Thursday, October 7, 2010

Evolutiuon of Morality - a facebook thread

The following lines were composed by Jake - a person I have never met other than through a random facebook friend. These thoughts were provoked by a comment thread.  I will highlight his argument in crimson. My rebuttals are in black.
Jake: I want to argue why Natural selection (NS) cannot be the product of morality. In the following, I will not attempt to defend my own views on the source of morality – though I will later if anyone is interested.

If NS is the driving force ...behind the theory of evolution, meaning that Darwinists must confine their arguments and your view of humans, human actions, and human motivation to that of NS. I agree that NS exists in many species, but humans do not operate SOLELY on NS. Here is why.
I'd like to be civil here. Please Jake don't call me a "Darwinist."  You don't call someone a Newtonist when they accept the theory of gravity so please, though you may think it a appropriate, do not do this. It is mildly offensive.  One does not have to agree with every word a person from history ever uttered to accept some of their ideas.  

Jake:  Cannot Define Culture:
Kristopher, you argued that morality has evolved in order to preserve culture, which helps individual survival. The problem with that argument is that if we even attempt to define culture, Darwinism breaks down. 1) If we define culture on a small scale (My son and I), then no one will care, due to NS, if I kill the bullies that pick on him at school. Because of NS and my duty to survive my little culture, then it’s ok for me to eliminate ANY competition or harm that my son may face. I think it’s safe to assume however, that most people on this thread will not support me on my endeavor to keep my son out of harm’s way by killing off my son’s peers.

I apologize for my choice of words. The way I phrased it it does sound like I am  saying there is some higher purpose to evolution.  There is none, not even preservation of culture.  Thinking that evolution has an ultimate goal, an apex, a mountain top it is striving to summit, is the most common misconception about evolution. This misconception may seem harmless but is actually the same misconception that Nazis had thinking that they could in fact breed a superior race.  Their certainty in the "ascending nature of evolution"  guided them. There is NO ascension, only a series of equilibria.

You are simplifying in your above paragraph Jake.  But I will entertain your scenario and maintain that NS would eventually select against your "ruthless" proposal.  By killing any being that threatens your child you are actually endangering both yourself and your child based on the inevitable enemies you would make. 
Jake: But Darwinists are restricted to NS and laws of survival and thus cannot argue against their own mode of operation. That would contradict Darwinism. 2) If we define culture on a large scale (humanity), NS as humanity’s mechanism for survival also falls apart – it’s contradictory. If I care more about humanity’s survival over my own, then I am denying my own pursuit to survive by working against the very mechanism that makes me human.
The scale at which NS operates is NOT the species as a group, it is not even the individual organism, it is the individual genes within said organism.  Genes are shared among family. Our organism-operating  instincts for immediate altruism derive from our shared genes. Though your neighbor may share very few genes with you you will still feel altruistic towards him or her because of these default programs operating constitutively.    Oh yeah, genes are also shared between species!
Jake: If I allow other humans to survive over myself, then I am clearly not operating from NS or survival of the fittest, but I am operating according to some unexplainable greater good. Also, what would be the point in caring for other species? Why not take all the dogs at the pound, who take up time and resources, behind the building and shoot them in the head? Why sacrifice our resources for the survival of other species? But I once read an atheist’s approval of Kant’s quote, “We can judge the heart of a man by his treatment of animals.” 3) If we go more moderately and define culture as race or nation, then none within each culture, race, or nation should care if another culture, race, or nation is blown off the map. But most people do! I will also assume that most people on this thread are opposed to racism, genocide, and eugenics - But Darwinists are restricted to NS and laws of survival and thus cannot operate against their own mode of operation. That would contradict Darwinism.
"Why not take all the dogs at the pound, who take up time and resources, behind the building and shoot them in the head? "  

Jake!  Are you kidding?  Dogs are domesticated animals!  Meaning they have been going through human guided selection.  See how long a grizzly bear would last in an average household with babies present!  We DO shoot millions of dogs in the head in the US and around the world every day, if they happen to be born with a few too many of those aggressive genes showing up in their phenotype.  This is human guided selection because we like dogs for companionship, exercise, relaxation,  and the list goes on. But if a dog were to kill a human baby you bet that dog would be put down and their genes removed from the pool! There is a great chapter in the " the Greatest Show on Earth" that lays out the co-evolution of dogs with humans from the time they were simply curious wolves.    
Jake: Darwinism Cannot Explain:
Compassion: How is compassion explained by Darwinian evolution when life is all about the survival of the fittest? Most of us clearly see, understand, and give compassion, but compassion contradicts NS and survival of the fittest because why would a “fit” human sacrifice time, energy, resources, and sometimes their own life for the survival of the “unfit?”
Please desist with the "survival of the fittest" -  social-Darwinism propaganda!  It is 2010 not 1890!!!

Compassion does NOT contradict natural selection! The more up-to-date terminology you are groping for here is "survival of the most well adapted to specific environmental niches" we have seen this over and over in the observation of compassionate creatures all over the globe and testing different survival strategies in computer simulation.  If you want your genes to endure down through the generations being nasty is NOT a long term option. 
Jake: Monogamy: If most species are polygamists, then why are many humans (I recognize not all) monogamists? By Darwinian definition, we should all be polygamists. Is any girl out there cool with their boyfriend having multiple girlfriends? If we are a product of Darwinian evolution, you shouldn’t care.
Please list for me all the families you know where not one parent, grandparent, great grandparent or great-great grandparent did not produce offspring with more than one mate?   Human society is in polygamy denial along with overall biological denial brought on by religious guilt. Humans currently mask polygamous mating strategies by practicing serial monogamy!  So God can still love them :) There are some clear biological benefits to monogamy, namely that you know your energy in child rearing is actually being devoted to your genetic offspring and not some genetic freeloader.  But that happens too :(. 
Jake: Why survival is good in the first place: Darwinists see that all of life can be described and explained through science, but science can only explain the way things ARE. Science, Darwinism, and NS cannot account for the way things SHOULD BE. Why then, is survival a “good” thing in the first place? Why should we survive? 

