Thinking Christian

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How Wrong Is It To Suggest a Darwin-Hitler Link?

Posted on Feb 26, 2009 by Tom Gilson

This entry is part 2 of 5 in the series Pennock, Monton, Matzke, Luskin

The estimable Nick Matzke has raised the issue here again whether we can appropriately draw any causal linkage from Darwin to Hitler or Nazism. He suggests that to make that connection is not only historically inaccurate but morally opprobrious. Some of what he has said is certainly exaggerated. Still, he has presented some new information to me, and this has opened up the topic again.

The last time I wrote about this was last May. On top of the blame he places on me for thinking there’s some link between Darwin and Nazism, Matzke adds the fault that I have not kept up with all of the literature on the question. Mea culpa. Lately I’ve been trying to catch up, through reading what’s available on the web. There has been a new book published on the subject by Robert Richards, which I have not read, but there’s enough on the web to work with for now. Here are some sources:

In a word, Matzke proposes that Robert Richards, historian at the University of Chicago, has effectively disproved any meaningful link between Darwin and Nazism. Taking the opposing view are Daniel Gasman and Richard Weikart. Jeffrey Schloss points out (as Weikart certainly would agree) that a monocausal interpretation could not be anything but oversimplified, especially in view of Christian understandings of human nature. My sense after reading all this is that Richards’s case (which Matzke supports) is far from established, and that Darwinism was one contributor to Nazism, and that there were very many other contributors besides, in the usual tangle of events and ideas that lead to any historical outcome.

I propose taking this question in a different direction, though, somewhat in keeping with Schloss’s approach. Whether Darwin actually led to Hitler is fiercely disputed by scholars more knowledgeable than any of us here. It’s also not necessarily the most salient issue, as far as I’m concerned. It affects how one evaluates the movie Expelled, I suppose, but that’s not my most pressing issue right now.

Here’s the more important and interesting question: Is Darwinism, along with its intellectual descendants* the kind of thing that could contribute to something like Nazism? Does it lay any intellectual or philosophical groundwork that might tend to promote generalized hatred, mass killings, dreams of absolute racial and national domination, and especially the horrifying dehumanization of victims that still, sixty-plus years later, sets Hitler apart from other genocidal tyrants?

Nazism was fed by many historical streams. The most significant of them goes back before the dawn of history: it is the nature of humankind. Biblically the description of humanity is that we were created in God’s image, but we are all tainted and marred by pride, self-centeredness, desires for power and prestige, disregard for God’s righteousness, and an innate inability on our own to rise to his righteous standard. From a human perspective, this sinful taintedness appears in varying degrees of destructive desire and opportunity. (From God’s perspective, those differences are much like the different heights of buildings seen from an aircraft at cruising altitude.) Hitler, Pol Pot, Stalin, the leaders of the Rwandan massacres, Milosevic, Mao Zedong, Bin Laden, and others of their ilk have expressed this sinfulness far more fully than most others have, but we all possess it.

With that in mind, surely Nazism could have arisen without any help at all from Darwin.

Nevertheless ideas have consequences, and under what Christians describe as God’s common grace, even with sin in the world, better ideas have better consequences. One almost gets the sense from Nick Matzke’s protestations that Darwinism couldn’t have negative consequences. This seems rather unlikely, and somewhat of an overly defensive position to take. I want to suggest that it is also dangerously false, and that it is not (contra Matzke) a moral failing on my part to think so.

At this point I’m going to turn specifically toward naturalistic Darwinism, which (for reasons I won’t go into here) properly includes monistic Darwinism such as Haeckel’s, even if his monism was not strictly naturalistic or materialistic. The best authority I can reference to make my point is actually Richard Dawkins, from his critical review of Expelled.

My own view, frequently expressed (for example in the The Selfish Gene and especially in the title chapter of A Devil’s Chaplain) is that there are two reasons why we need to take Darwinian natural selection seriously. Firstly, it is the most important element in the explanation for our own existence and that of all life. Secondly, natural selection is a good object lesson in how NOT to organize a society. As I have often said before, as a scientist I am a passionate Darwinian. But as a citizen and a human being, I want to construct a society which is about as un-Darwinian as we can make it. I approve of looking after the poor (very un-Darwinian). I approve of universal medical care (very un-Darwinian). It is one of the classic philosophical fallacies to derive an ‘ought’ from an ‘is’. Stein (or whoever wrote his script for him) is implying that Hitler committed that fallacy with respect to Darwinism.

Dawkins acknowledges that natural selection is no basis for ethics. (I’m sure that if pressed he would have the same opinion of random variation.) He also astutely acknowledges that one cannot derive an “ought” (ethics) from an “is” (the way life has developed). So here, in Darwinian evolution, there is no good basis for ethics at all to be found. But that presents a rather overwhelming problem, which Dawkins overlooks. The causal space has been filled: all of life (says Darwinism) has been fully explained by random variation and natural selection (i.e. the success of that which succeeds). They cannot be the source of ethics, just as Dawkins said. But then what else could be? If you suggest there is something within humans that leads us to some true, real, higher ethical realization, where did it come from? There is no other source to turn to, no other place else it could have come from. There is no conceivable cause for the existence of right and wrong.
Is the proposal then that right and wrong have existed from eternity past? This seems unlikely, to suggest that in the early inflation of the cosmos, ethics existed along with coalescing galaxies. Or was it injected into human life from some exterior (yet fully natural) authority? What would that be, and what would give it that authority? If it hasn’t existed from eternity past, and if it didn’t arise by some cause within time, then it doesn’t exist. Under naturalistic Darwinism, properly speaking, right and wrong do not exist.

Even Dawkins as “a citizen and a human being” knows he has to fight his Darwinian biological roots for the sake of his ethical position. That’s an odd position to take, for one who believes that biology explains all, and Darwinian processes explain all of biology!

I understand that beliefs and opinions about right and wrong exist. They certainly exist among naturalistic Darwinists, and obviously naturalists act in accordance with them; they do what is considered good and right, perhaps as much as anyone does. Matzke speaks of a “high ground, ” and Dawkins speaks of universal medical care and looking after the poor. Evolutionists have little trouble accounting for the existence of moral beliefs or opinions. But the belief or the opinion is not the reality; having a thought about right or wrong does not cause right or wrong to exist. The “high ground” is not really more elevated than the level plain, for there is no real up or down. “Higher” and “lower” have no actual reality; they are matters of opinion, and such opinions are unconnected to any real elevations.

Darwinism did not have to lead to Nazism. It didn’t have to lead anywhere. It does not—cannot—direct anything anywhere, except toward what succeeds reproductively (and even to say that is rather anthropomorphic). If it is true, however, there is also nothing in it to prevent any impulse, especially that which might succeed reproductively. This much, I think, is incontrovertible. As for the dehumanization that Hitler committed (warehousing human parts for sale, for example), there is certainly nothing in Darwinism to restrain that—for naturalistic evolution entails that there is nothing essentially different about hair from human corpses (still stored at concentration camps, as a lesson for history, but originally intended for commercial purposes) and horsehair used for violin bows. There is nothing essentially different between the woman and the mare.

Now, there are those who say that Darwinism leads to certain ethical obligations: that the most powerful ought to succeed, or that the more advanced have some moral duty to supplant that which is less advanced. Those are not proper conclusions to draw, since Darwinism cannot support any oughts or obligations whatever. It’s a very seductive fallacy, however, and it certainly was committed by many. Darwin made that very mistake himself in The Descent. The eugenicists followed him. Is it so unlikely that Haeckel, and later Hitler, did too?

So if Darwin did lead to Hitler (which I continue to think was likely), and especially to beliefs that the Aryans must dominate, it was not by philosophical necessity. It was by mistakes men made in interpreting Darwin. Yet these were plausible mistakes, in an age when progress was virtually a god, and when Darwin seemed to have defined progress as the upward climb of the better species, when men like Haeckel placed the Aryans at the top of the species tree, and when anti-Semitism was running rampant. What if Haeckel was not an anti-Semite, as Richards claims, and others dispute? The mood was rampant in Europe, and Haeckel (and Darwin) opened wide the door for anti-Semitic nationalism by saying, “We welcome the opinions of those who think some humans aren’t really fully human.”

Was this, too, a mistake? Philosophically and biologically, yes. (By the way, can someone explain why Dawkins thought it implausible—see the quote above—that Hitler might have made a mistake in moral reasoning?) Was it really, actually morally wrong? No one who takes a consistent naturalist Darwinian position could say so, for naturalism excludes real moral rights and wrongs. The best such a person could say is, “It’s wrong in my personal opinion!” or “Most of us around here are of the opinion it’s wrong!”

So I have in a sense sidestepped whether Darwin led to Hitler. I’ve done that because it’s a question for specialists in history, which I am not. I have an opinion, which I hold with (I hope) appropriate tentativeness while the experts work it out.

I say this as directly as I can, though: there is nothing immoral in anyone suggestion that it could have happened, since it is a live historical question. And under naturalistic Darwinism, it wouldn’t have (couldn’t have) been really wrong if Darwin actually did lead to Hitler, because under naturalism there can be no real right or wrong.

*The issue in Hitler’s day was Darwinism; now it is neo-Darwinism, the modern synthesis, etc. I’ll continue to use the term that applied in the 1940s and earlier, since to jump back and forth between older and newer terminology would be tiresome.

Series Navigation (Pennock, Monton, Matzke, Luskin):<<< Robert Pennock the Conciliator<<< Opponents, Not EnemiesPennock, Monton, Matzke, Luskin, et al. (So Far) >>>

155 Responses to “ How Wrong Is It To Suggest a Darwin-Hitler Link? ”

  1. Nick (Matzke) says:

    Just so you know, Gasman and Weikart have each basically said in print that the other is being silly. My opinion: they are each trying to make a mountain out of a molehill with their respective tenditious cases, and so they can’t agree even with each other.

    And since this started out as a discussion of who is insulting whom, your quite uninformed and insulting claim that “naturalistic Darwinists” have no basis for morality is noted. Read e.g. Mary Midgley, “The Ethical Primate.” Or Melvin Konner, “The Tangled Wing.” Or Darwin, for goodness’ sake. Darwin basically took a preexisting Christian argument from Bishop Butler, which states that morality develops from deeply-embedded features of human nature such as sympathy, and then showed how that same human nature could be explained as a product of evolution. The source and authority of morality remains the same, human natural sympathies; the history of where it came from is interesting but the basis and authority of morality is not logically effected one way or the other.

    As for “Darwinism” (ugh, annoying term) not preventing the Nazis — sheesh, what the heck do you think is reasonable to expect from scientific theories? Einstein’s theory of relativity didn’t exactly leap out of bed and throttle Hitler either.

    And, if we’re going to be thorough about things, the whole idea that all humans were related and evolved from apelike ancestors was very inconvenient and thus unpopular with the Nazis. This is kind of a Huge Problem With Associating Darwin With the Nazis.

    If you don’t believe me, listen to Gasman 1971. The concluding paragraph of the book:

    p. 173:

    One question remains to be answered, however. Haeckel was clearly accorded recognition by some Nazi intellectuals and by his followers as a forerunner of the Third Reich. Yet at the same time, it is also apparent that Haeckel did not figure in Nazi propaganda as a major prophet of National Socialism. He never attained the status of Lagarde or of Houston Stewart Chamberlain in the annals of Nazi history. And the reason is clear. While Darwinism was part of the Nazi educational curriculum in biology, official National Socialist ideology was suspicious of the idea of human evolution and, while not outrightly denying it, tended to play down the theory of the animal origin of man. It must be remembered that the Nazis had assigned a heroic and eternally superior character and racial constitution to the Aryans. It was therefore hardly ideologically admissible at the same time to allow for the evolution of the Aryans from a group of inferior anthropoid progenitors. Any theory of this kind would have destroyed the notion that the Aryans were in possession of racial superiority from the beginning. This dilemma of the Nazis, however, in regard to the complete acceptance of the idea of evolution was in fact an Haeckelian dilemma

    p. 174
    magnified many times. Haeckel and the Monists had also tried to disseminate their belief in man’s immutability in a world which by the fundamental tenets of their own theory was assumed to be constantly in motion.

    He tries to save his anti-Haeckel thesis there at the end — such pleading is a dominant feature of the book — but even the extreme Gasman sees some major issues linking the Nazis & Darwin.

  2. bobxxxx says:

    I assume you’ve heard of Godwin’s Law. I also assume you know the difference between natural selection and artificial selection. Darwin’s brilliant idea was natural selection. People who kill for whatever reason are using artificial selection.

    In any case, the basic facts of evolutionary biology are the strongest facts of science, and that’s more important than what some insane dictators have done.

    This is sort of on-topic. Please take a couple of minutes to listen to it.

    http://www.wrni.org/content/evolution

  3. Tom Gilson says:

    bobxxxx,

    For Godwin’s law, see the link above about “exaggerated.”

    What on earth is artificial about “artificial selection,” and what does it have to do with the current topic? Does natural selection have some moral supremacy over artificial selection? Please re-read carefully before you say yes.

    And whether evolution’s “basic facts are the strongest facts of biology” is not the topic here. It’s a great thing to discuss, and gazillions of electrons have sped across the Internet for it, and gazillions more will. But we won’t get anywhere on the current topic if we let the discussion wander that way.

  4. Tom Gilson says:

    Because of problems last night and for other unrelated reasons, I rushed to get this topic posted before I had it fully finished. I’ve revised it somewhat on Friday morning, not to change the argument but hopefully to clarify it.

  5. Charlie says:

    It’s an excellent post , Tom, and I appreciate the broad reading offered in the links.

  6. An says:

    From the book “The Racial State” (Burleifh and Wippermann, Cambridge University Press 1991, pp. 30-31) :

    “According to Haeckel’s brand of anthropological racism, the “central races” were the “most highly developed and perfect.”

    “Haeckel was not merely a harmless and uninfluential ideologiast-cum-scientist. His eccentric “pholosophy” was propagated through the “Monist League”, which he founded in 1906; and his ideas concerning racial selective breeding began to filter into rather more respectable scientific circles. The physician Wilhelm Schallmeyer (1857-1919) was particularly significant in this last respect.”

    Haeckel also advocated the killing of the sick:

    “What profit does humanity derive from the thousands of cripples who are born each year, from the deaf and dumb, from cretins, from those with incurable hereditary defects etc. who are kept alive artificially and then raised to adulthood? … What an immense aggregate of suffering and pain these depressing figures represent for the unfortunate sick people themselves, what a fathomless sum of worry and grief for their families, what a loss in terms of private resources and costs to the state for the healthy! How Much of this loss and suffering could be obviated, if one finally decided to liberate the totally incurable from their indescribable suffering with a dose of morphia.

    (Haeckel, The Riddle of Life, 1904)

    Read also Mathúna’s interesting article “Human dignity in the Nazi era: implications for contemporary bioethics”, which begins:

    “Social Darwinism was foremost amongst the philosophies impacting views of human dignity in the decades leading up to Nazi power in Germany. Charles Darwin’s evolutionary theory was quickly applied to human beings and social structure. The term ‘survival of the fittest’ was coined and seen to be applicable to humans.
    Belief in the inherent dignity of all humans was rejected by social Darwinists. Influential authors of the day proclaimed that an individual’s worth and value were to be determined functionally and materialistically. The popularity of such views ideologically prepared German doctors and nurses to accept Nazi social policies promoting survival of only the fittest humans.
    A historical survey reveals five general presuppositions that strongly impacted medical ethics in the Nazi era. These same five beliefs are being promoted in different ways in contemporary bioethical discourse. Ethical controversies surrounding human embryos revolve around determinations of their moral status. Economic pressures force individuals and societies to examine whether some people’s lives are no longer worth living. Human dignity is again being seen as a relative trait found in certain humans, not something inherent. These views strongly impact what is taken to be acceptable within medical ethics.
    Summary
    Five beliefs central to social Darwinism will be examined in light of their influence on current discussions in medical ethics and bioethics.
    Acceptance of these during the Nazi era proved destructive to many humans. Their widespread acceptance today would similarly lead to much human death and suffering. A different ethic in needed which views human dignity as inherent to all human individuals.”

    http://www.pubmedcentral.nih.gov/articlerender.fcgi?artid=1484488

  7. ChrisB says:

    I’ll let others debate whether Darwin’s ideas caused the actions of Hitler, Stalin, et al.

    The important question is, if Darwin was correct, what’s wrong with what Hitler did?

  8. Tom Gilson says:

    Good question, Chris. That’s a pithy way of saying what I was trying to get at.

  9. Tom Gilson says:

    Nick, your opinion that I am uninformed would be interesting if it were relevant. I presented a series of arguments and you responded with some book titles. What about the arguments?

    If the source and authority of morality are “natural human sympathies,” would you describe for us what is more “natural” about moral action as commonly understand, than winning the competition for procreation? What gives the “natural” its moral authority? It’s an “is,” and Dawkins rightly said that cannot become an “ought.” If the “natural” has authority, why are humans held accountable for how we treat each other and the natural world, while animals are not? How do “sympathies” acquire authority? What happens when two “sympathies” collide? Whose sympathy wins? If there is any real authority at all in the moral order (not just belief or opinion, but real authority), what caused the development of that authority? If there is no real authority there, is really true that the Holocaust was wrong? Or is it just belief or opinion?

    As for “Darwinism” (ugh, annoying term) not preventing the Nazis — sheesh, what the heck do you think is reasonable to expect from scientific theories? Einstein’s theory of relativity didn’t exactly leap out of bed and throttle Hitler either.

    The theory of relativity didn’t make any relevant assertions about what humans are and are not. Sheesh. It did not attempt to fill up all the causal space explaining human biology and behavior, including moral behavior. It did not, to be specific, explain all of biology and behavior in terms of impersonal, amoral chance and the success of that which succeeds (random variation and natural selection). Your counterexample is irrelevant to the question at hand, in other words. Sheesh.

    (By the way, I don’t know what delayed your comment in the moderation queue. It is not my intention to hinder or delay this conversation from happening. Please feel free to email if something gets stuck.)

  10. Nick (Matzke) says:

    TC, if you haven’t read the basic references on the morality/evolution/human nature topic, it’s hard to even discuss this. Konner & Darwin are standard works on this stuff. Midgley I recommend because it is shorter & more recent.

    You obviously haven’t even read Darwin’s account of morality in Descent of Man, because if you had, you would realize that Darwin drew the opposite conclusions about morality from “Darwinism” than you do!! Here’s part of his summary of that discussion:

    The moral sense perhaps affords the best and highest distinction between man and the lower animals; but I need not say anything on this head, as I have so lately endeavoured to shew that the social instincts,—the prime principle of man’s moral constitution39—with the aid of active intellectual powers and the effects of habit, naturally lead to the golden rule, “As ye would that men should do to you, do ye to them likewise;” and this lies at the foundation of morality.

    I’m afraid I’m reaching the conclusion that your real argument here is not that Darwin & evolutionary theory actually led to Hitler, but instead it’s just the same old boring creationist belief that if humans evolved then the Bible is wrong, God didn’t create us and (none of these follow from each other, but whatever) therefore there is no basis for morality. If that’s the real issue, then just argue that, all your Nazi arguments seem to keep retreating to that, anyway. A real historical argument would show Hitler quoting or citing Darwin. We are far from that.

  11. Tom Gilson says:

    I thought I was being somewhat clear as to what I was arguing. I’m not taking an expert stance with respect to the historical question. I said as much in the blog post.

    I’m also not talking about ” if humans evolved then the Bible is wrong, God didn’t create us.” I’m referring very carefully and specifically to naturalistic evolution, that version of evolution that specifies or stipulates that God didn’t create us, and the Bible is wrong. What I’ve been writing here does not apply to (for instance) theistic evolution, and I haven’t suggested that it does.

    I am arguing, however, that naturalistic evolution allows no grounds for explaining objective morality. I’ll try to be careful again with terms here, since you’ve missed some that I’ve used previously. By grounds, I mean a sufficient basis. By “explaining,” I mean accounting for. By “objective morality,” I am referring to moral realism: that there are certain moral values or duties that obtain whether anyone believes in them or not. The Holocaust was wrong, period. If Hitler had won and taken over the world, and converted everyone to his opinion or killed those who wouldn’t change their minds, and if everyone alive believed the Holocaust was good, the Holocaust would still be wrong. This is what I mean by objective morality/moral realism.

    I have been contrasting this to moral behaviors, beliefs, and opinions, which I have already acknowledged can be accounted for under NE, but which are merely statements about human behavior, mere “is-es,” and therefore not translatable to “oughts.” I am saying that NE affords no place for moral realism. That is the thrust of what I’ve been saying in this thread. I was quite clear and explicit about my position on the historical question, and I’m surprised you missed it. Charlie did quote Hitler citing Darwin, though—did you miss that? It was a couple of days ago.

    Have you read the standard theistic works on this topic? It would be easier to discuss if you have. Plantinga and Copan are good sources. Craig and Moreland have done good work on this. So has C.S. Lewis, for that matter. The Abolition of Man is excellent.

    As for Darwin and the Descent of Man, I know that he said that. I think he’s wrong, at least in light of what we would today call NE.

  12. An says:

    Nick Matzke:

    “I’m afraid I’m reaching the conclusion that your real argument here is not that Darwin & evolutionary theory actually led to Hitler… A real historical argument would show Hitler quoting or citing Darwin.”

    Hitler didn’t usually cite or quote scientists, especially foreign scientists. Yet he was influenced by many of them. For example a real historical argument can also be built based on dramatical changes in the concept of human dignity (and it’s influences) in Germany during the first half of the twentieth century. As Mathúna noticed in his peer reviewed article:

    “The concept of human dignity changed dramatically during the first half of the twentieth century under the influence of social Darwinism. The inherent dignity and special value of humans was rejected which permitted widespread destruction of human life during the Nazi era. Such an ethic was influenced by five tenets central to social Darwinism: that morality is relativistic, that humans do not have a unique status, that human dignity is relative, that some lives are not worth living, and that survival of the fittest is an ethical principle.”

  13. Charlie says:

    Hi Tom,
    I’m neither as knowledgeable as an historian nor as smart as you, but either way, I’ll wade into Nick Matzke’s latest challenge.
    Thanks, of course, for pointing out that I’ve already met it on the previous thread with all of HItler’s references to Darwin’s theory.

    Nick Matzke says, among other things:

    And, if we’re going to be thorough about things, the whole idea that all humans were related and evolved from apelike ancestors was very inconvenient and thus unpopular with the Nazis.

    Hitler didn’t seem to think it so inconvenient when he discussed human beings existing, “in the baboon category” for three hundred thousand years.
    Of course he shared this opinion with Darwin and Haeckel.

    He didn’t seem to mind our being descended from monkeys either when he defended vegetarianism saying that “The monkeys, our ancestors of prehistoric times, are strictly vegetarian. ” I’m pretty sure he was echoing Darwin on that point but I can’t find the reference right now.

    Hitler quoting Darwin … and Haeckel.

    “The break between man and his nearest allies will then be wider, for it will intervene between man in a more civilised state, as we may hope, even than the Caucasian, and some ape as low as a baboon, instead of as now between the negro or Australian and the gorilla.”-Darwin, DoM

    “Mental differences between the lowest men and the animals are less than those between the lowest and the highest man.” — Ernst Haeckel, Father of German Ecology

    Source: Ernst Haeckel, The History of Creation, vol. 2, p. 366.

    “Difference which exists between the lowest, so-called men, and the other higher races is greater than between the lowest men and the highest apes.” — Adolf Hitler

    Source: Hitler quoted in Heinz Bruecher, Ernst Haeckels Bluts- und Geisteserbe (München: Lehmann, 1936), p. 91.

    Hitler, like the 20th century’s widely-read and influential Haeckel, also thought that Jesus was an Aryan son of a Roman soldier (Darwin, too, denied His divinity and His miracles), referred to Sparta as the original Volkish state (Darwin too wrote about Sparta’s eugenics), hated Jews and used science to justify this.
    On Spartan eugenics:

    “Among the Spartans all newly born children were subject to a careful examination or selection. All those that were weak, sickly, or affected with any bodily infirmity, were killed. Only the perfectly healthy and strong children were allowed to live, and they alone afterwards propagated the race.” — Ernst Haeckel, Father of German Ecology

    Source: Ernst Haeckel, The History of Creation. 2 vols. (New York: D. Appleton, 1876), vol. I, p. 170.

