Tom Gilson

The Evolutionists’ Otherwise Practical Promiscuity

Evolution—the naturalistic kind—is dangerous. I’ve never seen that danger exposed so clearly as in Jesse Bering’s article today at Scientific American’s website, Polyamory chic, gay jealousy, and the evolution of a broken heart [caution: crude language]. He writes,

There’s a strange whiff in the media air, a sort of polyamory chic in which liberally minded journalists, an aggregate mass of antireligious pundits and even scientists themselves have begun encouraging readers and viewers to use evolutionary theory to revisit and revise their sexual attitudes and, more importantly, their behaviors in ways that fit their animal libidos more happily.

… the basic logic is that, because human beings are not naturally monogamous but rather have been explicitly designed by natural selection to seek out ‘extra-pair copulatory partners’—having sex with someone other than your partner or spouse for the replicating sake of one’s mindless genes—then suppressing these deep mammalian instincts is futile and, worse, is an inevitable death knell for an otherwise honest and healthy relationship.

If you believe, as I do, that we live in a natural rather than a supernatural world, then there is no inherent, divinely inspired reason to be sexually exclusive to one’s partner. If you and your partner want to … [multiple suggested acts, omitted for reasons of decency] … then by all means do so (and take pictures). … Right is irrelevant. There is only what works and what doesn’t work, within context, in biologically adaptive terms….

This is bound to provoke revulsion in any decent reader, and rightly so. Anger, too—rightly so. Even fear—rightly so. But not the kind of fear that some have mistakenly ascribed to some of us, like Stuart Kauffman, who wrote earlier this year,

I suspect the fear of evolution is also based in the view of many that God is the author of our moral laws. Then if the Bible is God’s literal word, and yet evolution is true, the Bible, the very word of God, is false, and our morality falls to the ground….

But evolution, in fact, is no enemy of morality.

Or Michael Shermer, who wrote in the blurb for his book, Why Darwin Matters,

Evolution happened, and the theory describing it is one of the most well founded in all of science. Then why do half of all Americans reject it? There are religious reasons, such as the fear of atheism and the perceived loss of ultimate meaning; there are psychological reasons, such as the ego-deflating realization that we are mere animals; and there are political reasons, such as the equation of evolution with moral relativism on the right, and the connection of evolution to eugenics and social Darwinism on the left.

No, this is not “I’m-afraid-of-evolution-therefore-I-can’t-accept-it’s-true.” In fact I reject naturalistic evolution because I believe it is incoherent, impossible, and contradictory to other things I know to be true. The fear of evolution of which I speak is based on a reasoned knowledge of its actual dangers.

rattler.jpg

Some readers will jump in and say it’s weak for me to be motivated by fear. I have a story about that. Last summer my wife and I encountered rattlesnakes on three consecutive hikes. It’s never happened to me before. The first one was just off the path, it was a little one, and we stopped and took the picture you see here. The second one was stretched out fully across the path in our way. I chucked some stones toward it and waited till it slithered out of the way; then we walked on by. The third one we heard but did not see. Some other hikers were ahead of us in the trail, and they were on the same side of the shrub it was on. We heard it rattling. I asked, “is it coiled?” They said it was. Now, that was intriguing to me. I’ve never seen a coiled-up rattler in the wild. But we got out of there anyway.

Fear of the second snake caused us to move slowly. Fear of the third one, coiled and ready to strike, drove us away completely. To act based on fear of genuine danger is both good and wise. Ideas have consequences, and in the case of evolution, one of those consequences is that (as Bering said), “Right is irrelevant.” That’s a perfectly sound conclusion from naturalistic evolutionary premises. Do you think that idea has no consequences? Would you marry someone who believes right is irrelevant? Would you let your daughter date someone like that? If so, your lack of fear is a morally and intellectually reprehensible lack of wisdom.

Bering thinks he can get past all that. In spite of the “polyamory chic” of which he speaks at first, he goes on to say evolution gives us something to hold relationships together in something like sexual faithfulness:

And that is simply the fact that we’ve evolved to empathize with other people’s suffering, including the suffering of the people we’d betray by putting our affable genitals to their evolved promiscuous use.

Heartbreak is every bit as much a psychological adaptation as is the compulsion to have sex with those other than our partners, and it throws a monster of a monkey wrench into the evolutionists’ otherwise practical polyamory.

“Practical polyamory”?! Do I fear sexuality being taught that way? Of course I do. What kind of idiot wouldn’t? It’s a coiled snake—even if there’s empathy in the evolutionary mix, as you’ll see as we continue. Bering goes on to describe heartbreak in both social and chemical detail, include his own despair after being rejected by his gay lover.

All this is to say that I reacted the way I did because, at an unconscious level, I didn’t want my testiculared partner getting impregnated by another man. I don’t consciously think of him as a woman, mind you; in fact, if I did, I assure you I wouldn’t be with him. But tell that to my gonads and amygdalae.

HIs heart was broken. There’s only one reason we don’t do that to each other every chance we get: empathy. That’s what Bering says holds human morality together.

By no means would I diminish the value of empathy. It certainly does guide and restrain human behavior. When I wash the dishes or fold laundry at home, it’s not because I love those jobs, but because I love my wife, and out of empathy I prefer that she not have to do them. Obviously empathy informs much larger decisions as well. Of course empathy is better explained on theism than naturalism.

pasdedeux.jpg

For Bering and other naturalistic evolutionists, empathy is a chimera, genetic self-interest masquerading as selflessness. Empathy dances a dialectical pas de deux with promiscuous sexuality, a duet with (pardon the anthropomorphism) just one purpose: to produce multiple generations of babies. They’re equal partners in their evolutionary art, says Bering, and together they perform very well.

There is no right or wrong in that. It is what it is. It propagates genes. There’s no logically defensible way to identify one partner in this dance as morally better than the other. They’re both behaviors adapted for species survival, and neither could do it without the other. If you label empathy more respectable or praiseworthy than rape or wanton promiscuity, your labeling it so is just another behavior evolution has cooked up to join the dance. (It’s more of a pas de trois.) Oh, and one more thing: it’s not your dance. “Tell that to my gonads and amygdalae,” Bering says. He knows that evolution means he’s a puppet on their string. If you think it’s your dance—that you’re anything but a puppet toy in the propagation game—that’s another labeling behavior that evolution has found effective to get us all to reproduce.

I despise that teaching—even though it makes perfectly good sense on naturalistic assumptions. Because even though Bering thinks nothing can speak to his gonads and amygdalae, I know that people actually can think about their behaviors, and based on thinking they can actually make choices. I can see that if young people are taught a pervasive philosophical system that denies the roots of right and wrong, and that glorifies procreation, they’ll decide to do exactly what they’re doing. Hooking up at every chance they get. Cohabiting. Practicing serial marriage, divorcing right and left. Glorifying immorality of all sorts, both hetero- and homosexual.

And killing themselves emotionally, physically, and spiritually in the process.

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117 thoughts on “The Evolutionists’ Otherwise Practical Promiscuity

  1. “And that is simply the fact that we’ve evolved to empathize with other people’s suffering”

    People of faith are excoriated by the secular scientific community for rejecting evolution because, they say, it’s an undeniable scientific fact. Then we get a statement like the one above which simply has no basis in scientific fact. Evolution may well describe how biology works. However, it simply offers no explanation for empathy or morality or altruism or honor. In fact, it offers no explanation for most if not all of the things that separate human beings from the rest of the animal kingdom.

    Bering wants to have it both ways. He wants to believe that humans are just animals “designed by natural selection to seek out ‘extra-pair copulatory partners” but he really can’t stomach that reality. He knows there is more to us than that. How to deal with that fact. He simply invents an evolutionary attribute that explains his pain.

    There too many problems with this to list but two come to mind. First, the only proof that this is true is that “it exists therefore it must have evolved”. This is a piece of bootstrapping only a cobbler could appreciate. Second, if empathy is simply an evolved trait, then why should we care about it? It’s no more binding on us than our ability to ignore it. But anyone (i.e., everyone) who has felt the sting of rejection as Bering has knows it’s far more than that. We are moral creatures and evolution has no explanation for it.

  2. No, this is not “I’m-afraid-of-evolution-therefore-I-can’t-accept-it’s-true.” In fact I reject naturalistic evolution because it is incoherent, impossible, and contradictory to other things I know to be true. The fear of evolution of which I speak is based on a reasoned knowledge of its actual dangers.

    Hmm. I’ve followed this blog for a year or two, and I’ve seen no evidence that you even understand the theory of evolution, and its supporting evidence, in any level of depth. This would be the minimal requirement to declare it “incoherent, impossible, and contradictory.” Instead, I see mistakes and misconceptions that are common with creationists and other casual commentators. Their view of evolution is miles away from the actual evolutionary science that you actually see when you actually do biology in an actual biology department for a few years.

    And I see much more concern with the moral and theological problems that evolution allegedly causes. This is just the same ol’, same ol’ creationist trope that has been circulating since William Jennings Bryan and before.

    Amongst the things you would learn if you actually studied evolutionary biology seriously is that pop-ev-psych is widely looked down upon within the field, with nasty materialist atheists like Jerry Coyne leading the charge against it. Even more looked down upon is jumping from an evolutionary hypothesis about why drive X exists (sex drive or whatever) to a justification of some particular action. Even the post you cite (someone’s blog post, not an article in Scientific American Mind, I think) exhibits the problem: if selective benefit is the guide to what is good, then homosexuality is right out, for obvious reasons.

    Evolution can explain, to some extent, why the various drives we all have exist, including both the “passions” and countervailing feelings like empathy and regret, which often lead to reflection, rule-making, etc. What it doesn’t explain is how the conflicts between various drives and desires and feelings are reconciled. This process occurs in individual time, as individuals and societies make decisions, an incredibly complex process involving lots of history, reflection, debate, etc. Psychology and social sciences can help us understand how and why certain decisions are reached, if we are interested in that. Philosophy and theology can help us make those decisions, if we are stuck in the position of needing to make them. But things like literature can be just as helpful.

    This point of view is not something specific to evolutionary biology. There is a long tradition of Christian moral philosophy based on the innate features of human nature. e.g. Bishop Butler:

    http://www.iep.utm.edu/butler/

  3. Nick, I knew you’d be one of the first to show up here.

    I knew, too, that you would tell me I was getting evolution all wrong. Now, whether I understand the details of evolution or not is not the point of this post. I think you are wrong in your assessment, but that’s not important for current purposes. When I said I had other reasons for rejecting evolution, I did it for just one reason, which was to set aside charges that I reject naturalistic evolution for reasons other than my fear. You may consider those other reasons wrong, but you cannot therefore say that I do not have them, or that they are not my reasons for rejecting evolution; which for this post is what is relevant.

    That dispenses with your first three paragraphs. You missed the point, and that’s all that need be said.

    Now, I know that evo-psych is deprecated by many, for the good reason that it is worrisomely disconnected from evidence, and because it can be used to conclude virtually whatever one wishes. You keep thinking I don’t know much about evolution, but that’s not news to me.

    Evo-psych’s quest is to determine how our behavioral phenotype came to be preserved through natural selection. Though it has no evidence from which to draw its conclusions, still the premise of the quest remains unchallenged from within the naturalist evolutionary perspective: we have the behaviors we have because they appeared (for whatever reason), and were subsequently preserved through their association with some population’s survival and propagation.

    Suppose the evo-psych people could go back in time to get the evidence they lack. Then (on evolutionary terms) evo-psych could be a science, and it would and could have an explanation for all human behaviors (on a gross or general level at least). Those explanations would necessarily be in terms of what has supported propagation of the species. There is nothing else that could enter the mix. (I think it’s safe to disregard blind luck as the force that has made us all the way we are.) Evolution has only variation and natural selection to work with. Variation is undirected and mindless, so certainly it is value-less. Natural selection has (anthropomorphizing again) only one value: the preservation of the current structural or behavioral phenotype (which links back to genotype). This means there is, at bottom, nothing driving us behaviorally except for reproduction and survival. Nothing. Period.

    The SciAm blog post did not make the mistake of which you accuse it. Bering did not say that selective benefit is the guide to what is good. He mentioned that as a possible conclusion, which some have drawn, but he undermined it quite intentionally when he said there is no good. “Right is irrelevant.” And on naturalistic evolutionary premises, that’s a sound conclusion.

    But we all know better than that. You said it well enough yourself: there is more to human behavior, and we can consult things like psychology, social sciences, philosophy, theology, and literature for insight. But it seems quite clear that on naturalistic evolution, these things all arose from the same source: behaviors preserved by natural selection for the propagation of the species.

    Christian moral philosophy can base its conclusions on human nature without sacrificing its moral foundation, for it takes it as given that human nature is in God’s image. Naturalistic evolution has to take it that human nature is in the image of whatever produces the next generation most successfully. And nothing else but that: for there is nothing else to feed the causal stream of human behavior.

    So with what you have said here, all you have done is to show that the pas de trois is actually an ensemble dance. You haven’t rebutted, much less refuted, what I have said about the purpose of the dance. You say there are more factors contributing to behavior than those I mentioned in my blog post, and I’m happy to grant that. Yet there is still nothing in the dance that makes empathy, for example, morally superior to wanton promiscuity. We label it as better than promiscuity, but as I said, that labeling behavior came out of the same causal stream as every other behavior. It, too, has no explanation but its contribution to natural selection of our species.

  4. Nick, you say,

    And I see much more concern with the moral and theological problems that evolution allegedly causes. This is just the same ol’, same ol’ creationist trope that has been circulating since William Jennings Bryan and before.

    I’m wondering where the creationist trope is in what I wrote here. My argument in brief was,

    1. Naturalistic evolution entails the moral view, “Right is irrelevant.”
    2. “Right is irrelevant” is dangerous.
    3. Therefore naturalistic evolutions’s entailed morality is dangerous.

    Is 1 the creationist trope? Is Bering a creationist?

