Sunday, June 21, 2009

Gracepoint Berkeley Apologetics MYT: Morality and God

Objective moral values can exist without God. We don’t have to believe in God to live moral lives; many of my atheist or agnostic friends are good, decent people. As an atheist, I can and do live by a system of ethics, which I formulated without needing to hypothesize the existence of a wrathful Judge in the sky. I treat other people with respect because I know they are human beings just like me. I also believe we should treat each other according to moral rules because that benefits me and society in the long run, which is objectively true. None of this even remotely involves God. Doesn't this undercut any moral argument for God's existence?

48 comments:

Joy Tang said...

I would ask the person, when you say that you treat other people with respect because they are human beings, where did this idea of respect come from? If you don't believe that there is a God, then where does your idea of what's good or wrong, or the idea of respect, come from in the first place? Where did this system of ethics come from? Where did your idea that human beings "should" be treated with respect come from?
If you believe that basic human respect is necessary for a society to run well, what about Hitler? There was no human respect during that time, and yet, the society ran pretty "well" in their, Hitler's and the Nazi's, point of view.

Caroline said...

I'll take a stab at this! An assumption that I immediately recognized in this comment from our "atheist" is that the person believes that Christians are driven by fear of a wrathful God when it comes to doing acts of charity/living a moral life. This person might be thinking Christians are being forced to act good, and therefore, their morality is not as genuine/true as his own set of morality. I would first point this out, and then go on to ask him about how he formulated (on his own) his morality. In the end, we get our morality from somewhere - so where did all of the concepts of "good" morality start from? I'm not sure if I'm headed in the right direction, but would it be wise to ask what he means by "moral rule"? Because, one person's "moral rules" can be totally different from another person's "moral rules" (relativism)if there are no absolute moral standards. Can you really tolerate/agree with a person that believes that killing and torturing non-white people are moral (even though they strongly believe they are moral). For these murderous people, killing off non-whites is "beneficial" to the society because it makes the cause of the white society "better" (in their eyes). In the end, I want this person to see that without a set of morals, morality will be just like "ice cream" or whatever is most popular at that time. now, how to connect this with God is where I get stuck at...

albert wang said...

@Caroline's comment, "As an atheist, I can and do live by a system of ethics, which I formulated without needing to hypothesize the existence of a wrathful Judge in the sky." - this is the key phrase that lists the assumption that God is 'wrathful' in his Judgement. I definitely agree.

I think I would approach the argument in a similar light, talking about how society in all actuality ENFORCES social norms and a sense of morality within us. However, there is something innate within us, a sense of basic right and wrong which didn't come from evolution. It doesn't make sense that all of us arrived at the same set of morals through a series of chain reactions. Wouldn't there be much more sense of diversity? But the fact that we as a human race more or less ascribe to the same set of morals/ethics is in my mind, a case for intelligent design.

Roy Lo said...

These comments are great; please keep them coming!

In response to Joy: Well, the idea that I need to treat people with respect can come from a variety of different sources. First, it can be intuitively obvious, such as mathematical propositions; it is intuitively obvious that torturing babies is wrong, just like it is obvious 1+1=2. Second, it can come as a result of our evolutionary adaptation as a species; after all, we survive better if we all obeyed a common set of rules instead of beating each other up all the time. Third, it can come through my ability to empathize with someone else and recognize other people are just like me, and so it is in my interest to treat other people the way I want to be treated, lest they reciprocate my bad acts. Again, none of this seems to require bringing God into the picture, and I don't need a religious text to tell me how to live a decent life, do I?

I disagree with your point about Nazi Germany. For example, if Hitler had his way, he would have killed Einstein, and maybe we would have never discovered his theories of relativity. Thus, Hitler's genocide is immoral because it harms society and the entire human race in the long run.

[By the way, I'd like to change the prompt so that now you can argue for either side of the debate. I don't really want to be the only atheist representative here.]

Roy Lo said...

In response to Caroline: The atheist I am playing believes in objective morality. It would be a red herring to start talking about moral relativism, because despite my atheism, I am not a moral relativist. I believe objective moral values exist. This value system applies to everyone, regardless of how many people believe or disbelieve it, because it arises through evolution, or our common status as sentient beings (see end of Time article reading from last week), or from intuition.

Brian Wang said...