    “In Sparta, also, a form of selection was followed, for it was enacted that all children should be examined shortly after birth; the well-formed and vigorous being preserved, the others left to perish.*(3)”
    Darwin, Chapter 21, DoM

    “Sparta must be regarded as the first völkisch state. The exposure of the sick, weak, deformed children, in short, their destruction, was more decent and in truth a thousand times more human than the wretched insanity of our day which preserves the most pathological subject.” — Adolf Hitler

    ===
    Quoting Darwin on birth rates/struggle for existence:

    Man, like every other animal, has no doubt advanced to his present high condition through a struggle for existence consequent on his rapid multiplication; and if he is to advance still higher, it is to be feared that he must remain subject to a severe struggle. Otherwise he would sink into indolence, and the more gifted men would not be more successful in the battle of life than the less gifted. Hence our natural rate of increase, though leading to many and obvious evils, must not be greatly diminished by any means.“Chapter 21, DoM

    “For as soon as the procreative faculty is thwarted and the number of births diminished, the natural struggle for existence which allows only healthy and strong individuals to survive is replaced by a sheer craze to ‘save’ feeble and even diseased creatures at any cost. And thus the seeds are sown for a human progeny which will become more and more miserable from one generation to another, as long as Nature’s will is scorned.” — Adolf Hitler
    Source: Adolf Hitler, Mein Kampf, Chapter 4.

    Haeckel on eugenics … I’m sure we needn’t wonder if the Nazis agreed. Even if one wants to dispute Haeckel’s antisemitism it is instructive to note two things: 1) Nazism is not coterminous with anti-Semitism, 2) The Nazis didn’t start their murderous campaign against the Jews until they had practiced first against the “incurables”:

    “Hundreds of thousands of incurables –
lunatics, lepers, people with cancer – are
artificially kept alive without the slightest
 profit to themselves or the general body”
-Ernst Haeckel

    Hitler and Haeckel … sorry, Gasman alert:

    Hitler’ s views on history, politics, religion, Christianity, nature, eugenics, science, art, and evolution, however eclectic, and despite the plurality of their sources, coincide for the most part with those of Haeckel and are more than occasionally expressed in very much the same language.

    had urged deference to the ‘great eternal iron laws’71 of the universe, Hitler spoke of the necessity of becoming familiar with the laws of nature which he was certain would ‘guide us on the path of progress.’72 He urged that it was ‘useful to know the laws of nature-for that enables us to obey them. To act otherwise would be to rise in revolt against heaven.’73

    Hitler applied his belief in nature to the world of man in the same resolute and literal way that had been characteristic of Haeckel. He argued that in human affairs ‘as in everything, nature is the best instructor.’74 He insisted, as Haeckel had, that ‘one must start by accepting the principle that nature herself gives all the necessary indications, and that therefore one must follow the rules that she has laid down.’75 And for Hitler, as for Haeckel, this was especially true in regard to the laws of society. Hitler, like Haeckel, lamented the tragedy that ‘man, alone amongst the living creatures, tries to deny the laws of nature.’76 It was nature that had to provide absolute guidelines for the total organization and direction of society.

    Like Haeckel, Hitller believed that mankind was divided into separate races that were as sharply divided from each other as species in the animal and plant kingdom. in the struggle for existence the lower and weaker races were bound to die out, and here again Hitler appears to plagiarize Haeckel. One need only compare their definitions of racial difference.

    But this conception of history was hardly the fruit of Hitler’s ‘crazy originality.’ It was only a simple repetition of Haeckel’s historical views which had been widely disseminated in Germany since the 1860’s and had already become the property of countless Volkists. For Hitler, as for Haeckel, since its inception Christianity had preached against the laws of nature, and this had led to the decline of society. It was Christianity which had destroyed the natural hierarchical order of the world. This was essentially the thesis which we have seen Haeckel advancing in his Natürliche Schöpfungsgeschichte and in the Welträtsel, and it was also the major historical assumption of Hitler. …
    “”””
    http://www.helsinki.fi/~pjojala/Gasman.htm

    Darwin had something to say about man obeying the laws of nature in order that he might continue his progress and reflecting them in our civic laws as well:

    Both sexes ought to refrain from marriage if they are in any marked degree inferior in body or mind; but such hopes are Utopian and will never be even partially realised until the laws of inheritance are thoroughly known. Everyone does good service, who aids towards this end. When the principles of breeding and inheritance are better understood, we shall not hear ignorant members of our legislature rejecting with scorn a plan for ascertaining whether or not consanguineous marriages are injurious to man.

    The advancement of the welfare of mankind is a most intricate problem: all ought to refrain from marriage who cannot avoid abject poverty for their children; for poverty is not only a great evil, but tends to its own increase by leading to recklessness in marriage. On the other hand, as Mr. Galton has remarked, if the prudent avoid marriage, whilst the reckless marry, the inferior members tend to supplant the better members of society. Man, like every other animal, has no doubt advanced to his present high condition through a struggle for existence consequent on his rapid multiplication; and if he is to advance still higher, it is to be feared that he must remain subject to a severe struggle. Otherwise he would sink into indolence, and the more gifted men would not be more successful in the battle of life than the less gifted. Hence our natural rate of increase, though leading to many and obvious evils, must not be greatly diminished by any means. There should be open competition for all men; and the most able should not be prevented by laws or customs from succeeding best and rearing the largest number of offspring. Important as the struggle for existence has been and even still is, yet as far as the highest part of man’s nature is concerned there are other agencies more important. For the moral qualities are advanced, either directly or indirectly, much more through the effects of habit, the reasoning powers, instruction, religion, &c., than through natural selection; though to this latter agency may be safely attributed the social instincts, which afforded the basis for the development of the moral sense.

    Same 21st Chapter

  14. Charlie says:

    By the way, even if one is historically or factually in error to make the case that Darwin influenced Hitler I don’t see how this is even remotely insulting (to whom?) or immoral.
    Did Matzke surrender the moral high ground a couple of years ago when he wrote of Haeckel prior to his broad reading of Richards? Was he being insulting? If so, who is he to criticize? If not, who is he to criticize?

  15. Tom Gilson says:

    Is anyone besides me surprised we haven’t heard more from our other frequent atheist/skeptic/evolutionist commenters on these two threads? Y’all are welcome to join in, you know.

  16. Holopupenko says:

    Perhaps it’s a “comfort zone” thing for them, Tom…

  17. Charlie says:

    Glutton for punishment, Tom?

  18. Charlie says:

    Speaking of Haeckel and the relevance of his alleged (non)anti-Semitism, we also know that he thought the “wooly -haired Negro” was barely evolved above the African ape and was morally and intellectually inferior to the Caucasian.
    Sharing this view, the Nazis started their racial sterilisation programs, deportation and persecution with German blacks.
    With his 1933 law Hitler also enacted plans to euthanize other lives unworthy to be lived, such as those distinguished by Haeckel in my long comment above – the terminally ill, lunatics, disfigured and comatose burdens on society.

  19. SteveK says:

    Good job, Charlie.

    Nick,

    Darwin basically took a preexisting Christian argument from Bishop Butler, which states that morality develops from deeply-embedded features of human nature such as sympathy, and then showed how that same human nature could be explained as a product of evolution. The source and authority of morality remains the same, human natural sympathies; the history of where it came from is interesting but the basis and authority of morality is not logically effected one way or the other.

    So you’re saying Darwin took the traditional Catholic/Christian understanding that God is the grounding for moral ‘oughts’ and he concluded that evolution was a better grounding source.

    I’m wondering why you are upset that Hitler came to the same conclusion and then acted upon it.

    Your disgust for Hitler’s actions imply that Hitler’s ‘human sympathy’ toward the Jews was somehow unnatural, but if the source and authority is the same for ALL (source: natural human sympathies) how can Hitlers source be any less natural?

    What exactly is an unnatural human sympathy and how is it possible given your statement above?

  20. Tom Gilson says:

    Nick, with respect to ethical theory and evolution, I am ordering a copy of Midgley and of Konner, so that I can be on the same page with you on the issues you have presented here. I’ve looked at the preview of Midgley on Amazon and it looks intriguing. I’m obtaining it through inter-library loan so it may be a while before either of them comes.

    It’s worth pointing out that though I have not read Midgely or Konner, I’m not ignorant on this topic. Since my first course in ethics in college (a long time ago, alas) I have been actively seeking to see whether any non-theistic ethical theory has sufficient grounding, and I’m still looking. For the record, that reading has included Plato, Aristotle, Augustine, Kant, Mill, de Beauvoir, Sartre, Camus, and Rawls, along with sources that touch on related matters including Freud, Skinner, Jung, Erikson, and I suppose Dennett’s work on the freedom and the mind also relates to this issue.

    I raised a question along these lines once before, almost exactly a year ago. Obviously this was not directed toward you, but the question still applies. I ran through a list of atheist and/or strict evolutionist sources I had studied, and then asked the interlocutors at that time, “It comes down to this: are your convictions against Christian faith directed against the real thing? How do you know?”

  21. Tom,

    I want to ask about the source of our evil. You say that it is in the “nature of humanity”, which I take to mean that we are essentially “tainted and marred by pride, self-centeredness, desires for power and prestige, disregard for God’s righteousness, and an innate inability on our own to rise to his righteous standard.” And, given your view of salvation, I take it that you think that we cannot overcome our pride, self-centeredness, etc. without Christ’s sacrifice. First, is this your view? Also, what role does Satan play in this understanding of sin and evil?

  22. Charlie says:

    Hi Tom,
    You asked Nick Matzke as he brought up Darwin and morality:

    If the source and authority of morality are “natural human sympathies,” would you describe for us what is more “natural” about moral action as commonly understand, than winning the competition for procreation?

    First, Darwin deemed, as our resident relativists have, that society decides what is moral or immoral and taught that this is enforced, to the point of impacting one’s conscience, by approbation and disapprobation.
    Man is morally inclined, by habituation by praise and blame, to the “general good” (as opposed to selfish happiness, for instance, or proper relation to his Creator).
    And … :
    “The term, general good, may be defined as the rearing of the greatest number of individuals in full vigour and health, with all their faculties perfect, under the conditions to which they are subjected. As the social instincts both of man and the lower animals have no doubt been developed by nearly the same steps, it would be advisable, if found practicable, to use the same definition in both cases, and to take as the standard of morality, the general good or welfare of the community, rather than the general happiness; but this definition would perhaps require some limitation on account of political ethics”. Chapter 4, DoM (dare not read Chapter 5, you deniers of Darwin’s eugenics).

    Whatever society deems in its best interest, and that is, as you suggest, the rearing of the greatest number of healthy offspring, it will praise and reward, thus reinforcing as “moral”. Praise and blame in the interests of the general good are the cause of moral feelings and, of course, procreation is exactly what Darwin deemed the moral imperative and upon which any Darwinian morality is grounded.

    Therefore, if a society deems an action to be in its best interests, ie., to allow it to produce the most healthy offspring, that action is moral.
    Darwin confirms, in contradiction to previous statements, that the high moral state of the civilized west is not the “natural” state of man, as he cites history and the lower tribes against his own theory. He also tells us that morality is, to some degree heritable – therefore, the less evolved men are naturally less moral.

    And what of this heritable moral quality? Well, if a man were reared in a society like bees our sisters would kill their brothers and mothers would kill their daughters and none would think a thing of it – it would not be wrong to do so. And yet, we would know right from wrong and have consciences just as we have now – they would merely be oriented toward different actions.

    I really couldn’t think less of Darwin as a moral commentator or his theory as a source.

  23. Oh, and while I realize you can’t look into every single ethical theory out there, but I personally find a lot of worth in the work of Emmanuel Levinas. While his work is very difficult to get through, I would highly suggest Adriaan Peperzak’s To the Other: An Introduction to the Philosophy of Emmanuel Levinas and Beyond: The Philosophy of Emmanuel Levinas and Colin Davis’ Levinas: An Introduction. But, again, I realize you probably have enough to work on as it is, so take it for what it is.

  24. Paul says:

    Is Darwinism, along with its intellectual descendants* the kind of thing that could contribute to something like Nazism?

    Yes, like Helter Skelter by the Beatles led to the Manson murders. It’s not like Manson chose Helter Skelter on a completely arbitrary basis to inspire his crimes – the song is not a sweet, syrupy romantic ballad, but the Beatles surely did not have any violent intent when they recorded the song.

    The influence of evolution and Helter Skelter is not a black and white situation, either way.

    But let’s grant, for the sake of argument, that Helter Skelter did help Manson murder, and that evolution id in some sense pave the way for Nazism. But then let’s assume for the sake of argument that evolution is true (if it isn’t true, then we might as well condemn it for not being true as much as we could condemn it for paving the way to Nazism, and the logically prior issue would be its truth, not the amount of influence). What do we do with something that is true, does not intend to lead to something like Nazism, but is used by Nazism (let’s assume that for the sake of argument, too)? We surely can’t reject it, because it’s true (as we have assumed for this argument). We can only manage, somehow, how people might use it for their own ends.

  25. Tom Gilson says:

    Good questions, Kevin. I hope you don’t mind if I take a shortcut and refer you to an older blog post or two where I’ve written on these things: The Beauty of Explanation: The Human Condition and The Beauty of Explanation: The Solution. (The use of “Beauty” in those titles is explained in the first of those two posts, and also in the first post in that series.)

  26. Charlie says:

    Hi Paul,

    What do we do with something that is true, does not intend to lead to something like Nazism, but is used by Nazism (let’s assume that for the sake of argument, too)?

    Evolution can have no intent, if evolution is true.
    And if it is true, in the sense you and Darwin mean, then there is nothing we have to say about its use and, contra Dawkins, we have no hope of rising above it.
    If it is true then the Nazis were, as you have previously affirmed, right and good to do what they did and all we can do is complain that we did not prefer that they did it.
    But, having grown up in that bee hive, we wouldn’t be complaining.

    The thing is, presuming evolution to be true, the Nazis were far from alone and their Holocaust was within a hair’sbreadth of happening (to greater extent than it in fact did) here and elsewhere – in fact, it did happen elsewhere, many elsewheres, and it is likely to happen again – since we seem intent on whitewashing its primary (un-Helter Skelterish) cause. And, again, if evolution were true we would be intellectually dishonest to say they were wrong.

    ====
    Second to that, if there is no link am I immoral to mistakenly believe, based upon much evidence, that there is?

  27. Tom Gilson says:

    Paul, you’ve pointed us in a very interesting direction with that question. If evolution is true, and if it can lead to Darwinism, “We can only manage, somehow, how people might use it for their own ends.” I agree completely.

    But based on those premises, there is still the question of why that’s important. I have to be very careful every time I ask that question, because I think we all know on first principles that it is important. Yet as I have tried to point out, if those premises are true, there is no coherent explanation for why it’s important. That importance must come from somewhere. It is a value, not just a behavior or a sentiment. If it is just a behavior or just a sentiment, then it has no purchase, no authority, no particular reason for anyone to consider it important.

    (I’m continuing as I was above to speak of naturalistic evolution; what I write here does not apply to theistic evolution.)

    Evolution could produce ethically-related behaviors, beliefs, sentiments, opinions, norms, and so on, but it could never make them true. It can produce belief X or Y (e.g., x is good, y is bad). It cannot make X or Y true. It can produce the is (people believe X or Y) but never the ought (X and Y are true statements of moral oughts).

    So if evolution can produce belief X or Y, but cannot make X or Y true, and if (as I have argued above) the causal space for what what makes us human is entirely occupied by evolution, then where does the truth of X or Y come from? There is no conceivable source for it.

    So then, as you so astutely said, we are left with somebody deciding he or she must “manage, somehow, how people might use it for their own ends.” That’s all we have. But do you see where that might lead? It’s exactly what Stalin decided, and Hitler, and many others. They decided to manage (somehow) how people would make their choices and live their lives.

    You might object that these despots were not doing what you said: they were not using their power to manage other people’s selfishness, they were using it to express their own. But that objection only has relevance if you can show their motives and actions were actually less good than other motives and actions might have been. Where, though, will you find a standard by which to show that?

  28. Tom,

    Neither of those really answered my question. Let me frame it from my own perspective.

    From a Buddhist perspective, “pride, self-centeredness, desires for power and prestige”, and, as it might be stated in Buddhism, that we “reject the possibility of well-being” (“disregard for God’s righteousness”) and “our resistence to cultivating well-being” (“an innate inability on our own to rise to his righteous standard”), comes about from particular causes and conditions, primarily our grasping, aversion, and ignorance. As the last is primarily understood as ignorance of our own empty nature (I talk about this in part here) and is not relevant to a Christian perspective, I’ll leave it be for the moment.

    By “grasping” we mean that (1) we desire that which we like to stay and (2) we desire what we do not or can’t have. By “aversion” we mean that (1) we desire to push away that which we don’t like and (2) we desire that we never experience that which we don’t like. By doing this, we bring on ourselves suffering and live unskillfully (i.e. with pride, anger, fear, etc.), thereby bringing suffering on to others. It is not some “fallen nature” that compels us to act sinfully, but our habitual grasping and aversion to that which is essentially impermanent.

    But, and all Buddhist approaches are agreed on this, it is possible to learn how not to grasp or be aversive, which will eradicate our pride, anger, fear, etc. (the Third Noble Truth). However, given your view (again, if I am understanding it correctly), no amount of mental training (i.e. meditation) can eradicate our pride, anger, fear, etc. because these are an essential part of our human nature and can only be eradicated by Christ’s work and decree. Pride is actually a good connecting point as Christianity sees pride as the root of man’s evil, so that a possible non-Christian approach at eradicating pride could be a strong defeater of at least one understanding of Christ’s role in our perfection.

    So, with this, my questions would be the following: (1) what does our grasping and aversion miss in our “fallen nature” that your view accounts for and, (2) if it does present a unified account of the causes of our selfishness, what makes you think that we cannot get rid of our grasping and aversion?

    I hope that clarifies my question.

  29. Tom Gilson says:

    There is some confusion of the order of comments here because of a correction I made in the time settings. It’s related to this still. Sorry about that…

  30. I was wondering what was happening with that. :o)

  31. Nick (Matzke) says:

    Heh. Well, at least you guys are reading Darwin now, but you aren’t even getting the basics. Various misunderstandings/weirdness in your posts:

    1. Um, quoting Darwin being against consanguineous marriages is supposed to convince us of the dastardly nature of Darwin’s theory??? I think you all agree with me that close consanguineous marriages aren’t a good thing.

    2. This quote of Darwin: “Important as the struggle for existence has been and even still is, yet as far as the highest part of man’s nature is concerned there are other agencies more important. For the moral qualities are advanced, either directly or indirectly, much more through the effects of habit, the reasoning powers, instruction, religion, &c., than through natural selection; though to this latter agency may be safely attributed the social instincts, which afforded the basis for the development of the moral sense.”

    Again, a great quote: Darwin says that the highest part of our nature is guided by agencies more important (!!!) than natural selection, and lists them (and includes religion!). Yep, sure sounds like Hitler there.

    Just what is the huge problem with Darwin again?

    All Darwin is saying is that NS can explain the social instincts, i.e. the fact that people naturally develop feelings & sympathy for each other (when they interact with humans, something which the Nazi leaders avoided but which deeply affected the guards etc. who were ordered to carry out executions etc.).

    3. Speaking of Nazi guards, how do we explain the fact that, despite Nazi indoctrination, military orders, propaganda, peer pressure, the threat of death for disobeying orders, etc., many Nazi guards, executioners, etc. experienced tremendous guilt, shame, shock, digust, suicidal feelings, etc., when confronted with the mass killings. This is was motivated a bunch of right-wing militarists to attempt to assisinate Hitler.

    What this shows us is that morality is NOT completely culturally determined, and instead, there is something in human nature that rebels against the cruel treatment of others, that causes feelings of sympathy when one sees other humans in pain and dying, etc.

    Clearly, it is an innate part of human nature and not dependent on culture. We don’t even have to decide here whether or not God made us that way, or NS did (or both, which is possible) — the fact is that humans are that way, and moral conscience is innate. Like human faculties or math or science or anything else, the innate moral sense didn’t produce the complete modern set of rules & laws in an instant, instead it took thousands of years of cultural improvement. But that moral sense is what has guided this improvment the whole way.

    4. You’re misunderstanding Darwin if you think he thought morality was cultural, his whole point was that the fundamentals of morality were innate & inherited.

    5. And Darwin also didn’t think bees killed their sisters due to their *culture,* or that a different culture would make it OK for humans to kill their siblings. Instead, if humans were completely rebuilt from the genes up to be a biologicall hard-wired hive species (like bees are), where things like killing siblings did not conflict with the innate sympathies of the species, then, well, killing siblings would be perfectly OK for that species. Really, that species wouldn’t be “human” anymore so this is a bit of word game, but think of it this way: do you morally condemn bees and ants for their behaviors, e.g. slave-making, war on other colonies, siblicide, etc.? If not, why not?

  32. Tom Gilson says:

    Kevin, do you subscribe to these Buddhist views personally, or is this an academic question?

  33. You could say that I subscribe to that view: it makes a lot of sense to me and I can see the truth of it in my own life. You could certainly say that I do not believe in original sin or that man by nature is evil and cannot do anything to reduce that evil in their lives.

  34. Tom Gilson says:

    Nick, if you think this “misunderstanding” explains why I haven’t yet come to agreement with you…

    You’re misunderstanding Darwin if you think he thought morality was cultural, his whole point was that the fundamentals of morality were innate & inherited.

    … then you are misunderstanding me. My whole point is directed toward the inadequacy of “the fundamentals of morality [being] innate & inherited.” That is exactly what I have been addressing.

    I have said over and over again that I recognize evolution teaches this. This is what I have been pointing at, and arguing has problems associated with it. All you’re doing is re-stating the starting point of my argument. I don’t really need you to re-state it for me, Nick; I started there myself already.

    It has been some frustration to you that I haven’t read Midgley or Konner. It has been some frustration to me that you have been answering me without apparently reading what I wrote right here on this page.

  35. Tom Gilson says:

    Let me make it more clear. This is the outline of my argument:

    1) Naturalistic evolution can explain the existence of moral beliefs, sentiments, customs, opinions, etc.
    2) These amount only to statements of facts; they are “is” statements, descriptions of human mentation and behavior, that cannot lead to “oughts.”
    3) There is a problem with (2).

    That functions as an outline of everything I’ve been saying in this thread. Only an outline, of course, and not intended to re-state the argument. If you will re-read what I’ve written, I think you’ll see how it’s fleshed out in argument.

  36. Tom,

    Regarding #2, isn’t the moral realist basing his “ought” on the “is” of moral realities? In fact, if it didn’t that fact would seriously weaken its claims, wouldn’t it?

  37. Charlie says:

    Hi Nick,

    Heh. Well, at least you guys are reading Darwin now, but you aren’t even getting the basics. Various misunderstandings/weirdness in your posts:

    Heh.
    You’ve got your chronology mixed up, but nice try at omniscience.

    1. Um, quoting Darwin being against consanguineous marriages is supposed to convince us of the dastardly nature of Darwin’s theory??? I think you all agree with me that close consanguineous marriages aren’t a good thing.

    Um. Love your grunts and punctuation marks. They’re on sale this week?

    Quoting Darwin regarding the use of his theory in informing lawmaking is more to the point – and these didn’t end with consanguineous marriages. Nobody said anything about being dastardly – the point is the historical link between Darwin and Hitler, as you pointed out – not that Darwin was a villain. While some feel a need to deify him we don’t feel the need to demonize him.

    Just what is the huge problem with Darwin again?

    Hang in there, Nick. If you change the subject often enough you might lose everyone. Unless they actually read the context and consider the point of the quote – again the points are that, like Hitler, Darwin thought 1) biology and the laws of nature should inform our lawmakers (in fact, Darwin thought his theory ought to inform the whole of metaphysics), 2) man has achieved his high level of evolution through the struggle for existence, 3) if he is to continue to advance (and the progressive Darwin certainly thought he ought to) then he cannot be shielded from this struggle and, finally, that 4) Hitler was using Darwin’s very words as well as his ideas.

    Clearly, it is an innate part of human nature and not dependent on culture. We don’t even have to decide here whether or not God made us that way, or NS did (or both, which is possible) — the fact is that humans are that way, and moral conscience is innate.

    Clearly. Clearly Darwin can beg the question but can’t account for it and shows us how in his theory the moral content is contingent upon our culture and is grounded by our need to procreate.

    4. You’re misunderstanding Darwin if you think he thought morality was cultural, his whole point was that the fundamentals of morality were innate & inherited.

    Except that’s only half the story. He thought that there was heritability involved in the passing of social instincts but he acknowledged that even that, though especially the content of the moral system, was conditioned.

    “Lastly, habit in the individual would ultimately play a very important part in guiding the conduct of each member; for the social instinct, together with sympathy, is, like any other instinct, greatly strengthened by habit, and so consequently would be obedience to the wishes and judgment of the community. These several subordinate propositions must now be discussed, and some of them at considerable length. ”

    “Moreover, anything performed very often by us, will at last be done without deliberation or hesitation, and can then hardly be distinguished from an instinct; yet surely no one will pretend that such an action ceases to be moral. ”

    “But in the case of man, who alone can with certainty be ranked as a moral being, actions of a certain class are called moral, whether performed deliberately, after a struggle with opposing motives, or impulsively through instinct, or from the effects of slowly-gained habit.