    Is 2 the creationist trope? Then stand up and refute it.

    Is 3 the creationist trope? What difference could that make? It’s the conclusion to a syllogism, and it’s either valid or invalid. If you think it’s wrong, show us how. The genetic fallacy and ad hominems don’t count.

  5. Tom:

    One of the professors in the biology department at the university where I teach (who will likely be a candidate for Department Head) is a Berkeley Ph.D. from about 5 years ago, and so he knows a thing or two about evolution. (In the interests of disclosure, this professor is NOT an ID defender.) I’m going to follow up with him for more details, but in passing he said not to waste time on Nick because he has a habit of going beyond the bounds of his competence. Given what we’ve seen here in terms of Nick’s fallacious “arguments” and his missing so much of what you actually state in your posts, I can’t say I blame this professor.

    (Regarding the “creationist” label Nick employs rather than reasoned argumentation (which he just can’t seem to provide), Nick is reduced to name-calling in the face of his own ignorance. Great intellectual rigor, that…)

    This is cute: I’ve seen no evidence that you even understand the theory of evolution, and its supporting evidence, in any level of depth… Let’s leave aside how blatantly false that emotional outburst is. What Nick is really trying to say is we don’t understand the theory of evolution as HE “understands” it, i.e., imposing unscientific interpretations that illicitly magnify its explanatory efficacy. Much more true would be for us to state: “We’ve seen no evidence that you [Nick] even understand either creation, creationism, God, faith, or Intelligent Design, and their supporting evidence, in any level of depth…” At least we’d be speaking the truth as attested to by some of the nonsense (including the ad hominem and genetic fallacies he relies on as you, Tom, pointed out) Nick spews in his comments.

  6. Holopupenko wrote:

    One of the professors in the biology department at the university where I teach (who will likely be a candidate for Department Head) is a Berkeley Ph.D. from about 5 years ago, and so he knows a thing or two about evolution. (In the interests of disclosure, this professor is NOT an ID defender.)

    Yeah, right.

    If I correctly identified this guy (there aren’t too many Berkeley Ph.D.s among your colleagues, Holo), he had defended intelligent design on more than one occasion. He had published a letter in a biology journal defending ID and essentially repeating Behe’s points about irreducible complexity. He had also signed a letter calling for “academic freedom” in biology that mentions ID by name.

    It seems to me that the guy has an axe to grind.

  7. olegt:

    In addition to being a plokhoi fizik, you’re desperate. This professor wrote a book which, while not it’s main point, criticized Intelligent Design. You also know my opposition to ID being considered an MES. And yet, you can’t bear that because you can’t true academic freedom or people of faith… Especially Christians. You missed by a longshot. You, like doctor(bias) and Nickie, only hear what you want to hear… Like Putin, by the way.

  8. I knew, too, that you would tell me I was getting evolution all wrong. Now, whether I understand the details of evolution or not is not the point of this post. I think you are wrong in your assessment, but that’s not important for current purposes. When I said I had other reasons for rejecting evolution, I did it for just one reason, which was to set aside charges that I reject naturalistic evolution for reasons other than my fear. You may consider those other reasons wrong, but you cannot therefore say that I do not have them, or that they are not my reasons for rejecting evolution; which for this post is what is relevant.

    I didn’t say you didn’t have reasons, I said that your scientific assessments of evolution, i.e. your reasons for rejecting evolution, are poor, on the same level as all the other silly material creationists put out about evolution, based on what I’ve seen on this blog.

    Why do creationists, and you, in my experience, swallow such poor anti-evolution argments, without anything like the level of understanding or research or self-critical assessment that would be required to make a mildly serious argument against a dominant, long-accepted, extremely well-evidenced scientific theory? Well, it’s obvious that one huge reason is obsession with the supposed dire moral results of daring to think that humans came about very slowly by the same natural processes that we see operating in biology today. (It’s a lot less threatening-sounding when one says it that way. Evolution ought to be about as emotionally disturbing as, say, chemistry, in my view.)

    That dispenses with your first three paragraphs. You missed the point, and that’s all that need be said.

    It’s perfectly permissible to criticize dubious assertions a blogger makes, even if they are side assertions. I mostly comment on this blog to serve as your conscience about a fundamental hypocrisy which pervades all your work: you claim to be a “thinking Christian” and an intellectual believer, and spend a huge amount of time criticizing secular ideas and authors for various flaws — and yet when it comes to evolution, you just throw your brain and the massive physical evidence down a well. I suspect, unlike most creationist bloggers, this internal contradiction bugs you on some level, so I’ll persist when I’m able to.

    Now, I know that evo-psych is deprecated by many, for the good reason that it is worrisomely disconnected from evidence, and because it can be used to conclude virtually whatever one wishes. You keep thinking I don’t know much about evolution, but that’s not news to me.

    It’s on display in every evolution-related post. E.g.:

    Evo-psych’s quest is to determine how our behavioral phenotype came to be preserved through natural selection. Though it has no evidence from which to draw its conclusions

    That, I’m afraid, is total bunk. In the professional literature on the evolutionary origins of human psychology there is a huge amount of empirical research. Researchers make some hypothesis about e.g. the selective benefit of some feature of human behavior, then based on the hypothesis they make predictions about how subjects will react in an experiment (just like lots and lots of other subfields of psychology), then test the predictions with the data. Similar experiments can sometimes be done comparatively with e.g. other primates. Cross-cultural experiments can be designed to minimize the influence of culture on the results, etc.

    Like lots of areas of science that are about things more complex than physics and chemistry, there are all kinds of issues with simplistic interpretation of experimental results; but what else is new? This applies to lots of areas of science.

    The real problem, as I noted, is with the “pop” ev psych, which appears to be almost irresistable to journalists and bloggers and the like, seeing as it deals with sexy topics like, well, sex.

    Suppose the evo-psych people could go back in time to get the evidence they lack. Then (on evolutionary terms) evo-psych could be a science, and it would and could have an explanation for all human behaviors (on a gross or general level at least). Those explanations would necessarily be in terms of what has supported propagation of the species.

    Basic mistakes here:

    (a) You don’t need a time machine to do science about the past, any more than you need a warp drive to study things light-years away or a shrink-ray to study molecular systems. Direct observation of the process is not required. Testable empirical expectations are all that is required.

    (b) A basic point taught in any decent undergrad class on evolution is that natural selection favors traits that are useful to *individuals* in populations; traits are not selected for the good of the species. Natural selection quite often favors traits that are actually detrimental to the species as a whole — e.g. large body size, loss of flight for birds on islands, specialization on a single pollinator, etc. — all of these increase the risk of extinction for the whole species.

    Evolution has only variation and natural selection to work with. Variation is undirected and mindless, so certainly it is value-less. Natural selection has (anthropomorphizing again) only one value: the preservation of the current structural or behavioral phenotype (which links back to genotype). This means there is, at bottom, nothing driving us behaviorally except for reproduction and survival. Nothing. Period.

    Mutation and selection are statistical processes operating over many generations. A human living now, or any animal living now, is not “driven” by these processes, any more than a tree’s shape is “driven” by reproduction and survival. Any given tree’s shape is influenced by weather, browsing, soil, etc., in addition to its developmental processes. The developmental processes are run by genes, and the genes are to some extent determined by mutation & selection in the long run…but in the short run of a single individuals life, mutation & selection are not “drivers” of anything. In trees, or in human behavior.

    The SciAm blog post did not make the mistake of which you accuse it. Bering did not say that selective benefit is the guide to what is good. He mentioned that as a possible conclusion, which some have drawn, but he undermined it quite intentionally when he said there is no good. “Right is irrelevant.” And on naturalistic evolutionary premises, that’s a sound conclusion.

    There, he’s talking about some metaphysical, divinely-mandated version of “right”, and stating that (allegedly) the beauty of Darwinian thinking is that it does without the moralistic right/wrong language and replaces it (better, in his view) with what works and what doesn’t work, i.e. with what is adaptive.

    I don’t agree with either saying that divinely-mandated-rules are the only guide to “right”. I also don’t agree with Bering, who seems to mostly be looking for selective benefits for human behaviors as justification, although his blogpost is pretty informal and rambling so it’s hard to be sure. IMHO there is such a thing as right/wrong, but it is based in a very complex way on human nature and the needs & desires of humans, and the main problem isn’t figuring out whether something is good in the abstract — eating, sleeping, working, romance, etc. are all good — the hard part is figuring out what to do when these conflict with each other, and how to achieve a decent balance.

    You said it well enough yourself: there is more to human behavior, and we can consult things like psychology, social sciences, philosophy, theology, and literature for insight. But it seems quite clear that on naturalistic evolution, these things all arose from the same source: behaviors preserved by natural selection for the propagation of the species.

    There’s the “propagation of the species” misconception again.

    But you seem to be saying that if psychology or philosophy or literature arose from behaviors preserved by natural selection, they are therefore invalid or something. That’s just nuts! Curiosity and the desire to understand are undoubtedly innate parts of human nature at some level. They exist in other species, and are dramatically enhanced in ours along with our bigger brains. But none of that means that they are “just” “genetically selfish behavior” or “meaningless” or whatever silliness a strawman reductionist would allegedly say.

    Christian moral philosophy can base its conclusions on human nature without sacrificing its moral foundation, for it takes it as given that human nature is in God’s image. Naturalistic evolution has to take it that human nature is in the image of whatever produces the next generation most successfully. And nothing else but that: for there is nothing else to feed the causal stream of human behavior.

    And there’s the fatal hole in your whole Christian-exclusivist enterprise here. Human nature is what it is. On any historical timescale it is fixed — it was the same 4000 years ago, 2000 years ago, 200 years ago, and now. If our theory of the causal origins of human nature changes, human nature itself doesn’t change. So the origins of human nature *don’t matter* for the factual question of what the shape of human nature actually is, and therefore they don’t matter for any moral conclusions derived from facts of human nature.

    You say there are more factors contributing to behavior than those I mentioned in my blog post, and I’m happy to grant that. Yet there is still nothing in the dance that makes empathy, for example, morally superior to wanton promiscuity. We label it as better than promiscuity, but as I said, that labeling behavior came out of the same causal stream as every other behavior. It, too, has no explanation but its contribution to natural selection of our species.

    Misconception: “natural selection of our species” doesn’t make sense.

    Like I said, the source of these feelings doesn’t matter for the moral question. Neither sex drive nor empathy is justified by their origins in selective benefit. They are both basically self-justifying, just like hunger. Things get interesting when these drives get into conflict with each other — presumably rampant promiscuity sacrifices a lot of empathy. This leads to emotional consequences — loneliness, poor relationships with others, no one trusts you, etc. People who experience these consequences, or observe others experiencing them, start to make generalizations about what are good and bad balances. Sometimes these get formulated into rules, laws, etc., and then we are off and running into the whole history of social relations, law, etc.

  9. Hmm, “Nickie”, citing some anonymous Berkeley grad who was a graduate from some anonymous department which was almost certainly not my department (never mind that my department is the one that actually specializes in evolution), various other insults… why so personal? Real christianly behavior, there. Methinks I struck a nerve…

  10. I think Holopupenko and olegt are perhaps both engaging in ad hominem/genetic fallacy with respect to these two Berkeley people. Apparently, though, olegt is accusing Holo of a rank lie at the same time. I suggest we all settle down.

    I have no problem at all with the second half of Holo’s comment.

  11. Nick, everything you wrote up through “I’ll persist when I’m able to do so” is off topic. You’re not the first person that has offered to be my conscience, and I’m okay with being challenged on my thinking, but this blog post was not about reasons to reject evolution. It was about the moral implications of taking naturalistic evolution as true.

    As to my “basic mistakes,” including (a), (b), and “driven,” what you shared there is familiar to me. For example, you complain about my use of “driving.” Twice in this post I begged pardon for anthropomorphizing; this time I forgot to do that. I’m well aware there’s no driver.

    You didn’t draw out the implications of this non-driven-ness. If you had, I don’t know how it could have produced any conclusion contrary to the one I presented.

    I was careless in using the term “natural selection” for populations and species. I understand it works one individual at a time, one offspring at a time. But as you yourself said, it is a statistical process operating over many generations, and in the long-term statistical sense, it is natural selection that (according to evolution) produces the functions and behaviors that organisms exhibit.

    As for evo-psych, I agree with you there is evidence for some conclusions based on a certain grand set of assumptions, and I’ll accept your correction. Does it have anything at all to do with the conclusions I drew in the blog post? (It’s well and good for you to point out I don’t understand topic x in evolution fully, and that seems to be one of your missions here. But we’re talking about y, and unless you show how my error in x has produced an error in y, then y stands in spite of your side mission.)

    I appreciate your disagreement with Bering on what it means to be morally right. You say a correct understanding is based on human nature, and in saying that you have opened a metaphysical topic. What is human nature, where did it come from, why is it of worth, where is it headed, is it better than animal nature in any way?

    You excoriate me for not understanding evolution, but you have wandered into unfamiliar territory yourself when you say,

    And there’s the fatal hole in your whole Christian-exclusivist enterprise here. Human nature is what it is. On any historical timescale it is fixed — it was the same 4000 years ago, 2000 years ago, 200 years ago, and now. If our theory of the causal origins of human nature changes, human nature itself doesn’t change. So the origins of human nature *don’t matter* for the factual question of what the shape of human nature actually is, and therefore they don’t matter for any moral conclusions derived from facts of human nature.

    That’s just not true. If human nature is the product of evolution, then it is one kind of thing; if we are created in the image of God, then human nature is another kind of thing.

    If human nature is the product of evolution, then right and wrong are one kind of thing; if we are created in the image of God, then they are another kind of thing. If human nature is the product of evolution, then good and bad, right and wrong, really do seem to be labeling behaviors that natural selection has given us as our inheritance, because it was in some way adaptive, meaning, it helped certain individuals make more babies who had babies.

    You can help me check three points on my understanding of naturalistic evolution here.

