Evolutionary biologist David Sloan Wilson.Evolutionary biologist David Sloan Wilson. Credit: JONATHAN COHEN/BINGHAMTON UNIVERSITYWant to change the world? One of the first things you’ll need to do is gain a proper understanding of evolution, according to acclaimed evolutionary biologist David Sloan Wilson.

Wilson presents his controversial views on evolution and its connection to social change at College of the Atlantic’s Human Ecology Forum on Friday, Feb. 19. The talk, entitled The Extended Evolutionary Synthesis as a New Foundation for Human Ecology, takes place at 4:10 p.m. in Gates Community Center. It is free and open to the public.

“We need evolution to understand ourselves and the policies that we form, and we need evolution to understand the natural world we are trying to manage in a sustainable fashion,” Wilson said. “If you want to make the world a better place, you have a much better chance if you have a sophisticated knowledge of evolution.”

Most people think that evolution is a very slow process, that it is basically standing still, Wilson said. But the speed at which creatures and cultures evolve is actually quite quick, he said.

“One of the things we’ve learned over the last few decades is that…evolution is a fast process, and it basically takes place on ecological time scales. So, your white-tailed deer today, your cod today, your lobster today, are not the same as their counterparts even five or ten years ago. That’s how fast evolution is taking place,” Wilson said. “So that means if you want to be an ecologist, you need to also think of evolution as an ongoing process.”

While this process is taking place on a biological level, it is also taking place on a cultural level, according to Wilson. Whether we choose for selfishness or altruism depends on our understanding that we create the social and physical environments we live in, step-by-step, as an evolutionary process, he said.

“If you want to be an ecologist, you need to think of evolution as an ongoing process” - David Sloan Wilson.

“Harmony is only something that evolves under special circumstances. So, if you want to evolve the future in a positive sense, you really have to know a lot about evolution to do that,” Wilson said.

Wilson is a distinguished professor of biology and anthropology at Binghamton University, where he also leads the evolutionary studies program. He is the founder of The Evolution Institute, The Binghamton Neighborhood Project, and the Evolutionary Religious Studies program. He is the author of the pioneering Darwin’s Cathedral: Evolution, Religion and the Nature of Society, Evolution for Everyone: How Darwin’s Theory Can Change the Way We Think About Our Lives, and, most recently, Does Altruism Exist? Culture, Genes, and the Welfare of Others.

“David Sloan Wilson has, since the late 1970s, been one of the most articulate and widely ranging thinkers on the role of Group Selection within behavioral ecology,” said COA professor of ecology and natural history John Anderson. “Beginning with pioneering collaborations on insect/vertebrate interactions in the tropics, Wilson has provided an exciting and at times provocative alternative to standard models of kin and group selection. His work on the evolutionary implications of religion has spawned a rich and exciting literature that challenges us all to reassess what we know of social institutions.”

The Human Ecology Forum is a weekly speaker series based on the work of the academic community, which also draws on artists, poets, political and religious leaders from around the world. The forum is open to the public and meets weekly during the school term.