I wouldn't be satisfied with the answer that objective morality is something that comes from our own are able to spew up on their own without any common reference point- that would be subjective at best. However I could see that it's more plausible that an outside force such as evolution could have developed our mental faculties to think in this ethical way for general survival of the species. To be objective, there needs to be some universal outside of ourselves. In the case of evolution, it would need to be imprinted somwhere in our genetic material. (But if that's the case! What about mutation, does this mean our morality can be messed up from mutation?) Anyways...

What is problematic about how morality arises through evolution is that in the end what that is saying is morality is a by-product, a need for our species as a whole to survive, there still isn't anything that is "good" or "bad." Just whatever allows us to survive. At the end of the day, ethics is merely an illusion to convince ourselves that this would be the best way to survive, the best way to benefit me or society. Evolution is a totally impersonal force, it's goal is just to make a species stronger than it previously was.

But if this is so... why is it the case that it's wrong to kill old people, or people with disabilities? Wouldn't it benefit the whole evolutionary process to rid ourselves of genetically "inferior" people? In the long run, would it really benefit you or society to keep people like this around? Is this really objectively true?

Roy Lo said...

In response to Brian: "I wouldn't be satisfied with the answer that objective morality is something that comes from our own are able to spew up on their own without any common reference point- that would be subjective at best."

Really? But isn't it intuitively obvious that murder and torture are wrong? I mean, I don't have to read the Bible or Koran to figure that out, right? In fact, I think even Christians who argue against moral relativism take the stance that moral principles are intuitively obvious, and we cannot rely on external references, such as social approval, to define ethics.

Also, you are right in saying evolution drives species to become stronger and better adapted, which I think can be a basis for ethics. It would not necessarily lead us to kill the weak or infirm, however, for a couple of reasons. Can anyone come up with one?

Ellen said...

In response to Roy and Brian: It is true that mutation in gene usually results in harmful effect in organism. I guess if we apply the same logic, what Brian say will be true that mutation in the our gene can bring out bad morality (behavior). But this messed up morality would not survive to be passed down to next generation. Unlike biological mutation, messed morality can seriously harm the whole family or community. Hence, by natural selection, messed up morality would be filtered out, and only good and helpful morality would be passed down.

In response to the atheist's question, I would ask how evolution adaption can explain how certain not-so-beneficial behaviors still exits in our world and are increasing in numbers (wars, divorce, addiction, hate crimes).

Brian Wang said...

I guess my issue was that intuition though necessary for us to understand morality, it isn't sufficient by itself for the existence of objective morality. It would need to be grounded in something that is apart from ourselves. In the religion it would stem from an existence of God an objective being, while in the naturalist standpoint it would the overarching evolutionary mechanism used for us to survive.

If it is something built-in, where did it come from? What is it's function? How is it that all of us experience the similar outrage on "torturing babies for fun?"

If ethics comes from evolution there's a number of implications. If it's from God, that also has a number of implications.

Robert said...

"But isn't it intuitively obvious that murder and torture are wrong? I mean, I don't have to read the Bible or Koran to figure that out, right? In fact, I think even Christians who argue against moral relativism take the stance that moral principles are intuitively obvious, and we cannot rely on external references, such as social approval, to define ethics."

Christians believe that we were created in the image of God, and therefore we have the capacity to be good and to know good. Indeed, knowing that murder is wrong is indeed intuitive. However, when you say that it is wrong - you are talking about something that is objective. In order to be objective, there must be some standard to which you are comparing the action to, to see if it is "wrong" or "right." Without God, however, where would this standard come from? We already recognized that it doesn't come from society, individuals, or evolution. If this is true, then it must be some transient being who goes beyond society, individuals, and evolution. This is God.

Barry Ko said...

I am a new Christian. My reflections may not be relevant to bible teachings. I apologize in advance for any mistakes i may have made.
I treat the morality and ethics as laws.
If there exist an implicit, mutually respected law, then there should be also be an enforcer and judge of the law. Else it becomes meaningless. If this law orders are generally violate by human and not receiving any form of penalty by a supernatural judge, then the verdicts are nullified and the “laws” deteriorates to a sets of rules which we could obey or not.
In the absence of God, human themselves act as the judges and law enforcers according to the legal system. Human actions are hard to be government by mundane laws because it is not perfect. Human legal system can’t really enforce this because laws are subjective, vague. The subjectivity of legal system can be illustrated by the difference in legal system in each country. For example, in Afghanistan , it is "ilegal for a Shia Muslim woman to refuse to have sex with her husband”, which doesn’t sound quite right from western’s standard. The vagueness of law allows certain people to get away free). Human law also in the past failed to punish a certain group of power holders in this world like Hitler, Mao or Stalin.
Thus human’s standard and perception of right and wrong(ethics) is imperfect . And thus God is crucial for objective sets of rules because God’s mandates (Moral) should be perfect and God acts as the ultimate judge. Thus we believe a person who committed crimes is not punished in this world would ultimately receive the judgment after his/her death.