    1) I take it that there is causal closure in random variation, natural selection, and the natural environment over the long run: that there is no other process producing organisms’ structures, functions, and behaviors than these.
    2) I take it, too that the definition of natural selection is exhausted (complete) in the sense that it describes the differential survival and reproduction of better adapted individuals. I take it that another way of saying that is that NS describes the differential survival and reproduction of individuals with more adaptive traits, including structures, functions, and behaviors.
    3) I take it, finally, that “adaptive” is fully and completely defined by “that which causes/allows/etc. the organism in its environment to successfully produce offspring that will successfully produce offspring….”

    Is that correct?

  12. I just re-checked my spam filter settings here. There was one string I had included in it that I shouldn’t have. It was a name (I won’t say which one) that was appearing over and over again in spammy stuff. On second review I realized the same string also appears inside some common words. I’ve removed that string from the spam settings, and I hope there won’t be so many false positives in the spam filter from now on.

  13. Why do creationists, and you, in my experience, swallow such poor anti-evolution argments, without anything like the level of understanding or research or self-critical assessment that would be required to make a mildly serious argument against a dominant, long-accepted, extremely well-evidenced scientific theory?

    Why do educated evolutionists swallow such poor anti-scientific arguments that say psychologies are the result of the evolutionary process and that it’s natural to live out that psychology?

    Which brings up a few questions I have. If I can resist the evolutionary process, am I still subject to the evolutionary process? Is the act of resisting it somehow unnatural?

  14. I haven’t read the book, Holo, but from reading a review I am aware that he accepts evolution through random variation and natural selection at the level of species but says that novel structures are beyond evolution’s capability, so it stops somewhere below the level of phyla. That’s exactly what Behe says in The Edge of Evolution. If you wish to argue that Behe is not friendly to ID, be my guest.

    O, and teach teh controversy is of course the new ID shtick.

  15. Nick and olegt, in this thread we’ve seen ad hominems, the genetic fallacy, guilt by association, red herrings, missing the point, distortion of the other’s position, naked (unargued) assertions, and failure to respond to arguments presented. This is typical of your comments prior to this thread. I wonder whether you’re fully aware of that.

    Knowledge of evolution’s assertions makes a difference for arguing about evolution. I make it my practice to argue that which I know, to avoid that which I don’t know, and to admit it and learn when I’ve made a mistake on that.

    A practical, working, accurate knowledge of logic, on the other hand, is crucial for arguing anything whatsoever.

  16. olegt:

    What book are you talking about for you to have read a review? Can you provide a title. Where did you EVER get the notion that I even hinted that Behe is “not ID friendly.” IMHO I am one of the most vociferous critics of Behe (as a partial rider from Dembski’s errors). But my criticisms are, again IMHO, more substantive (and more damning) than any MES-criticisms because I criticize on the level of principles–principles of the philosophy of nature… principles that are not accessible to the MESs qua MESs (the MESs, in fact, a priori depend on them), and certainly of which you, Nick, DL, Craig, Paul, etc. are so woefully ignorant. (You guys can’t even get straight the fundamental distinction between the philosophy of nature vs. philosophy of science!)

    IDer’s use MIS-use science in a crude attempt to infer the existence of intelligence in a way similar to physicists inferring the existence of the neutrino from the distribution of momentum measurements in beta decay–missing the whole disconnect that design and the capacity for reason (intelligence, if you will) are ontologically VERY different things from neutrinos. Then there’s you and DL who MISuse science (by imparting upon quantum mechanical mathematical formalisms illicit efficacy) in the vain attempt to eliminate the Principle of Sufficient Reason to make the silly claim there is no cause for quantum events–they just happen. Then there’s Nick who plays his games in going beyond evolutionary theories by claiming all sorts of things, while throwing out bones (“I also don’t agree with Bering”) as a rhetorical trick to mask his ultimate commitment to scientism.

    There is really only one important thing that Nick said with which I agree wholeheartedly, but for a fundamentally different reason: when Nick claims evolutionary theory should be as non-threating as chemistry, he’s correct. It’s always puzzled me why Christians fear evolutionary theory AS A SCIENCE for its potential impact on morality. What possible basis could there be for such a fear? None. No matter what mechanistic/material theory explains descent with modification as observed, there can be no impact on the acts of human beings (i.e., on moral actions–as opposed to human acts which are NOT moral actions) because human acts are based on the capacity for free will. (I’ll leave aside the silly game Dawkins and Dennett play in their vain attempts to eliminate good, evil, purpose, free will, etc.) What’s not to get about that? (Maybe I’m presupposing something?)

    Finally, wrt to Nick, the professor I mentioned earlier (a cell biology specialist, BTW) I met in the hallway this morning. What he means by Nick going beyond the bounds of his competence is that all the biology-based departments (and all good science departments) are ONLY interested in making sure their graduate students are learning the biology really, really well AND doing research, with some a small portion of the time dedicated to the ethics of scientific research. Anything beyond that, they’re–at least theoretically–they’re not interested. Nick, apparently and from what I understand, feels like some post-Dover paladin who must “defend” evolution. Really? Is he that frightened by ID… or perhaps more likely, is he that insecure about neo-Darwinian evolutionary theories?

    What REALLY burns these guys is not so much ID or creation or creationism or yadda-yadda. What REALLY burns their cookies is that certain people believe in God and take that faith seriously. Memo to Nick and you olegt (although you should no this from my earlier contributions), I criticize ID, I accept (on a new-knowledge contingency basis) neo-Darwinism writ large, and so does my colleague… and so do many others. BUT, we are also Christians. If that disqualifies us from reasoned argumentation, the such a notion disqualifies YOU from intelligence period.

  17. If unargued assertions are a problem, then this one’s a doozy: “I reject naturalistic evolution because it is incoherent, impossible, and contradictory to other things I know to be true.”

    Accusing evolutionary biology/evolutionists of undermining the very notion of right and wrong, when over in real life in university biology departments, evolution is basically just another run-of-the-mill, somewhat boring, routine, scientific field, covers most or all of “ad hominems, the genetic fallacy, guilt by association, red herrings, missing the point, distortion of the other’s position” — and creationists have been doing this for almost 100 years, and you are continuing the tradition!

    If you want to know why people like me give fight on this issue, that’s why. A field we know and love, a field which we know is important and know is well-supported, is continually under attack from people with marginal knowledge of the field and strong, though illogical, emotional and religious objections to it. Imagine how you would feel if you were at NASA, and the moon-landing deniers not only got on your case, but were backed by a major subgroup of the Christian religion, and kept it up for 85 years, and the biggest underlying theme from beginning to end was about how the moon landing, if true, undermined morality.

  18. This post seems vaguely interesting, but I’m afraid it’s too illogical to warrant reading. Here’s where I stopped:

    > I reject naturalistic evolution because it is incoherent,
    > impossible, and contradictory to other things I know to be true.

    Fine. Your decision. I’m afraid, though, on those same terms, you have to similarly reject a belief in God.

  19. Nick,

    You do need to study your logic. That was not an unargued assertion in the context of this blog post. There is no call for an argument, no necessity for it, when a person tells you about his inner state. That was a statement about my reasons for disbelieving evolution. When I tell someone why I reject x, I am either telling the truth about why I reject it or I am lying. I assure you I was telling the truth. I reject naturalistic evolution for those reasons. I might be wrong about those reasons, but those are my reasons.

    I didn’t argue for them in the context of this blog post because that was not the purpose of this post. This post was not about whether evolution is true. It is about the implications of naturalistic evolution (and also by extension, the implications of believing that it is true). Do I hear an echo when I say that? If I wasn’t clear enough about that in the original post, you’ve had two chances to catch it when I clarified it in the comments.

    Look, if it helps you any, I’ll go back and edit the blog post to say, “I reject naturalistic evolution because I believe it is incoherent, impossible, and contradictory to other things I know to be true.” That is indeed technically more correct, and since nothing else is working to convince you of what I’m saying, I’ll go ahead and do that. Then I’ll come back and finish this response.

  20. Okay. I’ve done that edit now. I linked to the prior comment so that the edit and its purpose would be apparent.

    Now, would you like to get on the topic of the discussion or not? I’ll make this as perfectly clear as I possibly can. This blog post was not about whether evolution is true. It was and is about the implications of naturalistic evolution if it is true, and by extension, the implications of believing that it is true. Got that?

    So don’t consider this an attack on a field you know and love. Consider it an analysis instead. If you think it is illogical, as you said, then by all means show us how it is illogical. But please, for heaven’s sake, don’t drag any more red herrings across the path; it doesn’t do a thing for your credibility in logical analysis. For purposes of this topic, whether I am right or wrong about the truth of naturalistic evolution is a red herring, for whether I am right or wrong about that has no bearing on whether I am right or wrong about the implications of naturalistic evolution if it is true.

    Again, if you don’t like my conclusions that naturalistic evolution undermines morality, then quit whining and tell me what it is about my conclusions that doesn’t stand up to logical analysis. You might try, for a start, answering the questions I asked you here (this is now my third request on that, see also here). You might even work on your logical credibility by acknowledging the formal and/or informal fallacy(ies) in your calling this “creationist trope,” or else you could tell me (using logic) why there is no such fallacy there. l You might try arguing in favor of your moral and aesthetic assertions, not just telling me that you think Bering is wrong, but also what specifically is wrong about his conclusions.

    Note that this is not a sufficient answer: “over in real life in university biology departments, evolution is basically just another run-of-the-mill, somewhat boring, routine, scientific field.” It has force of sympathy, but it doesn’t address the arguments in the least. I don’t know if there’s an informal fallacy already identified for this; it’s reminiscent of argument from authority, or argumentum ad populum. Maybe it’s argumentum ad run-of-mill boring routinum. I assure you that whatever you call it, it’s a response that fails to address the arguments.

    Finally, you could show me the respect of answering the questions I asked at the end of this comment. If you’re so concerned about how little I know about evolution, then feel free to enlighten me. It only seems fair; after all, I’m trying to do the same for you with respect to reasoned argumentation.

  21. Roman, if you stopped there, you stopped too soon to find out whether my post was logical, or to consider that the assertion you’re complaining about affected the logic of the post’s argument. See my last several comments to Nick for more on that.

  22. Nick,

    Imagine how you would feel if you were at NASA, and the moon-landing deniers not only got on your case, but were backed by a major subgroup of the Christian religion, and kept it up for 85 years, and the biggest underlying theme from beginning to end was about how the moon landing, if true, undermined morality.

    The fact that you think this is a comparable example helps explain why you don’t understand the reason why these never-ending discussions occur in the first place. They occur because some in the scientific community think evolution and morality are very closely linked – and that with just a little more research, they can demonstrate that relationship.

  23. SteveK:

    Excellent point. I use it to springboard to examples either of Nick’s ignorance or reductionism.

    The way Nick uses the word “metaphysics” is atrociously ignorant. He uses it in the sense of the popular notion that mixes eastern mysticism and coffee table discussions and 10-cent book store trash. It’s an all-encompassing pejorative for him. Imagine what would happen if I employed “descent with modification” simplistically: Nick would have his usual hissy-fit. Nick, based on the way he employs the term here, doesn’t know what he’s talking about. Nuff said.

    The way he uses the term “human nature” betrays a similar ignorance. Nick (again, based on the way he bandies about here) has little idea what “human nature” means–let alone its logical genus “nature.” Can Nick define for us what a “nature” is? Perhaps, but don’t hold your breath: it will be (I bet) exclusively MES-based. And, yes, he does illicitly impose (at worst) and exclusive validity to MES knowledge or (only slightly worse) a privileged position over all others to MES-knowledge. Neither one of these views is MES-based, hence self-defeating. What was it that Tom said about logic?

    Tom took care of the illogic in Nick’s approach. Scratch a person who employs fallacies to make a point and you find a person with issues.

  24. Ironically, the people in the scientific community that I mentioned above are same people Nick is describing here.

    people with marginal knowledge of the field and strong, though illogical, emotional and religious objections to it

    So Nick’s beef should be with them, not us. Since before Darwin was born, Christians have been saying that natural mechanisms have nothing to do with morality. Unfortunately we keep having to remind those people with marginal knowledge of the field. 😉

  25. Tom, thanks for the thoughtful reply! Glad you don’t think I deserved to be attacked just because I disagree with you. In fact, I’m more peeved by the Sci Am article. How, exactly, is one man’s account considered “science”? I don’t see why they’d offer this man’s opinion with no research at all to back it up.

    Still, I can’t get involved here. As I said, you have a fundamental logical error. Yes, I could read on, but if a friend of mine said the world was flat I wouldn’t hang around while he drew a map.

    As for evolution, I think it’s an inexplicable mess. Like palm trees and pigeons, it provides terrific evidence that God *doesn’t* exist. How else do you explain a gay man HAVING a sex drive? We’re not exactly going to further our lineage, you know.

    Anyway, congrats on having an intelligent religious website! Glad to know there’s one.

  26. Roman:

    The sentence to which you refer and accuse Tom of being in “logical error” indicates that you, as with Nick, may not understand WHAT logic is. There is no “logical error” in that sentence because the sentence is NOT an argument. (Logic is both the art and science of helping us methodologically produce truths from true knowns.) Arguments can “have” faulty logic by being fallacious–materially (premises) or formally (structure). Statements (otherwise called propositions, i.e., the building blocks of arguments) are true or false (logically speaking). Whether you disagree with or like the sentence is irrelevant: the sentence may be an untrue proposition, but it cannot be “illogical.”

  27. Tom, reason I brought up the run-of-the-mill nature of evolutionary biology, and the main reason I’m posting here, is that you are defaming an entire discipline and body of research and thousands of intelligent, well-meaning, hard-studying, knowledge-seeking scientists when you assert that evolution undermines morality. And it’s the same infuriating ad hominem creationists have benn wielding forever. It’s been dealt with a million times, starting with Darwin himself who gave a decent account of how and why traditional morality wasn’t undermined by evolution. Mentioning this long history of discussion and rebuttal of the creationist assertion is not the genetic fallacy, it’s just pointing out that we’ve seen this exact thing a million times before, it wasn’t convincing then, and so it’s not convincing now either.