This is a really good question, the best one in your series.  I think defining the answer to this question is up to US as critically thinking people able to communicate.  It is TOO EASY to assign the answer to some uncommunicative deity. It is up to humans to answer this question not imaginary sky-fathers!
Jake: A world where NS is the primary working mechanism for humans, would look like…? If we only operate from NS, as Darwinism defines us, then what would our world look like? People obviously do bad things and people obviously do good things, but if we were rooted in NS, then humans would be at their worst.
That is your opinion!  With your late 19th century definition of NS, yeah maybe people would be at their worst. But collective understanding of NS has come to encompass compassion and altruism and will be essential to implement if we as a global community are going to hope to make it through times of resources scarcity, as I think we are rapidly approaching. 
Jake: Polygamy: Is anyone ok with polygamy? Most species are polygamists, but many humans are not, so what makes us different? Polygamy would give me more offspring, and thus would give my offspring the best chance for survival, so why are many people opposed to it? If we are all rooted in NS, then we should all, by definition and like most other species, be polygamists.
See above critique of monogamy.
Jake:  Infanticide: Killing off unwanted offspring; deformed or female offspring. This was a common practice in ancient cultures, but most people are against it these days, but by definition, we should all be participants in infanticide. If all species are rooted in NS, then we should be like Hive-bees and not think twice, but how many people would think it ok to be like bees who “kill their brothers, and mothers… (and) strive to kill their fertile daughters.” Or what about Lions? When taking over a foreign pride, they kill off the fertile males to eliminate competition for survival and offspring. But why are most people not ok when it happens among humans? But aren’t we all rooted in survival of the fittest and NS?
Again compassion is beneficial to a single gene's survival! Reducing human suffering is ultimately compassionate. This is where major disagreements on human morality happen. Not with infanticide because at an early stage it is hard to tell if a certain genetic condition is causing severe suffering or not.  If a human can get to an age of reason and decide that their life is just way too painful and hard they should be allowed to take their own life in my opinion.  But it should be THEIR decision.  Have you seen the film "the sea inside?" As a society we have plenty of resources to go around to keep people healthy and alive until age or chance takes them out. other people should have nothing to do with those decisions.  I.E. Terri Schiavo. 
Jake:  Racism/Genocide/Eugenics: Darwin was a racist – read Descent of Man, a very embarrassing work for Darwinists. I quote an article: “Darwin tried to determine whether human races should be considered distinct species. In the end, he was unsure whether to rank the races ‘as species or sub-species’ but finally asserted that ‘the latter term appears the most appropriate…’ Whether races are species or sub-species, it is easy to see how such reasoning allowed Darwin to rank the races on an evolutionary scale. Because natural selection must be the cause of the existence of different races, Darwin argued that the various races would necessarily have varying intellectual and moral capacities. So that, for example, the ‘American aborigines, Negroes, and Europeans differ as much from each other in mind as any three races that can be named.’ As we have seen, the Europeans came out on top… ‘The civilized races of man will almost certainly exterminate and replace throughout the world the savage races. At the same time the anthropomorphous apes . . . will no doubt be exterminated. The break will then be rendered wider, for it will intervene between man in a more civilized state, as we may hope . . . the Caucasian, and some ape as low as a baboon, instead of as at present between the Negro or Australian and the gorilla.’” Hitler, Stalin, Mao, and Pol Pot all thought along the lines of “Survival of the Fittest,” and that cannot be argued. They were the “fit” and they were taking out the competition for survival, ie the “unfit.” In a Darwinist society, genocide should have no moral opponents.
Darwin was born the exact year and date as Abraham Lincoln - February 12th 1809.

Listen to what our great President Lincoln said on September 18th 1858 (the year before Darwin published on the Origin of Species) 
"I will say then that I am not, nor ever have been in favor of bringing about in anyway the social and political equality of the white and black races - that I am not nor ever have been in favor of making voters or jurors of negroes, nor of qualifying them to hold office, nor to intermarry with white people; and I will say in addition to this that there is a physical difference between the white and black races which I believe will forever forbid the two races living together on terms of social and political equality. And inasmuch as they cannot so live, while they do remain together there must be the position of superior and inferior, and I as much as any other man am in favor of having the superior position assigned to the white race. I say upon this occasion I do not perceive that because the white man is to have the superior position the negro should be denied everything."
Yes I agree with you, Darwin can be considered a racist by modern definitions. But we are talking about a mind that was born 200 years ago!   Unlike "religionists" I do not take everything someone says and consider it "sacred" I scrutinize what they said, take it in the context of the time-period they were speaking, and accept what remains my own tests.   I can accept the Pythagorean theorem and not believe humans come from pea pods as Pythagoras and his numbers-cult asserted!

As for the frontal lobe argument, there certainly are connections with biology and the ability to perform/recognize right and wrong. However, not being able to separate the two does not negate the existence of right and wrong. If I have facial aphasia (a condition when a person cannot recognize faces and facial features), just because I might not be able to recognize Adrienne’s face does not mean that Adrienne isn’t there. The same is true with objective morality.

Morality cannot be an evolutionary product. There are too many holes in its proposition and even when it does not hurt us (and even when it would benefit our survival) we squirm with discomfort when someone does something immoral.
Yes, I squirm too but it is by INSTINCT! :)
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