Morality: God-Given or Evolved?

Peter_Singer_MIT_Veritas

This is the most commented-upon show of Open Source 1.0, from 2005.

Our intelligent design show sparked so many comments that it made us think there might be an interesting follow-up show to do.

In the comment thread, Jon pointed to an interview on NPR’s Morning Edition (4 August 2005), in which Senator Rick Santorum was asked why what he calls holes in Darwin’s theory of evolution matter to him as a Senator: “It has huge consequences for society. I mean, it’s where we come from. Does man have a purpose? Is there a purpose for our lives, or are we just simply, you know, a result of chance? If we’re the result of chance, if we’re simply a mistake of nature, then that puts a different moral demand on us — in fact, it doesn’t put a moral demand on us — than if in fact we are a creation of a Being that has moral demands.”

Philnick and fanya responded by saying that evolution favors organisms that cooperate in a kind of enlightened self-interest — which is uncannily similar to the Biblical “do unto others as you would have them do unto you.”

So here’s the question for the hour: is it possible to envision a world full of meaning and morality without God — or do they have to come from God?

Put differently — in fanya’s words — do meaning and morality come from the top down or do they percolate from the bottom up?

Some of you suggested people on the evolution side (Robert Wright, Martin Seligman), but we’re looking for good guest suggestions on the religious side, too. We’ve put in a request for an interview with Rick Santorum but haven’t heard back yet. Thoughts?

Chelsea here, picking up where Katherine left off. Our Hannah Arendt and the Banality of Evil broadcast had us thinking that this is the perfect time to revivify this show after a long hibernation or — as some of you would have it — gestation.

Much like New Year’s eve, I fear that the anticipation for this show (and it’s sprawling, infinite comment thread) will transcend the show itself. Nonetheless we will try our darndest to give you a provacative, thoughtful conversation — or at the very least one adorable elephant calf (gestation 22 months).

Samuel T. Lloyd III, Strange Fruit, Palm Sunday Sermon, delivered April 1, 2007: “One billion of the world’s people aren’t sure they will live until tomorrow. And our world has the capacity to end this, but doesn’t. There is strange fruit hanging from the tree, the fruit of our selfish, fearful, violent ways. We human beings have a lot to answer for.”

Stephen Law, The dependence of morality on religion, Stephen Law, April 13, 2007: “True, there’s evidence that religious belief can have a positive impact on social behaviour. Statistics suggest that U.S. cities with high church membership rates have lower rates of crime, drug and alcohol abuse than those with low membership rates. But that’s not yet to say religion is necessary if morality is to survive. It’s not to suggest, as Kristol and Strauss do, that without religion, society will, or will probably, fall apart. That’s a much stronger claim.”

Daniel Marquez, Ladner’s Thought Experiment, Daniel’s Journal, April 15, 2007: “Without any appeal to religion, everything must be rationalized, and tested to make sure it works. I believe this would further frustrate humanity. (Which by the way, makes the author’s of religious texts not just geniuses but hypergeniuses, because they got it right the first time–assuming there is no God).”

Ray Cotton, Morality Apart From God: Is It Possible?, LeadershipU: “A consensus of ethical norms apart from the supervision of God will eventually erode. Power begins to take over in determining our actions. Look at our government today. It is controlled for the most part by special interest groups vying for influence.”

Guest List
Joshua Greene
The Very Reverend Samuel T. Lloyd III
Peter Singer
Reading List
"Is morality God-given or simply human intuition?"
Peter Singer and Marc Hauser, The Taipei Times, January 10, 2006
"Reason with Yourself"
Peter Singer, The Guardian, March 20, 2007
Palm Sunday Sermon: "Strange Fruit"
Strange Fruit

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  • Abby

    This is not a new problem philosophically. There’s a Moral Reasoning course at Harvard called “If there is no God, then All is Permitted”: Theism and Moral Reasoning You might talk to the Professor Jay Harris.

    The course web site is

    http://my.harvard.edu/icb/icb.do?course=fas-mr54

  • ChrisTover

    So here’s the question for the hour: is it possible to envision a world full of meaning and morality without God?

    Of course it is possible. Planet Earth does just fine — where God is nothing but a figment of man’s imagination. It is for man to create meaning and morality — we’ve been doing it for thousands of years. We’ve invented God as a way of legitimizing whatever we want to do.

    As an atheist I am morally offended by those who claim to have a monopoly on morality. A good system of morality should incorporate our collective wisdom, and not the narrow minded demands of a small minority.

    Do you believe that morals come from God? Abraham says no! Check out:

    http://thebridget.blogspot.com/2005/05/where-morals-come-from.html

    Is it a violation of biblical principles to deny a dying person food and water? No! Read the story of Jacob and Esau. Jacob is not punished for un-brotherly act. Instead, Jacob is rewarded. He even receives God’s covenant for cheating his brother.

    I am morally offended by stories where reveredbiblical leaders commit acts of mass murder, genocide, and ethnic cleansing.

  • BobH

    There is no proof or verfiable evidence of the existence of “god” and “god” is not needed to derive morality. Our lack of understanding of nature does not constitute evidence of god. Morality derived from”god” rings hollow in that it is externally imposed (by religious doctrine/dogma) and not chosen for it’s own sake.

    Morality can be derived from any number of other sources. I prefer biology. A strong “do unto others” can be derived from two conditions of humans. The first is that we, as individuals, require society to survive. We require at least the accumulated knowledge and, practically speaking, the accumulated wealth. The second condition, that I believe is unique to humans, is that the physically weaker members of our society have the capability of killing the stronger, through planning and/or technology.

    The implication of the second is that we all are equal in terms of our potential to harm each other. The reality of the alpha male may be an echo of our biological past but we can no longer coherently derive our social organization nor our morality from that type of social organization.

    Add to those two human conditions the desire to create a universal set of rules of behavior we call “good” (or bad) that apply to everyone i.e. morals. We now consider the ultimate equality of power between each other (our threat to eachother) and our need of each other when we think of rules to live by. It then starts to make sense that we agree not to harm eachother in various ways, to do unto others as we would have them do unto us. Because in the end, everyone is capable of exacting the ultimate revenge if we don’t, or they don’t.

    This argument ignores the practical reality of state prohibitions on murder but that is irrelevant to the derivation. The morality comes first, the laws derive from our agreement on how to implement morality.

    It is not a righteous derivation, not romantically good, or high-minded or in any way glorious. Those aren’t requirements for deciding the rules of good or bad behavior. The doctrines of socially sanctioned bogeymen, high-minded or otherwise, are not required either.

  • Nikos

    Surely human society predates the hierarchical systems of male privilege we call religion (which as a concept isn’t much more than 2,000 years old). And clearly, early human clan-societies predate the contemporary dominant patriarchal monotheisms that arrogantly claim exclusive parentage of ‘morality’. Just as surely, the ‘social glue’ of small early human societies wasn’t a code of behavioral edicts from a proto-Yahweh, but the manners most likely taught to siblings and first cousins by mothers. And I can’t imagine that those hard-working primal mothers cared to limit the love in their societies by proscribing all the natural sexual impulses that male-god religions so pathetically obsess over.

    They’d have taught, through example, traits like kindness and sharing, not the callousness necessary for the objectification of persons, and certainly not your tedious, garden-variety evangelist’s medieval notions of ‘sin’.

    They’d have understood selfishness and have chided their children against it. They’d have recognized cruelty and done their best to protect their small clan-societies from its ravages (while likely and rightly attributing its evil existence to unmannered males). Thoughtless, selfish emotions had no place in the few scattered clans cooperating to maintain their cultures in the varied and often hazardous environments of the Pleistocene.

    Any decently thoughtful human can tell you which emotions are vile and which are desirable. Attraction isn’t vile – but avarice sure is. Innocent lust isn’t vile, but jealousy sure is. It seems to me – a man, by the way – that only after men used physical size and petulant selfishness to wrest control of their clans from the mothers and grandmothers who had tried to teach them their manners did our ancestors need to begin promulgation of strict behavioral codes. (Like the last century’s arms-control treaties after too many nations got the H-bomb.)

    ‘Sin’ wasn’t original; it’s recent. Not to mention lamentable – as a concept, that is. A world without religion – at least as the ‘my god is bigger than your god’ crowd now practices it – is a world worth striving to create. Decency is a natural human virtue, not a religious artifact. And besides, as we see daily in the news from all around the globe, religion as currently proselytized in most of this benighted world is causing vastly more atrocities than it can ever claim to avert. Some morals.

  • Wow, I appreciate the wide diversity of thought. I’m new to open source, so I submit the following humbly in spirit of this blog/show. Though I don’t like to label myself, I generally accept the term ‘Christian,’ in spite of all the baggage that goes with that.

    At the forefront of my thoughts is that many times the morality and religion argument is an attempt at the proof of God. This, to me, is the wrong place to start. To answer the question up front. I believe that morality is the natural outflow of personhood, which ultimately finds its roots in God. We as persons can ‘discover’ a lot of morality by looking at other people, because they are made in the image of God. To keep it short, though I’d be happy to dialog on this further, in Genesis 9 ‘shedding another’s blood is wrong because humanity is made in the image of God. In the book of James you should not bless God and curse man, who is made in the image of God. However, because morality at the root is related in what it means to be persons in relationship to one another and God, this doesn’t necessarily lead to the conclusion that you can prove God because morality exists.

    In response to ChrisTover, to assume that the patriarchal stories are always about ‘teaching morality’ is a basic interpretive flaw committed by many people, Christians and non-Christians alike. Many times Biblical narrative is describing something completely different. For instance, the Jacob and Esau story isn’t about Jacob being morally superior, but perhaps it is about the importance of inheritance customs and Jacob’s desire for it. He had been deemed a greater position from a divine revelation at his birth, but still tried to maneuver and manipulate to get it. Ultimately it is a divine encounter that changes him rather than his own subversive acts at getting ahead. I guess there is some stuff about morality in there 🙂 However, many times our distance from the ancients and their culture obscures the message of the scripture.

    In response to some of the evolutionary developments proposed not just of morality, but of religion itself, I think another error is being committed, similar to the first one that I addressed. Just because people are religious or are affiliated with a religion does not mean the religion caused the war. Just because hierarchical power has often oppressed doesn’t mean that hierarchy is naturally evil. To state so is to assume that there is a moral standard to judge those things by. If evolution of biology, society, and religion is true, shouldn’t the most dominant one be celebrated (as long as it remains dominant) because it has proven its superiority? We’re back to the battle of the gods.

    To attempt to conclude, one of the most beautiful things about the Jewish and Christian depiction of God (these are the ones I feel most qualified to comment on) is that the essence of God’s character is not his superiority or sovereignty, or even His justice or morally, but rather his compassion, mercy, and love. For instance, when Moses asks to see God, but is told that no one can see God’s face and live, God still reveals himself, but embedded in this story is not something many expect from the Hebrew Scriptures. “I have compassion on whom I have compassion.”

    Thanks for allowing me these few words. I know I glazed over a bunch of stuff and would be happy to elaborate, or to shut up.

    Marshal

  • william malo

    “God Without Religion” – Sankara Saranam

    Powerful and intlligent; a must read for all of us.

  • Liz Tracey

    I was going to say with Kenneth Miller, you don’t have to settle for either/or, but you’ve had him on the original show.

    So, I would then take a look at Panda’s Thumb, a group blog on evolution, and see if anyone strikes your fancy (http://www.pandasthumb.org)

    A recent article by Jason Weisberg @ Slate entitled “Evolution vs. Religion: Quit pretending they’re compatible” garned quite a bit of discussion there and elsewhere — you might want to speak to Mr. Weisberg about appearing.

    Also, PZ Myers, a biologist and professor in MN, hosts a blog called Pharyngula (http://pharyngula.org) and is both deeply knowledgable as well as very opinionated — and for this, I read him “religiously.”

    I would attempt to suggest some people for the religious side, but a) I’m not religious at all, and b) I’m a rabid, fervent holder of the view that science and religion have nothing to really say to each other. And for me, that’s OK.

    But lest I seem completely useless, you may want to look at recent research on altruism in primates (e.g., sharing, feeding, grooming) — to me, this gave a glimmer into human behavior such that “morality” (or at least living with concern for others in some small way) may indeed be more than nurture. There was a good article in the April 2005 Scientific American (How Animals Do Business by Frans B. M. de Waal) touching on some of this at least tangentially — if you can’t get it let me know I’ll send it to you.

    And one more — Dr. E.O. Wilson, emeritus from Harvard, would be an interesting guest on this topic.

    Sorry this is so long, but this is a topic rather near and dear to my head if not my heart. 🙂

  • triggerfloop

    There has been an attempt at a universal global ethic–the Parliament of World Religions (http://www.cpwr.org/resource/global_ethic.htm.) Hans Kung, Roman Catholic Theologian has written several books in the past few years dealing with the need for a global ethical foundation–especially in the face of the forces of globalization and rapid economic transformation. Also, check out Tikkun.org and their new effort to form a network of spiritual progressives and the desire to reorient our economic system based on universal ethical principles–a new “bottom line” for our society–they are inviting religious and non-religious activists to enter into conversation about this new ethic.

  • keepmoving

    I would like to chime in. I concur with mmorse. I think you explained things quite well and wish you, or anyone, not to shut up. I think it can only be helpful for all points to have a say. I, too, am a Christian. I will even go farther and call myself a born again christian. I find it amazing how polorized people can be.

    I know morality is not a proof of God. I have friends that do not know Jesus as their personal Lord and Savior, who have a definite sense of right and wrong, and act accordingly. We need only to watch the news to see and hear people professing a belief in God and acting in a very immoral way. Proof of God is a spiritual thing that can not be measured through science. It is something a person “knows” inside. Knowing Him helps a person make right choices, but we only need to look as far as ourselves to know we have a free will and can decide to ignore right and do wrong, or vice a versa.

    Having said that I would like to say I am a science buff. I love studing the different sciences, looking at the stars, nebulas, and what not through my telescope, and learning about all the new discoveries mankind makes. They in no way lessen my belief in God. Rather, they increase my respect and awe for His abilities. Science, as far as I’m concerned, explains how God did what He did.

    As far as Evolution goes, I believe individual species can evolve to adapt to their surroundings. I have yet to see anything that PROVES we came from apes. Lots of theories, very little (if any) proof. There are no inbetweens still around; few examples of their exsistance at all as a matter of fact. Dinosaur bones seem to be in abudance though. I definitly believe they exsisted and am very glad they are not here now :O)The thought that we are all an accident seems hopeless. Looking at the way cells function, atoms hold together, or how the stars move leaves me in awe of the attention to detail that is required for all these things to happen. The chance of them happening on their own is so small that it is amazing that they happened at all.

    So, where does that leave morality, God, and evolution? I believe morality is a personal choice (free will), encouraged by religions (for the most part), not a product of evolution (we can’t seem to do a lot with out some sort of gauge to measure right and wrong. I would like to submit for thought that prior to the Holacaust, most Germans would have thought killing a group of people just because was wrong. As Hitlers regime continued, more people were willing to go along with the killings because it became more “OK” or socially acceptable. After the Holacaust, everyone is shocked and discussed by the killings. Other genecides confirm the same thing. I wish I could remember the man’s name that ran a series of studies to see how much society pressures can influence a persons belief in what was right and wrong. The studies showed people who were out numbered in their opinion changed their opinion whether they were right at the start or not. I saw it on a PBS show earlier this year. Anyway, societal pressures can influence group behaviors to the good or bad is the point this long insert is trying to make. Since we seem to do this sort of thing over and over, evolution seems lame.) and not a proof of God’s exsistance (an individual need only look inside to discover a need for Him).

  • manning120

    Most of the writers have said things I generally agree with, but no one seems to have precisely made the point that morality comes from reason. That’s my belief.

    Exactly how reason leads to moral rules is very complicated. As societies have increased in size and sophistication, morality has “evolved.â€? Murder and other forms of physical harm must have been an issue from the outset, but incest wouldn’t have been an issue in small families living isolated from others (it would be necessary for perpetuation of the species). As population groups grew to the hundreds, the prohibitions against doing unjustified harm to others, lying, stealing, and sexual transgressions were established. However, exactly what constitutes infractions under each of those categories has continued to evolve. I don’t mean to imply that moral principles must be negative. Morality tells us to love others, and to forgive them; but the exact parameters of these are complex.

    By the way, I don’t consider the Golden Rule a good example of moral principle. In some situations it may be appropriate, but we definitely wouldn’t want gays or masochists to apply it to us unless we happen to share those traits. The Golden Rule does, albeit very inadequately, give a hint of the reasoning process that leads to moral standards.

    If reason is the source of morality, then obviously morality comes from God only if reason does. Assuming God exists, with regard to a given moral principle, I would say God commands it because it’s right, as opposed to it being right because God commands it. So I have no problem with atheists being moral.

    Finally, religions incorporate morality, as well as theories of origins and other secular thinking. Moral principles incorporated into a religion become doctrinally mandatory, which relieves believers from analyzing or doubting moral rules. Religious authorities don’t necessarily have more insight or intelligence than anyone else, and so I tend to refrain from blind acceptance of religiously dictated morality. However, that doesn’t prevent me from appreciating the moral principles taught by religion. For example, I think one of the greatest moral lessons was taught by Jesus in the parable of the prodigal son. I believe the profound truth expressed in the parable is supported by reason, and doesn’t owe its validity to the fact that Jesus asserted it.

  • Raymond

    ” … we’re looking for good guest suggestions on the religious side, too.”

    Here are two:

    Ravi Zacharias — http://www.rzim.org/ravi.php — is a well regarded speaker and author that would fit in very well with your topic. I have heard him speak and read his book “Can Man Live Without God.” He has an intriguing background and excellent presence.

    John Polkinghorne — http://www.polkinghorne.org — is a well regarded physicist turned priest. I have not heard him speak, but have read his book “Belief in God in an Age of Science.” He has an especially credible scientific background.

  • arthureisele

    I cannot even believe that we are seriously considering this religion vs. science debate in the USA. This phenomenon, the funding decrease for the National Science Fundation, and other anti-science positions recently taken up by the Bush administration are taking the USA back to a European Middle Ages. We have seen what religion dominion over science has done to most Middle Eastern countries; lets hope the same does not happen in the USA.

  • If there is a God, to ignore God is the greatest moral, ethical, and rational blunder we could possibly make. If God does not exist, then to believe in him/her is going to lead to moral, ethical, and rational blunders. Either way, I believe this question is of great importance. Because I think that morality is linked to personhood (and, contrary to manning120, it must go beyond rationality in order to actually account for morality related to self sacrifice that does not necessarily benefit the group) I think an important question to ask is ‘can personhood arise from non-persons?’ (I’ve heard this voiced somewhere before, so if anyone knows the source, please remind me where this thought originates.) On the one hand I think that humans can create complex machines that blur the boundaries, but on the other hand I think there is a mysterious element that confers a high level of sentience. (An interesting pop-culture reference dealing with this topic was a STTNG episode called ‘The Measure of a Man,’ where Data is put on trial to see if he has certain rights even though he is an android.) Science may be able to tell us where life begins and ends, but can it tell us where personhood begins and ends? It is those who are in power who tend to label others as objects rather than persons which leads to moral collapse. Mass slavery, genocide, and common prejudice all find their roots in the same objectification of people. Lest you think this allows for cruelty to the environment and animals, think again, as the way we abuse other forms of life and environment actually diminishes our own personhood.

    For me, morality and personhood both flow out of viewing God as person(s), which is found in the highest form of Christian theology in the beautiful articulation of the Trinity. This ancient doctrine has often been misunderstood and relegated as a dusty relic of the past. However, I think God as articulated this way is the most beautiful and true basis for personhood, and thus morality. Sure, I can imagine a morality without God, but it is ultimately going to be very difficult to convince a generation that has been told over and over again ‘you came about by chance’ that ‘if we just work together we can at least make something of this mess.’ The failure of this message to work is evident in the fact that spirituality is at an all time high. A failure of modernist ‘church’ to see any growth as a result of this spirituality is probably connected to the fact that we have failed to provide a true encounter with the person of God. I just saw an interesting article on another major news magazine that dealt with this last topic and included the statistics. I’ll provide a link if that is ok.

  • manning120

    Mmorse (8/22/05) asserts “morality is linked to personhood (and, contrary to manning120, it must go beyond rationality in order to actually account for morality related to self sacrifice that does not necessarily benefit the group).� This appears to argue that morality results not from a reasoning process, but from something non-rational. Religion, or religious inspiration, is the best candidate, although perhaps mmorse can explain exactly what “beyond rationality� means.

    The quoted statement assumes that “self sacrifice that does not necessarily benefit the group� isn’t rational. In my post I didn’t, and I still don’t, adopt that assumption. I did discuss the idea that incest wouldn’t be immoral within a small family group needing to perpetuate the human species. Actually, what I said was that the prohibition against incest “evolved� as human groups became larger. That’s an argument that moral standards are fixed, like mathematics. But I digress.

    Mmorse also says, “Science may be able to tell us where life begins and ends, but can it tell us where personhood begins and ends?� My answer is that science can provide some of the clues needed to answer this question, but the question ultimately is philosophical, not scientific. I believe personhood is defined in terms of memories. Every person’s set of memories differentiates him or her from everyone else. Other traits, such as physical appearance and psychological characteristics, because they can be shared among different people, don’t differentiate them as memories do. We can then define a (human) “person� as a human being capable of memory. Memory involves both establishing memories and recalling them. Without those abilities, a human being cannot be considered a person. The fetus, before it has the capability of memory, is a potential or developing, but not yet actualized, person. A brain dead individual isn’t a person.

    This formulation doesn’t exclude God from being a person, although I wouldn’t describe God as a human person.

    Mmorse then says, speaking of morality without God, that convincing people that working together will solve problems will be very difficult if people believe they came about by chance. My position is instead that by viewing morality (and the related field of ethics) as the result of reasoning about moral issues, we have a chance of persuading everyone to work together to “make something of this mess.� This is because reason is universally understood and accepted by all humans, from fundamentalists to atheists, regardless of gender, race, or nationality.

    With respect to “coming about by chance,â€? the word “chanceâ€? is used to distinguish things that happen without the intervention of intelligence (human or animal or divine) from things that don’t. I fail to see how it makes any difference, if morality results from a reasoning process, whether human beings came about by chance. That’s why I think Rick Santorum’s quotation at the top of this column — “If we’re the result of chance, if we’re simply a mistake of nature, then that puts a different moral demand on us — in fact, it doesn’t put a moral demand on us — than if in fact we are a creation of a Being that has moral demandsâ€? – is nonsense.

  • think

    BobH wrote, “…the physically weaker members of our society have the capability of killing the stronger, through planning and/or technology…The implication of the second is that we all are equal in terms of our potential to harm each other.�

    Your reasoning here is flawed; mere capability does not imply full equality of potential or likelihood. From there, much of the rest of your argument falls apart.

    Nikos, your imaginative portrayal of pre-history reminds me of Daniel Quinn’s “The Story of B,�… a wonderful story, entertaining and quite believable, but still infinitely short of factual.

    Manning120, I don’t think that the Golden Rule suggests that if you are a masochist (your example), you should extrapolate your own desires onto others. Instead, authentic application of the Golden Rule would begin with understanding the needs/desires of others, and then meeting their needs (doing unto them) as you would wish your own needs to be met [i.e. in like manner], without assuming that their needs are the same as yours. Your illustration is self-centered, where as the GR is ‘other’-centered.

    Manning120, although I respect your extensive rebuttal to mmorse, I don’t know how you can claim that “This is because reason is universally understood and accepted by all humans.� Perhaps I could introduce you to a few people I know… .J -ha! On a serious note, though, there is a lot to be learned by going “beyond rationality,� but to do so, you’ll have to loosen your grip on reason (I’m not suggesting that you need to forsake it)… and although that may sound like intellectual suicide, I guarantee a Neo-escaping-the-Matrix-like awakening into a realm where meaning and morals are rooted… but I’m getting ahead of myself.

    ChrisTover wrote, “It is for man to create meaning and morality.�

    There is a problem with Chris’ proposition: If man is the sole origin of his own meaning and morality [and value], then mankind not only has the power to create man’s meaning/morality/value, but ALSO to destroy them… This philosophy empowers governments (for example) to endow some with human rights, and then later take them away, or deprive minorities of those same rights… I think many of us hope that meaning, morality, and value are rooted in a more objective substance than Chris purports.

    We can solve this problem by declaring that meaning, morality, and value dwell intrinsically within us and are inalienable. But that still doesn’t solve the problem of where they came from… are they emergent properties of our evolution, or where they instilled by a Designer/Creator?

    Spawned in chaos, evolution [as I understand it] is initially blind to the potential advantage a mutation might offer. No creature ever thought, “Hey, I don’t know what an eye is, but it sounds like a handy thing to have, so I’ll mutate a pair… I’ll bet they will increase my chances for survival.�

    This means that evolution (at least initially) is not intentional. Existence is a prerequisite of intention (not the other way around). Therefore an organ or organism’s own intention/meaning/purpose cannot be the causal force initially driving the initial evolution of that organ/organism. In fact, since intention/meaning/purpose were not part of the original evolution equation, evolution has the daunting task of explaining when/how, if ever, they entered the life-equation.

    And yet intention is central to our discussion of morality. We admire moral people who, like the Buddha, intentionally forsake advantages available to them, and choose what is often a more difficult path. We admire those like Jesus, who laid down their lives in sacrifice for others. We admire organ donors, who put their own survival in jeopardy for the chance to save the life of another.

    Evolution calls these people “Suckers!� while many of us consider the self-less to be the moral elite!

    Since evolution/mutation initially occurs at the DNA/cellular level, evolution certainly can’t be considered to behave in a socially consciousness manner. The (hundreds of-?) thousands of extinct species are monuments to the fact that evolution does not rise in defense of the weak, as most moral codes require of us.

    Moral behaviors/attitudes, such as compassion, which mmorse so eloquently wrote about above, do not arise from the cold laboratories of chaos or evolution…

    So, are we willing to selflessly consider the alternative: a Personal Creator of us, and our meaning and morals?

    I don’t know. Some of us would rather die with white-knuckled fists full of nothing than open our hands and minds to something or Someone greater than ourselves.

  • BB

    I find the last line of the previous post — “some of us would rather die with white-knuckled fists full of nothing than open our hands and minds …” — condescending and offensive. I did not grow up with religion and so have been free to figure out a lot of things on my own. I have a very highly developed moral sense — more so than so many so-called christians (um, Bush?!) — that just keeps developing as I get older. It is based for the most part on the golden rule and how I think a pleasant and civilized society should work — in other words, let’s be nice to each other, let’s be generous and thoughtful and try to help each other when possible, let’s think more of the greater good than our own individual gain and immediate gratification.

    So, contrary to what Think seems to think, I don’t have an empty existence. I *have* opened myself to something greater than me — society in general, the health and well being of the planet and future generations. That’s enough for me, thank you very much.

  • keepmoving

    I think things are getting a little too heated. A friend of mine has a saying that goes something like this: “Conflict is inevitable, combat is optional”.

    By choosing our words more carefully, we can have a discussion.

    I am a Christian and I believe Christians do a lot of good in this world. To be continually beaten down is silly, and might I add, immoral (that is if we can see kindness at the root of morality) Every religion, including secularism, has it’s fanatics and hypocrits. Let’s just leave it at that.

    Think does bring up a good point (although I think you would get farther by using a less condesending way of expressing your views) I would like an evolution minded individual to address. We admire those who are selfless, but evolution is not in anyway selfless, how then can morality come from evolution?

    I would also like to know if we keep repeating genecide, how is evolution at work there? We must be really slow learners.

  • Morality: God given or evolved?

    Provided that by the term “God given� we convey a deterministic component to morality, then I would say that perhaps both possibilities of morality being God given and evolved are quite plausible and in some ways the same! If morality is, in Spike Lee’s terms, “Doing the Right Thing!� then many organisms, depending on their degree of socialization, do exactly that. They tend to do those things that are not only “right� for themselves but also right for their species as a whole. This may indicate a natural tendency for morality. Survival of the fittest doesn’t simply apply to individual organisms in those cases. In highly socialized animals and insects such as bees, ants, and many mammals including the higher apes (yes, including but not limited to human beings) altruism is a byproduct of their nature. Here, a soldier ant, wasp, or bee may sacrifice itself for the sake of the colony. This seems counterintuitive from an evolutionary sense, where natural selection depends on the survival of the gene. But the higher calling in these cases is beyond that of an individual organism, it is a function of the species as a whole.

    So, although social Darwinism alarms us of the horrors of natural law, this may not necessarily apply to human nature. Of course, within us are plenty of examples of humans not living up to their human ideals. I’m sure it’s true among ants, bees, and wasps as well, where some soldiers may go wondering on their own, abandoning the ways of the colony. But as a whole, there maybe a direction to our sense of morality and deep down, most of us may already know what “doing the right thing” entails.

    Another interesting example of this source of innate knowledge comes from the archives of genetics. In mammals, there are specific genes in mammals that allow for caring for the young. These genes amplify feelingsthat regulate the feelings of parents towards their offspring. This has been demonstrated in mice, where a knock out of that specific gene in experimental animals results in indifference towards the offspring (mice push away the litter trying to nurse, do not nest and cuddle, and otherwise recognize them as “unrelated”).

    So, given these facts, I rather paraphrase the question of God-Given vs. Evolved to the question of nature vs. nurture. Rather than comparing the Gospel of a designer against the mechanisms of science, we need to ask ourselves the following questions: Are we born with a sense of ethics or do we learn such concept as a result of culture? And leaving things to our own nature, would we act like beasts or would we have an inherent sense of fairness? Of course, higher morality is learned. But we first need to answer such fundamental questions irrefutably before moving on to the details. This way, we may end up with more debatable questions, rather than debating questions that lead to the dead end of faith. Debates that compare religion and science eventually lead to the concept of faith, where rational reasoning succumbs to the notion of blind belief. Comparing apples with oranges has never resulted in a meaningful debate unless you are a farmer or a food engineer.

  • BB

    Well said, Endoman! I started to write something similar, but you’ve said it much better than I ever could.

    Another example, albeit slightly strange — cannibalistic tribes that clearly outlaw the practice within the tribe. Not acceptable to harm those within your smaller society, but certainly desireable when dealing with other tribes or individuals who are perceived to be a threat. Basically the same as our moral system dictates (though we don’t have the post-fight BBQ).

    Which brings me to another thought — most of the current debate is based on the idea of a modern, christian-based god. How to explain the fact that our most basic mores have survived the millennia and been reinterpreted via countless theologies? Back to the cannibals — their beliefs obviously weren’t handed down by a christian god.

    This is a GREAT discussion.

  • The question of the hour, which Catherine wanted us to discuss in this comment thread was described as,: “is it possible to envision a world full of meaning and morality without God — or do they have to come from God?â€?

    This clearly is an important question, something that countless philosophers have pondered and attempted to answer with pure analysis. Kirkgaard asked the following loaded question: “Why wake up in the morning?!� It’s interesting to wonder about how ethically we would live if there existed no omnipresent, pleuripotent divine being deserving of our worship. And when we look at it that way we begin to see that the question of morality goes far beyond the notion of fairness in our daily interactions, it goes hand in hand with the question of meaning in life. Why are we here? and what does it all mean? Perhaps that’s why religion is so attractive to many people; while science attempts to explain the how in things; religion aims to answer the why in them. This makes religion a powerful remedy to our insatiable appetite for knowing our place in the universe in a more meaningful way than our physical distance from extrasolar planetary objects.

    However, I think that although religion had an important role in forming the early fabric of society, codes of conduct, morality, or ethics aren’t necessarily linked to the existence of a God. Even the Godless communists lived their daily life fairly and ethically. The society did not break into chaos just because they abandoned the need for a God. The Codes of Hammurabi were written by cultures that did not practice the brand of monotheism fashionable today. Monotheists, Polytheists, dualists, pantheists, and even atheists and pagans live for the most part according to the ethics of common sense. Social principals that encourage us to live ethical/moral lives aren’t the exclusive property of organized religion; they are common sense principals of rational thinking that allow us to live with our fellow human beings under the same roof.

    Martin Luther King said: “Justice was created for the sake of peace, not peace for the sake of justice!� If this statement is true it becomes clear that we reap the benefits of our morality in this life in the form of social justice, which results in peace, not in some abstract afterlife where we are rewarded for being just.

    As I mentioned in a previous post there may even exist an inherent sense of ethics in all of us. This could in fact be a byproduct of us being social animals, living in packs and our tribal mentality. This has never been truer than today, as we live in large, complex cities. Ironically, a city works in a similar fashion as a living organism. Every component has a function like a body comprised of cells, tissues, organs, and systems. If each individual is a cell, it’s the collective function of each cell in various levels of organization (tissue, organs, systems) that allows for the survival of the body as a whole. In this urban setting, interactions among the members follow a set of ethics as described by the law of the land, so peace is maintained and the city flourishes as a whole. This is why many people live in the city, do not believe in any form of devine presence, act philanthropically and ethically, and contribute to the advancement of the city. On the other hand, many free-riders take advantage of the system. This is not due to the absense of God, it’s probably due to the weakness of human beings. Afterall, prists, ministers, rabi, and imams, as well as many other religious leaders are fully capable of less than moral behavior.

  • Wow, this is quite the forum. Manning, I appreciate your thoughtful response. I would like engage in some further conversation related to Manning;s post, to return to the original question, and to posit a friendly challenge or two.

    First off, I can imagine morally virtuous situations that go beyond rationality. For instance, in a classic ‘lifeboat’ situation, would it be rational that a young professional doctor jumps out of the boat so that an uneducated unemployed 60 year old could stay in it and live? I argue, that it may not be rational in any sense that she do so, but she would be most virtuous to give her life for others, particularly if they were not willing to do the same. In this way, I am suggesting that morality must go beyond rationality. Perhaps virtue goes beyond morality, as I might not deem her immoral for not wanting to sacrifice her life. At any rate, it is food for thought.

    I do think that memory is a very risky thing to base personhood on. If memory is lost, is the person lost? Should we treat the mentally deranged as less than true persons? This seems like dangerous ground. Perhaps if you could expound more I would be more open to this possibility.

    I do think of chance as related to randomness, and ultimate absurdity in the philosophical sense. How can we say that to exist is better than to not exist? How can we say that diversity is better than uniformity, unless we think that we must keep certain gene pools around in case we need them for future evolutionary or social development? And, once we master genetic engineering, why would we even need anything other than our elite selves. It appears to me that again the ‘one in power’ is the only one who can set morality in such evolutionary / chance based systems. How can we say there is good and bad, if we are merely doing what we are programmed genetically or socially to do? I’m not into biology too much, but maybe I’ve completely misunderstood survival of the fittest. (BTW, I hope you understand the nature of the tone that I ask the questions above, it is because I truly don’t understand the answers, not because I’m attempting to say that it isn’t possible through rhetorical method.) If there is a set of universal rational morality we should be able to diagram it with mathematics .. which sounds really fun!

    To answer the initial question, and to pose my challenge: I believe it is may be possible to imagine a moral system without God if we can answer the questions posed above, but I do think the moral system would look very different, and would probably favor the strong. Through all this we must keep in mind that even if we can imagine a moral system that theoretically could function without God, ultimately if there is a God then to operate in a self-made moral system without him leaves us treating the ultimate Person as a Non-Person.

    Just to avoid flames let me acknowledge that people who don’t believe in God can have meaningful lives and relationships, and even be very good and harmonious people in society. I think this because human personhood reflects Divine personhood, and therefore we have capacity for this even if we don’t acknowledge its ultimate source.

    Oh, one more thing. I read a great article last year about monkeys having an inbuilt sense of fairness, but unfortunately the only examples given had to do with the monkey that was given a cucumber instead of a grape being upset…evidently the one who got the grapes didn’t worry about fairness so much. Really!

  • Nikos

    To KeepMoving, who wrote:

    “We admire those who are selfless, but evolution is not in anyway selfless, how then can morality come from evolution?”

    I would offer only this: perhaps morality stems from empathy, which, if it isn’t unique to humans, is certainly pronounced in our species. Empathy must surely stem from consciousness, which is also certainly pronounced in our species. And consciousness is an organic outcome of stardust, water, and sunlight combining becoming not only complex but self-aware — that’s the earth, including us — and therefore is one varation (of many) of evolutionary process.

    Ergo, morality, through empathy and consciousness, indirectly comes from evolution. It’s not ‘an evolutionary goal’ (because nothing is), but it’s certainly one of evolution’s outcomes. And, like coral reefs, or gardens, and anything else we might deem beautiful, it’s an outcome worth treasuring — and weeding. ‘Morality’ that denigrates others is nothing ‘moral’ IMHO. The world’s major religions seem to differ with that humble opinion, however.

    God? No, just us, I’d say. Although by ‘us’ I prefer to think of the earth in its wholeness, and not the isolated, orphaned ‘us’ of the Adam and Eve paradgim. Morality, warts and all, is an earthly product. A human product.

  • Nikos, can self awareness and empathy arise from dust without external forces? Can personhood arise from non-persons? Do we have any actual examples of this rather than hypothetical? I think such complexity might arise that we may not be able to determine if it is truly conscious (AI) … , but the greatest forms of life seem to be born of or created by things that are alive and sentient seem to come from things that are already alive. I’m just thinking ‘out loud’, I’m not familiar enough with cloning & biology, perhaps there are examples there you could refer too.

  • Nikos

    mmorse Says:

    “…can self awareness and empathy arise from dust without external forces?”

    Thanks, mmorse, for a chance to articulate this a little further (and I hope someone else will pick up the thread where I leave it, and take it to heights of articulation I can’t hope to reach. Please! Somebody!)

    The late philosopher Alan Watts liked to point out that just as apples cannot come into being without and apple tree, the idea of a stupid universe creating intelligence is nonsensical. In other words, the potential for intelligence is inherent within the universe, and just because we haven’t yet devised methods to scientifically discern and and quantify this potential doesn’t mean it doesn’t exist. (Didn’t germs and virsuses exist before microscopes? Or galaxies before telescopes?) In this, many of us on seemingly oppositional sides in this blog-debate might find common ground: the universe isn’t blind and stupid, and humans aren’t a bizarre, randomly improbable accident. Every speck of life originates in an environment that births it. An environment that creates it. But that doesn’t validate the concept of ‘god’.

    Like most of us, I’ve seen slivers of the cosmos revealed by telescopes, and slivers of the microscopic cosmos. The idea that some quasi-human ancient-king-like mind created all that staggering infinity is, in all honesty, as prespoterous as the notion that the sun, moon, and planets revolve around the earth. (Thank-you Liz Tracey!)

    I was raised with weekly exposure to two different strains of christianity, and was sent to two different Sunday-schools. I’m not wholly ignorant of this country’s dominant religion and its many claims. But the sort of universe that science has shown we’ve grown within, the sort of universe that has come into self-awareness (us) by combining its energies and substances as has happened on this particular globular nook we call home, bears no plausible relationship to the gods of the morality-police called clergy. Especially not the relationship of a ‘Divine Father’ to His (o-so-wayward!) progeny. (And just so you know: the clergy I was intoduced to were kindly, caring people — although their gods, as their holy books described them, weren’t. It didn’t take any genius on my part to eventually understand that the god of the bible was a stern father archetype crafted by human monarchs in their own images.) Anyway, that sort of petty, jealous god — more interested in restricting and policing women and their natural sexual instincts than much of anything else (besides insisting that all non-beleivers convert or die) — doesn’t fit the universe I’ve been lucky to see through the gifts of human-made technology.

    As an attempt to give it a sense of proportion: would you expect a two-year old to be write a novel? That’s pretty close to the sort of difference I see in the world described as ‘made’ by the bible’s ‘Almighty Creator’, and the universe we’ve discovered since.

    And look, I’m not saying it isn’t mystical or magical. But ‘He’ didn’t craft man from clay — the magic of evolution did it.

    The universe did it. All by itself.

    Stardust, water, and sunlight transformed itself into increasing complex interactive organisms — and not machines like our unimaginative technologically-dependent similies say — but ORGANISMS. Not artifacts put together by a stern-father mega-mechanic, but living processes that grow from within. Living processes that then procreate in ever increasing diversity. I mean, what else are the all countless variety of species this planet has spawned if not variations of stardust, sunlight, and water? They began and evolved from the solar system’s inherent potential for them.

    They SELF-Created. We are their progeny, blessed (and somtimes cursed) by self-awareness.

    No, in the universe I see around me — the universe that is at once my parents, my sibling, and my-SELF — intelligence, consciousness, and empathy don’t need an external god. No one mind could have created all this wonder. Everything, and everyone, you see and feel is the universe looking in a mirror. Everything. And ultimately, the most persuasive moralities take this as their starting points: that harming another for anything less than self-preservation is immoral because it’s essentially the same as harming your sibling, or mother.

    Not to be preachy or anything… 😉

  • GranadaBound

    Allow me to practice jujitsu on this juggernaut, but first I must deliver a blow to Santorum’s bs: “If we’re the result of chance, if we’re simply a mistake of nature, then that puts a different moral demand on us — in fact, it doesn’t put a moral demand on us …” Ah, grand PooBah, if the Designer has perfected the Universal Machine, then why is it imperfect? How about: My . Dad . Was . Chance, but that’s the last time you’ll be callin’ me a mistake, cowboy.

    Is anyone else outraged that we have this rhetorical retard guiding policy? Does my future happiness depend on how many angels dance on the head of a pin, or whether God wrote the rules, or whether a big bang started it all? Where the hell is that good old ‘merican pragmatism that says “I can see what you done ain’t been good for the most of us?” ‘Stead were caught up in some funky monky deliberations about whether “chance” precludes morality. LAY OUT YOUR ARGUMENT, Santorum baby. Prove to me that chance and preference can’t build structure, can’t craft beauty, can’t find harmony. Better yet, WHAT DOES MORALITY MEAN TO YOU? Perhaps we’d do fine with less theory and more INVESTIGATION!

    RANT OFF

    Now for the jujitsu. Let’s go social-scientific on this dude. Morals must be defined more broadly than “what the bible says,” otherwise we gots us a clear-cut case of a theocratic tautology. Thank God Satan didn’t write that Bible. So if we look at moral and immoral atheists, and we look at moral and immoral (what! no such thing?) theists, which has a higher steady state morality over the generations? Which transmits morality better? I’m serious ’bout this! I really want to know!

  • Nikos

    Thank God Satan didn’t write that Bible.

    What makes you so sure his minions didn’t? (While disguised, of course!) 😉

  • Nikos, your description of a self creating universe was so very…spiritual sounding. You seem to want to claim an intelligence without personhood and rationality without mind. A place that just ‘is.’ The ‘God’ you are rejecting certainly sounds small, and seems to warrant rejection, but He/She is not the God of Christianity, the Bible, or of me. Perhaps you are rejecting a perverse modernist or even medieval misrepresentation of God, but not the kind of God that I have experienced.

    In spite of the rant I also agree a bit with Grandabound…morality must think more broadly than what the ‘Bible Says’ because all too often it has been those in power who have misconstrued scripture to twist it to their own ends. As a professional Biblical theologian (but not the fundamentalist type) I am quite often upset with how often scriptures are misinterpreted from people on both ends of these types of debates. However, I’ll save my lecture on interpretive methodology for another group.

    I’m going to take yet another shot at the initial question and to provide some logic for why I feel chance leads to destruction of meaning and morality. I am not saying that an evolved universe would lacking order, but rather that it would be difficult to find meaning in an ultimate sense. For instance, either matter/energy, or God/gods is eternal (perhaps other non-western religions could contribute other options.) If matter is eternal then meaning would arise through the evolution of consciousness, particularly (as suggested so far, in memory and empathy). I see a couple of difficulties with this:

    1. the basic idea of complexity arising from inert matter

    2. consciousness arising from non-consciousness

    3. with the death of memory and existence, significance would also go away. IE, if everyone affected by an immoral act was gone and forgotten, then the significance/meaning of that act would disappear. So, morality can exist only among those with memories. Therefore, meaning is only transient, and ultimately when the universe returns to baseline, will disappear. The act of murder and the act of love are ultimately left on the same ground. As long as persons exist then meaning can continue, therefore, in this system one of our greatest significant acts would be to perpetuate memory…so maybe the ancients had this part right with their high concern for posterity.

    However with an eternal God, because personhood and the actions of each individual have a more profound impact. Personally I think this shows that the theist conception of morality is higher than that of a socially evolved moral system.

    I am open to critique, as I feel as though I am learning a lot through this whole process. Please avoid the rants though.

  • keepmoving

    Nikos wrote: “But the sort of universe that science has shown we’ve grown within, the sort of universe that has come into self-awareness (us) by combining its energies and substances as has happened on this particular globular nook we call home, bears no plausible relationship to the gods of the morality-police called clergy. ” I would like to address your comments on this “sort of universe”. I am currently taking college courses and have just finished several science courses. I think you would be interested to learn that if the earth was a little closer to or farther from the sun it wouldn’t exsist as we know it. This does bear witness to the clergy but to a God who did take the time to make sure we were safe and sound and wanted us to find out more about how he did what he did. Taking science classes, which is my absolute favorite subject, only leaves me in awe of his great power. And on a side note, becareful not to judge God based on mankind. He’s perfect, we’re not. Because we chose to interpret the Bible to fit our needs doesn’t make him flawed. Were so flawed that we make excuses for genecide. Some blame it on God’s Word. Which honestly sounds like an attempt to NOT accept responsibility for our own actions, since it is the interpretation that is flawed. I blame it on the flaw of man’s selfishness apart from God’s word. As far as women exploring their own sexuality, well, with all the STD’S out there, maybe keeping sex in a marriage isn’t a bad thing. Some of your interpretations of the God of the Bible are off too, but that is another blog:O)

    This brings me back to one of my original questions. How can evoution be responsible for morality? Evolution claims we began as premortial (excuse my spelling, I really do like science a whole lot more than english!) goo. Eventually we became what we are. If evolution is responsible for our morality, we are really really slow learners. Genecide has taken place since the beginning of time. We have not stopped it, no matter how often it horrifies us. It is almost always based on some sort of predjudice. And now is being played out in a much more horrific way in suicide bombings. People are targeted based on the area they live in or frequent, and they are killed just because someone has a prejudice against them. No group is exempt from this behavior. So, again, how has evolution affected that? I can say, I have seen amazing changes in a person who based their relationship with Jesus Christ on Jesus Christ and not on what someone else told them they should believe about Jesus Christ. A person who was once angry and hateful learns tolerance and acceptance based on their relationship with Christ, not the clergy, and not a genetic switch over. In this way, I have seen morality God given.

  • Katherine

    Wow, this is kind of a phenomenal comment thread. It may take us another little while to get this show on the radio, but we’re working on it with your help.

  • The debates about whether or not ethics are “God Given” or human derived is thrown into sharp relief when it comes to environmental ethics. Environmental ethics asks simply: “As humans, how should we act in the ecosystem?” Or to phrase it in a slightly more extended form:

    “As a participant species in an intricate and complex system, which we are only beginning to understand, how should we behave as responsible citizen-creatures in a system we did not create, we cannot control and we must not destroy?”

    Environmental ethics challenges the validity of all existing ethical systems and forces us to reconsider all received wisdom from the ethical traditions of the past.

    As Bill Coffin has pointed out repeatly, “Nobody has the authority to destroy the world. All we have is the power to do so.”

    How. then, can we devise ethical norms to inspire effective forms of self-imposed, self restraint to keep us from destroying the environment that supports us? This is the great ethical challenge of our day, and we will be exploring this with students from all over the world via the Internet in this semester’s online course on “Environmental Ethics and Land Management” — see

    http://ecojustice.net/2005-ENVRE120/

    The events surrounding hurricane Katrine clearly indicate that we have a lot of serious thinking and public discussion to engage in very, very soon if the ethical fabric of western civilization is to be seen to have any meaning whatsoever.

  • manning120

    Think (8/26/05) objects to my statement that the Golden Rule is not a good example of moral principle.

    “I don’t think that the Golden Rule suggests that if you are a masochist (your example), you should extrapolate your own desires onto others. Instead, authentic application of the Golden Rule would begin with understanding the needs/desires of others, and then meeting their needs (doing unto them) as you would wish your own needs to be met [i.e. in like manner], without assuming that their needs are the same as yours. Your illustration is self-centered, where as the GR is ‘other’-centered.�

    The Golden Rule (I believe it goes, “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you�) doesn’t say you begin with understanding the needs/desires of others. It says you begin with what you want others to do to or for you. I think its necessary to understand that “the needs/desires of others� may differ from your own, but the Golden Rule doesn’t say that. Furthermore, the Golden Rule leaves it to the individual to determine what’s right or wrong according to the formula. I think we need more than just leaving it to the individual; we need the individual thinking rationally about circumstances and consequences and making considered, coherent judgments as to what should be done. Again, the Golden Rule doesn’t expressly call for these things.

    If you want the Golden Rule improved upon, then I think you should re-right it instead of trying to read into it what the words clearly don’t say.

  • ian.deweese-boyd

    Those who suppose that morality or moral obligation is ultimatedly rooted in God’s nature or will (from Tolstoy, to Keirkegaard, to Aquinas) would suppose that goodness cannot exist if God doesn’t exist. Yet, the way that the question is posed here doesn’t offer an exhaustive disjunction. Morally might easily be both God-given and evovled. The many theists who suppose that evolotion is compatible with God’s existance might well argue that the values that govern our flourishing just are the ones evolution has selected. The either or your looking for might be Morality: God-given (or bases) or not. Tolstoy, of course, said that trying to found morality without God is like trying to get a flower to grow without its roots. The question you might be getting at is that if evolution fully explains moral value, then we need or don’t appear to need any other explanation, i.e., we don’t need God to support morality. It might be interesting to have a philosopher like Robert M. Adams (Yale, now Oxford) on who defend what is called divine command theory, a view that supposes moral obligation must ultimately be based in God’s commands. Such a position clearly would imply that Morality is God given. Here is some information on Adams: http://www.philosophyofreligion.info/robertadams.html

    C. Steven Evans at Baylor has also just written a book on Divine Command theory. there is a jumble of thousghts on this topic

  • dlanorrenrag

    Holding seemingly conflicting beliefs is something we do all the time and probably cannot avoid. Our very reasoning is by reference to models and metaphors that are necessarily indirect or incomplete insofar as such models themselves are not equivalent to whatever might constitute non-tautological truth.

    While our scientific models have come to have considerable “how to� utility, even they have not seemed amenable of logical unification. And, it seems even more clear that our spiritual models (about God and/or morality) have not come to unified appreciation or guidance for what should be the “why to� for our moral choices.

    Even our interpretations of sensations are indirect — thus, models. The very idea of an “I� is a model; whether “you� have existence in correspondence with Truth or God or Existence may be naught but a notion or model. “You� might be naught but an expression of Truth’s imagination.

    While our various models serve various utilities, none combine into any unified, exact representation or correlation with non-tautological Truth. So, the more interesting question might not be whether we can envision a belief in morality without a belief in God. Of course we can!

    Rather, the more interesting question might be whether morality itself can exist without an existing God. To “answer� that question, human logic will not take us very far. To “answer� that question may require a spiritual, not consistently definable kind of faith, insight, intuition, or vision. But, how can purpose, meaning or definition be attributed to words such as “meaning,� “morality,� “spiritual,� or “intuition�? Do such fuzzy concepts somehow spill over from appreciating that “something� seems to synchronize our experiences of disparate models that seems beyond logical unification within mortal reasoning? Maybe God might know, not me.

    From mortal perspective, I see no more logical rationality for believing that morality may exist than for believing that God may exist. In other words, IT HARDLY MAKES MORE LOGICAL SENSE TO BELIEVE IN MORALITY WITHOUT GOD THAN TO BELIEVE IN MORALITY WITH GOD. Rather, insofar as we have no choice but to act on (or believe in) models, the choice for what model (to leap to believe in) may be defended or tipped based upon utility.

    If the desired utility is to promote forums for working out common, civilized appreciations for what is moral, then the church forums that arise in respect of a Golden-Rule-God-belief would seem to win the tip. Against anyone who would profess that morality exists but that God does not, simply ask: how can it be rationally supposed that any supposed evidence for an existence of morality is better than any supposed evidence for an existence of God? Or, how can one scrupulously believe that we are better off not be believe in any basis for scruples?

  • keepmoving

    OK, I’m guessing no one can address the fact that if morality comes from evolution, why do we keep killing and harming each other. If morality really came from evolution, why do we have to pass laws to make it clear we expect moral behavior to continue? I think that proves the point that morality must come from some place other than evolution.

  • manning120

    Dlanorrenrag (9/16/05)says the difficulty of proving that morality exists is as great as the difficulty of proving the existence of God. This appears to lead dlanorrenrag to the conclusion that we ought to choose whatever “model� is more useful (“. . . insofar as we have no choice but to act on (or believe in) models, the choice for what model (to leap to believe in) may be defended or tipped based upon utility�). Dlanorrenrag accordingly finds that “the church forums that arise in respect of a Golden-Rule-God-belief� offer the proper vehicle for resolving moral issues.

    The existence of morality and the existence of God are very different things. Morality is a set of concepts (rules or principles) governing how one should think and behave with regard to oneself, other human or non-human beings, and the environment. While people can disagree as to whether any proposed moral formulation is correct, no one can deny that moral formulations exist. God, on the other hand, is a being encompassing much more than concepts, and controversy about the existence of God has continued for centuries.

    I think the most useful position is one of agnosticism as to whether morality arises from God. As I asserted before, the immediate source of morality is reasoning. It’s not necessary to get into unresolvable disputes about how we got the ability to reason. We should focus on addressing moral issues by using our power of reason, however we got it. We need to convince people like Rick Santorum to do this.

    By the way, I apologize for the Freudian slip in my 9/13/05 post (I meant to say, “If you want the Golden Rule improved upon, then I think you should re-write it instead of trying to read into it what the words clearly don’t say�).

  • The trouble with “God given” ethics is that it is very difficult, indeed, perhaps impossible, ever to know what they could possibly be. The issue is not trivial. It goes to the root of theology. What is it that we mean by “God?”

    As Voltaire is reputed to have said: “If God created us in his own image, we have more than reciprocated.” In short, the only kind of God that humans customarily accept as recognizable looks a great deal like themselves.

    From what other source, then, might we derive legitimate principals of moral behavior? This is what many people from different religious and secular traditions will be exploring through an online course in environmental ethics:

    http://ecojustice.net/2005-ENVRE120/Environmental-Ethics-Announcement.html

    Is it ever possible for humans to develop a non-anthropocentric ethic? Is it ever possible for them to survive in an ecosystem for long without one?

    Tough questions but we have to address them, and we need to begin with asking, “What is the appropriate context for Environmental Ethics?”

    http://ecojustice.net/2005-ENVRE120/Earth-in-Space.htm

    I hope many will join in the conversation.

  • nother

    “Actions are right in proportion as they tend to promote happiness; wrong as they tend to produce the reverse of happiness.”

    John Stuart Mill

    Mill goes on to write that this idea of utility extends to are tendency to promote “general happiness.” We tend to promote a general happiness in our society through a feeling of “duty” and a hope of pleasing. This idea reminded me of something Sartre wrote in “Existentialism and Human Emotions.”

    “Existentialism’s first move is to make every man aware of what he is and to make the full responsibility of his existence rest on him. And when we say that a man is responsible for himself, we do not only mean that he is responsible for his own individuality, but that he is responsible for all men.”

    Jean-Paul Sartre

  • nother

    are? uhhh… our!

  • dlanorrenrag

    Whether behavior exists in a consistently definable moral sense seems debateable. Regardless, we tend generally to “leap to believe” that morality is a real, valid, or practical concept. But, for us to agree to “correct” or “best” ways to answer specific moral dilemmas, I doubt cold reason, logic, or science can lead us where we want or need to go. Rather, I suspect moral answers tend to arise out of a participatory process. People seem to need to take their concerns to a participatory forum. For a forum to attract participants, it needs a commonality for inspiring participants.

    It may not matter so much whether the commonality is comprehended as that it is appreciated. It may not matter so much whether a point of common moral reference (such as God or Higher Decency or morality) can be proven or comprehended as that it can inspire and be appreciated and respected. A society can more likely cohere regardless of inability to prove either God or morality, provided the society appreciates a fundamental moral reference.

    For many, it may be enough that God cannot be disproved, especially when, to some, God seems intuited.

    One problem with utilitarianism is that it is merely an impersonal concept, which tends not to inspire one to wish the greatest good for the greatest number when the cost is borne by one personally.

  • I would like to suggest Dr. Michael Shermer as a guest speaker for this show. He is the Founding Publisher of Skeptic magazine and the Executive Director of the Skeptics Society, and has a long list of credentials. Dr. Shermer does speaking engagements on and has authored several books on the psychology of religion and science-vs.-religion type issues. According to the Skeptics Society website, http://www.skeptic.com, Dr. Shermer’s book, The Science of Good and Evil: Why People Cheat, Gossip, Share, Care, and Follow the Golden Rule, is about “the evolutionary origins of morality and how to be good without God,” which seems to sum up the basic subject matter of this debate. There are directions on the Skeptics Society website on how to invite Dr. Shermer to speak. http://www.skeptic.com/about_us/invite_to_speak.html

  • diogenes

    Is an action wrong because God forbids it or does God forbid it because it is wrong? Also a person doing a good deed without God in the equation may be doing it with greater purity of heart – simply because it is the right thing to do. While the religious person’s motivation may be clouded by fear of punishment or hope of reward.

  • All of these arguments were gone over in my phil 101 class and i can tell you i found the answers we came to easy enough. god given morality has so many holes in it you could use it to strain noodles. a simple run scenario…

    Jesus (the real not fake jesus) comes to you and says “stab your child till they die”

    do you do it? If you dont you are violating a direct order from god, because if god told you to do it, its a “good” thing to do.

    Most of us would not stab their own child, no matter who told them to do it. Hence morality is not based on faith or god or any super natural power.

    As far as an evolved “morality” i can tell you this, human kinds biggest threat is to its own kind. other humans use the same resources you do, take up the same nich in the environment that you do, and compete for the same reproductive population that you do, hence it is only natural that we would fight with each other over things. the same way monkeys and insects and bacteria do. morality is a function of human invention. much in the same way that airplanes and cars are. we invented morality because it is useful. it keeps us from killing each other (too much), and allows us the time to get things done.

  • billmcg

    Ian Barbour, retired professor of both religion and science and winner of the Templeton Prize, is always worth hearing on the interrelationship between scientific theory and religious beliefs. See http://www.britannica.com/eb/article-9342050?tocId=9342050

  • ewayland

    There was a very interesting article on precisely this topic in the December, 1989 Atlantic Monthly. Written, I think, by Glenn Tinder. That would be a person to talk to. As to the topic itself, I fear it is just another way of asking if God exists. I also think there is a strong possibility that whoever you book as guests will talk past each other. Religious and secular people define morality or “goodness” in ways that pre-judge your question. Still, just listening to them try to come to a common understanding of terms would be interesting.

  • flow

    Is it possible to envision a world full of meaning and morality without God — or do they have to come from God? Not only is possible to envision a world full of meaning and morality without “God�, we have empirical evidence from which to draw this conclusion.

    Consider Buddhism; an avowedly atheistic tradition established on the precept of moral behavior. An ancient and enduring tradition that predates Christianity (i.e. the teaching of Jesus the Nazarene) by several centuries.

    Morality is a conceptual construct of human necessity, deriving from the needs of, and benefiting the development of society (i.e. the clan, tribe, village, city, nation, state – that which permits and perpetuates the existence of the individual). Morality is therefore appropriately viewed as ancillary to, not derived from or produced by, evolution.

    Consider the epistemology. The English word “mores� is defined as the customs and habitual practices that a particular group of people accept and follow. It derives from the Latin mos; referring to the will and inclination. The word “particular� suggests the relative nature of morality. It is concerned with the nature of right and wrong within the context of human relations (to each other, the environment and divinity) within a specific culture at a certain time.

    Senator Santorum’s statement is primarily an existential one that seeks (confusedly) to associate morality with “purpose� in an attempt to postulate “a Being that has moral demands� on us. This is the hallmark of egocentric-anthropomorphism that misapprehends the true nature of being.

    And finally to address the question, “Morality: God-Given or Evolved?� To what do you refer when you say “God�? Can someone please define “God� for the purposes of this discussion? For what has evolved more in the previous 6000 years than the human notions of God? And if morality exists at all, how could it not evolve?

  • Potter

    I am a refugee from the Intelligent Design shows. I can’t believe I read this whole thread! There are some very interesting thought- provoking posts here.

    So here are my two cents worth.

    If you hold a literal or non-metaphoric interpretation of the Bible you might take offense so forgive me. The God that some here ( and R. Santorum) speak of seems anthropomorphic in the sense that this God is created in the image of humans by humans. This God is imbued with human traits like intelligence and the ability to design as well as give laws, a sense of morality purpose and give solace. In other words this is God serves as a parent- guide.