    It is also saying that anything like a vaguely serious argument saying that evolution undermines morality would have to acknowledge the existence of the many responses to that argument, and the fact that few-to-no evolutionary biologists actually think there is no such thing as right/wrong and good/bad. Occasionally they can be quote-mined — e.g. Bering here is not denying any possible theory of right/wrong, he’s just denying the “good/bad is what God/religion says it is” theory of right/wrong — but (a) quote-mining isn’t a fair representation of what someone was saying, (b) even if you got Bering right, he’s just one guy, and (c) there is a lot of evidence that the dominant sentiment within evolutionary biology, and within people who accept evolutionary biology, is that they believe in right & wrong.

    In other words, as I thought would be obvious to you:

    I’m wondering where the creationist trope is in what I wrote here. My argument in brief was,

    1. Naturalistic evolution entails the moral view, “Right is irrelevant.”

    This is the creationist trope, and it’s a classic one, and it’s total bunk.

  28. SteveK writes:

    The fact that you think this is a comparable example helps explain why you don’t understand the reason why these never-ending discussions occur in the first place. They occur because some in the scientific community think evolution and morality are very closely linked – and that with just a little more research, they can demonstrate that relationship.

    Heh. This totally contradicts Tom’s claim, which is that the scientific community uses evolution to *undermine* morality. You guys should at least try to be consistent in what you are arguing, if you’re going to be lecturing people about logic.

  29. Nick,

    You chuckle: “Heh.”

    What’s wrong with you? Don’t you see how inane that is? I don’t require everyone here who agrees with me on some things to agree with me on everything. Why would you hold that kind of standard up for us—other than stereotyping?

  30. Nick,

    Your knowledge of evolution far exceeds your ability to argue it effectively.

    you are defaming an entire discipline and body of research and thousands of intelligent, well-meaning, hard-studying, knowledge-seeking scientists when you assert that evolution undermines morality.

    If I am telling the truth about it, then the truth needs to be said. If I am not telling the truth about it, then what you have here is at best a sort of argumentum ad consequentiam (scientists feel defamed so you shouldn’t argue that way). What you ought to do instead is tell me what’s false about it, if indeed it is false.

    By the way, you do a whale of a lot of defaming yourself—have you noticed? Have you noticed that I haven’t said “please stop it,” or at least not without also explaining what I think is wrong with your defamatory statements? That’s because I know what this is about. Someone—one side or the other—isn’t going to like the truth. Is that any reason not to pursue it?

    Mentioning this long history of discussion and rebuttal of the creationist assertion is not the genetic fallacy, it’s just pointing out that we’ve seen this exact thing a million times before, it wasn’t convincing then, and so it’s not convincing now either.

    The problem with that is that I could say, “mentioning this long history of discussion and rebuttal of the naturalists’ assertions … and we’ve seen this exact thing a million times before, etc.” That doesn’t fly any more than what you’ve just attempted, so I haven’t done it. What I’ve done instead has been to argue against the naturalist fallacy. I’m inviting you to argue back, if you have an argument. I don’t mind a bit. If you’re tired of the discussion, no one is forcing you to stay in it. But if you have an actual rebuttal, you have yet to produce it.

    few-to-no evolutionary biologists actually think there is no such thing as right/wrong and good/bad.

    What am I to take from that? Just about everyone believes in good/bad, right/wrong. Not everyone has thought it through axiologically and metaphysically. I don’t know of any reason that evolutionary biologists should be expected to have done so; they’re biologists, not philosophers. Now, if you do have something to tell me about, something the biologists have discussed and concluded based on good philosophical principles, then I’m all ears. All you have here, though, is an argument from non-authority with respect to this philosophical issue.

    But I’ll grant you this: you have carefully and thoroughly dismantled me with this:

    This is the creationist trope, and it’s a classic one, and it’s total bunk.

    The force of the argument, the cumulative effect of carefully defined premise built upon carefully defined premise, your exquisitely nuanced handling of my question, “Is Bering a creationist?”—all that together overwhelms me. Please let me tip my hat to you: you have now certainly displayed your logical and rhetorical skill to its fullest.

  31. Here’s what’s sad about this, Nick. You lecture me on my ignorance of one topic, evolution, but every time you do that you reveal your ignorance of an even more fundamental discipline, logic. And yet you call me illogical, and you think you have proved your point.

    And you don’t listen. I have listened to you. I have conceded one point (evo-psych), and I have corrected a sentence in the blog post. That may not be evidence to you that I’m bright, brilliant, or right, but it ought to at least be evidence that I pay attention to what’s going on here. What direct question have you asked that I have failed to answer? But of the questions I have asked you directly here, which have you answered? If you count the one on creationist trope just now, I’ll only give you half a point, since you didn’t answer the part related to Bering.

    So not only are you arguing poorly as far as logic goes, you’re arguing in bad faith by not even attempting to respond to legitimate questions. Does that lead to knowledge? Does that lead to understanding? Does that display an honorable character? Look in the mirror, Nick. Look in the mirror.

  32. Oh, and by all means feel free to show me a mirror to my own approach here. I have corrected/conceded twice here already. If I was out of line or in bad faith in any other way here, I’ll be the first to own up to it. I don’t mind looking in my own mirror, and I don’t mind your helping me do it.

    I can’t force the same attitude on you, but I certainly do recommend it.

  33. Holopupenko wrote:

    Roman:

    The sentence to which you refer and accuse Tom of being in “logical error” indicates that you, as with Nick, may not understand WHAT logic is. There is no “logical error” in that sentence because the sentence is NOT an argument. (Logic is both the art and science of helping us methodologically produce truths from true knowns.)

    Tom Gilson wrote:

    Here’s what’s sad about this, Nick. You lecture me on my ignorance of one topic, evolution, but every time you do that you reveal your ignorance of an even more fundamental discipline, logic. And yet you call me illogical, and you think you have proved your point.

    I’ll consider signing up for a class in informal logic taught by Holo. If he is as bombastic in real life as he is here, that should be entertaining.

    On a more serious note, Tom, your argument does not compute:

    1. Naturalistic evolution entails the moral view, “Right is irrelevant.”
    2. “Right is irrelevant” is dangerous.
    3. Therefore naturalistic evolutions’s entailed morality is dangerous.

    You won’t find point 1 anywhere in the biological literature. Bering’s blog article appeared in Scientific American Mind, a popular magazine covering psychology. As Nick already said, evolutionary psychology is not exactly a field that enjoys credibility. Strike one.

    But even assuming Point 1, your argument taken as a whole is what you call argumentum ad consequentiam. You just complained that such arguments are invalid. That alone should take care of it, shouldn’t it? Strike two.

    Scientific knowledge is either valid or it is not. Nuclear physics represents dangerous knowledge: we might blow up the entire planet as a result of applying it. Should we not have researched the subject? Let me know what you think.

    We understand perfectly well why you perceive theory of evolution as a whole as dangerous to religion. There is nothing you can do about it, however. The genie is out of the bottle. Conservative Christians will have to adapt to it just like other denominations did. The longer you wait, the more painful the transition will be. Theory of evolution is here to stay.

  34. Oleg takes the mound but he’s calling one-hoppers as strikes.

    1)

    You won’t find point 1 anywhere in the biological literature

    If true, so what? Do evolutionary biologists have a monopoly on the moral entailments of the theory? Answer: no, they do not. Are they, as a group, even competent in the field?
    Ball.

    2)

    [Y]our argument taken as a whole is what you call argumentum ad consequentiam

    That is not the argument and the syllogism you quoted demonstrates that you have failed to read the argument properly. Tom’s post itself addresses this alleged fallacy. Finding a web page on fallacies and knowing how to recognize them are two different things.

    Is this a four finger salute?

  35. Thank you, Charlie, for that accurate assessment.

    Olegt, if I had argued this it would have been argumentum ad consequentiam:

    1. Naturalistic evolution entails the moral view, “Right is irrelevant.”
    2. “Right is irrelevant” is dangerous.
    3. Therefore naturalistic evolutions’s entailed morality is dangerous.
    4. Therefore naturalistic evolution is false.

    That’s invalid, but it’s not the argument I made. I stopped at 3.

    Let’s continue the logic lesson, just for kicks. It seems it’s meeting an educational need here. Suppose I had argued,

    1. Naturalistic evolution entails the moral view, “Right is irrelevant.”
    2. “Right is irrelevant” is dangerous.
    3. Therefore naturalistic evolutions’s entailed morality is dangerous.
    4. Therefore to practice the entailed morality of naturalistic evolution is unethical.

    That too is argumentum ad consequentiam, but in this case argumentum ad consequentiam is not necessarily fallacious, because in discussions of ethics, consequences are not always irrelevant, depending somewhat on your view of consequentialism. 4 in this case would be open for discussion. I didn’t argue that, either, though, and I’m not arguing it now; this was just a bonus lesson, otherwise unrelated to anything that’s gone before.

    I stopped at 3. The argument I actually did present is formally valid. If the premises are true, the conclusion is sound. The argument must be attacked on its premises, not its form.

    Scientific knowledge is either valid or it is not. Nuclear physics represents dangerous knowledge: we might blow up the entire planet as a result of applying it. Should we not have researched the subject? Let me know what you think.

    Your question is, “Should we not have researched it?” My answer is, that has nothing to do with what I’ve written here. I never said we shouldn’t research origins. I think we should; I am strongly in favor of it.

    We understand perfectly well why you perceive theory of evolution as a whole as dangerous to religion.

    The danger of which I wrote was not the danger to religion. It was the danger to our sons and daughters, in a world where right is understood to be irrelevant.

  36. Getting to another comment from Tom — I have limited time here so I am just going to ignore Holo and others who do nothing more that lecture about morality and then toss the cheapest insults my way —

    That’s just not true. If human nature is the product of evolution, then it is one kind of thing; if we are created in the image of God, then human nature is another kind of thing.

    Well, we’ve reached the heart of the disagreement, I suspect. I think that A is A regardless of the origin of A. You think that A is B under one causal theory, and you think it is C under another causal theory.

    If human nature is the product of evolution, then right and wrong are one kind of thing; if we are created in the image of God, then they are another kind of thing.

    No, they’re the same thing either way — right and wrong are applied to actions that contribute to, or undermine, the overall combined suite of innate human desires and needs. If God set up humans in an entirely different way, with an entirely different nature, what would be right and wrong for us would be different.

    If human nature is the product of evolution, then good and bad, right and wrong, really do seem to be labeling behaviors that natural selection has given us as our inheritance, because it was in some way adaptive, meaning, it helped certain individuals make more babies who had babies.

    My beef here is with the dismissive phrase “labeling behaviors”. A more accurate statement would be that on the theory that natural selection gave humans a much-enhanced capacity for memory and reflection — what with our huge brains and all — and that this gives us the ability to plan, generalize, empathize, and decide what actions or combinations of actions are best in terms of satisfying our innate needs and desires, i.e. what actions are right and wrong, rather than just following whatever innate impulse is strongest at the moment, which is presumably what all animals except the most intelligent do.

    That said, sure, we have the suite of innate needs & desires that we do because (to some approximation, a rather rough one in my view) natural selection put them there. So what? Why should this suddenly make them irrelevant? Is a mother’s love for her child magically somehow turned into worthless ash when someone points out that motherly love is beneficial for producing more babies?

    You can help me check three points on my understanding of naturalistic evolution here.

    1) I take it that there is causal closure in random variation, natural selection, and the natural environment over the long run: that there is no other process producing organisms’ structures, functions, and behaviors than these.

    Not really; the phrase “random variation and natural selection” is basically shorthand, too often taken simplistically e.g. by creationists or even by too-popular accounts of evolution. The biggest things that ought to be added in the context of human behavioral evolution woud be things like: developmental channeling, exaptation, social interactions within and between groups, learning ability, cultural inheritance, and language.

    2) I take it, too that the definition of natural selection is exhausted (complete) in the sense that it describes the differential survival and reproduction of better adapted individuals. I take it that another way of saying that is that NS describes the differential survival and reproduction of individuals with more adaptive traits, including structures, functions, and behaviors.

    Sure, I guess. But note that (a) this doesn’t mean every action a modern human takes must have an adaptive, selection-based explanation; there are many many steps between genetics and individual actions on any given day; (b) this doesn’t mean every behavior or tendency found in some human subgroup has a genetic or adaptive basis (e.g. homosexuality may or may not be genetic, and even if genetic, that may or may not have had a selective basis. Selection is best used to explain features of species that are widespread/universal in the species, that have good evidence of genetic basis, that have some good function at least in ancestral environments, etc. Selection is not supposed to explain everything. (c) It also doesn’t mean that every human trait we might discuss originated through its selective basis in just the last few million years. A great many human traits are just generic emotional features of mammals in general, inherited by common ancestry, and not changed, because there was no reason to change. Oxytocin does basically the same thing in rats, dogs, and humans, AFAIK.

    3) I take it, finally, that “adaptive” is fully and completely defined by “that which causes/allows/etc. the organism in its environment to successfully produce offspring that will successfully produce offspring….”

    Words like “adaptive” or “fitness” can be used either to refer to:

    (a) the match of the organism to the environment — wings are for flying, some wings are better than others, etc. — this is how Darwin typically uses the terms.

    (b) the modern, mathematical population-genetic theory sense, in which they refer to the statistical propensity to produce offspring confered by some allele or trait

    You are probably referring to (b), which seems fine to me…

    A final comment: I don’t even see why “human nature was the product of natural selection etc.” and “human nature was produced from the image of God” are forced to be in conflict. They are orthogonal statements. I am sure that many theistic evolutionists accept both and don’t see a huge conflict. You would get very interesting responses if you took your arguments over to BioLogos.org; they might even take something from you as a guest post, which might inspire posted responses.