    “The nature and strength of the feelings which we call regret, shame, repentance or remorse, depend apparently not only on the strength of the violated instinct, but partly on the strength of the temptation, and often still more on the judgment of our fellows.
    Chapter 4

    5. And Darwin also didn’t think bees killed their sisters due to their *culture,* or that a different culture would make it OK for humans to kill their siblings.

    Wrong. He said if we man were raised in the bee’s culture man would murder and none would think anything of it.

    Instead, if humans were completely rebuilt from the genes up to be a biologicall hard-wired hive species (like bees are), where things like killing siblings did not conflict with the innate sympathies of the species, then, well, killing siblings would be perfectly OK for that species.

    Wrong. He did not say if man evolved in the bee’s culture (ie, was a bee), but if man (not bee) were raised in that culture.

    Really, that species wouldn’t be “human” anymore so this is a bit of word game, but think of it this way: do you morally condemn bees and ants for their behaviors, e.g. slave-making, war on other colonies, siblicide, etc.? If not, why not?

    Because they aren’t moral creatures – they aren’t man. In Darwin’s words, they haven’t the “intellectual faculties … as active and as highly developed as in man” and are “[in] capable of comparing his past and future actions or motives, and of approving or disapproving of them.”
    But man, raised in bee culture, is man. He is moral, and he would be moral. But, in that culture, he would have different “moral sense”.
    Chapter 4.

    If, for instance, to take an extreme case, men were reared under precisely the same conditions as hive-bees, there can hardly be a doubt that our unmarried females would, like the worker-bees, think it a sacred duty to kill their brothers, and mothers would strive to kill their fertile daughters; and no one would think of interfering.* Nevertheless, the bee, or any other social animal, would gain in our supposed case, as it appears to me, some feeling of right or wrong, or a conscience. For each individual would have an inward sense of possessing certain stronger or more enduring instincts, and others less strong or enduring; so that there would often be a struggle as to which impulse should be followed; and satisfaction, dissatisfaction, or even misery would be felt, as past impressions were compared during their incessant passage through the mind. In this case an inward monitor would tell the animal that it would have been better to have followed the one impulse rather than the other. The one course ought to have been followed, and the other ought not; the one would have been right and the other wrong; but to these terms I shall recur.

    All they need to do to be moral is to follow the inward monitor to follow one impulse rather than the other. And those impulses are conditioned by the society in which they are reared (brought up and cared for from a young age).

  38. Charlie says:

    3. Speaking of Nazi guards, how do we explain the fact that, despite Nazi indoctrination, military orders, propaganda, peer pressure, the threat of death for disobeying orders, etc., many Nazi guards, executioners, etc. experienced tremendous guilt, shame, shock, digust, suicidal feelings, etc., when confronted with the mass killings. This is was motivated a bunch of right-wing militarists to attempt to assisinate Hitler.

    I missed the part where I conceded that Darwinism was true.
    Ever hear of God, common grace, conscience, absolute morality, right and wrong?

  39. But if man were to be raised “under precisely the same conditions as hive-bees” then they would necessarily have to be bees since the “conditions” of the hive require beings of a particular size with particular capacities (that man sorely lacks) and certain jobs to fulfill. This would mean, of course, that he wouldn’t be man anymore as he would both have to lose capacities that the bee doesn’t have and gain certain faculties that the bee does have.

    I would also question your direct translation of “conditions” to “culture”: the latter has connotations that the former does not necessarily have and it would take some strong argumentation to demonstrate that Darwin would think of them as interchangeable in the above reference.

  40. Charlie says:

    Hi Kevin,
    Not a very interesting little word game there.
    Don’t blame me if Darwin’s thought experiment strikes you as unworkable. He is clearly talking about man, not bees. They obviously are no longer bees by Darwin’s first premise, that of a “strictly social animal, [whose] intellectual faculties were to become as active and as highly developed as in man” and by his finding that they “would gain in our supposed case, as it appears to me, some feeling of right or wrong, or a conscience.”
    Obviously, being raised in exactly the same conditions , ie, being bees, they would not, because they have not, a sense of right and wrong or a conscience.
    “For each individual would have an inward sense of possessing certain stronger or more enduring instincts, and others less strong or enduring; so that there would often be a struggle as to which impulse should be followed; and satisfaction, dissatisfaction, or even misery would be felt, as past impressions were compared during their incessant passage through the mind. ” Nor does Darwin attribute to those exactly -same condition animals (necessarily bees) satisfaction, dissatisfaction or even misery.

    And if you mean to claim that rearing them under the exact conditions is not placing them in that culture then you’re the one who’s going to need a strong argument.
    What would bee culture be but the precise conditions of the hive?

    cul·ture (kŭl’chər) Pronunciation Key
    n.
    The totality of socially transmitted behavior patterns, arts, beliefs, institutions, and all other products of human work and thought.

    These patterns, traits, and products considered as the expression of a particular period, class, community, or population: Edwardian culture; Japanese culture; the culture of poverty.

    These patterns, traits, and products considered with respect to a particular category, such as a field, subject, or mode of expression: religious culture in the Middle Ages; musical culture; oral culture.

    The predominating attitudes and behavior that characterize the functioning of a group or organization.

    http://dictionary.reference.com/browse/culture

  41. Charlie says:

    By the way, if you are really interested in whether or not Darwin thought that the content and moral beliefs are conditioned by culture, or cultured by conditions, you too can read Chapters 4 and 5 of Descent of Man. It’s quite obvious, and his bee disclaimer is an illustration of that.

  42. Charlie says:

    re: 37
    Not without equivocation.

  43. Tom Gilson says:

    Good morning, Kevin,

    You asked,

    isn’t the moral realist basing his “ought” on the “is” of moral realities? In fact, if it didn’t that fact would seriously weaken its claims, wouldn’t it?

    The “is” of moral realism is that objective moral values and duties exist, and apply to humans. I think we can draw a rational connection between that and “objective moral values and duties exist, and apply to humans.”

  44. Tom Gilson says:

    Nick,

    I have to bring this up again. You’ve making implications of ignorance toward us for not having read what you’ve read. But Charlie asked you again last night (quoting you first, and then his reply):

    3. Speaking of Nazi guards, how do we explain the fact that, despite Nazi indoctrination, military orders, propaganda, peer pressure, the threat of death for disobeying orders, etc., many Nazi guards, executioners, etc. experienced tremendous guilt, shame, shock, digust, suicidal feelings, etc., when confronted with the mass killings. This is was motivated a bunch of right-wing militarists to attempt to assisinate Hitler.


    Ever hear of God, common grace, conscience, absolute morality, right and wrong?

    I’m sure you actually have heard of most of those things, but do you know how Christians would answer your question, really? Because it’s not very complicated or obscure. It does involved God, and right and wrong; and it involves conscience and common grace. These were very, very familiar concepts in our culture once, and they are still very relevant to the current discussion.

    Earlier I had asked the question (borrowed from another thread) “are your convictions against Christian faith directed against the real thing? How do you know?”

    I am not saying that you have been raising objections to the Christian faith here; please follow the “asked” link, and take note that this question was borrowed from another thread. But this interchange between you and Charlie does raise doubt in my mind whether you know what Christianity says about the things we’ve been talking about.

    Evolutionary theory, right or wrong, is one of the most significant drivers of human thinking and culture over the last 150 years, especially in the West. I do not believe ignorance of evolutionary theory is acceptable; nor is a mere surface understanding of it. An educated adult ought to be well-read in it.

    Christian belief and teaching, right or wrong, is perhaps the most significant driver of human thinking and culture over the past 2000 years. Do you believe ignorance of Christian belief and teaching is acceptable? Do you believe a mere surface understanding of it is acceptable? Shouldn’t an educated adult be well-read in it?

    Maybe you are already, but as I said, your interchange with Charlie causes me to wonder.

  45. Tom Gilson says:

    Kevin,

    Thanks for answering a question for me.

    You asked how Christian belief reacts to certain Buddhist beliefs. I hope you’ll forgive me if I set that aside for now, since it doesn’t seem to have much direct connection to the current discussion. If I’m wrong on that, please re-phrase the question so I can see the connection.

  46. Charlie,

    But by virtue of the fact that bees do not have the moral sensibilities of man, as they are not as advanced, then his analogy is highly questionable. This is not a \little word game\, but an analysis of the how Darwin understood man’s morality (through his sensibilities) and the fact that bees, by virtue of their own biological and behavioral structure, do not have those. So his thought experiment fails because it is too simplistic and does not even adhere to Darwin’s own ideas: man, by virtue of his evolutionary development, cannot be raised “under precisely the same conditions” as the bee-hive without ceasing to be man and thereby losing his conscience, which would then destroy Darwin’s notion of “good” and “bad”. The very idea that man could remain man while being raised in vastly different conditions is a complete rejection of the very relation of any biological organism to its evolutionary causes and conditions.

    By the way, please stop with the insulting and condescending turns of phrase: they do not advance your argument and it makes discourse rather unpleasant.

  47. Tom,

    While admittedly somewhat tangential, it is relevant as we are talking about the very causes of evil. If a convincing argument cannot be made that our essential nature (or some supernatural entity) accounts for more aspects of evil than a more natural (though not naturalistic; Buddhism is not in that camp) understanding of ethics, then rooting evil in the Fall and the ending of evil fully in the realm of a some conscious entity’s decision to ‘save’ us is not needed (unless reconceptualized, which I think is possible, but it would require rejecting understandings of the Atonement in light of a new approach). But I do understand your hesitation to spend time addressing it here, so it is your decision.

  48. Tom,

    But you have to admit that it is difficult for many to get a clear understanding of Christianity: not only are there a decent number of opposing views, but also opposing authorities. Are we to read only Evangelical works? If so, which ones? Are we to include the whole of Christian thought, which would literally be a few lifetime’s worth of study? Are we to mine the works of Biblical literalists, metaphoricists, or some rather expansive space in between? Are we to focus on the presuppositionalist apologists or the evidentialist apologists? Are we to ignore the most public Evangelicals, who tend to be in the political arena, as many think that they are too extreme in their views or are we to take them as representative of what ‘most Christians’ believe? Are we to talk with the rank and file Christians or primarily those who have advanced theological and philosophical degrees? And then we can move on to theological options: God as timeless or temporal, how to understand Christology, different views of soteriology, etc.

    Many of us have the same difficulties that you do: we are limited in who we come in contact with, in what we have time and resources to study, what we find interesting and not, so many dissenting voices of who we can trust, etc.

  49. Tom Gilson says:

    Kevin,

    I am sorry about the confusion you have experienced in approaching what Christians believe. Here is my answer to your question, since you asked. I believe an educated adult in the West should read the New Testament to start with, and have a passing knowledge of the Old Testament as well. Along with that, some familiarity with Augustine and Aquinas, the Westminster Confession, and the basics of the Council of Trent and Vatican II. That’s the starting point for an educated view of historic Christianity. It’s pretty minimal.

    I recommend also a good systematic theology: Wayne Grudem has written one that’s actually available in several different editions of varying length and complexity. For an excellent web-accessible argument on ethics, I’ve already linked to one here. Finally, over your certain objections (because you have raised them before) I would recommend Reasonable Faith by William Lane Craig.

    That doesn’t represent every stream of Christianity, naturally, but in my opinion it gives a decent start at Christianity that is both historic and Biblical.

  50. I have read a decent amount of Craig’s work, online and in print, and don’t find him very persuasive (I’ve mentioned many of my disagreements before). I have not seen him address my question on the exact causes of evil, except as it relates to theodicy, which isn’t quite what I’m asking. Perhaps you could be more specific about where he addresses that question?

    On the “confusion”, I was merely pointing out that people like Charlie have problems in understanding Christianity because the sources are so disparate and divisive, making it very difficult to pinpoint who believes what without extensive and voluminous research (that most of us cannot do). I’ve personally found this to be the case with just about every movement, including evolutionary theory, so that generalizations (like evolution entails Holocaust) become problematic from the start. You’ve certainly heard this before with my usual crusade against Evangelical discussions of so-called “postmodernism”, but the more I look into any other issue the more this seems to be the case everywhere. This multiplicity and polysymy should always be kept in mind, both as a real source of confusion and a warning to properly qualify our claims and be specific about what we’re addressing. And this is for all of us, myself included, not just you or Charlie.

  51. Paul says:

    Tom, I think most of your questions to me boil down to the objective moralist’s complaint against relativism, which we’ve discussed in the past without consensus.

    However, your recent formulation led me to a new thought. You said

    1) Naturalistic evolution can explain the existence of moral beliefs, sentiments, customs, opinions, etc.
    2) These amount only to statements of facts; they are “is” statements, descriptions of human mentation and behavior, that cannot lead to “oughts.”
    3) There is a problem with (2).

    I fully understand your point here, and the problem is real *as far as it [your definition of the problem] goes. But allow me to take the argument further than you go.

    1. NE can explain the existence of moral beliefs.

    2. A moral belief is commonly phrased as an “ought” (moral belief A says that “One ought to do X.”)

    3. So while statements of beliefs can be used to justify or to create an “ought,” the oughts are already conceded to exist in your formulation, and don’t therefore have to be derived from the “is” in those is statements.

    Those oughts are not justified or created through the is-ness of a supposedly true statement about evolution creating animals that feel moral sentiments (an is cannot be turned into an ought), but merely through the truth of the statement that evolution has created animals with moral sentiments. If it is true that evolution has created animals with moral sentiments, then that’s where the ought comes from: the animals express those moral sentiments by using the word “ought.”

    Perhaps what you’re really looking for, if I can try to clarify what your position really is, is why one ought should be held as opposed to any other one. That is a slight but real difference compared to the problem of where the ought comes from at all.

  52. Tom Gilson says:

    Kevin,

    I referenced Craig, Grudem, Westminster Confession, Copan, Trent, Vatican II, Aquinas, Augustine, and Paul. You wrote back (again) about how you don’t find Craig convincing, and you asked where he addresses your specific question. Why would that answer have to be in Craig, among all that I referenced? Could it be that you’re on a one-track agenda here, to find every opportunity you can to point out something lacking in Craig?

    As to the multiplicity of perspectives, I think Nick (you said Charlie but I think you meant Nick) is probably already well aware of that. He has authors he thinks we should read, and I have authors I think we should read. I think it’s quite safe to speak for Nick on this: we both know they are not the only authors in the world.

    Oh, and by the way,

    evolution entails Holocaust

    … does not represent what I have said, or anyone else that I know of. Just to make sure nobody jumps on that and represents it as if anyone actually had said that.

  53. Tom Gilson says:

    No, Paul, I’m not looking for why one ought should be justified relative to another one. I’m saying that under naturalistic evolution (NE) there are no real oughts.

    I’m afraid your attempted solution, ending this way…

    3. So while statements of beliefs can be used to justify or to create an “ought,” the oughts are already conceded to exist in your formulation, and don’t therefore have to be derived from the “is” in those is statements.

    … doesn’t get to the nub of it. Whether the oughts are conceded to exist is not the question. I think we all recognize oughts exist. My point is that the existence of objective morality cannot be explained under NE; that under NE there is every reason to think it should not and could not exist; or, that if one takes a very consistent thorough-going approach starting from NE, one must conclude that it does not exist, and that we are mistaken to think that it does.

    Therefore if one says (as Nick did) that I surrendered high ground on an issue, that statement is incompatible with NE. There is opinion about high ground under NE, but there is no real high (or low) ground, or any way to measure moral elevation at all.

  54. Since you specifically mentioned Craig as a possibility of responding to my “certain objections”, I was looking for a particular reference. Your reference to the other thinkers was for a broader “educated view of historic Christianity” and you didn’t mention them in any degree of specificity so I didn’t think you had anything particular in mind. If you would like to give specific references for them, I certainly wouldn’t object. It was your own specificity in mentioning him that brought on my question for a reference, not some programatic desire to apologetically assassinate him (though refuting such a ‘big wig’ in Evangelical apologetics would have more widespread significance than doing so with many other names).

  55. Tom Gilson says:

    Oh, I see.

    No, actually I wasn’t mentioning him as a possibility of him responding to your “certain objections.” I mentioned him over what I knew would be your certain objections. Mentioning him (in fact the entire list) was more for Nick Matzke’s benefit than for yours, if you recall how this whole discussion of reading lists began.

  56. Charlie says:

    Hi Kevin,

    So his thought experiment fails because it is too simplistic and does not even adhere to Darwin’s own ideas: man, by virtue of his evolutionary development, cannot be raised “under precisely the same conditions” as the bee-hive without ceasing to be man and thereby losing his conscience, which would then destroy Darwin’s notion of “good” and “bad”.

    As I said, don’t blame me if you don’t find Darwin’s thought experiment to be workable because, not beeing bees men can’t be raised in precisely the same conditions. I think that would be obvious even to Darwin, and one can give him the benefit of the doubt and take his analogy as for, at least, wat he thought it was worth. On the other hand, I never claimed he was a coherent or consistent writer. In fact, when we come to analyzing DoM, as I’m sure we will, you will see I think just the opposite.
    But the point of a thought experiment is not to point out how it is untenable, but to take it for what it is meant to represent.
    Darwin clearly, throughout his discussion on morality, and in no way limited to the few quotes I supplied, thinks that morality is conditioned by culture. Considerations of how others will think about and treat you, as well as conditioned habitual responses which become almost like instinct are very much a part of morality. He has no doubt about this, even though he sees no reason that these habits can’t also, once acquired, be inherited.

    Given what his view actually is, and as he presents it in DoM, this thought experiment is merely an illustration of that, as well as heading off another objection – that any creature with adequately developed intellect would share the same morality. He demonstrates through this “what if a man were raised in the precise conditions of a hive bee” that man’s morality is shaped by the precise conditions under which he is raised. Thus, different men and different societies will have different morality. Far from being thrust upon us by our natures he admits that the historical and anthropological case demonstrates quite the opposite.

    The very idea that man could remain man while being raised in vastly different conditions is a complete rejection of the very relation of any biological organism to its evolutionary causes and conditions.

    This does not follow. Darwin is presenting man, not some hypothetical, otherwise evolved creature, and raising that man, not evolving him, in this foreign culture, under these foreign conditions. And, in this condition, he tells us that our women would be murderers and that we would not think of interfering.
    Darwin at no point denies that this man, “we”, is still, in fact, man.

  57. Paul says:

    Tom, I agree that there are no objective (“real” as you would say) oughts under NE. We differ on the position that that leaves us in: you, I think, cannot imagine any non-objective ought as worthy of the name “ought,” whereas I get along fine with same.

    To stretch an analogy, if Einsteinian relativity destroyed a fixed, permanent (objective) position and was only left with relative position (the placement of one object A in relation to another B), that would still be open to the critique that we still don’t know where the object is “really” (objectively), but that wouldn’t prevent someone from moving the object (let’s say it’s a spaceship A) to another (planet B) based on their relative position.

    It works well enough, the pilings are driven deep enough to be functional, etc.

  58. Tom Gilson says:

    You think it works?

  59. Tom Gilson says:

    I should clarify. What does it work for? What does it accomplish? And (most of all) how do you know that what it accomplishes is good?

  60. Paul says:

    It works for those involved, that is, it governs and modifies behavior to a greater or lesser degree, just like objective morality would govern the behavior of sinners to a greater or lesser degree.

    It accomplishes the organization of behavior in a group or society for their benefit.

    If by “good” you mean “objectively good,” it’s obvious that we don’t (can’t?) know that it accomplishes objective good. If you mean, more fittingly, “relativistic good” (that is, good as defined by that group or society), then it should be obvious that it does accomplish that relativistic good, by definition (to a greater or lesser extent as above).

    These answers seem so basic that it makes me wonder whether I’ve missed some implication in your questions.

  61. Tom Gilson says:

    Paul, you didn’t miss anything but you did. Your descriptions of good, and your allusions to benefit, and the like, are all either circular or else 15 foot pilings driven into 100 feet of pure water. You can’t describe what is good without circling back to what people think is good, but you can’t describe why what people think is good actually is good, or how they would know if it wasn’t. Has every nation, tribe or culture’s opinion of the good been right, throughout all history? How do you know?

  62. Nick (Matzke) says:

    Quickly, various points:

    1. The provided Darwin quote on hive-bees isn’t the whole story, you cut the introduction to the passage, which makes it clear that Darwin is talking about the basic moral sense as an inherited feature nature of a species, not wholly determined by culture:

    “It may be well first to premise that I do not wish to maintain that any strictly social animal, if its intellectual faculties were to become as active and as highly developed as in man, would acquire exactly the same moral sense as ours. In the same manner as various animals have some sense of beauty, though they admire widely different objects, so they might have a sense of right and wrong, though led by it to follow widely different lines of conduct. If, for instance, to take an extreme case, men were reared under precisely the same conditions as hive-bees, there can hardly be a doubt that our unmarried females would, like the worker-bees, think it a sacred duty to kill their brothers, and mothers would strive to kill their fertile daughters; and no one would think of interfering. […]”

    The innate moral sense of humans, bees, and imaginary bees with human-like intelligence is being compared to the differing innate standards of beauty in various species. So we are talking about innate inherited features here.

    (Darwin does think culture is important, he discusses its role at length in various, but he considers it a secondary addition on top of the basic inherited moral sense. He does think that social instincts evolve in species beginning to be sociable, so the language can sometimes be confusing if you are not careful.)

    2. Regarding Tom’s summary of his basic argument — OK, it’s like I thought. Your basic problem with evolution, and the basic reason you think there is a Darwin-Hitler link, is that you think evolution undermines morality, or more precisely what you see as the theistic basis of morality. As I suggested before, this discussion isn’t really about Nazis then, despite the thread title: it’s about the creationist idea that evolution undermines God & morality. I’m happy to talk about that, but if that’s the basic argument then you’ve given up on any specific link between Nazis and Darwin, and instead are asserting that evolution leads to general badness. This is a position one can take but it is not a specific defense of a Darwin-Hitler link.

    3. I think Kevin here explained the response to the claim that evolution undermines morality pretty well:

    1. NE can explain the existence of moral beliefs.

    2. A moral belief is commonly phrased as an “ought” (moral belief A says that “One ought to do X.”)

    3. So while statements of beliefs can be used to justify or to create an “ought,” the oughts are already conceded to exist in your formulation, and don’t therefore have to be derived from the “is” in those is statements.

    Once you’ve conceded point #1 (although I wouldn’t say “moral beliefs”, I would say “moral feelings/moral sense (feelings of right & wrong), you’ve conceded that evolution doesn’t undermine morality. Once you’ve got the moral sense, you’ve already got the “ought”. You can’t escape from the “ought” any more than you can jump off your own shadow, it is an innate part of human nature. This is not an exact analogy, but it is rather like how humans find certain things tasty or digusting, beautiful or ugly, comfortable or uncomfortable, etc. Where does the authority come from to support “sugar is tasty”? Is sugar tasty because God says so? Or is it tasty because humans are built that way (by God, evolution, or both)? If evolution explains why sugar is tasty, does that undermine in any way our basic feeling that sugar is tasty?

    We can continue the analogy: culture can obviously build upon the basic human tastes, and produce elaborations like wedding cakes, but the basic authority for what humans like & dislike is genetically set.

    4. Following on this, we can also see how on Darwin’s account of morality, morality is NOT fundamentally relative to individual human beings or different human cultures. The human moral instinct, like human tastes, human sense of beauty, etc., is effectively universal to the species. We’ve all got the same basic compass inside, so deep down there is common ground on which to base common moral judgments, laws, etc.

    (this does mean that morality is relative to the species, but then, even traditional Christians accept this, i.e. ants don’t get condemned for slave-making)

    (there are also a few well-known exceptions, e.g. pathological cases of people who are not guilty by reason of insanity or whatever, again, these are recognized as valid exceptions even from a traditional Christian perspective without making morality “relative”)

  63. What if we didn’t reduce morality to “opinion” but to something like “what makes one happy”? For example, we have positive psychology that is trying to understand the conditions for happiness. The findings, for example, see almost no correlation between wealth (beyond being able to provide for the very basic necessities) but do see a strong correlation of happiness with those who have strong relationships, serve others, and are optimistic.

    One can readily provide evolutionary grounds for this: strong relationships can provide physical and emotional support, thereby relieving stress (which has more and more been found to greatly increase our susceptibility to diseases, physical and mental) and increasing physical and psychological quietude, further equipping us to be able to effectively deal with our environments. Serving others increases the perpetuation of the species on many levels: for those that we serve, in inspiring others to serve (which may be useful when we may need it), in strengthening social ties (see previous), it helps us put our own suffering and needs in a wider perspective, and it does feel good to help others. One of the things that I find most interesting in most Evangelical accounts of evolution is that it seems to think that an evolutionary perspective is essentially individualistic (unfortunately perpetuated at least in the notion of the so-called ‘selfish gene’) when organisms, quite obviously, are inherently social and interdependent, just as is the perpetuation of the species (takes two to tango, etc.).

    Optimism also helps in effectively using resources: whereas scepticism wastes energy and time in considering a large number of possible negative outcomes, optimism tends to be more realist and considers primarily realistic possibilities. There’s also the high correlation of pessimism and stress with its respective negative effects and the correlation of happiness and well-being. This, then, readily affects our ability to deal with our respective environments.