    Evolutionary biologists would hold, I believe, that humans created God out of a need after evolving to a degree of self consciousness or awareness from lower forms . Existential questions arising from that awakening are still very much with us and unanswered but for the answers that come from God and religion/s. The questions; Who are we (who am I)? Where did I/we come from?, Why are we here?. Where are we ( am I) going?, sentiments echoed by R. Santorum quoted above, invoke a fear and trembling in some about the possibility of life being meaningless. God and religion give to some answers that calm and give guidance bring us back from that bleak, unbearable, possibility.

    Many manage to find answers within themselves without this concept of God, outside of religion. As “flow” above says there are other ways to calm the soul such as the Buddhist way through meditation. I disagree with “flowâ€?’s conclusion however that “morality is therefore appropriately viewed as ancillary to, not derived from evolution”. If God, the need for God, comes into the mind of man from an evolutionary awakening,which I believe it does, then morality must be a result of evolution as well.

    I have trouble with the question posed because I have trouble with the dichotomy “God-given” and evolution. For me they are the same, from the same source or Source. The Source from which God as well comes, a source that embraces or includes all that we know and do not know, all that is.

    The questions ( Morality: God-Given or Evolved? Is it possible to envision a world full of meaning and morality without God — or do they have to come from God? Do meaning and morality come from the top down or do they percolate from the bottom up?) imply it seems, a definition of God, a God or even a process that is incompatible with evolution. I reject that division.

    Santorum and others view evolution as threatening: chaotic, random, meaningless. This idea of what evolution implies then brings back all the anxiety that belief in God relieves. So no wonder we are having this problem.

    If you see this all as a whole, you do not have a problem with evolution or anything else we may come to know in an honest way such as through scientific inquiry.

    Maybe the Dalai Lama can help us. ( Robert Thurman, our expert on Tibetan Buddhism)

  • flow

    Oops! please replace the first sentence of the 4th paragraph of my previous post that reads “Consider the epistemology” with “Consider the etymology”. (Must have been a floydian slip).

    Thanks,

    Floyd

  • Have any philosophers or scientists considered whether Homo erectus or earlier forms had moral systems? If you go back far enough, for example back to when our lineage was still squarely in the prokaryote camp, I suspect morality wasn’t high on the agenda. And some of my best friends are prokaryotes, I should add.

  • I would be interested in making sure the Jewish right, not just the Christian right is heard from on this show. I find their positions fascinating and unpredictable and, frankly, I want them engaged in the debate so that I can figure out how to debate with them. So, how about inviting David Klinghoffer. He wrote, Why the Jews Rejected Jesus. And, he has a new book coming out on the 10 Commandments. And he has written countless essays on the Talmud and morality for conservative magazines. I want to learn how to talk to people like this.

  • anhhung18901

    “Put differently — in fanya’s words — do meaning and morality come from the top down or do they percolate from the bottom up?”

    I am going to take morality out of my comments: As someone who believes in God, I think that meaning goes both ways. I believe that God’s purpose is to help us progress in the eternal scheme of things, but our finite understanding stymies our ability to comprehend sometimes why things happen the way that they do (like death and when bad things happen to good people (and vice versa)). Personally, I believe that God is only happy when we progress, and He is saddened when we choose to digress. Also, I feel that in order for us to progress beyond this state-of-being, we need God. He is the ultimate source of our ability to grow and continue on beyond this life. Thus, He is also a source of meaning — just as we are a source of meaning for Him.

  • yap

    Daniel Dennett (http://ase.tufts.edu/cogstud/~ddennett.htm) deals with this subject also in his book Freedom Evolves.

  • tbrucia

    >> So here’s the question for the hour: is it possible to envision a world full of meaning and morality without God — or do they have to come from God?

  • peggysue

    Yes Grasshopper, I do think it is possible to both envision and live a moral and meaningful life adopting a non-theistic philosophy. Unlike western religions Buddhism does not involve an overiding deity.

    In a public talk I heard the Dalai Lama give in Vancouver BC he talked about the importance of teaching ethics to our children regardless of our belief system or lack of belief system. He said, you would not expect someone who has never been taught to sit down and play the piano perfectly or instantly do complex mathmatics without being taught. In the same way people need to be taught ethical behavior. He often talks about developing secular ethics. The benefit of kindness is recognized in the reality of our interconnectedness.

    For me personnally as a lay practioner of Tibetan Buddhism deep looking into reality through meditation, the effort to cultivate commpassion, studying the dharma, these practces bring meaning to my life.

  • peggysue

    Here are a few direct quotes of H. H. Dalai Lama that I thought seemed relevant to this discussion. They are from his book, The Universe in a Single Atom: The Convergence of Science and Spirituality.

    on darwinisn…

    “I feel that this inability or unwillingness fully to engage the question of altruism is perhaps the most important drawback of Darwinian evolutionary theory, at least in its popular version. In the natural world, which is purported to be the source of the theory of evolution, just as we observe competition between and within species for survival, we observe profound levels of cooperation (not necessarily in the conscious sense of the term). Likewise, just as we observe acts of aggression in animals and humans, we observe acts of altruism and compassion.

    Why does modern biology accept only competition to be the fundamental trait of living beings? Why does it reject cooperation as an operating principle, and why does it not see altruism and compassion as possible traits for the development of living beings as well?”

    p 114

    on the ups and downs of consciousness…

    “I said to one of the scientists: “It seems very evident that due to changes in the chemical process of the brain, many of our own subjective experiences like perception and sensation occur: Can one envision the reversal of this causal process? Can one postulate that pure thought itself could effect a change in the chemical process of the brain?â€? I was asking whether, conceptually at least, we could allow the possibility of both upward and downward causation.

    The scientist’s response was quite surprising. He said that since all mental states arise from physical states, it is not possible for downward causation to occur. Although, out of politeness, I did not respond at the time, I thought then and still think that there is yet no scientific basis for such a categorical claim. The view that all mental processes are necessarily physical processes is a metaphysical assumption, not a scientific fact. I feel that, in the spirit of scientific inquiry, it is critical that we allow the question to remain open, and not conflate our assumptions with empirical fact.”

    p 128

    H. H. Dalai Lama – The Universe in a Single Atom: The Convergence of Science and Spirituality.

  • jazzman

    Thank God for the Dalai Lama’s voice of reason

  • Potter

    I question whether it is so that modern biology only accepts competition and rejects altruism and compassion…..

    I also question whether all scientists feel that it is not possbile for downward causation to occur from mental states to physical states. I believe for instance that it is at least suspected if not proven that trauma/post traumatic stress disorder/ anxiety disorders do change the brain and that these changes can be reversed or healed somewhat through medication/meditation-stress reduction techniques.

  • Nikos

    Potter: “I question whether it is so that modern biology only accepts competition and rejects altruism and compassion…”

    I think it’s due to the “life is a machine” metaphor that even medical doctors — who, if anybody, should KNOW BETTER — unconsciously believe.

    “The Human Body: The Incredible Machine” was a PBS series a few years ago. Talk about misiniformation!!!

    Life isn’t a machine. It isn’t constructed — it grows from the inside out. It’s ORGANIC.

    It’s LIFE, not mechanics. It is capable of empathy and of empathy’s offspring altruism. Machines, no matter how we try to anthropomorphize ’em, can’t do that. So why the hell do we continue to equate life with machines?!

    SHEESH!

    Sorry, this is one of my pet peeves — but for very good reason.

    See ya, pal.

  • Great question, and great thread. Intelligent Design is often discussed in the context of science – i.e. is it scientifically valid, and should evolution and ID be taught side by side? Less discussed are the implications of ID for religion.

    It seems to me that in framing itself as a scientific theory, ID brings along a lot of the baggage of science: it would reify God just as science reifies the external universe. In both cases, there is held to be an existence outside ourselves, whose “realness” supercedes our perceptions and subjective experience.

    I think the advocates of ID – fundamentalists and bilblical literalists, for the most part – would also like to give moral laws the same immutable “objectivity” as natural laws.

    In my opinion, religion consists of a moral dialogue – with each other, and with God. We do not “know” God through experimentation and hypothesis testing. Rather, God becomes part of our lives through worship, through our own rituals of belief, and by our appreciation of others’ ways of believing. Do we need an objective God to exist apart and aside from our beliefs?

    At another level, the “objective” nature of science is, itself, a product of an ever-changing dialogue that takes place according to certain fixed rules (the scientific method). No modern scientist would assert that we “know” nature with any certainty. Our knowledge consists of provisional statements, always subject to change. Nature is no more certain than God.

    The ID advocates say that science leaves no room for morality. I think what they mean is that it leaves no room for moral absolutism. Science in no way impedes our ability to discuss moral questions, practice moral behavior, or direct our hearts, minds and prayers toward God.

  • George Robertson

    Morality is merely archaeic ethical notions frozen in widespread cult behaviour, induced by a vast conspiracy of artful con men, in service of their personal and cult-collective greed for power.

    Morality would be of no consequence if it were not for the fact that like news and fish, ethical standards need to be fresh to avoid being toxic. Morality, because it seeks to freeze social norms in a time warp 2000 years behind the contemporary world. is inevitably hoplelessly out of step with real modern problems.

    Consider, for example the moral resistance to birth control and abortion rights and the unrestrained overpopulation of the planet that they foster. Morality’s con men in a blind competion for world domination through unfettered birthrates among the faithful, are leading us straight toward a world where we can only subsist by drinking our own urine.

  • scottholdensmith

    I just finished reading Edward O. Wilson’s book Consilience, in which he addresses this very issue. Wilson’s way is admirable because he seems interested in a conversation. As a previously devout Xian who was converted to Darwinism in his 20s, Wilson understands the transcendental POV, and he understands the fear transendentalists have of a moral vacuum and moral relativism. But he has a solution.

  • Nikos

    George Robertson: Yur a JEEN-yus!

    Right On!

    (And i thought I was incendiary. HA! I bow to you. Good work. Let’s see more of it, please.)

    My only quibble with your otherwise spot-on sacred-cow slaying is that the bulk of the moralists aren’t so much interested in power as simply making a living. To hear what I mean, check out the ‘This American Life’ website and look for a December (or wuz it November?) show about bishop Carlton Pearson: American Heretic. Give it a listen.

    It’s both moving and amusing.

    And terribly enlightening. (And I chose that last adjective quite deliberately.)

  • Mr. Robertson, may God bless and keep him and all iconoclasts, is referring to an absolutist morality, which he correctly sees as being manufactured by a power structure for the purpose of social control.

    But we don’t need to accept that definition of morality. From his political views, I’m going to guess that Mr. Roberston is a moral person. He believes, perhaps, in the rights of the oppressed, in freedom of choice. He feels compassion for people who suffer. He is upset by poverty and violence, especially when they result from the abuse of power and the drive to accumulate wealth. These are moral positions.

    There are those who wish to lock up the moral dialogue, to exclude views like those I’ve attributed (I hope not wrongly) to Mr. Robertson.

    We can’t let them do it. We can’t bow out of the conversation. We need to show that it IS a conversation, that morality is not a fixed set of laws that someone else writes. Religion is too powerful to leave to right-wing ideologues. There is a need for progressive and radical religious thought.

    What does God expect from man? We do not need to accept the answers Rick Santorum or Gerry Falwell would give to this question.

  • peggysue

    What does God expect from man? The premise of that question reflects a patriarchal worldview excluding women altogether. It is worth noting that fundamentalist theologies across the board tend toward a so-called morality that seeks to control and deny power to women.

  • Nikos

    peggysue:

    RIGHT ON!

  • jazzman

    The Questons:

    Morality: God Given or Evolved?

    Whose morality? God’s? Whose God? (Your name here?) Whose Evolution? Darwin’s?

    The answers: YOURS, YOURS, YOURS

    Note: All the content herein is my not so humble opinion (which is part of my current worldview but is always open to emendation), except where it jibes (jives) with other’s so that qualifying “IMO�’s will be unnecessary.

    Morality is basically (sans nuance, Nikos) the value judgment of right (good) and wrong (bad) actions (adjectively it can apply to abstracts, conditions and objects.) These valuations are part of the larger set of polar or opposite principles that seem to be fundamental in physical reality.

    (True/False, Positive/Negative, Yes/No, Love/Hate, Pleasure/Pain, God/Devil, Righteousness/Evil, Arrogance/Humility, Black/White, Straight/Gay, Male/Female, Rich/Poor, Sick/Well, Something/Nothing, 0/1, Wave/Particle, et al.)

    Based on their beliefs about reality, humans tend to sort their ideas & experiences into this binary system. As can be seen some of the pairs lend themselves to “Good/Badâ€? value judgment and some do not (they’re just complimentary – the reason I include these pairs is so you can examine and reflect on your individual beliefs about them.) As Nikos notes, one’s 1st exposure to applying values to these binary principles (particularly right/wrong & good/bad) is from one’s parents, extended family, elders, teachers, clergy, etc. who have their own beliefs/prejudices as to how you and humanity at large should behave. For a child, this information is necessary for physical survival and must be handed down from parent to child in order to protect it from dangers that are obvious to the adult (these beliefs are the parent’s/adult’s concept of the nature (and perils) of existence – e.g. early man says to children: Predatory animals (or humans) are dangerous (bad) – don’t go out alone, don’t tell lies (wrong) (insert archetypal “moralâ€? object lesson: The Boy Who Cried Wolf.) Modern man says: Don’t take candy from or talk to strangers (bad) they probably are less than well intended. Streets are dangerous (bad) – don’t cross the street without an adult. Don’t disobey me (wrong) – I know what’s best for you and I am only concerned for your wellbeing. To an adult, ideas about right/wrong are generally more akin to behavioral guidelines than absolutes, but to a child dogmatic acceptance of these beliefs is a biological (not evolutionary) imperative. To a child adults are LARGE, certain, and seem godlike, and unquestioned acceptance is usually (preferably) the norm. As young peoples’ conscious minds become mature, it is natural (and necessary) to question ALL beliefs and to assess their relevance in relation to themselves, others, and their environment. Beliefs are merely structures in which various kinds of experience can be weighed or tested as to their validity. The preponderance of adults ignore or gloss over this process and still hold a vast number of childhood beliefs unexamined or questioned. The idea that morality is “God Givenâ€? predominates in many (most) peoples’ belief systems today. In all but the Eastern philosophies, this is primarily due to Judeo-Christian or Islamic dogma. (In the west this was/is especially reinforced by the Roman Catholic Church dicta for the last 1000 years/Protestant – (RC Lite) for 400 years.) For this reason, I refused to expose my 3 children to organized religion. The origin of these “Religious Moralsâ€? comes from “Creation (Creationist’s?) Mythsâ€?

    Creation myths have a common thread. They represent the transition from the collective unconscious (animalistic instinctual focus) to conscious (reflective, self-aware, human ) being, with free will, and choice – the qualities crucial to physical survival, absent instinct.) The God/Lucifer (Bearer of Light or Prince of Darkness?) separation, “Original Sinâ€? and Adam & Eve’s fall from grace are familiar to most modern (western) people. The “eating the forbidden fruit of the Tree of Knowledgeâ€? is the birth of “moralsâ€?, ignorance is no longer bliss, the knowledge of “good & evilâ€? and the responsibility for one’s actions is mandated. (This must mean that morality is, heaven forefend, “God forbiddenâ€? then grudgingly allowed to be retained after it was usurped by those disobedient rebels (duped by that crafty snake) – not exactly freely given!!!)

    The fact is: YOU create your own morality through choice, design, or default.

    All life with the exception of humans is innately moral. It operates instinctively with its own neutral (natural) logic and “just isâ€?. Any attempt to infer moral behavior arising in other than humans is a projection of the beliefs of the inferrer. (I am aware that there is altruistic appearing behavior in various animal groups – but I maintain that this is also a projection (Hello Dalai?) This obviates Darwinian Evolution – assuming it actually exists however I reject this faith based (baseless) belief (Darwinism is as faith based as ANY religion’s beliefs) as a source of morality. Man does tend to create “hisâ€? (grammatically rendered with gender-neutral PC intention) God in his own image and humanity and consciousness does evolve (in the etymological sense – unrolls i.e., changes and refines its beliefs to become more aware of its role in the “Multiverseâ€?) so one could say that morality in that narrow sense evolved (is evolving.)

    In other posts (E.O. Wilson, 12/21/05) I separated the Morality definition into 3 three categories: 1.) Religious, 2.) Ethical, and 3.) Absolute in order to distinguish among putative God Given directions (as variable as each religion’s concept of God’s proscriptions), Secular societal customs (again variable by each social group’s consensus) and a meta-category which applies to ALL humans irrespective of Religious or Societal affiliations. For the purposes of the following, I am equating “Morality� with 3rd. As previously implied, I consider the other 2 categories’ “moral values� neutral except when they coincide with the 3rd (as with ALL values; individual and mass beliefs charge the concept.) As Shakespeare notes in Hamlet “There is nothing either good or bad but thinking makes it so.� (A neutral value judgment.)

    Morality also spawns the sense of GUILT so people may reflect on the results of their less than ideal actions. Morality requires memory of the results of one’s past actions so that the individual in the present may anticipate (project) the results of similar actions in the future. The purpose of GUILT (not the Jiminy Cricket, Parental, or Religion based conscience type of guilt) is to remind us: Don’t repeat this less than IDEAL action again. As humans have traded instinctive behavior for conscious, and have free will, a moral code is necessary (again in the 3rd absolute sense.)

    I’ll attempt to alleviate the fears of Andrew Schamess and George Robertson regarding my absolutist beliefs. (Even if these beliefs were to be forced on the populace they could no be abused (stated by Andrew Schamess interpreting George>> “by a power structure for the purpose of social control.�)

    Aside to George: I’m not so sure that the >>�vast conspiracy of artful con men, in service of their personal and cult-collective greed for power� are that artful or conspiratorial – I’ll give you the self-serving greed for power. However, if they believe that >>�blind competition for world domination through unfettered birthrates among the faithful� is viable, they are conning themselves (although the Western secular form of democracy (dictatorship of they that care to vote) could easily become a casualty.)

    This is my proposal for the Absolute Morality: (I resist the urge to prepend facetious “Thou Shalts� onto these propositions.)

    1) Do Respect and Honor ALL Life/Nature.

    EVERYTHING in the universe has purpose, meaning, and an innate right to exist. (No need to invoke God or Evolution)

    2) Do EMPATHIZE with others in all transactions. (Thanks for the concept, Nikos).

    Consider the effect of your actions vis a vis others. Don’t take advantage of people via trickery or superior intellect. This is the root of the Golden Rule – no tit for tat.

    3) Do not kill more than is needed for physical sustenance.

    I believe that most people would agree that the deprivation of life for gluttony (1 of the 7 “Deadly Sins�) is less than ideal and should be discouraged.

    4) Do not commit violence on yourself or others, life, or the environment.

    As Nikos quoting Isaac Asimov notes: Violence is the last resort of the incompetent (or ignorant.) I would add that violence also is produced by a feeling of powerlessness (actual or perceived) on the part of the perpetrator. It also is the product of aggression that has been built up over time instead of naturally expressed when appropriate. Aside to George Robertson: I would consider overpopulation a violation of this “rule.� Overpopulation is unsustainable and is frequently balanced by such less than ideal measures such as genocide and disease locally, wars and pandemics globally.

    5) Do not attempt to attain an IDEAL by violating any of the above propositions.

    The “All of the aboveâ€? Meta-rule – IDEAL ENDS NEVER JUSTIFY LESS THAN IDEAL MEANS.

    Salutations and Peace to ALL – Ramen to Nikos 😉

  • Rycke

    First we need some definition. Morality is how we treat other people. Holiness is how one keeps the tenets of one’s particular religion.

    To evolve is to change. One can see change in morality in the Bible itself, from the Old Testament to the New. The focus of morality in the Old Testament is on how one treats one’s family and tribe and keeps the Commandments of God, and its God is a jealous god. The focus in the New Testament is on how one treats one’s neighbor; its God is a loving and forgiving god. The God of the Old Testament puts holiness and obedience above morality. Jesus puts morality above holiness and on a level with obedience to God.

    Constantine conquered Jesus’ Church by taking advantage its divisions over dogma, creating the Holy Roman Catholic Church. For the next thousand years or so, obedience to state and church was obedience to God and placed way ahead of morality, which ranked somewhere below holiness. With the rise of Protestantism, and later secularism, Catholic doctrine began to put obedience to church and God slightly ahead of obedience to the state, but morality still trailed behind.

    Still, throughout, morality itself remains relatively unchanged; it is based on treating others as one would wish to be treated. It is inherent in our nature as human beings. No one wishes to be assaulted, murdered, stolen from, cheated, lied about or lied to. As time goes on, our circle of concern has widened or narrowed, and our relative emphasis on morality has waxed and waned. But morality remains eternal. For those who believe in God, it must be god-given, but it is given to all.

  • Nikos

    Rycke: when you say: “morality itself remains relatively unchanged; it is based on treating others as one would wish to be treated. It is inherent in our nature as human beings. No one wishes to be assaulted, murdered, stolen from, cheated, lied about or lied to”, are you saying that morality is linked more to empathy than to a god’s decrees?

    (It seems so — especially this: ‘It is inherent in our nature as human beings’ — which, to us non-god-believers, is spot on.)

    I’m grinnin’ from one ear to the other.

    (Thanks!)

  • peggysue

    A problem with morality being handed down from God is how God’s morality is interpreted and how human beings enforce that interpretation. For example, there are today learned religious men who might perceive my wearing fingernail polish as immoral and take it upon themselves to do God’s will and cut off my fingers. In cases like this, where morality is handed down from “Godâ€? morality does not equal empathy.

    In Europe during the middle ages many thousands of mostly women, but also gays & gypsies were tortured and killed by “men of Godâ€? according to those men’s interpretation of God’s handed down morality. If morality is handed down from God, to whom is it handed? Who is qualified to interpret God’s handed down morality? As they tie me to the stake and light a fire beneath my feet do I say, “Hey! wait a minute! Are you sure that’s what God meant? What about empathy?â€?

  • Talk with Tom Clark, the Center For Naturalism.

    recently quoted in WSJ

    http://www.naturalism.org/

    Talk with Colin McGinn

    He appeared in Jonathan Miller’s BBC Rough History To Disbelief

    http://philosophy.rutgers.edu/FACSTAFF/BIOS/mcginn.html

    Talk with Hector Avalos

    http://www.geocities.com/rpfa/aveng.html

    author of Fighting Words: The Origins Of Religious Violence

    http://www.prometheusbooks.com/catalog/book_1682.html

    Talk with Pascal Boyer

    http://artsci.wustl.edu/~pboyer/PBoyerHomeSite/index.html

    author of Religion Explained: The Evolutionary Origins of Religious Thought

    http://www.perseusbooksgroup.com/basic/book_detail.jsp?isbn=0465006965

  • jazzman

    In my rush to post on Friday night, I omitted a key word in the explanation of Absolute #2. It should read no “vengeful� tit-for-tat. (The vengeful JHVH of the OT take note. The “God the Father� of the NT has obviously mellowed after having a kid (they often have that effect) and “turn the other cheek for tat� is now preferred.)

  • Elric

    Having read many interesting thoughts and comments about morality on this forum, I still think that the both ‘scientific’ and ‘religious’ viewpoints avoid to go to the core of the question.

    Question to the ‘scientists’: you don’t accept religious foundation for morality, but how can you distinguish between good and bad based on rationality? In absence of such a basis your moral is in the same ‘belief realm’ as religious morality.

    Question to the ‘believers’: how can you combine the concept of the ‘good’, ‘loving’, ‘omnipotent’, ‘omniscient’ creator with so much ‘evil’ in the world? Why did supreme being create such an universe where ‘evil’ exists and reigns?

    I know, these are old and trivial arguments but I haven’t read any clear, reasonable answers on them…

  • Nikos

    Elric: at the risk of exposing myself as a simpleton, I would answer you by restating this.

    Would you care to be raped? Stolen from? Beaten for someone else’s fun? Jeered for how you look? Stoned to death for showing an attraction to someone?

    Such questions I think must have come first in morality’s most ancient evolutions; sacred sanction/codification followed later, to give these ’empathy-products’ (for lack of a more imaginative/poetic phrase) cultural weight.

    Only later, it seems to me, after hunter-gatherers had evolved into pastoralists and farmers did their ancestors’ original ‘golden rule’ kind of morality become subsumed under the rubbish detailed in textual barbarities like Leviticus. Only later, I think, did morality come to include unending male obsessions over female sexuality — which, looked at analytically, can at BEST be called barbarisms. (And at worst: sanctified atrocities.)

  • Nikos

    Elric: just to be clear, what I’m trying to posit (while multi-tasking) is that proto-morality must have existed in the homonid species prior to the (questionably named) H.sapiens — but since ‘property’ as a concept is possibly (or probably) a H.sapiens invention, we must imagine that these proto-moralities didn’t include rules against theft, but probably focused on simple issues of manners — of interpersonal conduct.

    “Do unto others as you’d have them do unto you” is a cliche, sure, but it probably formed the foundation of pre-sapiens hunter-gatherer proto-moralites.

    Also, it is posited (albeit questionably) that earlier hominids couldn’t make the link between sex and reproduction. This is probably condescending rubbish, but it’s a possiblity nonetheless. After all, heterosexual doesn’t INVARIABLY produce pregnancy, so perhaps pregnancy was considered an outcome of sex + divine intervention. Later, perhaps, agriculture offered to the increasingly dominant men the famous and unfortunate paradgim that Woman is Man’s furrow. (Yech. Of course none of them could know that the ovum is a relative giant waiting only for a jolt of DNA from a puny little sperm.)

    Anyway, much of what passes in patriarchal cultures as ‘morality’ is, in this view, a very recent layer of sexual obsession — and of worries over property too, which couldn’t have been much of an issue to nomadic hunter-gatherers (as we know from contact with such cultures recently).

    I know this is terribly incomplete, but I gotta get back to my little ole life for a few hours.

  • Nikos

    oops: that was meant to be: “After all, heterosexual SEX doesn’t INVARIABLY produce pregnancy,”

    sorry

  • Elric

    Nikos, thanks for your reply, but what I like or don’t like doesn’t have to do anything with the truth values of the ‘good’ and ‘bad’… (This reminded me a joke when missionaire asks an aborigen about what’s good and what’s bad. Answer was: if I kill that guy and take his wife it’s good and if he kills me and takes my wife it’s bad). How current morality evolved is a minor issue. Most important is the metaphysical aspect of the question: does good and bad ‘really’ exist? Do they have any inherent values? The thing that I don’t like to be beaten or ridiculed doesn’t mean that beating or ridiculing etc. are ‘bad’!!

    So, I think that ‘good’ and ‘bad’ are just our arbitrary, mental projections and the ‘moral’ is just a set of relative rules to keep the society in some kind of power balance i.e. the rules are for the weak.

  • Nikos

    Elric:

    yeah, I reluctantly have to agree. Conservatives scorn what they call ‘moral relativism’ with the same ferocity that Muslims excoriate blasphemy, but both those examples are entirely products of self-serving perspectives: i.e., the Universe revolves around my God (and therefore around me and my beliefs).

    Anyway (and nothwithstanding that this thread’s topic is whether morality is ‘god-given’ or a product of evolution), here’s one my favorite personal solutions to what I take to be your unanswered query (It’s from Phillip Lieberman’s ‘Eve Spoke’ – a book about the evolution of human brains and language):

    But the time of Eve is long past, in terms of both human life and of human culture. And the question that currently faces us is, What use will we make of speech and language? Evolution itself has no direction. The old creation myths will not suffice. We are not the lords of creation, made in god’s image because we talk, masters of the birds and beasts, which cannot speak. The purpose to human life is surely that we must use the gift of speech, language, and thought to act to enhance life and love, to vanquish needless suffering and murderous violence—to achieve a yet higher morality. For if we do not, Eve’s descendants will reach their end, marking another brief, failed “experiment� in the long evolutionary history of our planet.

    And no other creature will be here to sing a dirge or tell the story of our passing, for we alone can talk.

  • Nikos

    One last crack at it (for now, anyway):

    Priestess, priests, prophets and prophetesses are all, like it or and believe them or not, voices of their deities. To a secularist like me, it’s pretty darn obvious that these voices create their deities to serve, by sanctification, what they deem to be the needs or morals or righteous causes of their peoples. As I’ve suggested above, ethical interpersonal behavior was surely the mother of ‘morality’, which, as Jazzman insists, is a religious product. That’s fine. Yet the deities live entirely in the minds of their voices and believers, making morality a human product. And therefore evolved.

  • Elric

    Yes, I can say that the search for the ‘Truth’ has brought me to relativism/nihilism and that’s why I can’t be satisfied with inconsistent and not thorough assumptions and ideas: even the topic of this thread is not really clear and rational and lies in the realm of belief. As everybody would agree God and God-given morality is mostly matter of belief but let’s don’t forget that evolution is still a theory, successful and kind of rational but still a THEORY (especially the so called progressive evolution) and in order to accept it we still need to BELIEVE in it!! So there is no big difference if we base our morality on religious BELIEF or scientific BELIEF, neither gives us the understanding of the truth values of good vs. bad.

    And Nikos, you as well operate with the ‘a priory’ notions which don’t have any foundation except belief: e.g. ‘higher morality’, ‘gift'(this word implies giver: do you mean God?), ‘love and life’ vs ‘suffering and violence’…

    And in one we have to agree with the critics of the evolution theory: if there was no Supreme Being – Creator, the Meaning-Giver and the universe is just a product of a blind chance than there is no Purpose and Meaning for our lives and if we are vanquished or not from the face of this planet, it really DOESN’T MATTER!

  • Elric

    To you last crack Nikos:

    Not only priests but ALL of us create our deities and beliefs and than we start to serve them, make them our way of life, fighting for them, imposing them on others as ultimate truth etc.

    Only way out from this ‘evil’ circle is the razor of nihilism which will expose and free us from these illusions…

  • jazzman

    Elric wrote:>>So, I think that ‘good’ and ‘bad’ are just our arbitrary, mental projections…>> Elric, well stated, I agree, and that’s the crux of the point I was making in the 1st part of my rather lengthy analysis above – nice and tersely put. Because I read OS posts during my lunch, and can only post once on weekdays about 7PM EST, I attempted to explain my concept of the “origin of human’s moral beliefsâ€? in 1 fell swoop, rather than put out controversial conversational squibs in a running dialogue of posit, wait for critique, refute, and explain. Consequently this makes for lengthy expositions and I apologize if they are tedious.

    I expected a rebuttal from Nikos but perhaps he agrees with my analysis, or is too busy opining on other OS topics. (With all your blogging, how do you find time to work on your novel, Nikos?)

    Elric says: >> the ‘moral’ is just a set of relative rules to keep the society in some kind of power balance i.e. the rules are for the weak.>> I would venture that the “Morals� (1st & 2nd definitions) are a set of rules to keep the UNbalance of power in the favor of the “moralizers� (they don’t consider THEIR morals relative at all.) I would also emend the i.e., to state “the rules are for they that do not question them!!!� or “the rules are for the weak as they FEAR without rules, they and everyone else would run amok!!!� Note: These rules are purported (not by me) to be either provided by God or Evolution and conditions seem to be quite amok despite people’s fear of retribution for the failure to observe them. I would close by again submitting that the Absolute Morals address the metaphysical aspect of not good and bad (as you already know that these attributes are personal projections or beliefs) but “Ideal� and less than “Ideal�.

    As I went to post the above I see that Nikos has misquoted me and states that I insist that “Morality� is a “religious product�. I stated that Religious Morality is tautologically a religious product (foisted on the believers) as opposed to ethical morality a secular societal product (usually backed up by the LAW except in loopholes (semantic ethics/justice)). Merely labels for differing moral origins. I see that Elric is not convinced that Evolution is an indisputable fact or Proven (hah) science as Potter believes. Give me a chance and I’ll have you questioning it as well, Nikos. I don’t have time to address the Nihilistic/Existential aspect of reality/illusions, however I have definite opinions. Home beckons – later y’all.

  • Nikos

    Elric: I wouldn’t know an ‘a priory’ from a ‘b movie’, so I fear you lost me there. But don’t answer yet.

    First let me say that I find meaning enough in human existence by my comprehension that I’m simply one (of billions) of entities comprised of stardust and water and powered by sunlight, and aware of itself as something we’ve arbitrarily distinguished as ‘human’. You and I are the universe aware of itself. Moreover, I don’t think this is unique to this planet – hell, I don’t think dolphins or dogs are unaware of themselves either, ftm. But we humans not only have the ability (it’s a ‘gift’?! are you sure?) to communicate about this, we obsess over it too. In this obsession, we wonder how our parents came into being, confer supernatural characteristics to these miraculous beings (and grandparents too), and then as we mature become jaded and partially forget our parent worship, substituting archetypes we call deities to make up for the sense of loss.

    (You ever heard of a creation god that was an Uncle? Or Aunt?)

    Anyway, I, like you, don’t believe in what you called ‘progressive evolution’ either (if I understand what you meant, that is). This is putting the cart before the horse, just as someone earlier in this thread did by marveling that God had made the Earth’s orbit exactly what it is to keep us safe from freezing or roasting. As if ‘he’ created the solar system millions of years early, in anticipation of his human likenesses one day emerging from clay to take on the serious business of suppressing our natural instincts and stoning our wayward women in order to earn our free pass to an invisible paradise.

    Yech.

    Evolution isn’t a pyramid with humans on top. The human form was not predestined in any way.

    Is that what you meant by ‘progressive evolution? If so, I’m with you, pal.

    Anyway, as the universe aware of itself, it seems to me only decent to treat my fellow beings with the same respect I’d like shown to me. Which makes Phillip Lieberman’s passage from ‘Eve Spoke’ something I’m quite happy to aspire to.

    That good enough? You don’t have to agree—I’m not out to convert you. I just hope to make clear my appreciation of life-on-earth something sublime and glorious yet not divinely given—unless said ‘divine’ is pantheistic, in which case I’m already on the bandwagon.

    Jazzman: sorry if I misquoted you. Sometimes I think that I know what you mean, but having packing peanuts for brains is, to understate it, an impediment. It’s not your writing, I don’t think, it’s my cogitation, or lack thereof.

    ‘Opining’? How nice. Polite. ‘Embarrasing myself’ is more like it. 😉

    As for my novel: it’s in a ‘fallow period’. Which is what? – a euphemism for ‘if I gotta look at that friggin’ page of junk again I’m gonna upchuck!’

    But no worries, it’s actually quite a decent effort, it’s just that beginnings of novels are harder to get right than middles, and I’ve been trying to perfect the beginning lately because the middle is already quite good. The first dozen pages are a whole nother issue.

    So, ROS is my opiate. And blogging, I’ve found, allows me to write in a freer voice, which ultimately helps the first-person narrator of the novel. So there! 🙂

    Anyway, I’ve ‘absorbed’ your offerings more than consciously ‘accepted’ them, and will not quibble any further. But forget trying to disabuse me out my appreciation for evolution: I see its evidence all around me every day, whether I’m cutting and splitting wood (we live in mild western WA, and heat with electricity plus a woodstove) or running through the forest behind the property. Although I don’t believe we understand the whole business yet. And that’s fine too – some future genius with incisive knowledge of DNA will win likely a Nobel Prize for working out the minutia.

    Does your ‘Ideal’ vs. ‘less than Ideal’ jibe with the Lieberman quote above? I want to assume so, but, well, my packing-peanuts problem always give me cause to wonder.

    Finally, I appreciate most of what you write (even where I quibble) and think you should know it.

    Oh, and I’m still someday gonna wrestle with my fuzzy thinking on that issue still left hanging on the E.O.Wilson thread, but now I’m not sure where I’ll post it. Maybe I’ll post it in that same archived thread and give you a heads-up here (since I don’t think Santorum’s ever gonna follow through after his staff has surely discovered that this site is populated by the likes of infidels like me—this thread will be open for months!)

  • jazzman

    Nikos wrote: >>having packing peanuts for brains is, to understate it, an impediment. It’s not your writing, I don’t think, it’s my cogitation, or lack thereof. ‘Opining’? How nice. Polite. ‘Embarrasing myself’ is more like it. >> An aside chide: Lay off the self-deprecation, there’s nothing wrong with your brain – being opinionated/and sharing those beliefs is not a cause for embarrassment. It’s a process – how else will you reach disabusement? As you stated, you have empathy for the abused (I may have something on that later) and have been on the receiving end of abuse – you’re definitely in need of DISabuse.

    BTW why should I forget trying to shake your FAITH in “Darwinian Evolution� i.e., “Progressive Evolution�, since that topic (Intelligent Design actually) was the catalyst to cause me to join ROS, over the last couple of months, you, Elric, and ALBY (so prolific but a tad cynical at times), seem to be the most open minded of the bloggers. I doubt you are too immune to reason that you won’t entertain the possibility that it is a faith-based belief of the Religious Aspect (Cult) of Science – albeit a deep seated and widely accepted dogma in western culture. Off topic: What kind of woodstove do you use? As a W/S aficionado I used to prefer Ashley or Jotul. I was living on a farm in Vermont with my friend Eric Darnell when he invented the FreeFlow stove which thru physics and “evolution� combined the best aspects of both stoves with the firebox enclosed in a heatilator matrix made out of diesel truck exhaust pipes, it was/is fantastic. Check it out!!! No time – gotta go – check you next week.

  • Nikos

    Re: self-effacement: thanks for your concern, Jazzman, but it really isn’t necessary. My ego isn’t hurting, and, besides that, it’s shielded by the relative anonymity of my ROS-tag (‘Nikos’).

    More importantly my self-reproach is apt for two reasons:

    1. On at least of couple of recent occasions I fully deserved it.

    B. I’m actually hoping to demonstrate (however lamely) that like Car Talk’s Click and Clack, those of us with the audacity to offer opinion or ‘expertise’ to a national (or global) audience ought to have the ability to laugh at ourselves. Otherwise we regulars of the ROS blogs take ourselves much too seriously, pouting and fuming and writing juvenile insults to other nearly anonymous ‘foes’ whose (equally shielded) egos often seem as fragile as our own. Others feel insulted enough to ‘drop out’ because the tenor of the debate gets too heated: ripostes go quickly from (quasi-) humorous to toxic. It’s as silly as it is regrettable.

    III. So there.

    We don’t know what the woodstove make is! It came with the house. It’s big, black, and cast iron. It’s a square box that I’d estimate at about three feet to a side. (Is that nine cubic feet capacity? No, more isn’t it? Math isn’t my forte!) I love it though, because we can burn fires in it continuously for six or seven weeks before the ash-build up necessitates a shoveling-out. Nice, huh?

    I gotta run for now, but I’m looking forward to your nihilism offering—if only because the concept is incomprehensible to me! Explain, please!

    And stay warm. 🙂

  • Elric

    Nikos, I think, with your selfaware universe concept you are entering into religion from the backdoor 🙂 (Something like Spinozian pantheism?!)

    Nikos wrote: “Anyway, as the universe aware of itself, it seems to me only decent to treat my fellow beings with the same respect I’d like shown to me. Which makes Phillip Lieberman’s passage from ‘Eve Spoke’ something I’m quite happy to aspire to”

    Although I can understand and maybe like what you say, still in order to be consistent, clear and rational I can’t help but call your statement a BELIEF! And have to repeat again: religios, scientific, personal or whatsoever beliefs are just personal mental projections, nothing else… (and mostly induced by background, education, society, masmedia etc.)

    p.s. Nikos wrote: “Anyway, I, like you, don’t believe in what you called ‘progressive evolution’ either (if I understand what you meant, that is). This is putting the cart before the horse, just as someone earlier in this thread did by marveling that God had made the Earth’s orbit exactly what it is to keep us safe from freezing or roasting. As if ‘he’ created the solar system millions of years early, in anticipation of his human likenesses one day emerging from clay to take on the serious business of suppressing our natural instincts and stoning our wayward women in order to earn our free pass to an invisible paradise..”

    Those guys have point there. At lest from ‘scientific’ point of view. Check this out:

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fine-tuned_universe

  • Nikos

    Elric: Belief?

    If I am not cosmic material (condensed subatomic energy), and powered (like all life on this rock) by sunlight, then WHAT AM I?

    Imaginary?

    By the way, I don’t believe in ‘the soul’, which to me is a meme signifying a product of wishful thinking: an eternal ego-consciousness; but not a real, measureable entity. If I have an eternal ‘soul’, it’s the subatomic energy making up my atoms and molecules — subatomic energy that mutates in form and pattern, but can never be destroyed.

    In other words, I don’t consider myself an entity with a body — I AM this body.

    Please ponder this before replying (and yes, I WANT to read a reply!).

    Then add to your conclusion the equally indisputable fact that I am self-aware — parochially, yes — but aware of myself, and of the planet, and of the nearby stellar neighborhood. (At least.)

    I am the universe aware of itself, not as a self-deluded deity-entity, but as single little consciousness-center on this rock in this stellar system. (So are you.)

    Either that, or a figment of your imagination, I guess.

    (But I don’t think so.)

    As far as your concluding point goes, I guess I’m unclear. Are your suggesting that humans were somehow predestined?

    Thanks.

  • jazzman

    Elric writes:>> with your selfaware universe concept you are entering into religion from the backdoor.>> What do you mean by “religion�? If you are using the common definition of a belief in a supernatural (no doubt anthropomorphic) deity external to its creation, then a self-aware universe needn’t acquire a religious connotation any more than you do as a self-aware human entity unless it is worshipped as such. The same goes for pantheism although the word is a Greek hybrid meaning loosely “God is in all� (hmm Nikos is of Greek heritage – could it be hereditary?) and my belief (Nikos’ possibly) as stated above as respect/honor ALL nature could be considered pantheistic but I don’t worship nature, I just prefer to believe by choice (conscious reasoning) that all that is has meaning. Aside: Nihilism is strongly predicated on a BELIEF in Darwinesque Evolution (blind-with-no-purpose-save-survivalism) and fails if there is innate purpose or meaning. ALL held tenets are beliefs whether induced by external hypnosis (naïve acceptance) or internal hypnosis (conscious choice.) The anthropic principle (strong or weak) is just that: Anthropic (humanized) as is the entire subjective universe.

    Nikos writes:>> I am the universe aware of itself,>> (YES) >> not as a self-deluded deity-entity >> (YES YOU ARE) >>, but as single little consciousness-center on this rock in this stellar system. >> (NOT SINGLE – MULTIPLE) >>(So are you.)>> (SO ARE ALL OF US) Either that, or a figment of your imagination, I guess.>> Think Again: YES Nikos, you and Elric and I are ALL figments of each other’s imagination. We all hold nebulous idea constructs of each other based solely on a collection of 1/0 bit representations in cyberspace. These constructs/figments are molded and shaped by us by each our personal beliefs and our EMPATHETIC reactions to each other. Nikos’ me and Elric’s me and My me are all separate distinct creations as are my and your yous. Chew on that till we create again.

  • Nikos

    Jazzman: I must confess to knowledge of the ‘reality is imaginary’ idea. I just don’t find it particularly valuable. Nonetheless, here’s how I understand it: every iota of my awareness of the universe comes through my five senses, whose stimuli are synthesized by my brain, which then, through cultural concepts plus instinct, helps me order the inundation of sensory input by means we call consciousness, which then decides which of the zillion simultaneous stimuli are worth noting and responding to. This includes my suppositions (and presuppositions) about me and of you, and of most every other segment of reality…

    Which can reasonably be called an act of imagination.

    Is this what you meant?

    Elric and Jazzman both:

    I’ve wondered lately how to phrase this, and here’s the best version I’ve got so far:

    I no more take evolution as a matter of ‘faith’ or ‘belief’ than I do the supposition that I was born from my mother’s womb and not spawned—even though I have no memory of birth (or of my possible spawning). My existence as a human and my infant bond with my mother (not to mention our shared aspects of appearance) are enough to convince me of my birth and of her maternity. Likewise, the many fundamental similarities of living creatures and of PLANTS (which I see a whole helluva lot of every day) coupled with the mountains of written results of decades worth of scientific investigations, plus the newer accruing mountains of DNA evidence are enough to convince me that the combination of interstellar dust and rock, plus water, plus sunlight, stimulated what we call life. Which immediately began to mutate. Because otherwise it would have stagnated and died off.

    It didn’t need a ‘god’ any more than my body requires a ‘soul’ to operate it. Adding the ‘necessity’ of such an invisible and ineffable entity only adds an unnecessary (and unverifiable) layer of complexity to the question.

    And I no more wish to argue the issue any further than I wish to discuss whether the Moon’s substance is provolone or Roquefort (I prefer the later).

    Or whether the sun is a star or a god (I prefer the former).

    Or whether the sun revolves around the galactic center or around the Flying Spaghetti Monster (I prefer the later. And I’m hungry.)

    I think the difficulty many Americans (not Europeans, btw) have with evolution is due to our inadequate educational systems compounded by the human propensity to differentiate – to perceive differences more readily than similarities (which must be a useful evolutionary trick, or we’d not have developed this tendency).

    (Actually I’m slightly lying: I’d love to write more, but it’s after midnight PST, and I need to sleep. But I wanted to posit this puny and somewhat rushed reply in hopes of stimulating this thread’s next counter-argument, if one (or more) is appropriate.) So have at it, please! Take me to task!

  • Nikos

    Elric and Jazzman:

    Another thing I’ve been pondering is how to articulate ‘my’ pantheism, which probably isn’t Spinozan. Here’s my best (to date) attempt:

    Since subatomic particle energy cannot be destroyed, it serves the role, in my mind, of the ‘divine’.

    Now, Spinoza apparently claims that ‘god is IN everything’ (right?).

    Which is therefore sort of true for my pantheism – but not quite, because subatomic particle energy IS everything – everything that counts as ‘matter’ anyway (which, if it means ‘solid stuff,’ is now probably an obsolete concept).

    Therefore, in my pantheism: ‘Everything is Divine’.

    Which is nonsense in polarized conceptual systems where the divine needs the profane to BE divine.

    But I’m a ‘ the glass is half-full’ kind of guy, and prefer my universe to be fundamentally divine…

    Well, except where its confused individuations (like genocidal murderers and religious terrorists, to name but a few) egocentrically arrogate ‘divinity’ only to their own parochial and misbegotten conceptualizations of it, making therefore profane (not to mention ‘obscene’) both themselves and their beliefs.

    So, my ‘divine universe’ couches profanity within it, but isn’t defined by it.

    And my ‘glass half full’ assumption means additionally that I don’t think humans are inherently ‘evil’ and in need of a god’s moral code. I DO however think that most of our species is sadly misguided; but ignorance itself is a condition, not a crime. Yes, the ignorant often commit atrocities in defense of the laws and creeds that codify and sanctify their ignorance, but that’s a problem for a later post (should this thread carry on that far).

    I’ve probably left a few holes in my logic that you are welcome (and encouraged) to point out. Thanks in advance.

  • jazzman

    Nikos: Yes your imaginary synopsis is close to what I mean, although I would maintain that there are internal stimuli apprehended/synthesized e.g., (dreams, hunches, gut reactions, pure thought, creative imagination etc.) as well as the aforementioned 5 mostly externally oriented senses (they are also internally oriented by the consciousness during memory recall/creation.) Your observation that this view of things isn’t particularly valuable TO YOU is a fair statement – you make your own value. I find it valuable to remember that ALL external appearances are the result of my/ones’s internal processes and our own imagined creations no matter how “real� these seem (optical illusions are a case in point which demonstrate the perils of perception.) Any “solid� object is physically mostly empty space composed presumably of various patterns of atomic energy and yet it is usually perceived as solid. Potential problems arise when one BELIEVES that one’s imagined creations are the same as another’s imagination of SIMILAR objects/events. Agreement as to their similarity is the best we can achieve.

    Nikos writes: >>I no more take evolution as a matter of ‘faith’ or ‘belief’ than I do the supposition that I was born from my mother’s womb… >> I have no reason to doubt you are the product of your mother (or even that the mother you BELIEVE to have issued forth from isn’t), we all are products of our mothers (facile tautology.) Just to be argumentative (a personal penchant) not a few I’ll wager, labor under the illusion of that belief (Jack Nicholson’s “sisterâ€? was actually his mother and his “motherâ€? was actually his grandmother – so much for familial appearances) but I digress. Just because “livingâ€? things share similarities in no way validates the “Theory of Evolutionâ€?, as I previously stated that is a scientifically meritless “look at it, it’s obviousâ€? argument. If you have had the inclination to wade thru the “mountainsâ€? of reports and DNA evidence you’ll find that the preponderance of proofs of Darwinian Evolution rely on the fallacy of “begging the questionâ€? – i.e., the Theory of Evolution “provesâ€? the Theory of Evolutionâ€? As I wrote to Potter, there is more contravening evidence for the theory than for it. Science is so sold on that theory that they discount any anomalic evidence as immaterial then mostly proceed to forget that it exists. I venture to say any truth-seeking scientist would state while he BELIEVES that Darwinian Evolution is a “factâ€? (accepted myth) that it has not been proven per se but expects that it will be in the future.

    Nikos write:>> [I am convinced that] the combination of interstellar dust and rock, plus water, plus sunlight, stimulated what we call life. Which immediately began to mutate. Because otherwise it would have stagnated and died off. >> If it were that simple, there’d be biogenesis up the yin/yang (come to think of it, it was until Pasteur doubted it.) Sunlight is more likely to destroy life than create it, especially without oxygen to absorb it – life is needed to generate the quantities of oxygen necessary to mitigate ultraviolet radiation. Mutations in the main result in offspring less suited to survival than the “stable� parent that spawned them. However the mutations that are favorable to niche exploitation merely exploit the niche – they don’t create a chain of successively “farther from the original species� mutations until they are an entirely new species. This “a posteriori� (I know you secretly love Latin despite your b-movie protestations) effect has NEVER been observed by ANYONE. How many stubby armed reptiles mutated a succession of longer and longer limbs and then mutated successively aerodynamic bodies and alar appendages and died cliff jumping until both male and females survived, mated and produced flying offspring? In all the varieties? The illusion that given enough time all things are possible is from Infinity Theory (A monkey typing infinitely will eventually produce all the works of Shakespeare.) 300 million years is hardly infinity. It’s amusing to note that your faith/cosmology allows for the coalescence of inorganic matter (stardust) into a living creature that is conscious, dreams and can map its own DNA can randomly be produced in 4.5 Billion years.

    Kali Nicta Nikos

  • Nikos

    Oh, Jazzman, despite the many smiles and chuckles your last post awarded me, I’m afraid we’ll have to agree to disagree. We obviously ground our conflicting opinions in different sources (mine, for the record, are folks like Watson and Crick, Richard Dawkins, the Leakeys, and various and sundry professors and teachers I can’t name off the top of my head) whose logic and ratiocinations do nothing to raise my skepticism’s alarms.

    Add to that my own observations of, say, the ongoing speciation (and occasional re-hybridization) of Blue-winged and Golden-winged warblers, which breed in my old Michigan stomping grounds, or the notably similar morphology but different habitats of Western hemlock and Mountain hemlock out here in my new Olympic Peninsula stomping grounds, or the obvious similarities — and differences — between eastern Sugar maple and western Big-leaf maple…etc., etc…well, by now you must appreciate my contentment, even if you disagree.

    Each of these cases of divergent species shares common ancestral forms – it’s plainly obvious to me. Should you or anyone else provide me with convincing evidence that these examples of speciation stem from ‘mechanisms’ (I hate this unimaginative scientific mechanistic terminology, btw) other than niche-driven evolution or sexual-selection pressures, I’ll happily modify my worldview. Otherwise, I’m quite content with it. Thanks for trying, though.

    I liked your development of the imagination/reality thingie, btw. I may have a modifying reaction to it later, but probably not.

    I don’t really love Latin so much as I like to use the few fragments of it I know. Lends an ‘authoritative air’ to one’s opinions, after all! 😉

    So what’s ‘Kali Nicta’? (Is this ‘Kali’ the same meme-name as my favorite Hindu Triple Goddess?)

    See ya, pal.

  • Nikos

    JAZZMAN! I got it!

    While standing over the sink in that infamously contemplative state known as Wa Shing Di Shes, I caught myself wondering over the Latin ‘Kali Nicta’ and why it seemed so familiar, even though my Latin is so limited. ‘The “Nicta”‘, I thought, ‘sounds suspiciouly like the Greek word for night. Was he teasing me in Latin that I’m benighted?’

    Then I got it.

    Good work, pal.

    (advice from a former fluent speaker: put an ‘h’ after the ‘c’ in nichta. Or, spell it ‘nixta’.)

    To finish the possibilities: ‘kalimera’ is ‘good day’ (which doubles as ‘good morning’), and ‘kalispera’ means ‘good afternoon’ or ‘good evening’.

    Yet somehow I think you already knew that.

    See ya!

  • Nikos

    One last tidbit for Jazzman (and anyone else slumming through this thread, ftm): my sister (the Greek Fire Goddess) contends that the Hindu ‘Kali’ and the Greek word for ‘good’ aren’t identical by accident. She reckons that the proto-Greeks and the proto-Indians shared the original Indo-European tongue, and that what meant ‘goddess’ to one divergent group changed only little over the millenia, meaning ‘goodness’ to the equally divergent Greeks (which Graves says means ‘worshipers of the Grey Crone’). I dunno whether she’s right, but I like it anyway.

  • Nikos

    Jazzman: I’m (entirely coincidentally) reading my way through Daniel Dennett’s ‘Breaking The Spell’ (Viking, 2006) in anticipation of his upcoming (though yet to be scheduled) hour of ROS. (And, more importantly, because I find the subtitle – ‘Religion As A Natural Phenomenon’ — utterly compelling.)

    Here’s a paragraph I just read that’s germane to our discourse, from page 120 (the upper case letters represent italics, which I can’t seem to reproduce here on ROS):

    Evolution is all about processes that ALMOST NEVER happen. Every birth in every lineage is a potential speciation event, but speciation almost never happens, not once in a million births. Mutation in DNA almost never happens—not once in a trillion copyings—but evolution depends on it. Take the set of infrequent accidents—things that almost never happen—and sort them into the happy accidents, the neutral accidents, and the fatal accidents; amplify the effects of the happy accidents—which happens automatically when you have replication and competition—and you get evolution.

    I find this nicely representative of my personal understanding of it (and much better articulated than I could hope to do on my own), and so thought it worth sharing.

    Do with it whatever you will.

  • tetteh

    I took an AMAZING course at Lawrence University in Appleton, WI titled “Morality, Rationality, and Self interest” and it ended up opening a door to a world of ethical philosophy that I have comletely fallen in love with. The professor who taught that show, Prof. John Dreher, is a brilliant mind also blessed with the ability to articulate the most erudite and intricate of thoughts in concise, easy language; he also happens to be blessed with a sharp wit and very tactful sarcasm which he uses with the finesse of a balet dancer to argue both sides of every argument. (I have a hunch he invented the phrase – Devil’s advocate!). He would DEFINITELY be an excellent addition to your guest list.

    I feel the topic could be greatly enhanced with a discussion on whether God created man in His own image or whether Men (and Women too ofcourse!) created gods in their own image.

    I hope you are also able to find someone to articulately discuss whether there REALLY IS a conflict between creation and evolution – is it not possible that a supreme being (call Her God if you will) said “Let there be light” at which point all the strings in the universe proceeded to emerge from a giant explosion, thus forming our universe, and millions of years later, on a lonely planet called Earth somewhere on the edge of a galaxy, Darwinian evolution and natural selection entered from the left of the stage? I have long been convinced that many of the APPARENT contradictions between the biblical creation and science stem from the futile attempt to use a spiritual tool to do the work of science and vice versa. The debate often sounds like what you’d hear if an art lover and a scientist specialising in chromatics were to discuss the qualities of the Mona Lisa:

    Art Lover: “It’s absolutely beatiful. The Artist’s brush strokes capture her virtue and portray a sense of sainthood, while He also paints tones of insecurity into her posture. He manages to capture every aspect of human character, eg.conceit and insecurity, with a several subtle flicks of his brush.”

    Scientist: “Nonsense. You’re just speculating. I can tell you that the colors in this painting are composed of a unique compound of paints that is composed of a perfect mixture of pigments and resins that allow the colors to…”

    Science and religion can look at the same world and see two different things. like describing two different sides of the same coin. I see no need of a contradiction, if you factor into the creation story the idea (written by Moses) in Psalm 90:4 that “To the Lord a day is like a million years, and a million years is like a day”.

    String theorists have often suggested that as we travel backwards (using mathematical equations) towards the beginning of time (quite an apt choice of words), we see at “time zero” that time doesn’t really make sense. that before matter came into being, there could have “existed” a kind of timelessness which would be consistent with the Psalm quoted above.

  • tetteh

    The bible is after all filled with metaphores and parables and was intended as a spiritual guide to God and not an all encompassing history book. at the same time science ought to recognise her own limitations.

  • jazzman

    Nikos wrote:>> It didn’t need a ‘god’ any more than my body requires a ‘soul’ to operate it.>> I don’t know what you think operates your body, but it certainly isn’t your intellect, or conscious mind. What ever allows it to respire, pump blood, dream, secrete hormones, repair itself and react unconsciously to all matter of stimuli internal & external is certainly SOMETHING. If “SOUL� is too charged a term for you, how about “SUBCONCIOUS� or subliminal self. You obviously would not be able to function very smoothly if your conscious mind or intellect were in charge of the myriad (more Greek for you – BTW I used to live with a 1st generation Greek family so I am slightly familiar with the language – food mostly) bodily functions that are so taken for granted that they largely go unnoticed.. If you mean “soul� in the immortal sense, I have the sense not to argue the point as I claim agnosticism in that regard. However, sooner or later we will have to address the issue of how your “sub-atomic particle energy divinity� (BTW I agree with that concept) manages to go from non-living to living (after all the difference between these states is just where matter/energy meets the arbitrary criterion that we have defined to qualify as living.) and then to consciousness then to self-consciousness and finally to a collection of electrons, protons, and neutrons in a “special� arrangement that refers to itself as Nikos. Also if the “divinity� is within all matter/energy (may we stipulate that Einstein was correct when he stated in his famous equation that matter and energy are interchangeable? Matter is really just frozen light), then the profane is divine as well. As I stated previously the binary or “polar� nature of value judgments appears to be a root assumption in our Jungian “collective unconscious� (what could THAT be composed of? – what is a thought composed of? Electromagnetic impulses?)

    BTW MY idea-construct re your sister, from the bits and pieces that you have posted, seems like she would be a welcome addition to ROS, see what you can do – I believe she is spot on solid linguistic ground with the Indo-European cognates.

    Nikos writes:>> [My sources] are Watson and Crick, Richard Dawkins, the Leakeys >> With all due respect to their DNA work, W&C aren’t really Evolutionists per se, more high priests of the Church of Science. Dawkins is as misguided as Stephen Jay Gould although I was briefly intrigued by meme theory in my younger days until I realized that it is as tautological as Darwinism. He has a definite ax to grind and a DEEPLY vested interest in Darwinian Evolution. To be charitable, if he actually believes that his theories have basis in scientific method and not “a priori� assumptions “because IT JUST HAS TO BE, IT�S SO LOGICAL, SO PREFECT,– THERE�S NO OTHER EXPLANATION� he’s sadly deluding himself to the point that ANYONE that doesn’t BELIEVE as he is not worthy of debate. The Leakeys are palentologists or fossil hunters – good luck on finding ANY links, missing or otherwise. Mr. Dennett believes that HIS consciousness is a chemo/biological (sociobiological) epiphenomenon and falls into the same trap as Dawkins. To wit: The preponderance of evidence is AGAINST evolution but as EVOLUTION is a FACT these 1 in a zillion “happy accidents� (miracles) are on what evolution depends. I.e, Evolution depends on Evolution – Evolution proves evolution. Yada yada yada – nihilism’s house of cards. There are none so blind as they that will not see. BTW your observation of similarities in “life� is quite good evidence of micro-evolution, i.e., changes within a species, however you still ignore the TOTAL LACK of macro-evolutionary evidence, i.e., intermediate forms of any sort (not to mention total violations of the laws of Entropy.) In fact the macro-evidence (fossil record) supports the theory of CREATIONISM more closely than Darwinism. It would seem that you actually do believe in a God when you marvel at the wonders of your natural environment but name it evolutionary science, and do not question the dogma of its high priests. Tell me where I’m inaccurate, my cyber friend!!!

  • Elric

    So much written since my last visit… Sorry that I dont reply to everything.

    Nikos sayes:

    “Elric: Belief?

    If I am not cosmic material (condensed subatomic energy), and powered (like all life on this rock) by sunlight, then WHAT AM I?

    Imaginary?”

    I don’t know what you are Nikos, or what am I… And nobody in this universe can ‘tell’ us… Whatever we ‘see’ in this world, it’s

    1. result of our sensory input

    2. biased from our superstitions, ideas, beliefs etc.

    3. and we can’t be sure that’s ALL is not just our imagination, dream. As we take for real our dreams.