  37. Nick,

    The lesson continues. This one is called equivocation

    Well, we’ve reached the heart of the disagreement, I suspect. I think that A is A regardless of the origin of A. You think that A is B under one causal theory, and you think it is C under another causal theory.

    I too think that A is A regardless of the origin of A. What I said was that if human nature has one kind of origin, it is A, and if it has another kind of origin, it is B. Let’s formalize that:
    HN(NE)=A
    HN(~NE)=~A

    Human nature, if it has its origins as naturalistic evolution supposes it does, is A. If it does not have that origin, then human nature is not A.

    But you keep trying:

    No, they’re the same thing either way — right and wrong are applied to actions that contribute to, or undermine, the overall combined suite of innate human desires and needs. If God set up humans in an entirely different way, with an entirely different nature, what would be right and wrong for us would be different.

    Let’s keep this in context. The argument is not over whether humans have access to a sense of right and wrong. It is over this, which I wrote yesterday:

    Christian moral philosophy can base its conclusions on human nature without sacrificing its moral foundation, for it takes it as given that human nature is in God’s image. Naturalistic evolution has to take it that human nature is in the image of whatever produces the next generation most successfully. And nothing else but that: for there is nothing else to feed the causal stream of human behavior.

    But you have noted something very interesting here that I’ve been meaning to discuss in a separate blog post: the contingency of ethics under naturalistic evolution. And the non-contingency thereof under theism. Keep an eye out for this coming in a few days.

    Now on this I must congratulate you:

    My beef here is with the dismissive phrase “labeling behaviors”. A more accurate statement would be that on the theory that natural selection gave humans a much-enhanced capacity for memory and reflection — what with our huge brains and all — and that this gives us the ability to plan, generalize, empathize, and decide what actions or combinations of actions are best in terms of satisfying our innate needs and desires, i.e. what actions are right and wrong, rather than just following whatever innate impulse is strongest at the moment, which is presumably what all animals except the most intelligent do.

    What you have finally done—thank you!—is respond to an argument of mine. But I don’t think you’ve elevated it above innate need and desires, have you? That’s what ethics are supposed to satisfy. Why do we call it good and bad, rather than successful or unsuccessful? Just curious.

    That said, sure, we have the suite of innate needs & desires that we do because (to some approximation, a rather rough one in my view) natural selection put them there. So what? Why should this suddenly make them irrelevant? Is a mother’s love for her child magically somehow turned into worthless ash when someone points out that motherly love is beneficial for producing more babies?

    Logic, Nick, logic. I didn’t say that at all. I believe that a mother’s love for her child is absolutely precious, no matter what anybody says to her about it. It’s not about what someone says to her. It’s about what it ontologically is. The reason I’m convinced the goodness of her love is unassailable is because I know that it’s well founded. If I didn’t know it was well founded, I couldn’t know it was unassailable. If I knew for sure it was poorly founded, then I would really have to wonder whether its apparent unassailability might be illusory.

    There’s a lot in that last paragraph, but here’s what you need to get out of it: you objected to some belief that I don’t hold.

    Thank you, too, for finally answering my three questions. I’ll need time to study them before I can respond further.

    A final comment: I don’t even see why “human nature was the product of natural selection etc.” and “human nature was produced from the image of God” are forced to be in conflict.

    I’ve tried to be very consistent here in using the term “naturalistic” in front of “evolution.” If I have not been 100% consistent in that, please take the context into account. In this post, the only kind of evolution I am discussing is the naturalistic sort. None of what I have argued here would necessarily apply to theistic evolution.

  38. Tom Gilson wrote:

    I stopped at 3. The argument I actually did present is formally valid. If the premises are true, the conclusion is sound.

    Tom,

    I agree with you that from Point 2 you can proceed to Point 3. But your parable of the rattlesnakes suggests that you did not stop at 3. The story seems to suggest (to me, at least) that you might try to (1) shoo evolution away, (2) move past it carefully, and finally (3) avoid encounters with it at all costs. Perhaps I am reading too much into your parable, but if that is indeed the case, what was its point?

    But let’s get back to your Point 1. Naturalistic evolution entails the moral view, “Right is irrelevant.” I said that it does not follow: biological evolution does not equal meanderings of evolutionary psychologists. You did not seem interested in defending it. Maybe you should.

  39. I too think that A is A regardless of the origin of A. What I said was that if human nature has one kind of origin, it is A, and if it has another kind of origin, it is B.

    Logic, Tom, logic. We can characterize human nature simply by description & observation & introspection, we don’t need to know anything about its origin to do this. This is how insights about human nature from e.g. literature work.

  40. I’ve tried to be very consistent here in using the term “naturalistic” in front of “evolution.” If I have not been 100% consistent in that, please take the context into account. In this post, the only kind of evolution I am discussing is the naturalistic sort. None of what I have argued here would necessarily apply to theistic evolution.

    Then you should just talk about philosophical naturalism and leave evolution out of it. The evolutionary science is the same for the theistic evolutionists and the naturalistic evolutionists.

  41. olegt, the point of my “parable” was what I said it was after it ended:

    Fear of the second snake caused us to move slowly. Fear of the third one, coiled and ready to strike, drove us away completely. To act based on fear of genuine danger is both good and wise. Ideas have consequences, and in the case of evolution, one of those consequences is that (as Bering said), “Right is irrelevant.” That’s a perfectly sound conclusion from naturalistic evolutionary premises. Do you think that idea has no consequences? Would you marry someone who believes right is irrelevant? Would you let your daughter date someone like that? If so, your lack of fear is a morally and intellectually reprehensible lack of wisdom.

    I fear the ethical conclusions that flow out of naturalistic evolution, if naturalistic evolution is true, and also the conclusions that people think are true if they think NE is true.

    But let’s get back to your Point 1. Naturalistic evolution entails the moral view, “Right is irrelevant.” I said that it does not follow: biological evolution does not equal meanderings of evolutionary psychologists. You did not seem interested in defending it. Maybe you should.

    You attacked a position that I defended in my original post. Your attack was ineffectual, as Charlie and I both noted. There was nothing else to defend.

  42. Nick,

    Logic, Tom, logic. We can characterize human nature simply by description & observation & introspection, we don’t need to know anything about its origin to do this. This is how insights about human nature from e.g. literature work.

    That’s just wrong, and obviously so. If humans are created in the image of God, then our nature is (among other thing) to be in the image of God. If we came to be through NE, then it isn’t that.

    Your confusion in this seems to be in thinking that human nature can be determined by mere description, observation, introspection: as if it were an empirical question, in other words. You should pay more attention to Holopupenko.

  43. But you have noted something very interesting here that I’ve been meaning to discuss in a separate blog post: the contingency of ethics under naturalistic evolution. And the non-contingency thereof under theism. Keep an eye out for this coming in a few days.

    I don’t agree with the notion that ethics is non-contingent under theism:

    (a) If God made us with a different nature, our ethics would be different. Christians don’t criticize the lions for their savageness or the ants for making slaves.

    (b) One strong strain of evangelical moral theory says that whatever God says is right, is right. And thus the numerous instances of genocide, child slaughter, etc. endorsed by God in the Old Testament are OK. I’ll take constancy-of-human-nature-on-any-scale-except-geological-time over this incredible relativism any day.

  44. Nick, you say,

    Then you should just talk about philosophical naturalism and leave evolution out of it. The evolutionary science is the same for the theistic evolutionists and the naturalistic evolutionists.

    Well, I could have done that but for two things: First, Bering brought it up; Second, the argument from naturalistic evolution is different, in interesting ways, from the argument strictly from philosophical naturalism.

  45. You say,

    I don’t agree with the notion that ethics is non-contingent under theism….

    I haven’t made that argument yet, so I’ll take that as a preview of what to expect when I post that article.

  46. That’s just wrong, and obviously so. If humans are created in the image of God, then our nature is (among other thing) to be in the image of God. If we come through NE, then it isn’t that.

    You are just trying to win the argument by inserting your theological point of view into the definition of “human nature.” A more reasonable definition is something like this: human nature is the emotional and intellectual constitution of the human species.

    On this definition, human nature might or might not be made in the image of God (I have no idea). It might or might not be the product of evolution (all the physical evidence says that it is). Both might be true. Either way, the emotional and intellectual constitution of the human species stays the same before, during, and after we draw conclusions on those peripheral matters.

    Your confusion in this seems to be in thinking that human nature can be determined by mere description.

    “Mere description” is worth a lot in most places, like, say, science.

    You should pay more attention to Holopupenko.

    Why? All he’s come up with is “Nickie” and “some anonymous guy I know says Nick doesn’t know what he’s talking about.”

  47. Nick, as a logician, you make a better biologist:

    You are just trying to win the argument by inserting your theological point of view into the definition of “human nature.” A more reasonable definition is something like this: human nature is the emotional and intellectual constitution of the human species.

    On this definition, human nature might or might not be made in the image of God (I have no idea).

    That sentence in your second paragraph refutes your first paragraph. If human nature might or might not be in the image of God, then there are at least those two distinct options.

    Either way, the emotional and intellectual constitution of the human species stays the same before, during, and after we draw conclusions on those peripheral matters.

    You’re using a definition of “nature” that prejudices the outcome toward your conclusion: that only the emotional and intellectual constitution counts, and that whether we come from God or not is “peripheral.”

    That, plus your own self-contradiction, ought to be sufficient to signal you that you’re off track here.

    Further, on what non-question-begging basis can you possibly come to the conclusion that whether God created us in his image is peripheral to the nature of humans???

  48. Your dismissal of Holopupenko is factually false, by the way; not that it needed to be pointed out. He asked you earlier what you mean by “nature,” and that is turning out to be an extremely important question. Tell you what. Pretend he didn’t ask it, and that it’s just me asking it. What do you mean by “nature,” and on what metaphysical basis do you answer this metaphysical question?

  49. By the way, just by way of warning before I pack this up for the night, here in the Eastern time zone: you are so obviously wrong on this that if you continue to hold your position, I’m going to drop it for lack of interest—unless you come up with some really unexpectedly interesting argument

  50. Woah, what was I thinking? It was getting late, there was a football game on so I wasn’t paying full attention, yet that’s no excuse. My last comment here was rudely dismissive, and I must apologize to you, Nick, for the discourtesy.

  51. Tom Giilson wrote:

    I fear the ethical conclusions that flow out of naturalistic evolution, if naturalistic evolution is true, and also the conclusions that people think are true if they think NE is true.

    The ethical conclusions you stated don’t follow. It does not flow from theory of evolution that “right is irrelevant.” It’s as logical as declaring that Einstein’s relativity leads to moral relativism.

    I’m sure you will disagree and, given who you are, I won’t be surprised. But I am still curious about one thing. In your story, you first confront the snake, but eventually you run away from it. Is this how you plan to deal with evolution as well? If not then what is your plan?

  52. Olegt,

    I’m not running away from evolution at all. I didn’t have to have a blog, and I didn’t have to post about evolution, and I didn’t have to open up comments to you, Nick, and anyone else when I did. Your implied accusation there is self-refuting.

    Your analogy of relativisms is completely irrelevant. First, let me re-emphasize that it is naturalistic evolution of which I’m speaking. As I told Nick last night, the real problem is naturalism, not evolution per se; but the argument from naturalistic evolution is interestingly (to me at least) different from the argument just from naturalism. That, along with Bering’s blog post, is why I’m putting some time into it this week.

    So I would agree with you that evolution simplicitere is not antithetical to morality. When it is coupled with naturalism, though, then there is indeed an argument to be made, which I have attempted to do.

    The reason your analogy fails with respect to this argument is this: you rightly consider it invalid to draw an ethical conclusion from a physical theory. If I were to draw an ethical conclusion from the physical theory of evolution simplicitere, then I would be making the mistake of which you speak. But I’m drawing an ethical conclusion from an ontological/metaphysical/physical theory, naturalistic evolution, so there is no analogy there.

  53. You’ll have to explain what “naturalistic evolution” is then. My understanding is that biology is a natural science and evolution studied from a biological perspective is natural evolution. In your language that would be evolution simplicitere. So tell me how you define “naturalistic evolution.” Evolutionary theory plus philosophical meanderings?

  54. Naturalistic evolution in simplest terms is undirected evolution, or evolution occurring through natural processes of law plus chance alone. For more depth but not too much, Wikipedia’s definition of naturalism is convenient and pretty much on the mark.

    I appreciate the clarifying question, by the way. Thanks.

  55. I fail to see the distinction. Evolutionary biologists study evolution as a natural process and assume that mutations are random. Randomness is not simply assumed, but is tested experimentally.

    See, e.g., this article dealing with a long-term evolutionary experiment with E. coli in the lab of Richard Lenski: Z. D. Blount, C. Z. Borland, and Richard E. Lenskiand R. E. Lenski, “Historical contingency and the evolution of a key innovation in an experimental population of Escherichia coli,” PNAS 105, 7899 (2008). doi:10.1073/pnas.0803151105.

  56. 1. Technically, randomness ≠ unguidedness. That’s an arcane distinction but Stephen Barr has made it quite successfully, with special emphasis on this topic. If there’s a question of theism vs. naturalism it comes into play: God could be guiding processes that from our side appear random. It’s not an experimentally useful distinction, but it is a valid philosophical one.

    The following two points are probably more up your alley:

    2. Randomness is assumed for past events. It cannot be tested for experimentally. There is a distinction between (a) the species developed through purely random variation, selected for by the processes of adaptation, environment, etc. on the one hand; and (b) the species developed through variation and selection guided subtly by God on the other hand. But that distinction is invisible to experimental science today.

    3. Unguided = guided. The distinction remains whether you see it or not.

  57. You’re using a definition of “nature” that prejudices the outcome toward your conclusion: that only the emotional and intellectual constitution counts, and that whether we come from God or not is “peripheral.”

    Shall we resort to the finding-our-favorite-dictionary-definition-game? I bet all the definitions say something about the emotional and intellectual composition of the human species, and few say anything about the image of God.

