struggling.

Once one accepts that group-formation is of crucial benefit to individuals, then it becomes helpful to consider the relative success of groups, doesn't it?

I understand there will always be a complete view of the evolution process in terms of the gene pool in the population, and the reproductive success of individuals.

I see the situation in terms of the following metaphor. We know that water is made from atoms and we can understand the properties of water in terms of the individual atoms if necessary. But at the atom level it's rather hard to understand why microwaves are so effective at heating water. It's easier at the molecular level.

I assumed something similar in the genetic evolution of hominds. Everything can be explained at the gene and individual level. But some things are easier to explain by considering the group behaviour and relative success of groups. I hope I am not speaking out of place here - if I have a simplistic or mistaken view here, please accept my apology and put me right.

Sun, 03 Jan 2010 22:07:00 UTC | #428157

Go to: The Richard Dawkins - Thunderf00t discussion

Donald's Avatar Jump to comment 65 by Donald

(I alleviated the sound quality problem by turning the volume up for TF and down for RD.)

I heard RD say some gentler things about group selection than in previous material, and I felt I got a clearer view of RD's views on the issue, so for me, the videos were worth listening to.

Here is one RD quote "I'm not that keen on explanations which work on a group level. So if we're looking for a survival-value answer for "why do we have the psychological predispositions to religion?" I would not look first for something like a social bonding mechanism. That might be true, but I would look first for something that works at the level of the individual rather than at the level of the group. What is it that benefits the individual, rather than the group. Really because groups are not things that reproduce."

Fine, but I think that response underplays the role of groups in promoting reproductive success of individuals. A more balanced view is that a reasonable model for the reproduction rate of an individual (statistically speaking) is the relative reproduction success within the group multiplied by the relative success of the group.

For example, a small jungle-dwelling group that relies on ancient hunter-gatherer survival culure would probably be barely able to maintain their population, but a larger group that cut down some forest, and replaced it with farmland and a town has (ancestorally speaking) had a population explosion.

No matter how good your genes for everything else are, if you are stuck in a jungle village, you probably won't propagate as many as a town-dweller with slightly poorer everything-else genes but who has fit-into-the-group genes.

If there is a contribution to the different lifestyles made by group-forming genes, then the genes for group-formation would eventually dominate in the total population.

Do humans today have a genetic component to their tendancy to establish hierarchial groups? If it is even partially genetic, then I think the evolutionary process could reasonably be called "group selection" in some sense, even if that term is tainted by earlier misunderstandings.

I was grateful to Thunderf00t for trying to get some more thoughts from RD on this topic.

Sun, 03 Jan 2010 20:56:00 UTC | #428139

Go to: Danish police shoot intruder at cartoonist's home

Donald's Avatar Jump to comment 30 by Donald

Thank goodness he only drew a cartoon about the religion of peace, otherwise he could be in real trouble.

Incidentally, what does the phrase Dar-al-Harb mean?

Sat, 02 Jan 2010 15:23:00 UTC | #427673

Go to: UPDATED 1/1/10: Last minute offer! A HUGE Thank You! The last day of our fundraising drive

Donald's Avatar Jump to comment 100 by Donald

Talking of tax, Richard...

I am in the UK and was unsure how to contribute via the fundraiser page in a tax-efficient way.
The paypal link from the fundraiser page was US oriented, and invited contributions in dollars - with no clear guidance about UK gift aid.

As you know, US donors have to reclaim the tax themselves, so RDFRS does not need to do anything, but for UK donations part of the tax reclaim (the "standard rate" part) is reclaimed by the charity.

I made a donation in US dollars for simplicity, but for future fundraiser campaign pages, could you ask Josh to provide a fundraiser page for UK donors, so they can give in pounds, and be confident that RDFRS(UK) will reclaim the tax. (But not by using a certain third party commercial service as they take 5% of the gross!).

Fri, 01 Jan 2010 13:13:00 UTC | #427399

Go to: UPDATED 1/1/10: Last minute offer! A HUGE Thank You! The last day of our fundraising drive

Donald's Avatar Jump to comment 96 by Donald

Congratulations again, Richard.

Well over 100K without your own matching contribution.

I'm not sure why you were attaching so much importance to the figure not-counting Todd Stiefel's pledge contribution.

I took him to be an independent benefactor, not part of RDFRS.
Is he a trustee, or otherwise related to RDFRS?

Fri, 01 Jan 2010 10:39:00 UTC | #427360

Go to: UPDATED 1/1/10: Last minute offer! A HUGE Thank You! The last day of our fundraising drive

Donald's Avatar Jump to comment 80 by Donald

Congratulations Richard and RDFRS - over 150K !!.

I note that (from my reading of Richard's match pledges) the contribution without Richard's own match contribution was itself well over 100K, so the original goal can be said to be achieved in all interpretations.

Happy New Year.

Thu, 31 Dec 2009 23:19:00 UTC | #427269

Go to: UPDATED 1/1/10: Last minute offer! A HUGE Thank You! The last day of our fundraising drive

Donald's Avatar Jump to comment 45 by Donald

My donation made (just in time!).

You call this the Richard Dawkins Foundation for Reason and Science, but it obviously should be called the Richard Dawkins Foundation for Atheism. This website is almost entirely atheism; "Reason and Science" is added on almost as a footnote. The "Reason and Science" that IS discussed here is usually little more than a trojan horse for militant atheism (for instance, telling us ad nauseam that no designer is necessary).
It seems unlikely that if "Reason and Science" truly is the "Primum Movens" of this joint, then 95% of the time you should find yourselves laughing at religion or patting yourselves on the back for being atheists. - Comment #445696 by LogicalSimplicity

There is some truth in this. Lots of the articles and comments here are anti-religion. But it is only a partial truth, because the strongest evidence that god and religious dogma is man-made-up bullshit comes mostly from science, and we all wish to promote better understanding of science in the world, so that other people can see what we see. Richard has written only one anti-religion book. The rest are about science. Have you read "The Greatest Show on Earth - The Evidence for Evolution"? It's a book about the work of thousands of scientists, the evidence collected, and rational conclusions reached.

Please note the following paragraph from the page: http://richarddawkins.net/aboutThisWebsite
Two websites: RichardDawkinsFoundation.org and RichardDawkins.net
Originally it was all one website, but RichardDawkins.net has now been split into two parts. One is a website for The Richard Dawkins Foundation for Reason and Science, which is a non-profit group with charitable status in the US and UK. This website is more for current events and discussions.

The fundraiser money will be foundation money and will be spent in accordance with the mission statement on page: http://richarddawkinsfoundation.org/foundation,ourMission

The truth is that the operation you're running here is really no better than religion. Whenever I articulate this opinion, my posts are infallibly removed -- thus proving my point that you are a load of faith-based cultists, who can't talk rationally, and need to cover up disagreement. - Comment #445696 by LogicalSimplicity
I disagree with all this. What goes on here is open, not a cult, and contributes to an increase in human knowledge. Your posts in the other thread were not removed, merely re-positioned in the "Alternate Comment Thread", because they were judged to be merely disruptive and insulting, with no redeeming content.
Are you a new poster, or an old "friend" with a new alias?

Thu, 31 Dec 2009 13:18:00 UTC | #427147