Iskandar said...

Not being a philosophy major - I may not have my basic terminology down correctly so please bear with me...

One area that I don't quite understand is: Why would a morality that arises from evolution not be considered objective? Robert just argued that God would need to exist in order for there to be a moral standard. And that standard is necessary so that our moral codes can be compared to it and thus be considered "objective".

But what if the "standard" for comparison is merely "the best way to survive" or "the best way to pass along your genes"? Would that necessitate the existence of a god? In essence, there would be no such thing as "right" or "wrong" as we would normally define it. But only a spectrum of what helps us survive more effectively or less effectively.

And an individual's desire to survive can have communal and generational implications as well. A couple posts earlier, Roy asked if there were any situations in which an evolution-defined ethics would lead us to not kill the old or the weak. The "selfish gene" theory posits that our actions are influenced by the desire to ensure that our genes (or even genes similar to ours) get passed along and survive. Knowing that behavior is often reciprocated, we would want to treat others in a way such that the reciprocation of it would ensure the survival of our genes. In our example, it would mean that I would not want to kill older people because I, myself, would not want to be killed when I get older.

If individuals survived based on this understanding of the human tendency to reciprocate, it suggests that an individual's desire to survive could positively influence the survival of the society as a whole. This is because a society would merely be the sum total of each person's recognition of a need for mutually beneficial ethics. And this would be on top of just an individual's motivation to create a society that enables him/her to survive best.

Jasper said...

I'd like to make several comments addressing Roy's original post:

(a) I'm making the point that objective moral values cannot exist without God. For the sake of this discussion, I will only insist that "God" refer to a higher power rather than the Christian God or any other particular God. The comment about "a wrathful judge in the sky" can be addressed in a separate discussion on the nature of God.

(b) I wouldn't argue that atheists cannot live moral lives, because actually, I believe they can. However, I do say that their morality cannot be objective, in that they have no basis for insisting that their standard of morality apply to everybody else in the same way.

(c) "I treat other people with respect because I know they are human beings just like me." - While this may be true of you, you cannot argue that this is objective and the same sentiment applies to others. A glance through the pages of a newspaper will assure you that no, the mere fact that people are all human beings does not mean that they will treat each other with respect.

(d) "I also believe we should treat each other according to moral rules because that benefits me and society in the long run, which is objectively true." - I don't see how this is objectively true. There are instances where the individual can sacrifice his personal interests for the good of society in the long run. But in the long run, the individual is dead before he can experience any of that societal benefit. Why should an individual do that? Don't beg the question by saying something to the extent of "for the greater good," or "for future generations."

Arie said...

Adding to Iskandar's post; it's true that a society can function based upon evolutionary cosmology and reasoning based on survival (the part about awareness of reciprocation was especially compelling for me). However, the fact that we can "get by" does not explain or match the higher ethics we have. Iskandar said:

"If individuals survived based on this understanding of the human tendency to reciprocate, it suggests that an individual's desire to survive could positively influence the survival of the society as a whole. This is because a society would merely be the sum total of each person's recognition of a need for mutually beneficial ethics. And this would be on top of just an individual's motivation to create a society that enables him/her to survive best."

Can we look at this picture of society and its motivation for mutual benefit and call it "noble?" We may call it "practical" or "sensible," but it would not reach the heights of what we would consider to be noble or inspiring--and yet this kind of vocabulary exists. My issue with the survivalist, mutual-benefit ethics is that it does not fit reality, in that it falls short of explaining the capacity for higher ethics that takes us beyond our instinctual desire to survive or benefit from one another.

To respond also to Roy regarding the "intuitively obvious" nature of moral principles: Intuition is by definition subjective, and therefore cannot be a standard for something "objective." It may be the case that many people would intuitively agree on certain moral principles (especially in extreme cases as "murder" and "torture"), but this confirms nothing objective. It would still be a collection of subjective senses.

Tim Choi said...

I would say that objective moral values cannot come from evolution alone. This morality, if one could call it such, can be somewhat defined in our present day (ex. don't kill people). However, one can hardly begin to label it as objective, especially if by objective we mean valid and binding regardless of whether people follow it. The driving force behind such a morality is the survival of our species, which immediately makes it subjective to circumstance.

Jenny Zhao said...