    To clear up my point: I don’t know what am I; only thing I am aware of is that I (whatever it is) exist, one way or another. I dont take anything granted, I just suppose (since I am aware of my existance, which itself implies that something exists) that there exists Something, but it’s Unknown to me… And to go back to the thread’s topic, since I don’t know the cause or purpose of existance than moral has absolutely no value, it’s as vain as everything else (and the language adds its ambiguities to this…:(:( )

  • Elric

    Sorry for my orthography:) English is not my native language you know;)

  • jazzman

    Nikos: I apologize for the brusque ending to my last post. It was running quite late for me and I wanted to submit my disquisition and go home and it occurred to me that given the sources you named, you are placing your faith in dubious hands. Let me rephrase: You adduce, Nikos:

    >>�similar morphology but different habitats of Western hemlock and Mountain hemlock out here in my new Olympic Peninsula stomping grounds, or the obvious similarities — and differences — between eastern Sugar maple and western Big-leaf maple…etc., etc…well, by now you must appreciate my contentment, even if you disagree. Each of these cases of divergent species shares common ancestral forms – it’s plainly obvious to me.�>>

    as proof of the Darwinian view of evolution. While this may be good enough and proof for you, “look at it� evidence hardly constitutes SCIENTIFIC proof and there is NO PROOF (in my numerous assertions of this at ROS, no one has offered any “hard� evidence, just personal opinion.) – NO scientist has adduced “a posteriori� evidence, only hypothetical “a priori� assumptions that ignore contravening evidence (of which there is a multitude.) Darwinian evolution comports with your preconceived notions of “how things come to be, obviously� (Just So.) Therefore absent “proof� you are content with your worldview – i.e., you have FAITH in the correctness of Darwin’s theory – echoed and reinforced by your highly prejudiced sources. This is no different from someone who believes that the bible is the WORD of God. They have no proof but it comports with their BELIEFS echoed and reinforced by their HIGH PRIESTS so they accept it on FAITH. Just as a religious ZEALOT starts with a premise of the existence of God and views all events/phenomena thru that lens, your sources, particularly Dennett and Dawkins start with the premise that Darwinian Evolution is a FACT and attempt to explain natural history (Just so) thru their own myopic lens. The quote from Dennett is as blatant an example of fallacious “begging the question� as I’ve seen recently. Admittedly he’s a philosopher and not a scientist so he may be excused from the burden of scientific rigor but should know better than to entertain fallacy. It seems to me that the more these “HIGH PRIESTS� become entrenched in their own philosophies, the less likely they are to entertain anything that falls outside their preconceived purview. They should borrow a page from Wittgenstein’s book or study quantum mechanics, one of the more open minded sciences. Philosopher: Break the bonds of your preconceptions. Again no ill will or value judgment implied, – only observations from my philosophical slant.

    Elric: What is your native language? From your posts, I thought the typos were just rushed expression. You seem to think in English at (least partially) and express yourself better than many native speakers.

  • Elric

    Thanks a lot, Jazzman!:):) You made my day:):) Those were indeed typos but I wouldn’t be surprised if I make real mistakes as well!:) I’m from Georgia(the Caucasus) and my native language is Georgian.

    Back to the topic. I found a nice definition by Kingsley in his ‘Reality’:

    ‘There is nothing that exists except what can be thought or perceived. In other words, the world is not at all what we think it is; or rather it’s exactly what we think it is but only because we think it. And whatever we think it’s not, that is what it is as well.’

  • Nikos

    Hi jazzman. I admire your willingness to critique and undermine orthodoxy. If you’ve read any of my constitutionally-critical rambles on other threads, you’ll know I’m a minor provocateur (gadfly?) in my own pet obsessions. So keep up the effort.

    However, I’m not yet convinced by your critiques of evolutionary theory, for a couple of reasons.

    The lesser of these reasons is that I DON’T view the scientific community as a ‘secular church’, even though I agree that some overly credulous scientists can fairly be called ideologues. But hardly all, and hardly all the time.

    Sciences search for underlying patterns and causal chains by careful measurement – the more cautious and refined, the better. Religions, by contrast, simply assign to the their deity agency for causal chains and patterns. Who made the warbler’s pretty colors? God did, dummy!

    And to conflate Darwinian notions of causality with a deity’s agency is no different than conflating that same deity’s agency with the causal link of sunshine-creates-daylight.

    Oh, yeah? Prove it pal! Daylight begins BEFORE sunrise! They’re obviously independent phenomena! The only reason that they both start in the morning and end in the evening is cuz the Flying Spaghetti Monster holds ‘em together by the scruffs of their necks and makes ‘em walk across the sky until night!

    The larger reason you’ve failed to convince me is the absence of any offer of an alternative cause for evolutionary change. I’ve explained repeatedly how I understand the evidence, how I find it convincing in multiple cases (and many more than I’ve mentioned), and I’ve jovially tolerated your critique that my interpretation is based on sloppy thinking. Fine, that’s your opinion, but not mine. Nevertheless, let me posit one of my own: is it possible you find the theory unconvincing because of the inherent difficulty we humans have in genuinely comprehending geologic timescales – and therefore the evolutionary timescales that piggyback the geologic?

    Maybe not, but I’m suspicious.

    Consider citing sources that support your critique.

    And I hope you enjoy the weekend. We here in the Great Northwest are ‘blessed’ by spectacular weather. Sunny and blue, ever since last weekend. It’s not, I don’t think, god’s work however. Our local scientists attribute it to El Nino.

    And I believe them.

    See ya, pal.

  • Nikos

    Ahoy, jazzman! I just now stumbled across a passage that (metaphorically) explains the impasse between our two points of view:

    “Most of us know of atoms and germs only by hearsay, and would be embarrassingly unable to give a good answer if a Martian anthropologist asked us how we knew that there are such things—since you can’t see them or hear them or taste them or feel them. If pressed, most of us would probably concoct some seriously mistaken lore about these invisible (but important!) things. We’re not experts—we just go along with ‘what everybody knows’…�

    That’s it, I think.

    To you, I’m uncritically ‘just going along with what everybody knows’.

    To me, the evidence for the ‘atoms and germs’ of evolution are right before my eyes every day.

    Yet I cannot ‘prove’ their existence to you any more than your skepticism can ‘disprove’ their existence to me.

    I accept that I am comprised of atoms comprised of subatomic energy, and that since the original expansion of energy within space-time, everything has evolved. I accept that life on earth is simply one miniscule individuation of the universe’s greater post-inception evolutions.

    And I accept that I cannot ‘prove’ this to you.

    No matter how many more impassioned and mutually amusing posts we exchange hereafter, this impasse will likely prevail.

    Now get back to enjoying your weekend.

    🙂

  • Oh, I wish I had joined this thread earlier. What fun. I haven’t read through all the posts, as I don’t have the time. In the end here, though, it seems that the discussion has floundered in the land of “what are we?” and can we prove evolution. Perhaps, I missed it, but where is the discussion of morality in relation to all this.

    If you can’t prove what we are and how we got here, can you still discuss the origin and/or need for morality? And whose morality? How does one rank morality codes in a world of so many different perspectives? Or do we need to?

    Those who believe in a god/goddess will claim that their morality is spelled out by their deity. But if I don’t believe in your metaphysical being, I still have my own morality code. So, how do we get to our own morality. Whether we attribute it to a “higher” being or not, we all seem to have them. Is it a biological imperative. Can we prove by the fact that a moral code always seems to develop in a group, regardless of the presence religion, that morality is not metaphysically handed down to us, its innate?

    I could go on with the questions, but I’d like to see if the thread gets moving again and if it can get off the philosophical debate of defining our being (a conversation I’d love to have somewhere else) and back to the question of the origins and value (or lack thereof) of morality.

  • Elric

    allison, feeling of the morality code in you and in general, in modern secular society is an inertia from of religious moral from the old times. The feeling of good/bad we acquire in our childhood, inducted by our parents, school etc. And when you are adult it seems natural, although it doesn’t have any rational basis at all…

  • jazzman

    Elric: Spasibo balshoye for the 411 (forgive me I know no Georgian at all y’all – except y’all.) I have a Ukrainian friend who also is quite good with English having picked it up entirely from life in the U.S.A. Too bad we’re so English-centric and chauvinistic.

    Alison: Elric states the origin of morality quite succinctly. Morality is a product of each HUMAN mind i.e., you create your own morality. In an earlier post and in other threads I attempted to place morality in an historical human context (as does Elric – i.e., authoritarian inculcation), demonstrate to people that most moral/ethical value judgments are neutral and it is one’s beliefs regarding them that creates the positive/negative dichotomy, and offer a simple code of absolute moral conduct (Meta-morals) that I believe most people would find acceptable. Due to this thread’s title, and the condition that I believe in neither the either/or conditions and consider both the existence of GOD and DARWINIAN evolution faith based “just soâ€? stories with no evidence to support either, I have tried to show the flaws in the Darwinian Theory. The existence of God/gods is generally not purported to have a scientific basis (with the possible exception of The Intelligent Design Theory – which as most of the bloggers here agree has no scientific merit.) so it stands on its faith only basis and needs no deconstruction. Darwinistic Dogma almost without exception is accepted by the non-religious masses and the ROS bloggers without question even though there is not a shred of hard scientific evidence to support it. The only one so far except myself is Elric who isn’t 100% convinced that Darwinian evolution is an “a posterioriâ€? fait accompli. The God camp believed morals are God’s holy how tos – and no amount of evidence is going to change their opinion. The Darwin camp may be able to change their faith based beliefs if sufficient negating evidence is adduced, however it’s a Sisyphean Task eh Nikos?

    Now for you friend Nikos: When scientists worship the Cult of Science’s alter with faith instead of skepticism, with fallacy instead of scientific method they belong to your “secular church.� I would not paint ALL scientists with that broad brush, just the ones that forsake their vocation and forget/disregard the principles that originally captured their imagination and spurred them to be SEEKERS of TRUTH – no matter where the truth may be found.

    Nikos writes: >> Sciences search for underlying patterns and causal chains by careful measurement – the more cautious and refined, the better. Religions, by contrast, simply assign to the their deity agency for causal chains and patterns. Who made the warbler’s pretty colors? God did, dummy! >> The cause is assumed and the measurement/data acquisition does not support the theory. Darwinists simply assign to their deity agency (EVOLUTION) causal chains and patterns. Who made the warbler’s pretty colors? Natural selection did, dummy! (They also will go further and ascribe the prettiest colors to successful mate acquisition (the more polygamous – the better. I guess monogamy is a failed concept by Darwinian standards!) and the mindless striving of DNA to replicate more of itself – the BIOLOGICAL IMPERITIVE.) You’re absolutely correct:>> And to conflate Darwinian notions of causality with a deity’s agency is no different than conflating that same deity’s agency with the causal link of sunshine-creates-daylight. >> it IS no different and that is exactly what the Darwinists are doing with their deity of “Natural Selection.�

    Just because I don’t offer an alternative explanation doesn’t mean Darwinism is a prima facie explanation. It’s still built on tautology, fallacious assumptions, not falsifiable, and is not capable of scientific rigor and will not stand up to scientific methods. Atoms and Germs are demonstrably falsifiable, usefully predictable and the mechanisms are well understood. The hypothesis regarding the unseen (atoms and germs can now be seen with modern instruments) is now in the quark realm and they are supposedly predictable even without direct evidence. Time is an illusion but even if it weren’t, the amount of time for Darwinian evolution to occur in the development of “higher� life forms say 300 million years of accidental mutations is highly unlikely. Even Dennett admits this. Sources? I don’t got no sources!!! I don’t need no stinkin’ sources. Darwin needs sources not tautological assumptions. Check out the links in Intelligent Design. I don’t think you’re sloppy, just unscientific and to blinded by your unquestioned faith in appearances. Doesn’t it seem strange to you that with all this technology and widespread belief in an unfounded concept that there is SO MUCH contravening evidence (conveniently ignored by yourself and others) and as yet no supporting evidence? Dennett, Dawkins and Gould all ASSUME that Darwin was correct and are (were in Gould’s case) making a living trying to plug the leaks (Leakeys?) in a theory that only holds holy water for the faithful. Gotta run.

  • For a religous person, just call the Catholic Dicese in Boston?

  • How about Boston College? A Catholic sponsored University must have at least one Philosophy Prof / Theologican capable of speaking on this subject.

    Don’t for get to search the official archives in the Catholic Library. I ahve some surprising stuff there.

  • Nikos

    Speaking of evolution, there’s lots of fresh hate-mail at:

    http://www.venganza.org/email_neg.htm

    Expect a need to laugh.

    Don’t have your cat in your lap.

    S/he will claw your legs in her/his need to escape the hyena that just possessed her mummy/daddy.

  • scalpelkinch

    Wow, many people certainly do write alot of words about religion.

    The Blogger-in-chief should compare the average post length here to other issues, both “contentious” and “less contentious” – presuming such criteria could be established. I’m not sure if this will get noticed by anyone, but this show, at its best, bucks the droll trends of discourse and reinvigorates one’s curiosities.

    So getting back to the first point: there is no way that I am reading everything posted here. I’ve read many, scanned many more. People are writing several paragraph position papers to satisfy themselves that they have “weighed in” and established a proper (or comfortable) existential context. This isn’t bad, however. It seems quite sensible that people care very much about religion, if only to reject the cosmic implications of it, or the constraining moral demands of it. But does the espousing point to a saying like “if we didn’t have religion, we might have to invent it?” We would have to preach, that is, and establish some existential context, a memetic rallying point to make sense of what even today science cannot make any sense of: “Why are we here?” “Why is there anything at all, let alone things with brains?” “What of the collision of consequences if and when I get hit with a double whammy of too much syrup in my latte and a meteor that sheers earth in two, along with all its grand grey matter?”

    Here I go on the espousing, I suppose…

    I thought it was on the Darwin and Dover show where EO wilson mentioned evolutionarily stable strategies as being an interesting explanation for the epidemiological mechanism and “purpose” of religions. But what is the individual agent logic which produces these epidemic-proportions? Perhaps it lies in its appeal? At one point part of this appeal was explanations of the natural world. Additionally, and more importantly, I would say that many religions provide the first forms of psychotherapy, proferring coping mechanisms galore on an impossible multitude of struggles that humans would be forced to make in any given lifetime. Of course the value of such therapy is highly dependent upon the interpretation, whether by priest or laiety. Where does morality play into EVS’s? There are probably codified rules that produce better adapted populations of humans. What happened to the utopian communities that barred sex? Well, having not invented a fountain of youth, they’re conspicuously absent from our present memetic fauna. Was it Jung who suggested that the act of confessing to a priest allowed one to perhaps achieve a satisfactory peace with some human social misbehavior or conflict and go on living as an advantaged member of the given population?

    Religions are interesting and provocative strategies, and they are certainly in constant competition with more secular EVS’s – though I’m hardpressed to see “Darwinism” as an EVS, though only because I understand it as an evinced scientific explanation and not a mushy, somewhat ambiguous doomed-to-subjectivity “way of life” that may describe the less secular strategies around us.

    Its worth pointing out that EVS’s can co-exist, even contradictorily – this idea may be central to understanding what has changed in our memetic ecology and will likely become far more “rich” during globalization. Visionaries who profess a tragic uniformity and ubiquity of the “global rule set” need only look at bio diversity of eco systems to see an interesting alternative.

  • scalpelkinch

    also,

    a man wiser and smarter than me told me quite simply that “religion is supposed to make you happy”

    something to consider

  • Nikos

    scalperkinch: Allow me to reccomend Daniel Dennett’s ‘Breaking The Spell’ (Viking/Penguin; 2006), which focuses on much if not most of your post’s ideas and implied questions.

    You’ll have to hold your nose while reading page 21, however.

    This indefensible ‘shoot-itself-in-the-foot’-ness aside, it’s rather illuminating and will hopefully be the primary focus of a future ROS hour featuring Mr.Dennett himself. (They haven’t scheduled it yet, however.)

  • jazzman

    What does EVS stand for?

  • Elric wrote: allison, feeling of the morality code in you and in general, in modern secular society is an inertia from of religious moral from the old times. The feeling of good/bad we acquire in our childhood, inducted by our parents, school etc. And when you are adult it seems natural, although it doesn’t have any rational basis at all…

    Yes, I understand that my personal moral code has to do with the inputs (both postive and negative) of my upbringing. I can even questions such things as whether it is really wrong to murder. I am not so naive, as that.

    But my questioning was more along the lines of: why does morality even exist? Do we need it? Beyond the simple reasoning that I, as an individual, have to come up with some matrix to help me with decision making or I would not be able to move through a life. You can extrapolate that out to the need for groups of people to develop a similar moral code in order to function. But why do we even need to function?

    And, then, there is the question of what happens when people with differing moral codes collide? How do you establish the heirarchy, if not by force.

    And if we determine that all of this is inherent in the nature of being, where does this nature come from. Can it simply be that for no darn reason at all, somehow atoms and molecules have been combing over time to create human beings which for no reason at all are social creatures and for no reason at all they have the capacity to consider these things?

    that’s one possibility. that this whole existence is just one meaningless happenstance of a meaningingless physcial universe. But, if that’s the case, I’m drawn back to the question of why we need a morality.

    I think it is this thinking loop that drives people to consider other possibilities for the origin or meaning of life. The loop where there is no higher meaning and we just happen to be here for no reason at all doesn’t have a logical conclusion of: well, we need to have a moral code. It is more likely to support absolute anarchy. Or a species wide suicide. (Which one could argue that we’re engaged in with all our wars and enviromental destruction.)

    So, why help others? Why care about the suffering of others? Why live? Why can we ask why? Just another happenstance of physcial circumstance? I don’t think people end up with having faith in something just because they want to be happy, or because their stupid or they need someone to tell them what to do. We seem to be compelled, as a species to question the meaning of life. Not just our individual lives, but Life. We have the capacity to come up with the questions without the capacity to let it go. Even if you question the questioning, you are engaged in a thinking process that is well beyond that needed for physical survival. And why bother? I mean, we could be living with the simple stresses of survival like other animals do.

    And then, I ask – If you don’t have a morality code what do you have? You suggest that morality is ‘just’ an inertia from of old religious codes. And I infer that you see it as so, well, old hat, passé, even scoffable because its not ‘rational’. So, are you saying that you have no moral code? You can’t be simply judging mine as coming from old religions when you don’t know what it is. You seem to be saying that having a moral code is irrational. So, how do you decide what you should and shouldn’t do each day? And how do you decide what is an acceptable response to stimuli from others? And whatever the matrix is behind that decision-making process is, what do you call it? And why do you have it?

  • scalpelkinch

    Nikos:

    He is actually coming to speak at my school (University of pittsburgh) this coming Monday the 20th. How serindipitous of a recommendation… ; D I’m not quite sure why I typed “EVS” instead of “ESS” for evolutionarily stable strategies.

    Also,

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Evolutionarily_stable_strategies

  • jazzman

    Nikos and Allison: In the 2/13/06 Gary Hart, Peter Beinart and Richard Perle, Nikos and Allison wrote:

    Nikos:>> Afghanistan was a worthy intervention. As peggysue said in a different thread, we Americans always seem content to live in happy ignorance of the suffering of others. In this instance, the nearly inconceivable suffering of the women of Afghanistan was by itself a reason worth the military incursion. Most others cite the Taliban’s hospitality for bin Laden — and until a couple of years ago, this rationale was good enoug for me, too. Rooting those sanctimonious killers out of their lairs was enough reason for me to ease my instinctual pacifism. (And I’d feel the same if we could do it to the neocon ‘collateral-damage’ killers too, btw!)>>

    Nikos: I thought we’d settled this in the E.O Wilson thread with the ATM (Assignation Time Machine) discussion. Again I ask: Under what moral authority or principle do you maintain that it is “worthy� to use the military to enter a sovereign nation, force them to kowtow to OUR belief/value systems, murder the misogynistic bastards who resist or get in the way, and collaterally murder children and women (the very same ones that are supposed to be liberated from this “oppression� whether they wish to be or not???) Not to mention champing at the bit for the violent demise of those sanctimonious 9/11 perpetrators and neo-cons. BTW in a Darwinian paradigm, pacifism is an anathema to the putative instinctual (mindless) “struggle to survive.� Pacifism is hardly instinctual (especially if Darwinism is in fact the “Prime Mover�), animals rely instinctual behavior, whereas humans have a conscious mind (although Dennett would claim that it’s a derived epiphenomenon from some “special� arrangement of chemicals, neuronal architecture and cognition.) with which to choose their behaviors – pacifism is a CONSCIOUS choice that is made (or not) by each of us. A true pacifist loves peace but doesn’t hate war, as hatred of anything binds you to the object of hate. BTW and this is not a criticism but an observation: I’ve noticed in many of your posts you evince a deep empathy for the various plights of the y-chromosomally challenged. While laudable and I certainly don’t condone or justify unequal treatment and abuse, the excessive identification with the “apparently� negative group aspects (which are actually peculiar to each individual’s situation,) seems to cloud your thinking at times. Anger, no doubt generated by E.O.Wilson’s and Dennett’s evolutionary sociobiological chemicals or perhaps it’s only amoral hormones.

    Allison: >>:I don’t disagree. I was really pointing to the dismal aftermath. And I wish that the plight of the women had been the motivation for going in there, and not 9/11. Though, yes, it did seem appropriate to go after Bin Laden and he was harbored in Afghanistan. I think we could have gone after him a different way. And I think the world would be better off if the focus of moving in and ostensibly creating change in Afghanistan had been the humanitarian mission of protecting the innocent victims of the oppressive culture there. Perhaps, then we would be doing the right follow through. As it is, we have abandoned them. They have no reason to be anything but cynical of us and those poor victims have, perhaps, less hope than before.>>

    Allison: I ask you the same question: You state that you wish that we had been motivated to use the military to assuage the plight of the Afghani women instead of punishing the ones harboring the “Mastermind� (and everyone else who gets in the way.) You say we could have gone after him in different way. What would going after him at all do other than possibly satisfy the “eye for an eye� crowd that demands “righteous retribution?� You ask Elric what informs his morality – while I can’t answer for him, I believe he agrees with me that we each create our own morality by what we rationalize as acceptable for us which may or may not coincide with secular or religious codes (old or new.) What informs your morality? I agree with parts of your statement the world would be better off without oppression but external diplomatic pressure and working from within to help the oppressed liberate themselves from the ideological and psychological fetters that are their challenges. That is the only just way to affect change in a society. You seem to be allied with the “ends justify any means� to accomplish what you deem to be acceptable ends. The world is rampant with examples of man’s inhumanity to man. Would you advocate military might to right all of the perceived wrongs? The only way to legitimately solve these problems is to start with one’s self and provide an example to others as how you believe a “moral� person should behave. There is no true freedom but the freedom of ideas as there is no other bondage than the bondage of beliefs.

  • jazzman

    Sorry the sentence above should read:

    I agree with parts of your statement – the world would be better off without oppression but external diplomatic pressure and working from within are the ways to help the oppressed liberate themselves from the ideological and psychological fetters that are their challenges

  • Nikos

    jazzman: You keep tryin’ ta drag me back into that dang evolution deabate, ain’t ‘cha boy?

    Harumph. 😉

    More later.

    I’m slowly formulating another question concerning humanitarian/foreign policy foundations and priorities.

    But my cogitational cobwebs have moved back into my brain depsite another wonderful afternoon run.

    But hey, I’m not so foggy that I can’t say that my questions aren’t rhetorical but genuine. What DO we do if we happen across a country of slaveholders?

    ‘Diplomacy’ isn’t gonna help, let alone save, the girl buried feet-first to her chest to make an easy and motionless target for the grapefruit sized stones that will burst her face, shatter her skull, and eventually snap her head from her neck.

    This isn’t such a cut-and-dried issue, imho.

    We’re humans. How do we tolerate the existence of such atrocities (and the ideologues who make them endemic) under the excuse of the ‘national sovereignty’ of the arbitrarily-constructed patchwork of tribes now called Afghanistan?

  • morality is a matter of taste

  • jazzman

    If that’s true then stick a fork in this thread. As we all know – de gustibus non est disputandum.

  • Elric

    Pozhaluista, Jazzman!:) (or ‘arapers’ in Georgian;) ) Actually I’m not in US, but in Europe, completing my phd studies.

    Allison, I’ll try to explain my point and answer your questions.

    1. Why does morality exist? my answer: our plane existance is a power play. Since nobody is allmighty to impose his will completely on others some set of rules is required to maintain power balance i.e. in very general terms moral exists because we are weak.

    2. Do we need it? my answer: who are ‘we’? you mean humanity? to answer this question we have to find purpose and goal of our existence which is impossible task for secular society.

    My point is that secular people, the atheists, who want to maintain moral values are inconsistent and their position cannot be called rational which they claim to. So they fall in contradiction.

    Religious people on the other hand cannot explain why Allmighty and All-loving God allows existence of the ‘evil’ etc. So they fall in different kind of contradiction.

    So this leaves people like me just to question everything and anything, and not to accept any belief, be it ‘scientific’ or ‘religious’. I don’t need any psychological comfort and and security which this beliefs provide.

    Me personally, if you want to know, I do not have any moral code, and if in ‘real’ life I seem to be a nice guy :):) and do not do immoral/amoral deeds it’s caused by 1. the inertia of my Christian background 2. realization that ‘immoral’ actions are as vain as ‘moral’ and there is no sense in doing them.

    You say “So, how do you decide what you should and shouldn’t do each day? And how do you decide what is an acceptable response to stimuli from others? And whatever the matrix is behind that decision-making process is, what do you call it? And why do you have it?”

    I perceive this illusionary reality as vanity. I have no idea who I am, why I am here or what I should be doing. Consequently whatever I do is as good/bad as anything else. So I accept everything as a sort of game i.e. I do whatever I do but I am fully aware that it’s not ‘ultimate reality’, so I am detached from it. How I choose what to do? Well, I do whatever pleases me 🙂 (in my limits of course) and I am fully aware of this and do not need to justify my actions to myself or to anybody else. It’s exactly like playing any other game be it chess or football. When you play them you are IN the game but you are aware of the reality beyond the arbitrary rules of the game. Same is with this ‘Life game’ for me and only difference is that the ‘reality’ beyond this game is completely Unknown, Unperceivable and Mysterious for me.

  • Jazzman calls me out: “Allison: I ask you the same question: You state that you wish that we had been motivated to use the military to assuage the plight of the Afghani women instead of punishing the ones harboring the “Mastermindâ€? (and everyone else who gets in the way.) You say we could have gone after him in different way. What would going after him at all do other than possibly satisfy the “eye for an eyeâ€? crowd that demands “righteous retribution?â€? You ask Elric what informs his morality – while I can’t answer for him, I believe he agrees with me that we each create our own morality by what we rationalize as acceptable for us which may or may not coincide with secular or religious codes (old or new.) What informs your morality? I agree with parts of your statement the world would be better off without oppression but external diplomatic pressure and working from within to help the oppressed liberate themselves from the ideological and psychological fetters that are their challenges. That is the only just way to affect change in a society. You seem to be allied with the “ends justify any meansâ€? to accomplish what you deem to be acceptable ends. The world is rampant with examples of man’s inhumanity to man. Would you advocate military might to right all of the perceived wrongs? The only way to legitimately solve these problems is to start with one’s self and provide an example to others as how you believe a “moralâ€? person should behave. There is no true freedom but the freedom of ideas as there is no other bondage than the bondage of beliefs.”

    I stand heightened. You are right. I don’t agree that a military response is the right response. I was answering in the context of having already gone in. At that point, I could only wish for a better motivation. But, I do think that diplomacy and working within is the truly best route. If I could run the world, we wouldn’t have a military so much as a peace force. And the central focus would not be on violent action, but non-violent conflict resolution and prevention. A “Do no Harm” policy throughout everything we do.

    My vision of how to help oppressed women around the world: embrace them with a human circle of women and men that stands so deep around a nation and starts to march in refusing to allow anyone to harm another. A formidable showing of peaceful force that inhabits the culture.

    Of course, there are other ways. This is a fantastical vision that stands as a metaphor for refusing to accept destructive behavior. But given that we can’t even do that in our families and local communities, I don’t see it happening at this level. I can only hold a vision as inspiration.

  • Nikos

    So Jazzman has convinced me that morality is parochial, not universal.

    ‘Who’s morality?’ he asks. And he’s right.

    But SOMETHING about it is universal.

    And that ‘something’ is what bleeding hearts like me misname ‘immoral’ when we rail against inhumane treatment.

    It’s the inherent lack of compassion for victims that’s missing from the victimizers.

    I looked up ‘compassion’ in my American Heritage, and found that its strongest synonym is ‘empathy’.

    It’s stronger even than compassion itself. It implies direct emotional relating to the victim.

    It’s the root emotion of the ‘golden rule’.

    And it’s what humanists need to define morality within a context of internationally recognized human rights. (‘Humanist’: one who is concerned with the welfare of human beings. – A.H.)

    In other words, do some moralities deny basic human rights, and if so, how can these be defined and then discussed?

    More importantly, how can these discussions carry the necessary weight to perhaps convince inhumane moralists that their morality needs more humaneness, more kindness, more generosity, more simple interpersonal VIRTUE, to retain or to gain international respect?

    So perhaps we might benefit from discussing whether human morality ought to have a new super-root (whether or not I’m right that proto-morality originated in interpersonal ethics).

    An internationally accepted antecedent that can be used to judge the humane worthiness of any parochial morality.

    Morality: the quality of being moral. (American Heritage)

    Empatheticality: the quality of being empathetic. (Nikos’s Fantasy New Word Dictionary) (supercalifraigilistic…? I could use some friendly editorial help, anyone. Help! Anyone!)

    Used in a sentence: “The United Nations hereby warns the nation of Nikosland that its new Nikos-the-god morality affronts the basic human rights of children and is inempathetical. Unless the Nikos Gospel is brought into compliance with internationally recognized empatheticality, the UN’s member states will have no choice but to introduce sanctions. We will no longer buy your silly words.�

    Moral: (adj.) of or concerned with the judgment of the goodness or badness of human action and character. (A.H.)

    Empathetic: 1): of or concerned with empathy (A.H.)

    2): a characteristic or principle of humane virtuousness (N.F.N.W.D.)

    Moral: (noun) a rule or habit of conduct; moral practices or teachings: modes of conduct (A.H.; Wikitionary)

    Empathete: 1): an example of empathy

    2): a mode of conduct founded on an empathetic reaction, and corollary to the noun form of ‘moral’. (N.F.N.W.D.)

    Used in a sentence: “Officer Jones meant to ticket me for my burned out headlight, but instead had an empathete when he saw beside me my wife in the first stages of giving birth. He then led our car through traffic to the hospital.�

    This, additionally, is an example of the virtue of ‘empatheticism’. (see below)

    Empatheticism: the principles of virtuous conduct founded on empathy; example: ‘Do nothing to others that you would not wish done to you.’ (N.F.N.W.D.)

    One final thought: as I look this over, I feel with heartfelt certainty that I’m on the right track. This preliminary work-up however, strikes me as rather clumsy. It might only be the unfamiliarity of the new words in comparison to their roots. Or it may be because the words need brevity. (Probably.)

    So please, anyone, feel free to tear this up.

    Like a lump of copper, it’s gonna need a damn good pounding before it’s a vessel worthy of the “necessary weight to convince inhumane moralists that their morality needs more humaneness to retain or to gain international respect.�

    Consider how great ideas often have humble roots – and then help! I’m not worthy of birthing great ideas (but maybe you are!).

    Feel free to take it over.

  • Elric: Why does morality exist? my answer: our plane existance is a power play. Since nobody is allmighty to impose his will completely on others some set of rules is required to maintain power balance i.e. in very general terms moral exists because we are weak.

    and Elric, again: How I choose what to do? Well, I do whatever pleases me 🙂 (in my limits of course) and I am fully aware of this and do not need to justify my actions to myself or to anybody else. It’s exactly like playing any other game be it chess or football. When you play them you are IN the game but you are aware of the reality beyond the arbitrary rules of the game. Same is with this ‘Life game’ for me and only difference is that the ‘reality’ beyond this game is completely Unknown, Unperceivable and Mysterious for me.

    So, you operate under the assumption that we are weak. That this existence is all about vying for power. And that life is a game with an perceivable reality. These are your axioms. Your morals, you say are based on your whims – though you have limits. So, what are your limits? And how did you determine them? Anyway, all of these things inform how you resond to things and the choices you make and how you see other people. Aren’t these, particularly your limits, the foundations of your moral code?

    As for the secular vs relgious morass you entered, I don’t get your logic. You claim that secular people cannot claim that their morals come from anything rational. Why? That they can’t define a meaning to life. Why?

    And that religious people operate in the contradiction of an all-loving god that allows evil. Well, not all religious people. And are those with a spirituality that is not defined within the confines of any religion included in these two limited categories? And do you understand the difference between a contradiction and a paradox? The Mystery that you identify, may well lie in the paradoxes.

    And why is rationality, and how you define it, the measure of someone’s morals?

    You see, no matter how logical, rational, whatever we call it, each one of us believes that we are, our logic is not infallible. Therefore, in my world, I end up realizing that I cannot ever think that I have The Answer, The Right Answer. I must honor everyone’s answer to the best of my ability. And, paradoxically, there will be times when I will fight for my perspective. Usually because I feel that someone is threatened and I instinctively act to protect.

    Ok, so then there’s instinct. How does that fit into an analysis of morals.

  • nother

    Allison- “instinct” – nice subject. Emerson had something to say about it in his essay “self reliance.” I come away from his essay with that idea that to be self reliant, one must have “self-trust.” Trusting yourself is about trusting your instincts.

    When I read the following passage by Emerson I think about the beautiful improvisation of jazz. When he writes “The magnetism which all original action exerts” visions of Coltrane improvising with sheets of sound, dance in my head.

    “The magnetism which all original action exerts is explained when we inquire the reason of self-trust. Who is the Trustee? What is the aboriginal Self, on which a universal reliance may be grounded? What is the nature and power of that science-baffling star, without parallax, without calculable elements, which shoots a ray of beauty even into trivial and impure actions; if the least mark of independence appear? The inquiry leads us to that source, at once the essence of genius, of virtue, and of life, which we call Spontaneity or Instinct.”

    Nietzsche writes that “we must in fact seek the perfect life where it has become least conscious (i.e. least aware of its logic, its reasons, its means and intentions, its utility) . . . the demand for a virtue that reasons is not reasonable.” Perfection does result from instinctual action; “genius resides in instinct; goodness likewise. One acts perfectly when one acts instinctively. Even from the viewpoint of morality, all conscious thinking is merely tentative.”

    Personally I think a good example of the power of instinct is in making love with a loved one. If you’ve ever had moments of bliss while making love, you probably didn’t get to that point through a conscious reasoning with your partner. You arrived there by thinking less.

    The same could be said for dancing. If you think about the times you’ve been lost in dance (and I sincerely hope you have) you arrived there by shedding your consciousness. The times that I find myself dancing badly (too often the case) are the times that I’m breaking down my body actions in my head: Ok now bounce up and down, stop moving my arms so much, bob my head, do the moonwalk, keep to the beat. Just joking I never do the moonwalk, at least not in public. At least not in public in the last ten years. 🙂

  • Elric

    Alison, moral code and the ways one acts are not the same. A moral code implies that you evaluate your deeds (or deeds of others) as good/bad dichotomy. When I say I do whatever I like in my limits, I only mean that wahetever I do is not good or bad for me. I do it because it pleases me, but I don’t say to myself that what I do is good. To repeat, I accept any my deed as vain and empty as anything else.

    Morality is an irrational concept, that’s why I think that secular people who claim to be rational are falling into a contradiction.

    In religious morality I meant, in the first place Judeo-Christian and Islamic ethics with strong good/bad division in moral. But no other religion, cult or spiritual movement to my knoledge can explain why this universe is like it is either. (meaning existence of evil or purpose of life etc.)

    In being rational first of all I mean to be consistent. So if a secular person defies religion on the basis of being rational then he cannot claim in same time to be moral, morality being an irrational concept from the realm of beliefs. That is what I call contradiction and inconsistency.

    Secular people claim that the existence is a result of a blind chance, so you tell me what kind of meaning of life a secular person can have. In the terms of consistency if one claims that everything exists just because of blind chance should claim as well that nothing has a meaning, hence no morality!

    You mention instincts. Well, that fits very well with the power play scenario.

  • Elric: I’m sorry. Perhaps I’m daft, but could you explain the basis of this comment: “morality is an irrational concept”?

    And I’m not sure how rational=consistent.

    And I don’t understand how you can say that you don’t have a moral code? Do you kill people just because you feel like it? It sounds to me like your morality is “whatever pleases me is ok.” The idea that you label all actions as vain and empty does not make you devoid of a morality. But perhaps, there is a semantic issue here. How do you define morality? I define it as a code of conduct. Whether conscious or unconscious we all have some underlying code. You say that you only do what pleases you. Really? You’ve never done anything that didn’t please you? Are you lonely?

  • nother: I love the imagery of being lost in dance. Dance is something that I definitely do for my own enjoyment. Iget lost in my own world and I find it euphoric. I have been this way since I was a child.

    I like the discussion of the instinctual and self-trust. That could lead to an exploration of the need for a super-imposed morality because we don’t trust ourself or others. And then an exploration of what causes self-trust to break down. Perhaps we would find that if we could establish a moral code that prevented the destruction of self-trust, that we would eventually have no need for a moral code.

    I like these loops. Like non-profits whose mission should be to put themselves out of business. A difficult proposition because those executing the mission then have to figure out their role in society if the current role is no longer needed.

    Enough of this thinking stuff for the eve. I’m off to spin around the room and imitate my daughter’s “interpretive dance” technique. May I reunite with my aboriginal self…

  • Alright, I had another thought:

    Elric, you say that human existence is about a power play. Why? Why do we need power? Why do we care about power?

    I don’t disagree that I see of lot of vying for power. I’d like to explore why.

    For that matter, why do we even care to stay alive?

  • nother

    Elric, you write: “Secular people claim that the existence is a result of a blind chance, so you tell me what kind of meaning of life a secular person can have.�

    Considering the fact that I’m a “secular� person, I’ll give you my humble perspective Elric. I find meaning in the dance I danced with my mother in Key Largo two months ago. With a man playing guitar next to us we danced to her favorite song “Kokamo.� We danced as mother and son and as two adults. I had always been too shy, to embarrassed to dance with my mother, but I decided on my bar stool that life is too short for that. I soaked in every second of that dance, every gleam of my mother’s teeth as she smiled her broad smile. I soaked in the glamourous pride of a lady. The guitar player and I made her feel like she was the only woman on earth – and she was. Oh ya, and I “got down� a little myself.

    I bring this story up Elric because the beauty of moments like that is the only meaning of life I need. The only religion I practice is a constant striving to live in the moment. To milk moments like that for every once of love and pleasure I can. Yes I believe that existence is blind chance and I feel like that I won the lottery with that chance. Am I going to take my winnings (life) and sit in a dark room? No, I’m going to seize the day! In my spiritual world (and I do feel a spirituality) I will live by one commandment, the Golden Rule, I will treat others the way I want to be treated.

    Elric, tell me why I need more. I really want to know.

  • nother

    Allison- I should have known that you appreciate dancing. As serious as you are, you seem to be someone who doesn’t take themselves too serious, which I think is a special quality – and one that lends itself to an appreciation of dancing. I’m not sure why I see that connection, I just do. What is your favorite music to dance to, if you don’t mind me asking?

    I thought about both of your comments last night in bed and decided that I find it hard to connect to this conversation directly because I don’t live my life in terms of moral codes, at least not consciously. When I hear talk of morals I itch (to use Brendon’s word) because I smell judgment in the air. I avoid judgment like the plague, both the judging of me by others and the judging of others by me.

    So when you write: “Perhaps we would find that if we could establish a moral code that prevented the destruction of self-trust, that we would eventually have no need for a moral code.� I propose that our new code should include an avoidance of judgment. The less anxiety we have at being judged by others, the more courage we will have to trust in ourselves, to have self-trust. When you dance Allison, where do you dance? Do you dance and “get lost in my own world� in public? How conscious are you of the people around you?

    I think confidence plays a key role as well and I’d like to hear your ideas on that sometime. And I like your idea about loops. Way past my bedtime.

  • Nikos

    Hey jazzman: my curiosity got an unexpected boost today by a drive-time Day-to-Day report from Dahlia Lithwick’s SCOTUS summary. (This would have gone to the Hart-Beinart-Perle thread, but on reflection belongs here, I think.) So, please consider the following from one of your favorite hotheaded ‘galahads’…

    SCOTUS today allowed the legality of the hallucinogenic tea of a Brazilian-originated religion (which I’ve no quibble with), but it struck me as a classic ‘majority morality vs. minority morality’ issue.

    In other words, the US government’s hope to outlaw this tea was defeated:

    http://a257.g.akamaitech.net/7/257/2422/21Feb20061230/www.supremecourtus.gov/opinions/05pdf/04-1084.pdf

    So, with this law-of-the-land example of religious tolerance as background…

    Let’s say I have a vision from God in the woods behind my house (like the Mormon founder in New York). This vision first inspires me to establish a legal religion, and to attract congregants.

    This vision of God also informs me that women are inherently deceitful, and prone to satanic impulses. God informs me – directly – that I should preach the incarceration of wives within homes, and that any who try to escape must be beaten – for their own good, because the impulse to escape isn’t really theirs but an example of Satan’s presence.

    Then, despite having established a legally recognized religion, some damned do-gooder interloper turns me in.

    What is the government’s obligation?

    Whose morality prevails?

    And before you consider this, let me posit the following: the government’s body of ‘rights’ as a ‘state’ is a European invention, not something ‘god-given’. Likewise, Afghanistan’s status as a state was a European creation – because the entire European structure and fiction of ‘statehood’ was literally forced onto the non-European world – and only where and when convenient for the colonialists.

    So please don’t duck my query behind the shield of ‘sovereign rights.’

    (Afghanistan’s ‘state’ was non-existent in 2001. It had all been destroyed. The ‘government’ weren’t legislators or executives or judges, but ‘Crips’ in Imam-drag.)

    When do responsible humans say: ‘no more’, and stop the brutalization of people who never voted for the men incarcerating them in their homes, and beating them for arbitrary (and paranoid) violations of ‘morality’?

    Would we let kids do it?

    Are illegitimate quasi-governments left over in the residue of ruined, foreign-imposed states any different from orphaned children?

    I honestly can’t anticipate how you’ll reply to this — to this as it’s posed precisely, anyway.

    (And anyone else can feel free to offer their opinions too.)

  • Nikos

    Another way to put it:

    Should a plane load of rescuers have left alone the new society of Golding’s ‘Lord of the Flies’?

    Or should they have stepped in and said, ‘no more’?

  • Nikos

    Dang it: one last thought.

    I essentially agree with jazzman that ‘violence begets violence’.

    Yet what does this imply for a lack of will to STOP violence?

    Do we allow a sadistically violent culture to perpetuate itself, permanently consigning its people to a birth-to-death cycle of violence?

    Or do we at least TRY to arrest the cancer?

    What’s worse: intervention, or perpetual violence against victims in a culture we helped to create before abandoning it for more lucrative exploitations?

    Answers are welcome from one and all: this is, after all, the nearly permanent ROS Morality thread!

    (I’m kinda hoping it never airs. I like having it around.)

  • nother

    Yes Yes Yes we try to “arrest the cancer” Nikos. The question is not “ifâ€? but “how.â€? Violence must be the ABSOLUTE last choice. There are many ways to be active and not passive without the destruction that breeds resentment, even by the originally oppressed. The world is becoming smaller with technology. With this globalization we have a chance to spread the ideals of our democracy by example instead of muscle. We will shine the light on them through the media. Will will shine the light on companies that do business with the oppressive regime. We will blog on the websites of their people. The indigenous people of these countries will eventually rise up and grasp freedom on their own.

    We have our own house to clean (poverty/lack of health insurance) before we can barge into our neighbors house. Hey! Your house is bringing down the property value around here, we’re going to go in and clean it up ourselves, the way we like it!

    MLK: “If you succumb to the temptation of using violence in the struggle, unborn generations will be the recipients of a long and desolute night of bitterness and your chief legacy to the future will be an endless reign of meaningless chaos.�

  • Elric

    Allison, morality is a set of beliefs which makes it irrational.

    Can you give me an example of incosistent rationality?

    Whatever pleases me is as ok as it is vain. I say, whatever I do I do because it pleases me. I do not evaluate my deeds as good or bad. They are just what they are. And If I have to do what doesn’t please it’s because I am not an allmighty character in this game called our existence. But anyway, to clear the point, things which please me and things which do not are still the same: empty and vain. So there is no contradiction in my argument.

    No, I am not lonely or depressed (if u meant that)!:):):) I could describe my state as happy, calm and problem free and there is a huge social network around me.:)

    Powergain is the main goal of our common game our plane of existence. Don’t ask me why!:) That’s how it is. This question should be directed to the developer of our game (you can call him God).

    Allison says – “For that matter, why do we even care to stay alive?”

    Who realises the vanity of everything, for him life or death doesnt really matter.

    On the other hand those who take our existence game as an ultimate reality cling to life with all their desperation.

    Nother, as you admit yourself, the meanings of life you have are important for you because you like/need them. So you should agree that they are RELATIVE! There is no ultimate truth in them and in this way they are as empty (or full if you like) as anything else.

    Don’t you see the inconsistence in believing in blind chance and your spirtual experinces?!

  • Nikos

    nother: “Violence must be the ABSOLUTE last choice”

    I agree.

    It’s just that I think in 2000 (let alone 2001) Afghanistan was overripe for a UN organized intervention. (And I believe it was discussed, although not seriously and without any interest from the US. And I’m not sure whether that’s worth a fact-check — let alone where to begin such a fact-check!)

    Europe said ‘no more’ in the former Yugoslavia, whose jackals were hardly any different from Taliban. And the blood-enemies of the former Yugoslavia are living together reasonably well these days. So, interventions seem in fact to have a chance to stop the violence-begets-violence cycle. We’ve at least that specific precedent to ponder, however we might seek to improve on its imperfect model of action.

    Look, I know from reading everyone’s posts herein that we’re all pretty much ‘peaceniks’ (and with a conviction that makes the Reagan-revisionists look absurd!), but each instance of atrocity is unique. Conflating Afghanistan to Iraq is a mistake: Afghanistan was unique. Uniquely inhumane.

    Its only corollary is Darfour.

    And who of would have complained if blue-helmeted Arab League forces had simply and bravely — and without firing a shot — filed into protective rings around those concentration-murder & rape-camps, and choppered in supplies until the janjoueed (sp?) had given up and gone home? It’s just a guess, but I don’t think the black Sudanese would have, oh, say, complained.

    I know this highly speculative, but it’s worth pondering.

  • Nikos

    Dang it. When typing in this little box (instead of in Word like I should) I consistently omit fairly important verbs, like:

    “I know this *is* highly speculative, but it’s worth pondering.”

    Sorry all.

  • Nikos

    Oh, nother! Sorry. My real life distracted me away from my originally envisioned end to my latest drone — I didn’t want to end on a seemingly contentious note.

    I think that even though the possibility of intervention should be tolerated, it’s up to people like jazzman (and you and allison and anyone else) to say ‘NEVER!’ — because that chorus of ‘no violence ever’ is necessary to limit the frequency of intervention.

    Otherwise any international convention allowing humanitarian intervention would almost surely become just another (nother!) tool for imperialist designs.

    So: all you peaceniks: Keep it up!

    Just know that one of your kin will quietly hope that SOMEBODY occasionally steps in between the abuser and the abused.

    Over and out.

  • Nikos

    Oh, dear, where the devil are my manners?

    Re my ‘Over and Out’ above – it’s not complete without a big and sincere Thank You to those voices whose contributions helped me sort the wheat from the chaff in my obvious conflict between principle and reality.

    Most specifically: thank you Potter, nother, Allison, and especially the astonishingly consistent jazzman.

    Lastly thanks to ROS, both in concept and in people, for establishing this forum.

    Where else can we find so many articulate, principled, and laudably passionate voices? And all linked to a consistently excellent public radio show?

    Thank you, thank you, thank you.

  • Nikos

    Oh, jazzman: my ‘Over and Out’ obviates any moral or ethical compunction you might feel to reply to my post of Feb 22 at 4:42 AM (it wasn’t nearly that late out here, btw). Nother’s 12:20 PM offering was just the sort of closure I think I needed to drop it finally (and you all might want to thank him for it too!) – although it took a couple of hours to sink in.

    On reflection, I’m not sure my 4:42 post was anything more than unconscious, reflexive swatting at the gathering flies on an already very beaten-to-death horse.

    For whatever it’s worth, I’ve a dearly loved family member whose charming first husband turned out to be a serious and serial violent abuser – which makes every instance of that crap in the world very personal to me.

    In the decades before domestic violence legislation, wives not only suffered beatings in private shame, but many actually died at their husbands’ hands, although the matter was usually hushed up and not prosecuted (an across-the-street childhood neighbor of mine, for instance).

    So, I instinctively rail at inaction. I hate feeling like I’m part of a country that turns its back on the man-beating-the-life-out-of-his-wife-next-door.

    And now I’m finished, again and for good. (Please, dear god, please.)

  • jazzman

    1st let me say that I’m encouraged by the recent tenor of this thread since my last diatribe. Due to the amount of activity, I’ll make a few observations and address the most recent discussion in a later post. I’ll start with Nikos’ definitions and say that most are circular – but the gist is morality involves value judgments and empathy boils down to the golden rule. As I have stated ad infinitum, I only make moral value judgments in terms of MY definition of absolute morality which is a superset of conventional morality. I attempt to live my daily life in the context of those precepts and try to champion those values aggressively during daily interpersonal contact (when appropriate) and in the philosophical discussions on the threads here.

    Allison: Regarding “instinct�: I define instinct as the survival mechanism that guides animal behavior and they are not able to contravene their instinct (I admit that this can be construed to be tautological but so be it.) They instinctively find food, avoid pitfalls, and reproduce etc. I believe humans have “traded in� their instinct for free will, intuition and conscious choice and by those attributes CAN (I wish I knew how Potter got those italics) contravene what may be considered instinctive behavior. Your motherly instinct toward protection notwithstanding, I would say that it’s a combination of imagination (projecting yourself into the “threatening� situation) empathizing with the potential recipient of the threat, and making extremely quick assessments of the appropriate action (based on your experience, beliefs and emotions) and acting, however I don’t ascribe this complex gestalt as instinct.

    Nother, I’m glad you like ‘trane, one of the more “spiritual� improvisers, I see our existence on the physical plane to be a form of jazz expression and hope I create exuberant improvised “music�, pleasing to the “ears� of those attuned to it. The great thing about jazz is that it’s made fresh in the moment and always allows huge leeway for the player to perform better than before (and also worse.) Bliss or transcendence in Emerson’s parlance is that emotional “aha� moment when one loses one’s self to the metaphysical and becomes aware of their connection with the universe and all that is. (I’m part and parcel of God. R.W.E.) Listening to or playing jazz (which encompasses a wide range & genres – I have a theory the reason newer “modern� (non-traditional) jazz is not more widely appreciated is that almost everyone has had the experience of hearing music to which they couldn’t relate and were told that it was jazz, thereby evoking distaste when they hear the term jazz, eh Nikos?) provides that connection for me as you state the “dance� does for you (life is as much a dance as jazz.) If you haven’t already, check out Gary Zukov’s The Dancing Wuli Masters.

    Elric: You state:>> In being rational first of all I mean to be consistent. So if a secular person defies religion on the basis of being rational then he cannot claim in same time to be moral, morality being an irrational concept from the realm of beliefs. That is what I call contradiction and inconsistency.

    Secular people claim that the existence is a result of a blind chance, so you tell me what kind of meaning of life a secular person can have. In the terms of consistency if one claims that everything exists just because of blind chance should claim as well that nothing has a meaning, hence no morality!>>

    I agree that religious morality is a concept of beliefs, and that may seem irrational to non-believers, however it may or may not be consistent in their system of logic. (RWE again: A foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds or Kurt Godel: Complex systems can be complete and inconsistent or consistent and incomplete NOT both – take your pick.) You may not have a formal system of “moralsâ€? but you have an innate sense of what you term your “limitsâ€? and lines that presumably you will or won’t cross (possibly calculated as in your “game theoryâ€? as advantageous or disadvantageous to the outcome. I also agree that if everything exists because of accident or “blind chanceâ€? morality has no meaning (save the meaning with which each of us endows it) which is why Darwin’s dangerous idea is dangerous. If one accepts it as factual then one has a difficulty in ascribing objective meaning to anything as subjectivity is all that remains. This lack of meaning (worth) leads to the justification of the most reprehensible acts against nature and humans in the name of “survival of the speciesâ€?, the individual has no meaning either except in furthering the existence of the species. This is one of the many reasons I don’t accept Darwin’s idea (besides my numerous adductions which have yet to be refuted here by any other evidence) – it devalues ALL THAT IS.

  • jazzman

    Nikos: I just read your above post and wanted to let you know that I am champing at the bit to reply to your 4:42 post but maybe not tonight.

  • jazzman

    Nikos writes:>>…In other words, the US government’s hope to outlaw this tea was defeated… >> This is an encouraging sign from the SCOTUS who finally upholds the 1st Amendment – but what about the Rasta’s communion tea? LDS polygamy (which would still be practiced (and is by fundamentalists) except for being blackmailed out of it in return for statehood?)

    BTW reading the SCOTUS opinion you thoughtfully provided took me way back. I did botanical research on ‘huasca’ in college and its components harmine and harmaline among others from the Banisteria Caapi vine (see William S. Burrough’s The Yage Letters) It has a number of interesting and unique chemical properties. If one has a doubt as to the origin of reality, ayahuasca would doubtless disabuse that doubt.

    Nikos writes: >> Let’s say I have a vision from God in the woods behind my house (like the Mormon founder in New York). This vision first inspires me to establish a legal religion, and to attract congregants. This vision of God also informs me that women are inherently deceitful, and prone to satanic impulses. God informs me – directly – that I should preach the incarceration of wives within homes, and that any who try to escape must be beaten – for their own good, because the impulse to escape isn’t really theirs but an example of Satan’s presence. Then, despite having established a legally recognized religion, some damned do-gooder interloper turns me in. What is the government’s obligation? Whose morality prevails?>>

    The 1st Amendment says: Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof

    If the religion is comprised of consenting adults, where’s the beef? OTOH if adults are incarcerated against their will or beaten against their will then our society has allowed (for better or worse) the “legal�(legality is the tyranny of legislators – just because something is legal doesn’t mean it’s “right� or illegal “wrong�) intervention by any governmental agencies deemed appropriate and if they will testify against their abusers then the abusers may be held criminally liable as well. By my Aztec definition of morality, the religion’s morality prevails, by my we are our own victim morality then absolute morality prevails.

    The definition of what constitutes a “stateâ€? or “sovereign rightsâ€? is that it is a “stateâ€? of mind (each individual has different borders) and because it’s difficult to settle the provincial mental territorial disputes abstractly we define them by spatial (GPS now) borders and fences (good fences make good neighbors – R. Frost) to remove some of the abstraction but as you may have noticed this system isn’t foolproof and also is largely responsible for the vitrtual extinction of the nomadic lifestyle. Not to mention our own aboriginal population who had the concept of territorial claims but not land ownership. As long as people hold the belief that they have “sovereign rightsâ€? over or “ownâ€? property (see Kelo vs. New London or PLO vs. Israel) and that belief is challenged or refuted by others who claim “rightsâ€? to the same space, there (obviously) is a conflict. This may be settled peacefully with compromise or by wresting the space and holding by force. The only “moral high groundâ€? that the US can claim in these types of disputes is that “usuallyâ€? we settle domestic territorial questions peacefully. (Ruby Ridge, Waco?) What constitutes a “legitimateâ€? government? Is democracy the “onlyâ€? legitimate claimant? Is a Hamiltonian “Republicâ€? preferable to a Jefferson “Direct Democracy?â€? Hamilton believed that a representative system would serve as a hobble against emotional mob hysteria – the idea being that the representative would altruistically vote against his ill-advised constituents’ wishes at the peril of his seat. Jefferson believed that men (no suffrage yet) would vote for enlightened self interest. Why do we need government? To protect us from ourselves? Against hegemony? To settle grievances? To punish the guilty? Because humans are “evilâ€? and must be kept in line? We need government because we believe we need government because we mistrust our own intentions and must be regulated (oppressed) or we will run amok. That and a sorely needed public works dept.

    More Later – Peace – Jazzman

  • Vijtable

    Hi, I am new to the thread, and completely enthralled by the debate. Unfortunately, I skipped some of the early posts, skimmed the less ancient ones, and read some of the most recent ones. Caveat: Of course, I come down on one “side” (which will become clear), and of course carry most of the accompanying baggage requisite for one on my “side”. Meanwhile I look at the other side and say “And you’re completely ignoring your baggage!” I love the debate more than the solution because the dialogue matters more to me. So, I apologize for any inadvertent insults – I sometimes get pretty pedantic and often get vehement.

    “Darwinistic Dogma almost without exception is accepted by the non-religious masses and the ROS bloggers without question even though there is not a shred of hard scientific evidence to support it.”

    Jazzman, you do refer to the evidence which negates the Theory of Evolution, and I was wondering if you could give me (and other newcomers) a quick overview of it. I don’t want to assume you are saying something you are not, and I get the sense that intelligent design doesn’t satisfy you.

    As for hard scientific evidence to support evolution, I submit the simplest and most obvious proof: bacterial resistance. Most bacteria that people interact with divide at an fast rate. In a nutrient-rich environment (like a dead person), there are more generations of bacteria in a month than there are human generations ever – no matter whose clock you use. Bacteria generally do two things, and well: eat, and divide. When they divide, they make exact copies of themselves… ideally. So, in theory, the first bacterium introduced to the closed system should be identitcal to all the bacteria that are taken out of it a month later. They aren’t. Because of the nature of DNA replication, mutations appear, and some of the bacteria come out different. Of course, all their offspring will ALSO have the new genes (assuming the mutations aren’t harmful to the bacteria). Introduce a bacteria-killer like penicillin, and the bacteria all die. But if one single bacterium, which had an accidental change in its DNA, doesn’t die, it is resistant.

    Now, people often ask, why didn’t that mutation exist earlier? Wouldn’t all the bacteria have been resistant before? Potentially, but doubtful. If a single bacterium with a (thus far) non-favoring mutation has to compete against a billion relatives, it is living on the precipice of extinction, which can easily come at the wipe of a nose. It needs to survive at least a few generations before it can get a foothold on survival. On the other hand, if all the other bacteria dead, this bacterium (in that nutrient-rich environment) can father a whole new race a resistant bacteria. And that is what has happened.

    With the prevalence of antibiotics in everyday life, bacteria are getting harder to kill because resistant strains are being favored for. Humans applied an evolutionary pressure, which is nothing more than predation, and that pressure opened a previously-filled niche for a species which could withstand the predatory pressure.

    This is important… Evolutionary pressure doesn’t come from within, or from some random “chance.” Evolutionary pressure is external – like the temperature of Earth’s oceans rising by a degree. Humans, rats, and pigeons are extremely effective at accidentally applying evolutionary pressure. Frogs aren’t supposed to have three eyes, yet our actions affect the sensitive genomes of unfertilized and fertilized eggs in rivers, jumbling up the DNA. Evolutionary pressure doesn’t “make” things appear, either. Because there is lots of copulating (and dividing) in the world of life, there are lots of chances for DNA to mis-copy. And when it does, it is either harmless, harmful, or beneficial. If it is harmless NOW, it may fester in the gene pool of species for generations. If pressure is applied on a species due to events on earth that make that harmless mutation beneficial, those individuals with the mutation will be more successful and become more dominant within the niche. (said differently, giraffes didn’t MAKE their necks long, but the longer-necked ancestors were more successful in the drier savannah environment).

    Nevertheless, concrete, hard, evidence abounds. If one accepts that we have a rudimentary understanding of nuclear properties (and nuclear weapons indicate as much to me), then we have an entire avenue of radioactive dating. Through the fossil record, if there are distinct and obvious steps between the oldest fossil with DNA similar to a horse, and the more recent fossils with DNA that much closer to a horse, we have concrete evidence that’s more compelling than a bloody leather glove.

    If gathered data show that humans didn’t exist on earth at a certain point, but certain larger apes did, that data stands on its own. But then, if gathered data also shows that things sort of human-like existed a little later, but those apes didn’t, and they were filling the same niche, there’s something extremely compelling about that. And then, if gathered data show that humans existed later, filling the niche that these human-like creatures did, there’s continued compelling hard evidence. And then there’s the DNA. If taken from these three creature groups, and the DNA say that the more ape-like thing shares less DNA with humans, and its niche-replacement more, then we have two separate streams of hard, scientific evidence.