    Tell you what. Pretend he didn’t ask it, and that it’s just me asking it. What do you mean by “nature,” and on what metaphysical basis do you answer this metaphysical question?

    Holo was talking about human nature, and I already said what I thought a good definition was — but it sounds like you are asking about something else, I’m not sure which sense.

    For a pretty decent description of human nature, read Bishop Butler…

  58. Nick,

    This totally contradicts Tom’s claim, which is that the scientific community uses evolution to *undermine* morality.

    Stating something about morality that is not true is undermining the truth of morality. I’m very much in agreement with what Tom is saying, BTW.

  59. Nick, my goodness. Do you think the dictionary knows the context of a discussion like this? You lambaste my for my inadequate understanding of evolution, then in a philosophical discussion you want to go to a little dictionary definition to define a technical term?

    The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy has 320 entries with “human nature” in their contents. For a more moderate approach, you might try Wikipedia, which does get into the kinds of issues of which I speak.

    There is a current stream of study that tries to avoid metaphysics in addressing these kinds of questions, and in the process emphasizes what is empirically observable. I suspect that’s what’s been influencing you to think of human nature as being what we observe to be characteristic of humans. But let’s recall why we brought up the question of human nature, for if we bear in mind what we’re trying to answer, we won’t have to wander all that far afield in coming to a conclusion. You wrote,

    Evolution can explain, to some extent, why the various drives we all have exist, including both the “passions” and countervailing feelings like empathy and regret, which often lead to reflection, rule-making, etc. What it doesn’t explain is how the conflicts between various drives and desires and feelings are reconciled. This process occurs in individual time, as individuals and societies make decisions, an incredibly complex process involving lots of history, reflection, debate, etc. Psychology and social sciences can help us understand how and why certain decisions are reached, if we are interested in that. Philosophy and theology can help us make those decisions, if we are stuck in the position of needing to make them. But things like literature can be just as helpful.

    This point of view is not something specific to evolutionary biology. There is a long tradition of Christian moral philosoph based on the innate features of human nature. e.g. Bishop Butler.

    I answered,

    Christian moral philosophy can base its conclusions on human nature without sacrificing its moral foundation, for it takes it as given that human nature is in God’s image. Naturalistic evolution has to take it that human nature is in the image of whatever produces the next generation most successfully. And nothing else but that: for there is nothing else to feed the causal stream of human behavior.

    That’s what kicked the whole thing off.

    There was, then, a question leading into this discussion, but I’m not sure it’s clear to you what that question is. Let me explain my answer there more fully and see if it helps.

    Your approach to ethics is based on observable human nature (in the fullness in which you have described it, as I have quoted here and also elsewhere in this thread that I have not quoted here). You take it that this is sufficient to explain ethics, and that good and bad can be fully defined by reference to features observable in human nature. Let’s abbreviate your position on this as EHNA (Ethics from Human Nature is Adequate).

    In support of that position, you cited Bishop Butler. The implication is that if Bishop Butler believes that an ethical theory can be derived from human nature, then Bishop Butler supports EHNA.

    My contention is that Bishop Butler was not promoting EHNA but something quite different. As a Christian, his position would probably look like this:

    1. God is good, and knows what is good and holy, and what is not.
    2. Humans are created in the image of God.
    3. As carriers of God’s image, humans by nature reflect some of God’s nature.
    4. One aspect of that is that humans by nature have an awareness of what is right and wrong, good and bad
    5. Therefore human knowledge of right and wrong can be referenced in the building of an ethical theory.

    If you read Butler (your linked article) differently, I would direct your attention to two key sentences:

    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.

    Butler’s theory is not one of the definition of right and wrong, as EHNA is. It is a practical theory of how one might know right and wrong. He places that knowledge in the conscience.

    You can see that this is very different from EHNA. Right and wrong can be (at least to a significant extent) understood through knowledge human nature, but right and wrong are in no way defined by human nature. This theistic position is so different from EHNA that it cannot be cited in support of EHNA, as you attempted to do.

    Now it may be—I haven’t read enough to know—that Butler would deny that conscience gains its awareness of right and wrong by the 1-5 process I have outlined here. I doubt it; he was a believer in God. But if he did deny this 1-5 outline, then I would have to say you called on an unorthodox Christian position to try to convince me that your position was supported by Christian doctrine. My answer to that is obviously that this would constitute a reference to an irrelevant authority.

    Having said this, I wonder if you will still want to quibble over the term “nature.” Before you do that, I invite you to read through this again and substitute some other terminology like “that which is essentially true of humans qua humans,” in place of “human nature.” You may not think it accurately captures what you mean by “human nature,” but it certainly captures what I meant, and in philosophy it is a perfectly acceptable definition.

  60. By the way, I almost forgot this from comment 51. The first part is mine, and the second is yours:

    That’s just wrong, and obviously so. If humans are created in the image of God, then our nature is (among other things) to be in the image of God. If we come through NE, then it isn’t that.

    You are just trying to win the argument by inserting your theological point of view into the definition of “human nature.” A more reasonable definition is something like this: human nature is the emotional and intellectual constitution of the human species.

    This illustrates the problem we’re having here with logical discussion. What I am about to say expands what I wrote very briefly in #52. I wrote it briefly there just because I thought it would be both easy and obvious. Oh, well.

    In my three sentences quoted here, I presented an either-or. Either we are made in the image of God or we are not. I said that this makes a difference. You described that as treating “human nature” according to a theological point of view so that I could win the argument. I don’t know how to explain this more gently, but that is incredibly mixed up.

    If we are created in the image of God, then we are. If we are not created in the image of God, then we are not. That much should be easy enough to follow.

    Now it ought to be appropriate to discuss whether or not we are created in the image of God. If that question is ruled out of bounds, then I refer to your apt phrase, “you are just trying to win the argument by inserting your … point of view.”

    If then we find it appropriate to discuss whether or not we are created in the image of God, we ought to have some agreement on the rules by which we can discuss it. Let’s suppose we say that we cannot use a theologically-oriented definition of “human nature,” but we have to use your empirically-oriented approach. That’s convenient for you, because it cuts off the vocabulary by which I can present what it means to be in the image of God, and it prejudices our understanding of human nature toward that which is empirically observable. In short, it hamstrings the discussion we agreed it was okay to hold on whether we are in God’s image; it is a question-begging and therefore illicit expectation.

    To recap: the either/or question of whether we are created in God’s image is relevant to our topic. If we are to consider that relevant topic, it’s illicit to cut off considering it according to an essential characteristic of one of the either/or options. Stated alternatively: if we’re considering a choice between A and B, both A and B must be allowed to be considered according to their full respective sets entailed beliefs. To say that we cannot consider A according to A’s entailed beliefs is obviously wrong.

  61. Tom’s central proposition:

    1. Naturalistic evolution entails the moral view, “Right is irrelevant.”
    2. “Right is irrelevant” is dangerous.
    3. Therefore naturalistic evolutions’s entailed morality is dangerous.

    After all this discussion, premise 1 is incorrect. Naturalistic evolution does not say that right is irrelevant. Rather, naturalistic evolution attempts to define right and wrong in evolutionary terms.

    Otherwise, why would Marc Hauser’s book Moral Minds be subtitled \Our Universal Sense of Right and Wrong\?

  62. Olorin, you’re partly right, but I want to explore this with you. Certainly I agree that naturalistic evolutionists do not say that right is irrelevant. At least most of them do not. Bering is one one who does. (In spite of earlier blubberings to the contrary by some in these comments, he is a scientist leading a department in a well-respected university with several published articles on evolution.)

    So I’ll grant you partial accuracy on that, as long as we say “naturalistic evolutionists,” not “naturalistic evolution.” To know what naturalistic evolution says, we could go to two different sources. One, of course, would be the community of naturalistic evolutionists. But this is a philosophical question, not a biological or psychological one, so it’s entirely possible they are not the ultimate authority on what naturalistic evolution says.

    I take the position that naturalistic evolution entails a certain set of assumptions, and that those assumptions have further entailments. Those assumptions include:
    1) All causal forces in nature are impersonal and amoral.
    2) Evolution is the product of non-purposeful effects, primarily random variation and the survival of that which succeeds to propagate fertile offspring.
    3) Human morality exists because it has evolved to its current state.

    Starting from those assumptions, I have made a case for “Naturalistic evolution entails the moral view, ‘Right is irrelevant.'” I think that conclusion is entailed by those assumptions, taken as premises. Marc Hauser’s book’s subtitle has no relevance to that argument.

    I haven’t read Hauser, but I’ve heard him speak on the topic. As I recall it, he describes what our moral sense is like and where he believes it came from. That’s not the question here, as Bering has colorfully indicated in the linked article.

    There is more to the argument, by the way, and I will continue to develop it in blog posts to come.

  63. Olorin,
    Tom’s Premise 1 is based on accepting the reasoning the author gives for his conclusion that “right is irrelevant”.

    But the amoralistic beauty of Darwinian thinking is that it does not—or at least, should not and cannot—prescribe any social behavior, sexual or otherwise, as being the “right” thing to do. Right is irrelevant. There is only what works and what doesn’t work, within context, in biologically adaptive terms. And so even though any good and proper citizen is an evolutionarily informed sexual libertarian, Darwin provides no more insight into a moral reality than, say, Dr. Laura Schlessinger.

    Said another way, prescriptive terms of behavior are not relevant to a reality that lacks a prescriptive nature. They don’t apply. By definition, naturalism, or more specifically, Darwinism, lacks a prescriptive nature.

    If prescriptive reality exists, then naturalism is an incomplete description of that reality.

  64. Tom,

    How can you make the leap from Human morality exists because it has evolved to its current state to Right is irrelevant? If a human society has developed its moral principles (the rights and wrongs) surely they are relevant to the society?

  65. Olegt,

    “Right,” in a certain sense of the term, is certainly relevant in context of certain discussions, regardless of the three (not just one) assumptions of naturalistic evolution that I just listed. I agree with you on that.

    “Right is irrelevant” in this context has a specific meaning, however– a different one–and of course it’s being used in a specific context. On the hopeful assumption that people reading that last comment of mine have also read the original post, I’m using “right is irrelevant” as an abbreviation for the position Bering stated in his article. I’ll repeat his words that I’ve already quoted:

    If you believe, as I do, that we live in a natural rather than a supernatural world, then there is no inherent, divinely inspired reason to be sexually exclusive to one’s partner. If you and your partner want to … [multiple suggested acts, omitted for reasons of decency] … then by all means do so (and take pictures). … Right is irrelevant. There is only what works and what doesn’t work, within context, in biologically adaptive terms….

    This is an naturalistic evolutionist speaking. I think he is drawing valid conclusions from naturalistic premises.

  66. Please pardon the argumentum ad dictionarium. Morality is “1. The quality of being in accord with standards of right or good conduct. 2. A system of ideas of right and wrong conduct:”

    Most religions attempt to define the standards and ideas of morality from the desires of a deity. Evolutionary biologists attempt to define them based upon natural adaptations. Bering’s statement quoted by Tom just above is contrary to the definition, and assumes incorrectly that all morality is limited to the theological kind. The relevance of Hauser’s[1] and similar work is that humans seem to have an innate set of moral standards and ideas—and that the core values vary hardly at all according to whether the person is a Christian, Buddhist, agnostic, or atheist.

    Remember that Bering says only that there is no “divinely inspired reason” to follow a moral code in a natural world. He entirely ignores that evolutionary morality creates negative emotions when its moral code is broken. In the same way, evolutionary adaptations cause posonous plants to taste bad to us. The principle is the same..

    =============

    [1] Perhaps we should not follow Hauser too closely. Currently he seems to be in a moral bind over possible data manipulation in his primate-cognition experiments a few years ago.

  67. This description of Butler’s philosophy, from the IEP, is pretty clearly confirmation of my view:

    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.

    Butler says again and again that “man is a law unto himself”, which is another way of stating the above (note to nervous types: Butler is not saying anything like the idea that morality is a matter of personal opinion; he instead appeals to the universal nature of humanity to argue that morality is objective).

    Everything I’ve read says that Butler was a perfectly traditional Christian. He just wasn’t one who was trying to beat moral philosophy into a weapon for Christian exclusivism.

  68. From Butler’s Sermon ii, with paragraph breaks added for readability:

    As speculative truth admits of different kinds of proof, so likewise moral obligations may be shown by different methods. If the real nature of any creature leads him, and is adapted to such and such purposes only, or more than to any other; this is a reason to believe the Author of that nature intended it for those purposes. Thus there is no doubt the eye was intended for us to see with. And the more complex any constitution is, and the greater variety of parts there are which thus tend to some one end, the stronger is the proof that such end was designed.

    However, when the inward frame of man is considered as any guide in morals, the utmost caution must be used that none make peculiarities in their own temper, or any thing which is the effect of particular customs, though observable in several, the standard of what is common to the species; and, above all, that the highest principle be not forgot or excluded, that to which belongs the adjustment and correction of all other inward movements and affections: which principle will of course have some influence, but which, being in nature supreme, as shall now be shown, ought to preside over and govern all the rest.

    The difficulty of rightly observing the two former cautions the appearance there is of some small diversity amongst mankind with respect to this faculty, with respect to their natural sense of moral good and evil; and the attention.. necessary to survey with any exactness what passes within have occasioned that it is not so much agreed what is the standard of the internal nature of man, as of his external form. Neither is this last exactly settled. Yet we understand one another when we speak of the shape of a human body; so likewise we do when we speak of the heart and inward principles, how far soever the standard is from being exact or precisely fixed. There is, therefore, ground for an attempt of showing men to themselves, of showing them what course of life and behaviour their real nature points out and would lead them to.