    So a close examination of those who are happy gives us these rather high correlations, significantly different from the ‘cultural’ belief that having money will bring happiness. Knowing this, is there really a need to find some supposedly ‘objective’ ground for why this is the case? The usual response is positing some fictitious ‘possible world’ where torturing babies brings about these positive effects, but then we are given no reason to think that this possible world is really ‘possible': that the activity of torturing can be correlated with happiness (one of the weakest aspect of thinking about possible worlds is our own ignorance of how things actually do work, so whether something is possible may be highly debateable). This, however, cannot be demonstrated and no positive reason for its possibility can be given.

    So what is missing in the above evolutionary account whereby someone can rigorously follow evolutionary imperatives (as given above) and not become a monster?

  64. SteveK says:

    Paul,

    If you mean, more fittingly, “relativistic good” (that is, good as defined by that group or society), then it should be obvious that it does accomplish that relativistic good, by definition (to a greater or lesser extent as above).

    You can’t have relativistic good without real good. Likewise, relativistic motion, position and time requires all to be real.

    To put it into terms you can appreciate, your pilings won’t function unless they’re driven into reality.

  65. Charlie says:

    Hi Nick,

    1. The provided Darwin quote on hive-bees isn’t the whole story, you cut the introduction to the passage, which makes it clear that Darwin is talking about the basic moral sense as an inherited feature nature of a species, not wholly determined by culture:

    Not wholly determined by culture? I didn’t miss that. I specifically told you your point was only half the story:

    4. You’re misunderstanding Darwin if you think he thought morality was cultural, his whole point was that the fundamentals of morality were innate & inherited.

    Except that’s only half the story. He thought that there was heritability involved in the passing of social instincts but he acknowledged that even that, though especially the content of the moral system, was conditioned.

    You accuse me of cutting the beginning, whose first sentence is this:

    “It may be well first to premise that I do not wish to maintain that any strictly social animal, if its intellectual faculties were to become as active and as highly developed as in man, would acquire exactly the same moral sense as ours.”

    But that’s exactly what I said to Kevin, and quoted:

    They obviously are no longer bees by Darwin’s first premise, that of a “strictly social animal, [whose] intellectual faculties were to become as active and as highly developed as in man” and by his finding that they “would gain in our supposed case, as it appears to me, some feeling of right or wrong, or a conscience.”

    and I told him Darwin was answering the objection as stated in that sentence:

    Given what his view actually is, and as he presents it in DoM, this thought experiment is merely an illustration of that, as well as heading off another objection – that any creature with adequately developed intellect would share the same morality.

    And I already said that such animals would have a moral sense but that they would differ in their conduct. So that’s the first two sentences you say I cut.
    By the third sentence we are quoting the same section.
    So I don’t think I really cut anything. I especially didn’t cut anything I wasn’t establishing or that was relevant in any way critical to my point.

    Darwin does think culture is important, he discusses its role at length in various,

    Thank you, just as I said. Your point was only half the story. Unfortunately , your point obscured the relativism necessarily entailed by Darwin’s theory of ethics.

    but he considers it a secondary addition on top of the basic inherited moral sense. He does think that social instincts evolve in species beginning to be sociable, so the language can sometimes be confusing if you are not careful.

    I am careful. Darwin lays out the fact that social species (man) can differ, because of culture, instruction, intellect, habit, shame/praise, etc., as to whether or not it is moral to kill babies, kill innocent women, steal, mistreat animals, etc.
    Culture decides these things, as a secondary add-on, by your statement, to the “social instinct” which has developed toward the “rearing of the greatest number of individuals in full vigour and health, with all their faculties perfect, under the conditions to which they are subjected ” – or, at least as far as their possibly limited intellects can discern.

    You say to Tom,

    I’m happy to talk about that, but if that’s the basic argument then you’ve given up on any specific link between Nazis and Darwin,

    I’ve established the historical link by your own criteria.

    4. Following on this, we can also see how on Darwin’s account of morality, morality is NOT fundamentally relative to individual human beings or different human cultures.

    No, we do not see this. We do see it is fundamentally relative to human cultures. Even among the so-called civilised races Darwin admits that slavery, which he deems a moral wrong, was not seen as such (according to him) until very recent times. He chalks morality (not the basic Social Instinct to reproduce at greatest efficiency but the actual actions) to seeking praise, avoiding blame, being instructed, developing habits, and, perhaps most importantly, to even following the will of God, gods or spirits – and I’m sure you’ll advance the idea that this is certainly cultural.

  66. Nick (Matzke) says:

    “I’m happy to talk about that, but if that’s the basic argument then you’ve given up on any specific link between Nazis and Darwin,”

    I’ve established the historical link by your own criteria.

    Really? You do realize that Darwin did not invent the phrase “struggle for existence”, right? Let’s see if you know your stuff: please provide Darwin’s major sources for this idea.

    Re: the rest. Now we’re just going in circles. Darwin’s critics in this thread are criticizing him for being both a cultural relativist and a biological determinist, and having helped out the Nazis in both contradictory ways. It’s pretty funny actually if one is sufficiently into this stuff.

  67. Charlie says:

    That depends, I think; you can go with his real influence, Lyell, or his claimed one, Malthus.
    If you want to argue now that Darwin was not an original thinker I will happily acquiesce and repeat the adage that “what was new was not true and what was true was not new”.
    If you want to argue that the idea came from Malthus but through Darwin then that still leaves Darwin as the link.
    But for now I will appeal to both history and contemporary events. We happen to be in the throes of celebrating Darwin’s birthday and the anniversary of Darwin’s book – not Malthus’.
    It is called Darwinism (even by Darwinists) and not Malthusism for a reason. Haeckel was promoting, to Darwin’s delight, Darwin’s theory in Germany, not Malthus’. Hitler studied Darwinism in school, not Malthusism.
    etc.
    In the Secret Book quotes Hitler is also quoting”natural selection” and the fact that the eternal struggle for existence is the basis for positive evolution (so you can’t pin it on Blyth either). Darwin, not Malthus.
    Malthus didn’t have a theory of evolution by natural selection.
    He continues by citing the fact that man must not artificially lower his birthrate or he will thwart natural selection. That’s Descent of Man.
    In addition, in your rescuing of Darwin previously you cited the fact that Haeckel was more likely the influence on Hitler because he was closer to his contemporary, but Malthus is a hundred years before Hitler.

    “In science the credit goes to the man who convinces the world, not the man to whom the idea first occurs.”
    Sir Francis Darwin, Eugenics Review, April 1914

  68. Charlie says:

    Darwin’s critics in this thread are criticizing him for being both a cultural relativist and a biological determinist, and having helped out the Nazis in both contradictory ways. It’s pretty funny actually if one is sufficiently into this stuff.

    His theory of ethics propounded biological inheritance of moral capacity (racial superiority/inferiority of intellect) and it also demonstrated the cultural effects on the contents of a moral system. Accept both aspects yourself so I don’t think they are entirely contradictory.
    He supported both and argued for both but only the inheritance was necessary for the Nazi’s belief. The cultural relativism only demonstrates that if Darwin was right then so were the Nazis – or, at least, they were as right as anyone else.
    I don’t know how to classify Hitler in terms of his morality, viz relativism/realism. I’m sure it could be argued both ways, but my guess is he was an absolutist.

  69. Tom Gilson says:

    Good morning, Nick,

    Thanks for catching up last night some. You’re closer now than you were before to hearing what I was trying to say. You wrote,

    Your basic problem with evolution, and the basic reason you think there is a Darwin-Hitler link, is that you think evolution undermines morality, or more precisely what you see as the theistic basis of morality. As I suggested before, this discussion isn’t really about Nazis then, despite the thread title: it’s about the creationist idea that evolution undermines God & morality.

    A couple of clarifications: You’re right, I do see naturalistic evolution (NE) as undermining morality. Not just the “theistic basis,” though, but all objective morality whatever.

    This is not my “basic problem with evolution,” precisely; it is one of my problems with it, though, so that’s not too far off. And it is certainly not the reason I think there is a Darwin-Hitler link. That would be too obvious of a non sequitur. Let me remind you what I wrote in the original post (OP) here,

    So I have in a sense sidestepped whether Darwin led to Hitler. I’ve done that because it’s a question for specialists in history, which I am not. I have an opinion, which I hold with (I hope) appropriate tentativeness while the experts work it out.

    I also said there (paraphrasing now) that I think the evidence from history probably leads to the conclusion that there is that link, but I recognize there is disagreement on this, so I am withholding final judgment.

    On this next point you’re right and you’re wrong:

    As I suggested before, this discussion isn’t really about Nazis then, despite the thread title

    The topic built on the previous matter of the Nazis. That was your issue this time around, meaning it was you, not I, who brought it up. I’m a lot more interested in the larger implications of NE, and I showed in my OP that if NE is true, it becomes problematic to assign the word “wrong” to anything at all.

    And here, I think, you’re seeing through eyes of prejudice or stereotyping.

    it’s about the creationist idea that evolution undermines God & morality.

    The reason I think that is because I have in no wise intimated that evolution undermines God. I wonder if you have seen people argue that before, and have jumped to the assumption that I was doing the same. I am not. I have said that Naturalistic Evolution (which stipulates there is no God, undermines the basis for moral reasoning. I do not think evolution per se undermines the idea of God. But NE, which stipulates there is no God, obviously does! Previously I said,

    I’m also not talking about ” if humans evolved then the Bible is wrong, God didn’t create us.” I’m referring very carefully and specifically to naturalistic evolution, that version of evolution that specifies or stipulates that God didn’t create us, and the Bible is wrong. What I’ve been writing here does not apply to (for instance) theistic evolution, and I haven’t suggested that it does.

    I am trying to be precise here so that you know what I’m talking about, and so you don’t assign someone else’s argument to me falsely.

    To summarize, in this post I am saying that Naturalistic Evolution undermines the basis on which objective morality is grounded. Therefore to say that something is “wrong” or “right” as if it were an objective statement is inconsistent with naturalistic evolution. (I applied that conclusion to your accusation that I had surrendered the high ground, and suggested that if one’s belief is in NE, there is no such thing as high or low ground to surrender.)

    In a bit I’ll come back and respond to your argument countering mine with respect to evolution and morality. All I have tried to do in this comment has been to clarify what I’ve been saying all along, so that we’re able to talk about it for what it is, and not for what it isn’t.

  70. Tom Gilson says:

    Now with respect to Darwinian-based morality, you and Kevin have said,

    1. NE can explain the existence of moral beliefs/sense/sentiments.
    2. A moral belief is commonly phrased as an “ought” (moral belief A says that “One ought to do X.”)
    3. So while statements of beliefs can be used to justify or to create an “ought,” the oughts are already conceded to exist in your formulation, and don’t therefore have to be derived from the “is” in those is statements.

    This accounts for psychological attitudes. NE instills in organisms a sense that there is some obligation to some duty, and the organism cannot escape that attitude. So far I’m not seeing anything with the appearance of an actual moral ought, however. It appears much more to be an inescapable attitude toward some behavior, not tied in any apparent sense to what is right or wrong.

    There was once in the history of thought a distinction between the study of morals and the study of ethics. Roughly speaking, morals had to do with what people practice or what they believe to be good or bad, while ethics had to do with what actually is right or wrong. That distinction is largely lost now, but I would like to revive it for the current discussion.

    I’ll grant that in some sense, Kevin’s and your proposed basis of morality can “work.” It can provide a basis for social functioning, mutual cooperation, maybe even altruism. But it’s not an ethical basis in the sense I’ve just described. It cannot provide an explanation or insight into what is actually, ontologically, right or wrong. Moral rights and wrongs are more or less accidents of random variation and natural selection, neither of which knows anything of right or wrong.

    The hive analogy (regardless of how your dispute with Charlie about its interpretation comes out) shows that if certain amoral contingencies had turned out differently, we might be the sort of creature that routinely kills its young, with full approval of all. So the person in today’s culture who chooses not to kill her young is not doing something that is actually, objectively, inherently right, she is doing what is contingently consistent with evolved opinion; which carries the label of morality but does not express any relation with what is actually right or wrong.

    Later you wrote,

    We can continue the analogy: culture can obviously build upon the basic human tastes, and produce elaborations like wedding cakes, but the basic authority for what humans like & dislike is genetically set.

    This, I think, reinforces my point. You speak of what we “like & dislike.” This is apt language for morality under NE; it’s certainly more accurate than saying “right or wrong,” since right or wrong imply conformity or noncomformity to some actual ethical standard.

    Further, “the authority [for this] is genetically set.” Recall that “genetically set” is shorthand for “the outcome of amoral processes that had no particular purpose or end in mind, other than reproductive success.” So the authority for morality under NE, by your own formulation (with my expansion of the terminology), is amoral and purposeless. One may anthropomorphize and say that this authority has the “purpose” of producing winners in the competition to reproduce, but that anthropomorphizing is tricky: it might almost fool you into thinking evolution has a purpose. (Even if it did, that purpose could be nothing other than survival and reproduction.) That’s not what I would call much of a basis for morality. That’ not what I would consider much of an authority.

    The conclusion: If NE is true, then there is no ontological basis for right and wrong, there is nothing that is actually right, nothing that is actually wrong; there are only psychological attitudes enforced by an amoral purposeless anthropomorphized authority. N

    ow, does that prove NE is wrong? No. It does prove, though, that (for example) if you accuse me of surrendering high ground on some moral issue, I can easily answer, “what high ground? You’re just referring to some psychological like or dislike, and I have my own likes and dislikes, and I disagree.” If, on the other hand, you say, “but you are really wrong, Tom!” I would say, then, that you are not supporting the conclusions of NE. You might be supporting some other kind of evolution (theistic, perhaps), but not naturalistic

    And the same applies to Hitler and the Nazis. If you think what they did was really, actually wrong, then you need to be thinking of this in terms of some other foundation than naturalistic evolution.

    You can have “What Hitler and the Nazis did was genuinely, actually, truly wrong.” Or you can have Naturalistic Evolution. But you can’t have both, because NE doesn’t admit of any such thing as “genuinely, actually, truly wrong.”

    (I hope you’ve read the Copan article I’ve linked to twice already (let’s make it three times). He does an excellent job on this, and I would draw your attention especially to his distinction between the epistemological question of morality and the ontological issue. I’ve tried throughout this thread to say clearly that NE adherents can know what morality is and act in accordance with it. They just can’t explain its basis adequately. Copan does a better job of explaining that than I have.)

  71. Tom Gilson says:

    Kevin, you asked,

    What if we didn’t reduce morality to “opinion” but to something like “what makes one happy”? For example, we have positive psychology that is trying to understand the conditions for happiness. The findings, for example, see almost no correlation between wealth (beyond being able to provide for the very basic necessities) but do see a strong correlation of happiness with those who have strong relationships, serve others, and are optimistic.

    Two issues here: one, the same disconnect with what is truly right and wrong that I just described in responding to Nick. Two, what you’re describing is utilitarianism, which has already been found wanting even from a practical standpoint. The hard question is the “utilitarian calculus.” How do you know what really makes people happy? Is the goal to maximmize total happiness or average happiness? What if my taking 10 points of happiness from 5 other people involuntarily increases my happiness by 100 points: then we’ve increased both total and average happiness, so am I morally obligated to do that for the sake of this ethic? Who decides what “happiness” is? The “happiness psychologists?” Are they taking all our heritage of human virtue into account, or is it all just about being “happy”? Where does obligation lie? Is there any moral obligation at all?

    Just a few questions, a bit scrambled in their sequence, but you get the drift I hope.

  72. On the distinction between ethics and morality, I have the feeling you are stacking the deck: even in your very definition you are asking for what is “ontologically, right or wrong“, thereby demanding that we concede your point if we are going to be moral. Even though I am not a naturalist (it is way too reductionistic), I think I can point to something of a ground, drawing from Levinas: morality is first and foremost that which emerges in our interpersonal interactions, in the face of the Other. It is because I am faced with an Other (which can be man or, in a theistic interpretation, God; in a later Heideggerian interpretation, it can include the whole realm of beings) that I have to make an accounting for myself, to whom I must respond, either through acknowledgement, ignoring, or some other way. Any possible ‘ontologically’ existing ethical laws or rules are impotent and worthless without this pre-theoretical, pre-propositional, and pre-thematic contact, which is why Levinas (and I) would argue that any ethical rules are grounded in our irreducible relationship that demands my response.

    This primordial contact is the basis of our relations and makes any kind of relation possible. However, it also provides the ground for an ethical (or moral) possibility: of doing violence to the other by treating them as mere objects, rather than that being that I must respond to. This is similar to the Kantian imperative that we not treat others as mere means, but as ends in themselves, but it is based on a pre-theoretical relationship rather than a logically necessary proscription. From this real, but non-thematic, priority of the Other (as I must respond to him; the need to respond is essentially absolute), we can find the ‘ought’ if not for the simple reason that it is something that we cannot escape.

    This is very bare-bones and only part of the story (his account of violence directly ties to the commandment of “thou shalt not kill”, though the direction of priority is contrary to that of an objectivistic account), but I do think it is a beginning for finding morality in a relational but non-objective way.

    On the issue of utilitarianism, my approach certainly is pragmatic in some sense, but it is not ‘objective’ in the sense of being able to put numbers to it. To be more specific, what if there were a way to approach happiness where it is not a zero-sum game? In fact, the research on happiness (in positive psychology) sees non-zero-sum aspects as the primary grounds for happiness: relationships, giving service, optimism, and selflessness. Happiness is not a competition, which is something that classic utilitarianism misses.

  73. Paul says:

    You can’t describe what is good without circling back to what people think is good,

    That’s called a definition. Because what is good can change from culture to culture, we can only say that good is what a culture prefers. Compare it to taste. Certain tastes are generally and broadly disliked (bitter), but someone isn’t wrong if they like something that tastes somewhat bitter. Tastes can vary, only to any extreme as a limiting case. Same for good.

    Your complaint is still nothing but “relativisic good can’t measure up to the standards of objective good.” I agree with you there.

    But you can’t describe why what people think is good actually is good, or how they would know if it wasn’t.

    Ultimately, no. Evolution has created strong tendencies (prohibitions against murder, incest, etc.), but they are not absolutes. That doesn’t defeat the position.

    Has every nation, tribe or culture’s opinion of the good been right, throughout all history? How do you know?

    Do you mean objectively good or relativistically good?

  74. Tom Gilson says:

    Paul,

    Because what is good can change from culture to culture, we can only say that good is what a culture prefers.

    That’s called a definition, too, and it’s the point in question. I think we can say a lot more than that good is what a culture prefers.

    Ultimately, no. Evolution has created strong tendencies (prohibitions against murder, incest, etc.), but they are not absolutes. That doesn’t defeat the position.

    What makes strong tendencies good or bad? Seriously. You’re not facing the question yet. A tendency is a tendency. Trees tend to fall over in strong winds. Is that good?

    Has every nation, tribe or culture’s opinion of the good been right, throughout all history? How do you know?

    Do you mean objectively good or relativistically good?

    I mean for you to answer the question the best you can, please.

  75. Charlie says:

    Paul says:

    Because what is good can change from culture to culture, we can only say that good is what a culture prefers.

    There’s the result of reason applied to a Darwinian explanation for morality.

    Do you mean objectively good or relativistically good?

    Tom asked whether their opinion was right, not whether it was good.
    Regardless of whether a particular culture thinks its morality is objective or relativistic (you say there is no practical difference anyway) they each come up with a “good”.
    You say that good is exactly what the culture deems.
    You say they will choose different goods.
    Therefore, killing innocents is both good and evil since different cultures will differentially prefer it.
    You have no choice but to say they are all right in their selections – that is, if you choose to answer the question without qualifying it to meaninglessness.

  76. […] when it comes to addressing the issues concerning Darwinism and Intelligent Design. In this post, How Wrong Is It To Suggest a Darwin-Hitler Link?, he revisits an issue he has articulately dealt with before. I’d recommend that you read the […]

  77. Paul says:

    Tom wrote:

    What makes strong tendencies good or bad? Seriously. You’re not facing the question yet. A tendency is a tendency. Trees tend to fall over in strong winds. Is that good?

    This allows me to make a point I’ve wanted to for a long time but only dimly saw up to now. It’s not the tendency that I’m saying is good or bad; I’m only saying that there are tendencies to define what is good or bad. You’re almost asking me “Is it good that we say that X is good?” You’re over-using circularity as a refutation.

    I mean for you to answer the question the best you can, please.

    How can I answer the question when I don’t know what it means? My choices are

    1. good = objective good
    2. good = relativistic good
    3. good = some general sense of the word good that obscures the very distinction (between objective and relativistic good) that is at the bottom of the argument.

    In light of this, I don’t get why you didn’t give me the clarification that I requested.

  78. Charlie says:

    Paul is now saying that evolution not only gives us tendencies toward actions, but tendencies toward labeling actions either good or bad. This is exactly what we saw above with Darwin’s “social instincts” and tells us nothing about the content of the moral system. In Paul’s case we can’t even tell whether the subject we label good/bad 1) had its judgment rooted in anything to do with ‘evolution’ (all ‘evolution’ did was compel us to label) or 2) is actually good or bad by any other measure. In his recent formulation the decision concerning which action is good or bad isn’t even determined by evolution; only the desire to label is.

  79. Tom Gilson says:

    @Paul:

    I didn’t give you the clarification you requested because I didn’t think the question was unclear. You may think it was, and if so then it would be your option to nuance your answer. Or you have the option not to answer it. But I don’t know how to rework the question without muddying it up.

    It’s not the tendency that I’m saying is good or bad; I’m only saying that there are tendencies to define what is good or bad

    So humans have a moral tendency, expressed in that they have a tendency to name certain things good and certain things bad. Is there any principle by which we consistently do so, and is it a good one?

    Or maybe we should try this: at the end of my last comment to Nick, I said explicitly that I have not disproved Naturalistic Evolution (NE) with this argument. I have not proved moral realism, either. I have just shown that the two are incompatible, and that one result of this is that one cannot affirm NE and at the same time hold that the Holocaust was actually, genuinely, really not good. (Nor could one hold NE and also say that I surrendered any high ground by what I said in an earlier blog thread.) That point has been what I have been aiming toward in this thread. If you’re in agreement with that, I think we could declare a friendly impasse (i.e., I’m right and you’re wrong ;-) ) on the rest of this discussion, which we have had before anyway.

  80. Tom Gilson says:

    @Kevin Winters:

    You wrote,

    I have the feeling you are stacking the deck: even in your very definition you are asking for what is “ontologically, right or wrong“, thereby demanding that we concede your point if we are going to be moral.

    If we are going to “be” moral, is that not a matter of ontology? How can we “be” something that has no ontological reality? Or did you mean something else, like “act” moral, which might not be so tied to ontology?

    By the way, I am not precisely asking for “what is ‘ontologically, right or wrong,'” I am instead saying that there is such a thing as right or wrong in reality; that right or wrong have genuine ontological reality. This is not the time to get into what actually is right or wrong, since that’s a different topic.

    If Levinas says that morality is that which emerges in our interpersonal interactions, in the face of the Other, from where does it emerge? Recall the context of this discussion, which is Naturalistic Evolution (NE). If you agree with me that morality cannot emerge from the sets of causes that comprise NE, then for my purposes in this discussion that’s sufficient agreement between us. You are not a naturalist, as you said, so the rest of what you have had to say may be moot for now. (I’m trying to stay on topic with Nick, after all, and these discussions could go anywhere.)

    If on the other hand you hold (or Levinas does) that this is compatible with NE, then we have a significant question of causation. Morality emerges in that case from the impersonal, undirected, and purposeless causes of random variation and the success of that which succeeds, or the reproduction of that which reproduces (natural selection, in other words).

    From those roots arises morality, which either is or is not a different order of being. By different order of being, I mean that unlike random variation (RV) or natural selection (NS), it has the property of having a truth value (potentially being true or false, right or wrong); and/or that it has the property of holding some kind of authority over organisms. These properties are completely absent from RV and NS, or from any prior causes in which anyone thinks they may partake under NE. This requires explaining.

    If this emergent morality is not of a different order of being, and therefore does not have the property of possessing a truth value, or of holding authority over humans, then what does it mean to call it morality? It is “basis of our relations and makes any kind of relation possible,” which cannot be treated as a good thing, because that would require it (or the evaluation that it is good) to be of that other order of being. It seems that under NE a more accurate description would not be that it is “good,” but that “it contributes to reproductive success,” for at least that is a category that makes sense under NE. Contributing to reproductive success also cannot be described as good, for the same reason; it just is. Success is defined as succeeding, that’s all.

    Now the last several paragraphs may not have applied to you at all, for they are directed toward a naturalistic view of where we came from. If I’ve missed you on all of this, please accept my apologies; maybe this applies to someone else anyway.