    Finally, there’s the scientific definition of “theory.” Theory means, basically, “a hypothesis that has yet to be disproven in a repeatable experiment.” Evolution is falsifiable. Evolution is also a description of an observed phenomenon, which scientists have tested countless times over for over 150 years. Intelligent design is not science because it is not falsifiable. It asks to prove a negative.

    Okay okay, I know that is not exactly about morality, but since a premise of one side is the existence of evolution, and the premise of another is the lack thereof, I at least needed to go to bat for evolution. Most importantly, my arguments for evolution do not negate God, god, gods, or other higher beings. I am simply defending a system which most adequately explains all the observed understanding in science about “how we got here.” It (and I) meticulously avoid the question of “why we got here.” For the sake of length, my comments on morality will appear in my NEXT post. 🙂 Thanks for reading, all. This is a wonderful discussion.

  • Okay, here ya go! These are my colorful guests suggestion:

    A) Rabbi Michael Lerner Ph.D., a Harvard graduate with a doctorate in political science from Yale, was a member of the political science faculty of Yale before he moved to California. He is the editor of Tikkun, http://www..tikkun.org

    and author of many books. His forthcoming The Left Hand of God: Reclaiming Our Country From the Religious Right & coauthored Why Spirit Matters: A Path to Healing Society (Dialogues at the Chopra Center for Well Being)

    B) Cornel West, was a member of the Faculty of Divinity at Harvard University’s W.E.B. DuBois Institute of Afro-American Research and taught primarily in the fields of Afro-American studies and philosophy of religion. He had also previously taught at Yale University, Union Theological Seminary, and Princeton University, where he was chair of the department of Afro-American studies. Presently Univ. Prof. Religion & Philosophy @ Princeton, author of Democracy Matters, like MLK he calls us to organize and mobilize the nascent leaders, all us among them, to bring pressure on the status quo.

    C) Ken Wilber, backgrounds in microbiology, evolution (Darwinian and Consciousness States- Zen, Tibetian, etc.), his model “The Four Quadrants of the Kosmos” and others articulate the evolution of consciousness form slime to Godhead (see “Spectum of Consciousness, The Atman Project and Up From Eden for starters). He’s generally regarded as the world’s most influential integral thinker. He is the first psychologist-philosopher in history to have his Collected Works published while still alive; draws heavily on the German idealists like Schopenhauer. Rarely gives interviews though.

    Pres/Founder of http://www.integralinstitute.org/

    D) Joel Osteen is a ‘Mega-church’ phenom and a leading voice for a new generation of Christian ministers. After becoming Senior Pastor in 1999, Lakewood Church has more than quadrupled its weekly attendance. He has a weekly television broadcast on numerous national cable networks, including Discovery, USA Network, ABC Family, Black Entertainment Television (BET), and even internationally in over 100 nations including CNBC Europe, Vision Canada, CNBC Australia and Middle East Television. His recent book, Your Best Life Now gives readers the ultimate ‘seven principles’ tool to improve their lives spiritually and materially. http://www.joelosteen.com/site/PageServer?pagename=homepage

  • Neglected the link for Dr. Cornel West…

    best-selling books Race Matters” and Democracy Matters (only two in an amazing array), brought into the national spotlight his ongoing mission for racial equity and recognition of democracy as a spiritual force.

    http://www.cornelwest.com/

  • Nikos

    vijitable:

    You’re late to the party, but thanks for showing up. I’ve been staking a claim for evolution’s credibility for months but as a layman never had the scientfic goods for the argument. (Look in the archives for the E.O.Wilson thread [I think it was there and probably elsewhere too] in November or December — or at any thread with ID or Christianity in its title: it’s likely to have bits and pieces of our discourse on evolution in it)

    And more than once I PLEADED for an evolutionary biologist to chime in.

    So: THANKS! (even if you’re not an E.B.)

    My pal jazzman is a tough nut to crack however.

    So good luck!

    😉

  • Vijtable

    Nikos – If you’re interested in irony, I guess I embody it. I am not an evolutionary biologist. In fact, I focused on religious studies in college and spend most of my free time learning about religious beliefs. That said, I bristle at claims which speak to science, but don’t accurately reflect scientific data. There’s one more piece that I have – the numerous vesigial organs which serve no purpose on the bodies of different animals (snakes have tiny legs/fins in their skeleton, whales have a pelvis, humans have the appendix).

    But I said I’d address morality in this post. I’ll keep it short. For morality to be god-given, it does not require that evolution did NOT give it. Given that I am a strong defender of evolution, I believe that morality, such as it is, MUST have evolved (god notwithstanding).

    By our very brain structure, we are “wired” to be social. This is why autism is considered a disease – austic people, while often very smart, are unable to process the emotional and social cues that “normal” people take for granted. If we are wired to be social (and sympathetic), then it is automatically in our best interests to have sympathetic and protective feelings towards each other. Call them reasoned emotions, call them morals, we are forced to face our reality as a “pack” and we’ll protect our pack.

    An exception that proves the rule is the way people interact with corporations. When the “other” has no face or notably sympathetic aspect, people are willing to steal from it. For instance, people who steal from corporations feel little remorse. Why should they – it’s a rich company. Likewise, corporations who affectively steal from people have little remorse as well, because people are aggregated numbers affecting the bottom line. Remove the social and sympathetic aspect of humans and we remove clearly moral behavior.

    Another thing, which relates to the political figures who most vehemently yell and scream aboout morality and god. When I look at these political people who espouse that the Bible is Truth, I ask myself how much do they follow its morality? In the end, not much.

    They covet their neighbors’ belongings (oil), they steal (oil), they are not meek, they steal from the poor to give to the rich (new bankruptcy laws), they don’t accept others (gays), they judge others (gays, women, poor, minorities), they obfuscate and lie (environment), they weaken education, they kill (war), and they claim that they are right (isn’t god the actual decider of these things?).

    I can easily reject their claims to morality because they are immoral in countless ways. In addition, if the Truth is that they ARE moral, and their’s IS god’s will, then I have to reject that god as a tyrant. And, therefore, I have to reject claims that morality is god-given. If god’s values are so tyrannical and unjust (basically, immoral), that leaves evolution as the ONLY possible avenue for morality to have arisen in humanity.

    If god’s morality is instead what we conventionally think is morality, then I am willing to entertain that god(s) gave it to us. But, even if it came from god, the functional aspects of morality must have evolved in us.

    More later…

  • Elric

    Vijatble, intersting arguments, but still, how do you define what’s good and what’s bad?

  • jazzman

    Vijtable: 1st of all welcome to ROS and this thread. I’ll try to be concise to your queries as not to bore Nikos et al. as I have previously answered similar issues regarding the Darwinian theory of Evolution. See my posts above at Feb 7 @8:33, Feb 8, @9:08, Feb 10 @8:32 all PMs

    Vijtable writes:>>Jazzman, you do refer to the evidence which negates the Theory of Evolution, and I was wondering if you could give me (and other newcomers) a quick overview of it. I don’t want to assume you are saying something you are not, and I get the sense that intelligent design doesn’t satisfy you. >> I doubt anyone (many have tried) can negate or prove Darwin’s theory as it’s not falsifiable despite your claim to the contrary and yet to be proven. It’s an attempt to explain the diversity of “Nature� or a “Just So Story.� (Doesn’t it seem strange that for almost 150 years that such a widely accepted (well perhaps only widely accepted since Scopes) theory has resisted a posteriori scientific proof with the amount of energy devoted to the process? Now it’s such dogma that most of Evolutionists take their a priori assumptions (Darwinian Evolution) as fact and try to adduce mechanisms that account for the anomalies that they don’t conveniently ignore.) I’ll suspend the question of how “life� arose from “non-living� material and stipulate a primitive form such as a bacterium or virus has somehow managed to emerge.

    V:>>for hard scientific evidence to support evolution, I submit the simplest and most obvious proof: bacterial resistance>> I agree with your analysis of the bacterial resistance mechanism. While this is definite (i.e., hard evidence) proof of mutation and of what I call micro-evolution i.e.,changes within a species but bacteria remain bacteria no matter how much they mutate.

    V:>> Evolutionary pressure is external – like the temperature of Earth’s oceans rising by a degree. Humans, rats, and pigeons are extremely effective at accidentally applying evolutionary pressure. >> This is an extension of Gould’s punctuated equilibria attempt to explain the lack of intermediate forms in the fossil record, i.e., catastrophic external events cause evolutionary pressure and rapid mutation occurs so that (like the bacteria) successive radical mutations survive and look like an entirely new species and their forbears become extinct. External pressure in the early stages of earth (i.e., intense UV radiation as well as a lack of oxygen until “specialâ€? chlorophyll endowed plants (blue-green algae) was more likely kill off any life than support it. Chlorophyll based life needs sunlight to survive but would have had to develop huge quantities of itself in an absence of solar radiation until it could withstand the pressure to create enough oxygen to protect it. The symbiotic relationships of myriad life forms can not be explained by mutation or evolution.

    V:>> Through the fossil record, if there are distinct and obvious steps between the oldest fossil with DNA similar to a horse, and the more recent fossils with DNA that much closer to a horse, we have concrete evidence that’s more compelling than a bloody leather glove. To my knowledge fossilized DNA can not be acquired much less studied. Amber incased animals/insects are not suitable for DNA studies and how can you adduce the totally discredited American Museum of Natural History’s EOHIPPUS descent of the equine canard as concrete evidence?

    V:>> If gathered data show that humans didn’t exist on earth at a certain point, but certain larger apes did, that data stands on its own. But then, if gathered data also shows that things sort of human-like existed a little later, but those apes didn’t, and they were filling the same niche, there’s something extremely compelling about that. And then, if gathered data show that humans existed later, filling the niche that these human-like creatures did, there’s continued compelling hard evidence. Humans do not fill niches unless landmass is a niche. Just because there is similar morphology in primate DNA is not evidence of any sort of evolution. This is circumstantial evidence which is another tautological form of survivors surviving.

    V:>> Finally, there’s the scientific definition of “theory.� Theory means, basically, “a hypothesis that has yet to be disproven in a repeatable experiment.� Evolution is falsifiable. Evolution is also a description of an observed phenomenon, which scientists have tested countless times over for over 150 years. Intelligent design is not science because it is not falsifiable. It asks to prove a negative. A theory is hypothesis used explain observations and make predictions which are tested to see if they are consistent with observations. Anomalies that are not explainable by observation cast serious doubt on the theory. You say scientists have tested this over and over for 150 years – yes and still there’s no hard evidence. I agree that ID is not science and not falsifiable but neither is Darwinian Evolution. It is not disprovable either and as yet NO proof exists. Like the existence of God it has been accepted by the believers on FAITH. BTW I always use the term Darwinian to distinguish micro from macro evolution. You conflate micro into macro without qualification as yet – benefit of the doubt)

    V:>>I am simply defending a system which most adequately explains all the observed understanding in science about “how we got here.�>> As I have stated before given a choice between Creationism/ID and Darwinian Evolution, beings who consider themselves rational and not given to superstition usually would opt for the latter. The problem is you have only2 choices and neither of them anymore than a “Just So Story� O my best beloved. Science would be well advised to stop bandaiding Darwin’s flaws and studying the quantum nature of reality, evolution and how we or anything else in the universe actually “got here.�

    .V:>>There’s one more piece that I have – the numerous vesigial organs which serve no purpose on the bodies of different animals (snakes have tiny legs/fins in their skeleton, whales have a pelvis, humans have the appendix). Just because vestiges of structures exist within a creature doesn’t mean that they once were historically full blown structures that correlate to the their appearances nor that they serve no purpose (just because one can live without an appendix or tonsils or a little toe doesn’t mean that they don’t have a function.)

    V:>> Given that I am a strong defender of evolution, I believe that morality, such as it is, MUST have evolved (god notwithstanding). Evolved memetically in the micro-sense perhaps (but you seem to be describing what I call religious or ethical morality See my post of Jan 27 8:30 PM)

    V:>> By our very brain structure, we are “wired� to be social. This is why autism is considered a disease Ants and Bees and are wired to be social does their very brain structure mimic ours (or ours theirs?) Socialization is a learned experience and that is why it is so variable. The parent/child bond is undoubtedly a form familial “wiring� which could be called a limited society. Many individuals are often quite antisocial and prefer an isolated experience but maybe they are not wired properly.

    I have an acquaintance with persons pigeon-holed in the catchall net that well meaning psycho/medical establishment term Autism It is not a disease (except in that the “autistic� person is ill at ease due to the treatment that they receive) they experience a reality that is outside of the box that is deemed socially acceptable. I’d say that generally they have concluded that social contact is best avoided for any number of reasons and communicate that quite effectively.

    The rest of your post seems to be a religiously based moral screed against the evils of mankind as defined by your notion of “morality� and curiously reject the “immoral� persons’ less than your sense ideal morality as the same morality handed down by “God� and reject the “god given premise� on that basis. This is an observation, NOT a personal attack and I welcome your voice here and on ROS.

    Nikos: ’Sup? Until next week – Peace – Jazzman

  • jazzman

    I thought I had the font stuff down. I guess I’ll have to practice my shutting off the italics! Sorry for my ineptness at bulletin board techniques.

  • vladtheexhaler

    At least some of the tendencies we classify as moral – honesty, straightforwardness in dealings with others, a willingness to cooperate, an unwillingness to take unfair advantage of the cooperative behaviors of others – are shown to be successful strategies in a broad variety of situations, sitautions which can be modeled by an iterative prisoner’s dilemma. (An iterative prisoner’s dilemma is a prisoner’s dilemma with a chance of facing off again against the same partner.) Such, at least, is the contention of Robert Axelrod (see his book, The Evolution of Cooperation). Do other people here think Axelrod’s simulations, or thinking in terms of the PD more generally, useful to understanding the origin of morality?

  • “Just know that one of your kin will quietly hope that SOMEBODY occasionally steps in between the abuser and the abused.”

    I think I lost something in this line of thought. I wholeheartedly proclaim the label of ‘peacenik.’ This does not mean, however, that I do not support intervention. I was the kin that for 14 years quietly hoped.

    Ultimately, I struck back. Literally. One solid, calm punch while I asked, “How do you like it?”

    Now, in the ideal, I can see that the world would be a better place if we all could forego using violence, even at great risk to ouselves, to resolve conflicts, oppression, etc. Gandhi embodied this. He was willing to stand up the well-armed British and speak his truth to power, risking his own life while committing himself to non-violence. And he convinced a lot of others to do the same. Of course, the reality was, that he would never have been able to out-power the colonists. So, this was an extremely clever strategy. Great PR for his cause. No opponent can look justified to others if they are using violence, especially deadly force, against a group that poses no physical threat. Still, his movement stands as an example of the human potential.

    Now back to my sub-atomic example. At the age of 14, I didn’t know of Gandhi or the concept of non-violence. I had been subjected to violence for as long as I can remember. The non-violent parent in my household was less than non-violent. That parent was passive. I learned that passivity was my death. I had a desire to survive and without forethought (I do think we’d call this instinctual) I used violence to end my suffering. It was one blow. The shock factor and unusual living circumstances combined to make this a successful strategy. One little blow. Surely, that can’t be bad. One smidgeon of violence to end a boatload of it. The violence is over and I can go on with my life in physical safety. I am no longer a victim.

    Six years later, I’m in a bar. A man is bothering me. He won’t leave me alone. He badgers me to dance. He wants to buy me a drink. He wants to stand over my seat and breathe down my neck. Nothing I said would get him to move on. I quietly pulled back my chair, stood in front of him and punched him in the jaw. As a 5’11” competivite athlete at the time, I had some pretty good torque working for me. I don’t think I broke his jaw, but he was hurting pretty bad. He left me alone after that.

    Two years later, I’m dancing at a club in NYC with some friends. Two guy friends. Just friends. We’re all out on the floor together when some jerk starts trying to dance with me. He won’t go away. He’s leaning on me. Putting his head on my shoulder. My friends don’t help, they create room for him. I turn my back to him and he moves up behind me. I step forward, lean over and give a nice back kick into his belly. He lands on the floor unable to breathe for a moment. I’m kicked out of the club.

    So, why do I tell this story. I was raised in a culture of violence. Though, I knew how much I hated being the victim of it. How wrong it was. How much I wanted to prevent violence in the world. When I felt threatened, I resorted to it. Without thinking. My surface personality would always act justified. Inside, I was shocked. Traumatized. Sure, I knew that I could protect myself to some extent, but at what cost? My power felt destructive and frightening. If I could create such pain, as a slender woman, then what is the energy of the human race when I extrapolate that out over the entire population. The vision was not something I could bear. I was afraid of myself. Of what I might do to someone. Especially given that I didn’t control these impulses. They just happened. It took years of therapy for me to accept that I could have a child and not kill it.

    So, I know the reality of the human beast and the violent impulses that can be triggered if survival feels threatened. I know what it is to be at the receiving end of violence. At least at the receiving end I feel innocent. It is worse being the perpetrator. Worse in you soul. You become what you loathe and fear. But I understand that there are moments when it feels necessary. I don’t begrudge anyone for exercising that “necessary” option.

    Yes, I believe in intervention. I believe in finely tuned early warning systems. I also believe that intervention doesn’t alway warrant violence. Had someone simply stood between me and my parent, Wrapped arms around my parent to disable, I would have had a healing experience. I would have been removed from harm’s way and would have been taught how to do that wihout perpetuating violence. I might have never known the overwhelming, powerful surge of energy that is violent rage in my body. I might never have needed to exercise the “necessary” option. I might have found peace long before I hurt someone else.

    Now to morality. Out of my experience, I realized that I didn’t like being subjected to violence. I didn’t like being the perpetrator of violence. It wasn’t because I lived in a particular culture, or had been taught by some religion that these things were bad. I simply experienced them as such. I knew viscerally that acts of violence against one another don’t create a world that we really want to live in. You can’t get food if war is afoot. You can’t have shelter from the cold if your neighbor is constantly tearing down your house. You can’t think about much of anything else if you are in a lot of pain, or are struggling for survival. To me, the only reasonable approach to living this life is to rid ourselves of violence. As I have to work at it to rid myself of the violent instint, I guess this is a moral code. But is god-given? Evolved? Totally subjective? Without universal merit? I don’t know.

    If we’re speaking about a rational, logical train of thought, I’ll try this: if we don’t need any universal moral code and we are to allow every individual to do whatever pleases them, or is instinctual, at every moment, we are unlikely to survive as a species. Our ‘instinctual’ proclivity towards violence is self-destructive. (Now, perhaps this would be better for the environment!!) Perhaps, we create moral codes, not because we feel powerless, but because we have too much power. The power of self-destuction. Perhaps, our instinct to survive drives us to create codes of behavior that curb that power. Yet, it all brings me back to the question: why survive? I mean, we have to work to avoid death. Its so easy to die. So, why survive?

    This answer doesn’t mean anything to me: Who realises the vanity of everything, for him life or death doesnt really matter. On the other hand those who take our existence game as an ultimate reality cling to life with all their desperation.”

    If life or death doesn’t really matter to those who ‘enlightened’ ones who realize the vanity of everything, why are they working to live? Why have we, for 20,000 years, continued to work for survival? It is spurious to argue that everyone who is tyring to survive is doing to because they see this “game” as an ultimate reality. Even if it is the ultimate reality and there is nothing more to experience, why bother?

    Oh my, I’ve just realized how much time I’ve taken to write this. And how there is so much more of this thread that I want to engage and how I could get lost here. Research a dissertation or something. I need to stop now. I wish this were a retreat….

  • Nikos

    Allison:

    1. Great post.

    2. The ‘lost something in this line of thought’ is my fault in that I imported to this thread the tail end of a discourse jazzman and I had been sussing through on the Hart, Beinart, & Perle thread – and I ought to have mentioned that. I thought that the argument had become a question of morality (as so many do), and perhaps an illustration the fuzzy proto-thinking I began in the post dated Feb. 20th, 2006 @ 8:25PM. Still, I ought to have mentioned its antecedents in the HB&P thread.

    3. Your tale, aside from our differing genders, mirrors my life in several ways, so: a profoundly empathetic ‘Thanks’ from this always appreciative reader of yours. (Apart from also having an abusive family-tyrant, my only ‘bar-fight’ in 19 years of tending bar was provoked by the flying fists of an idiot filled with more bravado than beer, who never struck a blow but fled the scene on feeling the first punch I landed on his jaw. And then, instead of waxing ‘triumphant’ or any of that other macho bs, I agonized over it for days! Typical liberal, huh?)

    4. At the very least I’d like to point out that your tale nicely illustrates that victims don’t ‘provoke’ their victimization – which is a Social Darwinian canard long overdue for a sound and impassioned debunking.

    It’s the very definition of Blame The Victim, in fact.

    5. I expect to offer you some further feedback – but by no means ‘blowback’! – (positive reaction, not negative, I mean), but not until after the import of your contribution settles in a bit more.

    So thanks again.

  • Vijtable

    Very short post responding to a few aspects of Jazzman’s points (I’m still parsing most of them)…

    1) I conflate micro and macro evolution because there is no functional difference between them. Genetic drift of any kind is evolution; evolution does not imply a new species is created, biologically speaking. The difference between “macro” and “micro” is an arbitrary division based on human classification systems. Using that logic, the single base-pair mutation that causes Tay-Sachs disorder is equivalent, genetically, to the extra chromosome required for Down’s Syndrome. In terms of the genome, one is a “micro” change and one is a “macro” change. However, both are genetic drift of some sort (in this case, with negative results). Most importantly, according to the framework of evolution, acceptance of genetic drift of any sort is acceptance of evolution. It is those who mis-define evolution that choose to make the distinction between micro- and macro-evolution. “Micro” and “macro”, therefore, is a straw man.

    2) Niches – While today, humans are capable of filling more niches, it is upon the shoulders of our built-up human history and technological development that we do that, not because of some innate ability to adapt to every land and environment. In fact, we transform the land to reflect the types of climates our bodies can withstand – 20-25 degrees centigrade, 20-50% humidity, near sea-level atmospheric pressure. Which is what we find in most buildings. Our “niche” is temperate climates with fresh water and vegetation. Our ability to adapt “landmass” to fit our needs allows to live in uninhabitable regions (such as Siberia or Arizona). As such, I think my argument about niches stands.

    3) “This is an extension of Gould’s punctuated equilibria attempt to explain the lack of intermediate forms in the fossil record, i.e., catastrophic external events cause evolutionary pressure and rapid mutation occurs so that (like the bacteria) successive radical mutations survive and look like an entirely new species and their forbears become extinct.”

    I think you misunderstand me, Jazzman. The lack of a complete fossil record is easily explained in geologic terms – most things living things decay without leaving any trace. Everyday pressures lead to everyday change. Catastrophic pressures also exist (such as a meteoric event which killed the dinosaurs), but they are rare, at best. Something extremely simple can be a pressure enough, and purely biological. For example. a certain species of cicada has a seven-year dormancy period, and certain other cicadas have a thirteen-year dormancy period. The fact that, once every 91 years, they are breeding the same summer can devastate plant life that year. Given one other simple factor, like a randomly wet summer, fungi can be in high populations. Certain plant species can be devastated by the coincidence of these factors, opening a niche for other, until-this-point, less-successful plant life to flourish. The only reason this plant life was able to flourish was its ability to resist (maybe because it didn’t bear the brunt of the “attack”) the pressure applied by cicadas, other cicadas, and mold.

    In all honesty, I reject Gould’s explanations because most papers by evolutionary biologists (that I ahave read) consider these specific arguments of Gould’s to be dubious, at best. The idea that only catastrophic pressures can push a gene pool to drift is inconsistent with observed data.

    Jazzman, while I’m still exploring some of your specific points, it troubles me that you say, definitively, that there in NO hard scientific evidence. The very acceptance of “micro” evolution is acceptance of some of that very evidence you claim there is none of. I look forward to your response.

    Next post… Responding to Eleric about HOW I define good and bad…

  • Hey Nikos, you seem to be so good at tracking the many parts of the thread here. Able to point to a particular post, etc. How do you do it? I’m struggling to follow things here in a cohesive manner. By the time I scroll down to respond to something, I’ve forgotten whose post I’m responding to, much less any other thoughts I wanted to engage.

    Are you printing this out?

  • Nikos

    Allison: I’d love to help but I doubt that I can.

    Only on rare occasions have I web-surfed on computers other than my trusty Gateway; I’ve learned in those instances that web pages don’t necessarily look the same from one computer to another.

    I believe it depends on ‘the settings of the web browser’. (These include incomprehensible but essential geek terms like ‘Java Script enable/disable’ – but I wouldn’t know a java script from a lava flow.)

    And unless we could somehow set up our two computers side by side, I’d have no way to know how the information appearing on your screen differs from mine.

    Worse, any possible remedy would be nothing but guesswork.

    So, my (probably) entirely useless advice is this:

    Take the mouse pointer down to the lower right hand corner of this page, and, for speed, click it not on the arrow itself, but in the apparently empty ‘gray’ space just above the arrow. Holding it there will dramatically speed the scroll action. You probably know this already. You may or may not also know that if your mouse has a wheel in between the left and right buttons, you can spin it to scroll much more slowly.

    Again, I expect that you already know all this, but every now and then I find that a friend or acquaintance doesn’t know as much as I do (which ain’t much, hon) and I’m always happy to share the single iota of geek-arcana that I knew and that he or she didn’t.

    Now, having said all this: does your version of the ROS page show the dates and times of posts?

    If not, then I’m willing to blindly wager that the problem is an easily remedied browser setting – and quite possibly that Java Script nonsense that geeks understand but we don’t. You can monkey with it in, for example, the Explorer ‘Tools’ ‘Reset Web Settings’ drop down option, but you’d need telephone assitance, I’m willing to guess. Otherwise, who knows what your web pages will look like? Will you see anything?

    Finally, although I expect this was a waste of otherwise valuable ‘electronic paper and ink’: I hope it shed at least a tiny ray of light!

    Good luck, and please continue your contributions (& I’m quite sure I’m speaking for more folks than myself.)

  • Hi Nikos,

    Thank you for taking so much time attempting to help me. And, hey, nice to see your face!! Its great to have a face to go with a name.

    Unfortunately, I know how to scroll. I’m an ex-geek. Used to program computers. But I find it unwieldy to manage this long linear block of text. Reading through it, going back to find particular bits, etc is challenging my “mommy-memory” brain. So, are you just spending a lot time to compose your responses?

    Perhaps, this conversation should move to a different thread, so we can get back to morality here….

  • jazzman

    Allison: Great post. You realize that pacifism is a choice and not instinct (that’s the 90% of the way there) and make the tough decisions to remain peaceful unless pushed beyond your limits which vary according to circumstances. I would urge you to attempt to remove yourself from the circumstances rather than risk injury or worse in a confrontation with less than ideal humans. I realize that women attract men in atavistic ways that most men don’t and I can’t walk in your shoes but I since I have chosen to become a pacifist almost 35 years ago I can honestly say I have not had other than verbal confrontations and have either diffused potentially confrontational situations or extracted myself from them. IMO meeting violence with violence is NEVER necessary I would not perpetrate violence on another to save myself (I’m not to proud to appeal to someone’s better nature) and I arrange my affairs so as not to bear bait or occupy the time/space coordinates that demarks such a situation. Pardon me if I interpret Elric again but I think he means vanity as “in vain� as all for naught (given his nihilistic bent.) If that was your reading, please excuse the presumption. I keep a MS Word document of each thread in which I participate, this makes it easy to search for points or individual replies. Just copy and paste the additions as they become available.

    Nikos: Any kind of Darwinism is a canard: Neo, Social, or good old fashioned Natural Selection. The victim also bears the responsibility of victimization – although I agree with Allison: The perpetrator bears a greater responsibility but many times the victim provokes their victimization by not taking steps to avoid it. I was a “victimâ€? of abuse that today would have me in State Social Services custody had it been reported, but chose to leave home at 14 instead. It was “my way or the highwayâ€? at home (a devout Christian family who believed in the “spare the rodâ€? philosophy) so I took the highway. It wasn’t easy but I wasn’t going to take it anymore and somehow (because of or in spite of the situation) with the help of many charitable people, I turned out okay and have a reasonably workable relationship with my parents today. BTW Where’s this face Allison has had the privilege of viewing?

    Vijtable writes:>>1) I conflate micro and macro evolution because there is no functional difference between them…“Micro� and “macro�, therefore, is a straw man. >>: Au contraire mon ami: Micro evolution is defined as change within a species. Macro evolution is defined as one species changing into another and consequently losing the ability to interbreed with members of the original species. I repeat there has been NO evidence in the fossil record of any intermediate forms and no examples of any “missing� links ever found and even today with all the recombinant DNA science no new viable species have been created. Bacteria remain bacteria Fish stay fish and don’t become amphibians Birds are birds and didn’t evolve from lizards. As I asked Nikos, how many unsuitable mutations did it take before the 1st flying birds evolved a wing structure that was aerodynamic? If Darwin were correct in his theory there should be plenty of intermediate forms not only in the fossil record but NOW especially if your “external pressure� thesis is correct.

    2) Niches: The world is in fact a human niche as we have raped and exploited practically every ecosystem we touch. But that is not as you so aptly note due to evolution but technology.

    3) The not a lack completeness in the fossil record, it’s the lack of ANY evidence of macro-evolution in the record. The “tree of life� has no branches whatsoever. It shows species arise, continue with minor variations, and disappears from the fossil record. There are many species that remain impervious to external pressure for millions of years. I don’t accept Gould’s epicyclical explanations either, but he evidently felt the need to plug a gigantic hole in the available evidence Darwin’s theory. This is a huge problem for evolution science as they have no adequate explanation for the TOTAL lack of intermediate forms or the problem of Entropy (which states that in a closed system the likelihood of order decreases with time – the exact opposite of Darwin which postulates increasing order – higher life forms from lower.) Your external pressure is demonstrated handily by the sooty moth example. They come in a sooty gray-black variety and a gray-white variety the sooty variety was successful in not being eaten while the environment was polluted with coal fire ash as their camouflage made them hard for birds to see. Their white mutations were not as fortunate. When the environment was cleaned up the tables were reversed and the sooty ones were easy prey. Again this is micro-evolutionary niche exploitation. If you can show me the evidence you use to conflate variation with speciation, I’m all ears (eyes.)

    I repeat that to date, there is absolutely NO hard evidence (adduce some if you can – 3 eyed frogs are still amphibious FROGS) to support Darwin’s “Just So Story.â€? If there were there wouldn’t be such a controversy. It’s no different than your religious studies (I’m no stranger to the comparative varieties of religious experience and I was also a biology major for a time.) The things that are nonsensical to our logic and have no evidence or proof for the postulates are accepted on faith. My “faithâ€? is that someday science will understand that the world of “mayaâ€? is a construct of consciousness and that when one violates the principles of what I term absolute morality, one is not only lessening the quality one’s own life experience but all of nature’s as well. I look forward to your response – Jazzman

  • Hey Jazzman, I guess I should have pointed out that the stories I related were more than 20 years ago. I chose pacifism about that long ago. I’m in my forties now. Haven’t succumbed to violent tendencies in two decades. To be clear, i didn’t relate the stories because I am struggling with any of that now, I used them as a way of getting to a point of discussion.

    More later, gotta get the kid to bed now.

  • Vijtable

    Elric (apologies for the misspelling last post)…

    In a basic sense, I think morality does come from humanity’s evolved social nature. Morals are typically defined in relation to “other,” and are thus social norms. Fundamentally, it comes from mommy. (I say “mommy” not to insult males like myself, but because the mother is typically more present in a child’s rearing, and always more present during fetal development.) A child is communicating and relating with its mother long before it can speak. There is an intrinsically dependent relationship between THAT mother and THAT child. When a child is reared, s/he is reared to be social in THAT community with certain norms, whatever they may be.

    Putting social nature aside for a moment, let’s look at morals themselves as simply a phenomenon. Morality is inherently dualistic, self-other oriented. They relate to certain behaviors, specifically between self and other. Often, morals are attached to consequences, again handed down by a collective of selves (which I will call the “interself”). The morals of one interself and another interself are often rooted in similar themes, but are sometimes differently understood. The unique quality of the interself is that it functions by agreement of a group of selves. So morals are relational, between self and other, and typically depend on a collection of selves, the interself, to enact and enable them.

    Of course, the “interself” is a name for a family, or a community, or a society. If, as I said, humans are innately social, then it would behoove them to have ground rules and norms for interacting. We are not snakes, and are not self-sufficient, and that evolved pack-like behavior requires modes and boundaries of conduct. The basic, most fundamental, and least-changing norms are the morals.

    Now, if you were to ask me where a specific moral idea came from, like altruism, I can say it is to the species’ evolved collective benefit. But then, as Allison and Jazzman (appropriately) ask, why is there violence in our lives? I think it comes down to a fundamental Buddhist notion – ignorance. The best demonstration of that ignorance is the way we treat our government like an external actor, outside of our control. We become ignorant that it is merely an interself, and depends on all the selves for it to exist as an interself. So when we blame the government for its misdeeds, we are treating it like an other when it is an interself. We bear some (SOME) responsibility for its actions.

    Likewise, when we do not see other people as part of an interself, we are capable of acting violently toward them. That patron of that bar did not see Allison as part of an interself, and when his ignorance and arrogance led him to act inhumanly to the interself between Allison and him (or the bar and him, or humanity and him), Allison was able to see him that way. She was the interself handing down a consequence for an “other” rejecting the norms of the interself (indeed, various interselves). Was Allison’s counter-violence moral, then? If the norms of the interself dictate that hers was an appropriate response, then yes. In absolute terms? I don’t know. But I don’t know if morality is absolute.

    I can already sense that someone will say that I am being purely relativist. In a sense, I am, because I am trying to reconcile how certain violent choices may be appropriate ones. To use a tired, but useful, example – would it have been better to stop Hitler in the 1930’s by whatever means necessary? Yes. His rejection of the communal interself required action in a serious way. But as I said, there is a vague amount of responsibility that the interself bears, for allowing Hitler’s rejection of it to flourish at all. In the 1920’s, the German manistream political parties ignored the Nazis as crazy extremists – in essence, putting Nazis outside of the political interself. The Nazis, meanwhile, decided that they were representatives of the German interself, other-izing the political mainstream as non-German. This “sale,” enabled by the willful ignorance of the mainstream politicians to the Nazis, and by the promotion of xenophobia as a moral mode of the German interself, allowed the Nazis to rise to power.

    So, to me, morality is purely the question of whether you are in the clan or not. What decides whether you are in the clan is arbitrary – for some, being gay is enough to kick you out of the clan; for others, owning guns is. For some, neither is significant.

    That big collective “moral” that we shouldn’t kill each other, present in EVERY religion and EVERY culture, has been violated in EVERY religion and EVERY culture. This moral’s basis is in the space between people, not within people. If you decide somebody is outside the circle, it is easy to mistreat them. The ignorance wildcard is the knowledge that we are only one species on the only planet that we know can support us (and the only one we can travel to); the interself should include everything that it takes to keep us going.

    Side note: so if ignorance is the basis of behavior that doesn’t support the interself, what is it that we need to be aware of, beside the big, fuzzy fact that we all need to get along? That’s the Buddhist rub. We don’t know enough about enough to accurately assess what is “good” and what is “bad,” no matter what the ends are. If the end is all people being healthy, we can endlessly debate about the best insurance scheme, which is a moral argument, but we don’t know enough to say we know which answer will be right.

    More in a little bit…

  • Vijtable

    Jazzman, thanks for the quick reply. Nikos, I would love to know what you think of the below…

    I understand where you are coming from with respect to “micro” and “macro,” but these definitions are non-standard, and, as I previously noted, arbitrary. What defines a “species” is highly variable, and is NOT the basis of analysis in evolution. Simply put, evolution is “change over time.” ANY genetic drift is, by definition, an evolutionary process. Speciation is simply a side-effect. Therefore, it is not central to demonstrating the mechanism of evolution, and the fact that the mechanism exists (which is what we are arguing).

    But, to the point that evolution IS THE mechanism by which speciation takes place, I will admit that you have not been convinced by my points thus far. So, I will try to convince you. “Bacteria are still bacteria,” you say, but there are literally millions (if not billions) of species of bacteria. When an e. coli “microevolves” to interact with its environment in a new way, IT is a new species. This is variation AND speciation. Moreover, one could say that a child with Tay-Sachs disorder IS a new species – they never interbreed with humans.

    The “lack of intermediate forms” you invoke ignores the intermediate forms. Your argument is a logical dead-end, because it is non-falsifiable. It is ONLY asking for what is in between what we know. When something is found, it is no longer unknown, and no longer applies. For example, the intermediate form of Merychippus, which happens to slot nicely (morphologically, geographically, genetically, and temporally) between Eohippus and Equus, is an intermediate form. If you are not satisfied with three steps, another two have been discovered, which slot in the spaces (Mesohippus and Pliohippus). The intermediate form of Archeopteryx slots nicely between raptor dinosaurs and birds. There are countless other examples of intermediate forms in the fossil record (whales, homonids, pollinating flowers, insects, spiders).

    So, I have demonstrated that the mechanism of evolution takes place (you call it “microevolution” but I object to the term as misleading), and the fact that speciation takes place and there are transitional forms in the fossil record. With bacteria, I demonstrated that variation IS speciation. I have not yet demonstrated that with animals (or plants). This is where I lean on two facts:

    1) The fact that “ontogony recapitulates phylogeny,” that DNA has a direct relationship to traits

    2) The simply vast volumes of data which support the two things I have demonstrated (mechanism of evolution, and transitional manner of speciation).

    These facts in hand, I can make the following assessments: The fact that DNA is directly related to traits means that changing DNA can change traits. The fact that traits are more different from the oldest as time passes (in the “lineage” of horses, for example) means, therefore, that DNA has become more different over the years, by some means. Observed data confirms that more difference in traits typically implies more difference in DNA, and vice versa. So far, in nature, the ONLY explanation for how DNA changes over time is the mechanism of evolution. Until some better explanation appears, Occam’s razor dictates evolution is likely the answer. That millions of people smarter and more intellectually rigorous than me can also say with certitude that evolution is the best explanation so far also adds to my comfort.

    Going even further, IF evolution is the means by which all species came to exist, then a way to falsify this is to see if vastly different species share ANY traits. If they don’t, then there are various hanging threads that evolution cannot explain. If they do, then speciation by evolution is at least not disproved. Indeed, they do. Hence, homologous structures, vestigial structures, similar cell construction. We even share with the banana half of its genes. There may be another explanation for how this is, but this fact also supports evolutionary theory.

    Is there a smoking gun? I don’t know. To me, all of the above is equivalent to bullet matching a gun in the possession of the one with the blood on his clothes, fingerprints at the scene, and the car that had the same plates as the one leaving the scene. On top of that, add a few ear-witnesses, and a few people who heard the person brag about it later. Is it possible that it didn’t happen a certain way? Sure. But it would be a great story.

  • Vijtable

    One last bit about morality and Buddhism, a story which typically grounds me in terms of how to act morally. The story is heavily paraphrased and simplified, but I think it still holds the kernel I’m trying to get across.

    In Mahayana texts, a man approached Buddha and said that all his (philsophical questions) questions must be answered before he would consider learning the path that Buddha teaches.

    Buddha responds with a parable of the poisoned arrow. Imagine, that somebody is hit by a poisoned arrow. A physician comes to treat the victim, but refuses to treat the victim. Imagine, Buddha teaches, that the physician insists on knowing everything he can related to the arrow before it is removed: why the person shot that arrow, where that person came from, what he did, how he made the arrow, what the poison was, what material was the bow that shot the arrow, and so on. The victim would die. The physician will not have accomplished his goal.

    To answer all the philosophical questions of single person would not only take the length of an entire lifetime, it does not help the person resolve the root problem of suffering. The physician, the teacher, need to act mindfully and thoughtfully.

    In the first moment, we first need to remove the most direct cause of suffering, the poisoned arrow. The only way to do that is not only to think, but to act. Only after direct causes of immediate suffering are removed can the mind be bothered to focus on the root causes of endemic suffering, namely ignorance. Letting the physician remove the poisoned arrow is like

    I think morality can and should function this way. Sometimes the solution to a problem is to give a man a fish, so he can ignore the hunger and THEN learn how to fish.

    Framed in this sense, that morality’s goal is the end of suffering in a mindful manner, I think morality allows for “moral-yet-violent” acts. (And, of course, I believe morality is an evolved social norm-set.)

  • Nikos

    Vijtable: My first comment is that your excellent back and forth with jazzman provides the articulation for my intuitive comprehension of evolution that I couldn’t offer him in my many responses.

    So again: welcome aboard the good ship ROS; and I’m delighted that your first stop appears to be the ship’s Morality Deck.

    Vijtable and jazzman both: it seems to me that ‘micro’ evolution as described by jazzman isn’t distinct from ‘macro’ since ‘speciation’ occurs in exactly the same range of increment as ‘non-speciation’ – in truth, I believe this all a continuum, with poles distinguished artificially simply for the convenience of discussion. And as such, I suggest that the articulated concepts are flawed, although the genetic and evolutionary occurrences the concepts attempt to describe are every bit as real as the sun. (Course, I’m only intuiting, not intellectualizing.)

    I must repeat, as one simple example, the ongoing yet still incomplete ‘speciation’ of Golden-winged and Blue-winged warblers I’ve had the privilege to observe through my very own binoculars.

    Oh! I just now read vijtable’s “Speciation is simply a side-effect� which is essentially the point I tried to make above.

    Jazzman: I’ve a small dispute and a big one.

    Small: I don’t believe pacifism is purely a ‘choice’. Instead I believe it more humanly natural than truculence – but I’ve no doubt that environmental stressors stimulate truculence. Allison’s tale and my feedback illustrate this: neither of us ‘went looking’ for fights to slake our ravenous truculence!

    My support for this position is the anthropological, ranging from South Pacific islanders to many (but by no means all!) hunter-gatherers.

    Agricultural societies, by contrast, are new and very different: vastly more prone to stress induced truculence and violence than the hunter-gathering societies that typified our species for most of prehistory.

    And this is the very problem with the Eurocentric lens of our nascent attempts to empirically comprehend human nature: we project our cultural norms onto the societies we study, misunderstanding and misnaming the reality of others. (And Social Darwinism is the ‘poster boy’ for this phenomenon.)

    Big: this assertion that “The victim also bears the responsibility of victimization� is bunk.

    It’s Social Darwinian if not socio-biological bunk, at that.

    It’s Blame The Victim.

    And it’s not worth arguing.

    (It’ll just piss me off to no good end. And I don’t much like myself after one of my ROS rages. Nevertheless: sincere congratulations for escaping your childhood tormenter (and for your willingness to share the tale), but please don’t think that everybody [especially the young and female ‘everybody’] is just as free to escape as you were. And to discount or downplay the deceitfulness that abusers employ to enchant their victims before the onset of the abuse is flatly disingenuous. I won’t buy it ever, and won’t waste another word on this nonsense.)

    Now, for the silly photo: it’s hidden in the site somewhere, but since it makes my face into a 50% larger than life-size moon of Jupiter, you might as well not bother to look for it. Its only redeeming quality is that it keeps me ‘obscured’ while nicely picturing David, the producer who accompanied Chris to Seattle, who sits to my left at the beer-bottled table.

    Incidentally, Jazzman, I’ve more than once relayed to my sister your suggestion that she join the blog party (because she’s awesome and would contribute great stuff like allison’s) but she always declines. Not from disinterest so much as from the discomfort the typing would inflict on her arthritic fingers. (She suffers from Lyme disease – misdiagnosed for so many years that the antibiotic doses necessary to cure her are nearly strong enough to kill her instead. We’ve got to reinvigorate her internal organs before resuming the antibiotics. It’s sort of a circular chicken-and-egg problem though: the untreated Lyme weakens her organs like the treatment does! Even so, I’m hoping she’ll recover sooner than later – and eventually bring to the ROS threads her razor-like talent for detecting logical fallacies. I, for one, could use a lesson or two from her, and that’s for sure.) Thanks nevertheless for asking!

    Well, it’s happened again: I’ve typed while weary, and well past the hour I should have slipped into the jersey sheets of bed. Thanks, guys. 😉

  • Nikos

    I hate it when I’m in bed and realize a better way to make a point than whatever I’d just used.

    Re the speciation thing: ‘speciation’ isn’t a bigger evolutionary ‘jump’ than ‘micro’ evolutionary jumps. In other words, it takes many generations of reproduction, and isolated development for a ‘new species’ to solidify as such from its original ancestral stock. The reason the two kinds of warbler I used in example can still hybrize is because they haven’t been isolated long enough from one another. So, where their habitats overlap, they can produce hybrized offspring.

    In other words, speciation is a very long multi-generational happening, not a sudden genetic bolt from the blue. The mutation might be sudden, but the makings off that mutation into a distinguishable species is anything but sudden.

    I hope this made sense — I’m too tired to parse it for coherency.

    Later, all.

  • Nikos

    uh-oh. I’m an idiot. Something was bugging me about my victim rant as I dozed off but I couldn’t see it till just now in the bright light or morn: the ‘flatly disingenuous’ wasn’t jazzman but the Blame The Victim ideology I so despise.

    Sorry jazzman. That’s what i get for typing while tired. It looks like I meant it personally — but I didn’t. I’m just a hotheaded nincompoop. Sigh.

  • Vijtable

    Oops… One mistake I made. I don’t know why it came out at all, but it was late, and I quoted the wrong pithy evolution phrase.

    Ontogeny does NOT recapitulate phylogeny. This is Haeckel’s erronious “proof” of evolution through embryonic development.

    I meant to say: Phenotype reflects genotype. All that other stuff about DNA and traits, and their relationship, it stands.

  • jazzman

    Vijtable: I enjoyed your “morals� post and the thought you put into it. I call the interself a gestalt and the rather than self-other dualism, I regard it as self applying dualistic value judgments to the “other� (events & nature / abstract and concrete.) Violence exists because we (humans) choose to create it – and I have said that it is a mostly a function of FEAR and improperly expressed aggression. The rest of nature is instinctive and expresses its aggression spontaneously however things appear and doesn’t repress or engage in tit for tat vengeance. I believe most morality is imparted from LARGE looming adults to each child, rarely questioned or examined by the holders of those beliefs or the receivers of the inculcation. Most dicta were for reasons of survival, as young humans without benefit of life experience are vulnerable in many circumstances to less than ideal actions. I also believe (ad nauseum) that there is a meta-morality that I call absolute morality that if adhered to there would be no need for other “morals.�

    V:>>To use a tired, but useful, example – would it have been better to stop Hitler in the 1930’s by whatever means necessary? Yes. His rejection of the communal interself required action in a serious way. This is yet another “ends justify any meansâ€? argument – I bet the Buddhists would say that the ends justify means ONLY if undertaken in a non-violent way. Advocating violence to prematurely end one of the best (and sorely needed) examples of how humanity should not act and form an edifying meme in human consciousness, is ignorant and it is by no means certain that had it not happened the world would be in a “betterâ€? condition today. If this sort of misguided idealism had been erased and it were to reappear in say a nuclear power with similar ideals the results could be far worse. The memes of the holocaust are a strong deterrent to similar atrocities recurring not only in Germany but worldwide however the lessons of violence begetting violence are still being learned.

    V:>> We don’t know enough about enough to accurately assess what is “good� and what is “bad,� no matter what the ends are. Absolute morality is a place to start. Most good and bad value judgments are neutral in the larger sense, and the Buddhist principle of right action goes along way to cancel the “rub� See my post above: January 27th, 2006 at 8:31 pm

    V:>>If the end is all people being healthy, we can endlessly debate about the best insurance scheme People use health or lack for their individual purposes. People who are healthy or unhealthy are so because of their personal challenges, psyches and beliefs. The mind/body connection is rarely disputed today. In primitive societies a witchdoctor was as effective (possibly more) in his own gestalt as a “medical� doctor is in ours. Our medical system believes in disease as an enemy and treats it violently in many cases. Sometimes it appears to be effective and is. However, if people believe that the doctor cannot cure them or the “disease’s� root cause (in the psyche) is not addressed, they will not improve or will simply contract other illness. I’m not condemning medical science as most doctors are natural intuitive healers and hypnotists. They believe in the efficacy of their nostrums and impart that belief to their patient despite the actual physical reactions (many times due to the placebo effect) but it is the patient’s belief or lack thereof that is responsible for individual results. No amount of insurance or money will be of any use unless the person confronts the true reason for the illness.

  • jazzman

    Vijitable writes: >>I think morality allows for “moral-yet-violent� acts. (And, of course, I believe morality is an evolved social norm-set.) Not mine nor any pacifist’s morality but as all but absolute morality is relative, your morality may permit misguided means to your perceived “moral� ends. It is relatively evolved as “change over time� and a social-norm but that does not make it anything but relative to that particular bandwagon. Aztec morality is an evolved social norm-set but I wouldn’t want to be part of that “interself.�

    Vijtable Writes:>>What defines a “species� is highly variable, and is NOT the basis of analysis in evolution. Simply put, evolution is “change over time.� ANY genetic drift is, by definition, an evolutionary process >> In asexual reproduction it may be variable as each individual is a clone of the original with the exception of mutations, not in sexual reproduction. Species and their varietals can interbreed and produce offspring capable of reproduction. If this cannot be done, then the species is sterile or incompatible with another i.e., a NEW species. You can quibble with my “labels� but the definitions are clear. The fact that you ignore the definitions and attack the label “straw man� is beneath you. The speciation may be a side affect in your parlance and in the monadic world where it’s a grey area but examples of species changing into other species are NEVER seen in “higher� sexually reproducing life forms to say nothing of the KPCOFG diversification. We are not arguing about a “mutation� mechanism or change within a species which obviously occurs as you well know. I’ve never maintained that mutation doesn’t happen, hard proof abounds.

    V:>>But, to the point that evolution IS THE mechanism by which speciation takes place >>That mechanism can not be shown to account for the huge diversity of extinct or extant life. And we haven’t gotten to the problem living beings created from “dead� inert matter.

    V:>> Moreover, one could say that a child with Tay-Sachs disorder IS a new species – they never interbreed with humans. This is patently disingenuous and a straw argument. They are genetically challenged human beings that are not reproductively viable and a poor choice to support your evolutionary argument.

    V:>>The “lack of intermediate forms� you invoke ignores the intermediate forms.>> The horse intermediate forms you adduce have been discredited as I mentioned before, to say nothing of the fact that these are not intermediate forms but species in their own right. They have been sorted by similar morphology and geological strata but are not products of DNA mutation. You are being seduced by your phenotype reflects genotype “look at it� assumption. Just because things look similar does not mean they are. Sea mammals are not fish but their phenotypes are similar. Bats are not birds or birds flying reptiles just because they are all aerodynamic and “share� wing like appendages. Again these are not intermediate forms but distinct species.

    V:>>1) The fact that “ontogony recapitulates phylogeny,� that DNA has a direct relationship to traits>> I’ll let this one go as at least this canard has been repudiated by yourself et al. Boy I remember in Biology that “fact� was redundantly iterated over and over repeatedly.

    V:>>2) The simply vast volumes of data which support the two things I have demonstrated (mechanism of evolution, and transitional manner of speciation). Volumes on minute varietal mutations (no argument) but not transitional speciation – If this was the mechanism then why can’t science create new a species or genus or order or class not to mention “life?� This should be fairly trivial if it works as advertised.

    V:>>The fact that DNA is directly related to traits means that changing DNA can change traits. Yes again it changes intra-species traits but not inter-species traits.. The DNA in the varieties of species was formed discretely by some as yet undiscovered mechanism.

    V:>>So far, in nature, the ONLY explanation for how DNA changes over time is the mechanism of evolution. The only explanation that science has FAITH in but the evidence does not bear it out.

    V:>> Until some better explanation appears, Occam’s razor dictates evolution is likely the answer. That millions of people smarter and more intellectually rigorous than me can also say with certitude that evolution is the best explanation so far also adds to my comfort. Occam’s razor would dictate Creationism as the likely answer. It is the simplest explanation, the data support Creationism better than Darwinism. The only problem is the unscientific nature of Creationism which is an anathema to empiricists that leaves only evolution. Evolution is more comforting than Creationism especially to scientists; hardly millions of rigorous scientists, in fact they are decidedly irrigorous when it comes to accepting Darwin’s theory – all of them KNOW it’s an unproveable theory, yet as they can’t come up with something better, they accept it as “fact� and try to see how it “could� be (plausible hand waving) and band aid the holes, ignore or disregard them altogether which has the effect of not looking for another explanation. Quantum Mechanics has clues to the “true� nature of reality as do Tibetan Buddhists. They may meet someday in a more palatable theory to science.

    Nikos: I’m sorry my replies to Vijtable have taken more time than should have been necessary. I’ll address your issues tomorrow.

  • Nikos

    Here’s a bit of magnificence from a paperback I picked up last night at the wallet-and-purse vacuum cleaner called Elliott Bay Books, on S. Main in Seattle.

    From the Oxford English Dictionary:

    Secularism – the doctrine that morality should be based solely on regard to the well-being of mankind in the present life, to the exclusion of all consideration drawn from belief in God or in a future state.

    As an avowed secularist with no use (or any patience) for unverifiable supernatural beings (who seem suspiciously disinterested in the atrocities committed in their names and against their scriptural injunctions), I find this definition not merely refreshing but a nearly ideal answer to the question in this thread’s title.

    Caveat: the quote came directly from a footnote on page 3 of Susan Jacoby’s Freethinkers: A History Of American Secularism (which Elliott Bay has on its overstock bargain book table near the front desk, for less than 6 bucks. And which, as I delve deeper and deeper, seems like an outright steal.)

  • Vijtable

    Really quickly.

    I’m seriously unconvinced, Jazzman (of course), and I think we can go around in circles endlessly. Many of your arguments point to lacks in science’s abilities – whether the mechanism is evolution or not, “creating” new life or species is still beyond human control. That argument is red herring. (For example, I know HOW plants respirate using carbon dioxide, it doesn’t mean I can do it.)

    That you don’t trust reputable scientific data is beyond my control, and I have laid out the argument in the best way I could. That you claim to know what “science” is thinking, and how scientists feel, makes me think you might be more concerned about character assassination than the discourse. (What would Tibetan Buddhists like myself think of that?) It also demonstrates the simplistic idea that science is an order of people, not simply a functional expanation of the natural world.

    Your lack of trust in the horse data tells me two things: first, whatever data you are working from is not established, vetted, scientific data. Second, your definition of “intermediate forms” is self-defeating – you want to see intermediate forms BETWEEN species, but they also have to be the same species. That reflects a unique (and unscientific) understanding of genetic drift. And, as I said before, the geologic record is not going to have all members of all species. More importantly, “species” is a loose term in science for the purposes of HUMAN categorization. Thinking them to be really real is an error most scientists don’t make. Finally, the principle Occam’s razor asks for the most straightforward and likely explanation given what we know, not simply the simplest. (The simplest answer to everything is “god,” but that doesn’t make it the right answer.)

    The irony of this all, is I agree there are fundamental truths to be learned from Buddhism and Quantum Theory. However, as Quantum Physics rejects Newtonian Physics, does that mean gravity does not exist? No…. This is where the idea of Complexity comes in. In aggregate, things self-organize naturally (against entropy) and have emergent properties… Jazzman, I think you would be (if you are not already) a fan. It bridges all sorts of apparent contradictions, and is documented in nature.

  • Elric

    Following the thread I observe the avoidance to go to the core of the question of morality: what is it? and where it comes from?

    Evolution proponents: the theory of evolution is true or false doesn’t really matter for morality issue, but if it’s true and our universe is just a result of a blind chance and the humans evolved from animals, then one cannot argue in favor of having morality, for good/bad dichotomy. Yes, you can bring fancy arguments about social behaviour and preferences in common survival, but you should admit that it doesn’t have to do anything with the feeling of guilt and other manifestations of morality…

  • Vijtable

    Elric, I completely disagree about evolution not having anything to do with guilt, etc. Because of that, I think the argument over evolution is central. In fact, I don’t think it’s anything fancy either.

    As psychology demonstrates, those who have dissociative disorders are unable to sympathize or empathize (a feature of social animals), and they also happen to not feel guilt. I have seen this first-hand in the classroom (I used to be a teacher). If the evolutionary trait of “society” is stunted in one’s brain, equally stunted is one’s ability to see “self” in the other. This was the whole “interself” idea – we agree on a gestalt (thanks, Jazzman) self.

    Further, as members of the military tell you, they are taught to see the other side as inhuman specifically because they are not supposed to feel the moral weight of serious actions. If you’re not part of the clan, then you are not entitiled to the morality that I afford members of the clan.

    Me? I feel tremendous guilt at the slightest error, and have been quoted back to me by my kindergarten teacher “An eye for an eye makes the whole world blind.” Where would I have been instilled with those values and that moral compass? Obviously, at home, in the first society I dealt with.

    BECAUSE of that, I believe collective morals are fundamentally important to humanity (because we either make it together, or we don’t make it). However, I also admit freely that there is not base core of moral values that is innate (“in-born”). It is instead, to use a Buddhist term, “dependently co-arisen,” arisen by virtue of things it arises between. In science (complexity), it is the simple fact of emergence – a whole (society) is more than the sum of its parts (persons). The essence of both these philosophies is that the key to self-organization and order is not within, but between.

    For the sociological argument supporting this, I recommend “The Sacred Canopy” by Peter Berger, highly respected sociologist. The main crux of what I’m saying is in the first couple chapters of the book.

    Side note: I wanted to apologize to Jazzman if I “sounded” angry. In re-reading what I wrote, I feel that it was harshly-worded.

  • jazzman

    Vijtable writes:>>Many of your arguments point to lacks in science’s abilities – whether the mechanism is evolution or not, “creatingâ€? new life or species is still beyond human control With genome decoding and recombinant DNA technology at least it should be possible to understand speciation scientifically and not by assuming that genetic-drift is the mechanism.

    V:>>That you don’t trust reputable scientific data is beyond my control, and I have laid out the argument in the best way I could. That you claim to know what “science� is thinking, and how scientists feel, makes me think you might be more concerned about character assassination than the discourse. (What would Tibetan Buddhists like myself think of that?) It also demonstrates the simplistic idea that science is an order of people, not simply a functional expanation of the natural world. I claim only to know that orthodox science (obviously a gestalt of scientist’s beliefs) thinks that Darwinism is the most likely mechanism to explain speciation (again in higher sexual reproducing forms – species has a hard not loose definition) having only Creationism for another explanation. I do not impugn their character; most scientists are searching for the “truth.� I merely point out that they ignore any evidence that doesn’t fit the theory which is true. Having reread my answer to you I see no character assassination and what would a Tibetan Buddhist such as you think of your accusation that I engage in such a demeaning behavior. I bet the Dalai Lama doesn’t believe in Darwinian Evolution or “moral-yet-violent� acts. If you are a truly a Tibetan Buddhist, how does the cycle of Samsara fit in with your Neo-Darwinism not to mention a belief in many concepts totally beyond scientific inquiry? As for Occam, what if God IS the answer? Again this is not a personal attack; just observations and questions.

    V:>>Your lack of trust in the horse data tells me two things: first, whatever data you are working from is not established, vetted, scientific data.>> The horse data is not scientifically vetted and not trusted by many scientists (who still believe in Darwinism BTW.) It assumes (a priori) that horselike creature fossils from later strata evolved from increasingly less horselike creatures from earlier strata. There is no causal link between these forms other than superficial morphology. Intermediaries are not stable species as are each of your examples, they are partially formed links which (unless you are postulating something like a non-alar reptile lays an egg and hatches a flying example of itself due to DNA mutation in 1 generation) should abound given the diversity of life that has existed and exists. Your claim that external pressure creates speciation should be born out in millions of species today with a plethora of partial forms. As a trained biologist I understand that genetic-drift is gradual and most mutations do not favor the species, the ones that do favor it so that the mutant DNA is passed on to future generations also drift gradually. In sexual reproduction, to change species, to say nothing of genera, the same jumping genes would have to occur more or less simultaneously in both sexes in the same way to be viable. Given the immense diversity over the relative short span of higher life forms this would have to be occurring rampantly to account for all the species, and should have left at least some evidence of this process. Drosophila with their simple genome and millions of generations under external pressure and manipulation may develop wings for feet or antennae and eyes elsewhere but they remain Drosophila. Also how do you explain the myriad symbiotic relationships in which it is impossible for one to exist or reproduce without the other? How do they arise in Darwin’s view?

    V:>> The irony of this all, is I agree there are fundamental truths to be learned from Buddhism and Quantum Theory. Ironic in the true sense as you ignore those fundamental truths when it comes to trying to fit Darwinism into their realm.

    V:>>However, as Quantum Physics rejects Newtonian Physics, does that mean gravity does not exist? >> Quantum physics refines the “incorrect� aspects of Newtonian Physics as regards the atomic realm. Newtonian Physics is correct in the macro realm and discrepancies while real are negligible. It doesn’t reject gravity as one of the fundamental forces, only states that when dealing with tiny mass, gravitational effects are negligible.