(reposting something different b/c I don't remember my last one)
Arie makes a really good point. While it seems logically possible that an "objective" moral code could arise out of survival of the fittest, the reality is that our ethics do go beyond a simple what "benefits me best" approach. Isn't it true that humans find something beautiful in giving freely without having to be reciprocated? Today I was on the street for 2 1/2 hours raising money for hungry children and many people were willing to give to a cause that they knew would not mutually benefit them in return; what could be said about this type of compassion? Are you ready to say that things like "higher ethics" (as Arie calls them) are just illusions?

Roy Lo said...

Anyone want to comment on what they think is the best approach to this question, or any issues they see in some of the answers thus far?

kenton said...

One thing that seems to be persistent through many people's view of "survival of the fittest" or "what benefits me" is that it is a purely physical, "might makes right" standpoint. But isn't it the fact that we have become so highly evolved that we developed such things as feelings and emotions (as we are such highly social beings). Isn't it true that it is becoming more apparent that people need to be emotionally and mentally healthy in order to survive? So in response to Jenny's point, yes there is no direct physical benefit, but there definitely can be an emotional and mentally benefit for the person giving the money. That compassion could provide a feeling of happiness and goodness about themselves. So in regards to Roy's earlier response about why I don't need to kill old people, well it could be that I have an emotional investment in that person. That older person may be useless physically, but emotionally and mentally he/she can be of great strength to me. I think it is key to note that survival requires more than just physical health, but mental and emotional as well.

Jacquelin said...

If natural selection/ evolution were responsible for creating our moral values, then these moral values cannot be “objective” in the sense that there’s absolute right and wrong that is universally accepted (someone help me here..)? In the reading “The evolution of Ethics” by Ruse and Wilson, the last two paragraphs actually conclude that because “Natural selection is above all opportunistic”, our sense of moral values is shaped by this process so if we had evolved a different way (under a different set of conditions) our set of moral values would have turned out different. I would like to add that since evolution is still ongoing, who’s to say that our moral values are not going to continue evolving as a result? In what sense, then will our moral values be objective? In the last paragraph it says that “ethics does not have the objective foundation our biology leads us to think it has”. So the atheist who claims to believe in objective moral values has merely been influenced by his biology to think this way,

Roy Lo said...

There was a time when societies embraced slavery as morally acceptable. Today, societies condemn slavery. Our moral values have evolved, just as naturalism predicts, no? Also, does this change in values mean the prohibition against slavery is not objective?

Woelfel's Dental Anatomy said...

I would like to ask, how would natural selection predict such an “evolution” of moral values? (i.e. explain how it would increase one’s chances of producing offspring if he/she didn’t have a slave)

Also, the change in values does not mean there is no objective moral value. In fact, in order for something to progress, there must be an endpoint of a goal, which in this case, would be the objective moral truth.

Francisca Lopez said...

Arie and Jenny both touch upon the important point that just reveals the major weakness of the claim that morality stems from natural instinct survival skills. If you try to follow the logic of the mutual benefit ethics, which makes the assumption that people will do what is best for themselves, so therefore you want to do good to others so they will do good to you. It doesn’t work in the real world, there are so many complexities in trying to decide what is best, it just ends up being subjective. How do you know if you do this for this person it will benefit you , that it will be reciprocated, do you just do it anyway though it’s a cost to your time, resources or potential. It actually may be harmful to you but the claim is their following evolutionary morality reasoning based on survival. Should we consider then a person who steps on people on the way to the top and has managed to be successful an immoral person but by all accounts they have definitely benefited t themselves and their offspring will probably survive, they might even benefit most of society by something they do eventually. What about Mother Theresa do we look at her life of selfless giving and say she used moral wrong reasoning or right? She benefitted certain parts of society yes but society as whole… not if you think the weaker members of the human race should die. She didn’t have any children so her genes weren’t passed on, then where is this survival mentality. To say that if she decided what she did in her life be based on the idea that it will benefit society in the end. Would the words ‘sacrificial’ and ‘noble’ still apply. Naturalist try to explain by twisting morality to try to make it fit with what makes sense in the world but it simply doesn’t work we aren’t just these mechanical, chemical driven instinct mentality beings that are programmed to ‘love’, ‘empathize’, be ‘generous’, ‘sacrificial’ in order for the human species to survive as a whole. These emotions and certain actions always lead back to God and can only be explained correctly by the objective moral reasoning Christians posses.