  81. Paul says:

    Tom, I provisionally agree with you that moral realism and NE are incompatible (provisionally because I haven’t been able to work my way through all the potential issues yet). I think where our real issue lies is in the implications of the idea that moral realism is false – I think that that only means that the world would look a lot like it does right now, but I think you would think that that means that the world would look very differently than it does right now.

  82. Tom,

    Fair enough. So let me do something for the NE approach: what is to stop us from assuming that, either before or co-present with the perpetuation of the species, the basic drive of animals is to be happy, to find contentment in their respective environments. As far as humans, Aristotle saw this as particularly poignant. If we accept this as true (unless you have a resounding and powerful reason to think we should reject it), then we can bring in the positive psychology that I have already mentioned which happens to include values that also have a central place in Christianity (and doesn’t fall prey to the issues of utilitarianism as these causes are non-zero sum games). So, if we accept this addition to NE (and if we look at the animal and human world we can find plenty of examples), we can indeed find “oughts” from the “is”: the conditions of happiness can be discovered through trial and error and, if followed, would both increase happiness and, as I argued above, present some very good survival aspects.

  83. SteveK says:

    Paul,

    I think that that only means that the world would look a lot like it does right now, but I think you would think that that means that the world would look very differently than it does right now.

    I forget…do you think we have the libertarian or compatibilist free will to form our own beliefs about how reality looks?

  84. Paul says:

    SteveK:

    I’m not sure.

  85. SteveK says:

    Paul,
    I’m thinking it would have to be the case. Either that, or you’re left with Plantinga’s explanation. I’m dragging this further off topic so I’ll stop here. We’ve done it before.

  86. Nick (Matzke) says:

    This accounts for psychological attitudes. NE instills in organisms a sense that there is some obligation to some duty, and the organism cannot escape that attitude. So far I’m not seeing anything with the appearance of an actual moral ought, however. It appears much more to be an inescapable attitude toward some behavior, not tied in any apparent sense to what is right or wrong.

    That sense of obligation *is* the moral ought.

    The hive analogy (regardless of how your dispute with Charlie about its interpretation comes out) shows that if certain amoral contingencies had turned out differently, we might be the sort of creature that routinely kills its young, with full approval of all. So the person in today’s culture who chooses not to kill her young is not doing something that is actually, objectively, inherently right, she is doing what is contingently consistent with evolved opinion; which carries the label of morality but does not express any relation with what is actually right or wrong.

    So, because killing young is “actually, objectively, inherently” wrong in your view, and not dependent on the nature of the species, you should be self-consistent and condemn birds, lions, and other organisms that do this regularly.

    I’ve got you over a barrel. Either you have to say birds & lions are acting evilly, or you have to admit that what is moral depends on the nature of the species we are talking about.

  87. Nick (Matzke) says:

    Charlie says:
    March 2, 2009 at 2:05 am

    Darwin’s critics in this thread are criticizing him for being both a cultural relativist and a biological determinist, and having helped out the Nazis in both contradictory ways. It’s pretty funny actually if one is sufficiently into this stuff.

    His theory of ethics propounded biological inheritance of moral capacity (racial superiority/inferiority of intellect) and it also demonstrated the cultural effects on the contents of a moral system. Accept both aspects yourself so I don’t think they are entirely contradictory.
    He supported both and argued for both but only the inheritance was necessary for the Nazi’s belief. The cultural relativism only demonstrates that if Darwin was right then so were the Nazis – or, at least, they were as right as anyone else.

    And thus we see clearly the self-contradictory nature of your position. If the moral sense is inherited then morality is not wholly relative to culture. Game over.

  88. SteveK says:

    Nick

    Either you have to say birds & lions are acting evilly, or you have to admit that what is moral depends on the nature of the species we are talking about.

    Huh? Nobody is saying that moral laws are contingent/dependant on the nature of a species. They apply to a specific nature of being, but the laws themselves don’t change as a result of the species. You’ve got your cart pulling the horse.

  89. Tom Gilson says:

    @Nick (Matzke):

    I’ve got you over a barrel. Either you have to say birds & lions are acting evilly, or you have to admit that what is moral depends on the nature of the species we are talking about.

    Well, of course! It does depend on the nature of the species we’re talking about. But under NE, there is no ontological reason (and ontology is what we’re talking about when we speak of “natures”) to suppose that humans are of a different nature than any other species. The difference between species is one of degree but not of kind, or natures. ( That’s why you have apes’ rights coming before Parliament in Spain.) In biblical theism there is a clear distinction between mankind and the rest of life. So I have a way of escaping the other horn of the dilemma, though there are actually three horns, and it’s a trilemma:

    1) Either birds and lions are acting evilly, or
    2) What is moral depends on the nature of the species, or
    3) There is no such thing as evil or good.

    Theism supports (2). Which does naturalistic evolution support?

    That sense of obligation *is* the moral ought.

    That’s easy to claim, but how does it cross the ontological line I wrote about recently to Kevin? How does the is become an ought? Was Hume wrong about this? (Was Dawkins wrong about it? See above. I think on this point he was quite right. For Hume, start here and search for text beginning, “In every system of morality”.)

  90. Tom Gilson says:

    @SteveK:

    It looks as if we differ on this question, but probably not, if I understand what you mean by morality’s application. What do you think?

  91. SteveK says:

    Tom

    It looks as if we differ on this question, but probably not, if I understand what you mean by morality’s application.

    I don’t think we differ. Maybe I don’t fully understand Nick’s comment, but I understood it to mean that the type of being determines the moral law rather than the moral law applying to a type of being. It’s like saying the death of innocent people determines the law “murder is illegal” (how could it possibly do that?) rather than saying the law applies to people and not trees. God is not contingent and so the moral law is not contingent.

  92. Charlie says:

    Hi Nick,

    And thus we see clearly the self-contradictory nature of your position. If the moral sense is inherited then morality is not wholly relative to culture. Game over.

    You called “ace” but your serve was wide – by a mile.

    “If the moral sense is inherited then morality is not wholly relative to culture”.

    Not wholly determined by culture? I didn’t miss that. I specifically told you your point was only half the story:

    4. You’re misunderstanding Darwin if you think he thought morality was cultural, his whole point was that the fundamentals of morality were innate & inherited.

    Except that’s only half the story. He thought that there was heritability involved in the passing of social instincts but he acknowledged that even that, though especially the content of the moral system, was conditioned.

    But man, raised in bee culture, is man. He is moral, and he would be moral. But, in that culture, he would have different “moral sense”.

    All they need to do to be moral is to follow the inward monitor to follow one impulse rather than the other. And those impulses are conditioned by the society in which they are reared (brought up and cared for from a young age).

    And I already said that such animals would have a moral sense but that they would differ in their conduct.

    Thank you, just as I said. Your point was only half the story. Unfortunately , your point obscured the relativism necessarily entailed by Darwin’s theory of ethics.

    Culture decides these things, as a secondary add-on, by your statement, to the “social instinct” which has developed toward the “rearing of the greatest number of individuals in full vigour and health, with all their faculties perfect, under the conditions to which they are subjected ” – or, at least as far as their possibly limited intellects can discern.

    ===

    And thus we see clearly the self-contradictory nature of your position.

    Since I didn’t say “wholly” there is no contradiction. And since you have affirmed both aspects of Darwin’s view you would be equally contradicted.

    You say we’re going in circles but I haven’t taken a step yet.
    Here’s the first I said on the subject:

    He also tells us that morality is, to some degree heritable – therefore, the less evolved men are naturally less moral.

    Then again, my position was actually that there is a historical link between Darwin and Hitler.
    So how’d I do on the Malthus test? Pretty well, I think.
    Hitler’s quotes are undeniably Darwinian as well as Haeckelian. The historical fact is that they definitely influenced him.

  93. Holopupenko says:

    Tom:

    Paul’s comment #75 (March 2, 2009 at 11:16 am) reflects (again) his ignorance of what a proper definition is. Definitions are NOT circular. Paul may want it that way in order to buttress his epistemological and moral relativism (we’ll ignore for now Paul’s hypocrisy in asserting both epistemological and moral relativism in absolutist terms, and then not living them out), but asserting a logically-flawed understanding of what a definition won’t buttress anything. A proper definition is composed of a genus and a difference, e.g., man is a rational animal, i.e., the genus is “animal” and man is distinguished from other animals by the difference “rational”. In this example, man does not “circle back” to man as Paul would want. We’ve gone over this very basic logical point with Paul and others over and over, but it’s not sinking in. Sin clouds the intellect. Grave sin—for example, explicit atheism as standing against the 1st commandment—clouds the intellect in a very grave way.

  94. How does “sin” “cloud the intellect”? What is the ontological nature of sin such that it is a cause for bad thinking? If we somehow could keep all the commandments perfectly, would that then cause us to think correctly?

  95. Tom Gilson says:

    @Kevin Winters:

    Some sources on this:
    * 2 Corinthians 4:1-6
    * 1 John 2:8-11
    * 1 Corinthians 2:10-16 (“Natural person” there refers to one who has not yet experienced regeneration—new birth and a new life—in Christ)

    The nature of sin is such that it alienates persons from God, the true source of wisdom and knowledge, and even puts us in rebellion against him—and his wisdom and knowledge. This is evident throughout so much of Scripture it’s not subject to demonstration by citing short passages, though Romans 1:18-32 is at least one example.

    Your if-then suggestion is, well, too late. If we had kept all the commandments perfectly to start with, our thinking would not be darkened. As it is, the way out is not by trying to follow the commandments better, especially for that motivation: the first commandments are about placing God, not better thinking, at the center. The way out is by being reconciled to God, which places us in a position where we can begin to see more clearly (see the references already cited).

    Yet no one in this age overcomes the darkness entirely. That is yet to come (1 Corinthians 13:9-12):

    For we know in part and we prophesy in part, but when the perfect comes, the partial will pass away. When I was a child, I spoke like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I gave up childish ways. For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I have been fully known.

  96. The Deuce says:

    Nick:

    3. So while statements of beliefs can be used to justify or to create an “ought,” the oughts are already conceded to exist in your formulation, and don’t therefore have to be derived from the “is” in those is statements.

    That sense of obligation *is* the moral ought.

    So, let’s see here. You’re trying to say that evolution shows that morality comes down to a genetically-ingrained subjective sense, rather than an awareness of an objective, external moral law. And this is supposed to be your argument that evolution isn’t a metaphysical position that undermines the Christian basis for morality. Are you for real?

    Jeez, with friends like you, evolution doesn’t need enemies. I’m a better advocate for the argument that the concept of evolution is morally neutral than you are, simply because I can distinguish between properly empirical science and metaphysical posturing, and thus between evolution proper (which I believe in), and stealth amateur moral philosophizing like this.

    I’ve got you over a barrel. Either you have to say birds & lions are acting evilly, or you have to admit that what is moral depends on the nature of the species we are talking about.

    You’ve got to have sort of a soft spot for the guy who congratulates himself for being the smartest person in the room, all because he came up with some idea that he thinks incredibly clever and original, but which all the people he’s trying to show up already thought about long ago (millenia in fact). I mean, who doesn’t think Brainy Smurf is adorable in his own way?

    Just so you know, Nick, Christianity (and the great philosophers that predated Christianity, like Plato and Aristotle) has always held that 1) Moral right and wrong is an external and objective reality that we posses an awareness of rather than just a biologically ingrained set of feelings, and that 2) What is moral/immoral for a human is not thereby moral/immoral for non-humans. There’s no contradiction there.

    For example, the great moral philosophers have held that it’s an objective wrong for people to kill other people, but not necessarily for people to kill animals, or for God to kill people, or for animals to kill other animals. I hate to ruin what was supposed to be the moment that the whole long enterprise of moral philosophy found its culmination in your brilliant dilemma, but there have actually been a number of really smart guys who have thought about this stuff for a long time. Course, we can’t really fault you for not bothering to know that, since none of them were *nearly* as smart as you.

    In point of fact, you’ve thrown yourself over a barrel. Given your premises, you must say that birds & lions are acting evilly when they kill, or you must say that a sociopath is *not* acting evilly when he kills/mames/rapes/whatever, since like the birds & lions, the sociopath lacks a sense of obligation, which you have informed us *is* the moral ought.

    In fact, you’re over two barrels (or maybe sandwiched between them or something – I haven’t really worked this analogy out), because if you admit that the sociopath is not acting immorally (or that he is only acting immorally “to us”, but not in an objective sense), then it is tantamount to an admission that the version of evolution you’re promoting does indeed entail moral relativism after all, which would imply that what you’re promoting is anti-theistic moral philosophy dressed up as science.

  97. The Deuce says:

    Maybe I don’t fully understand Nick’s comment, but I understood it to mean that the type of being determines the moral law rather than the moral law applying to a type of being.

    Right. What Nick is saying is that people subjectively feel like murder is wrong, and that this feeling is simply the definition of murder being wrong. The theistic view is that murder objectively is wrong for people to do, and that this is why they feel like it’s wrong. The reason it’s difficult to understand is that he’s engaging in sophistry by trying to conflate the two.

  98. @Tom Gilson:

    So what is the nature of sin such that it accumulates and stays with us, requiring an external being to somehow ‘pay’ for them? Given what you’ve said, wouldn’t it be sufficient to be given time to perfect ourselves through letting go of our pride, anger, etc. and accumulating love, compassion, etc. or is this impossible and why? I guess a corollary of this question is can I, of my own accord, do a completely selfless and altruistic act without being saved or, as fallen, are all of my actions inherently selfish and full of pride?

    I understand that this is beyond topic (and I’m sorry that I’ve been so in this thread), so I can understand if you don’t feel this is the place to address it. In fact, just ask and I’ll head out of this conversation as the questions that interest me are relatively off topic (i.e. the exact nature of sin and the Atonement are not central to this post).

  99. Nick Matzke says:

    Just so you know, Nick, Christianity (and the great philosophers that predated Christianity, like Plato and Aristotle) has always held that 1) Moral right and wrong is an external and objective reality that we posses an awareness of rather than just a biologically ingrained set of feelings, and that 2) What is moral/immoral for a human is not thereby moral/immoral for non-humans. There’s no contradiction there.

    Sure there is. You are claiming both that morality is absolute, objective and non-relative, while conceding that morality is relative to the nature of the species. You just said it again right there.

    In point of fact, you’ve thrown yourself over a barrel. Given your premises, you must say that birds & lions are acting evilly when they kill, or you must say that a sociopath is *not* acting evilly when he kills/mames/rapes/whatever, since like the birds & lions, the sociopath lacks a sense of obligation, which you have informed us *is* the moral ought.

    I’m already standing happily beside this barrel, and, I think, you and Christianity and western law are standing beside me. As I said before, pretty much everyone, including the law and Christians, agrees that a judgment of “not guilty by reason of insanity” is in principle reasonable (whether or not it gets abused etc. is a different question). If you agree with this, you are (again) agreeing that what is moral/immoral is relative to the nature of the being under consideration.

    Right. What Nick is saying is that people subjectively feel like murder is wrong, and that this feeling is simply the definition of murder being wrong.

    Not quite. First, it’s not subjective, because these moral feelings are as universal to the species as having arms and legs is. It’s objective as far as all humans are concerned. (I would even say it’s objective as far as all beings with the necessary humanlike properties are concerned, e.g. if we met another alien race with consciousness, social instincts, sympathy, etc. But this is a more speculative argument and unnecessary for humans in history and presently.)

    Second, I’m not saying that just arbitrarily feeling something is wrong one day makes it wrong. Rather, when we have a deep, long-lasting feeling that occurs independently in individuals across the species, that gets stronger upon reflection, when obeying that feeling gives long-lasting contentment instead of temporary pleasure followed by guilt or regret, etc. — this is the sort of feeling that provides the objective basis for deciding what actions are right and wrong.

    Don’t reply on my poor words to describe it, here are the words of a famous proponent, Bishop Joseph Butler, from his Sermons on Human Nature:

    And from this whole review must be given a different draught of human nature from what we are often presented with. Mankind are by nature so closely united, there is such a correspondence between the inward sensations of one man and those of another, that disgrace is as much avoided as bodily pain, and to be the object of esteem and love as much desired as any external goods; and in many particular cases persons are carried on to do good to others, as the end their affection tends to and rests in; and manifest that they find real satisfaction and enjoyment in this course of behaviour. There is such a natural principle of attraction in man towards man that having trod the same tract of land, having breathed in the same climate, barely having been born in the same artificial district or division, becomes the occasion of contracting acquaintances and familiarities many years after; for anything may serve the purpose. Thus relations merely nominal are sought and invented, not by governors, but by the lowest of the people, which are found sufficient to hold mankind together in little fraternities and copartnerships: weak ties indeed, and what may afford fund enough for ridicule, if they are absurdly considered as the real principles of that union: but they are in truth merely the occasions, as anything may be of anything, upon which our nature carries us on according to its own previous bent and bias; which occasions therefore would be nothing at all were there not this prior disposition and bias of nature. Men are so much one body that in a peculiar manner they feel for each other shame, sudden danger, resentment, honour, prosperity, distress; one or another, or all of these, from the social nature in general, from benevolence, upon the occasion of natural relation, acquaintance, protection, dependence; each of these being distinct cements of society. And therefore to have no restraint from, no regard to, others in our behaviour, is the speculative absurdity of considering ourselves as single and independent, as having nothing in our nature which has respect to our fellow-creatures, reduced to action and practice. And this is the same absurdity as to suppose a hand, or any part, to have no natural respect to any other, or to the whole body.

    But, allowing all this, it may be asked, “Has not man dispositions and principles within which lead him to do evil to others, as well as to do good? Whence come the many miseries else which men are the authors and instruments of to each other?” These questions, so far as they relate to the foregoing discourse, may be answered by asking, Has not man also dispositions and principles within which lead him to do evil to himself, as well as good? Whence come the many miseries else—sickness, pain, and death—which men are instruments and authors of to themselves?

    It may be thought more easy to answer one of these questions than the other, but the answer to both is really the same: that mankind have ungoverned passions which they will gratify at any rate, as well to the injury of others as in contradiction to known private interest: but that as there is no such thing as self-hatred, so neither is there any such thing as ill-will in one man towards another, emulation and resentment being away; whereas there is plainly benevolence or good-will: there is no such thing as love of injustice, oppression, treachery, ingratitude, but only eager desires after such and such external goods; which, according to a very ancient observation, the most abandoned would choose to obtain by innocent means, if they were as easy and as effectual to their end: that even emulation and resentment, by any one who will consider what these passions really are in nature, [5] will be found nothing to the purpose of this objection; and that the principles and passions in the mind of man, which are distinct both from self-love and benevolence, primarily and most directly lead to right behaviour with regard to others as well as himself, and only secondarily and accidentally to what is evil. Thus, though men, to avoid the shame of one villainy, are sometimes guilty of a greater, yet it is easy to see that the original tendency of shame is to prevent the doing of shameful actions; and its leading men to conceal such actions when done is only in consequence of their being done; i.e., of the passion’s not having answered its first end.

    If it be said that there are persons in the world who are in great measure without the natural affections towards their fellow-creatures, there are likewise instances of persons without the common natural affections to themselves. But the nature of man is not to be judged of by either of these, but by what appears in the common world, in the bulk of mankind.

    I am afraid it would be thought very strange, if to confirm the truth of this account of human nature, and make out the justness of the foregoing comparison, it should be added that from what appears, men in fact as much and as often contradict that part of their nature which respects self, and which leads them to their own private good and happiness, as they contradict that part of it which respects society, and tends to public good: that there are as few persons who attain the greatest satisfaction and enjoyment which they might attain in the present world, as who do the greatest good to others which they might do; nay, that there are as few who can be said really and in earnest to aim at one as at the other. Take a survey of mankind: the world in general, the good and bad, almost without exception, equally are agreed that were religion out of the case, the happiness of the present life would consist in a manner wholly in riches, honours, sensual gratifications; insomuch that one scarce hears a reflection made upon prudence, life, conduct, but upon this supposition. Yet, on the contrary, that persons in the greatest affluence of fortune are no happier than such as have only a competency; that the cares and disappointments of ambition for the most part far exceed the satisfactions of it; as also the miserable intervals of intemperance and excess, and the many untimely deaths occasioned by a dissolute course of life: these things are all seen, acknowledged, by every one acknowledged; but are thought no objections against, though they expressly contradict, this universal principle—that the happiness of the present life consists in one or other of them. Whence is all this absurdity and contradiction? Is not the middle way obvious? Can anything be more manifest than that the happiness of life consists in these possessed and enjoyed only to a certain degree; that to pursue them beyond this degree is always attended with more inconvenience than advantage to a man’s self, and often with extreme misery and unhappiness? Whence, then, I say, is all this absurdity and contradiction? Is it really the result of consideration in mankind, how they may become most easy to themselves, most free from care, and enjoy the chief happiness attainable in this world? Or is it not manifestly owing either to this, that they have not cool and reasonable concern enough for themselves to consider wherein their chief happiness in the present life consists; or else, if they do consider it, that they will not act conformably to what is the result of that consideration—i.e., reasonable concern for themselves, or cool self-love, is prevailed over by passions and appetite? So that from what appears there is no ground to assert that those principles in the nature of man, which most directly lead to promote the good of our fellow-creatures, are more generally or in a greater degree violated than those which most directly lead us to promote our own private good and happiness.

    The sum of the whole is plainly this: The nature of man considered in his single capacity, and with respect only to the present world, is adapted and leads him to attain the greatest happiness he can for himself in the present world. The nature of man considered in his public or social capacity leads him to right behaviour in society, to that course of life which we call virtue. Men follow or obey their nature in both these capacities and respects to a certain degree, but not entirely: their actions do not come up to the whole of what their nature leads them to in either of these capacities or respects: and they often violate their nature in both; i.e., as they neglect the duties they owe to their fellow-creatures, to which their nature leads them, and are injurious, to which their nature is abhorrent, so there is a manifest negligence in men of their real happiness or interest in the present world, when that interest is inconsistent with a present gratification; for the sake of which they negligently, nay, even knowingly, are the authors and instruments of their own misery and ruin. Thus they are as often unjust to themselves as to others, and for the most part are equally so to both by the same actions.

    And:

    And from all these things put together, nothing can be more evident than that, exclusive of revelation, man cannot be considered as a creature left by his Maker to act at random, and live at large up to the extent of his natural power, as passion, humour, wilfulness, happen to carry him, which is the condition brute creatures are in; but that from his make, constitution, or nature, he is in the strictest and most proper sense a law to himself. He hath the rule of right within: what is wanting is only that he honestly attend to it.

    The inquiries which have been made by men of leisure after some general rule, the conformity to or disagreement from which should denominate our actions good or evil, are in many respects of great service. Yet let any plain, honest man, before he engages in any course of action, ask himself, Is this I am going about right, or is it wrong? Is it good, or is it evil? I do not in the least doubt but that this question would be answered agreeably to truth and virtue, by almost any fair man in almost any circumstance. Neither do there appear any cases which look like exceptions to this, but those of superstition, and of partiality to ourselves. Superstition may perhaps be somewhat of an exception; but partiality to ourselves is not, this being itself dishonesty. For a man to judge that to be the equitable, the moderate, the right part for him to act, which he would see to be hard, unjust, oppressive in another, this is plain vice, and can proceed only from great unfairness of mind.

    But allowing that mankind hath the rule of right within himself, yet it may be asked, “What obligations are we under to attend to and follow it?” I answer: It has been proved that man by his nature is a law to himself, without the particular distinct consideration of the positive sanctions of that law: the rewards and punishments which we feel, and those which from the light of reason we have ground to believe, are annexed to it. The question, then, carries its own answer along within it. Your obligation to obey this law is its being the law of your nature. That your conscience approves of and attests to such a course of action is itself alone an obligation. Conscience does not only offer itself to show us the way we should walk in, but it likewise carries its own authority with it, that it is our natural guide; the guide assigned us by the Author of our nature: it therefore belongs to our condition of being; it is our duty to walk in that path, and follow this guide, without looking about to see whether we may not possibly forsake them with impunity.

    However, let us hear what is to be said against obeying this law of our nature. And the sum is no more than this: “Why should we be concerned about anything out of and beyond ourselves? If we do find within ourselves regards to others, and restraints of we know not how many different kinds, yet these being embarrassments, and hindering us from going the nearest way to our own good, why should we not endeavour to suppress and get over them?”

    Thus people go on with words, which when applied to human nature, and the condition in which it is placed in this world, have really no meaning. For does not all this kind of talk go upon supposition, that our happiness in this world consists in somewhat quite distinct from regard to others, and that it is the privilege of vice to be without restraint or confinement? Whereas, on the contrary, the enjoyments—in a manner all the common enjoyments of life, even the pleasures of vice—depend upon these regards of one kind or another to our fellow-creatures. Throw off all regards to others, and we should be quite indifferent to infamy and to honour; there could be no such thing at all as ambition; and scarce any such thing as covetousness; for we should likewise be equally indifferent to the disgrace of poverty, the several neglects and kinds of contempt which accompany this state, and to the reputation of riches, the regard and respect they usually procure. Neither is restraint by any means peculiar to one course of life; but our very nature, exclusive of conscience and our condition, lays us under an absolute necessity of it. We cannot gain any end whatever without being confined to the proper means, which is often the most painful and uneasy confinement. And in numberless instances a present appetite cannot be gratified without such apparent and immediate ruin and misery that the most dissolute man in the world chooses to forego the pleasure rather than endure the pain.