    V:>>This is where the idea of Complexity comes in. In aggregate, things self-organize naturally (against entropy) and have emergent properties… Jazzman, I think you would be (if you are not already) a fan. It bridges all sorts of apparent contradictions, and is documented in nature. You are partially correct. I have been aware of Chaos and Complexity theories for at least a decade, have read books (geared for a layman) on them and agree that it is a superior approach to studying phenomena – holistically rather than reductively. It is a systems approach and I believe a more useful way to look at phenomena and in that sense I am a fan. Complexity exists: Therefore it is tautologically documented in nature. By what mechanism does self-organization occur? I agree that it is against entropy so either entropy as Boltzmann posits is wrong or there is an explanation of how the law is defied. Back to Darwin: Complexity theory demonstrates that self organization is mediated by cooperation of the component parts in living organisms or ANY complex system. Systems from the simplest cell to most complex organ or society or Gaia herself exist solely because of cooperation and altruism on the part of each component. If components do not cooperate the system can not function. This is fundamentally against the competition demanded by a Darwinian survival system. Where I part company with Complexity theory and am no fan, is the “begging the questionâ€? fallacy that given a complex adaptive system, thru Darwinian competition with other species, the species can adapt by “learningâ€? to utilize its environment more efficiently. In other words, the adaptability is by self actuated DNA mutation because the system “knowsâ€? even if only by trial and error what mutations will make it more efficient. This is closer to Lamarckism than Darwinism and implies a “willâ€? on the part of the system to be “efficientâ€? within its environment at all costs. This again is predicated on the belief that Darwinism is a fact and because it is believed that we evolved from bacteria this “has to beâ€? the mechanism responsible – a fallacious assumption.

  • jazzman

    Nikos Writes:>> Vijtable and jazzman both: it seems to me that ‘micro’ evolution as described by jazzman isn’t distinct from ‘macro’ since ‘speciation’ occurs in exactly the same range of increment as ‘non-speciation’ Huge distinction, huge increment required. See response to Vij

    N:>>I must repeat, as one simple example, the ongoing yet still incomplete ‘speciation’ of Golden-winged and Blue-winged warblers I’ve had the privilege to observe through my very own binoculars. Not speciation – variation. Speciation is a hell of a side effect and doesn’t occur by random mutation.

    N:>> I don’t believe pacifism is purely a ‘choice’. Instead I believe it more humanly natural than truculence Got history? How many humans would rather be killed than kill (if they were able) in self defense? When Tibet was invaded by China, many lamas (those who were unable to avoid confrontation) chose death rather than fight the invaders. I agree with your assessment we project our cultural norms onto the societies we study, misunderstanding and misnaming the reality of others. but think this is a phenomenon that occurs with most people/cultures vis a vis other cultures.

    N:>> this assertion that “The victim also bears the responsibility of victimization� is bunk It takes 2 to tango and as I said to in response to Allison’s post that the perpetrator bears a greater responsibility, I agree. That still doesn’t absolve the victim of complicity. As I stated to you in EOW: Admittedly if your worldview supports the belief that randomness is the prime mover and that so-called victims are innocent bystanders who unluckily find themselves in the wrong place at the wrong time this makes absolutely no sense. So if good fortune (luck) is the difference between victim and non (I don’t believe in luck) I guess you and all victims are unfortunately “unlucky.� Social Darwinism not withstanding, I believe the “blame the victim� solely ideology IS disingenuous but nobody but a pathological misanthrope (or lawyer) would do that. (This obviously doesn’t apply to self-victimization.)

    N:>> Incidentally, Jazzman, I’ve more than once relayed to my sister your suggestion that she join the blog party >> I’m sorry your sister is challenged by her condition. (I try not to name disease as it gives it “moral support� in my belief system as do well meaning advertisements for disease remedies or prevention) While it would obviously be better to recover flexibility, voice recognition S/W is not terribly expensive these days so she wouldn’t have to type much. You could give us her opinions on intractable topics in Italics oops I mean Grecoics.

    N;>> In other words, speciation is a very long multi-generational happening, not a sudden genetic bolt from the blue. The mutation might be sudden, but the makings off that mutation into a distinguishable species is anything but sudden. This may be possible (I think unlikely) for varieties of a species to no longer hybridize, but for the “common non-aerial ancestor� of a hummingbird and a condor to mutate into these and all the species in between “genetic bolts from the blue� are demanded. You never answered my poser about cliff diving bird ancestors. The ability to fly and reproduce flying creatures from non flying ancestors would take a great genetic leap as well as flying instinct which would have to be produced concurrently, or taught to fly by non-flying adults.

    N:>> As an avowed secularist with no use (or any patience) for unverifiable supernatural beings (who seem suspiciously disinterested in the atrocities committed in their names and against their scriptural injunctions), I find this definition not merely refreshing but a nearly ideal answer to the question in this thread’s title I have for some time now believed you fit the description of a Secular Humanist with your own idiosyncrasies. I guess I might be called one as well (I’ve been called worse) however I’m not sure how it fits in with my repudiation of Darwinism or absolute morality or pacifism.

    Elric Writes:>>Following the thread I observe the avoidance to go to the core of the question of morality: what is it? and where it comes from? Again “morality� is an individual’s belief system which decides the pros and cons of actions, abstracts or conditions. It comes from each individual by the acceptance or rejection of those beliefs. Guilt is message from the sub-conscious mind to the conscious mind. It should impart the idea that whatever action caused the guilty feeling is not a desirable one and should be avoided; in other words don’t do it again!!!

  • Nikos

    “I have for some time now believed you fit the description of a Secular Humanist with your own idiosyncrasies. I guess I might be called one as well…â€?

    That’s why we get along so well, pal.

    But I’m still befuddled by your anti-evolution reasoning.

    I see the very same evidence and understand nearly perfectly the evolutionary paradigm — although not the ‘mechanistic’ conceptualization of it, which reduces living entities to constructed ‘machines’ and is therefore not merely inadequate but self-sabotaging. It’s self-defeating because it implies a constructor — which is exactly counter to its premise! How stupid is that?

    Some day a scientist, or a clan of them, will grasp this and substitute an explanatory conceptual framework based on an organic paradigm in place of the mechanistic one, but I’m not holding my breath because scientists seem to uncritically swallow the mechanistic view of life and of the universe as a whole. They don’t seem to understand that their understanding is based on an Industrial Revolution-era view of the world, and just go along with it despite the incredulity of the lay-public who intuit the contradiction but can only choose to ‘disbelieve’ evolution instead of asking for a more appropriate explanation.

    So, expect from me a plea regarding this nonsense on the eventual Daniel Dennett thread.

  • Elric

    Jazzman, thanks a lot for the wonderful definition of morality!

    Allison says, “If life or death doesn’t really matter to those who ‘enlightened’ ones who realize the vanity of everything, why are they working to live? Why have we, for 20,000 years, continued to work for survival?”

    One possible answer would be that humans are programmed for survival like other life organisms in this universe.

    But what I mean is to break out from this evil spell which blinds and chains us to illusion!

    Yes, I do work to have food in order to survive, but there is no contradiction here, because I am detached from the process of survival. I am aware of my inevitable death which can come any moment and this leaves no time for worries about survival. To repeat again, life or death doesn’t really matter for those who realize the illusion of everything.

    To make my point clear: I admit the ‘existence’ of ‘ultimate reality’. Illusionar nature of everything we experience implies the exisetnce of ultimate reality: if the universe as we know it wouldn’t be illusionary we wouldn’t have the feeling of unsatisfaction, we would perceive everything as natural and there would be no place for a doubt. But since I have no direct knolwedge of the ultimate reality only thing I can do is to be alert and deny everything as illusionary and non-existent. I do not need to believe in anything just to feel secure and comfortable, or to invent my own illusions in order to believe that my life makes sense. ‘Vanitas vanitatum, omnia vanitas’:)

  • Elric: if the universe as we know it wouldn’t be illusionary we wouldn’t have the feeling of unsatisfaction, we would perceive everything as natural and there would be no place for a doubt.

    Really? How do you know that? That’s a big assumption. It is possible that whatever reality is, it is unsatisfactory. Perhaps that’s a condition of existence.

    (I hope you realize that I’m playing a bit a of devil’s advocate here. I’m not jabbing at you, I’m pushing at the logic.)

    I happen to love buddhism. Well, some sects of buddhism. But when you talk about people having beliefs and these beliefs are unreasonable, I see beliefs in your comments.

    You claim this reality to be illusionary. That is a belief. It might be illusionary. It might not be. I believe it is both.

    You claim that this illusion stems from some “evil spell”. Now that’s a belief. For me, I can sense the illusion of it all, but it not necessarily evil. I’m not sure I even believe in the concept of evil.

    Do you see that you have your own religion? And that your engagement in this dialogue is skewed by this religion?

    BTW, I hope you didn’t take my “Are you lonely” question the wrong way. Again, it wasn’t a jab. I should have expounded. I was responding to the premise that you do whatever pleases you and nothing else. I have found that, at times, maintaining human relations requires that I do things that don’t please me. I suppose the maintenance of the relation pleases me, or whatever I am trying to obtain by maintaining relations pleases me. But the actions themselves don’t please me. I do them for someone else’s sake. And if i didn’t, I’d find myself without relations, lonely. This is what I was getting at.

  • Nikos

    This from Elric, incidentally, is a sterling example of the mechanisitic paradigm at work:

    “humans are programmed for survival like other life organisms in this universe”.

    (I’m not taking a shot at you, Elric, but at the language of science.)

    We’re not computers.

    We’re organisms.

    Not constructed but self-generated.

    More ‘magic’ than ‘artifact’.

    And when scientists eventually recognize and address the self-sabotage of this pervasive set of mechanistic metaphors, the scienctific world-view might well begin — finally — to surpass the religious in popular appeal.

  • Elric

    Allison, why would reality be unsatisfactory?!

    My claim of illusionary reality is not a belief, it is derived from a conclusion that we don’t have any means to test the reality of reality. Sorry for language game.

    ‘evil spell’ was just a metaphora! sorry for that…. I do not accept evil or good, things are they are: empty and unknown.

    I do not have any religion either. I like some buddhist concepts as well but buddhist cosmology fails the scrutiny as well, so I can’t accept it. (Exception would be some schools of zen which negate everything and teach direct perception of reality, whatever it might be).

    Following the abovementioned ideas whatever we do in this universe is a game, i.e. absolutely relative. So, I don’t care about having any relations or not having any relations. When I have them, I act according the gamerules or sometimes break them, but none of this matters.

    Nikos, I was just replying to Allison about the possible nature of our behaviour sourse and our crave for survival.

    But anyway, don’t you find striking similarities between reflexes and instincts of ‘organisms’ and programming?!!

  • Nikos

    Elric:

    Similarities, yes, but the Sun is similar to a nuclear explosion. A building shares properties with caverns. (Nature is inherently more beautiful than artificiality.)

    The point is that we reduce ourselves to inhuman entities when we lazily allow the mechanistic paradigm to underpin our scientific analysis of the universe in general and life in particular.

    I know one thing: I’m not a machine, no matter how much fun we can have comparing ourselves, say, to cars in need of tune-ups or fuel!

    Look for a long explanation of my discontent of the eventual Daniel Dennett thread.

    See ya.

  • Vijtable

    Jazzman, thanks for the response… A few points, kind of organized in a hodge-podge manner…

    “Having reread my answer to you I see no character assassination and what would a Tibetan Buddhist such as you think of your accusation that I engage in such a demeaning behavior”

    I think a Tibetan Buddhist might object if I said that you engage in that behavior, but I don’t think one would object if I tell you that I perceived A specific behavior to have been demeaning. It may be semantic, but semantics are VERY important to Buddhists, and to me. Nevertheless, maybe I didn’t use the right term. You are CERTAINLY putting words in scientists’ mouths (and minds), explaining why they think what they think, and how they are (self-consiciously) defending an untenable proposition against overwhelming data to the contrary. At least, that’s how it reads. If the data exists, the scientists would have seen it and tried to replicate it. There is no “orthodox” in science. It’s just data, and what the data imply. Treating the scientific community like a gestalt (for this purpose) is dismissive of the work that they do. The statistics demonstrate that the vast majority of scientists (more than 95%) across all fields believe evolution, more or less as it’s stated, does happen.

    “I bet the Dalai Lama doesn’t believe in Darwinian Evolution or “moral-yet-violentâ€? acts.”

    The Dalai Lama has said in no uncertain terms that evolution is not in conflict with Buddhism. Buddhism rejects the supernatural as “really real” – it is simply real by agreement. The notion of dependent co-arising, central to Mahayana Buddhism, says nothing in the universe arises on its own or can arise on its own. Reality is by cooperation and agreement. Existence is by interaction, pure and simple.

    Also, altruism does not need to have ANYTHING to do with complexity (dependent co-arising) – when the emergent behavior of water crystalizing less dense than its liquid form occurs, tht is simply an emergent property. There is no altruism there. Likewise, the flies on the back of a rhinocerous (which eat other insects and molds which grow there) feel no altruism to the rhino, nor the rhino to the flies. This is emergent behavior – behavior that arose from the FACT of the interaction.

    As for “moral-yet-violent” acts, I doubt that he would support violence in any aspect, but he (and Buddhism in general) says that there are no truly “right” actions. There are “appropriate” ones. Like the story of the poison arrow above, sometimes the “truth-giving” can only take place once individuals are in a place to learn truth. I equate Hitler’s regime with the poison arrow – it needed to be removed before we could discuss truth. Buddhists are very careful to say that they will not take violent action, but the NEVER say that other shouldn’t. The Dalai Lama has said, very clearly, that Buddhists monks and initiates should never take up arms against China. But he never said India shouldn’t nor that Buddhist laypeople shouldn’t. Because the monks and initiates made vows (which they strongly believe in) to follow the higher teachings, they are precluded from taking such action. The Dalai Lama has also said he doesn’t support violence (but he never said he opposes it in all cases). Would he commit a “moral-yet-violent” act? No. Does he say others shouldn’t? No.

    “If you are a truly a Tibetan Buddhist, how does the cycle of Samsara fit in with your Neo-Darwinism not to mention a belief in many concepts totally beyond scientific inquiry?”

    Samsara is simply “reality by agreement.” My guru has another term for samsara which he likes to use: life. The “cycle of samsara” is a transplant from Hinduism. In Buddhism, it is a way of visualizing reality. Things ARE cyclic, but because we make them so. Unfortunately, we have made things so because we tie ourselves down with attachments to non-existent fundamentals, such as self. This attachment (to self, and to desires) allows us to consistently believe that samsara (life we live in) is fundamentally real. In Tibetan Buddhism, there is a strong acceptance of a fundamental notion: samsara IS life, but it is not ULTIMATELY real. This is because we cannot perceive without filters, and the filters inform our interpretation, so when we actually see another human being, we see a mental construction of what we think this human being may look like, especially in comparison to other human beings, and how this person fits certain categories. That mental image becomes the one we think is “real.”

    As for the many concepts which are totally beyond scientific inquiry – Buddhist are not attached to them. These concepts are mental constructs, and therefore well within the ignorant and attached world that is samsara. If they help people understand their interaction with the universe, so be it. What matters to Buddhists, fundamentally, is the notion of ignorance – what it is and who has it. They’ve concluded: ignorance (by this I don’t mean simply intellectual ignorance, but belief and action ignorance) of the nature of life (samsara) as a collective reality-construct, and evryone except Buddhas has ignorance. Even the Dalai Lama. And ANY god. And all Bodhisattvas. Only a realized Buddha REALLY understands all this.

    “As for Occam, what if God IS the answer?”

    If there’s falsifiable evidence in favor of it, then sure. I doubt there will be. I think the Rabbinic and Catholic interpretation is the most realistic – however god may work, science is how we describe and come to understand it.

    “Ironic in the true sense as you ignore those fundamental truths when it comes to trying to fit Darwinism into their realm.”

    The fundmental truths of Buddhism? The Four Noble Truths are in no way in conflict with Buddhism. Samsara, understood in the Buddhist context, is not in conflict with evolution. Dependent co-arising supports, in fact, evolution.

    Speciation: While you have claimed that species are a “big” leap, you have not made any concrete defense of this claim. What defines “big”? We do. Because you are not discussing MECHANISM but rather, human categorization and perception (over which there is tremendous debate WITHIN evolutionary biology), your claims to have made a clear distinction between macro- and micro-evolution fall flat.

    “Species” is simply a human-made arbitrary categorization made by ancient Greeks. I can argue, Jazzman, with as much scientific backing as you have, the Algonquin notion that all life is one, and all animals are my relatives. Explaining mechansm and explaining categories are two vastly different things. Your acceptance of the mechanism and rejection of human categorization is not logically inconsistent. What is logically inconsistent is your acceptance of the mechanism of evolution and then saying it doesn’t happen beyond the boundaries of a human categorization.

    “Systems from the simplest cell to most complex organ or society or Gaia herself exist solely because of cooperation and altruism on the part of each component. If components do not cooperate the system can not function. This is fundamentally against the competition demanded by a Darwinian survival system.”

    First, complexity does not require cooperation, just interaction. We interact with grass, or trees, or birds, or bears, on a daily basis, whether we “cooperate” with them or not. Therefore, complexity and evolution are a perfect fit. Complexity requires interaction, evolution is a mechanism of chemical and macrobiological interaction.

    The biggest problem with the idea of evolution is that people say “survival of the fittest” without understanding what is actually meant by these ideas. Cooperation is fundamental to suvival. Survival occurs when a creature and create a balance with its surroundings to survive. If changes (new creatures arrive, climate change occurs) makes it so that certain species cannot survive in competitive balance with everything else, that species is doomed. If another group, less adapted to the old system, but barely surviving, can compete in the new order, it may flourish. If a species becomes overwhelmingly dominant, the “balance” of things may make it so that species that do not work with the evolutionary pressure of this one species will dies. “Nature” isn’t something else, it includes us. And, evolution isn’t survival of the fittest, it’s simply survival under pressure.

    Morality: morals need not be altruistic to be agreed-upon. A collectively-drawn line between sacred and profane norms is yet common – hence the different morals between different cultures. The tendency toward moralization (existing in all cultures) is evolved. And society primes these tendencies with specifictities. Voila, morality.

  • Vijtable

    Man… This is what happens when I get high-octane coffee put in my system (please excuse the techno-organic metaphor).

    Elric, where do you think moralities come from, then? I’m intrigued by your “reality” comments…

  • Elric

    Vijtable, I do not question so much the origins of moralities as discussed on this thread. Moral code in us is mainly a result of our background, education and is constantly biased by society we live in. Moral is a kind of compass humans tend to look for, because it gives them feeling of security in this mysterious world, it justifies their deeds, makes sense to their lives. God-given moral seems more rational and consistent than self-contraditory moral code of the atheists who refuse the Creator and then create their own beliefs and mythology…

    But my point is that God-given or evolved morality is just an arbitrary, relative system of beliefs. It is an illusion, a mirage, just like anything else…

    Nikos, I am afraid that we will have to go into deeper discussion here… So: how do you distinguish between humans and machines?

  • jazzman

    Vijtable writes: >> Treating the scientific community like a gestalt (for this purpose) is dismissive of the work that they do. The statistics demonstrate that the vast majority of scientists (more than 95%) across all fields believe evolution, more or less as it’s stated, does happen. >> In the case of Darwinian Evolution (DE) only not the other work and I believe they mean well. What do the 5% believe? What about the scientists who are embarrassed to admit that they have doubts? This is the bandwagon fallacy. They accept it on faith as there is no proof other than it is their belief that evolution does happen. Irrespective of what you may perceive me to saying about scientists, I doubt you will find one (with out an axe to grind) that will unequivocally state that there is proof of DE other than what I will hereafter call variation within a species (VWS) as you dislike the label micro-evolution. They may (hypothetically – obviously I can’t speak for them – and am putting words into hypothetical mouths) say that they believe the data supports their belief even though it’s a priori and that they cannot say how or at what point “life� occurred or for how species diversity actually occurs but DE is the best explanation that they have (as you also say) and they accept it on that basis. After a time beliefs are accepted as fact and many forget that they are not proven facts but beliefs (this is true of all beliefs.) Many scientists know that there are unexplained problems with DE but as they believe it to be correct they assume given enough data they will be explained. As they can’t explain them currently they don’t try (in the main) BTW I’m giving them the benefit of the doubt and NOT saying they are fooling the public or themselves deliberately, just out of ignorance. You have yet to address the intermediate form problem and why with perhaps greater external pressure today than in the past, we see no speciation or viable partial forms which should be rife. Similar fossil morphology is not evidence that there is a common ancestor, it’s possible but that doesn’t mean it’s probable.

    V :>> The Dalai Lama has said in no uncertain terms that evolution is not in conflict with Buddhism. >>An important semantic distinction. He says it isn’t in conflict with Buddhism. That doesn’t mean he believes it is a fact. Many beliefs (or religions) aren’t in conflict with Buddhism but doesn’t mean that Buddhists accept them as fact.

    V:>> Buddhism rejects the supernatural as “really realâ€? – it is simply real by agreement. >>1st of all agreement by whom? 2nd if the supernatural exists at all then it’s natural. Is the Bardo supernatural? Is it real?

    V:>> Existence is by interaction, pure and simple.>> Existence is: Pure and simple.

    V:>> Also, altruism does not need to have ANYTHING to do with complexity (dependent co-arising) – when the emergent behavior of water crystalizing less dense than its liquid form occurs, tht is simply an emergent property. There is no altruism there. Likewise, the flies on the back of a rhinocerous (which eat other insects and molds which grow there) feel no altruism to the rhino, nor the rhino to the flies. This is emergent behavior – behavior that arose from the FACT of the interaction.>> When I say altruism I mean the spontaneous joyous cooperation that forms a gestalt (I view any cooperative aggregate as a gestalt and the whole is always greater then the sum of the parts.) I wouldn’t term ice an emergent property of water any more than steam or sublimation. It’s one of the physical states of matter (I suppose if you say any transformation of a gestalt is emergent then I have no problems with labels.) If one feels altruism (only humans would feel it), it’s not altruism and the flies that are in symbiosis with the rhino cooperate altruistically as is their nature and both benefit. Again emergent behavior is a label and is the part which is greater than the sum (nothing special, it’s mundane.)

    V:>> Buddhists are very careful to say that they will not take violent action, but the NEVER say that other shouldn’t. Disingenuous semantics: If violence isn’t appropriate for a Buddhist it isn’t appropriate for ANYONE in those terms. This is an attempt to avoid responsibility for condoning inappropriate action, passing the buck by omission. I’ll be shocked if the Dalai Lama believes that it is appropriate for others (simply because they have taken vows against it or for any other reason) to engage in violence.

    V:>> The Dalai Lama has also said he doesn’t support violence (but he never said he opposes it in all cases). Would he commit a “moral-yet-violent� act? No. Does he say others shouldn’t? No. Other Buddhists? Just because he doesn’t dictate how others should behave, doesn’t mean that he believes violence is appropriate, nor do I (but I’ll say others should practice non-violence.)

    V:>> In Tibetan Buddhism, there is a strong acceptance of a fundamental notion: samsara IS life, but it is not ULTIMATELY real. This is because we cannot perceive without filters, and the filters inform our interpretation, so when we actually see another human being, we see a mental construction of what we think this human being may look like, especially in comparison to other human beings, and how this person fits certain categories. That mental image becomes the one we think is “real.� >> I agree wholeheartedly with the above, but meant how does the cycle of samsara fit in with DE as this cycle is perhaps “true� evolution.

    V:>> The Four Noble Truths are in no way in conflict with Buddhism Duh! Forgive me, I couldn’t resist I guess this doesn’t sit well with right speech however that is not what I meant by irony. I meant “The mental image of DE is not necessary or perhaps even desirable in your religion.� It is also unneeded in quantum mechanics which will obviate DE in time when we are ready (I have faith!!!)

    V:>> As for the many concepts which are totally beyond scientific inquiry – Buddhist are not attached to them. These concepts are mental constructs, and therefore well within the ignorant and attached world that is samsara. If they help people understand their interaction with the universe, so be it. What matters to Buddhists, fundamentally, is the notion of ignorance – what it is and who has it. They’ve concluded: ignorance (by this I don’t mean simply intellectual ignorance, but belief and action ignorance) of the nature of life (samsara) as a collective reality-construct, and evryone except Buddhas has ignorance. Even the Dalai Lama. And ANY god. And all Bodhisattvas. Only a realized Buddha REALLY understands all this. >> I also agree in principle with most of this. I don’t know what you mean by ANY god but Buddhists ARE attached to the cycle of samsara and between cycles to the bardo and after enlightenment, (freedom from ignorance) nirvana. We all are ignorant or we wouldn’t be here, some are more ignorant than others, and some are more attached to worldly illusions such as DE than others.

    Nikos writes >> The point is that we reduce ourselves to inhuman entities when we lazily allow the mechanistic paradigm to underpin our scientific analysis of the universe in general and life in particular.

    I know one thing: I’m not a machine, no matter how much fun we can have comparing ourselves, say, to cars in need of tune-ups or fuel! >> Nikos, Darwinism is mechanistic (or claims to be). To sociobiologists and Darwinists you are a machine. Rage Against the Machine!!!

    Peace – Jazzman

  • Elric

    Vijtable says ‘Further, as members of the military tell you, they are taught to see the other side as inhuman specifically because they are not supposed to feel the moral weight of serious actions.’

    This is not a good argument: those guys in military (as everyone else) were already inducted with moral code, that’s why they need to be ‘rehypnotized’ not to feel guilt.

    But I am talking about full rejection of morality, as of illusionary and arbitrary concept.

  • Potter

    (I can’t believe I read the whole thread, but don’t test me on it please.)

    Jazzman:

    Vijtable says:“Species” is simply a human-made arbitrary categorization made by ancient Greeks. I can argue, Jazzman, with as much scientific backing as you have, the Algonquin notion that all life is one, and all animals are my relatives. Explaining mechansm and explaining categories are two vastly different things. Your acceptance of the mechanism and rejection of human categorization is not logically inconsistent. What is logically inconsistent is your acceptance of the mechanism of evolution and then saying it doesn’t happen beyond the boundaries of a human categorization.

    Darwin says: ( paragraphs chosen by E O Wilson- “From So Simple A Beginning” p. 482 and there are other passages elsewhere):

    Certainly no clear line of demarcation has yet been drawn between species and sub-species and well-marked varieties, or between lesser varieties and individual differences. These differences blend into each other in an insensible series; and a series impresses the mind with the idea of an actual passage.

    Hence I look at individual differences, though of small interest to the systematist, as of high importance for us, as being the first step towards such slight varieties as are barely thought worth recording in works on natural history. And I look at varieties which are in any degree more distinct and permanent, as steps leading to more strongly marked and more permanent varieties; and at these latter, as leading to sub-species, and to species. The passage from one stage of difference to another and higher stage may be, in some cases, due merely to the long-continued action of different physical conditions in two different regions; but I have not much faith in this view; and I attribute the passage of a variety, from a state in which it differs very slightly from its parent to one in which it differs more, to the action of natural selection in accumulating (as will hereafter be more fully explained) differences of structure in certain definite directions. Hence I believe a well-marked variety may be justly called an incipient species; but whether this belief be justifiable must be judged of by the general weight of the several facts and views given throughout this work.

    From these remarks it will be seen that I look at the term species, as one arbitrarily given for the sake of convenience to a set of individuals closely resembling each other, and that it does not essentially differ from the term variety, which is given to less distinct and more fluctuating forms. The term variety, again, in comparison with mere individual differences, is also applied arbitrarily, and for mere convenience sake.

    Please read E. O Wilson on the subject bringing it up to date. There are too many passages to quote here from this excellent interview. Speciation and Biodiversity

    E.O. Wilson is not an atheist or an agnostic, he calls himself a “provisional Deist�. I do not get the feeling that he sees humans as machines at all.

  • Potter

    Sorry. let me try again for that link.

    Speciation and Biodiversity

  • Vijtable

    One quick correction: Above, I wrote, “The Four Noble Truths are in no way in conflict with Buddhism” What I meant to write was “The Four Noble Truths are in no way in conflict with evolution.” Obviously, this is a more controversial statement.

    One response to Jazzman. “…but Buddhists ARE attached to the cycle of samsara and between cycles to the bardo and after enlightenment, (freedom from ignorance) nirvana.”

    That is a lay-reading of Buddhism. I recommend Jay Garfield’s translation of the Mulamadhyamakakarika (called “The Fundamental Wisdom of the Middle Way”) as an explanation of the Buddhist breaking-down of Buddhist conceptions. EVERY concept is constructed and subjective, and, barring some enlightened nature (of which they are vague), EVERYTHING is subjective. Objective Truth is very much in the air. Further, Buddha, if he were enlightened (an article of faith that Madhyamika people are skeptical of), he would still have needed to have used language (a subjective, conceptual format) to communicate his ideas.

    Thus, Buddhism, and all its tenets, are not True. They are simply conceptual frameworks. The breaking of articles of faith (such as “Buddha was enlightened”) are what make later Buddhist forms so interesting – Buddhist philosophers successfully self-destructed BuddhISM. By doing so, all questions, including those which question fundamental Buddhist tenets, are open for discussion.

    Just to note, Madhyamaka philosophy is integral to all Mahayana thought. To sum its arguments with a pithy Mahayana phrase, “Nirvana IS samsara.” (This leads naturally to the later, Eastern, phrases including, “Buddha is a shit-stick.” Where nothing is sacred, NOTHING is sacred, not even the greatest teacher.)

    Tibetan Buddhists practice a synthetic form of Tantric Buddhism, which emphasizes the philosophical mode of Madhyamikans, and a conceptualization of mind of the Yogacarins. Given that, ALL conversations happen on a conventional and conceptual level, and the phenomenal world is up for grabs. This is why semantic questions are important to Buddhists – the way words are construed does affect people.

    All that said, evolution does not conflict with the Buddhist construct of a conventional reality which includes samsara and the Four Noble Truths.

    Elric: I’m not sure what you’re asking for. I believe that the moral code is socialized. That it can be de-programmed by de-humanizing other people is exception that points to the rule. That morality doesn’t exist universally among all cultures (with the same morals) is another exception which points to the rule. That it is subverted by anti-social diseases is yet another exception.

    As for the tendency toward moralism, I think it is evolved. This is where the idea of “humans are social” is critical – we thrive when we cooperate, and wilt when we don’t. Therefore, we need “rules of engagement” to assure the cooperation doesn’t turn into something negative. I do not think there is such thing a Good or Bad, but there are many social goods and bads.

    I hope that clarifies.

  • jazzman

    Vijtable writes:>>That is a lay-reading of Buddhism. I recommend Jay Garfield’s translation of the Mulamadhyamakakarika (called “The Fundamental Wisdom of the Middle Way�) as an explanation of the Buddhist breaking-down of Buddhist conceptions. EVERY concept is constructed and subjective, and, barring some enlightened nature (of which they are vague), EVERYTHING is subjective. Objective Truth is very much in the air. Further, Buddha, if he were enlightened (an article of faith that Madhyamika people are skeptical of), he would still have needed to have used language (a subjective, conceptual format) to communicate his ideas.

    As I am not a Buddhist I admit to being a layman, however the philosophy, as I understand it, is the closest that any organized philosophy comes to my personal belief system and IMO it is the closest to apprehending the true nature of reality (which is why I say science (quantum physics less so) is barking up the wrong tree in many (most) cases involving physical phenomena.) I have a number of friends who ARE Buddhists and when we discuss the major aspects of Buddhism we seem to agree in principle on the concept, if not the exact mechanics. Are you saying that my lay interpretation is incorrect?. I agree that ALL things within our perception are subjective and that statement is perhaps the only objective truth that exists (I could be wrong.) That being said, if you are so skeptical, how is it that you are so attached to the illusion of DE when it is a product of your “filters� and subjectivity? Why do you resort to semantic tricks to reconcile DE and violence with respect to the Dalai Lama and Buddhism? The illusion of the material universe is one of the major tenets of your faith yet you materialistically believe it to be objectively real. How would your guru answer these questions? You say ALL conversations occur on a conventional and conceptual level and the phenomenal world is up for grabs. I say the conventional is only conceptual and the phenomenal world is what you grab or grasp (actually create) it to be. From that standpoint if it is your contention that DE is a fact in your reality then so be it. I fail to see whether it is a “fact� or “fiction� that it makes a difference in the Buddhist belief system. If the belief system has a basis in reality as I believe it does, then Occam would opt for the simpler proposition.

  • Tisha

    I seem to be a Darwinian Buddhist and think of evolution and our biological roots as the “bottom up” approach to understanding human beings and Buddhism as the “top down” approach addressing our tendency toward spirituallity and trying to make ethical structures for our society and personal behavior. I’m in my late 60s and not sure whether it really comes together but it seems to work pragmatically. I do feel personally that my morality is given much more oomph and commitment because it is linked so strongly with my spirituality and would not be as strong if it were based only on reason.

    I would recommend Lama Surya Das for the program. He is a Westerner, ordained as a teacher of Tibetan Buddhism and a marvellous communicator. I have not heard him speak but his books are excellent in helping Westerners understand this Eastern nontheistic religion or philosophy.

    Not having a God is such a relief (I was brought up in the Church of England) but I know much of my morality and integrity grew out of that upbringing (in spite of all the problems) and, after many years without faith, I was gradually drawn to Buddhism.

  • Nikos

    Vij and Jazzman:

    I’ve been very much enjoying your exchanges. Thank you both.

    I’m terribly tired and stressed in the past few days, so I’ve no confidence in the lucidity of what I’m about to post. Nevertheless, here’s the old college try:

    I suspect that what lies behind Jazzman’s inability to take seriously contemporary theory describing speciation by genetic drift or by sexual selection is at root the same as my own problem with the metaphoric underpinnings of the evolutionary biologist’s conceptual toolbox.

    To put it another way: I’ve no doubt that the happenings that evolutionary science attempts to describe are physical-world realities (please don’t bother me with issues of reality vs. imagination – it’s an impractical waste of philosophical synapse-energy for me) – but science’s silly reduction of life to mechanisms is faulty.

    Stupidly faulty.

    For example, we say that ‘synapses fire’ – but it’s really a biochemical secretion, not a sparkplug acting on a piston.

    Evolutionary triggers are similarly described in mechanistic metaphors, but the reality is biological, not mechanical.

    Perhaps Buddhism’s allure is that its metaphoric contribution to human self-understanding is more eminently sensible to human intuition than science’s stuck-in-the-Industrial-Revolution’s metaphoric nonsense.

    I will dare to suggest that if scientists ever grasp this foolishness and rectify it, Jazzman’s skepticism just might begin to wane.

    Well, maybe! 😉

    See ya.

  • Potter

    “Dann man gerade nur denkt, wenn, das woruber man denkt,

    man gar nicht ausdanken kann”

    (Then only are we really thinking when the subject on which we are thinking cannot be thought out)

    – Goethe

  • Morals are evolutionary. If Grog the caveman kills his friend, he might get killed by his friends clan, therefore it is in Grog’s best interest not to kill his friend. Grog doesn’t need a god to tell him not to kill his friend, his friends weapons tell him that. god came in secondary. Same with stealing, cheating and all that.

  • Vijtable

    Potter, thanks for bringing Darwin’s words RE species. I don’t know how else to convey that people made us species because our minds can’t cope without categories. We’re constantly categorizing: What did “red” mean before wavelengths were understood? How can we tell that a beanbag and a church pew function in the same way for our bottoms? Etc. Species is yet another illustration of categorization.

    trimm, I agree with you, except what do you say to those people who don’t believe Grog existed? There are people who don’t believe that there was “less-evolved” version of humans. If god made the earth this way at a certain point, Grog could not have existed. This is why the question of evolution, of the big bang really, become critical to the debate. At the same time, you definitely summed up my belief.

    Jazzman, again a super-long response… Apologies to all for that. I’ve been so busy at work, I’ve had too much time to think about this.

    Are you saying that my lay interpretation is incorrect?

    Somewhat. It essentializes ideas which do not have irrefutable reality. Differently stated, your interpretation is too declarative. When you say “Buddhists ARE attached to the cycle of samsara and between cycles to the bardo and after enlightenment, (freedom from ignorance) nirvana.” You draw the line too clearly, and too definitvely. These ideas which you speak of are concepts to help frame the mind, not reality. These ideas are “expedient means” to help people break down conventional conceptions of, and conventional attachment to, conventional reality. Below are more explanations of what I mean, among the responses to your other questions (out of order).

    You say ALL conversations occur on a conventional and conceptual level and the phenomenal world is up for grabs. I say the conventional is only conceptual and the phenomenal world is what you grab or grasp (actually create) it to be. From that standpoint if it is your contention that DE is a fact in your reality then so be it.

    I see; I didn’t explain myself clearly. From my standpoint, the conceptual, conventional, and phenomenal world are different ways to refer to “conventional reality”. When I say “up for grabs,” I mean no statement to the conventional reality’s properties will harm Buddhist philosophy.

    Why do you resort to semantic tricks to reconcile DE and violence with respect to the Dalai Lama and Buddhism? The illusion of the material universe is one of the major tenets of your faith yet you materialistically believe it to be objectively real.

    It bears noting that Buddhism is not a “faith.” It is a functional, changing, epitemological approach to problems in the world.

    In Buddhism, there is the notion of the Two Truths. There is the ultimate truth – where things have substantive and eternal meaning; and there is conventional truth – where things have subjective and relative meaning. There is no way to access ultimate reality without stripping away all conventional conceptions. Conventional conceptions are tied to human sensory organs and mind functions – when you “see” you see what the brain constructs of visual percepts, you do not actually see the phenomenal world. When you think, you are further removed from the phenomenal world. All this makes it clear why there is skepticism as to the fact of Buddha’s enlightenment.

    The “illusion of the material world” is a Hindu notion. In Tibetan Buddhism, that is a surface reading of the philosophy. Going deeper, the material world isn’t illusory, it is simply not Real. It is instead real. Patterns which occur in the material world are materially real, but do not represent some underlying Truth. Gods don’t Exist, demons don’t Exist. They are constructs of the material world, and that is their downfall.

    To answer your questions directly, there is nothing semantic or (otherwise) tricky about my point. Since the human world is, by its nature, linguistic, language is important. Exploration of language (and its limitations) is therefore important. So, what you call “semantic tricks” are critical Buddhist inquiry methods, and central to Tibetan Buddhism. That the Dalai Lama doesn’t support something does not mean he endorses its opposite. You are implying he operates using simple dualism. He does not.

    So if there’s no underlying Truth, why do Buddhists believe in not killing? Because it is not good for the social human materialistic (conventional) world, not because there is underlying Truth to it. They cannot act on underlying Truth because, and they freely admit this, they don’t know what it is! All actions therefore become questions of enabling contemplation of reality(ies). Like the poison arrow story.

    Now to violence, evolution, Buddhism, and morality. I am convinced of evolution’s material existence. I also asked a question: can there be “moral violence”? I speculated that there might be such a thing. You (appropriately) asked how this all can fit within my worldview which prominently includes Buddhism. I explained that evolution (a mechanism you accept exists, I reiterate) is not inconsistent whatsoever (the universe is in constant flux). As for moral violence, I asked myself, if there is a threat to the extent that humanity will not be able to contemplate existence, how would Buddhists respond? Buddhist “gods” can (and have) responded violently to those who would shroud the world in ignorance; would not a Buddhist do the same if push came to shove? Very maybe, I concluded.

    That being said, if you are so skeptical, how is it that you are so attached to the illusion of DE when it is a product of your “filters” and subjectivity?

    I don’t see what is “illusory” about evolution, a mechanism which you freely accept. It is a functional explanation of a pattern in the phenomenal world. My perspective is indeed subjective (whose isn’t?), but my acceptance of evolution isn’t simply because it is a product of my filters – it is the product of rigorous inquiry, something Buddhism appreciates and encourages. Moreover, it is consistent with two Buddhist ideas: “dependent co-arising”, and “the universe is in constant flux.”

    If I am to argue that evolution is the root of morality, then I should explain my perspective the best I can. If someone were to argue Buddhism is fundamentally opposed to it, I can (correctly) explain that it is not. The Dalai Lama discusses the conventional world all the time. His simple tenet “Be nice,” doesn’t reflect some underlying Truth, but the fact that we all live in a conventional phenomenal world, and have to live together.

    How would your guru answer these questions?

    My guru believes wholeheartedly in evolution, and also believes wholeheartedly in the evolved socialization of morality. All this is consistent with dependent co-arising. I haven’t discussed the morality of violence question, mainly because morality is an evolved/socialized phenomenon, and, like everything in Buddhism, in flux. The question of violence as a moral or not becomes absurd. Violence perpetrated by Buddhists is well-documented.

    I fail to see whether it is a “fact” or “fiction” that it makes a difference in the Buddhist belief system. If the belief system has a basis in reality as I believe it does, then Occam would opt for the simpler proposition.

    Again, when it comes to conventional truth, it is worth understanding conventional patterns, and trying to understand “samsara,” life, appropriately. “Fact” is a conventional term. If someone who clearly did not spill the milk claims to have done so, that is still “fiction,” and a source of ignorance and delusion, if conventional ignorance and delusion. If the goal of Buddhism is removing ignorance and those things which lead to ignorance, then causality and correlatives are central. And if there is no evidence of humanity’s access to “ultimate truth” (there is not, except heresay from a guy named Siddhartha), we can only be certain that the conventional, malleable, truth in which we live can be explored deeply. Here again I plug Jay Garfield’s translation of a Buddhist book, the Mulamadhyamakakarika.

    As for Occam, is the simplest proposition that some heretofore unseen and empirically unaccounted-for creature created all life on earth using some heretofore unseen power while simultaneously hiding all evidence of this existence and power? Or is it that interaction between “stuff,” an empirically observable fact, has led to emergent interactions (interactions bewteen interactions), also empirically observable, led to life and its diversity? Given your acceptance of the mechanism of evolution, Jazzman, I think the simplest explanation is clear, especially given the arbitary nature of “species.”

    I look forward to everybody’s responses.

  • jazzman

    Vijtable: Out of order: 1st I do NOT accept the mechanism of evolution as you define the word. I accept the mechanism of DNA mutation which I called micro-evolution and agreed to label it change within a species. Due to our discussions I have done some research on evolutionary biology and find that micro and macro evolution are indeed standard terminology (field jargon perhaps) that denotes the 2 evolutionary mechanisms as I have described them: Species and Genera level change. I have also turned up some other interesting data and will address the subject later.

    IMO it would be a gross oversimplification to lump all the diversity of life into a continuum of speciation to avoid categorization as well as denigrating to the individuality of entities living or extinct. However if you want to categorize it as a living gestalt at what point does the “living� category become part of the picture? How did the inert become ert? Is it an emerging property that is a function of complexity? If that is so, then what about complex inert matter? Dependent co-arising? What constitutes the co?

    From my standpoint “conventional reality� is an illusion produced by one’s perceptions. Rather than being created by the brain, it is created by the mind (which I presume you believe to be an emergent property of the brain) and is then apprehended by the brain and becomes a 2nd order creation. BTW faith in the appropriateness of the Buddhist method as the way you choose to approach existence is faith by my definition (you could be wrong.)

    It would seem that I have less faith in Darwinism than you and more faith than you do in the Buddha’s enlightenment.

    V:>> That the Dalai Lama doesn’t support something does not mean he endorses its opposite. I’m implying that the Dalai Lama doesn’t support violence by ANYONE. As for duality I also imply that he endorses its opposite PEACE.

    V:>> why do Buddhists believe in not killing? Because it is not good for the social human materialistic (conventional) world Says who and why do they make that assumption? What do you mean by good?

    V:>> I don’t see what is “illusoryâ€? about evolution, a mechanism which you freely accept. It is a functional explanation of a pattern in the phenomenal world. My perspective is indeed subjective (whose isn’t?), but my acceptance of evolution isn’t simply because it is a product of my filters – it is the product of rigorous inquiry Again I only accept micro-evolution. I agree that it is an explanation (just so story) of a perceived (illusion) pattern in the phenomenal world (you chose to be in as a participant in samsara) and it IS a product of your filters AND inquiry but not rigorous inquiry. Just because a theory happens to comport with other illusory principles doesn’t make it correct. YOUR perception is in a constant flux and YOU are a co-creator of the universe and arising is dependent on YOU.

    V:>> The question of violence as a moral or not becomes absurd. Violence perpetrated by Buddhists is well-documented. Not absurd to me and fallacious. Just because someone is called a Buddhist and ignores the teachings and misbehaves does not justify anything.

    V:>> Or is it that interaction between “stuff,� an empirically observable fact, has led to emergent interactions (interactions bewteen interactions), also empirically observable, led to life and its diversity? Now that really is absurd not to mention complex and a non-explanation except in the ‘just so� sense and is clearly in error and species is arbitrary to you, not species. BTW regarding the poison arrow. To conflate saving a dying person by removing the cause of his discomfort with assignation of anyone for some putative greater good Hitler or not is an egregious, fanatical act and anti Buddhist principles. Run that by the Dalai Lama and I bet he agrees with me. Gotta go,

    Peace to ALL – Jazzman

  • Jon

    It’s been a long time sinced this thread began, originally referenced to Senator Rick Santorum. Lots has happened in the interim. In recent weeks the Syrian-American, Dr. Wafa Sultan, has ascended the international stage–initially from her contributions in the blogosphere (ROS, take note) and subsequently through her very strong presence on Al Jazeera in which she deals with the deepest issues of morality and their relation (or lack thereof) to religious principles in the case of Islam. I think Dr. Sultan would be an important voice to include in this discussion–either as part of a broad look at this issue within a single program, or perhaps as a stand-alone program.

  • Potter

    Jon: I agree about Dr. Wafa Sultan. She is probably going to get a lot of offers (as well as threats). The NYTimes had her on it’s front page today and it is the most emailed article:

    http://www.nytimes.com/2006/03/11/international/middleeast/11sultan.html?incamp=article_popular_1

    Jazzman– If you have not, please read the E.O. Wilson’s interview – the one I linked above on Speciation and Diversity here:

    http://www.radioopensource.org/morality-god-given-or-evolved/#comment-6808

    E.O Wilson discusses how murky and variable the lines are between what is a species and what is a variation, or subspecies in more detail than Darwin quoted above.

    Regarding “just-so stories” referring to Rudyard Kipling’s famous children’s tales, they are “fantastical accounts of how various phenomena came about”, delightful stories.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Just_so_story

    You use the “ just so story� to describe Darwinian evolution.

    DE is the product of a hundred and fifty years of “rigorous inquiry” ( quote Vijtable), science being a discipline. How can you compare fairy tales and fantasy to the results of scientific inquiry?

    The rigor of science comes in to make this anything but a “just so story” and more than the results of collective blind influence and filters. Do you question the discipline and the rigor?

  • Nikos

    Not to pile on or anything, but since Vijtable asked for multiple responses, I can only add to this thread by saying that Vij provides the intellectual ‘filling’ for the ‘pie crust’ of my afore-mentioned intuitive comprehension of evolutionary reality — and the real-world ambiguity of the catagories and lingo through which we try to conceptualize it.

    (I must be hungry. And no wonder my four- and five-mile daily runs can’t quite erode that pesky extra fifteen pounds!)

    Thanks, V. Thanks Potter too, for your recent contributions.

    And especially thanks to Jazzman for providing the necessary ‘chaff’ for my pie crust’s flour. 😉

  • Potter

    A savory Vijtable pie for Nikos. (I selfishly had to take #200 again.)

  • Vijtable

    Nikos, Potter, thanks for the kind words. Jazzman, thanks for the excellent and lively debate! I am going to respond to three comments (by, logically, Jazzman).

    I have done some research on evolutionary biology and find that micro and macro evolution are indeed standard terminology (field jargon perhaps) that denotes the 2 evolutionary mechanisms as I have described them: Species and Genera level change.

    It doesn’t “denote.” It “implies,” at best. There is only one evolutionary mechanism – change. As I (and Potter, and Nikos, and EO Wilson, and Darwin) have explained, “species” is an arbitrary human categorization. The use of “micro and “macro” in evolutionary biology is a means to communicate further humn categorizations. The only people (that I know of) who see a substantive difference between the two are intelligent design folks, and you. These categorizatons are useful, yes, but not Real. Same goes for the entire classification system (or more precisely, systems). Also, Jazzman, if you accept small-scale change can happen by means of, basically, external pressures combined with mutation, then you accept the mechanism of evolution. You can call it “micorevolution” if you like, but there is no scientific basis for these categories; that term is simply means of communication.

    Not absurd to me and fallacious. Just because someone is called a Buddhist and ignores the teachings and misbehaves does not justify anything.

    The context of that was: did you ask your guru about moralty of violence. I explained that his (very Buddhist) understanding of the universe was such that the question was absurd. Assuming my guru is right for a moment… If morals do not make up some substrate of humanity, and are neither given nor acquired, but socialized and highly malleable, the morality of anything becomes absurd. Thus the question doesn’t come up.

    Let me illustrate using your terminology, Jazzman: If you are Buddhist, there are certain “rules” you must follow, such as not killing. If you are to become a monk in the Buddhist sangha (community), you are vowing to follow certain additional rules without fail, on top of the standard rules. ALL of these rules have equal value to a monk. The Dalai Lama took these vows. Among the vows, for example, is vegetarianism. So far, so good. However, the Dalai Lama has, from time to time since taking these vows, eaten meat. Not in any special Buddhist ritual, either. By the standard of “rules”, the Dalai Lama is not a good Buddhist, even though he is a central leader of Tibetan Buddhism. All the rules have equal value, and the Dalai Lama is, in the end, no more than a monk.

    So why has he eaten meat? When visiting someone’s home, he eats what is offered to him, out of respect for the host. Is that according to the “rules” of Buddhism? No. However, when the compassion of respecting the host is weighed against the compassion towards all life, the monk has to make a reasoned decision based on what best he knows. Given the metaphysical backdrop of Buddhism where, as I have explained, there is no ultimate truth (of what’s right and wrong), things must be weighed conventionally by the practitioner. In fact, the “rules” of Buddhism are not rules at all; Buddhism is not doctrinal as a religion. From a Buddhist perspective, there are no hard-and-fast morals. However, there are some “best practices”. To be clear, “best” means things that have worked well (and therefore likely will work well), conventionally, in helping enable the end of ignorance. “Practices” means approaches to interact with this conventional existence in which we live. Indeed, among the best practices is “don’t kill.” Another is vegetarianism.

    In Buddhism, it is not only “okay” to question the best practices, it is encouraged. If there is a situation where there is absolutely no choice except between the suffering of many or the suffering of few, a Buddhist should ask him/herself if violence is an appropriate response. A Buddhist who gets attached to moral values as rules is no better than a person who gets attached to greed. A Buddhist who gets attached to a conclusion is no better than a stubborn child.

    To conflate saving a dying person by removing the cause of his discomfort with assignation of anyone for some putative greater good Hitler or not is an egregious, fanatical act and anti Buddhist principles. Run that by the Dalai Lama and I bet he agrees with me.

    First, to answer a question with questions: does the fact that the Dalai Lama ordered the Tibetan army to protect Tibetan territory against Chinese encroachment mean he was “fanatical and anti Buddhist”? He was certainly sending at least some people to their deaths. Does the fact that he ate meat, in clear violation of Buddhist principles, mean that he was fanatical and anti Buddhist? As I said in a previous post, everything is up for grabs in Buddhism, including “morality” of acts. I am reminded of yet another sutra: A man approaches Buddha, looking to join his order. As per the rules of Buddhism, Buddha asks for the man to get the appropriate orange robes and a begging bowl, and then come back. The man leaves the group, and is immediately mauled to death by a bull. Buddha is unperturbed. His followers are shocked, because Buddha knows the future, and surely saw this coming. One says to him, “We are supposed to end suffering, and promote compassion. Why did you send him out to his death, when we could have easily provided him with these sundries?” Buddha responds, “He was already enlightened. Continued presence in the world of suffering would not help him.” The Mahayana lesson: sometimes there is a hidden good from an apparent bad.

    To directly answer your question: I do not know what the Dalai Lama would say. If the world is dying, and a single individual is the cause of the discomfort, and the only way to remove the discomfort is to kill that individual, it will certainly be a conundrum for a Buddhist to face. Is it potentially a “moral” act? That’s the wrong question. The useful question to ask the Dalai Lama is not about Buddhist principles or morals, because “principles” do not have any self-existence, and Buddhism rejects morals as such. Buddhist “principles” and “morals” live in context, and all situations are contextual. So, I would ask him about that situation (Hitler simply being the most obvious example of a person who could be that individual). A mindful decision is neither right or wrong, ultimately. In a conventional sense, with “morals” generally meaning “for the greater good of ending ignorance and suffering,” could it potentially be a moral act? Maybe. He has not condemned the war in Iraq (much to my chagrin) for the very reason that I have spoken of, that it could potentially be for the greater good. He also takes a similarly nuanced view to the issue of abortion (one I agree with). There is no doctrine which can be held as “true” or “incorruptible” in Buddhism because it simply isn’t how Buddhism works.

    So, in sum, I am convinced by evolutionary theory. That state of belief is highly consistent with Buddhism. I am unconvinced by some externally-given moral code. That state of belief is also highly consistent with Buddhism. It is highly consistent with evolutionary theory as well, and theories about the social construction of reality. What I am saying is, I am on sound philosophical footing, and that footing is internally consistent. In addition, Nikos, Potter, and I have tried to explain the internal inconsistency of belief in “micro” and disbelief in “macro” evolution, given what “evolution” means in science.

    So, on the question of the actualy show, a Tibetan Buddhist monk or Mahayana Buddhism professor might be a useful person to include in the debate. On the other hand, the question of “evolved” is such a hot-button, maybe the show should be split into two. “Evolution” and “Morality” on successive days.

  • Potter

    Vijtable: I read with interest your well thought out responses to Jazzman.

    And thank you Jazzman for the depth of discussion and expressing resistance and doubts so intelligently.

    Vijtable: To pick up where you left off…. Evolution and morality are linked in this topic because there are some who feel that accepting evolution leaves life without meaning. Senator Rick Santorum expressed this sentiment. That is what started this discussion. So though I see evolution and morals as one, and I have no problem finding some meaning in every day while accepting evolution, and that ends it for me, others, maybe most, do not. Therein lies a clue to what separates us from one another in discourse. This topic, including acceptance of evolution theory, threatens. It causes fear, despair, discomfort (suffering).

    Accepting the scientific truth of evolution asks one to let go not of everything but to let go of some pillars, for instance, of attachment to some of the absolutes religious dogma.

    There are those who are equally unwilling or uncomfortable, though not necessarily attached to a religion, a particular set of moral principles, or philosophy, to allow science to have a final say, on matters, for various other reasons. I am trying to understand.

    I bring up Daniel Dennett,(I think Nikos has as well) –he who wrote the well titled “Darwin’s Dangerous Ideaâ€?, who I understand has been called an “evolutionary fundamentalist”. He has been declaring outright that there is no God. That’s going to war, so to speak. (He may cause the opposite effect- more resistance.) This tactic is like a zen master’s slap or bopping on the head, Dennett’s a form of (non-physical) violence. But he is getting right to the heart of the matter (I think) by attempting to clear the path of cobwebs.

    For some to accept evolution, either something else must replace God or the definition of God redefined and/or religion must evolve from it’s “desert kingdom/ iron age”( E.O. Wilson) form and the accumulated and crystallized dogmas/doctrines. These sacred concepts and rituals ( however beautiful) no longer really work completely to help us deal with the world. They can hold us back, twist us and cause immense suffering.

    I think this is one reason why Buddhism is so attractive at this time to many in this country and in Europe. I also think that because evolution theory (and scientific inquiry in general) is not inconsistent with Buddhism that countries where it is practiced will have an increasing advantage over those that cling to the un-evolved, un-modernized forms of these religions. Witness the Middle East.

    Vijtable: A mindful decision is neither right or wrong, ultimately. In a conventional sense, with “morals” generally meaning “for the greater good of ending ignorance and suffering,” could it potentially be a moral act? Maybe. He has not condemned the war in Iraq (much to my chagrin) for the very reason that I have spoken of, that it could potentially be for the greater good.

    I would be surprised if the Dalai Lama has supported the war in Iraq either, ie I suppose him neutral, not knowing if the greater good is or has been served. My question is about the time frame on that. This “greater good conceptâ€? can as well, be something to hide behind. Maybe in a hundred years (and I am not sure even then) this might be seen as serving the greater good. At the moment and looking into the near future, this move is hard to see as being for the greater good. Nor do I hear you saying that the D.L. is saying that this goal could have been accomplished, should have been at least tried in a less destructive way. So the whole house of cards rests on “greater good” which one could keep pushing into a presently unknowable future for the results. Ultimately, you can say everything is for the greater good or might be.

  • Nikos

    Potter: great post.

    My only worry with the potential historical revision of the “Iraq war’s greater good” is that in history tends to evaluate all developments as somehow ‘inevitable’ — yet only because of the train of events that follow decisive moments of decision.

    For example, we don’t genuinely know how much longer the USSR might have endured without Gorbachev feeling pushed by American nuclear-arms expansion — we can only speculate.

    And we don’t know how many Ghandis, Mother Teresas, or Martin Luther Kings might have died in their childhoods because of our choice to invade Iraq instead of continuing to push the Baathists by international sanction.

    We just don’t know — even though some or even most historians will inevitably frame the Iraq war as an inevitable tragedy with an ultimately ‘greater-good’ outcome. It’s a circular logic, but written history is full of such things.

    Another example: Athens and Sparta in ancient Greece – who knows how it might have turned out had Pericles not been felled by plague? And the outcomes of any number of foolish decisions – especially the intrigues surrounding Alcibiades – might have led to a very different train of historical ‘inevitability’.

    All we do know is that many people died – including youths – who might in their maturity have influenced human history very differently.

  • Nikos

    PS: I think, essentially, that I’m agreeing with Potter (which is hardly surprising!)

    Secondly: apologies for the sloppy writing and editing of the post above!

  • Jon

    I am struck anew as I re-read the original quote of Rick Santorum: “in fact, it doesn’t put a moral demand on us” [if we have evolved, rather than been put on this earth as “a creation of a Being that has moral demands”]. What a shame that Santorum (and countless others) cannot conceive of a moral compass if this were not inextricably tied to a particular mythology. And of course the particular mythologies vary widely. On the other hand, it is pointless for Santorum or anyone else to think they would have to re-build the compass from scratch upon coming to grips with the overwhelming scientific evidence favoring evolution. Even though humankind built its great religions at at time when understandably there was simply an ignorance of modern science, a whole lot of deep thinking went into these traditions. The trick–and it’s certainly by no means an easy one–is to harvest the fruits of these millenia of shared traditions, while no longer linking such participation with outmoded beliefs that no longer provide a very reasonable fit to our more scientifically based understanding of the world. Perhaps many of our laws and our moral principles arose from questionable cause-and-effect suppositions, with a good measure of superstition mixed in. What is so valuable, though, are opportunities for groups of people to discuss these principles, relating principles to modern day challenges. Although this practice is often done routinely in some religious congregations, the process is more transcendant, and is not intrinsically dependent upon a theistic basis. Is this such a difficult concept?

    The problem word, recited by Santorum and many others, is “purpose”. Is there a purpose to our lives? Did the occurrence of this event or that event reflect some mysterious purpose that we poor humans are incapable of understanding? I can empathize at the pain one must feel in considering moving from a belief that there is some supernatural force in the world instilling purpose, to a belief that events simply keep moving along based upon a gazillion influences in a complex world. Yes, I think a deep belief in evolutionary processes does tend to bring one closer to the latter conceptualization. For, if you do believe in evolution, and you don’t believe that at the final moment that humans evolved the whole process abruptly changed, then you’ve got to apply all those same questions to the lives of fruitflies, E. coli, slime molds, and algae. To seek “purpose” every time an insect smashes against a windshield while one is driving a car at dusk begs credibility. In like manner, I’m afraid that to seek a more cosmic “purpose” in what happens to any of us similarly begs credibility. But if, instead, we focus on “purpose” in the sense of real human community, then this takes on great meaning–both in our own lifetimes and in our legacies. As does our morality, which in this context I’d describe as humanity-given.

  • rslotnick

    I enjoyed the discussion but I would like to see a slightly different focus.. The issue for me is to study how emotions evolved from our animal heritage. Chimps are a pretty war like group but their cousins the Bonobos are more conciliatory. How did our emotional set evolve? and from who? Does it have its roots in aggression – protection, enlightened self-intgerest and altruism? Emotions derive from our animal past and morality is the refinement of emotions under the pressures of communal living.

    I would love to hear a program that dealt with the evolutionary roots and mechanisms of emotions and morality without bringing in extraneous factors.