Just a random thought but if these emotions help us survive in this world how come its this way. How come we need human touch and to be giving, shouldn’t our society eventually evolve into more mechanical beings and then the survival of the human species would be easier. Emotions and certain moral codes actually hinder. Don’t we all shape our culture so as I think of how more we desensitize and try to shut out a part of what the human body needs, the ‘soul’ that naturalist say don’t exist, then we run into all sort of self-destructive things. We realize we really aren’t living. I just can’t buy that if were biologically wired and our purpose is to just survive since the beginning then we would have certain emotions and longing. You know … God has written eternity in our hearts…

Suzanne.Hyun said...

From Roy's comment: Societies embraced slavery as morally acceptable but today societies condemn slavery. This is evidence for moral evolution... Also, does this change in values mean the prohibition against slavery is not objective?

I can't really follow Naturalism's implications on moral evolution.

Couldn't moral progress threaten Naturalism?

Have the truths of nature changed since the times of slavery? Have the neural computations to process information and external cues changed since the days of slavery to register the opposite moral reaction from people today? Are truths of nature able to discern right and wrong? If the truths of nature can evolve and moral truths can evolve then Naturalists could hold concurrent opposing views of morality on morality.

tracyjchen said...

In response to Roy's comment about moral values evolving, I would say that this doesn't prove that some kind of objective standard exists. But if there were an objective standard on morality, then it would make sense that there could be a progression towards it, such as in the case of the prohibition of slavery. However, in just the evolution of morals perspective, there's still no standard that this evolution is measuring up to, so how would we know whether or not we're really "progressing"? Couldn't I argue it's just a preference that our society chose to ban slavery, and not necessarily a progression?

Jennifer Dong said...

I would ask the athiest: If objective moral values exist without God, (that is, it is impersonal and a product of the universe), then why does disobeying these moral laws bring out feelings like shame and guilt that often feel like they are directed toward someone or something?

Mark B said...

Since I'm not part of the class, I hope I'm allowed to comment =).

I agree with what a number of other people are saying that if morality evolves, it cannot be objective. I would also call into question our so-called notion of moral "progress" under this regime. Yes, I suppose one could argue that the abolition of slavery might be an example of how morality evolved, but that still means it's subjective. Rather than always being wrong, at some point in our evolution, we just decided it's wrong. If we follow this logic, that means that at some later point in our evolution, we might decide that slavery (or some other thing that we consider immoral now) is perfectly ok.

dan said...

I think it would be good to keep in mind the original question that was asked(not to throw off people's discussion). This really was, in a subtle way, two questions:

1) Why do I need God to be good?
2) Why do objective moral values require having God?

I think the first is important to answer when we get this question, because the answer is "you don't". Even an atheist can live by some sort of moral code, or in some ways be a good person, without grounding it in God. Given that this isn't even the important question, I think it's fine to tell people that they can be good in some sense of the word without God.

The second question is the one we have been answering so far, and I think there is a good amount of accuracy to what everyone is saying. The question here isn't about whether or not people can be good, it's whether some things are good or bad no matter what time period or people group. The way I would come at it is with the idea that objectivity implies that all people ought to do certain things and ought not do other things; It's an authority question, and usually what the naturalist is missing is the authority that tells us why we should or shouldn't do something. The questioner does try to answer this in their key statement: "I also believe we should treat each other according to moral rules because that benefits me and society in the long run, which is objectively true." So they did present a reason why we should follow moral rules, and it's because it 'benefits' them and society. Now even if you accept that benefiting society is a generally good thing, why should I want to benefit society with what I do? What authority do you have to tell me that I should benefit society, or anything at all? All they have is an unanswerable regress of 'why'.

Andrew said...

Sorry, long post, and after the comments were due anyway :sadness:, but, if anyone wants to continue the debate, I'll try to jump on "alternate atheist" Roy's side for a bit. Hope this isn't too muddled or hard to follow.

Expanding on some of the points addressed above: many rationalist philosophers argue that the basis for objective morality lies in the ability of humanity to reason (see Kant, Nagel, and Rawls for some). Much of the basis for this type of thought lies in Kant's seemingly rehashed "Golden Rule" of "Categorical Imperative", which says that an action will be morally (ethically) good only if the person will "Act only according to that maxim whereby [they] can at the same time will that it should become a universal law." That is, it's not just an issue of mutual benefit, but the ability of human reason to figure out a universal law most beneficial for humanity. This does have fundamental objectivity because it isn't based purely on subjective or situational behavior.

