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David Sloan Wilson

David Sloan Wilson
Alma materUniversity of Rochester (B.A.)
Michigan State University (Ph.D.)
Known forDarwin's Cathedral
Evolution for Everyone
Scientific career
FieldsEvolutionary biology, anthropology
InstitutionsHarvard University
University of Washington
University of the Witwatersrand
University of California, Davis
Michigan State University
Binghamton University
Evolution Institute
Doctoral studentsJonathan Gottschall[1]
InfluencedJonathan Haidt[citation needed]

David Sloan Wilson (born 1949) is an American evolutionary biologist and a Distinguished Professor of Biological Sciences and Anthropology at Binghamton University. He is a son of the author Sloan Wilson and co-founder of the Evolution Institute.

Academic career

Wilson graduated with a B.A. with high honors in 1971 from the University of Rochester. He then completed his Ph.D. in 1975 at Michigan State University. He then worked as a Research Fellow in the Biological Laboratories at Harvard University from 1974-1975. He then held a dual position as a Research Associate in Zoology at the University of the Witwatersrand and the University of Washington from 1975 to 1976. After this he was a Senior Research Officer at the South African National Research Institute for the Mathematical Sciences from 1976 to 1977.

Wilson moved back to the United States and held an Assistant Professorship in the Division of Environmental Studies at the University of California, Davis, from 1977 to 1980. He then served as an Assistant and then Associate Professor at the Kellogg Biological Station and Department of Zoology of Michigan State University from 1980 to 1988. Wilson was then promoted to full Professor of Biological Sciences at the State University of New York, Binghamton, in 1988. He was then given a joint appointment as Professor of Anthropology in 2001.

Wilson started the Evolutionary Studies (EvoS) program at Binghamton University to provide a program that unifies diverse disciplines under the theory of evolution. Students in the program take evolution-themed courses in a variety of disciplines including biology, anthropology, psychology, bioengineering, philosophy, religion and the psychology of religion. There is also a required course called "Current Topics in Evolutionary Studies", where students attend weekly seminars with a discussion followed afterward. SUNY New Paltz has started a similar program.


Wilson is a prominent proponent of the concept of group selection (also known as multi-level selection) in evolution. He and Elliott Sober proposed a framework called multilevel selection theory, which incorporates the more orthodox approach of gene-level selection and individual selection, in their book Unto Others. This framework argues that while genes serve as the means by which organisms' designs are transmitted across generations, individuals and groups are vehicles for those genes and both are arenas for genes to act on. Indeed, genes themselves can be affected by selection, not just because of their effects on the design of their vehicle (the organism) but also because of their effect on the functioning of the DNA on which they reside. Hence the notion of multilevel selection. Wilson has also coined the concept of a trait-group, a group of organisms linked not permanently as a group but having a shared fate due to interactions that they have.

Wilson has described himself as an "enthusiastic proponent" of the extended evolutionary synthesis.[2]


  • Unto Others (1998) co-edited with Elliott Sober. (Proposition of a framework called multilevel selection theory, which incorporates the more orthodox approach of gene-level selection and individual selection).
  • Darwin's Cathedral (2002) (Religion as a multi-level adaptation).
  • Rethinking the Theoretical Foundation of Sociobiology (2006) co-edited with E. O. Wilson
  • Evolution for Everyone: How Darwin's Theory Can Change the Way We Think About Our Lives (2007)
  • The Neighborhood Project: Using Evolution to Improve My City, One Block at a Time (2011)
  • Pathological Altruism (2011) co-edited with Barbara Oakley, Ariel Knafo, and Guruprasad Madhavan.
  • Does Altruism Exist?: Culture, Genes, and the Welfare of Others (2015)
  • The Literary Animal: Evolution and the Nature of Narrative (2005) co-edited with Jonathan Gottschall
  • This View of Life Completing the Darwinian Revolution, Pantheon Books, [2019]

Wilson's book Darwin's Cathedral proposes that religion is a multi-level adaptation, a product of cultural evolution developed through a process of multi-level selection for more cooperative and cohesive groups. His book Evolution for Everyone: How Darwin's Theory Can Change the Way We Think About Our Lives attempts to give an introduction to evolution for a broad audience, detailing the various ways in which evolution can be applied to everyday affairs. There is also a class at Binghamton University that is called "Evolution for Everyone", and students are required to read the book as part of the class.

Wilson's book for a general audience is The Neighborhood Project: Using Evolution to Improve My City, One Block at a Time, published in August 2011. Wilson also co-edited Pathological Altruism published by Oxford University Press in November 2011 with Barbara Oakley, Ariel Knafo, and Guruprasad Madhavan.

Wilson and his co-author E. O. Wilson have become well known[citation needed] for the quote, "Selfishness beats altruism within groups. Altruistic groups beat selfish groups. Everything else is commentary". This quotation appeared in their paper, "Rethinking the Theoretical Foundation of Sociobiology".

Wilson is a blogger for the ScienceBlogs,[3] where he extensively discusses and defends both the theory of evolution and his multilevel selection model.

Wilson's latest book for a general audience is This View of Life: Completing the Darwinian Revolution, published in 2019. The evolutionary biologist builds on decades of research to outline a paradigm-changing new approach to the applications of evolutionary theory in today's social and cultural institutions.


  1. ^ "Red in Tooth and Claw Among the Literati" (PDF). Science. May 6, 2011. Archived from the original (PDF) on April 25, 2012. Retrieved 2012-01-31.
  2. ^ "David Sloan Wilson Interview". Retrieved July 1, 2018.
  3. ^ "David Sloan Wilson's blog at ScienceBlogs".

External links