  • jazzman

    Potter: (I can underline!) I read the interview with E.O. Wilson and I believe he is sincere in his beliefs and well intended, however misguided he may be. I would love to have a 1 on 1 discussion with him but I believe that he is likely a willing prisoner of his own dogma, training, and life’s work and less likely to be open minded regarding DE. This is a quote from E.O. which seems to imply that man has no free will and in effect is little more than a gene propagating machine.

    �Man does what he does, paints the pictures that he does, writes the books that he does, fights the wars that he does, thinks the thoughts that he does, primarily in an effort to achieve an evolutionary advantage that will allow his genes to live on in the future.� Hogwash!!!

    Potter:>> The rigor of science comes in to make this anything but a “just so story� and more than the results of collective blind influence and filters. Do you question the discipline and the rigor? I call it a “just so story� as it purports to be THE Scientific explanation of how we got here and how diversity arose just as Creationism/Intelligent Design (C/ID) does, therefore they are of the “Just So� genre. Yes I do question the discipline and the rigor (not the intent – they suffer from tunnel-vision) because not one of the DE proponents starts from a neutral open minded background (why would they? – they have been brainwashed by the school system from an early age) and they all accept DE hook, line and sinker (as I used to do as well.) Once you accept DE as fact, you ignore all the evidence that doesn’t support it and the rigor and discipline goes out the window. As I state below there are only two theories DE & C/ID and NO scientists (even if they have doubts) dare to challenge the orthodoxy and risk losing funding, status and heaping of ignominy from their peers as surely would happen due to extreme prejudice on the part of the establishment.

    I have spent several hours on the web trying to ascertain the current state of thought on the Darwinian Theory of Evolution. I found that ROS opinion on this subject is a microcosm of the prevailing opinions on DE (at least on the web.) E.g., if one doesn’t believe in DE then they are at best ignorant and at worst a Creationist or a fool (which are considered synonymous in the eyes of most Darwinists.) I naively believed that if an open-minded reasoning person examined the evidence for which DE cannot account, doubts would arise as DE being the correct interpretation of the origin of life and diversity and they would at least agree that it’s possible that DE may not be the answer. I find after researching the issue, that my original assertion that the main reason I believe that DE is the prevailing dogma is that C/ID is the only alternative. After all we appear to be here on a naturally diverse sphere in the cosmos, so life had to come from somewhere in some manner. I was unable to find any opinion that rejected DE that wasn’t in the C/ID camp. This is unfortunate as it causes almost instant ad hominem rejection of any arguments that challenge DE however valid or not they may be. I (again naively) believed that due to the dearth of hard evidence that supports DE that simple logic (the same logic used by Darwinists) would be sufficient to dispel the notion that the DE was a likely mechanism. Orthodox science’s explanation of how we came to exist is that the Universe materialized from nothing or a dimensionless something in a Big Bang, the evidence for which is that galaxies appear to be receding from our viewpoint. (E.O.’s rationale for his provisional Deism) however there are physicists who question that model. That pure explosive energy (electromagnetic, strong, weak, and gravitational forces) “cooled�, transformed into matter (quarks), formed stars which exploded after eons of nuclear elemental fusion until the elements were too dense to fuse and their shards coalesced into planets. Once the planets cooled, some unknown mechanism was responsible for (perhaps thru vijtable’s emergent features) abiogenesis occurred, DE took over and here we are. Most of the evidence for this explanation is derived by deduction (a priori) and is compiled by combining hypotheses that fit with their preconceptions and of hypotheses or evidence that question it are rejected or ignored. Evolutionists assume for example that because DNA diverges in organisms more or less by different degrees, that when extrapolated backwards in time DNA would converge in a “common ancestor� which if true supports DE and if false doesn’t. The backward convergence is not testable, hence not falsifiable. Because they accept DE, the pieces fit in with it, and as they have no other explanation for why things appear as they do, they tautologically assume DE to be correct. I am an agnostic (neither fairytale convinces me) and not a C/ID or a DE proponent. I find that the subject is so threatening to both sides that until an explanation that accounts for all the anomalies is adduced there is little hope of consensus. I have NO hope of C/ID EVER agreeing with Science, but have hope that Science will someday serve up a more appetizing theoretical pie. I know that the respondents here are committed to DE and have no desire to question it but I include a link I found while researching the above that raises many of the same questions (with no DE explanations) I raised over the last few months but with references and sources. Please do not reject the content based author’s conclusions that this evidence supports Creationism (it’s the only other choice if DE is rejected) but as legitimate inquiry. From here on (after I respond to Vijtable) I will only reference DE as it may be used to justify less than ideal behavior IMO as that is my chief pragmatic objection to the theory.

    Cases Against Darwinism

  • jazzman
  • jazzman

    Vijtable writes: if you accept small-scale change can happen by means of, basically, external pressures combined with mutation, then you accept the mechanism of evolution. I accept the mechanism of mutation not the mechanism of DE and all that you attribute to it. It’s your definition NOT mine and only logically inconsistent with your logic which ignores that which doesn’t fit within your belief system. You are a mental prisoner of the either DE or C/ID dichotomy and make the giant leap from micro to macro which has no basis other than a priori assumptions of the form: Small changes occur in species therefore small changes over a long time add up to large changes. Why do we never see the evidence of large change which should be constantly on going?

    V:A Buddhist who gets attached to a conclusion is no better than a stubborn child. How about an attachment to DE? I could be convinced of DE if it could account for all the contravening questions beyond a reasonable doubt. BTW I also bet that the Dalai Lama sees no conflict in C/ID with Buddhism either.

    V:All the rules have equal value, and the Dalai Lama is, in the end, no more than a monk. I’m TOTALLY disillusioned Does the fact that the Dalai Lama ordered the Tibetan army to protect Tibetan territory against Chinese encroachment mean he was “fanatical and anti Buddhist�? He was certainly sending at least some people to their deaths. Yes, he believed that the ends would justify the means and used violence to those ends (and accomplished very little), he is being anti Buddhist and fanatical in this respect (I would have hoped he would have been more Buddha-like than he seems by your lights but humans will be humans despite many lives or he wouldn’t be here.) Does the fact that he ate meat, in clear violation of Buddhist principles, mean that he was fanatical and anti Buddhist? No, just breaking his vows and rationalizing the decision – he could have politely declined and if the host were in a position to entertain the Dali Lama then I daresay no feelings would be hurt by polite refusal. If one is respectful and committed to the sacredness of ALL life then consuming plants or animals for sustenance is not immoral. Vijtables are equal to animals in this way and should be respected as well.

    V:Buddha responds, “He was already enlightened… If he were enlightened than he would also have known the Bull would kill him and co-operated in this venture to provide the Buddha with an object lesson for the unenlightened.

    V:If the world is dying, and a single individual is the cause of the discomfort, and the only way to remove the discomfort is to kill that individual, it will certainly be a conundrum for a Buddhist to face. First the world is illusory and hardly dying. 2nd If it were determined (by whom?) that the world is being killed by a single entity (GWB?) then it still may be for a “greater good� and that doesn’t give some one the right to kill any person. That is the position of a fanatic.

    V:In a conventional sense, with “morals� generally meaning “for the greater good of ending ignorance and suffering,� Whose good? How is one to determine the “greater good� with out being certain of the future? Hitler thought that purging non-Aryans was for the greater good. GWB thinks ending the ignorance and suffering of Iraqis by killing Americans and Iraqis alike is for the greater good. Fanatics always believe their ends justify any means. This is because the fanatic doesn’t have the patience to wait for situations to resolve themselves by peaceful means. The Dalai Lama should speak out against the war in Iraq no matter if it serves the “greater good� or not – even if he can see the future he’s being less than ideal about this. If you also believe this, I consider that you are fanatical in that belief (as well as a less than ideal example of a Buddhist.)

    V What I am saying is, I am on sound philosophical footing, and that footing is internally consistent. As I said to Elric, “a foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of little mindsâ€? – Emerson and “a system can be complete but inconsistent or consistent and incomplete NOT both consistent and completeâ€?- Kurt Godel. If you believe you are on sound philosophical footing (sounds like a stubborn attachment to me) then who am I to attempt to disabuse you? The beauty of the cycle of samsara is that you get as much practice as you need to achieve enlightment. Enjoy the path and try to eschew violence along the way.

    Peace – Jazzman.

  • jazzman

    Nikos: I just read and enjoyed your post but hve no time.

  • Ben

    It’s interesting how quickly the debate turned quickly to modern events and the current secular or fundamentalist guard positions. I would repeat mention of the code of Hammurabi ca. 1780 bc predating modern monotheism and a concept of singular god by quite a long while. What word could be used as a proper substitution for ‘god’ to re-ask the question without inviting a specific interpretation of ‘god’? –ben

  • Nikos

    Jazzman’s most recent reply to Vijtable prompts me to suggest that we might greatly benefit by pondering the implications of this link off the Wikipedia ‘Humanist’ entry:

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Moral_universalism

    Needless to say, I, for one, am eager for appropriate feedback.

    Thanks in advance.

  • Nikos

    S’cuse me — that was the ‘Humanism’ link!

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Humanism

    (Which I’ve been exploring extensively off my many struggles to show our beloved but wayward Winston Dodson the error of his boyish infatuation with rightwing ideo-dung. 😉 )

  • This is a hard place to jump into a conversation, and I’m afraid I’ve only just scanned through the 213 comments above…

    I agree with the posts above that mentioned how this discussion could just be a repetition of arguments over God’s existence. After all, morality can hardly be God-given if there is no God. For this reason, I think a philosopher of religion would be a good addition to the show. I think either Nicholas Wolterstorff (emeritus, Yale) or Hilary Putnam (emeritus, Harvard) would be very helpful on this.

    Also, many posters in this thread have indicated interest in not limiting a discussion of God to Chrstianity (or for that matter to Protestant or Catholic Christianities). With this interest in various religions, perhaps a scholar in the history of religions would add to the discussion. In an hour, it is impossible to cover more than a couple religions – and at that, with very little detail or complexity – but perhaps a comparitavist scholar (such as, say, Francis Clooney – Harvard Divinity School) could add some helpful perspective on the varieties of “God-given” morals.

    Anyhow, there’s my two cents. Clearly there is a lot of interest in this topic. Looking forward to the show…

  • Potter

    Ben you ask What word could be used as a proper substitution for ‘god’ to re-ask the question without inviting a specific interpretation of ‘god’?

    I don’t see how, if you change the word, you avoid defining, accepting or rejecting the concept (of God) for the purposes of anwering the question. We need to understand what we mean by the words we use.

    For me the question posed above is a conundrum of sorts. It folds back into itself. It begs all this discussion.

    The answer (for me) to the question “morality: God-given or evolved?” is “yes”.

    The other question this provokes is : Do we ( did we) need God to have morality?

    As you can see we have gotten off on evolution as well. This simply worded query was loaded.

  • jazzman

    Nikos: Thanks for the excellent links – I had no idea that there was a whole school of absolute moralism. I’ve been developing my precepts in the dark. I should get a computer and see what else is out there that I’ve been missing. (I probably won’t though – it’s too powerful a drug for the likes of me!)

  • Potter

    Jazzman- thanks for your response. Atcha later. Glad Nikos found you some company.

  • Nikos

    Jazzman: you’re welcome.

    But boy am I an idiot for slurring poor Winston.

    Sheesh.

    Brendan, feel free to excise the paranthetical enclosure of my 3/14 3:14AM post.

    Sheepish in Western WA,

    N

  • Nikos

    I think the Wikipedia entry is brief enough — and relevant enough — to warrant its own post in this thread:

    Moral universalism

    From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

    Moral universalism is a moral view, often related to humanist philosophy, which claims that the fundamental basis for a universalist ethic—’universally’ applicable to all humanity—can be derived or inferred from what is common among existing moral codes. It stands as a compromise between moral absolutism, and moral relativism, where situational human factors, like culture, dictate moral value.

    Moral universalism finds that moral actions are tied to the act itself, not regardless of the cultural context, but in respect of the basic ethical standards that exist in all cultures. As there are those not bound by the Judaic Ten Commandments, or Eastern religious traditions, and since there is substantial disagreement between people of different religious traditions, a standard which describes the essence of all human moral thought is considered a necessity. A universal morality applies to all people in a secular way without basing its ideology in religious traditions.

    The world court, human rights, international law, and crimes against humanity are all new terms that are part of global efforts to bring a universalist, equal, and common moral justice to all peoples.

    There is, however, some form of universal absolutism as a moral stance, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights being an example of this.

    Moral Universalism first appeared as a formalized ethical theory amongst the Stoics of ancient Greece (it continues to be a central premise within modern Stoicism, as well). Stoics believe in the supremacy of some form of divine plan or natural order which stands inviolable and according to which everything happens.

    According to Stoic ethical philosophy, the existence of immoral men and the perpetration of immoral activities is all part of the natural or divine order of the universe, however, the existence of immorality in the world can solely be attributed to a lack of understanding of or regard for the divine order of the universe: immorality is perpetrated only by those who are either under the false judgements that they are in fact acting ethically, or by those who simply have a lack of healthy respect for proper ethical concerns. Although Moral Universalism, as an idea, has evolved much from its origins in Stoicism, it continues to find its greatest wellspring of philosophical support in that school of thought.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Moral_universalism

  • Vijtable

    I have started yet another long reply to Jazzman, but I won’t send it… yet. Since moral universalism is in play, it makes sense to bring philosophers who are not. I agree with the wiki entry that it is the middle ground between absolutism and “relativism,” but it begs the discussion to include absolutists and “relativists.”

    Very quickly, “relativists” typically call themselves nominalists. Nominalism is the philosophical mode that says things have “nominal truth” to them, they only have truth in certain contexts. Absolutists, and to a lesser extent universalists, deride one extreme position by calling it “relativist.”

    Ironically, given the discussions between myself and Jazzman, a prominent philosophical school that uses a nominalist approach is Mahayana Buddhism. Talk about the cycle of samsara. 🙂

  • Vijtable

    A link to the wiki entry on “Nominalism.” It more or less fits hand-in-glove with “moral relativism.”

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nominalism

    As for absolutists – are there moral absolutists who believe in god and are proponents of evolution? I think the topic of the show, whether we accept these propositions or not, presumes the existence of both (evolution and god).

  • Jon

    Vijtable: I don’t agree that such a presumption should be assumed. Rather, I interpret the issue as very much open on this matter. Put verbatim, “So here’s the question for the hour: is it possible to envision a world full of meaning and morality without God — or do they have to come from God?”

  • serious lee

    My goodness I can’t believe so many people responded to this it seems simple to me. Of course morality is GOD given where else would it come from? For sure it’s not evolved. I thought we already solved the whole evolution thing. Why do they have to keep bringing that up all the time? I think it’s obvious that morality came from the bible and no where else. We could end all this confusion if people would just trust.

  • Potter

    Serious Lee Morality MAY come from the Bible, but not necessarily. There are cultures where there is no Bible. Do they not have a morality?

    Quote from above “So here’s the question for the hour: is it possible to envision a world full of meaning and morality without God — or do they have to come from God?�

    This means (to me) is it possible for YOU to envision………? If you believe in God, especially fervently,then it’s a hard exercise ( thus the injection of the word “possibleâ€?). If you lower the case and pluralize the word God to gods, look more to the East- no need to strain to envision.

    If there is a statement made that morality HAS to come from God, then maybe we have to define morality and point to anthropological references.

    The question that begins this thread may presume God and morality and evolution exist but in order to discuss it (deeply) feelings and concepts/constructs arise in discussion that cannot be ignored. Even the word “exist” for instance in relation to God means what? Does or may God actually exist or is God only a human concept that exists? For sure the latter is true. And what is your definition of God?

    This topic is a riddle (conundrum) and a Rorschach. You cannot definitively answer the questions except for yourself and even then not without thinking deeply.

    But if we don’t understand each other and we wind up talking past each other, not communicating.

    So Vijatable if the topic presumed the existence of both God and evolution, haven’t we unpresumed here in places and of necessity? Everyone is not “on board” .

  • Potter

    (sorry- I over italicized again)

  • Vijtable

    Jon, Potter… Good points both. Jon, I’m looking at the headline “Morality: God-Given or Evolved?” as my inspiration for the presumption. Potter, you’re right, we have moved to the “unpresumption” of both. And I think that’s a fun conversation (see, well, all my posts above).

    However, when trying to conceive of a show that discusses the questions we have been discussing, we need to bracket something for the sake of conversation, or the hour would be a little bogged-down (see the circles Jazzman and I are going in above and, soon, below). Hence my “presumption.”

    I guess I’m asking a somewhat different set of questions (one that challenges my own beliefs): presuming both god(s) and evolution, where do we think it came from? Is it appropriate to do so? If god(s) is (are) the giver of morality, how do we know? If evolution, same question.

    In essence, should we treat morals, and the tendency to moralistic thinking, in a doctrinal manner, or a practical one? What are the consequences of one choice or another?

    And, following that, how do we treat morality? Is it sacred or profane? Can morality be a universal? Is it possible, given religious and cultural differences worldwide, to essentialize our beliefs to a set of ultimate truths?

    Basically, I’m trying to parse the conversation into more digestible bites (for the sake of the radio format). By bracketing those questions, we can discuss this morality one. As a result, the questions of epistemology (how we know what we know) with respect to evolution, and with respect to god(s), can be discussed freely, and perhaps beforehand.

    What do you think?

  • Vijtable

    Ummm… The question “Is it appropriate to do so?” should be at the end of the fifth paragraph. Sorry for random question. 🙂

  • jazzman

    Vijtable: Thanks to your and Nikos wiki links I have been made aware of entire schools of philosophical thought of which I was heretofore unaware. I find that I gravitate toward the Panpsychism school and you seem to gravitate more to the Emergentism school (I could be wrong.) It is comforting to know that I am not alone in my non-religious based rejection of Darwinism which I earlier had assumed to be the case. Panpsychism seems to be supported by my favorite science, Quantum Mechanics and if it is based in reality, then Darwinism is moot. It has very interesting implications regarding morality as well.

  • Nikos

    Jazzman, I read your comment in the Spring Cleaning thread with a big smile and chuckle – but what about this: cleaning out one’s certainty of the unambiguousness of concepts?

    I suppose I’m poking and prodding a bit here, suggesting or implying that your laudable skepticism in evolutionary explanations is informed by perhaps too much belief in the concepts you use to consider the issues.

    Concepts aren’t real in any concrete sense – they’re merely descriptors (I’m taking liberties with the meaning of this word, btw), and, ultimately, metaphoric in nature. Even seeming dry, academic language is ultimately metaphoric in origin, and therefore in essence.

    See Lakoff and Johnson’s Metaphors We Live By (http://www.powells.com/biblio/2-0226468011-6)

    This, I think, is why I can accept the seeming infirmity of evolutionary descriptions: I comprehend the fluidity of the reality that the descriptors are trying to capture. Concepts are ‘still photos’ of ‘moving’ reality.

    (I think.)

    😉

  • Jon

    Even though it may have been a comment of mine that originally seems to have sparked consideration for doing a show on this topic, I think I’m beginning to understand why the show has never been produced. On the one hand, a number of quite interesting exchanges, and potentially increases in insight, have arisen in this thread. This is a good example of the “forum” being discussed on another ROS thread. But is it really radio? I’m no longer so sure. If one wants to discuss the origins of human morality, it’s simply distracting to get bogged down in arguments over the scientific basis of evolution on that same program. Moreover, while the question, “Is there a God?” is filled with poignancy, is this really appropriate for the hour’s program? I think not. So is there really a program left? On the other hand, if Santorum would simply make himself available, I have little doubt there’d be lots and lots to talk about, easily filling the hour–he himself would define the topic, ’nuff said.

  • Jon – I think this thread is a perfect example of why a forum would work better. A moderator could have split out the different conversations:

    Is there such thing as evolution?

    if so, how do you define it?

    what do we mean by god?

    is there a god?

    is the Christian Bible the only source of morality?

    is everyone else, then, amoral?

    what do we mean by morality?

    are we talking morality or ethics?

    what do we mean by religion? …….

    I understood the question to be about whether morality came from religion – meaning you have to believe in a metaphysical being and have that being impose a morality upon you – or whether the development of morality was inherent in us.

    Its fun to see how many conversations have spun off this question. However, I can’t focus. Some of these conversations require a lot of attention to follow and I would appreciate them being separated out.

    Is there an hour show here? There are a lot of graniose subjects. I think you’d have to narrow down one point of exploration. But it would be interesting to have a respected speaker who firmly believes that you cannot have morality without believing in a higher being and another who believes that morality is inherent in the survival of a social creature. I’d love to hear that point/counterpoint.

    Of course, there could be no winner. We each have our own belief systems – “it’s all a game”, “its simple if you just trust the Bible”, “everything is an illusion” – and they are unlikely to be shattered by an hour’s debate. Still, fun to listen to…

    And perhaps a good conversation to keep alive if the different topics can be pried apart.

  • nother

    I agree (man I agree with you a lot) wholeheartedly Allison, while this thread intrigues me – it also overwhelms me.

    I’ve wanted to and still plan to, respond to your post on violence. I just felt a little buried by the other posts.

  • Nikos

    Here’s a baby-step try at developing the ‘concept as a still photo’ metaphor:

    Imagine trying to explain the growth of an old field into woodlot exclusively via time-lapse photography. The images, step by step, would certainly convey the evolution of shrubs to forest, and would be comprehensible. But if in one photo you see a hunting owl, yet in the next it’s gone, any skeptic will know that the photo sequence is incomplete and perhaps even misleading. So, to be convincing to sharp-eyed and sharp-minded folks like Jazzman, the sequence must imply (or tacitly admit) that the pictures (concepts) are only capturing and conveying enough information to sketch the entire truth, and cannot ever reveal it thoroughly.

    It’s asking too much of concepts built on metaphor to comprehensively, faultlessly, flawlessly, and unambiguously explain the constantly shifting, growing, contracting, and multidimensional essence of reality – of the physical universe.

    And concepts as fundamentally dishonest as those reducing life to machines, or organic entities to ‘engineered systems’, only compound this difficulty. In that instance, we’re not even getting photos, but something more akin to a hack draftsman’s fledgling attempts to mimic Picasso.

  • Jon

    Nikos: I like your picture metaphor–nicely done. But this isn’t going to be what it takes for Jazzman to accept your point, I’d suspect. So,:

    Jazzman: I think you are hungry to gain new knowledge, to explore challenging ideas. It’s great fun to debate in a blog session, and I think you have many contributions to make. But with respect to issues that fascinate you such as whether or not macroevolution is in a continuum with microevolution, I would make the following suggestion. Almost all major universitities have departments devoted to Evolutionary Biology. These are people whose entire professional life is focused on what so interests you. There really is no substitute for taking two or three rigorous courses that explore this subject matter at a level far more significant than can be done in a sort of manner than can be done when approached more casually, as in a series of blog exchanges, or even surfing the web. This is a large, involved discipline, not to be taken lightly. You certainly can maintain a healthy skepticism, and perhaps you will make a key discovery because of it. But without the proper rigor, it’s really not doing justice to a very advanced field. I can’t imagine elemental physics or mechanical engineering or so many other fields being approached in a less rigorous fashion. So even if you’re not matriculated in a formal program, find a way to take a couple of courses on evolutionary biology through an extension program or the equivalent. It’s a lot of work, but I think you’ll enjoy it very much.

  • Potter

    Jazzman:

    Reading the definition of panpsychic at Wiki, I can connect with it too. I feel this way about rocks- ( I think D.H. Lawrence did too) I don’t see how it negates evolution any more than it would negate gravity.

    Yes I do question the discipline and the rigor (not the intent – they suffer from tunnel-vision) because not one of the DE proponents starts from a neutral open minded background (why would they? – they have been brainwashed by the school system from an early age) and they all accept DE hook, line and sinker (as I used to do as well.)

    from Michael Shermer Book Rev of” The Universe in a Single Atom” by the Dalai Lama Tenzin Gyatso

    In a 1987 lecture on “The Burden of Skepticism,” the astronomer Carl Sagan opined:

    “In science it often happens that scientists say, ‘You know that’s a really good argument; my position is mistaken,’ and then they actually change their minds and you never hear that old view from them again. They really do it. It doesn’t happen as often as it should, because scientists are human and change is sometimes painful. But it happens every day. I cannot recall the last time something like that happened in politics or religion.â€?

    Well, Carl, here’s a bit of good news, from no less a personage than His Holiness the Dalai Lama, who writes in the prologue of his latest book, “The Universe in a Single Atom”:

    “My confidence in venturing into science lies in my basic belief that as in science so in Buddhism, understanding the nature of reality is pursued by means of critical investigation: if scientific analysis were conclusively to demonstrate certain claims in Buddhism to be false, then we must accept the findings of science and abandon those claims.”

    http://www.nysun.com/article/19969?access=278096

    My own example: I remember my science teacher ( in the 60’s) reciting “ontogeny recapitulates phylogeny” thought to be a great insight at the time, which has since been discredited “in it’s absolute form”. We had it drummed into our heads as a general principle. But biologists, many who also must have been taught this have looked deeper and found it to be only partially accurate. See http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ontogeny_recapitulates_phylogeny

    You question the rigor of scientists’ work based on what evidence? You make a general disturbing assumption that all scientists must have been brainwashed at early age and therefore could not be neutral because “why would they?” Isn’t this not prejudice (based on what evidence?) and your filter? Aren’t you being unscientific and dogmatic?

    Why then would not the whole of evolution theory (or any scientific theory) be a “just so story”? Why are you willing to accept parts, if, for you, the science/evidence is not trustworthy or rigorous from the get-go?

    Jazzman: Once you accept DE as fact, you ignore all the evidence that doesn’t support it and the rigor and discipline goes out the window.

    Is it not at least possible if not probable that scientists approach their work as open and questioning as you question?

    These are large assumptions. Are you saying that the scientific community is not a culture measured by adherence evidence to discipline, valuing evidence and especially that may not fit a prevailing theory? Has this not happened many times with regard to other theories and sub theories that have gotten trashed as Sagan indicates?

    Finding evidence that may lead elsewhere would quite possibly be a sensational breakthrough with great rewards no?

    How come NO scientist or group of scientists has been able to disprove evolution scientifically? Because of brainwashing in their early years? Because of hegemony in the scientific community? No scientist escaped?

    That assumption which includes scientists across the globe and through 150 years is as fantastic “a just so story” as any Kipling wrote, pretty improbable. But it does get to a preferred conclusion.

    Jazzman: As I state below there are only two theories DE & C/ID and NO scientists (even if they have doubts) dare to challenge the orthodoxy and risk losing funding, status and heaping of ignominy from their peers as surely would happen due to extreme prejudice on the part of the establishment.

    If a scientist or a group presented a real challenge to DE scientifically (Creationism and Intelligent Design do not) they would stand to gain a lot( of praise, funding etc imo) from both establishments. Scientists would be very interested because that is what the science culture is about. That is how we have been able to cure diseases, grow more food etc. C/ID believers, and others who feel threatened that they can no longer believe in God AND evolution, that there is no meaning to life, would welcome the news (at least for the moment).

    But that disproving evidence has not emerged. It’s absurd to think that it has not happened because of what you call brainwashing in school.

    Jazzman: I naively believed that if an open-minded reasoning person examined the evidence for which DE cannot account, doubts would arise as DE being the correct interpretation of the origin of life and diversity and they would at least agree that it’s possible that DE may not be the answer

    Why not take the so-called “preferred conclusion� (at least provisionally) with the scientific evidence over the one that does not have it?

    Is it possible that the evidence and doubts do not rise after a certain point because there is to the fullest extent necessary to be certain enough evidence to accept DE as generally proven?

    I (again naively) believed that due to the dearth of hard evidence that supports DE that simple logic (the same logic used by Darwinists) would be sufficient to dispel the notion that the DE was a likely mechanism.

    There is enough hard evidence. Perhaps there is a difference about what is “hard evidence”. There should not be.

    Jazzman, no wonder you are frustrated, you are trying to move a boulder with a feather.

    Jazzman I do not believe I or anyone here has called you ignorant, quite the contrary. I think this is why you have drawn such intelligent responses (not to necessarily include my own). I don’t expect you will change with this discussion because you are not open for that. I do get it that you feel maligned, or perhaps understandably lonely in your position so that continuing on this line risks putting you more and more on the defensive as well… So I will not continue pushing on this issue, but I do want to thank you for being yourself and defending your POV. Yes, peace.

  • Potter

    Sorry that last part should read thusly:

    Jazzman:I (again naively) believed that due to the dearth of hard evidence that supports DE that simple logic (the same logic used by Darwinists) would be sufficient to dispel the notion that the DE was a likely mechanism.

    There is enough hard evidence. Perhaps there is a difference about what is “hard evidence”. There should not be.

    Jazzman, no wonder you are frustrated, you are trying to move a boulder with a feather.

    I do not believe I or anyone here has called you ignorant, quite the contrary. I think this is why you have drawn such intelligent responses (not to necessarily include my own). I don’t expect you will change with this discussion because you are not open for that. I do get it that you feel maligned, or perhaps understandably lonely in your position so that continuing on this line risks putting you more and more on the defensive as well… So I will not continue pushing on this issue, but I do want to thank you for being yourself and defending your POV. Yes, peace.

  • Potter

    “The further the spiritual evolution of mankind advances, the more certain it seems to me that the path to genuine religiosity does not lie through the fear of life, and the fear of death, and blind faith, but through striving after rational knowledge.”

    Albert Einstein

  • Vijtable

    Potter, I agree. Thank you, Jazzman. You have been putting yourself out there and many of us have taken shots at your arguments, and you have met us head-on. I’ve been planning to respond to earlier comments, but I’ve been sitting on sending it. There are some things I want you to consider about Buddhism, Jazzman, but maybe it can wait for now.

    In the continued (renewed) interest of a radio-friendly orientation of this discussion, how’s this:

    1) Per Allison, a show on morality. As I was saying, in order for the discussion to have common ground, it makes sense, for the sake of the show (and Chris makes this clear), that evolution and god(s) are presumed. Among the questions for the show: can morality function in the human social marketplace without, at the very least, a notion of god?

    2) A different (perhaps earlier) show that discusses epistemology – how we know what we know. This opens the evolution and god questions up for discussion, and brings in a lot of the things discussed. The neuroscientist V.S. Ramachandran from UC San Diego (I think) is an excellent person to discuss the brain angle. Then, there are epistemologists, Christian epistemologists, Buddhist epistemologists. And sociologists have their own angle. We can then ask the question we’re circling around: is morality collective or singular?

  • Nikos

    I want to simply and quickly join the chorus of praise for Jazzman.

    Whether or not it was evident, you had even me wondering, briefly, if I’d been swallowing unsupportable dogma for most of my life! (This was months ago.) I thought it through, and tried to convey my intuitive conclusions in dialogue with you here and elsewhere (EO Wilson, and maybe other threads), and gained tremendously from our exchange.

    So thank you, pal. Without you, this thread would never have become such lively ‘daily must-read’!

  • Nikos

    This thread’s length is a virtue just as much as it’s a problem, I think, and reflects the vast array of difficulties inherent in its title. Have a look at the complexity of the definitions of the title’s key words in Wikipedia: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Morality

    And Wikitionary: http://en.wiktionary.org/wiki/Morality

    Then God: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/God

    And: http://en.wiktionary.org/wiki/God

    Then Evolve: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Evolve

    And: http://en.wiktionary.org/wiki/evolve

    The miracle here is that the topic as presented has drawn so many thoughtful contributions – that by necessity must dissect, prior to comprehensive discussion each aspect of the title.

    The surprise, however, is that the ‘God’-concept has gotten much less consideration and dissection than the other two key concepts.

    Frankly, I think it deserves much more consideration and analysis. Dissection and analysis equal to the considerations thus far given to morality and to evolution.

    For example, Jazzman and I both agree that ‘evolution’ includes a meaning approximating ‘biological change over generations’, yet we differ over the question of whether this ‘change’ meaning can be applied to the woolly concept of ‘speciation’, or restricted to descriptions of intra-species multi-generational changes.

    Yet both of us agree on a concept of ‘god’ that is essentially pantheistic. Which is to say that the universe is made up of indestructible, and therefore, effectively immortal, energy that constantly recombines from ‘dust’ into stars and to organic compounds and, therefore, into life and its fertile wastes.

    An apparently endless cycle of mutations, with an apparently purposeless existence. (‘Apparently’!)

    This is obviously a very different – and much simpler – concept of the ‘divine’ than Rick Santorum’s.

    So, I’d like develop this puzzle over the next few weeks (dependent on my free time), using Daniel Dennett’s Breaking The Spell http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/067003472X/002-7919812-6315255?v=glance&n=283155

    for a bit of counter-conventional god-knocking, and the new-to-me but initially stimulating What It Means To Be 98% Chimpanzee by Jonathan Marks http://www.powells.com/biblio/1-0520240642-2.

    98%, mind you, is thus far living up to its promise to debunk gobs of silly conventional wisdom concerning the similarities of humans to apes. In its own acidly witty way, it addresses the ‘evolution’ angle with a nicely applied Occam’s Razor. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Occam%27s_Razor

    But any such attempt won’t be much fun – or intellectually illuminating – without the assistance, dissent, feedback, and blowback from others.

    Which, therefore, makes this post an invitation to further trouble-making. 🙂

    (And to our scurrilous goal of pushing this thread to 300 posts.)

  • Jon

    The relationship between morality and theism–or, more precisely, its lack thereof–is discussed about midway through the following URL: http://www.infidels.org/news/atheism/intro.html Simply search the page for the word “morality” to get directly there.

  • Nikos

    For some mysterious reason, my first attempt yesterday to post this earned the limbo known as the ‘Your comment is awaiting moderation’ message. Which means one or more words triggered an electronic freeze that will remain in force until Brendan has time to read the post.

    So, I’m gonna change a couple of words and see if this version makes it through. (Forgive, therefore, the likely existence of two virtually identical posts within three entries of each other.) Now then, ‘Nikos says’:

    This thread’s length is a virtue just as much as it’s a problem, I think, and reflects the panoply of ambiguities inherent in its title. Have a look at the complexity of the definitions of the title’s key words in Wikipedia: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Morality

    And Wikitionary: http://en.wiktionary.org/wiki/Morality

    Then God: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/God

    And: http://en.wiktionary.org/wiki/God

    Then Evolve: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Evolve

    And: http://en.wiktionary.org/wiki/evolve

    The miracle here is that the topic as presented has drawn so many thoughtful contributions – that by necessity must dissect, prior to comprehensive discussion each aspect of the title.

    The surprise, however, is that the ‘God’-concept has gotten much less consideration and dissection than the other two key concepts.

    Frankly, I think it deserves much more consideration and analysis. Dissection and analysis equal to the considerations thus far given to morality and to evolution.

    For example, Jazzman and I both agree that ‘evolution’ includes a meaning approximating ‘biological change over generations’, yet we differ over the question of whether this ‘change’ meaning can be applied to the woolly concept of ‘speciation’, or restricted to descriptions of intra-species multi-generational changes.

    Yet both of us agree on a concept of ‘god’ that is essentially pantheistic. Which is to say that the universe is made up of indestructible, and therefore, effectively immortal, energy that constantly recombines from ‘dust’ into stars and to organic compounds and, therefore, into life and its fertile wastes.

    An apparently endless cycle of mutations, with an apparently purposeless existence. (‘Apparently’!)

    This is obviously a very different – and much simpler – concept of the ‘divine’ than a fundamentalist’s.

    So, I’d like develop this puzzle over the next few weeks (dependent on my free time), using Daniel Dennett’s Breaking The Spell http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/067003472X/002-7919812-6315255?v=glance&n=283155

    for a bit of counter-conventional god-knocking, and the new-to-me but initially stimulating What It Means To Be 98% Chimpanzee by Jonathan Marks http://www.powells.com/biblio/1-0520240642-2.

    98%, mind you, is thus far living up to its promise to debunk gobs of silly conventional wisdom concerning the similarities of humans to apes. In its own acidly witty way, it addresses the ‘evolution’ angle with a nicely applied Occam’s Razor. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Occam%27s_Razor

    But any such attempt won’t be much fun – or intellectually illuminating – without the assistance, dissent, feedback, and blowback from others.

    Which, therefore, makes this post an invitation to further mischief.

    (And to our covert goal of pushing this thread to 300 posts.) 🙂

  • Vijtable

    Jon… That link (especailly the Dahmer quote) leads me to think of End of Faith by Sam Harris. While I am concerned about his general approach (I’ll explain more if you anyone is interested), he does conclude that it is the “faith,” not religion, that is the bugbear. It is the non-falsifiable aspect of religion that allows people to act in apparently immoral ways in the name of god.

    Would Sam Harris (and some respondents) make this a show? Should the question of evolution be a side question to “religion and morality”? I’m not tied to any ideas here – I just think there so much here worth dicussing, I would hate if a show doesn’t get made.

  • Nikos

    This post is an appendix to my earlier posts criticizing science’s dreadfully unimaginative use of mechanistic metaphor and ‘engineering’ parallels in its attempts to explain the workings of life.

    From Jonathan Marks’s What It Means To Be 98% Chimpanzee (a tongue-in-cheek title): ‘The mitochondrion, a subcellular organelle universally known in biology textbooks as “the powerhouse of the cell�, generates metabolic energy for the physiological processes of life.’ (pg.33)

    ‘Powerhouse’ is straight out of the Industrial Revolution lexicon.

    Here’s a small, imperfectly thought-out set of alternative metaphoric descriptive possibilities:

    From astronomy: ‘the sun of the cell’

    From music (1): ‘the drums of the cell’

    From music (2): ‘the (orchestral) conductor of the cell’

    From life: the ‘muscle of the cell’

    Or ‘the musculature of the cell’

    Or ‘the legs of a cell’

    Each of these points to the primacy and function of the mitochondrion, while not reducing-by-implication its subject (life) to constructed or engineered machinery.

    I know with utter certainty this much: if I’m ‘engineered’, then I expect a manufacturer’s recall any minute now.

    Life forms are far too idiosyncratically individual to be ‘engineered’. We are ‘evolved’: accidental experiments of a planet busily using sunlight to recombine its elements into self-aware entities.

    Not ‘artifacts’.

    Moreover, I do not ‘have’ a body. I am this body.

    My body is not the house (or car!) of my consciousness. If anything, my consciousness is my body’s ‘mitochondrion’.

    And the sooner science begins rectifying its descriptive idiocies, the sooner we – the whole of humanity – can reasonably evaluate the inappropriate implications and destructive biases of religion.

  • Nikos

    Having learned last night that my first two attempts to post this earned the limbo known as the ‘Your comment is awaiting moderation’ message because it couched more than three links – thus triggering the laudable ROS spam-filter – I’m breaking it into two parts. Brendan, please delete my previous two attempts at this.

    I’m also deleting the ‘Wikitionary’ links parallel to the Wikipedia links.

    Part I

    This thread’s length is a virtue just as much as it’s a problem, I think, and reflects the vast array of difficulties inherent in its title. Have a look at the complexity of the definitions of the title’s key words in Wikipedia: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Morality

    And Wikitionary:

    Then God: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/God

    And:

    Then Evolve: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Evolve

    And:

    The miracle here is that the topic as presented has drawn so many thoughtful contributions – that by necessity must dissect, prior to comprehensive discussion each aspect of the title.

    The surprise, however, is that the ‘God’-concept has gotten much less consideration and dissection than the other two key concepts.

    Frankly, I think it deserves much more consideration and analysis. Dissection and analysis equal to the considerations thus far given to morality and to evolution.

    For example, Jazzman and I both agree that ‘evolution’ includes a meaning approximating ‘biological change over generations’, yet we differ over the question of whether this ‘change’ meaning can be applied to the woolly concept of ‘speciation’, or restricted to descriptions of intra-species multi-generational changes.

    Yet both of us agree on a concept of ‘god’ that is essentially pantheistic. Which is to say that the universe is made up of indestructible, and therefore, effectively immortal, energy that constantly recombines from ‘dust’ into stars and to organic compounds and, therefore, into life and its fertile wastes.

    An apparently endless cycle of mutations, with an apparently purposeless existence. (‘Apparently’!)

    This is obviously a very different – and much simpler – concept of the ‘divine’ than a fundamentalist’s.

  • Nikos

    Part II

    So, I’d like develop this puzzle over the next few weeks (dependent on my free time), using Daniel Dennett’s Breaking The Spell http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/067003472X/002-7919812-6315255?v=glance&n=283155

    for a bit of counter-conventional god-knocking, and the new-to-me but initially stimulating What It Means To Be 98% Chimpanzee by Jonathan Marks http://www.powells.com/biblio/1-0520240642-2.

    98%, mind you, is thus far living up to its promise to debunk gobs of silly conventional wisdom concerning the similarities of humans to apes. In its own acidly witty way, it addresses the ‘evolution’ angle with a nicely applied Occam’s Razor. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Occam%27s_Razor

    But any such attempt won’t be much fun – or intellectually illuminating – without the assistance, dissent, feedback, and blowback from others.

    Which, therefore, makes this post an invitation to further mischief. 😉

    (And to our covert goal of pushing this thread to 300 posts.)

  • Nikos

    Part III (actually a later development, but hey, it’s all in sequence)

    Here’s an example of potentially helpful cross-fertilization between science and theology.

    On page 27 of Jonathan Marks’s What It Means To Be 98% Chimpanzee, he’s outlining the difficulties of drawing meaningful conclusions from statistical comparisons. Specifically, “the assumption that forty DNA bases of human sequences (are) homologous to fifty-four bases of orangutan sequences.� He writes:

    A simple estimate of similarity and difference must necessarily be confounded by variation in the size of the entities being compared.

    And you can make exactly this same point for comparisons between entities of that like the Biblical God and a ‘pantheistic’ interpretation of the lattice of space and energy field we conceptualize in the hopelessly vague word ‘universe’.

    To the writers of the Bible, the universe was bounded by blue skies above, which at night shone with random sparkles that earned, via the human propensity for pattern-making, organized constellation-names.

    Similarly, these writers knew, apocryphally perhaps, of volcanoes, and so were able to conceive of an under-world boundary that eventually evolved into the Christian concept of Hell.

    This universe was bounded elsewhere by lands reputedly peopled by incomprehensible races and fantastical creatures. And to the west lay the Sea.

    Such a universe – that sliver of the world perceptible to human senses and embellished only by rumor, legend, and superstition – can easily be explained as the Creation of a Father-Potter-God like Yahweh.

    Not so the universe perceptible by telescopes, microscopes, and their radio- and electron- using offspring.

    This universe requires a very different sort of God. Spinoza’s type of pantheistic god is a good start, but hardly a comprehensive answer. The Asian Tao might be better than Spinoza’s offering. But even the Tao might not suffice. Likewise, conflation of the Tao with a Western comprehension of ‘god’ is commonplace, but as misleading and inaccurate as the problem Marks outlines in Chapter One of 98% Chimpanzee.

    The Bible’s ‘God in Heaven’ (apparently located somewhere above the Holy Land) is of a very much smaller scale than appropriate to the universe’s infinitely stretching network of indestructibly immortal energy. This universe requires not belief in a potter-God (who in books like ‘Judges’, by the way, tells his favored people to slay, conquer, and enslave others), but consideration of a very much larger notion of divinity. An effectively infinite notion, and therefore a notion so incomprehensible that it’s essentially meaningless. (And so is it any wonder that simpler, fundamentalist interpretations of divinity retain their popularity?)

    It seems obvious then to this ‘unbeliever’ that morality can hardly spring from such a comic-strip-style deity. It springs instead from us, from the minds whose sense of the world was once confined to the ‘data stream’ of our unamplified senses, but is now informed of an immeasurably vaster universe. Daniel Dennett’s revelatory discussion of meme transmission in Breaking The Spell fittingly describes the manner by which morality evolves.

    PS: it’s also worth noting that ongoing belief in the Biblical God is intuitive – that is, it’s founded on one’s trust in the input from one’s senses. In a world wherein ‘religious authorities’ (who can’t objectively prove their contact with a god, and so simply prey on people’s credulity) deny the validity of effectively proven science, the credulous can fall back onto the ‘small universe’ gleaned through one’s senses – which intuitively confirms the teachings of ancient religions.

    And this is exactly why education, as given to the populations of Europe, is effectively driving many European churches out of business.

    Real education – that is, education grounded in all the latest advances of human knowledge, and not predicated on unverifiable beliefs from 4,000 years ago – can only (even if unintentionally) debunk religious fundamentalism.

    (Which is another reason reactionaries in the Muslim world hate the West.)

    Hence ‘Creationism’ and Intelligent Design’s repeated attempts to pirate science back into a theologically-grounded world-view.

    Which is where this thread started back in August 2005!

  • Nikos

    Oh, crap!

    I forgot to mention that a paradigm that views the universe as essentially ‘alive’ can also view individual entities like humans as ‘cells’ of the universal ‘body’.

    And, since no single cell (like, say, a leg-muscle cell) can ever ‘know’ or comprehend what its role is in the body, we can’t know the universe’s life-purpose.

    In fact, it’s pointless to speculate,

    Such speculation is actually perilous in that it runs the risk of appalling junk like the Old Testament’s religiously sanctioned warlordism.

    What we can however surmise from a view that we’re ‘cells of the universal body’, is that attacking other cells is potentially cancerous.

    How’s that for a ‘god-free morality’?

    😉

  • Jon

    Vijtable: OK–I’m on board with your suggestion that a good first show could consist of Sam Harris as principal guest, discussing his book “The End of Faith”. The show itself could simply carry that title as well, albeit with a question mark likely added at the end. No need even to include “morality” in the title–this topic would simply arise during the course of the discussions. Depending on how this idea catches on in this thread, I would likely have some additional guests to suggest for the program as well.

  • Jon

    Nikos: I believe your last series of posts is also pretty consonant with a first show devoted to the question of faith itself. Two small points, however, regarding a couple of issues you raised. First, while I haven’t read the 98% Chimp book, I want to comment on the issue of looking solely at DNA homology and potential problems of different lengths of the DNA to be compared. More and more, I’m impressed with similarities between the final protein products resulting from different sources of DNA that don’t possess the highest degree of homology you might have wished for. In other words, it is possible for one protein to mimic another fairly closely in three-dimensional space, even though the specific amino acid sequences comprising the two proteins differ dramatically. Such biological mimicry requires more than just DNA level testing to discover–immune reactions, protein functional studies, and X-ray crystallography for example.

    The second comment I’d like to make concerns your point that cells attacking other cells is potentially cancerous. Yes, cancer is certainly one example of this phenomenon. But so also are many immune responses, which can actually function to preserve our lives. A great example of a two-edged sword, or viewed another way, as the poetry of biology.

  • Nikos

    Jon, thanks,

    Your second poing first: yeah, I thought of that. Which is why I qualified it with the caveat ‘potentially’. This is of course the risk of trying to apply a scientific view to a potential future ‘universal morality’. But it’s still worth pursuing, and so I thank you yet again.

    Your first point actually jibes (I think) with the 98% book. (My uncertainty stems from my layman’s ignorance.) Keep in mind that I’m a notorious cherrypicker for my arguments here in the blog. (It helps to keep the word-counts down!)

    Thanks again though.

    I do think it’s high time we humans examine closely the sacred cows whose gluttonous feeding is so deleterious to our own species and to the planetary biosphere as a whole.

    Please share any and all further thought you might have.

    And Happy Spring!

  • jazzman

    Nikos:>> implying that your laudable skepticism in evolutionary explanations is informed by perhaps too much belief in the concepts you use to consider the issues. Concepts aren’t real in any concrete sense The only way our minds grow is by replacing beliefs or concepts that no longer make sense to us, is to replace them with other beliefs and concepts that do. By concrete I assume you mean external and those internal non-concrete abstracts have been turned into external concrete creations as long as we’ve been extant. Are ideas, dreams or memes real? Dawkin’s & Dennett’s memes are nothing more than an individual’s beliefs and to the extent that they coincide with the mass belief they may be grouped culturally. The attempt to give ideas evolutionary or a quasi-genetic basis is facile but has no actual basis. Again beliefs are believed until they are discarded or replaced by other ones presumably more tenable but often not (as would seem to be the general opinion of my discarding the “fact� of DE for agnosticism.)

    N:>>And concepts as fundamentally dishonest as those reducing life to machines, or organic entities to ‘engineered systems’, only compound this difficulty Darwinism goes even further in reducing life to a machine – an accidental blind gene replicating machine and organic systems without intelligent engineering or as Dennett might say a blind sow finding a whole acorn out of a trillion empty shells. Speaking of convergences, I caught Dennett hawking (Stephen?) his “Breaking the Spell� on C-Span this weekend – still flogging fallacious fantasies. I was surprised to find him remarkably inarticulate while responding to audience questions. While that doesn’t mean he’s a bad writer, it doesn’t bode well for a ROS show (but that’s probably just my conceptual prejudice rearing its ugly head.)

    N>>Whether or not it was evident, you had even me wondering, briefly, if I’d been swallowing unsupportable dogma for most of my life! Wonder no more. You have been swallowing unsupportable dogma for most of your life. (Thanks for your kind words though.)

    N>>Yet both of us agree on a concept of ‘god’ that is essentially pantheistic. Which is to say that the universe is made up of indestructible, and therefore, effectively immortal, energy that constantly recombines from ‘dust’ into stars and to organic compounds and, therefore, into life and its fertile wastes. An apparently endless cycle of mutations, with an apparently purposeless existence. (‘Apparently’!) This is obviously a very different – and much simpler – concept of the ‘divine’ than a fundamentalist’s. The “therefore into lifeâ€? is a huge hand-waving leap that neither you nor DE nor emergentism can even begin to address (not that you claim to but you state often enough that we are stardust – we are golden – CSNY.) Panpsychism can address that aspect of the inert becoming ert as it were. See my comments to Potter below.

    N:>>A paradigm that views the universe as essentially ‘alive’ can also view individual entities like humans as ‘cells’ of the universal ‘body’.

    And, since no single cell (like, say, a leg-muscle cell) can ever ‘know’ or comprehend what its role is in the body, we can’t know the universe’s life-purpose. In fact, it’s pointless to speculate, such speculation is actually perilous in that it runs the risk of appalling junk like the Old Testament’s religiously sanctioned warlordism. What we can however surmise from a view that we’re ‘cells of the universal body’, is that attacking other cells is potentially cancerous. That is a highly anthropocentric view. If the universe is “aliveâ€? (a slippery term – I prefer conscious) then all matter/energy can know the universe’s life purpose. Speculation is never pointless, it is the conclusions drawn from erroneous beliefs that are perilous. You as a runner must marvel at how well your leg-muscle cells comprehend their role in twitch responses. If it and its fellow cells didn’t consciously respond to the stimuli in its wondrous way you’d be SOL. BTW your conscious mind could not begin to moderate all the billions of machinations and stimuli/Reponses that it would take to cross the room or split a chunk of wood so your subliminal self is either incredibly busy or your body is largely autonomous with distributed intelligence up the yin yang. As for the “cancerâ€? metaphor, overpopulation is more cancer-like as cancer is unrestrained cell growth; attacking is more virus-like but despite your dislike of those opportunistic entities – they too have their place. See the quantum mechanical quote below.

  • jazzman

    Jon:>> find a way to take a couple of courses on evolutionary biology through an extension program or the equivalent. It’s a lot of work, but I think you’ll enjoy it very much. I was a biology major in college and am not interested in wasting time that could be spent with my family engaging in debate (and paying for the privilege) with evolutionary biologists. I am well aware of the mindset and believe my ideas would be received as polemic disruption (as I mentioned, ROS mirrors the attitude very well, albeit perhaps less dogmatically than persons with vested interests) but I would love to meet with an evolutionary biologist over coffee or lunch or here.

  • jazzman

    Potter:>> I don’t see how it negates evolution any more than it would negate gravity If consciousness is a fundamental property to everything (i.e., matter & energy) then DE is unnecessarily complex as consciousness may manifest matter & energy in infinite variety. Gravity is a result and property of the innate gregariousness of consciousness.

    Dalai Lama:>>“My confidence in venturing into science lies in my basic belief that as in science so in Buddhism, understanding the nature of reality is pursued by means of critical investigation: if scientific analysis were conclusively to demonstrate certain claims in Buddhism to be false, then we must accept the findings of science and abandon those claims.� The operative concept is conclusively demonstrate and I don’t think that there is any danger of science disabusing Buddhist Tenets (I used to believe that the DL was perhaps one of the most exemplary humans on the planet, however if Vijtable’s assertions are accurate, I am disappointed and disillusioned by the DL’s feet of clay – even if they are porcelain – there’s a project for you – a conceptual feet of clay art piece.)

    Potter:>> You make a general disturbing assumption that all scientists must have been brainwashed at early age and therefore could not be neutral because “why would they?� Isn’t this not prejudice (based on what evidence?) and your filter? Aren’t you being unscientific and dogmatic? I didn’t say ALL scientists, I said DE proponents. The evidence is ALL public schools teach DE as a FACT. Look at the uproar with Kansas or Dover (not that I agree with C/ID) but DE is the orthodox explanation of creation in the majority of schools. Again I was “brainwashed� by the same orthodoxy and I am speaking from my experience and don’t have statistics (not that I give a damn about statistics) to back up my assertion but I don’t think many would disagree with that statement, though they may call it teaching rather than brainwashing.

    P:>> Why are you willing to accept parts? Again I accept micro-evolution rather than macro-evolution as micro-ev is demonstrable and provable. Many scholars including evolutionary biologists are concerned with the macro problem, and because there’s no definitive answer, assume as does Vijtable that it has to be be the mechanism of micro-ev over long periods of time but that is an a priori assumption.

    P:>> Is it not at least possible if not probable that scientists approach their work as open and questioning as you question? It is possible but not probable when one believes DE to be a fact and sees no benefit in challenging one’s own beliefs. Most consider it as a fool’s errand (as I am coming to see it as well.)

    P:>> Are you saying that the scientific community is not a culture measured by adherence evidence to discipline, valuing evidence and especially that may not fit a prevailing theory? Yes – in this regard they have no answers for the difficult questions posed by myself and others (again admittedly C/ID proponents in the main) so they ignore them. If someone could answer the tough questions and adduce evidence to support the answers, then I like the DL would be forced to accept DE as fact.

    P:>> How come NO scientist or group of scientists has been able to disprove evolution scientifically? Because of brainwashing in their early years? Because of hegemony in the scientific community? No scientist escaped? Because it can’t be PROVED or DISPROVED and they ARE brainwashed to various degrees. There is HUGE competition within the scientific community and non-conformity is frowned on – witness Rupert Sheldrake’s vilification. The scientists who escape are marginalized within the scientific community and get very little or no funding.

    P:>> If a scientist or a group presented a real challenge to DE scientifically (Creationism and Intelligent Design do not) they would stand to gain a lot( of praise, funding etc imo) from both establishments. Scientists would be very interested because that is what the science culture is about. That is how we have been able to cure diseases, grow more food etc. C/ID believers, and others who feel threatened that they can no longer believe in God AND evolution, that there is no meaning to life, would welcome the news (at least for the moment). But that disproving evidence has not emerged. It’s absurd to think that it has not happened because of what you call brainwashing in school. It can’t be challenged scientifically, it’s NOT falsifiable. It’s accepted on FAITH that it is real despite the evidence to the contrary becauseThere is NO other theory The combination of a respected, open minded, well funded, interested in overturning DE, scientist will be hard to find. Again they ARE brainwashed to a large degree by the prevailing curricula.

    P:>> Why not take the so-called “preferred conclusion� (at least provisionally) with the scientific evidence over the one that does not have it? Is it possible that the evidence and doubts do not rise after a certain point because there is to the fullest extent necessary to be certain enough evidence to accept DE as generally proven? Again I believe that DE is accepted because of inertia and lack of another theory besides C/ID.

    P: There is enough hard evidence. Perhaps there is a difference about what is “hard evidence�. There should not be. Jazzman, no wonder you are frustrated, you are trying to move a boulder with a feather. I do not believe I or anyone here has called you ignorant, quite the contrary. I have seen only hard evidence in micro-evolution. I have been unable to find any evidence other than bandwagon evidence on the web to support DE either but found many questions that DE cannot account for with reference to the scientists who raised these questions as well. The tenor of my posts may appear to be defensive but all I’m asking is an open minded appraisal of DE and an answer to the fundamental contravening questions. I was not referring to myself when I said that a non-believer in DE was at best considered ignorant. I was addressing my perception of the prevailing attitude on blogs and chats I sampled on the web. Everyone is vastly ignorant in regards to the amount of available knowledge vs. the amount any of us has personally. The difference between ignorance and stupidity is that ignorance is curable. When I entered this discussion I had not formalized my actual beliefs on DE or morality and had not explored the resources of the web (as again I only can surf on breaks and after hours) Thanks to Nikos, Vijtable, yourself and others I have become less ignorant in many areas and had a chance to refine and crystallize many of my scattered beliefs and to espouse my pacifism.

  • jazzman

    From Consciousness and Quantum Mechanics by Thomas J. McFarlane

    The discovery of quantum mechanics, like the discovery of the New World, has brought with it many changes in the world. The most profound changes, however, are not the changes to the world, but the changes in how we see the world. The discovery of the New World hundreds of years ago brought with it a spirit of freedom and independence that transformed people with its new possibilities. Similarly, the discovery of quantum mechanics has opened up a vast new Quantum World that can free us from an outdated world view and its illusions of separation and materialism. Going far beyond superficial technological changes, the Quantum World has the potential to transform the basis of our individual and social actions. By recognizing the essential identity of oneself with other creatures, one acts from unity and compassion rather than separation and conflict. Kindness to others is kindness to oneself and cruelty to others is cruelty to oneself. In addition, by acknowledging the unity of all creatures, a common ground is established beneath the political, ideological, and cultural divisions at the root of so many world problems. In the Quantum World, separateness is only half the story. Beneath all diversity is a unity.

  • Nikos

    Jazzman: I’m looking forward to working up some replies to you, but this week’s on-air shows are way too much fun right now! I’ll reply over the coming weekend. Except for this: the explanations of DE unnecessarily reduce life to mechanisms – but that’s a failure of conceptualization (like incomplete time-lapse photography), and doesn’t invalidate the reality of evolution. Just the explanation.

    That’s my story, sir, and I’m stickin’ to it!

  • jazzman

    Magic is reality without explanation.

  • Nikos

    Ahoy, Jazzman! Look in the On Deck circle for the gem of a show the ROS-goddess Katherine will grace us with tomorrow!

    “Is God In Our Genes?�

    Are you ready to party? 😉

  • Potter

    Jazzman- thanks for the response. I need to think a bit.

    In the meantime a message from our sponsor:

    Reality is that which when you do not believe in it does not go away.

  • mschwab

    It seems to me that the best explanation for rules of morality is ‘this is what makes a society most relaxed’. Sometimes rules fail to achieve that, but you can usually see why the ruler thought they’d work. So I don’t think morals are God-given or evolved, I think they’re observable trends that are expressed as decrees because they’re rather difficult to actually observe, especially for young people.

  • diemos3211

    I haven’t had the time to read through all the comments, so please forgive me if this has already been brought up.

    I don’t think it’s quite either. I think that “morality” is essentially a feature of the social contract. While ethical behavior is certainly possible without religion, civilization is not possible without a shared code of behavior. In some societies, and definitely in primitive societies, the rationale of the code of ethics everyone agreed to adopt was religion. In essence, religion is a very expedient and effective way of convincing people to adhere to a standard of behavior. Without religion some other rationale for shared values has to be put into place, but that need not rely on faith.

    Maybe we should have a national morality stock market of some sort to better fit our current national ethos.

  • I have a couple thoughts relating to this conversation — having enjoyed reading through it (alas, not so carefully) and recently listening to the “Is God in Our Genes?” show…

    Perhaps another fruitful direction for this conversation would be to reframe it as: “Morality: Tradition-based or Evolved?” After all, with the exception of literalist movements within religions, most religions include traditions of interpretation and debate in exploring and modifying their respective moral codes. (Literalist movements cannot avoid interpretation, but they refuse to admit to this.)

    Approaching the topic in this way would have the advantage of looking at the development of moral codes from the perspectives of human history (tradition) and natural history (evolution). However, I do not think we can avoid the question of God/s being involved — the questions has just been pushed into a consideration of God/s participation in history.

    Is it plausible to think that a god of some sort might be involved in history (either the history of a people or of natural history)? I suppose that the answer to this question depends on one’s epistemic principles. On this matter, the classic essays by Clifford “The Ethics of Belief” and James “The Will to Believe” lay out two possibilities (Clifford: evidentialism; James: the role of the will in going beyond evidence to “live options”). Both essays are widely available on the web.

    I am sympathetic to James’ view in part because despite all of the emphasis on evidence (by both atheists and theists), the atheism or theism of many people I’ve known has been based more in their emotional constitution than in their cool rationality. One’s personal experience and traditional background play a large role in what constitute live options for that person. Evidence is then one factor among others in determining live options.