Assuming, for sake of argumentation, that this is true: wouldn't that provide not only an alternative explanation for why human sacrifice can be considered morally superior despite no personal benefit, but also a mechanism with which evolutionary naturalism can still operate? If this sort of collective, societal behavior has been evolutionary hardwired into a person via being able to reason for the survival of the species (through means of universal moral laws) it would mean an evolving particular morality. That is, as we grow more and more evolved we are able to figure out what is most beneficial for society, just as tracy described. This doesn't claim moral relativism, what it's saying is that the fundamental truth about morality lies in what universal morals objectively benefit society, and may be realized only as we adapt and evolve as mankind. Tracy, the question about how we then judge progression versus digression, we would have no way of measuring instantaneous progression. However, if man is predominantly rational and acts via a mode of categorical imperative, then wouldn't it be logical to assume that over time rationality, and thus, progression, would win out to irrationality (i.e. law of large numbers)?

On a side note, I disagree with the examples given regarding such ethical failures as slavery and murder. Based on the reasoning above (as Kant also concludes) no person should be used as a means for an end (as in slavery) due to them being collectively part of the societal whole. Also, the argument that societal adaptation and realization of moral goods such as "slavery is wrong" may lead to us concluding "slavery is good" in the future is also a slippery slope fallacy. Unless it can be shown that we will later conclude "slavery is good", it can't be said that societal "moral evolution" as described above (in a non-relativistic was) is a less logically valid conclusion.

P.S. IMO I like to approach the ideas above on the grounds that the philosophers themselves start with, namely with the question, "well, how does reason exist in the first place?"... which gets us back to the mind body problem...

Andrew said...

Sorry, second post to address dan's statement of infinite regress and authority.

The basis of authority is based on the a priori (pre-existing) knowledge that we have of what reason is and how we might benefit society itself. It is a given that some people will think "it's all about me, I don't care who I mess over in the process", however, the majority of society, guided by rationalism has the ability to say you're wrong. You don't have to "want to" benefit society, it's wired into you via reason. After all, living by saying morals aren't enforcable and relative is the product of a sick, irrational mind.

Daniel Kim said...

Thank you for keeping this up, class. I'm back from Honduras, so will need to jump in here quickly..

Many ideas being tossed around here, many of them quite good. But in order to focus the talk here a bit... It looks like people are tossing around the idea of how evolution could/could not have given us the morality that we have currently, in an objective way. Andrew's last comment playing the atheist also seems to go along this line, talking about rationality as the basis for objective morality without God..

Throughout the other comments, there seems to be an assumption that our current morality of compassion is actually ultimately good for our society, evolutionarily speaking.. Well, some of you guys argue against that, but there seems be a baseline assumption that evolution does provide a viable explanation. That's why many people talk about how self-sacrifice can be good for society, how rationality of moral reasoning can be good, how altruism is good for evolution of the species, etc..

To hopefully clarify the issue, I want to discuss this simple question (from the evolutionists' point of view):

Is natural selection working on homo sapiens today? In other words, are human beings evolving okay today?

Tim Choi said...

From a naturalistic standpoint, i think humans are still going through natural selection. The only reason we can't see it is because evolution works on a timescale that is greater than our point of observation.

However, I feel that the concept of altruism has killed the necessity for natural selection. Now (still from a naturalistic view), because humans have become so dominant and because of altruism, it doesn't matter if you're weak in any sense, you're not going to be killed off. And you'll still be able to procreate and your "weak" genes will be passed on theoretically endlessly. There is no more struggle. The only thing I see against this is if some super virus infects the entire world and only people that eat kimchi survive.

Daniel Kim said...

Do others agree that natural selection is still working on humans? If it has, has the pace slowed down, remained the same, or sped up?

I'm not sure what Tim means by saying that natural selection is still working (from a naturalistic perspective), but also saying that altruism has "killed the necessity for natural selection."

Can you explain?

Tim Choi said...

I'm sorry, I should have clarified to say that if I was to be a naturalist, I would be forced to say that natural selection is still working but we cannot observe it because the scope of the changes is too large for our point of observation.

But from a purely skeptical point of view, I think that the "development" of altruism has in a way ended or "killed" natural selection because of the points mentioned in my previous comment. What I'm saying is that I think genuine altruism is inconsistent with natural selection. It doesn't make sense because natural selection cannot move on from there UNLESS one concedes the idea that altruism is regressive. But there are many complications in the implications that arise from such a stance, which I think very few people are willing to uphold.

Mark B said...