    Now, obligations of virtue shown, and motives to the practice of it enforced, from a review of the nature of man, are to be considered as an appeal to each particular person’s heart and natural conscience; as the external senses are appealed to for the proof of things cognizable by them. Since, then, our inward feelings, and the perceptions we receive, from our external senses, are equally real; to argue from the former to life and conduct, is as little liable to exception, as to argue from the latter to absolute speculative truth. A man can as little doubt whether his eyes were given him to see with, as he can doubt of the truth of the science of optics, deduced from occular experiments. And allowing the inward feeling, shame; a man can as little doubt whether it was given him to prevent his doing shameful actions, as he can doubt whether his eyes were given him to guide his steps. And as to these inward feelings themselves; that they are real; that man has in his nature passions and affections, can no more be questioned, than that he has external senses. Neither can the former be wholly mistaken, though to a certain degree liable to greater mistakes than the latter.

    From Sermon xii:

    That which we more strictly call piety, or the love of God, and which is an essential part of a right temper, some may perhaps imagine no way connected with benevolence: yet, surely, they must be connected, if there be indeed in being an object infinitely good. Human nature is so constituted, that every good affection implies the love of itself; i. e. becomes the object of a new affection in the same person. Thus, to be righteous, implies in it the love of righteousness; to be benevolent, the love of benevolence; to be good, the love of goodness; whether this righteousness, benevolence, or goodness, be viewed as in our own mind, or in another’s: and the love of God as a Being perfectly good, is the love of perfect goodness contemplated in a being or person. Thus morality and religion, virtue and piety, will at last necessarily coincide, run up into one and the same point, and love will be in all senses the end of the commandment.

    Tell me again what you thought Butler was confirming about your view of human nature, please?

  69. Olorin,

    You assume incorrectly that Bering or I assume incorrectly that all morality is limited to the theological kind. Bering draws his conclusions without respect to theology. I draw my conclusions about the entailments for naturalism from naturalism itself.

    There are at least two different views of morality. The purpose of dictionary definitions is to give a general sense of the meaning of a word. It is not to disallow philosophical discussion upon a word. Even if it was, the definition you’ve provided works equally well for my view, for it includes the terms “right and wrong,” with which my perspective is perfectly at home. The dictionary does not tell us that it means objective right or wrong, grounded in a moral deity, or whether it does not. The discussion may proceed (as if that were in doubt).

    Your paragraph beginning “Remember that…” must have some purpose in this discussion, but I can’t think of anything you’re saying in it that hasn’t been addressed already. Could you help me with that, please?

    Hauser’s moral bind is not just possible, it has been confirmed. I don’t know what effect it has on his findings, so I’m not going to draw any conclusions from it that might be unsupportable.

  70. Olorin:

    Please pardon the argumentum ad dictionarium. Morality is “1. The quality of being in accord with standards of right or good conduct. 2. A system of ideas of right and wrong conduct:”

    Most religions attempt to define the standards and ideas of morality from the desires of a deity. Evolutionary biologists attempt to define them based upon natural adaptations.

    How do genetic changes define moral standards? How does that work?

  71. Nick Matzke:

    Butler says again and again that “man is a law unto himself”, which is another way of stating the above (note to nervous types: Butler is not saying anything like the idea that morality is a matter of personal opinion; he instead appeals to the universal nature of humanity to argue that morality is objective).

    What common human properties allow for an objective determination of moral values? How is the objective determination derived?

  72. he instead appeals to the universal nature of humanity to argue that morality is objective).

    Morality is somehow tied to adaptation? Or is it tied to genetic modifications? From my limited understanding of naturalistic evolution, prescriptive adaptations and prescriptive genetic modifications do not exist. In other words, there is no immoral way to evolve, or wrong way to evolve. There is no violation of prescriptives when going against universal human nature. “Right evolving” is irrelevant under naturalism.

  73. You are right: there is no “right evolving;” but the evolutionists will tell you there is the evolving of what we consider right. Yet earlier Nick said it was dismissive and therefore wrong in some since for me to say that using the terms “right and wrong” was an evolved labeling behavior. Whether that’s dismissive or not, however, depends on whether it’s plausibly true or not; and nothing I’ve heard so far leads me to doubt that it’s plausibly true.

    At the time he said that he went on to say,

    A more accurate statement would be that on the theory that natural selection gave humans a much-enhanced capacity for memory and reflection — what with our huge brains and all — and that this gives us the ability to plan, generalize, empathize, and decide what actions or combinations of actions are best in terms of satisfying our innate needs and desires, i.e. what actions are right and wrong, rather than just following whatever innate impulse is strongest at the moment, which is presumably what all animals except the most intelligent do.

    As I said earlier, this would be a good reason to use terms like “genetically successful,” “adaptive,” etc. for the actions or combinations of actions are best in terms of satisfying our innate needs and desires, and it’s hard to see why “right” is a better term than these.

    To this, I expect to hear this objection: it’s anachronistic to expect terms like “successful” and “adaptive” to have developed for use in that manner. Only now do we know that’s what has been going on in these processes.

    But now we do know. And we know that (according to naturalistic evolution), “right” is behaviorally synonymous with “successful” or “adaptive.” Taking the large look that Nick has recommended we take does not change that reality at all. So now we know enough that we can use the terms synoymously, and we also know (again, according to NE) that “right” has no meaning beyond “successful” and “adaptive.” And that frees up people in the know, like Bering, to draw the conclusion that, for those who decide not to care about the successful propagation of their own genes or of the species, “right is irrelevant.” The conclusion fairly jumps out, in fact.

    Is it a necessary conclusion? I think so, but at the same time I don’t know if it even matters. It is a possible conclusion, a supportable conclusion, and in fact an actual conclusion that actual people have arrived at, including Bering, a well-established researcher of evolutionary behavior. He concluded it, and he doesn’t seem to be one to misunderstand what evolution says about behavior.

    And that is really quite enough to confirm my main thesis for this blog post: Evolution—the naturalistic sort—is dangerous.

  74. A common theme to some comments is citing of the large human brain and the ability it confers to reason and consider matters of right and wrong. But that is not how the issue is framed. Rather we note the importance of attaching a natural selection concept. Simply noting human advanced intelligence is deemed insufficient. But how does a natural selection perspective add anything useful to a discussion of right and wrong? Citing a capacity for rational thought and linking it to an ability to analyze right and wrong becomes more meaningful, within a selection paradigm, for exactly what reason? Olorin? Olegt? Nick? Anyone?

  75. Bradford wrote:

    But how does a natural selection perspective add anything useful to a discussion of right and wrong? Citing a capacity for rational thought and linking it to an ability to analyze right and wrong becomes more meaningful, within a selection paradigm, for exactly what reason? Olorin? Olegt? Nick? Anyone?

    Bradford,

    The answer is in Bering’s blog post. You wouldn’t know this of course because Tom chose to carefully crop the one paragraph he quoted in the opening post of this thread. Here is the paragraph in all of its glory. I preserved Tom’s ellipses and just added the missing portion at the end in boldface type.

    If you believe, as I do, that we live in a natural rather than a supernatural world, then there is no inherent, divinely inspired reason to be sexually exclusive to one’s partner. If you and your partner want to … [multiple suggested acts, omitted for reasons of decency] … then by all means do so (and take pictures). … Right is irrelevant. There is only what works and what doesn’t work, within context, in biologically adaptive terms. And so even though any good and proper citizen is an evolutionarily informed sexual libertarian, Darwin provides no more insight into a moral reality than, say, Dr. Laura Schlessinger.

    So plain and simple, Bradford, Bering says that Darwin’s theory does not shed much light on the questions of right and wrong. In short, he shares Phil Anderson’s viewpoint that psychology is not applied biology. You’ve heard this one before, haven’t you?

    I’ll be blunt. Tom has manufactured this controversy by mangling Bering’s quote. Bering says: biology is too blunt a tool to elucidate how humans tell right from wrong. Tom’s interpretation: evolutionary biology is evil. It doesn’t follow, of course. Chemistry, too, is not the right tool for the understanding of right and wrong. Let’s declare chemistry evil. And physics, too.

    What a joke.

  76. It would be more appropriate, olegt, for you to respond to this before you respond to what has been posted since. Especially since it rebutted your most recent post before you even wrote it.

  77. Tom,

    Apparently, Bradford did not get your memo, either. Why would he even ask a question about \a natural selection perspective\ on matters of right and wrong?

    The answer is because you, willingly or not, misrepresented Bering’s point. Bering’s answer is clear if one reads his post, but not your carefully cropped quote.

  78. I’ll be blunt too, now.

    I would appreciate it, olegt, if you would can the self-righteousness. You came 1.3% closer (by computer-aided word count) to a complete and full quotation of Bering’s discussion, and you tell us that you have thereby rescued it from a mangling. Meanwhile you’re ignoring the entire context of what’s been said in the whole rest of this discussion, as I have just indicated. And you have the nerve to tell us that I manufactured a controversy by leaving out one sentence?

    Look in the mirror, olegt! It’s the same thing I said to Nick.

    Here’s what it looks like from here. There is an entire argument going on here, with premises, logic, and conclusions, and you’re snipping off a little LMU you think you can find and laughing at it. While you’re playing your little games, there’s a real discussion going on here. Why don’t you join in?

  79. Bradford, do you get memos from me? Do you, SteveK? Holopupenko?

    olegt, your self-righteousness smudges the pages again here, as you imply that we’re all lockstep thinkers, clones and drones. That kind of bigoted stereotyping in any other context would get you hauled before the Faculty Senate. And you know it.

  80. I’m not laughing, Tom. That rescued sentence might not constitute the bulk of the quote if measured in letters, but it is the punch line. Eliminate it and you lose half the content. That’s what happened.

    You had a good sound byte without that sentence. With it, not so much.

  81. While you’re re-reading Bering’s article—which I’m confident you’re doing now, so that you won’t mangle it by pulling things out of context—here’s something for you to look for. True, Bering said that Darwin provides no moral insight. What conclusions, what insight does Bering draw from that?

    Or should we just draw our entire conclusions from the 1.3% of his article that you deemed worthy to place in bold font?

    Hypocrite.

  82. Tom,

    Relax. I count myself among those who did not get the memo. Did you notice the word either in my comment? There was nothing political whatsoever in that sentence.

  83. I won’t draw conclusion for you, Tom. Instead, I’ll quote another paragraph from the middle of Bering’s post, which might help you and the others in your lively debate.

    Heartbreak is every bit as much a psychological adaptation as is the compulsion to have sex with those other than our partners, and it throws a monster of a monkey wrench into the evolutionists’ otherwise practical polyamory. It’s indeed natural for people—especially men—to seek sexual variety. My partner once likened this to having the same old meal over and over again, for years on end; eventually you’re going to get some serious cravings for a different dish. But I reminded him that people aren’t the equivalent of a plate of spaghetti. Unfortunately, we have feelings.

    We report, you decide.

  84. I get memo’s from Tom all the time. They’re great. Without them, I wouldn’t know what I believe and why I believe it. Tom says I should believe in God and Christianity. Who am I to question Tom?

  85. It’s your cross, Tom… and it’s a very difficult one to bear. Your’re doing really, really well. Cling to it, embrace it, stay the course, and let Him strengthen you. Faith is a gift–not something to be bought or won. Your faithfulness, I’m certain, is being used even now in ways we cannot imagine. There are many readers of this blog who, on the other side of glory, will bathe you in gratitude. Keep Christ always and in all ways your focus and your summum bonum goal. Rest in the assurance He is with you and your readers… ALL of them.

  86. Olegt quoting Bering:

    If you believe, as I do, that we live in a natural rather than a supernatural world, then there is no inherent, divinely inspired reason to be sexually exclusive to one’s partner.

    Brilliant heh? Let me interpret this oh so insightful remark. If you believe there is no God (which Bering does) then God has not inspired a reason to not cheat. Let me extrapolate. If you believe Mariano Rivera’s fastball would not hurt if it hit you, then getting beaned by Mariano is no reason to duck from a pitch headed toward your head. Bering will eventually find out that he had reason not to cheat; his unbelief notwithstanding. But this is America Olegt. He has his right to believe that which pleases him. Back to the original point.

    Olorin captured the spirit of the times when he wrote:

    Evolutionary biologists attempt to define them based upon natural adaptations… Remember that Bering says only that there is no “divinely inspired reason” to follow a moral code in a natural world. He entirely ignores that evolutionary morality creates negative emotions when its moral code is broken. In the same way, evolutionary adaptations cause posonous plants to taste bad to us. The principle is the same.

    So Olegt, read the comments. You wrote:

    Apparently, Bradford did not get your memo, either. Why would he even ask a question about \a natural selection perspective\ on matters of right and wrong?

    The answer is because you, willingly or not, misrepresented Bering’s point. Bering’s answer is clear if one reads his post, but not your carefully cropped quote.

    But the answer to your question Olegt, is found in the comment that started this chain reaction:

    A common theme to some comments is citing of the large human brain and the ability it confers to reason and consider matters of right and wrong. But that is not how the issue is framed. Rather we note the importance of attaching a natural selection concept. Simply noting human advanced intelligence is deemed insufficient. But how does a natural selection perspective add anything useful to a discussion of right and wrong? Citing a capacity for rational thought and linking it to an ability to analyze right and wrong becomes more meaningful, within a selection paradigm, for exactly what reason? Olorin? Olegt? Nick? Anyone?

    The large human brain remark goes back to a Nick Matzke comment and the natural selection angle comes from Olorin. If you fed Bering truth serum he would agree with Matzke and Olorin.

  87. Tom,

    Give it a rest already. I wasn’t stereotyping anyone when I wrote that Bradford, like me, didn’t get the memo since he kept asking “how does a natural selection perspective add anything useful to a discussion of right and wrong?” (To remind you, the answer to that question was provided by Bering in that 1.3% of his blog post.)

    I did not “stereotype” anyone in that comment. You did when you suggested that I would get “hauled before the Faculty Senate” for making insensitive remarks—if they were directed at someone else (no politics here, of course!). It reflects your stereotype of university professors as thought police enforcing political correctness. I’ll let you look into that mirror and chide that hypocrite.