    Is the meaning, then, to indulge those regards to our fellow-creatures, and submit to those restraints which upon the whole are attended with more satisfaction than uneasiness, and get over only those which bring more uneasiness and inconvenience than satisfaction? “Doubtless this was our meaning.” You have changed sides then. Keep to this; be consistent with yourselves, and you and the men of virtue are in general perfectly agreed. But let us take care and avoid mistakes. Let it not be taken for granted that the temper of envy, rage, resentment, yields greater delight than meekness, forgiveness, compassion, and good-will; especially when it is acknowledged that rage, envy, resentment, are in themselves mere misery; and that satisfaction arising from the indulgence of them is little more than relief from that misery; whereas the temper of compassion and benevolence is itself delightful; and the indulgence of it, by doing good, affords new positive delight and enjoyment. Let it not be taken for granted that the satisfaction arising from the reputation of riches and power, however obtained, and from the respect paid to them, is greater than the satisfaction arising from the reputation of justice, honesty, charity, and the esteem which is universally acknowledged to be their due. And if it be doubtful which of these satisfactions is the greatest, as there are persons who think neither of them very considerable, yet there can be no doubt concerning ambition and covetousness, virtue and a good mind, considered in themselves, and as leading to different courses of life; there can, I say, be no doubt, which temper and which course is attended with most peace and tranquillity of mind, which with most perplexity, vexation, and inconvenience. And both the virtues and vices which have been now mentioned, do in a manner equally imply in them regards of one kind or another to our fellow-creatures. And with respect to restraint and confinement, whoever will consider the restraints from fear and shame, the dissimulation, mean arts of concealment, servile compliances, one or other of which belong to almost every course of vice, will soon be convinced that the man of virtue is by no means upon a disadvantage in this respect. How many instances are there in which men feel and own and cry aloud under the chains of vice with which they are enthralled, and which yet they will not shake off! How many instances, in which persons manifestly go through more pains and self-denial to gratify a vicious passion, than would have been necessary to the conquest of it! To this is to be added, that when virtue is become habitual, when the temper of it is acquired, what was before confinement ceases to be so by becoming choice and delight. Whatever restraint and guard upon ourselves may be needful to unlearn any unnatural distortion or odd gesture, yet in all propriety of speech, natural behaviour must be the most easy and unrestrained. It is manifest that, in the common course of life, there is seldom any inconsistency between our duty and what is called interest: it is much seldomer that there is an inconsistency between duty and what is really our present interest; meaning by interest, happiness and satisfaction. Self-love, then, though confined to the interest of the present world, does in general perfectly coincide with virtue, and leads us to one and the same course of life. But, whatever exceptions there are to this, which are much fewer than they are commonly thought, all shall be set right at the final distribution of things. It is a manifest absurdity to suppose evil prevailing finally over good, under the conduct and administration of a perfect mined.

    The whole argument, which I have been now insisting upon, may be thus summed up, and given you in one view. The nature of man is adapted to some course of action or other. Upon comparing some actions with this nature, they appear suitable and correspondent to it: from comparison of other actions with the same nature, there arises to our view some unsuitableness or disproportion. The correspondence of actions to the nature of the agent renders them natural; their disproportion to it, unnatural. That an action is correspondent to the nature of the agent does not arise from its being agreeable to the principle which happens to be the strongest: for it may be so and yet be quite disproportionate to the nature of the agent. The correspondence therefore, or disproportion, arises from somewhat else. This can be nothing but a difference in nature and kind, altogether distinct from strength, between the inward principles. Some then are in nature and kind superior to others. And the correspondence arises from the action being conformable to the higher principle; and the unsuitableness from its being contrary to it. Reasonable self-love and conscience are the chief or superior principles in the nature of man; because an action may be suitable to this nature, though all other principles be violated, but becomes unsuitable if either of those are. Conscience and self-love, if we understand our true happiness, always lead us the same way. Duty and interest are perfectly coincident; for the most part in this world, but entirely and in every instance if we take in the future and the whole; this being implied in the notion of a good and perfect administration of things. Thus they who have been so wise in their generation as to regard only their own supposed interest, at the expense and to the injury of others, shall at last find, that he who has given up all the advantages of the present world, rather than violate his conscience and the relations of life, has infinitely better provided for himself, and secured his owns interest and happiness.

    Finally, in response to this:

    So, let’s see here. You’re trying to say that evolution shows that morality comes down to a genetically-ingrained subjective sense, rather than an awareness of an objective, external moral law. And this is supposed to be your argument that evolution isn’t a metaphysical position that undermines the Christian basis for morality. Are you for real?

    If it’s genetically-ingrained, it’s not subjective, no more than “pain feels bad” or “sugar tastes sweet” is subjective.

    And anyway, nothing I’ve said is about undermining the Christian basis for morality. It may be inconvenient that right-wing apologists can no longer threaten people with the “accept evolution, and morality goes down the tubes” threat, but the example of Butler shows that stating that the basics of morality are hard-wired into our nature does nothing to undermine Christianity or morality.

    A summary:

    Butler’s argument for morality, found primarily in his sermons, is an attempt to show that morality is a matter of following human nature. To develop this argument, he introduces the notions of nature and of a system. There are, he says, various parts to human nature, and they are arranged hierarchically. The fact that human nature is hierarchically ordered is not what makes us manifestly adapted to virtue, rather, it is what Butler calls “conscience” that is at the top of this hierarchy. Butler does sometimes refer to the conscience as the voice of God; but, contrary to what is sometimes alleged, he never relies on divine authority in asserting the supremacy, the universality or the reliability of conscience. Butler clearly believes in the autonomy of the conscience as a secular organ of knowledge.

    Whether the conscience judges principles, actions or persons is not clear, perhaps deliberately since such distinctions are of no practical significance. What Butler is concerned to show is that to dismiss morality is in effect to dismiss our own nature, and therefore absurd. As to which morality we are to follow, Butler seems to have in mind the common core of civilized standards. He stresses the degree of agreement and reliability of conscience without denying some differences remain. All that is required for his argument to go through is that the opponent accept in practice that conscience is the supreme authority in human nature and that we ought not to disregard our own nature.

  100. Charlie says:

    It’s not so problematic to accept Butler’s formulation when he makes the source of our conscience, nature and knowledge an Author, the moral Creator of the Universe, the God of revelation and of natural proof, Who loves and plans for the people He created.

    Less satisfactory is a “social instinct” which arises by spontaneous variation – before man’s socializing – the ‘purpose’ of which is the rearing of the greatest number of individuals in full vigour and health, with all their faculties perfect, under the conditions to which they are subjected.
    Over and against this, in Butler’s account we are given our conscience by God to apprehend absolute good and evil and to dictate to us His laws. He is confirming the apostle’s instruction to the Romans that God’s law is written on our hearts. He tells us that we were made for a particular course of life, that conscience was placed within us and has “sacred authority”.
    And why does conscience have an authority all its own? Because it is ” the guide assigned us by the Author of our nature”.

    And why is it that man must act morally, against strongest passions, and according to conscience? Why, only that he may best pursue happiness, since duty and self-interest coincide. Ah, “very natural” you say, “man will most benefit from doing his duty, therefore, acting in his own interest, will best advantage him”. Yes, too true. if you accept all of Butler’s argument. And that provides that a moral man will pass up earthly benefits and successes, even the ability to pass the maximum number of genes into the future, or receive the maximum praise from his fellows, to act in his own best interests; the infinite Heavenly rewards of God. This is what his conscience and nature is designed for.

    Unlike Darwin, who argued that our consciences could be perfectly content with our unmarried females murdering their brothers, given the proper upbringing, Butler demonstrated that this would be a violation of true conscience, Divine Law and absolute morality. Every thing, including our “nature”, must be properly directed toward its intended end, and that is the purpose given us by God – not “Nature” – in a universe which is, itself, governed by His morality. Butler’s system only holds when one acknowledges that the seeds of moral affection are “implanted in our nature by God”.
    Remove God from “our nature”, leaving only Darwin’s “Nature” and Butler’s case ceases to exist. Butler affirms that God made us, created our natures, gave us our affections and that in Him we “live and move and have our being”. Thus, there are no points of comparison between his and Darwin’s, only necessary contrast.

    Also, it is odd to introduce Butler as being in agreement with Darwin when they account for the existence of the moral feelings in a completely opposite manner (Butler asserts that they were impressed upon our hearts by God), but when they also reach opposite conclusions:
    Butler:

    The sum of the whole is plainly this: The nature of man considered in his single capacity, and with respect only to the present world, is adapted and leads him to attain the greatest happiness he can for himself in the present world.

    Darwin:

    As the social instincts both of man and the lower animals have no doubt been developed by nearly the same steps, it would be advisable, if found practicable, to use the same definition in both cases, and to take as the standard of morality, the general good or welfare of the community, rather than the general happiness; but this definition would perhaps require some limitation on account of political ethics”.

    Chapter 4, DoM (dare not read Chapter 5, you deniers of Darwin’s eugenics).

  101. Charlie says:

    To conclude:
    Butler tells us:
    “It cannot possibly be denied that our being God’s creatures, and virtue being the natural law we are born under, and the whole constitution of man being plainly adapted to it, are prior obligations to piety and virtue…” and that “we were intended to good to others”.

    Yes, it is in our “nature” to be moral, and our conscience is to be our guide. But this only works because God exists, is constantly with us, has created us for a purpose, has placed us under a natural moral law, and has oriented us toward it via our conscience. That these affections lead to good only obtains due to the fact that we are “in the hands of Providence” and owes to the “Maker’s care and love both for the individual and the species and proofs that He intended we should be instruments of good to each other …”

    Quite the contrast to an “instinct” created at random by an amoral process to make us want to socialize and have the greatest number of viable offspring.

  102. Tom Gilson says:

    Nick, thank you for that from Bishop Butler. It’s very enlightening. I find that it applies very strongly to the epistemology of ethics: how we know what is right. I’m alluding now to that Copan paper that I’ve linked to three times four times now. (I would really like to know when you read it, Nick. Thanks.) It does not, however, address the ontology of ethics. It tells us how we may recognize that there is an ethical principle in the world, and how we can get at least a rough sense of what it contains. As Charlie pointed out, it makes great sense in view of this:

    It cannot possibly be denied that our being God’s creatures, and virtue being the natural law we are born under, and the whole constitution of man being plainly adapted to it, are prior obligations to piety and virtue…

    So we are in agreement (and always have been) that there is a moral law that we can know. The question still is whether that moral law makes sense in light of naturalistic evolution (NE).

    Butler says there is obligation in the moral law just in its being “the law of your nature,” but reading on, we find this “obligation” turns out to be an obligation to maximize one’s own happiness. For example,

    Let it not be taken for granted that the temper of envy, rage, resentment, yields greater delight than meekness, forgiveness, compassion, and good-will; especially when it is acknowledged that rage, envy, resentment, are in themselves mere misery; etc.

    and

    And if it be doubtful which of these satisfactions is the greatest, as there are persons who think neither of them very considerable, yet there can be no doubt concerning ambition and covetousness, virtue and a good mind, considered in themselves, and as leading to different courses of life; there can, I say, be no doubt, which temper and which course is attended with most peace and tranquillity of mind, which with most perplexity, vexation, and inconvenience.

    So how do we know we ought to maximize our happiness? This seems to have been completely untouched by Butler except in light of the purpose for which we were created. More to the point, how do we know under NE that this is an obligation (the epistemological question)? And what makes happiness an obligation under NE (the ontological question)? These things are very much unanswered still, and I think unanswerable (especially the second).

    The word “obligation” I borrowed from Butler; I could return instead to prior language we’ve been using here: what is it in NE that makes these things actually, genuinely good? How does one bridge the ontological divide between the non-intentional, non-obligatory, non-good-or-bad that comprises all of what causes humans to be what humans are, to that which possesses properties of goodness or badness?

    As far as I can tell you have not begun to recognize that I’ve raised that question, much less to answer it. Your answers have been satisfactory and to-the-point with respect to epistemology, but the problem is ontological.

    Now with respect to this:

    Sure there is. You are claiming both that morality is absolute, objective and non-relative, while conceding that morality is relative to the nature of the species. You just said it again right there.

    This is no problem at all and I’m surprised you think it is. There is an absolute, objective, and non-relative morality that applies to humans, because we are of a different nature than all other species of life. We are created in God’s image, the others are not. God has a moral nature, he is a good God, and as his creatures, uniquely in his image, we have opportunity to make moral choices. Other animals and plants do not have the opportunity or obligation.

    Your problem on NE is that you cannot separate humans from animals or even from plants, ontologically or ethically. They are different in degree but not in kind. So the trilemma I introduced and Charlie referred back to remains on your shoulders.

  103. Tom Gilson says:

    Kevin, your latest question is a good one. I’d like to come back to it later.

  104. Tom,

    Ok, I look forward to your response.

  105. Jim J says:

    As a thinking Christian of sorts myself,I think the Darwin/Hitler comparisons are wrong. However, so are the Young Earth/ID comparisons wrong, in almost the exact same way. Darwin does not guarantee Hitler will follow any more than believing in a 6-day creation guarantees that ID will follow. While there are some family resemblances (belief in God or Natural Selection), they are nonsequitirs; Dawkins is no Nazi and IDers aren’t 6-day fundamentalists. The Darwin/Hitler is only useful in showing how the YEC/ID comparison is false; using one Red Herring to cancel out the other.

  106. Tom Gilson says:

    Jim, I’ve read enough of your work to have considerable respect for your thinking. I agree with you on this, except that the question was not whether Darwin guarantees Hitler. There’s so much verbiage in these threads you probably just missed this, but we have all agreed that Darwin’s link to Hitler (if it exists) could never have been one of entailment. What has been proposed is not a logically necessary connection but an historically actual connection, based on (a) what Darwin’s theory actually entails, (b) what people of the time may have incorrectly thought it entailed (eugenics, for example), and (c) what people of the time wanted regardless of Darwin, etc.; with (a), (b), (c), (d) … (n) all mixed together in the flow of history.

  107. Nick Matzke says:

    Well, my flight is delayed so I will reply to various points until I run out of time. Like most threads this has gone in a million directions, we can’t all reply to everything, insert standard disclaimers here about how I still think I’m right even if I didn’t get around to answering someone’s third sub-argument from 50 posts back.

    First point:

    “IDers aren’t 6-day fundamentalists”

    Well, except that a bunch of them, living right now, active in the modern movement, are. E.g. off the top of my head:

    Paul Nelson
    John Mark Reynolds
    Dean Kenyon (Pandas author)
    Percival Davis (Pandas author)
    Nancy Pearcey (Pandas author)
    Richard Weikart

    Then there are some people who get all elusive and agnostic when the topic of the age of the Earth comes up. Which is quite possibly an even more ridiculous position. E.g. Phillip Johnson.

    Most of the rest of the ID movement is made up of old-earth creationists — they accept the ancient Earth, sometimes reluctantly, but they deny common ancestry even between humans and apes. Casey Luskin is a prominent, currently active example of this. Even without all of the historical evidence, “creationist” is a perfectly tame description of this person’s position.

    ID has been explicitly described by Phillip Johnson, Paul Nelson, etc., as a “big tent” where the young-earth and old-earth creationists can get together and collaborate on bashing evolution, leaving aside their own disgreements.

    And just to head off the misconception that many IDists are OK with common ancestry:

    The denial of common ancestry is unsurprising in creation science, but it is a common misconception that ID advocates accept common ancestry and “macroevolution.” In fact, the vast majority of ID proponents deny the common ancestry of humans and apes. Behe is the only significant exception, although he is much-touted by those who wish to portray ID as a moderate position. Even Behe’s support is lukewarm; in 2005, he wrote that “my Intelligent Design colleagues who disagree with me on common descent have greater familiarity with the relevant science than I do” (66). Dembski’s position is typical, accepting “some change in the course of natural history,” but believing “that this change has occurred within strict limits and that human beings were specially created” (67). This is the standard position of an ID advocate. In May 2005, ID supporters on the Kansas Board of Education held hearings to support ID-friendly science standards. Mainstream scientists boycotted the hearings, but a series of pro-ID witnesses, mostly teachers and academics (but few professional biologists) testified in support of the standards. During cross-examination, only 2 of 19 witnesses accepted the common ancestry of humans and apes. One was an independent scholar who clarified that although he supported the Kansas standards, he was not an ID advocate; and the other was Behe. The rejection of evolution by the vast majority of ID witnesses at the Kansas hearings parallels the rejection of evolution by ID proponents in general.

    from an article I coauthored: http://www.pnas.org/content/104/suppl.1/8669.full

    And PS: Old-earth creationists are, typically, fundamentalists. They believe in Biblical inerrancy etc. William Jennings Bryan, pretty much the most famous fundamentalist of the first wave of fundamentalism, was an old-earth creationist. Look at the prominent theologians associated with the ID movement (most of them are on the DI fellows list) — largely people from Biola and similar schools. Biola is also the main university that hosts ID events, conferences etc. The name “Biola” is derived from the Bible Institute of Los Angeles, and this is the institution that published The Fundamentals, the articles which later inspired the name “fundamentalist.”

  108. Tom Gilson says:

    Hi, Nick, hope you had a good flight. I trust that my newest post on this topic will relieve some of this:

    Like most threads this has gone in a million directions, we can’t all reply to everything, insert standard disclaimers here about how I still think I’m right even if I didn’t get around to answering someone’s third sub-argument from 50 posts back.

    I’ve distilled the discussion down to four issues, some of which are by no means just “third sub-arguments” and remain unanswered so far.

    I’d be interested to know what “fundamentalist” means to you. It’s a beastly difficult word to get a handle on (I trust you know who the author there, Alvin Plantinga, is). Just to say, “they believe in Biblical inerrancy etc.” doesn’t tell me much, since for many people the word means “any inherent of any religion who believes it more strongly than I think they should.” I’ve learned that whenever that word comes up, being clear in the definition is important. I never use it myself because of its ambiguity.

    As for many IDists being okay with common ancestry, I don’t have a particular problem with it, nor does Luskin. How about the rest of us here?

  109. Charlie says:

    Hi Tom,
    Thanks for your summary in the other post. But you did miss Nick Matzke’s much-belated response to my answering his \Hitler didn’t quote Darwin\ challenge (a challenge he made after I had already posted the information – which at the time prompted him to repeat that he had read broadly on the subject).
    His response was another barely-veiled accusation of ignorance, a red herring, and another challenge. Referencing Hitler’s use of the words \struggle for existence\ Matzke tried to imply that Hitler got his theory from Rev. Malthus rather than from Darwin. Matzke ignored the fact that those same quotes also referenced \Natural Selection\ and man’s evolution from animals – non-Malthusian and decidedly Darwinian concepts.
    Hitler happens to have thought that man evolved from reptiles, via monkeys and then apes.

    Having also met this challenge to (I presume) identify Malthus I guess I have also demonstrated to Matzke, by this latest criteria, that I \know my stuff\ (actually, I don’t), but I have yet to hear his acknowledgement of my response. It makes it seem as though he was not really interested in this answer as he also seemed disinterested in the answer to his previous challenges.

    —-
    re: Nick’s latest.
    Interesting. Yes, these threads have gone off in multiple directions. Other than the issue Kevin wants to pursue and has graciously recognized from the start as being off-topic, are not the direction changes Matzke’s – starting with inserting the Hitler connection into the first thread which was addressing civility and making opponents into enemies?

    And you are right, Tom. It is not third sub-arguments Matzke has failed to adequately respond to, but the very first responses to his direct challenges.

  110. hmm says:

    From PNAS:

    ”In fact, the vast majority of ID proponents deny the common ancestry of humans and apes. Behe is the only significant exception, although he is much-touted by those who wish to portray ID as a moderate position.”

    No. For example Denton and maybe also Minnich accepts common ancestry of human and apes. And Mike Gene, Collins, Berlinski, and Monton…

    But peer reviewers at PNAS don’t know ID proponents and their positions. That’s why it’s possible to claim there what you want about ID proponents, and no peer reviewer will notice any error…

  111. Paul says:

    Tom, I’d like to follow up on your post #31, a response to my post #28. I didn’t read an acknowledgment of my main point, which was that defenders of evolution act as if any connection, no matter how slight, between Darwin and Hitler somehow means that accepting evolution leads to death camps, so they deny any connection, whereas it seems to me that the connection is so inessential that acknowledging the connection doesn’t doom evolution nor our accepting it if true (which is the larger issue anyway).

    Would you agree?

  112. Nick Matzke says:

    Re: Hitler…

    Well, I thought it was obvious Tom had decided to suspend judgment on the Darwin-Hitler link until reading the new relevant books etc. And that was a plenty good result for the moment.

    I also thought it was obvious that Charlie provided 0 examples of Hitler quoting any of Darwin’s works, citing any of Darwin’s works, using the terms “Darwin” or “Darwinism”, or anything else that would count as a citation. There are no such direct links between Darwin and Hitler, as all admit. Even Weikart, Gasman, etc. admit that Haeckel (whatever blame you put on him) is much more plausible than Darwin as a source for Hitler, and a variety of other sources — Chamberlain, Gobineau, Wagner, etc. — are the actual direct sources Hitler and the Nazis (famously) actually relied on (and many of them were anti-Darwin, as Richards, Schloss, etc. document).

    All Charlie provided was various examples of Hitler using “struggle for existence” language, and comparatively few examples of “natural selection.” The “struggle” language and describing nature in warlike terms predates Darwin — Charlie only got Malthus & Lyell, he missed e.g. the famous botanist (back then) the Frenchman de Candolle (later, the elder, after his son became another botanist). De Candolle was the primary guy that put together the image of the war of nature, life-and-death struggle, etc., and it had a major impact in the 1800s.

    So if all you’ve got is that Hitler by-then standard scientific concept of natural selection, as he mentioned many others (e.g. germs, heredity, etc.) — furthermore a standard scientific concept which everyone accepts, including creationists — then you’ve got to be fair and blame all the other scientists who came up with those concepts, just like you blame Darwin. Otherwise, you are pretty much wishing that Darwin should have discovered natural selection, the existence of which is a scientific truth, and then kept quiet about it just in case some future Hitler would come along generations later and abuse it.

    As for Darwin, Haeckel, and Hitler all mentioning the Spartans — who hasn’t? This is an utterly standard tidbit of ancient history, probably just about the most common thing known about the Spartans except maybe the stuff about Battle of Thermopylae. What the Spartans really show is that it didn’t take Darwin or Hitler or eugenics to come up with the idea that if domestic animals could be bred for certain traits, perhaps so could humans.

  113. Nick Matzke says:

    hmm says:
    March 4, 2009 at 5:01 pm

    From PNAS:

    ”In fact, the vast majority of ID proponents deny the common ancestry of humans and apes. Behe is the only significant exception, although he is much-touted by those who wish to portray ID as a moderate position.”

    No. For example Denton

    He’s an ex-IDer as far as I can tell, he left the movement long ago.

    and maybe also Minnich accepts common ancestry of human and apes.

    Nope. Minnich is a conservative evangelical, and when explicitly asked he denied common ancestry. All came out in the Kitzmiller case.

    And Mike Gene,

    You’re really going to cite an internet pseudonym?

    Collins,

    Explicit ID opponent, not proponent.

    Berlinski,

    He doesn’t like evolution, but he has explicitly said he’s not an IDer. He’s basically an equal-opportunity contrarian cumudgeon as far as I can tell. (And he doesn’t know any biology.) Haven’t seen any explicit statement from him on common ancestry anyway.

    and Monton…

    Explicitly says he doesn’t accept ID. He just thinks some of the anti-ID arguments suck.

    Your ID-likes-common-ancestry evidence ain’t very good.

    But peer reviewers at PNAS don’t know ID proponents and their positions. That’s why it’s possible to claim there what you want about ID proponents, and no peer reviewer will notice any error…

    Explain to me why all those actual IDists who testified in Kansas before the State Board of Education denied common ancestry. Explain to me why virtually all of the big active names in ID deny common ancestry: Phillip Johnson, William Dembski, Paul Nelson, Jonathan Wells, Stephen Meyer, Charles Thaxton, Walter Bradley, etc.

    Oh, and read Luskin’s posts, he spends many of them arguing against common ancestry, particularly the common ancestry of humans and chimps.

    PS: And the new Discovery Institute crypto-ID/crypto-creationist book “Explore Evolution” devotes half its space to challenging common ancestry. Nelson, Minnich, Meyer, etc. are coauthors. This is a weird way to endorse common ancestry.