In regards to Daniel's question, I think most biologists today would argue that human beings have "evolved" beyond a natural selection regime. In other words, we're able to manipulate our environment and quality of life to the point that natural selection no longer works on us. As Tim noted, our own altruism plays a big role. Many who would be considered "weaker" according to natural selection are assisted by medical advances, better nutrition, and overall human ingenuity. Moreover, we also manipulate and artificially select many other species (pets, livestock, crops - it's a pretty endless list) for our own advantage.

Today, we can even artificially select for physical traits in children through genetic testing and in vitro fertilization, although there are clearly serious moral and ethical problems with that. However, it's just an extreme example of how we are now "unnaturally" selecting ourselves. The whole point of natural selection is that a species really doesn't have any control over the pressures that are selecting for it. In many ways, we've pretty convincingly (albeit not perfectly) moved beyond that. Indeed, our "unnatural selection" has reached a wide swath of species on this planet beyond just us.

Daniel Kim said...

That's right. Even according to evolutionists, they admit that this whole human trait of compassion and altruism have, in effect, stopped evolution for the human species.

So let's bring it back to the issue at hand. What does this mean regarding all the naturalistic explanations about virtue and compassion? (i.e., all the attempts at explaining why morality is an evolutionarily advantageous thing for the species)?

It seems to me that it's really a silly and moot point to argue about how morality could have been selected by natural selection... because the simple observation in human beings demonstrate pretty powerfully that morality is NOT advantageous for evolution... since it pretty much stopped evolution in its tracks. So why argue about how morality is good for evolution and come up with rationalizations about reason and such, when it's plainly obvious that our evolution has virtually come to a grinding halt because of morality?

That's why Richard Dawkins calls compassion an "evolutionary mistake".. but he goes on to call it a "wonderful mistake."

This does not, by the way, show that therefore morality could not have come from evolution. It only shows that if it came from evolution, then it is a weird mistake that should not have been selected for... But it DOES defang the whole naturalistic argument that morality is something that is evolutionarily advantageous.

Well, but if Dawkins is right in saying that morality is a mistake, then shouldn't that mistake be corrected, so that evolution can go on its way? Shouldn't we, for the good of our species, recognize that morality is bad for evolution and get rid of it?

How would an evolutionist respond to this?

Perhaps an evolutionist would actually espouse "unnatural selection" as Mark explained... Any problems or thoughts with that?

Tim Choi said...

I think the evolutionist might respond by saying that natural selection is not a necessary process. It is simply an effect, or an occurrence given the circumstances. And this morality that came from it does not necessarily have to be a mistake. It might not be advantageous for evolution, but it could be for the human race, which is really what natural selection is all about.

Daniel Kim said...

I'm sorry, I'm having a hard time following you...

You've said, "this morality that came from it does not necessarily have to be a mistake. It might not be advantageous for evolution, but it could be for the human race, which is really what natural selection is all about."

I'm not sure if an evolutionist would make this argument.. but maybe I think that because I'm unable to follow what you're trying to say.. So I need to ask for clarification on what you mean.

Are you saying that morality might not be advantageous for evolution at large, but it could be advantageous for human evolution?

And do you think that an evolutionist would agree with your statement that natural selection is all about human evolution? Or are you saying something else here?

If you were just playing out what a random naturalist might say, and you are not sure about the coherence of what you said, then that's fine.. you don't need to answer. I don't want to necessarily corner you into a position that you were just playing out..

Tim Choi said...

I might be mistaken, but from my understanding it is not "Natural Selection" that makes the strongest survive. It is simply the case that with random mutation, some things live to continue on and some things don't. And this phenomenon is called/labeled as natural selection and was found through observation. So if something continues on, then that something happened to be more advantageous for the species.

And so this altruism that came about might stop natural selection. But this fact is irrelevant because it could just be that natural selection stopped, and this follows with the above statement regarding natural selection simply being an observation. (I think it is important to note that this says nothing about random mutation). Furthermore, Natural Selection might have stopped, but it did have the last say because the strongest won out and [theoretically] will continue to win out (unless some alien species dominates us).

Again, this is just from my understanding, which many people can testify to its imperfection.

Daniel Kim said...

Someone can comment here to add to this discussion, but I am not really sure how evolutionarily kosher it is to call Natural Selection a mere observation regarding certain random mutation's ability to survive longer.

