Campus News

Evolutionary biologist will discuss topics of evolution, religion in spring Charter Lecture

Evolutionary biologist David Sloan Wilson will address the controversial topics of evolution and religion when he delivers the spring Charter Lecture at 4 p.m. March 2 in the Chapel on North Campus.

Wilson will speak on “Darwin’s Cathedral: Evolution, Religion and the Nature of Society,” the title of his latest book.

A professor of biology and anthropology at Binghamton University, Wilson studies humans in addition to other species. He is best known for his work on multi­level selection, in which the fundamental ingredients of evolution-variation, heritability and fitness differences-can exist at all levels of the biological hierarchy, from genes to ecosystems.

Darwin invoked group-level selection to explain the evolution of human morality and traits in non-human species that benefit the group at the expense of the ­individual. Multi-level selection was largely rejected in the 1960s, but has since been revived, with implications that extend the length and breadth of the biological and social sciences.

In Darwin’s Cathedral, Wilson views religion as the product of group selection at work. He argues that the religious impulse evolved because it helped make groups of humans comparatively more cohesive, more cooperative and more fraternal, and thus able to succeed in direct and indirect competition with other groups.

“I found the book to be personally fascinating,” says John Avise, Research Professor of Genetics and a member of the Charter Lecture committee. “David Sloan Wilson is certainly an important figure in the field of evolutionary biology.”

Wilson lectures widely on a diverse range of topics. He holds a Ph.D. from Michigan State University, where he taught before joining the State University of New York at Binghamton in 1988.

The Charter Lecture Series, established in 1988, was named to honor the high ideals expressed in the 1785 Charter that founded the University of Georgia as the first chartered state university in the United States. A committee of senior faculty members selects speakers of the first rank for the series.