  114. Nick Matzke says:

    My definition of fundamentalist as I’ve been using it here is, yeah, basically tied to inerrancy and the fundamentalist/modernist split of the 1920s in American Christianity. It has a broader sense now for generally harsh & strict religiosity & extreme conservatism & holding to a religious text over and above contradictory evidence, which is probably a fair extension; but the ultra-extension to Islamic terrorists etc. is really unfair to Christian fundamentalists who, whatever their flaws, are peaceful, democracy-loving, contributors to modern society, etc.

    Re: Luskin & competence & experts. Random points — anyone deigning to suggest that the whole field of paleoanthropology is totally bogus, to the point that it cannot even do accurate basic forensic identification of bones; and who furthermore suggests that all this stuff about hundreds of transitional hominid fossil discoveries over the last 100 years is unimpressive and doesn’t prove anything about common ancestry of humans & apes, had darn well better know basic facts like the fact that Lucy isn’t the most complete hominid skeleton available. I doubt very much the exhibit actually said that (it may have said something like “most complete australopithecine” or “most complete over X age” or used some of the newer terminology (hominin, hominoid etc.) to be more precise about Lucy’s phylogenetic position) — but even if it did, due to an overenthusiastic intern making captions or something, any well-informed commentator should spot the error and point it out if they are giving an alleged critical review.

    Re: flagellum & Minnich. You seem to think that because Minnich is an “expert” (really, he’s an expert on certain T3SS, not flagellum evolution, or at least he has never done a serious look at the topic or he wouldn’t have made the mistakes he did), therefore I am wrong when I criticize him. This is backwards. One of the major points of the Pallen & Matzke paper was to show that one of Minnich’s basic “facts” — only 10 flagellar proteins homologous to nonflagellar proteins — a factoid then copied by everyone else in the ID movement, since no one ever double checked — was just wrong. We put the evidence in Table 1, anyone can check for themselves. Expertise is definitely important when you are trying to figure out the truth, but first, you’ve got to see if the “expert” is really an expert on exactly the relevant points, and second, hard data trumps expertise every time.

    Presumably this is what you think you are doing when you go up against paleontology papers and the like, but the fact that you make basic, elementary errors like those I have described is strong evidence that you don’t really understand the material enough, and so your criticisms are imaginary wishful thinking rather than real problems. Another example is the Consistency Index snafu.

    On Minnich: if he really did have a friggin clue about flagellum evolution, would have checked his homology facts before he wrote articles and did court testimony on the point, ideally would have publicly corrected the error after it was pointed out (especially because IDists like you will evidently faithfully believe whatever he says, not try to comprehend and evaluate criticisms and forthrightly state whether or not Minnich was wrong), and definitely Minnich should have corrected the same wrong argument before it was published in the new DI textbook “Explore Evolution.”

    Re: ontology. This is a huge discussion. I tend to think that the hairs we are now splitting (morality is a real objective thing out there which applies only to humans and which humans perceive as they reflect on their innate nature, versus morality is a real objective thing about the human species and which they discover as they reflect on their innate nature) boil down to really abstract debates about things like idealism. It doesn’t make much difference to me — my position works equally well even if morality, i.e. a set of rules governing the actions of intelligent social beings — is some transcendent absolute feature of existence. This could well be true for all I know: e.g., in the same way that the streamlined shape of fishes, dolphins, etc., seems to be inherently the best way to move large solid things through water. If morality is transcendent but natural selection builds humanlike species to perceive it, my basic argument still goes through.

    The only thing that bugs me is the silly idea that Darwin, of all people, bears substantial responsibility for Hitler & the Nazis, which are pretty much the worst things anyone can think of. Darwin was basically just minding his own business doing science, and he was even substantially more careful than he had to be about preserving traditional morality with his theory, acknowledging that it would be evil if society just let the weak die, etc. A lot of scientists would have said all that stuff was just irrelevent sentimentality and told people that life was war and people should just deal. But Darwin goes out of his way to avoid this sort of thing, and STILL gets bashed for things he wouldn’t have endorsed & in fact specifically avoided.

    Sure, it would be nice if Darwin had been 100 years ahead of his time and not had the then-standard European superiority complex that almost all white people, including Lincoln, had — but if we’re going to judge Darwin based on this, you have to be fair and judge everyone else back then the same way.

    OK guys, that’s my last shot. I need to get on the plane & do like science and stuff. Although obviously I still think everyone’s wrong about everything ;-), this was an above-average discussion, so thanks for that. Cheers.

  115. Charlie says:

    Hi Nick

    So if all you’ve got is that Hitler by-then standard scientific concept of natural selection, as he mentioned many others (e.g. germs, heredity, etc.) — furthermore a standard scientific concept which everyone accepts, including creationists — then you’ve got to be fair and blame all the other scientists who came up with those concepts, just like you blame Darwin.

    Very good. I was wondering when this would become your point.
    Yes, natural selection as the mechanism for positive, progressive evolution (of the type that evolved men from monkeys) was common currency by the time. But why was it? And where did it come from?
    It came, of course, from Darwin. Not Malthus, Blyth, Gobineau, Chamberlain, etc.
    (In fact, you cite Gobineau as a major influence on Hitler. But Gobineau was dead in the water by the end of the 19th century until he was resurrected by Haeckel and given scientific credibility via Darwin’s theory. Speaking of chronology, he was writing long before Darwin, so the idea that Darwin was too long gone to be an influence is moot by your own references).
    Whether Darwin was Hitler’s direct influence (he was to a degree, Hitler learned Darwinism in school and found it beat ragged the information he got in his religion class) or whether he came to Hitler filtered through popular media filtered through scientists filtered through Haeckel, the source is still Darwin.

    Pick Haeckel if you like as the more primary and direct source but that only strengthens the connection to Darwin. Haeckel was not even a biologist before reading OoS. He was inspired by this book (as was Darwin’s eugenics loving cousin, F. Galton) to enter the field. Darwin commended him in his letters as the person most responsible for popularizing and gaining acceptance in Germany for his theory. To get to he popular media it had required Haeckel, who was inspired by Darwin and had Darwin’s recognition and approval in this regard. Haeckel also had Darwin’s approval in his interpretation of the theory. Darwin said that Haeckel was the one naturalist who really understood it. He also approved of Haeckel’s writings (racist and eugenic) and said, with Huxley, that Haeckel was taking the theory to its logical conclusion. His concern for Haeckel was that in being so bold he might make enemies – not that he was wrong.
    In the introduction to DoM Darwin mentions that he and Haeckel have come to identical conclusions about evolution (since Haeckel wrote on man’s descent first DArwin emphasized that they came to these conclusions independently).
    Darwin’s reference to Haeckel and his writings in DoM:

    This last naturalist, besides his great work, Generelle Morphologie (1866), has recently (1868, with a second edit. in 1870), published his Naturliche Schopfungsgeschichte, in which he fully discusses the genealogy of man. If this work had appeared before my essay had been written, I should probably never have completed it. Almost all the conclusions at which I have arrived I find confirmed by this naturalist, whose knowledge on many points is much fuller than mine. Wherever I have added any fact or view from Prof. Haeckel’s writings, I give his authority in the text; other statements I leave as they originally stood in my manuscript, occasionally giving in the foot-notes references to his works, as a confirmation of the more doubtful or interesting points.

    As for influences you keep avoiding Madison Grant in your list. Hitler actually wrote the racist, eugenist, a fan letter (as he did other American eugenists). And, of course, Grant was applying Darwin’s theory of natural selection to human civilization.
    Here’s Grant, in what Hitler called his “bible”, The Passing Of The Great Race:

    WHERE two races occupy a country side by side, it is not correct to speak of one type as changing into the other. Even if present in equal numbers one of the two contrasted types will have some small advantage or capacity which the other lacks toward a perfect adjustment to surroundings. Those possessing these favorable variations will flourish at the expense of their rivals, and their offspring will not only be more numerous, but will also tend to inherit such variations. In this way one type gradually breeds the other out. In this sense, and in this sense only, do races change.

    The lowering of the birth rate among the most valuable classes, while the birth rate of the lower classes remains unaffected, is a frequent phenomenon of prosperity. Such a change becomes extremely injurious to the race if unchecked, unless nature is allowed to maintain by her own cruel devices the relative numbers of the different classes in their due proportions. To attack race suicide by encouraging indiscriminate breeding is not only futile, but is dangerous if it leads to an increase in the undesirable elements. What is needed in the community most of all, is an increase in the desirable classes, which are of superior type physically, intellectually, and morally, and not merely an increase in the absolute numbers of the population.

    Where altruism, philanthropy, or sentimentalism intervene with the noblest purpose, and forbid nature to penalize the unfortunate victims of reckless breeding, the multiplication of inferior types is encouraged and fostered. Efforts to indiscriminately preserve babies among the lower classes often result in serious injury to the race.

    It is well known to stock breeders that the color of a herd of cattle can be modified by continuous elimination of worthless shades, and of course this is true of other characters. Black sheep, for instance, have been practically destroyed by cutting out generation after generation all animals that show this color phase, until in carefully maintained flocks a black individual only appears as a rare sport.

    Pure Darwin, pure Descent of Man, and pure Hitler.
    And yes, DoM is listed in his bibliography.
    DoM:

    We civilised men, on the other hand, do our utmost to check the process of elimination; we build asylums for the imbecile, the maimed, and the sick; we institute poor-laws; and our medical men exert their utmost skill to save the life of every one to the last moment.
    There is reason to believe that vaccination has preserved thousands, who from a weak constitution would formerly have succumbed to small-pox. Thus the weak members of civilised societies propagate their kind. No one who has attended to the breeding of domestic animals will doubt that this must be highly injurious to the race of man. It is surprising how soon a want of care, or care wrongly directed, leads to the degeneration of a domestic race; but excepting in the case of man himself, hardly any one is so ignorant as to allow his worst animals to breed.

    Nor could we check our sympathy, even at the urging of hard reason, without deterioration in the noblest part of our nature. The surgeon may harden himself whilst performing an operation, for he knows that he is acting for the good of his patient; but if we were intentionally to neglect the weak and helpless, it could only be for a contingent benefit, with an overwhelming present evil. We must therefore bear the undoubtedly bad effects of the weak surviving and propagating their kind; but there appears to be at least one check in steady action, namely that the weaker and inferior members of society do not marry so freely as the sound; and this check might be indefinitely increased by the weak in body or mind refraining from marriage, though this is more to be hoped for than expected. In every country in which a large standing army is kept up, the finest young men are taken by the conscription or are enlisted. They are thus exposed to early death during war, are often tempted into vice, and are prevented from marrying during the prime of life. On the other hand the shorter and feebler men, with poor constitutions, are left at home, and consequently have a much better chance of marrying and propagating their kind.*

    This especially holds good with injurious characters which tend to reappear through reversion, such as blackness in sheep; and with mankind some of the worst dispositions, which occasionally without any assignable cause make their appearance in families, may perhaps be reversions to a savage state, from which we are not removed by very many generations. This view seems indeed recognised in the common expression that such men are the black sheep of the family.

    Thus the reckless, degraded, and often vicious members of society, tend to increase at a quicker rate than the provident and generally virtuous members.

    If the various checks specified in the two last paragraphs, and perhaps others as yet unknown, do not prevent the reckless, the vicious and otherwise inferior members of society from increasing at a quicker rate than the better class of men, the nation will retrograde, as has too often occurred in the history of the world.

    Natural selection follows from the struggle for existence; and this from a rapid rate of increase. It is impossible not to regret bitterly, but whether wisely is another question, the rate at which man tends to increase; for this leads in barbarous tribes to infanticide and many other evils, and in civilised nations to abject poverty, celibacy, and to the late marriages of the prudent. But as man suffers from the same physical evils as the lower animals, he has no right to expect an immunity from the evils consequent on the struggle for existence.

    Hence our natural rate of increase, though leading to many and obvious evils, must not be greatly diminished by any means .

    To be sure, Grant followed through in his thinking to a different conclusion about society’s actions, but the science is the same – and it comes from Darwin and goes to Hitler.

    So pick Darwin, Haeckel, or any other evolutionists or even journalists who picked up the theory of evolution by natural selection and made it part of the German zeitgeist the result is the same – there is a direct historical link from Darwin’s theory to Hitler’s view of man; and it is a causal link.
    Even if you choose to say Darwin was just a man of his times and was packaging long-held ideas in one book, which I believe to be true – it is still a fact, as his son said above, that the credit goes to the man who convinced the world.

    then you’ve got to be fair and blame all the other scientists who came up with those concepts, just like you blame Darwin.

    This is why the subject can never be debated freely – everyone wants to talk about “blame”. We are not blaming Darwin. We are saying that there is an undeniable historical link and that Hitler was drawing from Darwin’s theory.
    Nobody is saying Hitler didn’t abuse or take Darwin’s theory in a direction that would have appalled Darwin (but we can certainly discuss to what degree he was actually deviating from Darwin), in fact, Tom has clearly affirmed the opposite.
    To paraphrase you, you are pretty much wishing that there were no link from Darwin to Hitler, the existence of which is a historic truth.

  116. Charlie says:

    By the way, although I don’t know for sure, isn’t it unlikely that Kenyon is YEC? He did write the definitive book on chemical evolution, after all.

  117. Charlie says:

    Hi Paul,
    I agree with most of your latest.
    The Darwin-Hitler link does not disprove evolution and it does not mean we ought to pretend that evolution is false if it is true.
    Likewise, I agree with you that the deniers of this obvious and verifiable link are avoiding the truth not because of the facts but because of the consequences.

    But we ought to remember always that 1) ideas have consequences, 2) Darwinism fails to give us the very morality which allows us to criticize consequences, and 3) if an idea causes us to deny obvious facts of our existence it probably isn’t correct.

  118. Tom Gilson says:

    Paul, with respect to your comment #113,

    I would agree to an extent. If evolution (taken broadly) is true, then the Hitler connection could be summarized as:

    1) A huge historical embarrassment, and
    2) A warning against following that path in the future.

    And beyond that it doesn’t disprove the theory.

    But if specifically naturalistic evolution is true, then that summary changes. The connection could be summarized as:

    1) A huge historical embarrassment in terms of today’s morés only and
    2) An empty warning for the future, because society is what determines what’s right, then what’s wrong now will be right then (because society has changed its mind); so if society decides to go down that road again someday, it will ipso facto be the right thing to do.

    In other words, theistic evolution (if true) would produce the first summary, while atheistic evolution would lead to the second summary. I think that’s pretty consistent with what Charlie just said.

  119. Paul says:

    Tom, is the type of embarrassment you’re thinking of the type that Paul McCartney had when he found out that Helter Skelter was used by Charles Manson as part of the murders he committed? Can you expound on the embarrassment a bit?

    And, in general, would you agree that evolution was mis-used by Hitler? That is, I’m not seeing the real blame for evolution in all this (especially if it is true).

  120. Charlie says:

    Tom has laid this out from the beginning.
    If Darwinian evolution is true, or thought to be true, then, as Tom quoted Dawkins in the OP, there is no basis for ethics.
    If we are the kind of animal that evolved from non-moral beasts, by an amoral process which did not have us in mind, which has no purpose or ultimate meaning, then we have no moral obligations.
    Sure, Darwin thought we had innate feelings which we ought to obey, but he recognized we had many innate impulses and had to choose which to obey. He decided it was “noble” to follow one rather than the other, but that personal opinion aside, there is no authority behind that instinct and no reason to obey it rather than another.
    Especially since, as Darwin plainly laid out, as he got from post-Enlightenment philosophers before him, and as was expounded upon by the naturalist who most “got” evolution and most popularized it in Germany, there were plain, obvious, scientifically determined injurious results to be had by following Darwin’s “noble” instincts as opposed to the scientific laws of Nature.
    The science clearly told Darwin, Haeckel, Grant and Hitler that:
    Man evolved from the beasts by a process of natural selection – fierce struggle for existence.
    Man owed his high state to this struggle.
    Man exists in various states, from the barely human, almost animal, to the highly civilized European Caucasian.
    There is a great difference between these two extremes, greater than between the brutish man and an ape, and this difference is owing to the struggle for existence.
    Civilized man is now thwarting the very struggle for existence which has raised him to such heights.
    It can be no doubt injurious to the race of man, and assault on his very existence, to continue to thwart natural selection, to disobey the laws of Nature, even if our sympathies tell us we ought to.
    These sympathies arose from natural selection as well, but have been honed to a very fine degree, by inculcation, religion, and custom and we have the ability to ignore them (Darwin seemed to say we ought not, but he also noted the injurious effects due us if we didn’t).
    Even from Darwin, it would be best if the unfit did not survive to reproduce, did not marry, were not allowed by custom or law to out-produce the more fit.
    Even from Darwin, man should not be protected from the cruelties and evils of natural selection if he is to continue to advance as a species – and, even Darwin, said he should continue to advance as a species.

    All of the above is consistent with Darwin and the exponents of his theory. All of the above was the “science”.
    All of the above was taught by the intelligentsia and promoted by the media to the masses.
    Nothing explicit or implicit in the theory could argue against the explicit scientific facts laid out above.

    Did ‘evolution’ make Hitler act as he did (I mean the theory, of course, in your opinion, Hitler was determined by evolution to do what he did)? No, of course not. Lots of people did not believe he was right. BUt scientists did, and science supported him. Scientists throughout the civilized world were embarking on eugenics programs and were inspiring Hitler with their scientific advancements based upon their “knowledge” of the laws of Nature. They were applying biology to mankind, as Darwin and Haeckel thought ought to be done, as Hitler quoted, and as the theory implicated.
    So when HItler learned the science of natural selection he found every justification, from the highest authority in nature, Nature herself, and from the highest human authorities, for his program. To advance his higher race ever further he needed more resources for it, more space, greater numbers of the fit, and lesser numbers of the unfit.
    The science told him and justified all of this.
    The science said nothing against this.
    The science had also effectively ruled out the only real Authority who could rule above “Nature” and had made objections to its findings “naive superstition”. With religion and God outside of science, as we hear heralded everyday to this day, and no right to impose its morality or thinking on the secular world, and science being the ultimate test of knowledge (as you yourself propound) not only was Hitler perfectly justified and taught by ‘evolution’ what to do, but the only real impediment to his actions was removed.

    Is the Theory of Evolution responsible for this? No. It is, afterall, just a theory.
    Man’s failure to acknowledge his rightful Creator and the Truth of His Word is.
    Man’s scientism, his elevation of his own thinking above God’s, man’s desire to free himself from the shackles of a just Lawgiver are responsible. HIs elevating of himself, his thinking and his science, as idols and gods above the true God are responsible for this atrocity.

    Ideas have consequences and those who ignore history (or whitewash it) are doomed to repeat it.

    Not must parallel here to Helter Skelter, is there?

  121. hmm says:

    Nick:

    “He’s an ex-IDer as far as I can tell, he left the movement long ago.”

    Denton advocates ID, but he is not part of ID movement anymore. Like Davis and Kenyon.

    “Minnich is a conservative evangelical, and when explicitly asked he denied common ancestry. All came out in the Kitzmiller case.”

    I’ve read his testimony, but didn’t find, where he denied common ancestry.

    “And Mike Gene,

    You’re really going to cite an internet pseudonym?”

    He has written an important book about ID.

    “Collins,

    Explicit ID opponent, not proponent.”

    Wrong Collins. I meant DI’s Fellow, who is one of the best known proponents of cosmological design arguments in the world (but he doesn’t see ID as science, and he is not part of ID movement, but he advocates ID (the idea).

    And I forgot one important person: Gonzales. As far as I know, he has not denied common ancestry.

    Siegfried Scherer (who was DI’s Fellow, but is not anymore. He doesn’t accept the idea that ID were teached in science classes) does also not deny the idea of common descent. He denied it ten years ago, but not anymore (NCSE’s officers like Scott have not noticed that in their papers, maybe because they are not able to undestand foreign languages (German).

    “Explain to me why all those actual IDists who testified in Kansas before the State Board of Education denied common ancestry. Explain to me why virtually all of the big active names in ID deny common ancestry: Phillip Johnson, William Dembski, Paul Nelson, Jonathan Wells, Stephen Meyer, Charles Thaxton, Walter Bradley, etc.”

    (As far I know, Thaxton is not a big active ID name. Has he written any new ID publications during last ten years? )

    Answer to your question is: because they are theists (and believe in active God). And it allows (for them) also other possibilities and explanations. For example Kenneth Miller does not believe that God is active in our universe: he once himself said he believes in Darwin’s God and is a deist (and not a theist).

  122. Tom Gilson says:

    Nick,

    You’re really going to cite an internet pseudonym?

    Why not? It’s been done before…. I think the phrase began, “At the time, prominent ID proponents who commented on the Big Flagellum Essay – notably William Dembski and Mike Gene ….” And the author there, having described Mike Gene as a prominent ID proponent along with William Dembski, even went on to quote Mike Gene.

    But that was another writer, and we wouldn’t expect you to think we ought to take his example as normative.

  123. Charlie says:

    Hmmm,

    “Minnich is a conservative evangelical, and when explicitly asked he denied common ancestry. All came out in the Kitzmiller case.”

    I’ve read his testimony, but didn’t find, where he denied common ancestry.

    Nor did I. I don’t think he was explicitly asked and I don;t think anything about this “came out”.
    I don’t think Matzke’s correct on MInnich or Kenyon, but he was intimately involved with the complainant’s case, so I do stand to be directed.

  124. The Deuce says:

    Nick:

    Sure there is [a contradiction in the claim that morals only apply to humans, and that they are not relative to humans]. You are claiming both that morality is absolute, objective and non-relative, while conceding that morality is relative to the nature of the species. You just said it again right there.

    No, the contradiction you are claiming to see is the result of a logical fallacy on your part, and it disappears once the fallacy is removed. There is also no concession, since this has been the standard theistic position since time immemorial, and you appear to be ignorant of history prior to the creationist trials of the 1980s.

    The fallacy is that you are conflating two different claims:

    1) Moral law only applies to humans.
    and
    2) Moral law is a mental projection of humans.

    You are conflating the two by using the phrase “is relative to” to mean both “only applies to” and “is a mental projection of”, and then pretending that the two different uses are the same and that there is a contradiction in affirming one while denying the other.

    I’m not sure if this is a genuine failure to grasp logical distinctions on your part, or the intentionally dishonest sophistry of a spin doctor, but either way it reflects poorly on you as a logician. The fact that you’re so proud of yourself for coming up with this bit of tortured reasoning just adds a sort of vainglorious comedy to the whole thing.

    I note that the “contradiction” you are claiming, were it legitimate, undermines your own argument as well, since you are yourself trying to argue that morality is both objective (ie, non-relative) and relative to the species. Actually, it *does* undermine your position, since you really are saying that moral laws are relative to the species (which contradicts the claim that they are objective), and not just that they only apply to the human species (which doesn’t).

    It’s really pointless to even debate your case until you stop engaging in this kind of low-rent sophistry, and at least offer a coherent position like Paul has, that others could at least disagree with and debate. But it’s impossible to even begin a rational conversation with someone who’s entire position is composed of fallacious reasoning, and who refuses to stop engaging in it.

  125. Tony Hoffman says:

    Hi Tom,

    Sorry to interrupt here but I wanted to reply to Charlie’s last on this post

    http://www.thinkingchristian.net/2009/01/is-religion-adaptive-its-complicated-scientific-american/

    but it looks like commenting has been shut down there. Is that an oversight, or has commenting been permanently shut down there?

  126. Charlie says:

    Hi Tony,
    You can email me at charlieaaronscott at yahoo dot ca
    if you’d like.

  127. Richard Wein says:

    Hi. I got here via Nick’s link at Panda’s Thumb, and can’t resist jumping in on the subject of objective morality.

    It seems to me that Nick is missing the distinction between two concepts:
    A. Moral values having an objective existence, i.e. that moral values are made true by objective features of the world, independent of people’s opinions.
    B. There being an objective explanation for why people hold the moral values they do.

    Nick has addressed only B, not A. But B is not the issue in contention. The issue here is not the objective truth of whether (or why) people hold certain moral values, but whether those (or any) moral values have an objective truth. Perhaps Nick, like me, takes the view that the concept of moral values having an objective truth makes no sense, and that’s why he hasn’t addressed that issue. But, if so, I think it would be helpful if he said so explicitly.

    For myself, I will say clearly that I am a moral/ethical subjectivist (as defined by en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ethical_subjectivism). I think the concept of objective moral truth makes no sense. Moral values exist only in minds. There are no objective features of the world (or abstract logic) from which moral values can be derived. You can’t get an “ought” from an “is”.

    Invoking God doesn’t change any of this. Suppose that God exists and has handed down to us a set of moral values. All this means is that there is one more mind in which moral values can exist, namely God’s. The moral values handed down by God would be God’s own subjective moral values.

    This does not mean that there can be no basis for agreement on moral values. The reality is that most of us share certain basic moral feelings (whether those come from nature or nurture) and from those basic shared values we can derive other less basic ones.