It's more than just random mutation, because many of the random mutation might not actually spell doom or survival for an organism UNTIL natural selection acts upon it. For example, let's say there are white-colored rabbits and dark-colored rabbits. These mutations by themselves don't tell you anything about how long these genetic characteristics will survive. But put these rabbits in the Arctic, and you suddenly get natural selection acting on them, and you can almost "predict" which kind of rabbit is going to survive (therefore, since it has predictive power, I wouldn't call Natural Selection a mere label of observation).. Am I not understanding something here?

Mark B said...

Natural selection is basically defined as a process whereby genetic traits of an organism are selected for through environmental pressure. Traits that are advantageous will be selected because those traits increase the organism's survival. The trait(s) will predominate since these organism have a selective advantage and pass down their genes more readily. Natural selection happens by means of the environment acting on random mutations in an organism over a long period of time, and voila! You have macroevolution!

Getting back to the discussion at hand, I think the thing to note is that if you have something like morality that essentially puts the brakes on natural selection and evolution, then there must be another mechanism at play. If the theory doesn't fit the observations, we must rethink our hypothesis.

Daniel Kim said...

Thank you for the explanation, Mark.

Just to make things clear, then, are we on the same page about morality in human beings putting the brakes on natural selection for human beings? (and my understanding is that if you put a stop on natural selection, you don't really get evolution, unless there is just a freak mutation that is so powerful that it overcomes natural selection... such as an immortality mutation or something of that sort). I just want to make sure that there aren't any further clarifications necessary, and that we have a correct understanding of natural selection.

Also, in response to Tim's comment, I don't think we can say that morality stopping evolution in human beings is irrelevant since natural selection still had the last say. If humans have stopped evolving because of morality, then an evolutionist would have to conclude that eventually the other animals will catch up (since they are still evolving quickly relative to humans) and would likely surpass humans at a much later time, as long as they don't get caught in the same trap of human morality. So for the naturalistic evolutionist, human morality does become a big problem.. or a big "mistake" as Dawkins puts it.

Does that make sense?

Mark B said...

Daniel, in regard to your comment that "an evolutionist would conclude that eventually other animals will catch up," I'm actually not sure whether most evolutionists would necessarily look at it that way. While many will concede that morality, and altruism in particular, has essentially halted our natural selection, they still hold onto the notion that we will evolve into something "higher." However, we have become the directors of our own evolution. You can see where that leads and why a world without God becomes very appealing indeed. Others take a very fatalistic approach and say that we will eventually destroy ourselves because of our adverse effects on the environment and something else will take our place. However, no matter which way you cut it, morality presents a huge problem for the evolutionist.

Daniel Kim said...

Thanks, Mark, for the clarification.

But just to clarify.. so you're saying that an evolutionist would claim that we are still evolving just as fast as the other animals are evolving?

Also, if human beings have become the directors of our own evolution, then still, our morality becomes the obstacle to that evolution, I would think. Our morality (altruism & compassion) poses an obstacle to natural selection, but I would think that our morality (bioethics) poses an obstacle to unnatural selection as well. So either way, from an evolutionary perspective, human morality would seem to be a mistake.

Tim Choi said...

When you say mistake, you mean mistake only for humans right?

And if that's the case, I don't see how this is a kink in the logic for naturalists. So it's a mistake. Can't do anything about it. That's just what happened.

Daniel Kim said...

Correct. It does not prove that morality could not have come from evolution. Like you say, naturalist could simply state that it's just a mistake, which evolution can make.

However, as I stated 10 comments above (I know it can be hard to keep up), it does defang the naturalists' argument that morality is something that evolution can explain away, saying that it's evolutionarily advantageous. I think through this thread, we've made it pretty clear that morality is NOT evolutionarily advantageous.. So that means a naturalist cannot glibly say that morality has been given to us by evolution because it's good for evolution. (which is exactly how they try to establish morality without God.)

Another thought:
If one admits, like Tim says, that morality is a "mistake"...(which is what Dawkins says), what does that mean? Think about the original issue here. We're discussing whether or not morality can be established without God, right? So what are the ramifications of saying that morality is a mistaken hiccup of evolution?

Daniel Kim said...

By the way, when I say morality is a mistake, I'm only talking about human morality. (or whatever animal that seems to have compassionate imperative toward the weak)

Tim Choi said...

One way I see this playing out is by appealing to the phrase: "You're cutting off the branch you're sitting on." This is because people who say that morality is a mistake will appeal to this morality the moment wrong is done to them. But I find this logically weak.

But, I think on a stronger note, this would mean that this "mistaken" morality is not at all objective, because it could just as easily have been a different type of morality. This morality does not appeal to any higher sense. This morality is subject to the circumstance that allowed these particular genes survive.

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