    In any event, if this show ever takes place, I do hope that some consideration of both the history of religions and differing epistemological principles is present alongside contributions from evolutionary psychology.

  • Vijtable

    So, jumping off from a few comments made on the thread, and staying on the point of what would be a good show… We have a few ideas (not mutually exclusive) that I see have come up. If this is a thread hijack, feel free to ignore me, or put me in my place.

    1) Evolution (again) – is the theory conclusive? Is there a scientific alternative (as intelligent design is not scientific)? Are there medical/biological facts which only evolution can explain? Are there things evolution cannot explain? (I’m sorry to say, I’m least compelled by this topic, but it is obviously something we’ve discussed at length.)

    2) Epistemology – how do we know what we know? (in terms of religion, politics, war, etc.)

    3) What is religion? – Is relgiion about god? Is it about metaphysics? What happens when a religious tradition does what the Dalia Lama did, and say science trumps Buddhist beliefs? Will other major religions/religious leader adapt as well?

    4) Morality’s Origins – what is morality? Could it only have come from an external source? Can it have evolved? Putting aside these questions, does the effective functioning of civil society require an arbiter of morals, religious or otherwise?

    5) End of Faith? – per Sam Harris book. Can perfect faith in one religion co-exist with perfect faith in another? Is faith, and not simply the texts or the cultures, the real source of religious conflicts? Is our increasingly melting pot world capable of supporting “faith”?

    Once again, apologies if this is a thread hijack, I’m just wondering about how to show-ify all these fascinating ideas being discussed here.

  • Wow, I was just trying to catch up with this thread and took a quick scroll down. I didn’t read everything but I did want to say something in the Dalai Lama’s defense. Tibetan religious people do eat meat. At our little retreat center most of the American Buddhists are vegetarian but when Tibetan monks or teachers or our Lama are in residence we cook meat for them.

    This has me thinking about moral absolutes verses moral relativism. When I was working on the Idaho Cove/Mallard campaign with Earth First! we were always trying to get on friendly terms with the Nez Perce Native American community. Whenever we socialized though we would run into difficulties because for many Earth First!ers meat is murder and beer is sacred (in spite of plenty of in depth campfire discussion on whether or not beer could be considered vegan if it contains live yeast). For the Nez Perce, meat is sacred and beer is the white man’s devil brew. Both points of view seemed perfectly understandable and valid to me given the cultural contexts they came out of.

    That makes me think that morality, at least at this level, is a cultural construct.

  • Returning to Santorum’s remark that:

    “It has huge consequences for society. I mean, it’s where we come from. Does man have a purpose? Is there a purpose for our lives, or are we just simply, you know, a result of chance? If we’re the result of chance, if we’re simply a mistake of nature, then that puts a different moral demand on us — in fact, it doesn’t put a moral demand on us ”

    I am reminded of the late Christopher Reeve’s response when people asked him about whether he thought his tragic accident had a purpose. He believed, as I do, that it was totally random, and that random things happen all the time to all kinds of people and places. He said that our job, however, as moral, sentient humans (and what separates us from critters) is to construct a meaning around these random events — both good and bad events — so we can learn and grow.

    So applied to the evolution debate — to imply that if we are “just” a result of chance then we have no moral purpose is, I think, to deny our most basic humanity and our greatest worth as a species. Relying on a supreme being to provide a moral purpose means that our morality is essentially out of our control, and therefore not really a choice at all, which seems a paradox.

  • random spaces: I think you’ve made a good point.

    Santorum seems to make a big leap from “chance” to “mistake”. The mutations that propell evolution could be considered “mistakes” or they could just as easily be considered the “wisdom” of the cell to adapt.

  • Nikos

    Peggy Sue, I think Santorum used the word ‘mistake’ from the political perspective that views evolution as a Satan-inspired hoax. The word ‘accident’ is often conflated with ‘mistake’, which is a usage the foes of Darwin love to apply.

    Dennett (probably borrowing from real scientists – he’s only a philosopher) divides the genetic variations that enable evolution into ‘happy accidents, neutral accidents, and fatal accidents’. Fatal accidents obviously die out in short order. Happy accidents can geminate new species from pre-existing ones. And neutral accidents can endure in a genome for eons without serving a survival purpose – but can, under pressures like environmental change, become something other than neutral.

    So, the notion of ‘accident’ permeates the idea of evolution – but only the ‘fatal accidents’ could even begin to be construed as ‘mistakes’, and even that isn’t an accurate usage, because the variation deemed ‘fatal’ wasn’t an ‘experiment gone wrong’ but a simple, unfortunate mutation.

    Nevertheless, the foes of science will fight it with whatever rhetoric they can apply to their process of smear.

  • â€?Do meaning and morality come from the top down or do they percolate from the bottom up?â€?â€?

    It makes sense that someone like Santorum whose politics are top down would reflect the same pyramid structure in a top down view of creator-morality. As a leftist, preferring a society that percolates up from the bottom, I like to think that it is the individual cells that dictate the design of creation. Not that I imagine individual cells consciously tweaking their own DNA with the thought in mind to give a swan a longer neck or a cigarette smoker cancer but I can see the cell as taking what it senses to be the most beneficial path at the time even if it departs from the norm.

    It is the ability to mutate that provides evolution with its creativity. I do not see a moralistic intelligent designer god sitting at the big drawing-board in the sky scratching his head and saying to himself, “hmmm, Think I better make swans with longer necks so they can eat more food off of pond bottoms and while I’m at it I think I’ll punish those bad cigarette smokers by giving them cancer.â€? What makes more sense to me is that every living cell contains a spark of the avant-guard artist and with that an ability to bring about changes in form.

  • Another reason I reject the intelligent design theory is because IF I were going to pray to an over-seeing sky god I’d want a god who could smite my enemies and save my crops not to mention reach his hand right into my car or my friend with cancer and FIX IT. I’d want a god like Old Testament Jehovah or Zeus, a god with some dirt under his fingernails. An intelligent designer god? Might be OK to help me find the right furniture or the right handbag for a particular outfit but to stay the meteorite headed for my house or part the Red Sea? I just can’t see putting my faith in some smarty-pants designer.

  • Fredrick

    I am only 12 and new to open source, but here goes:

    “Do meaning and morality come from the top down or do they percolate from the bottom up?”

    I belive morality comes from the bottom up. I belive that a God is not the one who creates morality, but the one who is created by it. A God makes things much easier for poeple to explain things, or deal out punishment. If crops fail one year it is quite a bit easier to think that a god is angered and that they should pray to him than to look back at the way the crops were planted, and how much water they got, or what the soil is like. Also, God makes it easier to warn people. Instead of giving a bad child a lecture about why it is bad to steal because it makes people unhappy, they can just say that if they steal god will not like them and/or they will go to hell.

  • Nikos

    Frederick, I couldn’t have said it better myself. That’s perfect.

  • And how, I wonder, would Intelligent Designer God punish people? Would he make us live with hellishly ugly wallpaper and grotesque lamps?

  • Fredrick

    100% agreement with peggysue

  • Vijtable

    How about “morality stalked in from stage left”? I say this because I do not think it is an evolved trait as such, but necessarily dependent on evolved traits.

    Evolved traits: 1) orientation to species survival, 2) humanity’s social nature, 3) nurturing of newborns necessary. Two more: disproportionately large heads (to support our disproportionately large brains), and bipedal nature (which make the large heads even more of a risk).

    At our core, we need the species to survive. Conflicts among members of a species do not help the species. When you have a bunch of social creatures living together, there are bound to be conflicts. Baselines, therefore, must be established. Usually, social rules are constructed organically, without discussion.

    The nurturing mother component is also important – the human condition is necessarily resource-heavy. Mammals and marsupials, to varying extents, need to nurture newborns in order to ensure survival. Humans are extremely under-developed when born – poor sight, poor hearing, inability to avoid attackers, inability to get food, basic helplessness. Add to that the fact that humans generally have a litter of one, a nine month gestation period, and at least three-four years of intensive nurturing.

    As if a nine-month gestation, followed by a 3-4 year intensive nurturing period of one child at a time weren’t enough, there is the birth itself. This is where the large evolved head and bipedal nature hurt humans. Being bipedal narrows the birth canal. Having large heads requires a wider birth canal. Childbirth, therefore, is historically dangerous to the mother. Humans are much more susceptible to death during childbirth.

    To sum up: The amount of resources (time, food, eneregy, etc.) to support a gestating human, having it be born (with a surviving mother), and nurturing the young human means each life is literally expensive.

    Rules that protect the investment would naturally develop. Rules to protect the social order that allows humans to survive would also naturally develop. These rules would not be handed down or decreed, but socialized. humans always naturally make unspoken verbal agreements about how to behave – most interactions work that way. When taking a life is the literal destruction of valuable resources, and weakens social order, it is doubtless going to be taboo.

    Morality is the emergent property of evolved traits. It didn’t grow up into humans via evolution, and its variable nature means it could not have come from on high. It is a reasonable consequence of the economics of evolution and survival.

  • Potter

    I just came here to catch up but also to give the link to the “Missing Link” article by John Noble Wilford of the NYTimes ( he must be ancient himself but thank God for him).

    Scientists have discovered fossils of a 375-million-year-old fish, a large scaly creature not seen before, that they say is a long-sought missing link in the evolution of some fishes from water to a life walking on four limbs on land.

    In two reports today in the journal Nature, a team of scientists led by Neil H. Shubin of the University of Chicago say they have uncovered several well-preserved skeletons of the fossil fish in sediments of former streambeds in the Canadian Arctic, 600 miles from the North Pole.

    The skeletons have the fins, scales and other attributes of a giant fish, four to nine feet long. But on closer examination, the scientists found telling anatomical traits of a transitional creature, a fish that is still a fish but has changes that anticipate the emergence of land animals — and is thus a predecessor of amphibians, reptiles and dinosaurs, mammals and eventually humans.

    In the fishes’ forward fins, the scientists found evidence of limbs in the making. There are the beginnings of digits, proto-wrists, elbows and shoulders. The fish also had a flat skull resembling a crocodile’s, a neck, ribs and other parts that were similar to four-legged land animals known as tetrapods.

    Other scientists said that in addition to confirming elements of a major transition in evolution, the fossils were a powerful rebuttal to religious creationists, who have long argued that the absence of such transitional creatures are a serious weakness in Darwin’s theory.

    read the rest and see the visual here:

    http://www.nytimes.com/2006/04/06/science/06fossil.html

    In this thread we were discussing evolutionary transition from one species to another. This appears to be more evidence of how this happens.

    Frederick: welcome!

  • Potter

    Vijtable Thanks for your comprehensive and helpful sorting out here:

    http://www.radioopensource.org/morality-god-given-or-evolved/#comment-8568

    (Not a hijack, quite the contrary)

  • Vijtable

    I finally listened to the Dennett episode of ROS. (WNYC, New York’s NPR station, has a weak PRI presence, so I podcast during my subway commute, at my leaisure.) Nikos was raving about it, so I finally got around to updating my mp3 player, etc…

    I just want to say I’m psyched that notions I put in my very first post here in this ROS thread were discussed by Dennett. Chris was stuck on a notion (if religion is the consequence of an evolved trait, how does religion put people at an evolutionary advantage?), and Dennett responded discussing bacteria. Basically, there are three types of bacteria: good, neutral, and bad. They didn’t evolve to be good/neutral/bad (for us). They did it for themselves. (So now I’m patting myself on the back.)

    Anyway, religion, Dennett said, is to some extents an idea that acts the same way as bacteria, evolving for itself. Noting that, and the fact that humans like to give agency, and rampantly, to the observed world, I am struck that morality might fit in this schema.

    If humans give agency, and humans are highly social, would we not give agency to “society”? I think so – we discuss “community values” and “social standards” even though there is no rule book, and society is certainly not a unified agent. Above, I called that “agent” the “interself.” Link Wouldn’t morality be an aspect of the social gestalt?

    I mean, to agree vehemently with Nikos, isn’t Dennett making some compelling arguments that relate to this topic? I ask merely because we’re all laypeople when it comes to most of these topics, and Dennett doesn’t seem to be.

  • manning120

    After being occupied elsewhere since September, I returned to this thread. Whew!

    Rather than attempt to respond to the many thoughtful comments, I’ll just summarize my latest ideas on the question of whether morality is God-given or evolved, which I believed has also been phrased, does morality come from the top down or from the bottom up?

    Whether morality evolves depends on how we define “evolution.� If the word refers only to what we call the theory of evolution, then morality couldn’t evolve because it isn’t life. If “evolution� also refers to the development of increasingly complex and comprehensive systems of thought, then fields of intellectual endeavor, including science, art, political organization, and morality, have evolved. Morality has evolved as its milieu has changed. Overpopulation, terrorism, the pill, the Internet, global warming, etc., have caused reassessments, refinements, and even innovations in moral thinking.

    I believe we properly determine the truth of moral assertions by reason. Reason can be defined as the careful application of common sense, including logic, to evidence. What we’re entitled to say we know by reason (in contrast to religious faith) is always subject to revision upon the discovery of additional evidence or the perfection of more effective tools of rational analysis. So morality, like science, cannot achieve the status of absolutism claimed by religion.

    One of the most important tools in the evolution of morality is the science of jurisprudence. Sometimes jurisprudence develops new moral thinking, as in the areas of torts and the death penalty. Jurisprudence also responds to political pressures applied by legislative and executive action. Jurisprudence, unlike religion, imposes a burden of analysis through its mechanisms for review and modification of moral/ethical ideas. (In the interest of full disclosure, I admit to having obtained a law degree, but that was many years ago.)

    The relationship of morality to religion and/or God can be understood by considering the nature of religion. Religion systematically incorporates into a doctrinal framework fundamental ideas concerning things like cosmology and morality. Religion purports to relieve us of the burden of rationally justifying the doctrinalized ideas. Believers merely occupy themselves with following the script(ure). Religions evolve by incorporating novel ideas into their doctrinal systems and disincorporating doctrines that fall into disfavor, sometimes because they become recognized as unreasonable.

    To say that any particular moral assertions deserve our allegiance because God has declared or imposed them reflects a fundamental misunderstanding of morality. If God exists, it would be inherent that He command obedience to correct moral principles because they’re correct. His nature would forbid rendering incorrect moral principles correct by commanding obedience to them. Religion, however, sometimes upholds mistaken morality, and seduces its adherents into thinking that the moral dictates of religious authority must be followed regardless of how far they depart from reason.

    Finally, there’s a common misconception that morality must dovetail with natural selection. Morality hasn’t evolved in the Darwinian manner, which, as the Dalai Lama notes (peggysue, 1/17/06), de-emphasizes altruism and compassion, two hallmarks of morality.

  • Potter

    Hello Manning120

    Is evolution defined strictly or can it include the evolutionary sociobioloist’s findings and musings upon them? (Evolutionary sociobiology includes the evolution of religion and reason/morality/altruism.)

    Religion must have begun with reason as well as a sense of morality. That reason/morality crystallized so that changes, responses, if at all, occur ever so slowly.

    Manning 120 If God exists, it would be inherent that He command obedience to correct moral principles because they’re correct. His nature would forbid rendering incorrect moral principles correct by commanding obedience to them.

    Religion, however, sometimes upholds mistaken morality, and seduces its adherents into thinking that the moral dictates of religious authority must be followed regardless of how far they depart from reason

    I think you are saying that if God exists He exists outside of religion. But if God exists why would He necessarily command obedience to “correct moral principles because they are correct”? He could simply be all powerful and leave the rest to us. Maybe arguing God’s actual existence is immaterial to this thread. The question does not ask if God exists. It asks if God gives.

    Anyway I agree about religion. So religion, or religious authority, insofar as it cannot depart from reasoning that is free from it’s own absolutes falls perhaps easily into moral error. By labeling the adherence to absolutes as possibly “error” I mean to match that against reason/morality that is more free and that includes our jurisprudential review of moral and ethical ideas ( as you suggest) as well as other (perhaps scientifically based) thinking.

    Religious absolutes, are perhaps useful in providing an anchor that may be necessary, but also a drag when misguided, corrupted, prolonged. We have argued this ad nauseum.

    Manning 120 Finally, there’s a common misconception that morality must dovetail with natural selection. Morality hasn’t evolved in the Darwinian manner, which, as the Dalai Lama notes (peggysue, 1/17/06), de-emphasizes altruism and compassion, two hallmarks of morality.

    As I said after that post, I do not believe this is true: that Darwinian evolution has de-emphasized altruism and compassion, that reason and thus morality/altruism/compassion has not evolved. I believe the Dalai-Lama is not right in that instance. We would have to pinpoint what altruism and compassion mean and define the exact boundaries of DE which for some extend well into sociobiology. Dawkins and E O Wilson are the most famous but there are many others who provide us with explanations that are very compelling of why this discrepancy (of morality/altruism and natural selection) is only apparent.

    See this excellent essay on the evolution of altruism ; http://illusivemind.blogspot.com/2005/05/evolution-altruism-and-ethics.html

  • manning120

    Potter, I really appreciate your comments about my 4/7/06 post.

    Yes, I think God and religion are separate (not all religions even suppose God exists). I could have phrased the second part of my comment about God’s commands a little better. Why would a God of wisdom and love command that we do things contrary to reason? I intend by this, as well as the comment that religion sometimes doctrinalizes mistaken morality, to disparage the notion that we have to do what God commands regardless of whether we think it’s reasonable. To those who rejoin that allowing humans to determine what’s reasonable would elevate them above God, I say we each have a right to decide what God wants or allows, and can’t be required to rely upon human authority to tell us (maybe my Southern Baptist roots are showing).

    Did you have Deism in mind when you said that God “could simply be all powerful and leave the rest to us�?

    I agree that religious absolutes may have a role, but that role isn’t to tell me that I have no right to make up my own mind about morality (even though I don’t question the right of the state to punish me for violating laws I disagree with).

    In your next to last paragraph, and also at the beginning of your post, you seem to say “reason and thus morality/altruism/compassion� have evolved. As stated in my previous comment, the “evolution� of life is different from the “evolution� of fields like science, religion, and morality. Do you reject that distinction? I don’t deny that in the course of (biological) evolution, through natural selection, humans developed increased (relative to other animals) ability to reason, feel compassion, and perform altruistic acts. But the biological evolution of those traits occurred by a very different process than the non-biological evolution of fields like science, morality, or religion. Those fields evolved by human beings thinking, experimenting, writing, speaking, recording, joining together, etc. I don’t see how there could be any confusion about this.

    Unless we distinguish the two forms of evolution, there’s a danger of elevating the “survival of the fittest� feature of evolutionary biology to a guiding principle of morality. That seems to be the Dalai Lama’s concern, although I agree his language leaves something to be desired.

    Thanks for the cite to “Evolution, Altruism and Ethics,� by Illusive Mind. Illusive Mind and others he refers to want to explain how altruism squares with biological evolution, since the two appear contradictory (as you put it, “this discrepancy (of morality/altruism and natural selection) is only apparent�). An act isn’t necessarily morally right just because it’s altruistic. The traits and abilities that have evolved in us are one thing; how we should use or express them is quite another, and reason should guide us. In calling compassion and altruism “hallmarks of morality,� I neglected to state that compassion can be misplaced and altruism can be misguided.

  • I’m afraid I’m still rather new to the open source community and, alas, am only just learning how to avoid just giving a monologue in posts…Anyhow, I’d like to respond to some recent comments by both Manning120 and Potter.

    Manning120 wrote something a few posts before about the science of jurisprudence being an important tool in the evolution of morality. I am wondering if you would like to say more about this, as it strikes me as very interesting in what it suggests about the nature of cultural evolution and about the role of jurisprudence in a society. It also makes me wonder about how successive credal statements by religious authorities reflect and effect such evolution (for example, papal encyclicals from various points over the last few centuries on the relationship between faith and reason).

    Potter recently wrote in reply to Manning120, “Maybe arguing God’s actual existence is immaterial to this thread. The question does not ask if God exists. It asks if God gives.” Manning120 wondered in reply if this might constitute deism. What strikes me about these remarks is that they suggest a parallel between the question that started this thread and the theological/philosophical issues driving 18th and early 19th Century debate about God. Does knowledge of morality require natural reason alone? A combination of natural reason and revealed truth? Revealed truth alone? I don’t want to say that the current debate/discussion is fundamentally the same as that of 200 years ago, but it does seem to share some structure with it.

    Lastly, I don’t know if anyone has mentioned Robert Wright’s book, The Moral Animal (from the early or mid 90s), but I found that to be a very well-written popular text on what was then the “new” science of evolutionary psychology. Wright emphasized the work done by game theorists on “reciprocal altruism” in the evolution of morality. I don’t know what more cutting edge evolutionary psychologists have to say about this though…Any suggestions on more recent books would be welcome!

  • Elric

    Just a little note: people, who have enough courage to be fully and honestly rational, cannot have any moral code whatsoever

  • Potter

    All poetry is not ART. All poetry is not POETRY. All prose is not ART. All painting is not ART. All pots are not ART. Etc. To guide you, if you need it or want it, towards that potential deepened experience there are connoisseurs, scholars, critics, historians etc. This is not bandwagon. It is consensus however. The point is that people so inclined (usually from a passion) spend their lives looking at painting sculpture, prints photographs etc, listening to music, reading poetry, literature and they have developed fine-tuned senses. That’s what gives them the authority. This is not to say at all that these judgments and criticisms and explanations are infallible or to be taken as gospel. The consensus has weight. It does not always stand the test of time but usually it does.

    Connoisseurs are extensions of us, of our senses, they help open us, and they impart their enthusiasm. They point the way, they enlighten, explain, but they do not dictate. You do not have to pay them any mind at all, you may not need them but they are there. When you go to a museum, they are there. When you go to a concert they are there. When you pick up a collection of poetry, they are there. You still have to make the connection yourself, complete the communication yourself. This does not make you a “co-creator” though.

    My warning button is flashing yellow that you might make the same claim that you make for DE about brainwashing and bandwagons.

    I was skeptical about Christo personally for a long time- but then I had a flash that it was maybe ART. But I have never experienced a Christo work ( other than a drawing) in person. I can imagine it might be quite an experience in person.

    There is NO objective ART (or anything ultimately as one’s entire experience is subjective.)

    Your experience is subjective. ART is not only subjective.

    A Shakespeare play is ART whether you feel it or not. A Puccini opera is ART whether it moves you or not. A Tang Dynasty horse is ART whether you appreciate it or not. Etc. All these have the potential to awaken you to those high levels of sensory/emotional experience. In fact that is why they are venerated because they do that. However if you get turned on by a lesser work of art- that is fine too. There must be something about it that appeals to you- it helps to awaken you.

    We are ALL co-creators of our experience which is defined by our perceptions.

    *We are not co-creators of the ART though.

    Jazzman: This is more than a philosophical concept. If you are myopic or color blind you create a different picture, everyone creates a unique picture represented by your perceptive faculties.

    *Everyone then “creates” a different tree by dint of the fact that everyone’s perception is different. That’s not the meaning of “createâ€? I at least am using. I did not co-create the tree. This is perhaps a philosophical concept but it moves the discussion into your particular way of viewing things. I have not accepted this philosophy or this use of language.

    Jazzman: If philosophy drives you off a cliff, learn to fly.

    I am trying. Thanks (to your curveballs).

    Jazzman: How about “work VERY well done?” I’ll admit the requiem does have mass appeal. Majolica Ceramics have mass appeal, I find them unappealing. Does the pottery of George Ohr have mass appeal? He is considered an artistic genius by many and many people wouldn’t give his pots house room. Is it special enough to be classified as ART? Is it work well done?

    How about EXCEEDINGLY well done? (I’ll consider it.) A Faberge egg or the Book of Kells is “exceedingly well done”. Is a Mark Rothko painting? I would say no. They are ART. Your definition is not good enough I say. You can ship me all your George Ohr works by the way- I’ll give you my address. I tried to make a pot collapse the way he does-not easy. He is stretching American “taste” His aesthetics seem kind of oriental. If you have an oriental sense of aesthetics, they would appeal more easily. I have been studying the history of ceramics for many years and also been looking at pots. I make pots, fire them etc, so I can appreciate Ohr on a different level than maybe you can. I even like Majolica which is a style and a method. But not every piece of Majolica is ART. Go to the Metropolitan in NYC(or the MFA Boston) to see their Majolica ART. You might find that level of Majolica to be appealing probably because it’s ART.

    I don’t know Marlene Miller. Maybe I’ll Google her.

    Jazzman: My point was exactly that there is a bright line, no, a wall between animal and human creations and natural phenomena, and the point is YOU derive any ART there to be found in natural phenomena. I included that example because it is more obvious than the fact that you co-create ALL ART.

    Precisely not: I have, and do here admit that my line regarding animals may be controversial even though I do not think so in the light of evolution science. The line is not so bright for me. So birdsong qualifies certainly at times as exceedingly well done (if I were to accept that) as well as high ART, music filled with emotion that has the potential to make my heart soar. I am not co-creating in any case. I am receiving a communication on a deeper level.

    Jazzman: Who said they can’t create? I just said they have a limited palette in their creative ability and are bound by instinct and don’t appear to be able to express themselves in an infinite capacity.

    I thought you said animals could not create ART. We agree then that they create. Aren’t we bound by instinct too, plus psychology, society, culture etc. We are more bound than animals. But so what? How does this have a bearing on ART? Human ART reflects instinct plus all else that humans add. Animal Art is less constrained, purer in a way.

    You say we are animals, I say we are classified thusly by biology but we are more, we are special, we are ART.

    Whaaat? You are playing with words. (There you go again). If you mean we MAKE art and only WE (humans) make ART, I would not argue too much with you.

    Regarding the enthusiastic tiler’s heart soaring, that would not make it ART because there is nothing inherently in it that is ART. A sink well made that flips you out is still a sink and not ART. If Picasso made the tiles or simply laid them it might be but not necessarily because he did (this is bait and switch with my example). ie Not every scribble he did was ART, he was very playful, his ceramics were good, some very good or even exceedingly good.

    Potter: ART is special. Not every animal nest or song or painting or musical composition is ART. In fact I would say that very few are.

    Jazzman: Because in your opinion they weren’t WELL DONE, others may disagree.

    It’s not a matter of opinion. It’s ART or it is not whether others agree or disagree. If I don’t like a Jackson Pollack painting, it’s still ART. If I do not like a Puccini Opera, it’s still ART. It’s just ART that I do not like, that I am not open to, that does not make a communication with me. At some point you have to admit that.

    Maybe we are discussing a philosophy. Is there such a thing as the objective world? Or is it all subjective?

    Jazzman: If you accept their pointing and tuning without sensing the esthetics, you are paying lip service, bowing to the fallacy of authority and jumping on the bandwagon.

    I did not say I was blindly accepting. I said I was open. I don’t make a connection with everything I pass in a “Museum of ART”. These are “suggestions” for me. Still I don’t ask for my money back because it they did not have ART there. There you go again with your bandwagon.

    Jazzman: If you truly experience the ART in things that were not previously special enough then you have altered your perception, co-created that experience and deemed it ART.

    What do you mean “not previously special enough”? You mean I suddenly get what I had not gotten before? If so that breakthrough does not mean I have co-created the work of ART (as you said before). Now you are saying I co-created the “experience”. That’s different. That I may agree with.

    So a work of ART means something different to every person. So does a tree. That I have felt something deeply that I had not previously does not actually speak to whether that is ART or what makes it ART and a special experience or potentially so.

    Jazzman: Many of your statements during our exchange imply that you realize that it is your perception that makes art ART and some state it unequivocally. Why do you attempt to evade the responsibility for your own magnificent creations? Without accepting responsibility for one’s experiences, then one is a victim of circumstance and luck’s whim.

    I don’t know how you get that from what I said. My perception is necessary for ME, not necessary for ART to be ART. I disagree that my perception is part of the ART. It’s part of my experience of the ART, but the ART is not co-created by me anymore than I also wrote Dostoyevsky’s “Crime and Punishmentâ€?. Maybe we are not communicating but I also don’t see what this has to do with “accepting responsibilityâ€? for my experiences and being a “victim of circumstance and luckâ€?. You lost me there.

    Thanks Jazzman. Sorry to take up so much space here. It’s kind of off topic but we fell into it I guess. You’re sort of fun (when you are not exasperating) but I feel guilty hijacking this thread for this subject.

  • Potter

    Sorry, the above was and answer to Jazzman’s to me.

  • Ok, I’ll bite. If ART is subjective, then no one can define what is ART to me. And, though, there may be critics who for an ‘authority”, Shakespeare may be art to every one else on the planet, but if I cannot find/experience the connection, then it is not ART to me. (I do like Shakespeare, I’m just borrowing your example.)

    I guess I could argue that every human expression is ART and nothing at all is ART. My daughter paints and they are certainly ART to her and to me, and often to others. She also appreciates Rembrandt (yes, she loved the exhibit at the Boston MFA when she was 4). Right now, she’s really into the sculptures there. And she can very definitively tell you what she finds compelling. And the day that she’s into the sculptures, the paintings are meaningless. They are not ART to her. Tomorrow, they might be.

    I am the same way. That which is profound for one cannot be determined to be so for another.

    So, is ART the actual item? Or the experience of it? And, can an item be ART to some and not to others? Is ART an immutable label? And why do we need this distinction between things that some ‘connosieurs” deem to be ART and things that they don’t? Does it really matter? Can’t we all just experience each others’ expressions without this need for judgement?

    Okay, enough, I worked too late and I should get to bed now.

  • jazzman

    Allison: If ART is subjective, then no one can define what is ART to me. I agree with your analysis and that is why I define ART with a broad brush. Not as broad as ALL human expression is ART, but I could also argue that case. With “Work – well done� I define the WORK part as creative intention by the artist and the WELL DONE part as a value judgment by of whomever experiences the creative intent.

    Allison: Can’t we all just experience each others’ expressions without this need for judgement?

    Humans have a predilection to value judge experiences and events in light of their “moral code� which is a subset of their belief system. In the morality thread, which this post currently resides and doesn’t belong, I argued that IMO everything that doesn’t contravene my definition of Absolute Morality is inherently neutral and just as we create the artistic experience it is we who judge for ourselves the value of actions, items and events. Expressions by less than ideal people IMO need to be judged and countered with ideal expressions, but the expressers should not punished with violence, but with understanding and guidance wherever possible. I realize you meant: “Why debate artistic expression, why not just experience it?� I was only trying to suggest to Potter that it is she who creates the experience. The artist creates the “work� and each of us including the artist creates our personal experience. The “work� is neutral.

    OFF TOPIC: I see you live in JP and are a knitter (I checked your blog) I used to live in JP at 307 Centre St. in the old Plant Shoe Factory before it burned down in 1976 with most of my earthly possessions in it. Question: I used to have a friend who had an unorthodox style of knitting. She called it knitting upside down and claimed it cut out an extra step or hand motion. She was the fastest knitter I or anyone else who knew her ever saw. Do you know anything about that technique or what it could be? No knitter I know has a clue as to what I’m talking about.

  • jazzman

    Potter: All poetry is not ART. All poetry is not POETRY. All prose is not ART. All painting is not ART. All pots are not ART. Etc.Who decides what of these art forms rises to their CAPITALIZED forms? You say the consensus’ imprimatur – Van Gogh was disdained and considered a hack artist by the consensus of his peers in his day. The impressionists (my favorite painters – Cezanne in particular) were also initially rejected.

    Potter: This not bandwagon. It is consensus however… That’s what gives them the authority. The fallacies of bandwagon, consensus, and authority are all names for the same phenomenon. Because the majority believes something to be true does not make it true.

    Potter: Connoisseurs are extensions of us… You still have to make the connection yourself, complete the communication yourself. This does not make you a “co-creator� though. They are extensions only in the sense you abdicate your own senses and accept their beliefs as your own

    Potter: I was skeptical about Christo personally for a long time- but then I had a flash that it was maybe ART. Framing nature? Central Park “gates�? That (in your terms) is a rubbery definition of ART.

    Potter: A Shakespeare play is ART whether you feel it or not. A Puccini opera is ART whether it moves you or not. A Tang Dynasty horse is ART whether you appreciate it or not. Etc Again – who says so? How about those master fake Tang Artifacts – they often fool experts. Art or artifice?

    Potter: Your experience is subjective. ART is not only subjective. ART without subjectivity is a neutral action/event/object – and has no meaning. If a tree falls in the forest and there is no observer – there is no tree and no forest. Not philosophy, quantum mechanics!

    Potter: *Everyone then “creates� a different tree by dint of the fact that everyone’s perception is different. That’s not the meaning of “create� I at least am using. Yes that’s exactly my meaning of create. There are as many different trees as there are observers including the tree’s own self.

    Potter: How about EXCEEDINGLY well done? (I’ll consider it.) A Faberge egg or the Book of Kells is “exceedingly well done�. Is a Mark Rothko painting? I would say no. They are ART. Your definition is not good enough I say. So what is your definition? You say some art poorly done is ART and some well done art isn’t. It’s you who decides, as Allison says, no one else can define ART for you – including me. BTW Marlene Miller is at http://www.millerclay.com. Checkout the sculptures in the enlarged photos and the Philadelphia Exhibition.

    Jazzman: YOU derive any ART there to be found in natural phenomena. I included that example because it is more obvious than the fact that you co-create ALL ART. Potter: I am not co-creating in any case. I am receiving a communication on a deeper level. Again while they are generally considered things of natural beauty, sunsets, flowers, the Grand Canyon, and trees are not art. Who communicates on that deeper level? Your eyes receive emitted photons and translate them into mental images, and your ears translate the motion of air molecules into sound. The communication is a creation of your brain, and can range from gibberish to profundity depending on your attitude and perception. You are indeed not a co-creator you are an individual creator.

    Potter: I thought you said animals could not create ART. We agree then that they create. Aren’t we bound by instinct too, plus psychology, society, culture etc. ALL consciousness creates, my experience is that animals may create things of what consensus may term beautiful, it was not created by the animal for the purpose of art, i.e., for function not form (except where form is coincident with function.) I define instinct as an innate drive that exists in non-human entities and implies lack of free will. We have free will and can make conscious choices to go for or against reactive or emotional (often miscalled instinctive) behavior. We are only bound by our beliefs and then only bound if we believe we are. (WG alert)

    Jazzman: You say we are animals, I say we are classified thusly by biology but we are more, we are special, we are ART. Our physical bodies are one of our most personal expressions of ART. In that we create the experience of ART we are also artists

    Potter: It’s not a matter of opinion. It’s ART or it is not whether others agree or disagree. If I don’t like a Jackson Pollack painting, it’s still ART. Au contraire. There’s no Platonic ideal model for ART. It’s purely subjective as to what constitutes a work of ART. I find Pollock a poseur and many of his paintings look like random spatters on canvas (which is what they are in many cases.) If a chimp or child reproduced spatter art almost identical to his work, would we say it rises to the artistic level of Pollack? We would likely say that it was pretty good for that artist and reminds one of Pollack. It is because Pollack was a trained artist and intended to create abstract splatter pictures (and perhaps he was the first to produce such work) that we deem it ART.

    Potter: Maybe we are discussing a philosophy. Is there such a thing as the objective world? Or is it all subjective? The objective world may exist in its own objectivity which would ultimately make it subjective in itself. To us, what we term the Objective world can only be apprehended subjectively. In my WG way, I like to say that the closest one may come to objectivity is to realize that everything is subjective (but that’s my subjective opinion.)

    Potter: Now you are saying I co-created the “experience�. That’s different. That I may agree with. No – I am NOT saying you co-create the experience, I’m saying you totally create the experience. The catalyst for the creation is your reaction (again your creation) to the event/action/item.

    Potter: My perception is necessary for ME, not necessary for ART to be ART. I disagree that my perception is part of the ART. It’s part of my experience of the ART, but the ART is not co-created by me anymore than I also wrote Dostoyevsky’s “Crime and Punishment�. As ALL your experience is subjective, to you, your mental construct (perception) of the ART is the ART (for your purposes), and this is true for each of us. Without perception, the ART exists as a neutral arrangement of components. It is we (including the artist) who make it ART or not.

    Potter: I also don’t see what this has to do with “accepting responsibility� for my experiences and being a “victim of circumstance and luck�. You create your experience (not only regarding ART but everything) whether or not you accept responsibility for it or not. If you deny your responsibility in creating your experiences then by default you are a victim of circumstance or good or bad luck. This is an extension of the subjectivity of ART as it is easier to see how ART is in the eye of the beholder than it is to grasp that EVERYTHING is in the minds of ourselves.

  • jazzman

    Brendan: Would you move this ART thread below Elric’s post to this post to the God in our genes thread where it belongs? I think Potter posted in this thread by accident and Allison answered, but unless Potter and Allison want to keep it here I think it should be moved. Potter? Allison? Brendan?

    Thanks, Jazzman

  • Potter

    Okay with me. Thanks Jazzman. Sorry for my mistake.

  • Potter

    If Brendan does not respond we can transfer this ourselves by copying our posts and posting them in that other “God thread”. I don’t know if this discussion belongs there either. I am truly sorry– I got my God threads mixed up. In the meantime I will read and respond. Thanks Allison and Jazzman!

  • voices

    Not only would it be absurd to believe that morality only comes from God, but if that were so then we would have to conclude that god was evil: why else to produce creatures with strong instincts to kill each other, steal, and do harm? Morality is 100% a product of human reason and thinking- it us rising above our basest instincts and realizing both our connectedness with other beings and that a greater good is created by restraining our worst selfish instincts.

    J.S.

  • voices, thanks for your input, but I think reducing morality to a product of reason and thinking diminishes the role of emotion and our total sensory perception. We sense and feel before we rationalize and think through language (though it is all a rather quick process). To be “good” is to be aware of and empathize with the pain and suffereing of others and to behave in compassionate ways that helps reduce or eliminate this. Of course the more global our relations, the more complicated this all becomes.

    Do we need God or gods for us to be empathetic and to contain our desires for others’ betterment? If we think about all the harm done in the name of religion by the “believers”, then we would have to conclude that either they did not follow the moral path set forth by their faith and could not contain their desires or that it makes not a scap of difference on the whole. Maybe it is both, though I would say for some people religious teachings and practice can help them to do the right thing and can awaken their empathic senses or fill them so full of fear that they follow a moral path, even if not inclined to.

  • Potter

    Allison and Jazzman: I am attempting to redirect the conversation on art back to the other God thread where it started:

    http://www.radioopensource.org/is-god-in-our-genes/#comment-9737

  • morality: god given or evolved

    here’s Dr. Martin Luther King Jr…..

    “The Darwinian concept of the survival of the fittest has been substituted by a philosophy of the survival of the slickest. This mentality has brought a tragic breakdown of moral standards, and the midnight of moral degeneration deepens.”

  • Potter

    Dedicated to hWally for #300 on this thread. Be well.:

    This is Just to Say

    I have eaten

    the plums

    that were in

    the icebox

    and which

    you were probably

    saving

    for breakfast

    forgive me

    they were delicious

    so sweet

    and so cold

    – William Carlos Williams

  • dls

    God can’t be proven, so to say morality stems from God is logically blind. Morality is intellectually defined. Man, being the superior intellectual being defines morality. Let’s look at Christianity. Christians believe in Adam & Eve. The rest of the population, therefore, must have been derived from incestuous relations amoung the first family. But, did the Christian God at some time say that incest was OK to start the world, but now it’s not OK? The Christian God doesn’t change. No, man decided incest is not morally right.

    So, Santorum is wrong about so many things, and this is just another one. We must logically derive arguments from what we know and don’t know. We know that man has been defining morality irregardless of God. Civilizations that had no concept of God defined their morality. Morality will change and evolve as man and civilization changes and evolves.

  • Marcel

    OK, what gives? Are we afraid to do this show? Afraid of God? Afraid of finding that God has no part of morality? Afraid of Christian, Jewish or Muslim terroism or military action in the name of God? This is nub, folks, the germ, the essence, the unmoved mover, the nucleus of it all. We should do this show!

    More practically, do we get to figure this out by debate or vote, or do we have to wait for it to be revealed to us? How do we know which is which? How do we even know whether it’s been revealed or if we’re Mark David Chapman hearing voices. Does making a judgment on that very question leave it all inherently open to abuse, allowing us to do what we want in the name of whatever we say it is? Is Johns Rawls, at root, really the same as Jerry Falwell?

    Yeah, it’s tough, but so is every other great topic. Are you up to it, Christopher? If now you, who? If not now, when?

    [Marcel, descending the soap box.]

  • Just 2 quick comments: 1st is that many of my most moral friends (even by Christian standards) are athiests (and thus have formulated their own reasoned and felt codes of conduct) and many of my least moral friends are believers in god (who rely on externally given codes of conduct) so belief itself does not seem to bolster moral behavior in my experience.

    2nd: I currently live in Japan which in many ways has a much more moral and smoothly functioning society than we have in America despite the fact that most people here are NOT religious nor think of right and wrong in terms of sin (I rarely encounter anyone here who believes in god or gives god’s existence much thought).

  • Perhaps one reason the show hasn’t been made is that listeners interpret the meaning of the central question so differently. Answers spin off too easily in any of a number of directions. This would make for a fun course to take or teach, but I imagine that a show requires more focus.

    Now, I read this question as being philosophical in nature. So, if I were teaching a class on it, here’s what my reading list (excerpted, of course) might include:

    1. Selections from the Bible and Qur’an

    2. Plato, Euthyphro

    3. Augustine, Confessions

    4. Hobbes, Leviathan

    5. Kant, Groundwork for the Metaphysics of Morals

    6. Kierkegaard, Fear and Trembling

    7. Mill, Utilitarianism

    8. Nietzsche, On the Genealogy of Morals

    9. Durkheim, The Elementary Forms of Religious Life

    10. Richard Rorty, Philosophy and Social Hope

    11. Robert Wright, The Moral Animal

    A 50+ minute radio show could cover perhaps just two or three of the texts (or the perspectives associated with them). Of course, other listeners will have their own lists, but perhaps generating them will help us get a clear sense of (1) what perspectives interest listeners, and (2) where agreement lies among these interests.

  • There is also a political edge to the topic as stated. “Why is the question important to Rick Santorum as a Senator?”

    I see two strong threads coming out of the opening – the purely philosophical and the question of where this belongs in our political system.

    Is it appropriate for Santorum, Bush, and others to be using their political positions to further their definition of morality, whether god-given or not?

  • That’s right. Thanks for pointing that out, allison. Maybe the two threads could become two shows in a series.

    Evolutionary biology not only makes problematic the idea of design in natural history, but also that of design in human history (i.e. providence). A God of evolution (if there be any such God) would probably not be a God that would listen to prayer, reveal sacred truths at certain points in history, or care about the moral character of individual human beings.

    I don’t think Santorum et al are fighting sociobiology so much as they are fighting this old fight against evolution (even if dressed up as ID). If one believes that divine providence is true, then there *must* be something wrong with evolutionary theory. Thus, the spread of such “faulty� science could lead to the moral degradation of the American people.

    If I am reading you right, allison, then your question is about whether concern for moral development of citizens is properly a concern of government (or should it be a private matter, as religion has been via the separation of Church and State). If so, perhaps another list of good texts would be helpful, this time dealing with religion, morality, and the public square.

  • Yes, carollt, you’re reading me right. It seems that for a large society to function there have to be rules of behavior – an ethic. Which usually stems from a morality. But the question is: where is the line between the need for the government to establish the legal limits and ramifications of behavior vs mandating a ‘morality’?

    I’m not sure its a concrete answer. Perhaps its a matter of how to determine when the line has been crossed too far and having systems in place to address that.

  • Jon

    Wow, has this show ever been “warming up” for a long time! But perhaps time may be on the side of this show after all. If you can hold off just a few more months, maybe you’ll finally be able to book the original principal guest choice: hopefully after November, Rick Santorum will have much more time on his hands. And it would be interesting then to hear his take on whether the expressed morality of the voters was God-Given or Evolved.

  • Brian White

    Morality: God or Evolved. It is neither. It is a construct of humanity. We may try to listen to the whispered voice of God, Buddha, Allah, The Great Spirit, The Earth, Zeus or any of the other names we give the divine, but we get it wrong just as often as we get it right. If, for instance, Jesus Christ were to run for President in 2008 the religious right would never elect him. The liberal left would though (and that is the liberal left not the democrats).

    Dick Cheney and George Bush have said that certain kinds of torture are alright. Jesus Christ would have chosen to die before he would have advocated torture. Should we provide health care for every man woman and child in America or should we go to war in Iraq? I don’t have to tell you that Jesus would have voted for the universal health care. Welfare to provide for hungry men women and children? I seem to remember that Jesus was fond of feeding the poor. Freedom to make your own moral choices, or legislate them? I seem to recall that Jesus and his Dad in the bible are all about people making their own choices. Tax breaks that favor the rich and ignore the poor? I think Jesus would have come down on the side of the poor. Fact is that Jesus was not for war, or greed or living in fear or torture or the death penalty. He and all the other prophets were about love and forgiveness.

    And understand this, neither God nor evolution had anything to do with those ideas. Odin, or Gaia would want us to love each other and to cooperate and to never go to war. They would want us to be shepards of the world we were given by the Divine Creator. I don’t know for sure, but I don’t think It would want us arguing over whether or not morality was from The Ancestors or developed as a side benefit of evolution.

    Oh, and I think that evolution is God’s plan for creation. And Darwin didn’t say we come from apes (a common misinterpretation) he says we are on the same evolutionary branch as the other primates. Evolution is so complex a system that we can’t possibly ever see the whole picture. It could easily be The Gods plan.

    An interesting website I found about spirituality: Open Source Spirituality http://www.osscast.com .

  • chilton1

    Brian White Says:

    “Morality: God or Evolved. It is neither. It is a construct of humanity.”

    This construct you mention is under selective pressure- just like everything else.

    Otherwise there would be more serial killers than there are.

    Morality has almost exists longer than ideas…or certainly longer than we have been able to articulte them.

  • Isn’t “Morality” just one more of a long laundry-list of positive things that standard Judeo-Christian (or even all organized) relgions like to ascribe to be a product of themselves, while ascribing bad things like war, aggression, hate, etc. to be completely appart from them.

    Can’t this all be explained by as a powerful organization that is able to spin their own fiction very effectively?

    As far as deducing that the scarcity of serial killers is due to a darwinian pressure, I am rather skeptical of being able to directly ascribe this.

  • chilton1

    I don’t look at “morality� as having a single cause.

    (Firstly) You mention Judeo-Christian religion – a classic patriarchal religion that NEEDS (politically, to survive) morality laws such as “thou shalt not commit adultery� – why not –because the boys need to trust their blood lines…Matriarchal religions never needed such morals…a mother always knows her own children. – so, that law is political -purely and simply.

    (secondly) But, morality does have it’s basis in social/biological evolution as well.

    Murder, for instance, is not good for the tribe. So it is selected against – Murderers are ousted from society –for the good of the rest of society. It is true that the biological evolution of our extremely flexible brain has allowed us to survive as a species in many climates all over the world. However, piggybacking this (and therefore complicating it) is our acute self-awareness and the knowledge of our own mortality. Our brains have allowed us to also arrive at the conclusion that God does not exist – so, the role of morals becomes questioned (e.g. in this forum) and we conclude (as some have above) that we are amoral therefore anything goes (including serial killing).

    However, becoming atheist we only lose the first set of morals (religion derived) not the second (socially and biologically derived)

  • AlanK

    It seems to me that the key issue in the God/morality discussion is the force that binds us to it. Why would or should someone be obligated or bound to a moral code? If there is no commanding force behind morality, then why ought I to be bound by any rules? One might come up with various utilitarian explanations about society falling apart without a moral code, but this does not have any force to bind people to it. On what grounds can the atheist argue that someone else ought to be bound by a particular moral code? It seems to me that atheisim necessarily entails a complete relativism in morality. A theological position, by contrast, can claim a universal moral code, applicable to everyone. In practical terms, of course, there are conflicts between different visions of moral universalism, but these positions are not philosophically problematic because of the practical conflicts. If someone claims there is no morality or that murder is moral, what arguments can the atheist use to compel this person to accept or be bound by a moral system that condemns murder? In brief, I do not see how anyone can bind anyone else to a moral code if there is no theological foundation. One possible guest who makes an argument along these lines would be Rabbi Lawrence Keleman, author of a book called Permission to Believe, where he discusses rational argument for belief in God. And, in general, one ought to consider that liberal or left-wing believers in God would also likely stand on the same side of this discussion with Rick Santorum (though not on other issues) and might therefore make appropriate and interesting guests for a show.

  • chilton1

    AlanK … religions do NOT hold a patent on morals. History demonstrates amoral or selected moral behaviour in the name of Christ, Allah..whoever. In addition, I thought I had made reasonable argument in my post immediately above yours that there would be selective pressure for a set or morals or codes to exist for any social animals to stay that way…social.

  • AlanK

    Chilton1 … I am not saying that avowedly religious people do not engage in immorla or amoral behavior or that non-religious people do not engage in moral behavior or design moral codes. I was focusing on the narrow–but I think critical– point that non-theological moral codes would not seem to have any mechanism or authority, even theoretically, to bind others to accept and submit to these moral codes. Legal codes can be set up, and people can be punished for crimes according to societal rules, but it is not at all clear to me how one can start from an atheistic standpoint and claim it is immoral for any human being to murder or torture another human being, that is, to establish a universally binding moral law. And I do not see how starting from an atheistic standpoint one can muster a persuasive argument against someone who insists that in their worldview murder and torture are morally acceptable. From a theological perspective, at least, one can say murder and torture are immoral and universally so, even if others would disagree; but I do not see how from within an atherisitic perspective any such universal claims can even be made. And let me also note, I think it is possible to look at morals from historical, sociological, anthropological, and biological frameworks (and I think your comments fall within these approaches), and to say quite interesting things about their development, but here I have been speaking about them in a normative, philosophical framework.

  • joshua hendrickson

    To say that religion equals morality seems absurd in at least one respect: from a theological perspective, torture and murder are not at all immoral, since the former is embedded in the concept of hell, and the latter is a part of nature, “red in tooth and claw.” There is no basis for order in a society, whether secular or theocratic, that is not ultimately based on a theory or attitude, more or less universally accepted, that regardless of its effectiveness in human society, remains nothing but a groundless theory. “Do what thou wilt, shall be the whole of the law,” to quote Crowley.

  • chilton1

    AlanK says…”non-theological moral codes would not seem to have any mechanism or authority”

    The answers are all there in front of you. Natural selection…do baboons read the bible?

    You have a religious cloud in your head sir…read some behavioural science and some evolutionary biology

  • AlanK

    I think the philosophical issue is how you get from “is” to “ought.” Again, I have no criticism of DESCRIBING morality from a biological or evolutionary or sociological perspective. I am primarily speaking philosophically, not even theologically. Just because we have evolved a particular way, just because societies have evolved particular behavioral codes–just because these things are–does not necessarily entail how we ought to behave or entail how we might have the authority to tell other people what is moral or immoral. Indeed, if we go by evolutionary biology or behavioral science and look at what is, we might conclude that murder is perfectly moral. Morality possesses the possibility of saying that what ought to be and how we ought to behave are contrary to what is! Morality suggests we can act against out own inclinations and desires. When we are not describing morality, when we wish to look at it from a philosophical perspective, from a normative perspective, the crucial jump is getting from “is” to “ought,” and all I am suggesting is that theological approaches to normative morality have the potential, at least, to make this jump is a consistent manner, whereas I do not see any persuasive way for non-theological approaches to normative morality to bridge this gap.

  • chilton1

    you are right

    “ought” requires a supreme being …even worse – a priest of some kind to tell us what that supremem being tells us we “ought” to do or not do as the case may be.

    Ripe for corruption wouldn’t you think?

    Lets talk about adultery…

  • manning120

    AlanK raises an interesting point in his comments starting 5/29. (Not that this wasn’t touched on before in the thread.)

    “. . . the key issue in the God/morality discussion is the force that binds us to it. Why would or should someone be obligated or bound to a moral code? If there is no commanding force behind morality, then why ought I to be bound by any rules?�

    This amounts to saying that moral thinking occurs in response to “commanding force.� In other words, we’re like prisoners. If we don’t follow the prison rules, the guards exercise force against us. So we learn the rules and follow them because of commanding force. And at bottom, it’s fear of pain (or death) that motivates. Right and wrong behavior is reduced to behavior best calculated to avoid pain or death at the hands of the commanding force.

    At another point, AlanK says,“Morality suggests we can act against our own inclinations and desires.� But the commanding force idea conflicts with that assertion. If the ultimate ground of morality is commanding force, acting against our inclination and desire to avoid pain or death would be acting contrary to the dictates of the commanding force, which AlanK thinks are morally correct. So it couldn’t be moral to act against our inclinations and desires.

    Although AlanK doesn’t mention the carrot along with the stick, I think morality also can’t be viewed as doing what we calculate leads to the most pleasure or happiness, except for the pleasure and happiness we derive from doing what we believe is right.

    I think the answer to AlanK’s question (“Why would or should someone be obligated or bound to a moral code?�) involves the powerful human instinct to learn, and be bound by, the truth. Generally, but not always, acting in accordance with truth helps us avoid pain and death. We’re not prisoners responding to threats. We’re free agents seeking knowledge. The latter motivation is stronger than the former.

    I’ll go this far with AlanK. A minority of the adult population can’t, or won’t, understand moral truths, or act upon them. For such individuals, society, and religion, needs commanding force (the criminal justice system, or the threat of hell). I wouldn’t want to live in a world in which everyone acted only in fear of pain or death (including eternal damnation), and/or in the belief that following someone’s dictates will result in earthly or heavenly reward. Morality essentially concerns truth, not fear and obsequiousness.

  • chilton1

    “Morality essentially concerns truth”

    Morality essentially concerns survival…in a society

    end of story -other types of morality come and go as priests come and go

  • Vijtable

    It’s been a while since I’ve attacked this question… I’m still on “evolved,” but in the interests of ROS-ifying the show…

    WNYC has a periodic show called “Radio Lab,” co-hosted by one of my favorite journalists, Robert Krulwich. One episode this season concerned Morality. It was fascinating. Given two very similar thought experiments concerning moral behavior, people would universally have inconsistent answers (90% yes for the first one, 90% no for the second one), regardless of background.

    Obviously, therefore, moral questions are not compared against clear-cut policies. However, moralistic behavior by humans obviously does adhere to SOME policies. Those policies do not appear to be what we think they are.

    http://www.wnyc.org/shows/radiolab/episodes/2006/04/28

    While this neither puts us in one camp or another, it lends credence to evolved moral policies rather than legalistic ones.

  • Two names of biblical people. Both have researched the history of religion and morality deeply. They have written extensively, Karen Armstrong and ELAINE H. PAGELS

    A bio of each;

    KAREN ARMSTRONG

    Karen Armstrong is a former nun with a B.L. degree from Oxford. Her book, A HISTORY OF GOD, was on the New York Times best-seller list for over a year. She teaches at the Leo Baeck College for the Study of Judaism and the Training of Rabbis and Teachers in London.

    She can be reached c/o Sophie Cottrell, Promotions Department, Alfred A. Knopf, 201 E 50th Street, New York, NY 10022.

    ELAINE H. PAGELS

    Elaine H. Pagels received the National Book Critics Award and the American Book Award for THE GNOSTIC GOSPELS. She is also the author of ADAM, EVE, AND THE SERPENT and THE ORIGIN OF SATAN. Pagels has published over forty-five articles on the Gnostic Gospels and the history of the early Christian Church. She teaches religion at Princeton University. She is married to Kent Greenawalt, University Professor at Columbia University, who teaches at the School of Law. They have five children.

    She can be reached c/o Public Affairs Television, Inc., 356 W 58th Street, New York, NY 10019.

  • So here’s the question for the hour: is it possible to envision a world full of meaning and morality without God — or do they have to come from God? Put differently — in fanya’s words — do meaning and morality come from the top down or do they percolate from the bottom up?

    This question itself is problematic. Answering that some deity handed humanity morality is a red flag waves in the eyes of the un-religious. Denying God given morality undermines the whole religious industry with all its strident voices and political machinery. Without being able to preach, “my God’s morality� how can I collect my wages, where will I find my power?

    Isn’t reasoning about whether from the ground up or top down not worth the effort? Like, who cares? The issue is morality is essential to you and I, our country and your country living with each other in some semblance of peace. We humans have awesome power to end all life on earth what in us discourages one group or the other from using that power. Surely fear of retaliation motivates some. In truth fear of unwanted consequences is one basis of moral behavior. Fear has profoundly motivated many of our traditional beliefs.

    Consider a situation, in which your community is captured by another and taken to their country, you are forced into exile. Now one of your leaders sees their power diminish should the community be assimilated into the new country. In response your leader calls for the community to continue its traditional practices and behaviors. It is one attempt to assure the leader remains in power. This situation happened in Babylon about 700 BCE and I other locations around the world in other times.

    Therein lies a more fundamental question. What is the role of fear in developing morality?

    In my opinion fear is fundamental.

  • chilton1

    1) we want power (of course we do)

    2) we invent god

    3) we tell everyone that wehave inside knowledge into what this god wants

    4) we relay the punishments and rewards awaiting us

    5) we have power

    e.g.

    1) we blokes live in a maternal world. Mother-daughter blood lines are natural. Father-son lines are dubious (it is all about DNA)

    2) invent God

    3) We tell everone that He is a He and is all powerful

    4) we are His chosen priest

    5) He gives us the ten commandmants -including -though shall not committ aldultery

    6) We have our father-son blood lines and we have power

  • The people I meet that I really like are those that appear to be searching for something/anything beyond themselves or their “Dasein” (being there). In a society that seems so confused about personal, politcal, and cultural boundaries these people reach outside their personal needs and search for something greater. Sometimes its the amazing clockwork of science and sometimes it’s God. I’m always glad to sit down for a quiet moment with them and hear and feel their humanity.

  • ripley

    i would be excited to hear a really excellent program on this topic…

    the blog is good too, but i don’t have the energy to read all of it.

    i spent the past year (september 2005 to now) reading the Bible and the Qur’an in an effort to understand both why people have religion, and why members of the Abrahamic religions in particular interact the way they do. as an extremely moral but entirely anarchic person, i was shocked and dismayed that the most consistent elements in both books were examples of moral codes being breached and the punishment delivered for such breaches, and litanies of consequences threatened by the books themselves or persons vested with the authority of god for abrogations of moral codes. there was much more of this type of content than anything else. my conclusion then is that not only is immoral behavior inevitable both in individuals and in communities, but that threats (even of hell), punishments, and persons of authority who attempt to control and punish others ultimately do very little to actually change behavior, or to prevent immoral action. i believe that only people who come to morality through their own initiation (religious or not), rather than compulsion, can truly be moral. doing what is “right” in order to avoid being punished by an external anthropomorphised authority figure limits one’s ability to refer to oneself as a source of knowledge, thus preventing the development of agency and selfhood. both of which are essential to moral knowledge and behavior, as knowing oneself allows one to know and understand others and apply one’s intelligence to interact in such a way to support the good of all.

    that i think is the basis of all morality, whether framed by religious or secular systems. humans are undeniably social animals. the fine points of which morals evolved under which pressures or were mandated by which authorities can be debated forever. underlying all this discussion is the fact that one human talent, by virtue of our sociability, is the ability to imagine what is going on in another person’s (or animal’s, or plant’s, or rock’s) conciousness and to interact with that imagination – we have gotten good enough at it, with the aid of our simple little language system, that we are fairly accurate, at least with humans of similar origin to ourselves. what an incredible skill! it allows us to communicate communal agreements about how to structure our interactions. that is morality: what is determined by the group to be right and wrong. and while some people think that they need to tell everyone else what to do otherwise everyone will stray, in the end the authority lies with the group, who will continue to do as they wish. even though everyone may agree with complete agency and self-knowledge to abide by the rules in order to make things easier for them as well as everyone else, likely everyone will break the rules from time to time. having the authority to determine the rules allows one to break those same rules. being moral also involves knowing which rules can be broken and forgiven from time to time, and which require more serious consideration. safety of the group is probably the main determining factor.

    of course, this all becomes much more complicated in this gargantuan “nation” supposedly unified and governed by centralized structures, in this century of communication by internet and telephone and increasing isolation of family units. but you know, the most vibrant and interesting places in the US are those communities that have developed their own identity, language, and social laws that are much more relevant to their inhabitants than any national culture. those places will always exist, because humans will always create unique relations between individuals. it is simply impossible to administer homogenity, whether religious, humanistic, or otherwise.

  • ripley

    by the way, sorry that was so long, i guess i had alot to say.

    there are alot of wise people posting on here, it’s really excellent to read it!!