  128. derek_jeter says:

    These are the closing sentences from Origin of The Species:

    “It is interesting to contemplate an entangled bank, clothed with many plants of many kinds, with birds singing on the bushes, with various insects flitting about, and with worms crawling through the damp earth, and to reflect that these elaborately constructed forms, so different from each other, and dependent on each other in so complex a
    manner, have all been produced by laws acting around us.

    These laws,taken in the largest sense, being Growth with Reproduction; Inheritance which is almost implied by reproduction; Variability from the indirect and direct action of the external conditions of life, and
    from use and disuse; a Ratio of Increase so high as to lead to a Struggle for Life, and as a consequence to Natural Selection,entailing Divergence of Character and the Extinction of less-improved forms.

    Thus, from the war of nature, from famine and death, the most exalted object which we are capable of conceiving, namely, the production of the higher animals, directly follows. There is grandeur in this view of life, with its several powers, having been originally breathed into a few forms or into one; and that, whilst this planet has gone cycling on according to the fixed law of gravity, from so
    simple a beginning endless forms most beautiful and most wonderful have been, and are being, evolved.”

    It’s rather difficult for me to get to Nazism from this. Kind of like getting from the New Testament to David Koresh, don’t you think? Not to disparage the topics you all have been addressing yourself to, which I realize is different.

  129. SteveK says:

    Invoking God doesn’t change any of this. Suppose that God exists and has handed down to us a set of moral values. All this means is that there is one more mind in which moral values can exist, namely God’s. The moral values handed down by God would be God’s own subjective moral values.

    I think it does change it for the reason that God is the non-contingent grounding source from which everything flows. We rationally perceive God’s moral laws woven into the fabric of reality just as we rationally perceive God’s logical laws.

  130. Tom Gilson says:

    @derek_jeter:

    Your quote of Darwin, a few sentences out of a long life of work, represents what I think you may also have done on a smaller scale with what I wrote. That is, your comment doesn’t give me any real confidence that you have the whole of what I wrote in mind. I recommend you read it again, especially the paragraphs beginning with “Darwinism did not have to lead to Nazism….”

  131. Richard Wein says:

    SteveK:

    I think it does change it for the reason that God is the non-contingent grounding source from which everything flows. We rationally perceive God’s moral laws woven into the fabric of reality just as we rationally perceive God’s logical laws.

    Thanks for your reply, Steve.

    1. How do we “rationally perceive God’s moral laws woven into the fabric of reality”? Please explain.

    2. What fundamental difference does it make whether God weaves his moral laws into the fabric of reality, carves them in stone tablets or writes them in a book? Those are just representations of moral values that come from God’s mind, not from objective reality, and so are merely his subjective moral values. If making a physical representation of moral values makes them objective, then I can make my own moral values objective by writing them down.

  132. Tom Gilson says:

    @Richard Wein:

    God’s “subjective moral values” are not subjective in the relevant sense. They are part of his necessary and eternal character, not changeable on a whim, not open to cultural variation. They are of his essence; and since he created everything else that is, they are intimately connected to the essence of all reality. Furthermore, he reigns as God and Sovereign over all reality, in goodness and in wisdom. He has the moral right to declare what is really good for all, because of his perfect goodness. He has the positional right as King to speak it authoritatively.

    Your splitting “moral values that come from God’s mind, not from objective reality” misunderstands that God’s mind is the most objective of all realities.

  133. Richard Wein says:

    Tom Gilson: They are part of his necessary and eternal character, not changeable on a whim, not open to cultural variation. They are of his essence; and since he created everything else that is, they are intimately connected to the essence of all reality.

    Whether they are changeable is irrelevant. If a human is unable to change one of his moral values, does that make the value objectively true? The question is not about how God got his moral values but whether they have an objective truth.

    Tom Gilson: Furthermore, he reigns as God and Sovereign over all reality, in goodness and in wisdom. He has the moral right to declare what is really good for all, because of his perfect goodness. He has the positional right as King to speak it authoritatively.

    To declare that God has a moral right is itself an assertion of a moral value. You need to establish that _that_ moral value is objectively true, or else you’re just begging the question.

    EDIT: God’s “perfect goodness” is a moral judgement. You need to show that that judgement is objectively true.

    Tom Gilson: Your splitting “moral values that come from God’s mind, not from objective reality” misunderstands that God’s mind is the most objective of all realities.

    You’re now making the same sort of error that you accused Nick of making, confusing the objective existence of moral values in God’s mind (or human minds) with whether those values have an objective truth.

    You’re wasting your time. No matter how much you try, you won’t be able to get an “ought” from an “is”. ;)

  134. The Deuce says:

    Richard Wein:

    Nick has addressed only B, not A. But B is not the issue in contention. The issue here is not the objective truth of whether (or why) people hold certain moral values, but whether those (or any) moral values have an objective truth. Perhaps Nick, like me, takes the view that the concept of moral values having an objective truth makes no sense, and that’s why he hasn’t addressed that issue. But, if so, I think it would be helpful if he said so explicitly.

    Hi, Richard, you are correct that Nick is conflating there being an objective moral law with there being an objective cause of people’s moral values. That’s in addition to the conflation of his that I pointed out a couple posts above.

    It’s a pattern for him. The problem is, Nick’s a spin-doctor, a political shill, not a philosopher. He lacks your concern for truth and analytical rigor.

    You forthrightly say that you’re a moral subjectivist, because you know that’s what is implied by your premises, and because you are intellectually honest. Nick, however, is trying to sell a fully naturalistic account of evolution, while simultaneously trying to argue (for purely political reasons) that this isn’t a metaphysical position, and that the moral relativism that is implied by it is somehow compatible with the moral objectivism of Christian theism.

    Since that claim is an absurdity, a contradiction in terms, there aren’t any good arguments for it. But Nick, being the political hack that he is, will happily reach for any old bit of sophistry that he believes serves his purposes, without any real concern for its validity. Hence the pattern you see here.

    For myself, I will say clearly that I am a moral/ethical subjectivist (as defined by en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ethical_subjectivism). I think the concept of objective moral truth makes no sense. Moral values exist only in minds. There are no objective features of the world (or abstract logic) from which moral values can be derived. You can’t get an “ought” from an “is”.

    After arguing with Nick, it’s refreshing to see somebody who just says what they think.

    Invoking God doesn’t change any of this. Suppose that God exists and has handed down to us a set of moral values. All this means is that there is one more mind in which moral values can exist, namely God’s. The moral values handed down by God would be God’s own subjective moral values.

    This is true, but it’s important to remember that according to the great theistic philosophers, God isn’t simply another being among the many contingent beings in the universe, but rather the necessary being, and the grounds of being itself. And, applying that premise to morality, his isn’t simply another belief or opinion about what is moral, but the necessary opinion, and the grounds of morality itself.

    I think the concept of objective moral truth makes no sense.

    One thing I frequently point out in these discussions is that truth is largely in the same boat at morality.

    For starters, both truth and morality are normative. That is to say, true and false are normative properties, just as good and bad are. In fact, the two are so closely related, that we use \right\ and \wrong\ as interchangeable terms for both of them.

    There’s more similarity. True and false, like good and bad, are value properties that we only interact with in our minds. They aren’t physical properties that we can observe in objects in the outside world (A tree is neither true, nor morally good. It just is. Likewise, you cannot observe falsity or moral badness in a microscope).

    And finally, just as with morality, there is broad disagreement about truth. There are some things that nearly everyone believes to be true or false, just as there are some things that nearly everyone believes to be morally right or wrong. But, at the same time, there is broad disagreement about what people believe to be true, just as their is broad disagreement over what people believe to be morally right.

    Yet, despite their parallel relationship, very few people who say that morality is subjective are willing to say the same thing about truth.

    Now, perhaps there is a good argument for why, despite their parallel status, morality is relative and truth is not (although, I don’t think there is), but I do think that this defeats the idea that objective morality is incoherent in principle. That is to say, arguments to the effect that objective truth is incoherent or makes no sense should be avoided unless one is willing to say the same about truth, because such arguments apply with equal force to both truth and morality.

  135. SteveK says:

    Richard,

    How do we “rationally perceive God’s moral laws woven into the fabric of reality”? Please explain.

    The same way we perceive the logical laws…with our God-given rational mind, created for perceiving such things.

    God’s “perfect goodness” is a moral judgement. You need to show that that judgement is objectively true.

    Strictly speaking you can’t empirically show that something is objectively true without first accepting the truth of certain first principles. Certain objective truths can be known without being able to show they are true. Mathematics are full of objective truths that cannot be shown to be true. I think it is a mistake to equate ‘objective’ with ‘demonstrate’.

  136. Paul says:

    Deuce, I don’t think that because you can lay out certain similarities between truth and morality, that that means that we need to “say the same about truth [as we do about morality], because such arguments apply with equal force to both truth and morality.” Why do those arguments apply with equal force to truth and morality? Just because they share some similarities? Those similarities would have to have some relevance that bears on the question of objectivity, and that relevance has to be explicitly shown, I don’t think you’ve done that, but I would be very interested if you could.

  137. The Deuce says:

    Deuce, I don’t think that because you can lay out certain similarities between truth and morality, that that means that we need to “say the same about truth [as we do about morality], because such arguments apply with equal force to both truth and morality.” Why do those arguments apply with equal force to truth and morality? Just because they share some similarities?

    No, because they share relevant similarities. For instance, if you say that morality must be relative because moral goodness is a normative (value) property, and that the idea of objective normative properties is senseless or incoherent in principle, then you must be willing to say the same about truth, which is also a normative property.

    Similarly, if you say that morality must be relative because different people disagree about what is moral, or because it’s not a physically observable and measurable property, then you have to say the same about truth in order to be consistent.

    I’m not saying that it is inconsistent to believe that truth is objective but that morality is subjective. I’m just saying that one should be careful when making arguments for the subjectivity of morality, particularly in-principle arguments, because most (maybe all?) such arguments are equally applicable to truth.

  138. Paul says:

    Deuce, forgive my ignorance, but in what sense is truth normative? Can you explain, especially in comparison to morality as normative?

  139. The Deuce says:

    Paul:

    Deuce, forgive my ignorance, but in what sense is truth normative? Can you explain, especially in comparison to morality as normative?

    I mean that “true” and “false”, like “good” and “bad”, are abstract values that we attribute to things, as opposed to physical, measurable properties.

    They are qualitative, not quantitative. There’s no quantifiable scientific unit of trueness, nor of goodness.

    They aren’t empirically observable. I can’t examine the trueness of an object under a microscope (or with any other tool), nor can I examine moral goodness. We interact with these values only within our own mind.

  140. Tom Gilson says:

    @Richard Wein:

    Thank you for spending some time here in conversation with us. I appreciate it. But I think we have an unfortunate disconnect going on here between conceptions of man and of God. For instance, you wrote,

    Whether they are changeable is irrelevant. If a human is unable to change one of his moral values, does that make the value objectively true? The question is not about how God got his moral values but whether they have an objective truth.

    But “changeable” was part of a series of descriptors of God, which also included “necessary,” “eternal,” “not open to cultural variation;” and also that he is the creator.

    Now, a human’s hypothesized ability or inability to change one of his moral values is quite conceivably an objective fact about that human. God’s inability to change his moral values is an objective fact about God, part of the furniture of eternal and infinite reality. If a human does change his moral views, that’s a matter of some import to that person; if per impossibile God did, that would change all of reality. But you have other related objections that I need to move on to address.

    Whether they are changeable is irrelevant. If a human is unable to change one of his moral values, does that make the value objectively true? The question is not about how God got his moral values but whether they have an objective truth…. You’re now making the same sort of error that you accused Nick of making, confusing the objective existence of moral values in God’s mind (or human minds) with whether those values have an objective truth.
    You’re wasting your time. No matter how much you try, you won’t be able to get an “ought” from an “is”.

    I do hope rzim and Paul Copan are getting some traffic from here on his article on this, which I have linked to four times five times in this thread now. He emphasizes an issue there that is also relevant to your comment: the distinction between moral ontology and moral epistemology.

    You say that if moral values objectively exist in God’s mind, that’s not sufficient to make those values have an objective truth, and that I can’t get from an “ought” to an “is.” You also say that I “need to show that [God’s] judgement is objectively true.”

    There are two separate matters at stake here: ontology and epistemology. Suppose I could never show that God’s judgement was objectively true. Suppose (for the sake of argument) that God’s moral character is eternal, infinite, unchangeable, and good. We would have an ontological reality existing, with no epistemological means of getting to what that reality is.

    Even in that case, which both you and I would find something to disagree with in different ways, there would be no issue of needing to get from an “is” to an “ought” in ontological reality. The “ought” exists. It exists in God. No philosophical transducer is required; the energy (speaking very metaphorically of course) is already in the usable form, from the beginning. God’s “oughts” are “oughts.” No transition necessary.

    Now, can we know that God’s judgements are perfect? Yes: he has revealed his character to us. The epistemology here is a large question, it has occupied hundreds of pages of discussion on this blog and whole libraries elsewhere. I can’t cover all the justifications for knowledge of God here; I’m content for the moment just so show that it’s not a waste of time to get the “ought” of God’s morality for humans from the revealed “ought” of God himself.

    Further: if you can’t get an “ought” from an “is,” including the “is” of God himself as you say, then there are no oughts. Period. Is that your positions? I think the Deuce asked you that in a way, with a word of affirmation to you for your honesty. But I think that affirmation makes a lot more sense from his (theistic) position than from yours, if you believe there are no “oughts” at all. Why value honesty?

  141. Paul says:

    Deuce, I couldn’t find a statement from you as to why the similarity between truth and morality (the fact that they are normative) is relevant to the question of the objectivity of truth and the objectivity of morality. Your last post #139 contained just a restatement of the claim, and what looked like might be a justification of the claim, but instead it was just a counter-hypothetical about what others might claim about this issue (“if you say . . . .”).

    Forgive me if I missed it, but can you summarize why the normative property of truth and morality is relevant (critical, even?) for determining whether morality is objective or not.

  142. Richard Wein says:

    Hello Deuce.

    You wrote: For starters, both truth and morality are normative. That is to say, true and false are normative properties, just as good and bad are. In fact, the two are so closely related, that we use \right\ and \wrong\ as interchangeable terms for both of them.

    That’s simply an observation about language, not a substantive argument.

    You wrote: There’s more similarity. True and false, like good and bad, are value properties that we only interact with in our minds. They aren’t physical properties that we can observe in objects in the outside world (A tree is neither true, nor morally good. It just is. Likewise, you cannot observe falsity or moral badness in a microscope).

    Truth is a property of propositions (or claims, statements, hypotheses, etc), not a property of objects. A tree doesn’t have a truth value, but the proposition “this tree is more than 5 metres tall” does.

    You wrote: And finally, just as with morality, there is broad disagreement about truth. There are some things that nearly everyone believes to be true or false, just as there are some things that nearly everyone believes to be morally right or wrong. But, at the same time, there is broad disagreement about what people believe to be true, just as their is broad disagreement over what people believe to be morally right.

    The fact that people disagree over a proposition doesn’t mean that it doesn’t have a truth value. Some people may simply be mistaken.

  143. Richard Wein says:

    SteveK,

    I wrote: How do we “rationally perceive God’s moral laws woven into the fabric of reality”? Please explain.

    You replied: The same way we perceive the logical laws…with our God-given rational mind, created for perceiving such things.

    Is it “rational”, in which case give me an example of how you derive a moral law rationally, or is it just a gut feeling?

    I wrote: God’s “perfect goodness” is a moral judgement. You need to show that that judgement is objectively true.

    You replied: Strictly speaking you can’t empirically show that something is objectively true without first accepting the truth of certain first principles. Certain objective truths can be known without being able to show they are true. Mathematics are full of objective truths that cannot be shown to be true. I think it is a mistake to equate ‘objective’ with ‘demonstrate’.

    Mathematics deals in logical abstractions, and I’m not sure whether it’s correct to think of these as objective truths. Perhaps when we say a mathematical conclusion is true, we just mean that it follows from our axioms. So let’s set aside mathematics, and instead let’s consider claims about physical reality.

    I think it’s true there can be no ultimate rational foundation for knowledge of reality. The world that I think I’m experiencing could be just a hallucination. To get any further than “cogito ergo sum”, we do have to make the assumption that there is a real world out there and that our experiences provide some sort of guide to that real world. We’re forced to make that basic assumption if we want to have any discussion of objective reality. Indeed, without that assumption I’d have no reason to have any discussion with you at all, as I’d have no reason to think you exist. But the fact that we have to make that very basic and necessary assumption is not a justification for making whatever assumptions we feel like, or treating all our gut feelings as truths.

    If the existence of objective moral values just has to be “known” without any justification, then I see no point in further discussion.

  144. Richard Wein says:

    Tom, referring me to other writers won’t help. They are no more able to get an “ought” from an “is” than you are. (If they have some other argument that you think is better than the ones you’ve made already, please quote it or summarise it. I don’t feel like reading long articles on the off-chance that there might happen to be a good argument buried in there somewhere.)

    You wrote: Further: if you can’t get an “ought” from an “is,” including the “is” of God himself as you say, then there are no oughts. Period. Is that your positions? I think the Deuce asked you that in a way, with a word of affirmation to you for your honesty. But I think that affirmation makes a lot more sense from his (theistic) position than from yours, if you believe there are no “oughts” at all. Why value honesty?

    I have my own subjective oughts. That is, I have a conscience and I feel that certain things are right or wrong. Those are feelings not facts. (But it’s a fact that I have those feelings.)

  145. The Deuce says:

    Paul:

    Deuce, I couldn’t find a statement from you as to why the similarity between truth and morality (the fact that they are normative) is relevant to the question of the objectivity of truth and the objectivity of morality.

    That’s because it’s not an argument for the objectivity of truth or the objectivity of morality.

    Your last post #139 contained just a restatement of the claim, and what looked like might be a justification of the claim, but instead it was just a counter-hypothetical about what others might claim about this issue (”if you say . . . .”).

    That’s because it is a counter-hypothetical. It isn’t an argument for the objectivity of morality. It’s an argument against arguments against the objectivity of morality.

    I’m simply pointing out that, if you want to bring forth arguments against the objectivity of morality, but you don’t want to argue against the objectivity of truth, and you want to be logically consistent, then you need to be sure that any reasons you give for denying the objectivity of morality aren’t applicable to truth as well. And because of their similarity, this isn’t easy to do.

  146. Paul says:

    And because of their similarity, this isn’t easy to do.

    Deuce, I accept for the sake of argument the similarity, but you still haven’t said why the specific similarities are relevant; that is, why those similarities make it not an easy thing to do. You’ve said that they are relevant, but you haven’t said why. Can you say why those similarities are relevant?

    And, while we’re at it, let’s try to agree on the idea for which these similarities are relevant. I think that idea is the idea that if one makes a claim about the objectivity of truth or morality, one must be prepared to make the same claim for the other. This is what I think your position is. If that’s not your position, please restate. A single sentence, like the one I offered, would be best.

  147. The Deuce says:

    Deuce, I accept for the sake of argument the similarity, but you still haven’t said why the specific similarities are relevant; that is, why those similarities make it not an easy thing to do.

    That’s because whether or not the similarities are relevant depends on the argument being made against the objectivity of morality, and whether the properties of morality being attacked are shared by truth. I was merely saying to Richard, essentially, “Before you say that the concept of objective morality makes no sense, consider whether your reasons for thinking so apply also to truth. If so, the reasons can’t be valid.”

  148. Tom Gilson says:

    Richard Wein, this is not going to get you anywhere:

    Tom, referring me to other writers won’t help. They are no more able to get an “ought” from an “is” than you are.(If they have some other argument that you think is better than the ones you’ve made already, please quote it or summarise it. I don’t feel like reading long articles on the off-chance that there might happen to be a good argument buried in there somewhere.

    First, it’s not an off-chance, unless you think I’m a liar. Second, let’s briefly replay the course of the argument on this topic so far. You wrote,

    You’re now making the same sort of error that you accused Nick of making, confusing the objective existence of moral values in God’s mind (or human minds) with whether those values have an objective truth.
    You’re wasting your time. No matter how much you try, you won’t be able to get an “ought” from an “is”.

    Note that there is assertion there, but no argument. I answered with an argument. I made reference to an article, but that was merely in support of an argument I actually wrote here, which you ignored.

    To be specific, you responded with this, already quoted once:

    Tom, referring me to other writers won’t help. They are no more able to get an “ought” from an “is” than you are. (If they have some other argument that you think is better than the ones you’ve made already, please quote it or summarise it. I don’t feel like reading long articles on the off-chance that there might happen to be a good argument buried in there somewhere.)

    No argument again. If you have some argument that you think is better than the non-argument that you’ve (not) made already, please present it. I don’t feel like trying to read your mind on the off-chance that there might happen to be…. oh, never mind.

  149. Tom Gilson says:

    Richard Wein, you wrote:

    I have my own subjective oughts. That is, I have a conscience and I feel that certain things are right or wrong. Those are feelings not facts. (But it’s a fact that I have those feelings.)

    That’s not an answer to the question I asked, “Why value honesty?” It’s merely a restatement of the fact that apparently you do value honesty, or at least you have some feelings associated with it.

  150. SteveK says:

    Richard,

    I think it’s true there can be no ultimate rational foundation for knowledge of reality. The world that I think I’m experiencing could be just a hallucination.

    There’s a brain-in-a-vat discussion around here somewhere and also a discussion about what it means to have knowledge. I don’t buy into what you are saying above at all. I KNOW that I’m not experiencing a hallucination, and according to your statetment here, you have no way of knowing if my arguments/proofs in support of that truth reflect reality because that would constitute rational knowledge of reality. I would be wasting my time, as it appears I am doing right now.

  151. Paul says:

    OK, Deuce, I appreciate your answer, it directly answered my question.

    If you allow me one more. But before that, I guess I should admit, if it’s not already obvious, that I’m suspicious that morality and truth, by virtue of their normativeness, are both objective. Maybe that’s further than you would go here, but that’s the end of the road we’re on, I think.

    Anyway, here’s my question: can you give me one scenario in which everything lines up? That is, which similarity is relevant in the argument about the objectivity of morality, especially in relation to the objectivity of truth, given their normativeness? And why is it relevant?

    I get that maybe you were taking a slightly different emphasis with Richard, but I’m trying to draw out other implications of what you said.

  152. Richard Wein says:

    Tom. I’m sorry, I didn’t read your previous post carefully enough, and didn’t notice that you were referring me to that other article specifically with regard to the question of “the distinction between moral ontology and moral epistemology”, i.e. not for an attempt to get an “ought” from an “is”. And you’re correct that I didn’t address that issue.

    As it happens, I had already visited the article in question following one of your earlier links, and had skimmed though part of it. In the part that I did read, I noticed at least one unsuccessful theistic attempt to derive an “ought” from an “is”, which was why I was not very impressed when you referred me to the article. I don’t feel like returning to that article at present, as it’s lengthy and I’m going to have to search for the part you’re referring to (unless you can tell me exactly where to look). I may come back to it later. For now I’ll merely respond to the argument you made in your post.

    I accept your point that there could be an “ontological reality existing, with no epistemological means of getting to what that reality is”, i.e. a statement can be true even if we have no way of knowing whether it’s true. However, it can’t be true if it doesn’t have a meaning. And you have yet to show that a moral statement has any meaning (unless it’s interpreted as a description of a state of mind). What could it mean for a moral statement to be true? A statement about reality is true if it accurately describes some aspect of reality. What does a moral statement describe? Please give an example.

    It’s no use to say that a moral statement describes a moral truth, or describes what we ought to do, etc. That begs the question, merely explaining one moral statement in terms of another moral statement. What does that moral statement describe? And this brings us back, I’m afraid, to a variation on the fact that you can’t get an “ought” from an “is”. It’s not just that you can’t justify a moral statement except in terms of another moral statement. You can’t even explain a moral statement except in terms of another moral statement.

    You wrote: That’s not an answer to the question I asked, “Why value honesty?” It’s merely a restatement of the fact that apparently you do value honesty, or at least you have some feelings associated with it.

    OK, off the top of my head I would say some things like society works better if people are honest, dishonesty can be hurtful and I don’t want to hurt people, I think I should treat other people the way I would like them to treat me, etc. If you then ask me why I care about those things, e.g. why I don’t want to hurt people, then ultimately I get down to a basic level at which I can’t give a reason why I care. I just do.

  153. derek_jeter says:

    @derek_jeter:

    Your quote of Darwin, a few sentences out of a long life of work, represents what I think you may also have done on a smaller scale with what I wrote. That is, your comment doesn’t give me any real confidence that you have the whole of what I wrote in mind. I recommend you read it again, especially the paragraphs beginning with “Darwinism did not have to lead to Nazism….”
    —————-
    It was less a comment on what you wrote than on the whole jump from Darwinism to Nazism, which we are in broad agreement, I believe. While granted I cited “a few sentences out of a long life of work,” they were sentences that showed the essential orthodox nature of many of Darwin’s beliefs and wholly out of synch with his atheist interpreters.

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