  88. olegt,

    I’ll accept that correction, thank you, and apologize to you and to university faculties, especially faculty members who read this.

    Now, can we get back on the subject? And for Pete’s sake, your convenient reliance on 1.3% of a blog post continues to refute your own self-righteousness in claiming I took things out of context.

  89. Olegt:

    I wasn’t stereotyping anyone when I wrote that Bradford, like me, didn’t get the memo since he kept asking “how does a natural selection perspective add anything useful to a discussion of right and wrong?”

    You were not stereotyping. But you did engage in sloppy reading. It was clear enough in the original comment that I was referencing the comments of others in the thread. But if there was confusion it was certainly cleared up by my following comment which you ignored. You owe Tom an apology.

  90. Olegt to Tom:

    It reflects your stereotype of university professors as thought police enforcing political correctness.

    Not all of them are like that of course. There are original thinkers among that group. But generally speaking, thought police enforcing political correctness, is an accurate, albeit generalized description.

  91. 76. Tom Gilson

    You assume incorrectly that Bering or I assume incorrectly that all morality is limited to the theological kind. Bering draws his conclusions without respect to theology. I draw my conclusions about the entailments for naturalism from naturalism itself.

    Bering does assume a theological morality. That’s why he said a believer in a natural world has “no inherent, divinely inspired reason” to be sexually faithful.

    Bering is correct that evolution itself is not prescriptive. Yet evolution can and does provide adaptations that prescribe or influence behavior, whether by a sense of right/wrong, pleasant/evil smells, or whatever. (This was the point of the “Remember that” paragraph in comment 72.) Although humans are the only animals that seem to recognize their own emotions, the landscape is littered with species that have codes of right behavior—and cheating on those codes, and punishment of cheaters. Why should we not call this “morality”?

    Naturalism does not entail that “right is irrelevant.” If it did, declared atheists would not feel guilt about killing people for their pocket change, as long as they thought they could get away with it. Studies have shown that atheists and agnostics have a sense of right and wrong (a morality) that is not only at the same level as believers, but nearly identical in content.

    There are indeed people for whom right is irrelevant. But we call these people “sociopaths,” not “naturalists.”

  92. Olorin,

    Thanks for that latest response. It was thoughtful and you raised some good questions.

    I indicated in my more recent blog post that I’m working on yet another post related to this topic. I think it will address what you’ve said here. It’s turning out to be longer and in some ways more interesting than I envisioned it, so I may try to bump it up from “blog post” level to something more professional. That will take some time, so I ask you to indulge me with some time before I respond to what you just wrote.

  93. Thank you, Tom. Being generally impatient with philosophy, I am not a regular reader here. But you have my address.

    PS: Can you do something about CAPTCHA? It’s normally hard enough on these tired old eyes, but this time, one word is in the Greek alphabet. (Near as I can puzzle out, it would translate as “chamber pot of God.”)

  94. Yikes! 🙂

    I wish you had taken a screen shot of that! There isn’t much I can do about captcha, except that you can avoid it altogether if you register as a user on the site. Registration doesn’t do anything other than that, really. It doesn’t collect any more information than just leaving a comment (IIRC), and it doesn’t put you on any “lists.”

  95. “There’s only one reason we don’t do that to each other every chance we get: empathy. That’s what Bering says holds human morality together.”

    But isn’t empathy the most fundamental message of Jesus Christ? Isn’t that focus on empathy the primary difference between the Old and New Testaments?

    “By no means would I diminish the value of empathy… Of course empathy is better explained on theism than naturalism.”

    I don’t see your dichotomy here. Doesn’t naturalism explain theism, too?

  96. Birdseye, re: 4:54 pm yesterday:

    Thank you for dropping by, and I hope you feel welcome and stick around!

    With regard to “naturalism,” I suspect you’re thinking of another concept related to nature, like appreciation for nature perhaps. I should have defined it here as I’m using it. In this context, naturalism is the philosophical doctrine that matter, energy, and their interactions according to natural law and chance are all that exist. It specifically excludes the existence of God, and therefore does not explain theism.

    I don’t disagree with what you said about empathy at all, but in biblical ethics, it is not that which holds human morality together. Human morality in biblical terms is based in the good character of God himself. Further, Bering’s conception of empathy as an evolved mechanism is not quite the same as the biblical conception of empathy as a reflection of God’s relational love.

  97. With regard to “naturalism,” I suspect you’re thinking of another concept related to nature…In this context, naturalism is the philosophical doctrine that matter, energy, and their interactions according to natural law and chance are all that exist.

    I’m not. I’m using the definition that you’ve previously written and explicitly pointed me to in the other evolution thread (emphasis mine):

    To put it another way: how we interpret the evidences of natural history is inevitably colored by the presuppositions we bring in to the question with us. The NAS position is functionally one of ontological materialism (also known as philosophical materialism, or philosophical naturalism). It does not go so far as saying there is nothing but natural phenomena, but it only admits natural phenomena into discussion.

    So then you clearly said it does not go so far, but now you clearly do.

    It specifically excludes the existence of God, and therefore does not explain theism.

    Theism is belief in God, and everyone, even those who do not believe in the reality of God, agrees that such beliefs exist. Evolutionary theory is not puzzled by theism and its associated behaviors.

    I don’t disagree with what you said about empathy at all, but in biblical ethics, it is not that which holds human morality together. Human morality in biblical terms is based in the good character of God himself.

    “Therefore all things whatsoever ye would that men should do to you, do ye even so to them: for this is the law and the prophets.”
    Matthew 7:12

    Further, Bering’s conception of empathy as an evolved mechanism is not quite the same as the biblical conception of empathy as a reflection of God’s relational love.

    Of course, and I wouldn’t make such a claim. But empathy is empathy regardless of what one believes about its origin.

  98. Of course, and I wouldn’t make such a claim. But empathy is empathy regardless of what one believes about its origin.

    True that our beliefs about empathy don’t change what empathy is. What empathy is cannot be the same in both scenarios – you agreed with Tom on that – so origins have everything to do with it.

  99. Birdseye,

    I’ll start with the theism issue and then move onto some really interesting stuff. “Explaining theism” is possible on naturalism, if by theism you mean a false belief in some theistic God; you’re right there, but in an irrelevant kind of way, because you switched the subject en route. It happened here, and I’ll admit I missed it when you did it. Actually, it’s such an odd maneuver to take in an argument, I didn’t think of anyone using it, which is why I didn’t catch it. You wrote, first quoting me and then answering,

    “By no means would I diminish the value of empathy… Of course empathy is better explained on theism than naturalism.”

    I don’t see your dichotomy here. Doesn’t naturalism explain theism, too?

    You jumped from what I was talking about, which was comparing the worldview of theism (if it is true) to that of naturalism (if it is true) as explanations of empathy, to using naturalism as an explanation of belief in theism, which of course is a false belief, on naturalism. I’ll admit I thought your wording was a little strange at the time. I had to interpret it somehow, and the thought that you might be making such a switch never entered my head. My bad. Yours too: you posted such a strange, non sequitur kind of question, it wasn’t easy to see what you were getting at.

    Now, on to what you said about that quote on the NAS position. First (and this still relatively boring), that simply was not in any way a definition of naturalism, so it’s more than passing strange that you would represent it as such. That’s sufficient to answer your point here.

    But it’s not nearly as interesting as this, which is just utterly fascinatin’! At 4:54 pm yesterday, you wrote,

    I don’t see your dichotomy here. Doesn’t naturalism explain theism, too?

    At 7:40 am this morning, I replied,

    With regard to “naturalism,” I suspect you’re thinking of another concept related to nature, like appreciation for nature perhaps….

    Just now you answered,

    I’m not. I’m using the definition that you’ve previously written and explicitly pointed me to in the other evolution thread (emphasis mine)

    To put it another way: how we interpret the evidences of natural history is inevitably colored by the presuppositions we bring in to the question with us. The NAS position is functionally one of ontological materialism (also known as philosophical materialism, or philosophical naturalism). It does not go so far as saying there is nothing but natural phenomena, but it only admits natural phenomena into discussion.

    The “other evolution thread” was this one. I pointed to it in a comment I wrote at 7:53 am today.

    So when you wrote what you did about naturalism, you did a really amazing thing. My son is a professional magician, and I’m sure he’d love to meet you and learn some things from you. When you wrote what you did yesterday at 4:54 pm, you did it with a definition in mind that you tell us I had steered you toward. And you did it almost exactly 15 hours before I did that steering, this morning at 7:53 am. Stunning!

    Or else, Birdseye, you just lied to me.

    Which shall I take as more likely? Which is it?

  100. Theism is belief in God, and everyone, even those who do not believe in the reality of God, agrees that such beliefs exist. Evolutionary theory is not puzzled by theism and its associated behaviors.

    This is the trouble with the philosophy behind the facts of the theory. Tom says evolutionary theory can’t explain theism, and you say, in so many words, that it can. I talked about this briefly here in terms of the theory explaining moral prescriptives.

    If I understand your comment correctly, the theory explains how Tom’s belief in God comes to exist, and the theory explains why his belief is false. The philosophy behind this is that naturalism can explain everything in a “heads, naturalism is the answer, tails, theism is not the answer” sort of way.

  101. Hey, I’m spotting a pattern here (which permits me to make predictions, doesn’t!): DL is caught being dishonest, then olegt, and now Birdseye… AND all three are atheists.

    Hmmm…

  102. SteveK:

    This is the trouble with the philosophy behind the facts of the theory.

    I can’t parse this sentence at all.

    Facts are facts. They exist independently of philosophy and theory.

  103. Tom:

    You jumped from what I was talking about, which was comparing the worldview of theism (if it is true) to that of naturalism (if it is true) as explanations of empathy, to using naturalism as an explanation of belief in theism,…

    No, there’s no such thing as a “belief in theism.” Theism is by definition a belief.

    The NAS position is functionally one of ontological materialism (also known as philosophical materialism, or philosophical naturalism). It does not go so far as saying there is nothing but natural phenomena, but it only admits natural phenomena into discussion.

    You cited this in the other thread, which FWIW is a definition with which I agree. I’m simply pointing out that I agree with it, and not the definition you offered in this one.

    The fact that I wrote,
    “I’m using the definition that you’ve previously written and explicitly pointed me to in the other evolution thread…”

    …doesn’t mean that you should infer that I was using it BECAUSE you pointed me to it afterward, just that I agree with it. So your dichotomy of magic/lying is contrived.

    That leaves the question of whether ontological materialism/philosophical materialism/philosophical naturalism does or does not require that there exists nothing beyond natural phenomena.

    Also, I’m still wondering why you view Jesse Bering as the standard bearer of scientific endorsement instead of, say, Francis Collins.

  104. Birdseye,

    I don’t really consider this at all fruitful. Sorry.

    When you say,

    No, there’s no such thing as a “belief in theism.” Theism is by definition a belief.

    …you are just wrong.

    When you say,

    I’m simply pointing out that I agree with it, and not the definition you offered in this one.

    …you’re being disingenuous about your lie, and you’re also being mule-headed over what the definition of naturalism is. If you don’t want to use my definition of naturalism—which is a standard definition, by the way—then your objections to “naturalism,” whatever you mean by it, are no objection to the naturalism of which I speak. It’s a waste of time.

    When you say,

    Also, I’m still wondering why you view Jesse Bering as the standard bearer of scientific endorsement instead of, say, Francis Collins.

    …you are being amazingly obtuse. Did I say Bering was the standard bearer instead of Collins? Can they not both bear a standard? Obviously. But it escapes you somehow.

    When you say,

    It’s not an issue of how he views things. The issue is your claim that his view isn’t on the bare periphery:

    … first, Singer is not on the bare periphery; to say that he is displays your need either to wake up or to do some homework before you represent yourself as knowing something about him; and second, this issue you claim is “the issue” is a very recent invention of yours. The other issue was indeed the issue earlier. You’re changing the subject again.

    When you say,

    You’re simply trying to support “evolution is dangerous” by portraying Singer’s utilitarian lunacy as representative of biologists.

    … you have somehow blocked out that I’m trying to support that thesis (insert “naturalistic,” though) by a host of arguments; and I didn’t mention Singer until you brought him up.

    You need not expect me to respond at such length again. This is clearly not getting us anywhere.

  105. This too is just terribly uninformed or naive, Birdseye:

    Facts are facts. They exist independently of philosophy and theory.

    You speak with great confidence, but it does not appear you’ve paid the dues—education and experience—to earn it.

  106. Facts are facts. They exist independently of philosophy and theory.

    .
    Sorry, Birdseye. As scientific instruments become increasingly complex, the link between fact and theory becomes increasingly strong. A lecture series I’m now taking offers this example—

    The telescope and the mechanical calculator were invented about the same time. If you multiply two numbers with the calculator, you can check the accuracy of the result. If you discover blobs around Jupiter with a telescope, how do you check whether they are moons or optical artifacts? More modernly, we detect neutrinos by observing a gamma ray of a certain energy which results from an unobserved theoretical muon reaction which results from an unobserved theoretical neutrino collision.

    Stephen Jay Gould laid out an excellent description of scientific fact some years ago.[1] He used the criterion of confirmation to the point that dissent would be perverse. I might weaken that a little to confirmation to the point that one can feel confident in assuming it for establishing further facts.

    ===================

    [1] Gould, “Evolution as Fact and Theory,” in Hen’s Teeth and Horses Toes (Norton 1981). On-line here.

  107. Pardon the interruption in the flow of thought, but I want to let you know that the follow-up piece I’ve been promising for this topic will be delayed. I’ve written most of it, but before I post it here, I want to get some others’ opinions on whether it has potential as a journal article. Thanks for your patience.

  108. I assume your forthcoming post will add to or supersede Daniel Dennett’s 1996 book, “Darwin’s Dangerous Idea.”

    And that it will discuss how the danger of the theory of evolution differs in kind from, say, the danger of the theory of nuclear fission.

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