  • chilton1

    …but worth the read, long or not.

    thanks ripley

  • Schumolberry

    If ever you wanted to read something that justifies anything Unamuno ever wrote, check out “England, The Church of” in Encyclopedia Britannica. I have the 1959 hard copy edition, and hope they haven’t watered down this little history lesson since. If students were required to read this I think that many would come away thankful that technically The Constitution provides a means to prevent opportunist religionists from turning this nation into a theocracy. Religion might be the opiate of the people, but hey guess what…government delivers the religion! If you don’t think so, just read the aforementioned selection. The absurdity of it all is unbelievable (and I started out in the Episcopal Church). Absurdity to match Camus’ in that dusty old Vol 8 [but that sort of was Camus’ decade wasn’t it?] Speaking of 8, Henry VIII severs ties to Rome and Mary puts them all back together again. And then wasn’t it right after this when they burnt 300 heretics in four years? Those 300 died in the 1400s!

    My Faith is strong and I can argue effectively that natural selection as a species-generating explanation comes from a paradigm that could pass. Here’s an article from the Spring “Tricycle” [wouldn’t load right away for me tonight but I’ve got dial-up]

    “immaterial evidence” by B. Alan Wallace [note the pdf, quick though for me on my first read]

    http://faculty.ncf.edu/newman/pdf/tricycle.pdf

    Yet and still…just like an avowed atheist I guess…I treasure the traditions that work to oppose theocracy. Morality that seeks to influence politics should be based IMO on points we THE PEOPLE can agree on apart from Pat Robertson’s theology, apart from any particular denomination, and apart from any particular Faith.

    What IMO it is we can and should come to agree on in our pluralist society I won’t belabor readers with at the moment…extensively. I won’t write about all of them unless someone resonates with my pov as described thus far, or unless somebody wants to troll me. In terms of blue state “values” that mean something to me…I’ve got ’em down to four areas/concerns in a thread I started in the Politics Forum at http://newcafe.org/

    One pertains to individuals incorporating authority into their personhood, and one pertains to rejecting “meritocracy” as described by Michael Young.

    PS It justified everything he wrote up till the immaterial evidence.

  • Schumolberry

    Yes, I used “personhood” because my own ideas might at least resonate with manning120’s post of 8/25/05 (and I think 22). I don’t agree with manning on everything theological, but I like manning’s reflection on sentience…reminds me of a book “The Meaning of Persons.”

    Meanwhile much in between I have not even scanned.

    I’m coming back this morning because I forgot to note something above. Peace, peace, wonderful peace. But reading a little history can supplement an incarnation too.

    A little further on in my Vol 8 of the Britannica follows another entry “England, History of.” What I forgot to say is that I am trying to square both the Church of England entry and the Hist of England in my Vol 8 with Thom Hartmann’s rendition of what went down according to Paul de Rapin Thoyas (his tome printed in London 1728). Well, the writers for this Britannica edition certainly did not make my project easy! Hartmann could write another book on de Rapin’s claims…or at least in his next edition of “What Would Jefferson Do?” provide a lot more detail re same. As far as morphing of the church post William the C [at least I think I remember certain Hartmann claims on this regard]…it’s a little difficult for me so far to see this in these other general accounts. The cut off after William of pre-Roman tribal values (which had returned after the exit of Rome…more democratic Jefferson believed) yes I can sort of square up…but the changes re the church’s roll in local gov are fuzzier. If I’m not mistaken, at first according to EB right after 1066 the Church had to butt out of some spheres. Though immediately on down the line one can see that at least the centralization of the Church on the continent came to be adopted by the administration of England with William II (not Stephen) with Henry I, and with Henry III. Hey, if I sound like a history novice…you’re reading right!

    BTW…not right to the point…but a good guest might be Rupert Sheldrake.

  • Perhaps someone over at the Center for Theology and the Natural Sciences could suggest a guest who might be good for the show (http://www.ctns.org/). I’ve seen a lecture here and there by theologians associated with the Center and they strike me (alas, a non-scientist) as being methodologically biligual (WRT the sciences and theology). I imagine that any of a number of people there would work well…

    I suspect that theologians over at CTNS would tend to be moderating figures (i.e. morality being — in some sense — both God-given and evolved). *I* would find this more interesting than a brawl between a conservative evangelical politician and an articulate evolutionary psychologist, but I’d listen to the show regardless once it airs (if it does, that is).

  • “What we can however surmise from a view that we’re ‘cells of the universal body’, is that attacking other cells is potentially cancerous.”

    Cancer is not cells attacking other cells; it’s cells reproducing out of control. You can draw your own conclusions from that, but at least get the science right.

    Cells attack other cells all the time – consider your immune system, for example.

    Anyway, the only way to have a defensible position about anything is to establish your premise(s). Anyone who takes the position that morality is God(or god-) given is obligated to FIRST establish the existence of said deity. If you can’t do that then the rest of the discussion is academic – sort of like discussing the uniforms worn by flying-saucer pilots from Arcturus without first establishing that there ARE flying saucer pilots from Arcturus or what they look like or whether they wear uniforms.

  • god

    no, no, no, you’re all wrong, oh my me!

  • chilton1

    Sorry, god…this is not the tradition way to communicate…directly

    what happened to the priest class? – we have their jobs to consider

    -you will have the union to deal with if you are not careful!

  • rahbuhbuh

    oh, so much to read here, plowing my through it… sorry if this is off the current threads of debate here. Just for reference:

    Greg Graffin recently received a PhD Evolutionary Biology from Cornell. His dissertation on relationship between religion and evolution bleeds into zoology, history of science, and evolutionary biology. Some exerpts from interviews:

    “if you ask the leading evolutionary biologists: ‘is evolution at war with religion?,’ according to my study, only 10 percent believe that religion and evolution are incompatible. The majority, 87% (amidst researchers in 22 different countries), find someway to make religion compatible with the tenants of evolution.”

    “The purpose of this study is to determine the degree to which the world’s leading evolutionary biologists believe in traditional religion, naturalism, and the philosophical implications of their science. A further goal will be to understand how they reconcile these disparate and often conflicting beliefs with their teaching and practice of evolutionary biology.”

    more here:

    http://www.cornellevolutionproject.org/

  • god

    tradition schmission

  • chilton1

    rahbuhbuh quotes:

    Greg Graffin

    “if you ask the leading evolutionary biologists: ‘is evolution at war with religion?,’ according to my study, only 10 percent believe that religion and evolution are incompatible. The majority, 87% (amidst researchers in 22 different countries), find someway to make religion compatible with the tenants of evolution.�

    Except when religion (or religious leaders) insist on having fundamental or literal interpretations of their texts. e.g. 7 day creation, flooded earth, 6000 year-old earth…

    As long as these things remain metaphors for “deeper truthsâ€? -science can’t touch them.

  • “according to my study, only 10 percent believe that religion and evolution are incompatible. The majority, 87% (amidst researchers in 22 different countries), find someway to make religion compatible with the tenants of evolution.â€?

    But did you see his “study”? It’s basically just a questionnaire. It does not have the capacity to drill down and get at anything substantive. And questionnaire-format research is totally dependent on the way words are interpreted and the meanings that are assigned to them This is a major reason why social and behavioral science has been left in the dust of the physical and biological sciences – it does not deal in hard, objective data.

    Back on topic – the problem with squaring science and religion is epistemological. Science is based on using objective data to form a theoretical model and then testing, refining, or rejecting that model with further data and observations. It is an inherently iterative process, which means that any truth it generates is provisional and subject to change – truth with a lower-case “t”.

    Religionists HATE that. They like their truth with a capital “T” – universal, permanent, absolute, not subject to change, revision, disproof, or doubt. No religious “Truth” has ever been disproven because there is no provision for that – religious ideas go in and out out of favor – that’s all. As a result, religion cannot demonstrate any greater understanding or ability to describe or predict THEIR subject matter than they had 500 years ago! Whereas the physical sciences continue to advance in understanding THEIR topics, because truth with a lower-case “t” is a far more powerful intellectual model, since it can grow and change.

  • chilton1

    aint that the the Truth!

    sorry truth!

  • manning120

    Well said, plnelson. But let’s cut to the chase. We can identify two kinds of religious belief: virulent and benign. The benign is represented by evolutionary biologists who think that although God exists, evolution is valid as science. These folks find comfort in religious beliefs in other areas than science.

    The virulent believers, in contrast, focus on Truth that always seems to involve the death of people who disagree with them. Often this consists in identifying non-believers as condemned to hell. Personally, I feel uneasy, as if my life is somehow jeopardized, when someone tells me I’m going to hell because I don’t believe some religious claim. Additionally, the virulent believers frequently find it necessary to predict, if not actually call for, the untimely deaths of all non-believers, or certain groups of sinners (such as homosexuals). They tend to believe government is “under God� (that is, a sacred entity) and that disloyalty to either God or the government merits execution. The most common virulent believers in the U.S. think that we’re coming to a point in Biblical history when non-believers will have a choice of either joining the believers or being killed. This idea is growing in popularity, and has the effect of conditioning millions to accept another holocaust. Our media haven’t begun to pay serious attention to domestic virulent religious belief. So while I appreciate your elucidation of the conflict between of religion and science, I think it’s time to turn to the dangers of unchecked fundamentalism. I elaborated of this idea in my article at http://manning120.blogspot.com/.

  • “These folks find comfort in religious beliefs in other areas than science

    The virulent believers, in contrast, focus on Truth that always seems to involve the death of people who disagree with them. Often this consists in identifying non-believers as condemned to hell . . . . ”

    I don’t disagree about the badness of religious one-true-wayism, but I was trying to stay on point (. . . oh, sorry, wrong public radio show).

    Finding comfort in religious beliefs in other areas than science is a bit off topic since the question I was responding to was the compatibility of religion and science. I think from an epistemological point of view it’s one of those things where you can’t have your cake and eat it too.

    We all have different aspects of our lives – I’m a photographer, software designer, poet, painter, gardener, and cook. But that’s OK because none of those things are in basic philosophical conflict. Infact, there’s a harmony between them and they all feed each other. To me, being a believer in one of the major “truth-with-a-capital-T” religions and being a scientist ARE in conflict, much the way being a member of the ASPCA and doing dog-fighting as your hobby would be.

    Again, it’s not a question of WHAT someone believes, it’s a matter of how you believe a true or accurate description of the universe is obtained.

    Nor can you simply advocate using one epistemological model for THESE topics and one for THOSE topics. Because the scope and reach of science broadens all the time, and as we see on this topic, is now starting to include morality. So an advocate of that two-sided approach would fall into the “God of the Gaps” dillemma that religionists fear: If religion exists to explain only those things NOT explained by science, (the gaps) then as science expands, religion’s territory keeps shrinking.

  • chilton1

    plnelson says

    “…I’m a photographer, software designer, poet, painter, gardener, and cook. But that’s OK because none of those things are in basic philosophical conflict….”

    as long as you don’t weed before you shoot

  • The recent discussion here displays a stagnant and monolithic idea of what religiosity amounts to. Even in extreme cases (e.g. fundamentalist Christianity or radicalized Islamism), surely there is disagreement and change within communities.

    Furthermore, religions involve much more of people’s lives than hypotheses about the functioning of the natural world (although they sometimes involve those too). The growth of the sciences has required some religious communities to adapt (as it were), but if religions were *just* pre-scientific explanations of natural phenomena, then they would have gone the way of ideas such as phlogiston.

    When we ask a question such as “Morality: God-given or evolved?”, we must also specify which God we have in mind. Even the God of a “single” religion such as Christiantiy has been represented in a wide variety of ways.

  • thinian06

    I have a take on religion, science and morality that I don’t run into very often, but which I feel is germane to this famous conversation mankind has with itself. All religions have one thing in common, behind all of the pomp and ferocity, they seek to worship an idealization of consciousness. I think it is observable that the singular goal of consciousness seems to be the local area promotion of order (reduction of entropy). Not surprisingly that seems to be the primary goal of life itself (I think most scientists would agree; although they would probably term it ‘survival’). As far as the relevance of this view of the universe, when one speaks of the ‘holes’ or weaknesses in the theory of evolution, there is really only one ‘hole’ and that is why would so much complexity arise (entropy reduce) when the rest of the universe seems governed by laws that suggest exactly the opposite should happen. Before there was ‘Intelligent Design’ there was ‘Complexity Theory’, and it asked exactly that question and science did not bust a gut trying to refute it. It is this observation that makes ‘theories’ pointed more in the ID direction viable questions.

    I am not aware of any natural experiments that can answer the question of whether consciousness is simply a manifestation of biochemistry, or if it is something more. The question reminds me of that posed by physicists regarding electromagnetism and gravity. They may be the same thing, but for now we treat them as two distinct forces in the universe. Again, I think most scientists would agree, although they might have different religious (for that read unverifiable) beliefs or favored answers that differ from mine.

    I think morality is a set of rules and patterns of behavior that we ‘currently believe’ will aid consciousness (life) in its goal of entropy reduction (or at least retardation). Most of our human conflicts come from the ‘local area’ part of the equation, and for the most part our morality asks us to look beyond ourselves and consider the viewpoint of others. That, by the way, happens to be a fantastically effective mechanism for conflict resolution. And when the conflict ends, the little fields of consciousness glue themselves together into bigger fields and the rise of entropy is challenged with greater vigor (for that read ‘good’ things happen).

    God is a model we use to access a wider (higher) consciousness field, a perpetual attempt to expand our consciousness, and align ourselves with an even greater organization force than our own minds. A cynic may view this a ‘a figment of our imaginations (whatever that means)’ but the model is pretty effective, although entropy assaults the walls of the ordering of all we have accomplished. The vast majority of our moral values, similar in principal despite the originating religion, spring from our internal contemplation of this ‘higher’ consciousness. The sense of transcendental awareness, a timeless sense of being connected to God and all living things, can be detected with MRI scans. The experience makes our brain behave in different ways than normal day-to-day life, and the effects are thought by researchers to be positive. Of course 80% of the human race could have told scientists that, but science is determined to learn these things on their own. If science wants to come along and change our model, they have every right to try, but they must provide something more than vague conjecture about a discreet and reducible universe before they have a right to assert a better path. Fossils are nothing more than evidence that God took more time to make us than we were originally capable of believing.

  • chilton1

    thinian06 Says:

    July 19th, 2006 at 2:26 pm

    “…I am not aware of any natural experiments that can answer the question of whether consciousness is simply a manifestation of biochemistry, or if it is something more. …”

    How about the one where you stop the biochemistry and this correlates to a cessation of consciousness?

  • chuck

    341 messages? I am not even going to try to ascend this tower of babel.

    Thank God I’m agnostic.

  • thinian06

    chilton1,

    If I turn off the TV do the waves carrying the television show cease to exist?

  • Old Nick

    chilton1 & thinian06: regarding consciousness, try this How Brains Make Up Their Mindshttp://www.amazon.com/gp/product/0753810689/ref=olp_product_details/102-7917059-6192117?%5Fencoding=UTF8&v=glance&n=283155 — and afterwards let me know what (and how!) you think. It’s authored by an honest to goodness brain scientist.

    I like this a lot from thinian: “religions have one thing in common, behind all of the pomp and ferocity, they seek to worship an idealization of consciousness”.

    That’s a lot to chew on, and I can’t yet find any fault with it. (Thanks!)

    So once we understand consciousness — which we can, and easily, if we only stop giving religion-like credulity to the mania for reductionism so fashionable in popular biological science these days — we can then understand why humans are so boneheadedly insistent on believing in unverifiable supernatural entities.

    Doesn’t that sound promising?

    If either of you read Freeman’s book, let me know what you glean from it.

    Although he’s of the reductionist ilk, Daniel Dennett’s Breaking the Spell is another interesting option. I’d recommend it without reservation if I didn’t think bizarre and incomprehensible his willingness to take the “meme = gene” metaphor literally instead of metaphorically. (But what else can you expect from unthinking reductionists?)

  • Old Nick

    oOpS! That was supposed to read: Daniel Dennett’s Breaking The Spellhttp://www.amazon.com/gp/product/067003472X/sr=1-1/qid=1153378216/ref=pd_bbs_1/102-7917059-6192117?ie=UTF8&s=books

  • chilton1

    thanks for the tips Old Nick

    will look out for Freemans bk especially…

    You have me thinking…comparing fundamentalist religion to reductionist science.

    Though, we must remember, that reductionism was (and sometimes still is) a necessary evil (at first) when approaching very complex biological systems. The recognition that reductionist approaches tend to fail, because of complexity and redundancy inherent in any biological system, has lead to the development of fields such as systems biology and bioinformatics making genome-level analysis possible. Biology is becomingless reductionist and more holistic.

  • chilton1

    “thinian06 Says: If I turn off the TV do the waves carrying the television show cease to exist?”

    Do you feel like some sort of terminal? thinian

    If I wiggle my ears a bit will I become you?

  • Schumolberry

    Man, I’m getting desperate. Liberals apparently know too much to debate something germane to our lives.

    Hey, conservatives…ya wanna critique a liberal? Go read What Would Jefferson Do? by Thom Hartmann, and tell me if you think he’s got the origins of “the wall of separation” right. [that would be between church & state]

  • hug

    Hello everybody. I’m new here, and I just finished reading this entire subject/thread over the last several days. I’m interested in participating if the discussion is still continuing? (The most recent entry was July 21.) So, is anybody still there? If not (or if so), is the show itself in the final stages of prep’n and scheduling?

    In any case, my initial thoughts will be brief:

    First, and especially for Nikos, Vijtable, and Jazzman (who were all active participants earlier in the thread) — and for everyone else as well — I’d suggest going to see the “Leaping Blennies” (or is it “Leaping Blemmies”?) at the Monterey Bay Aquarium in California. Anyone interested in questions associated with evolution will find the LBs very helpful. It’s worth even a long trip. Or, perhaps call your own local aquarium to see if they are fortunate enough to have Leaping Blennies/Blemmies. If this thread is still active, and if anyone is interested, I can try to give a brief description of the LBs, but a live exhibit — where you can sit, observe, and ponder — is worth Many words.

    Second, way back earlier in the thread, there were some very useful (and I believe accurate) comments regarding the scientific community’s frequent tendency to try to explain (or maybe, in some case, even view) biological life, including human life, in only mechanistic terms, using machine-like or computer-like examples. (I’m not talking substance here; I’m talking about the terms and paradigms of communication.) As earlier participants have mentioned, this is misleading and often serves to block understanding and acceptance. Many or most people know, somehow, that they, and other life, are something more than unconcious machines. I believe that at least a big part of addressing this communication problem is (of course) for many scientists to be aware of it and to try to find better examples and terms, and (and here is my less obvious point) for scientists to explain (using human-friendly terms and inspiring real examples) the concept of emergent properties. In some very real sense of the term, and from an evolutionary and biological standpoint, our capacities which are most uniquely human (either in kind or degree) are the direct result of evolved traits AND/OR the tangential effects of those evolved traits AND/OR the EMERGENT PROPERTIES associated with combinations of the directly-evolved traits working together at a scale/level of activity giving rise to a new degree of feeling or ability of thought or consciousness or imagination. As well, many of the distinctions implied by this sentence may be simply issues of human semantics and categorization to a degree; in the real biological world, the boundaries existing among these semantic distinctions may be (and probably are) quite blurry or nonexistent at all, i.e., in nature, these different terms may be part of one big continuum. In any case, EMERGENT PROPERTIES — or you could call them EMERGENT ABILITIES — are inspiring and nothing to be “ashamed” of. Although this example is not perfect, the Beatles could do much more together (in terms of creating music, entertaining us, and moving pianos from one room to another before they could hire help to do so) than they could do as individuals. And, our body organs can do much more together than they can do as seperate organs. And so forth. Living organisms, of course, have emergent properties that make them — the organisms — much MORE than mechanistic inorganic machines. (This also has alot to do with the fact that we are made up of a very complex mixture of the “stuff of the Earth” in such a way that at a very micro level we are built to be able to sense the environment.)

    In sum, then, scientists can help avoid simplistically describing forms of life, including humans, as if we were ONLY complex machines (in a mechanistic sense) by explaining the concept of emergent properties in ways that are valid (of course) AND understandable (for normal human minds) AND inspiring and proud. (By “proud”, I don’t mean in an overly proud hubristic sense. I mean in a way that demonstrates the wonderful-ness of our human abilities and emergent properties.)

    That’s it for now. If this thread/blog (or whatever you call it?) is still active, I will add more thoughts in a later entry, more directly to the point of the central questions.

    Don’t miss the LBs.

  • hug

    In the process of reading this entire thread, and realizing that many people have observed that this subject is massive, I gave some thought to how it could be broken down and sequenced. Being a relative new-comer to ROS, I don’t know if the following fits the strategy/approach of the program or if each of the segments would be attractive enough for a large audience (though I think they should be), but here goes . . .

    1. Science and “Proof”: Clearly, some people have very different ideas regarding science and the difference between “proof”, evidence, high confidence, falsifiability, and so forth. It’s hard to have the other segments until people get on the same page of what is meant by these different words and what science does. A great book to read, for anyone interested, is “What We Believe But Cannot Prove”, edited by John Brockman, not only for the material it contains on a wide range of subjects but also (and to the point here) including the comments of many leading scientists on what science can and cannot prove (or disprove) and how scientific understanding advances — rarely (if ever) truly and finally PROVING something but much more frequently amassing so much evidence that, if not falsified so far, and if the theories match the evidence and have predictive and practical power, then scientists can be very, very, very darn confident in a theory until it’s disproven or until a better theory comes along. High confidence, yes. “Proof”, no. This in itself may not result in a huge audience, but if this entire topic is done as a series, this first episode should be “encouraged” if not “required” listening for people who participate in the rest of the series. Just a thought.

    2. Existence: Within the above context of what science can prove and what it can be “pretty darn sure of”, this second segment would address the question of how and why we can be pretty darn sure that a real and material (mass-energy) universe DOES indeed exist, even though we humans don’t sense and perceive it completely accurately. We humans (as well as other animals) sense things through our senses, and what we actually consciously experience (in our personal internal movies of the world) doesn’t reflect objective external reality exactly as it is. We experience an approximation that has been good enough, so far, for our population to grow to about 6.5 billion. This segment shouldn’t just be on “existence” in a philosophical sense. It should cover how and why our senses give us only approximations of external reality. And, it should cover the logic and reasoning of how we can conclude from the standpoint of personal experience (which, after all, is all each of us has as direct evidence) that we can be pretty darn sure that we each DO exist, but of course there is no FINAL proof. Nevertheless, (and the segment should cover this too), it is practical for us all to behave as if the world and other people exist. At the end of this segment, we will at least have covered this territory, so people won’t still be debating whether some objective reality exists even as we move to the following segments. Some people will always think that reality doesn’t exist, but after this segment, we can at least minimize that type of objection in the following segments.

    3. Evolution: I suggest a segment specifically on evolution, to understand it, NOT (yet) a debate on “evolution or God?”. Let’s have some scientists talk about the state-of-the-art understanding of evolution, answer questions, address objections, and clear up misconceptions, before moving to other segments. This segment should address many questions and confusions, including “doesn’t evolution say that people are only (or mainly) narrowly selfish?” (No.) “Why are many people very nice and sacrificing, and almost everyone has at least some of these tendencies, and so forth?” GREAT guests for this segment would be Robert Axelrod, Richard Dawkins, and/or several others, including E.O.Wilson (again), etc. Only after this segment, on evolution itself, should we move to the next segments . . . . .

    4. God AND Science AND Evolution: This segment addresses questions such as:

    A. Can science disprove the existence of God?

    B. What scientific limits — or even current hypotheses — indicate that there could possibly be a god of some sort? For example, apart from the notion that science cannot easily determine, at least at this point, what happened before the BIG BANG, we have the fact that some string theorists think there may be more dimensions than we currently see. And so forth.

    C. Can people believe in both evolution and God? (Yes.) How do some leading scientists reconcile these beliefs? And so forth.

    5. God and Religion: This segment, I believe, is probably also important if we not only want to clarify some misconceptions regarding science (as in the other episodes) but also those regarding God and religion. Clearly, some people confuse the two. From a logic and reasoning standpoint, we should no more allow ourselves to confuse the question of God with the question of religion as practiced by highly imperfect humans, than we should confuse in the world of science the shade of a tree on the dusty rocky ground with the tree itself. (Not a perfect analogy, but you get the idea.) So, although God and religion are, of course, very related topics, it’s important to distinguish between the two and to gain a brief understanding, logically speaking, of the relationships. Otherwise, even as we move into the segments about morality itself, we will still have people objecting that “God can’t possibly exist because people in the name of religion sometimes do such terrible things.” This last point is true, unfortunately, but not a complete disproof of God’s existence, so by having this segment, we can (among other things) address that type of question and get it out of the way. (I’m not saying that it’s an invalid observation; I’m just saying that we should discuss it in one segment so that it doesn’t have to be addressed over and over again in later segments.)

    6. Evolution and Morality: This segment should focus only on how moral sentiments, emotions, and so forth can (and do) result from the evolutionary process. Let’s talk about the process. Let’s talk about other primates and fairness. Let’s talk about (as mentioned in the NY Times Science Section recently) how wrasses (a type of fish) and breams (also a fish) check each other out and decide who they will cooperate with. Let’s talk about how human self-awareness, human consciousness, human memory, and human imagination — all evolved traits — qualify us as “moral beings” (i.e., we are usually or at least often morally responsible/accountable for our actions, and we can indeed do harmful things), whereas we don’t hold frogs responsible for you-know-what-ing in our hands when we pick them up, or at least we shouldn’t. Nevertheless, that doesn’t mean that a frog doesn’t feel its own version of the fear emotion which causes it to pee. So, animals and emotions could be a BRIEF part of this segment. In any case, you get the idea. I think it’s important to have this segment by itself, because people can’t intelligently and patiently discuss “Morality: God-given or Evolution” until they understand how evolution does lead to social-moral behavior patterns in all sorts of species, and so forth.

    7. God, Religion, and Morality: In this segment, we cover morality from a God/religion standpoint. How similar are the moral codes of different major religions? Where are the most fundamental differences? Why/how might those differences have come about? Might it be that religious moral codes REFLECT, albeit sometimes imperfectly, evolved human nature? Might it be that, if God launched the universe (without managing the details of evolution himself), evolved human nature would reflect God, leaving open the fact that we have personal choice? And other related questions. And now for the finale . . .

    8. Morality: God-given, evolved, or both? By this point, the scope of this segment explains itself. That said, please note that, by the time we get to this segment, we will all have a much broader understanding of what we are convinced of, what we are unsure of, and so forth. And, we won’t still be talking about whether anything at all exists (you?, me?, my computer?, or even ROS itself??!!), or what “proof” means, by the time we get to this stage. We will each know where we are “on board” or the specific point at which we got off, regarding any particular approach to understanding morality.

    9. Let’s Get Practical: This is a VITAL epilogue segment. Wherever morality comes from, and whatever it is, the world (and our children) will benefit greatly if we can figure out how to live together better, more happily, and so forth. Period. So, how do we get there? No matter where morality comes from, what are the common moral principles we can agree upon, at least approximately. After all, sometimes, the lesser problem is that various moral systems are different: The greater problem is that we often don’t adhere to our own claimed moral systems? That’s partly because of human nature, and perhaps partly because of the stresses of modern times, and other factors, but it’s also partly because of the confusions regarding morality.

    Wow. That would be quite a series. A vision . . . Each week, or perhaps every other week, ROS would do its normally excellent job of hosting each of these segments, in order. If excellent relevent experts participate in each show (I don’t mean they would be the same for all shows; different for each show), AND (this is important) if all the experts were “briefed” on the overall series (to give them an understanding of what had already been covered and of the desired approximate scope of each segment, so they don’t go too far off track in each segment), the series could be quite powerful.

    Granted, I may have missed a segment or two, or one or two segments could be combined (but that’s risky). So, the key question is, WHY would ROS want to enter into such a large “series” on this particular issue? My answers (and please add your own to the list) . . . . .

    1. At least in one sense, this is the most important subject facing humankind. The question of morality really boils down to (even if you dislike the word itself, as some do), How can we humans live together better? What question is more important? The “stuff” of this dialogue is essentially the same “stuff” that will either help us or hinder us in finding solutions to global warming, mid-east turmoil, economic disparity, etc. etc. etc. ROS, you can help save the world!

    2. On top of that, you’ll have the rights to sell a CD set of the entire series? Your guests will sell more books. (Actually, if the series were well done, which I’m sure it would be, it would make for a great audio course for high school or college-level courses.)

    That’s it for now. Sorry for taking up so much space. I hope some of this is helpful. Don’t forget to see the Leaping Blennies (yes, they are Blennies).

  • jtang

    Try talking with Glenn Tinder, political scientist at BU (or was it BC?), who wrote a book called “Can we be Good without God?” who comes down eventually on the God-given side.

  • chilton1

    lets hear the argument

  • manning120

    This thread raises the question of whether morality is God-given. I suggest inquiry into this sub-question: How does Biblical prophecy figure in the morality of people who say the Bible is the inspired word of God?

    A recent gathering in Washington, DC constitutes a definitive expression of a moral doctrine based on Biblical prophecy. Believers say the Bible prophesies that after the creation of a secure state of Israel controlling the area of Palestine, there will occur the rapture, the battle of Armageddon, the rise of the Anti-Christ, and the “second coming.� In consequence, Pastor John Hagee organized a “Christians United for Israel� summit of more than 3,400 evangelical Christians in mid-July 2006 in Washington, DC. The expressed purpose of this gathering was to encourage U.S. support the state of Israel. Dr. Hagee singles out Israel as the only nation created not by men, but by God (notwithstanding the fact that U.S. school children must intone every day that the U.S. is “under God�).

    Senator Rick Santorum coined the term “Islamic-fascists� in an address during the summit. He claimed the term “The War on Terror� is misleading: “Terror is not the enemy; the enemy are Islamic fascists.� President Bush has begun using that term.

    The moral dimension of Dr. Hagee’s program consists in the imperative that individuals and nations assist Israel against its enemies. U.S. policy clearly embodies this imperative. The fundamentalist Christians and the Israelis are peculiar bedfellows. But Daniel Ayalon, Israel’s ambassador to the U.S., recently explained how the Israelis rationalize their common purpose. When Christ comes, He will be asked if this is his first or his second coming. If he says it’s his first, Christians will convert to Judaism. If He says the second, Jews will convert to Christianity. These remarks were made on national television in complete seriousness.

    Believers in Biblical prophecy don’t think the Bible offers one among several or many ways of assessing the future. They believe the Bible is the one true guide to the future, at least in relation to those events prophesied. Therefore, they reject studies in economics, sociology, political science, military readiness, opinion polls, etc. that suggest anything at variance with Biblical prophecy.

    To someone like myself who rejects religious fundamentalism, the idea that Biblical prophecy is the one true way to know the future is ludicrous. Consequently, before now, I haven’t troubled myself with the internal contradictions of such belief. But lately, in the light of the recent warfare in Israel and Lebanon, I’ve been rethinking this. Believers in Biblical prophecy are shaping U.S. foreign policy. Perhaps considering some of the implications of this kind of belief will lead a few powerful political figures in the direction of reason instead of religious fanaticism.

    If the Bible accurately states how the rapture will occur, followed by Armageddon, the rise of the Anti-Christ, and the second coming of Christ, what should be the role of the believer in these events? Followers of Dr. Hagee think they must act in furtherance of the Biblical prophecy. They pay close attention to “signs� that prophecy is coming to pass regardless of what anyone believes or desires. But if the Bible states what’s going to happen, won’t it happen no matter what anyone says or does? Why should believers waste time, energy, and money trying to cause the inevitable?

    I can make at least some sense of the doctrine by supposing that the prophecy isn’t time specific. Perhaps Biblically predicted events will be delayed if believers don’t get into action on behalf of Israel and the other elements of the prophecy. But it hardly seems like inevitability if humans can indefinitely put off the predicted events merely by failing to act, or by acting to thwart, the supposed prophecy. Dr. Hagee himself seems to agree. But if so, why attempt to help Israel?

    This is an area in which “God-given morality� seems to be making a tremendous difference in our lives. Does anyone have any comments?

  • chilton1

    “believers in biblical prophecy” sometimes add things (even though their is a very clear curse in Revelation especially for this sort of behaviour). The Rapture (i.e. a kind of 1 1/2 coming before the second coming) has no scriptural basis and seems to be designed to make end-times fundamental Christianity more stomach-able for potential converts.

  • Schumolberry

    I think there is some basis, but back when I was into it I could not determine whether scripture supported the pre-millenialists or the post-millenialists more. Which is the same problem with getting a one to one take on Revelations in general, too much ambiguity. There seems to be basis for “the second coming,” but when you begin talkin Israel and the millenium and armies and the anti-Christ…things get murky. Personally, I question the infalibility of everything in so-called “scripture,” just as I question whether there are even two Gnostic manuscripts which agree, and which agree on what’s salient to us now. [Hope this doubt is laid to rest someday.] Maybe Nero was the anti-Christ. Maybe we’re in an age that is unaccounted for. Maybe the second coming erupts into time from outside of time…whenever. Like with Stephen’s martyrdom in the NT.

    manning120 said 8/14: “I can make at least some sense of the doctrine by supposing that the prophecy isn’t time specific. Perhaps Biblically predicted events will be delayed if believers don’t get into action on behalf of Israel and the other elements of the prophecy. But it hardly seems like inevitability if humans can indefinitely put off the predicted events merely by failing to act, or by acting to thwart, the supposed prophecy. Dr. Hagee himself seems to agree. But if so, why attempt to help Israel?”

    These are classic puzzles, and involved ones. If we are to become like children again (in the right respects) it seems to me that we’d be better stewards of our energy and life force if we puzzle over the following instead, gettin out o the hall of mirrors somewhat: How to consolidate the lineage of democracy vs the republic. Or democracy vs societies requiring scapegoats (Rene Girard on this and mimetic rivalry). Or the viability of authority devolving to the individuals of a society. [if you wanted to justify these things being on topic, you could start with Girard’s thesis that OT & NT eg began a break away on the part of some societies from the centrality of the scapegoating mechanism]

    I continue in my efforts as troller for “the good.” Without meaning to detract one iota from the intent behind questions or suggestions raised here by others, I’ll continue trollin for folks who think in a manner that seems rational to me. For instance, I might end up regretting it, but I will have to seek time to read Hug’s stuff…in the future. For the time is not present today, that’s for sure. I scan it, and I don’t see the buzz words I’m lookin for. Ok, I’ll admit the level I’m on! In this thread, of all threads, why not be up front about such things? I’m still interested in the origins and justifications of “the wall of separation” (church & state), and am still finding Thom Hartmann‘s Jefferson tome on point (and wonder if overly optimistic). Helpful in determining these origins and justifications are I suspect, as Hartmann maintains, the writings of

    Paul de Rapin Thoyas. Yep, my buzz words. I’ve posted here previously June 24th, June 25th, and July 21st. The June posts outlined what I’d really like to rap down.

  • Schumolberry

    Exploring England’s Anglo-Saxon Heritage with Frank Browning, Weekend Edition Sat

    http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=5755313

    If I put it up here I’ll know where it is. Maybe someday after purchasing a writable drive (to back up so I can reformat so that I can once again hear NPR streaming) I’ll get to hear it. Where’s the time?! I hate to think a second PC’s gonna be necessary until I find it. Whichever way ya turn they gotcha.

  • carrollt

    Should this blog be put out of its misery? It’s gotten so long that several contributers have mentioned that they cannot read all the postings (and there are postings i’ve not read in many months).

    Or, is there a show that can be salvaged? I’m doubtful. Maybe we could start over the next time there is a flare-up of the evolution/culture wars…

  • Potter

    No. Let’s keep it even if it grows some fur.

  • Schumolberry

    In the world out there you have the “clash” of two subsets who maintain “God-Given.” Of course, every time you turn around there’s something from “cognitive science” laying out the latest evidence to the contrary. For me, I think the two elements are intertwined and…am also interested in short term evolution within societies (a la Rene Girard’s interpretation for example…main focus of latter is OT times forward, but you could take it back to Stonehenge, evidence of cannibalism, etc). George Lakoff works hard to get progressives to recognize assumptions they do share even with faith-based legalists. I don’t see how any topic could be of more interest.

    PS How about India’s society of pluralism for all those years?

    PSS The dates of most of my messages here are listed at the bottom of my Aug 26 post.

  • Isn’t the moral basis of the Christian doctrine of “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you” just as beneficial to ourselves as humas? I think back to my readings in Ancient Irish history and the concept that “the guest is sacred” and if someone comes to your house, even an enemy, he should be given food and shelter and be protected from harm. This policy was practical because everyone depended on the hospitality of others when they themselves were traveling. God didn’t have to enter into it at all. I think morality develops because we have compassion for other human who are suffering. It doesn’t take faith to help another, no one’s God needs to tell us what is right and wrong. Just look at what we tell our kids when they are very young…”Don’t hit…would you like it if someone hit you?” It’s the basics and if we follow our own teachings, i.e. don’t hit your kids and tell them it’s wrong at the same time, religion is a sort of moot point.

  • Old Nick

    (Imagine, please, the following title in 18th century ‘Almanack’-style font):

    An Apologia for Nontheistic Activism in Two Parts, Including Questions for Religionists

    What follows was written in response to rc21 in the Mea Culpa thread. It is an apologia in the ancient sense of ‘defense’. By the Good Fortune of our Blogger-in-Chief’s activities elsewhere, the original post failed to become ‘unmoderated’ for its excessive number of links (which trigger the ROS spam-blocker), which allowed me the time to realize that the post actually belonged in this thread instead of in Mea Culpa. I have also revised and added to it.

    rc21 wrote,

    “They (nonbelievers) commited murder because like religous extremists they were fanatical in there beliefs. The reason I posted was because it gets tiresome to keep reading posts where people like yourself and others blame religon for the millions of deaths that we have seen throughout history. You and other atheists have such a virulent hatred of religon that you become blind to the real cause of these mass slaughters. A maniacal blinding drive to wipe out anyone who did not conform to there way of thinking.”

    rc21, I can understand why it seems to you that I (and unnamed ‘others’) are trying to ‘convert’ the religious away from their beliefs.

    Do I think the world would be a manifestly more humane environment for humankind without faith?

    Yes.

    But do I think this requires the abolition of religion?

    NO!

    Perhaps this seems contradictory, but here’s why it isn’t: faith isn’t necessarily ‘religious’, and religions aren’t necessarily ‘faiths’.

    Faith is: “…firm belief in something for which there is no proof (2) : complete trust

    3 : something that is believed especially with strong conviction; especially : a system of religious beliefs…”

    http://www.m-w.com/dictionary/faith

    The tragedy of the faith religions – the ‘revealed’ religions ( http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Revealed_religion ) – is that they claim certain knowledge that a) an Unverifiable Supernatural Entity exists, b) that ‘He’ has given ‘His’ instructions for humankind to select individuals, and c) that these individuals needn’t offer any proof of their claims – because Unverifiable Supernatural Entity (through his putatively unquestionable human prophet) has made the entire trio of propositions a matter of faith.

    Why is this a ‘tragedy’? Because in the centuries since the development of the Abrahamic faith traditions, humankind has learned to use its evolved skills for experimentation and analysis in ways unforeseeable by the ‘prophets’ of the Unverifiable Supernatural Entity: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Scientific_method

    The result has been an advance of human knowledge about the natural universe that, in comparison to the countless millennia preceding the Enlightenment, is nothing short of earthshaking – and I mean that both figuratively and literally, since nuclear warheads – a scientific development we can choose to rue if we like – can literally shake the earth.

    Question: What do the following all have in common?

    Daylight. Starlight. Wind. Weather. Volcanoes. Earthquakes. Human sexual urges. Health. Disease. Speech and cognition.

    Answer: they are all natural phenomenon once believed to stem from supernatural agency instead of from natural, evolved causes.

    Viewed in any reasonable anthropological and/or historical context, the advance of our collective knowledge about the natural universe is nearly miraculous in its scope and in its ongoing prospects. It has no ‘limits’ apparent to me (a self-admitted ignoramus).

  • Old Nick

    Part 2:

    Our collective and steadily growing body of scientifically-obtained and reliably verifiable knowledge has already become so vast it has evolved a worldview – http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Worldview – that religionists find objectionable (and that Islamists and their Christian fundamentalist counterparts condemn as ‘Satanic’).

    Why? Because it cannot, despite the best efforts of many religious scientists, discover a single shred of evidence suggesting the existence of the USE (more commonly and sanctimoniously called ‘God’).

    The obvious solution would be for religions to admit that they don’t know with utter certainty all they have claimed to know for centuries, and then to revise their doctrines accordingly. This is hardly a new idea. Bishop John Shelby Spong has attempted it in a body of beautifully rational books: http://www.powells.com/s?kw=John+Shelby+Spong

    Have a look at some of his titles:

    The Sins of Scripture: Exposing the Bible’s Texts of Hate To Reveal the God of Love

    A New Christianity for a New World: Why Traditional Faith is Dying and How a New Faith is Being Born

    Born of a Woman

    Living in Sin?: A Bishop Rethinks Human Sexuality

    Rescuing the Bible from Fundamentalism: A Bishop Rethinks the Meaning of Scripture

    and the favorite of this nontheist:

    Why Christianity Must Change or Die

    Bishop Spong admits that the scientific worldview has made the demand for ‘faith’ in the ancient scriptures obsolete, and has worked tirelessly to remake his religion into a meaningful creed for post-faith humans.

    I have nothing but respect for this.

    I equally respect the brilliant Bishop Carlton Pearson – http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Carlton_Pearson – who lost his congregation and has had to endure the smear ‘heretic’ for some years now simply for coming to the eminently logical conclusion that his understanding of an infinitely loving ‘God’ precluded the possibility of the existence of Hell.

    I cannot, however, respect those who willfully ignore the ever widening credibility-gulf between the natural universe discovered in the past 200 years and the world putatively ‘revealed’ to the ‘prophets’ of the Unverifiable Supernatural Entity. This choice, by believers, to ignore all the empirically-obtained and repeatedly verifiable evidence in favor of what amounts to a patently obsolescent religious worldview is two things simultaneously: ignorant, and conceited.

    I often wonder why people don’t ask simple questions like these of their priests, pastors, imams, and rabbis:

    “Why didn’t God reveal his word both to Muhammad and to his wife Khadija?”

    “Why did God reveal his word to only one man, when in fact the world was populated by millions, spread over six continents?”

    “Why didn’t God reveal his word to a virtuous man of every people when he revealed it to the Arab Muhammad?”

    “For that matter, why didn’t God reveal his word to EVERY person alive at the same time he revealed it to Muhammad? Was God too weak or sick to speak in the minds of everyone at once? Were His batteries running low?”

    The idea that only ONE person in ONE desert culture (be he Abraham, Moses, Jesus, or Muhammad) was somehow ‘worthy’ of serving as the mouthpiece of the Unverifiable Supernatural Entity is quite simply a conceit.

    Why don’t contemporary religionists, concerned as they must be on a daily basis with the credibility of their obviously unverifiable beliefs, begin to address these sorts of questions?

    Why don’t they work, like Bishop Spong, to take the ‘faith’ out of their creeds?

    As far as I can tell, the only biblical passage necessary to convey the Christian message is this:

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sermon_on_the_mount

    …and even this could use some pruning. Imagine a Bible that consists, in its totality, of merely Matthew 5-7. (It would, at the very least, save the biosphere a heckuva a lot of trees.)

    Such revisions wouldn’t be enough to convert little old nontheist me, but such revisions would be plenty to make me back into what I used to be: an unbelieving but uncritical acceptor of the functionings of religions.

    Religion can operate and serve humans without demanding ‘faith’. Buddhism seems to do so just fine.

    You clearly indicate a belief that I ‘hate religion’. Perhaps it would surprise you to learn that I write fantasy, and that my stories are full of religion. The difference between the ‘hater’ you seem to perceive and the me I know myself to be is that I don’t ‘hate’ religion. I simply treat it as a richly wondrous source for narrative fantasias.

    Religion fascinates me.

    ‘Faith’, on the other hand, appalls me. Utterly.

    It, by definition, denies reason: it is the abrogation of curiosity and the search for real, verifiable knowledge in favor of presumptions of fantastical ‘knowledge’. Pseudo-knowledge.

    Religions brave enough to admit that their centuries-long ‘certainties’ are, in retrospect and in truth, nothing but unverifiable conceits—and conceits that they hereby withdraw—would be well-positioned to thrive in coming centuries.

    Such religions would have no need to proselytize, and—better yet—no room to arrogantly judge and condemn either other religions or simple nonbelievers like me (and you too, rc21).

    Ultimately, that’s all this seemingly rabid nontheist is after: the end of religious judgments, condemnations, and proselytizing.

    The end of the intrusion of theocratic conceits into the lives of women and girls in places like Iran, Afghanistan and South Dakota.

    The end of the slaughter of countless innocents in the name of the Unverifiable Supernatural Entity/Multipurpose Excuse (whose acronym is the USE/ME).

    The end of ‘faith’, in favor the humble admission that all of us humans, regardless of our worldviews, are vastly more ignorant than knowledgeable.

    In fact, that last juxtaposition is exactly the difference between the endlessly curious yet self-admitted ignorance of the scientific worldview on the one hand, and the conceited ‘certainties’ of the worldview of the ‘faith religions’ on the other.

    (As plnelson has pointed out elsewhere: when scientific hypotheses are refuted, or theories subjected to challenges, scientists don’t kill one another – they get excited and get busy, working collectively toward a more accurate understanding of the truths occluded within the controversy.)

    And I will not apologize for having to point this out.

  • rc21

    Potter That is just way to much for me to even begin to respond to. I would have to let a person who is very religous and truly has faith give you there meaning and thoughts on religon.

    You see I dont care about religon enough to put the time into thinking or studying about it. There are things I find more important to study. But I respect people of faith and am not appalled by them. You say you dont hate religon.You are just appalled by people who have faith. I see very little difference(people who are religous have faith) despite what you write. I think your playing a type of shell game with words to hide your true feelings. That is just speculation on my part.

    I will just close with this. Religous people kill ,atheists kill It is not the religon (or faith ) nor is it the lack of religon/Faith that is responsible.It is the desire to impose ones mandate on others through force and violence. be it religous or nonreligous.

    I was listening to a program the other day where a religous philosopher was talking about the problems in discussing God with atheists. He said atheists view everything in a horizontal context like science. or math. A +b=c . But that God had to be viewd in a vertical context. In other words I think he was saying that there was a different type of thinking that you had to explore inorder to comprehend what God really was. I was working on another project at the time so I wasnt listening to closely I believe it was on Bostons NPR station. This is the type of person you should talk to. As I said I find religon and all its theories mildly interesting but nearly not enough to come up with a concrete belief or non belief theory as atheists and religous people have. Thats why I’m agnostic.

  • Potter

    Nick check out the exposition on “Faith” at wikipedia: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Faith

    I recently said that I had faith that moderates (born out of religion or a religious culture, but who can reason by definition) would eventually rise in a (Middle Eastern) democracy. I could have elaborated that I meant a maturing democracy. That expression of faith was based on what I know and intuit about human nature. No proof, just a feeling, a projection and maybe a hope. And it may be a real leap of faith and also, worse, a “catch 22” proposition to overcome because democracy won’t just come about easily if there is a strong suppression of moderates. But I have faith….the world is getting smaller, ideas creep in… bottom up. ( This is why I think it is so important for us to set a sterling example- the crime is that we are not.)

    So I think you are talking about “religious faith” a closed-mindedness, and I am talking here about “faith as the basis for human knowledge” http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Faith This is where faith helps to open the mind. I think also there is an element of calm that faith injects that is very much needed.

    I have faith in the overwhelming consensus of scientists. They (and so I when I argue based on that) may be proven wrong, but that is what I rest on for now. Everyone stands on some faith in something. (ie That the earth won’t part beneath you).

    I understand what you hate: denial of reason; blind religious faith, not faith per se ( I think). But that must mean you do not like religions as well; they and their “authorities” and canonical works. As I have said before, I feel there is a lot that is very beautiful and worthwhile about religion that remains after the ugliness, the stubbornness, the ignorance. True also, religions that do not alter or retreat after scientific truth or harmful assertions, exert a drag on progress, hurt us all. There is plenty left to those religious faiths even after science/reason/enlightenment-humanism. But changing, altering canons, deep grooves, that which has been deemed holy and unquestionable has meant big movements, reformations, upheavals, much bloodshed in the past. The unlocking, the big changes, reinterpretations, have been a long time in coming as well, hundreds of years for the West. Still they are incomplete and ongoing. But as I said it has to come from inside, maybe not without pressure from outside. I cheer these voices of reason and understanding: Joseph Campbell as well as Dawkins and Dennett. In trying to use reason to “break the spell” the spell which denies reason, some of this might get through but it’s a hard message to communicate peacefully to those who need to hear it. You need an open mind on the other end, which is the problem.

  • Potter
  • Old Nick

    Thank you, Potter. Perhaps this is the right place and time to try opening a discussion the possible inappropriateness of notions like this, from the Wikipedia link on Faith:

    2. belief that is not based on proof: He had faith that the hypothesis would be substantiated by fact.

    Count me a skeptic on the notion that scientists have ‘faith’ in the hypotheses and even in the theories native to their professions. I reckon instead their thought processes are conditional rather than ‘unconditionally accepting’.

    Rather than add more words to this already epic thread (epic in the good sense!), allow me to offer my thoughts posted here, especially the third post titled: “What do scientists REALLY mean when they use the words ‘belief’ and believe’?”. (Feel free to post a reply there, or here, or both.)

    After reading it, you will likely understand why I would dispute this: “…the idea that faith is the basis of all human knowledge” (from Wikipedia) by substituting, “experimentation and analysis are the twin bases of all human knowledge. And have been ever since our remote ancestors’ first experiments with primitive technology.”

    (A more ‘memetic’ lens for the question of cogitation, if you will.)

  • Old Nick

    Potter, thanks again.

    Wikipedia also includes this: “Faith, by its very nature, requires belief outside of known fact.”

    And that’s why, contrary to the rest of my godly society, I don’t consider ‘faith’ a virtue but a wholly lazy form of mental acceptance. A laziness that leads, all too often, to vice. Vice like chauvinism (in the broad sense), which notably includes sexism, nationalism (as in: American Exceptionalism and all it has wrought), racism, and, of course, religious conceits and the sanctified imperialism that follow it. All of these chauvinisms are empowered not by reason or by the (secular) humanism that rc21 seems to scorn, but by “belief outside of known fact”.

    When we, in our public policies and other community interactions, acquiesce to the application of ‘belief outside of known fact’, it is essentially no different than allowing our communities to be operated according to prevailing superstition. If we had no recourse to more rational options – as was true only a couple of ignorant centuries ago – this would be forgivable (I suppose – I’m trying to be broadminded here).

    This historical condition of ignorance is passing, however (slowly, yes, but steadily). We know now, for example, that sexual urges don’t stem from ‘Satan’ but from hormones evolved as a spark and as a(n) (pleasurable) adjunct to mammalian reproduction.

    Moreover, other advances in our knowledge, from the implications of the existence of the clitoris to the mundane, daily social behaviors of our close relatives the bonoboscollectively toss the sexual obsessiveness of the putative ‘morality’ of the ‘revealed religions’ onto its figurative head. These putatively ‘moral’ obsessions have led to the humiliations and deaths of countless girls, women, and homosexuals. Such barbarisms continue to this day. Even in the US and the larger cultural West, where we like to think that such barbarity is a ‘thing of the past’, it isn’t. We judge women differently than men: so long as the unambiguously sexist word ‘slut’ remains in circulation, we are continuing to be affected by so-called ‘morals’ based on “belief outside of known fact”.

    In sum, that’s why I consider ‘faith’ a vice of laziness instead of a ‘virtue’. I realize I am part of a very small minority, but consider, please, the logic or my argument. Once again, I strongly suggest Sam Harris’s The End of Faith: http://www.powells.com/biblio/18-0393327655-0

    Harris argues the case much more eloquently than I can. It’s an argument deserving of a wider airing, and of a broad societal debate.

  • Old Nick

    Rc21, if you see two baskets before you, one full of apples and the other full only of air, are both things ‘baskets of apples’?

    This question parallels the difference between belief and the absence of belief.

    I can’t convert anyone to ‘my beliefs’ because I don’t have any beliefs.

    I don’t ‘believe in God’.

    And I don’t ‘disbelieve in the existence of God.’

    I don’t have to.

    I have no ‘beliefs’ on the issue any more than on the issue of the existence of gnomes or hobgoblins.

    I simply have no plausible evidence to support the proposed existence or nonexistence of supernatural entities either way.

    Here’s why: science can’t disprove the putative existence of ‘God’, because science examines only the natural universe – and ‘God’ is supernatural. Like hobgoblins, elves, and vampires.

    Moreover, the very instant science discovers experimentally or observationally verifiable existence of a supernatural entity, the entity becomes, by definition, a natural phenomenon.

    Example: a young, unemployed graduate student…let’s call him ‘Bobby Henderson’, claims to have had an encounter with a supernatural entity. Bobby Henderson becomes the Entity’s Prophet and says so publicly, even writing a gospel.

    Should you believe Mr. Henderson?

    Why not? He’s written a published book of The Flying Spaghetti Monster’s prophecies, after all!

    Not good enough?

    Why not?

    Because Mr. Henderson can’t offer any PROOF of his Entity’s existence?

    So, do you disbelieve in the FSM?

    Or simply have no belief at all regarding such an obvious parody?

    Yet what if other people began ranting against FSM ‘unbelievers’, and demanding that their FSM-derived ‘morality’ be accommodated in public policy and law (such as the mandatory wearing of pirate garb)?

    What would you do?

    What if their crackpot movement – or, worse, one like it that isn’t a parody but a serious cult growing into a full blown faith for millions – begins exerting freedom-impinging influence on the private lives of your wife, or daughters, or, heavens forbid, you?

    Would you sit by idly and let this unverifiable societal fantasia continue to fester and grow ever-larger without attempting to peacefully undermine it – by using reason?

    That, in comedic shorthand, is my dilemma. This is why I no longer hold my electronic tongue in fora like ROS concerning the functions of the faith religions.

    But here’s what could change my mind: observationally or experimentally verifiable evidence of the existence of the Supernatural Entity called ‘God’. This, in fact, is precisely the motivation behind the scientists working feverishly at the Discovery Institute, attempting to substantiate the (fatally flawed) hoodoo-theory called ‘Intelligent Design’. But hey, if they succeed, won’t I be embarrassed!!!

    A penpal of mine and I occasionally spar over the source of speciation in evolution. For a time, he thought I ‘believed in’ the Darwinian theoritcal model of speciation by accumulated genetic drift. I think (and hope) I’ve finally convinced him instead of this: I don’t believe in it, I simply find it the most plausible available explanation for ‘biological change over time’, which is all evolution means (Darwinian evolution, that is).

    He has an alternative speculative construct. I have informed him that he is free to try convincing me that his is more plausible than the Darwinian model. If he succeeds in this, I will admit it with no shedding of tears or lost hair. Because scientific theories aren’t important enough to hurt over—or to believe in. Belief requires too much ‘faith’, and I, as you know well by now, am a faithless wretch.

    Here’s a few other theories I plause (subscribe to): the heliocentric solar system. The Big Bang. Plate Tectonics. Mountain formation by vulcanism and/or orogenic uplift. I could go on, but won’t because the point of listing these is that if any of these theories are superceded by more plausible ones, I won’t go into a fit and try to harm anyone. I’ll simply and quietly plause the more plausible theory. My credulity is ever and always conditional. My conditional credulity doesn’t require ‘belief’. It’s open. Open to revision at all times.

    This same open mindedness isn’t native to the kind of unconditional mental acceptance called ‘faith’. Which means, by obvious implication, that the ‘faithful’ are close-minded.

    In the post six places above this one, I suggest that any curious believer ask her holy man (usually these cats are male, although that’s slowly changing): “Why didn’t God reveal His word to EVERY person alive at the same time He revealed it to Muhammad/Jesus/Moses? Was God too weak or sick to speak in the minds of everyone at once?”

    I expect the usual answer will be a variation on this time-worn theme: “Because God works in mysterious ways.”

    There’s a word for that sort of answer: Evasion. Or, less formally: cop-out.

    Religious professionals claim certain knowledge of “God’s” intentions…uh…until someone asks a rational question that undercuts the logic of their irrational faiths. So they evade with variations on the theme called: God’s Mysterious Ways.

    Right.

    Notice, please, that this evasive subterfuge effectively keeps the professional religionist employed.

    Notice also that when such questions are repeated instead of silenced by the timeworn evasion, or when science is used as I use it cast to doubt on the existence of the USE, professional religionists have another time-worn excuse at the ready.

    Yup.

    You guessed it.

    Satan.

    The Unverifiable Supernatural Evil, & All Purpose Bogeyman.

    Yup. Satan has corrupted all those godless scientists and affiliated nonbelievers.

    Well, then, can the religionists perhaps provide evidence for Satan’s existence?

    Nope. Sorry. He lives down below. We can’t go there, because the Earth’s innards are molten rock. Perhaps there’s a big cavern somewhere in there holding Hell, despite all that massive pressure exerted by gravity.

    Yes, you’ll just have to take our word for it: Satan is real, and he is testing your faith.

    Be frightened. Be very, very frightened.

    Does this not smack of the word ‘racket’?

    Well, maybe that’s too harsh, because I’m pretty sure most religionists actually believe in the validity and efficacy of their spiritual snake oil.

    Yet why can’t any of them offer verifiable existence of their Supernatural Entity’s existence? Or that of his unseemly sidekick down below?

    Hmmm…

    The global religious industry is a multi-trillion dollar business. Some of us (not you, perhaps) bemoan all the money being poured these days by our government into the rubble and ruin called Iraq. We know, had the war been avoided or its aftermath better handled, that this money could otherwise finance domestic programs which could vastly improve education and the health of Americans. Meanwhile, a British billionaire has just announced massive private funding for non-fossil fuel energy sources in response to global warming. Our government, despite the mighty resource called the American economy, can’t match this, because of that billion-dollar-a-week quicksand in Iraq—which it got into via faith in the national conceit called American Exceptionalism.

    But imagine all those trillions of dollars currently financing the promulgation of belief in the Unverifiable Supernatural Entity suddenly coming free for investment into alternative energy sources. Imagine the end of belief in ‘God’ translating into the rescue of the billion or so people plnelson casually figures might perish in the coming decades of rising sea levels and associated pandemic diseases.

    Is that a worthy sacrifice for professional religionists? Are a billion or so lives worth the livelihoods of a few million professional religionists—who can’t even prove the existence of the Entity, (be he Allah, Jehovah, Jesus, or the Flying Spaghetti Monster) on whose behalf they claim to mediate?

    Think it over.

    All it would take is a simple and humble admission that ‘blind faith’ isn’t a ‘virtue’ but folly.

    And that’s my cause. Like it or not.

    So, whaddya think? Do I ‘hate’ religious people? Or feel for their predicament? Am I an enemy of the faithful, or just an enemy of faith itself?

  • Old Nick

    “The fact that an opinion has been widely held is no evidence that it is not utterly absurd.”

    —Bertrand Russell, British mathematician, philosopher

    (courtesy of my pal Potter)

  • tbrucia

    Wow! A total of 369 postings!? Everybody but God has been here…. Hey, God, time for you to speak up and give us the final word… (Hmmmm…. how will I know that the person posting as God is the Real Deal? 🙁 ) Back to the drawing board….

  • carrollt

    tbrucia — indeed, that’s where I think the problem is: not just figuring out when what appears to be God really is but when to trust one’s tradition’s or community’s values and beliefs. The philosophical emphasis on evidence for beliefs is all fine and good, but searching out and examining evidence takes time. In practice, this evidentialist standard is not workble for all — or even most — of one’s beliefs; human beings have to rely on ‘the way things seem’ and on other people for beliefs and about a great many matters. (I think C. S. Peirce’s approach to this kind of problem in ‘The Fixation of Belief’ is pretty good.)

    Also, in light of the Bertrand Russell quote — for a well-written piece on morality in a meaningless universe, Russell’s “A Free Man’s Worship” is hard to beat: http://www.positiveatheism.org/hist/russell1.htm

    I still have my doubts about whether a coherent show can be drawn from these rather disparate posts on evolution, philosophy, politics, religion(s) and morality. If a show is ever made, I don’t see how they can do it without winnowing the topic down to just a couple themes, leaving out the vast majority of what has come up in the forum. And what a task it would be to identify those themes from this sprawling, endless forum!

  • Old Nick

    Here’s a quick game of “Who Said This?”

    (quote)

    There is no position on which people are so immoveable as their religious beliefs. There is no more powerful ally one can claim in a debate than Jesus Christ, or God, or Allah, or whatever one calls this supreme being. But like any powerful weapon, the use of God’s name on one’s behalf should be used sparingly. The religious factions that are growing throughout our land are not using their clout with wisdom. They are trying to force government leaders into following their position 100%. If you disagree with these religious groups on a particular moral issue, they complain, and threaten you with a loss of money or votes or both. I’m frankly sick and tired of the political preachers across this country telling me as a citizen that if I want to be a moral person, I must believe in A, B, C, or D. Just who do they think they are? And from where do they presume their right to dictate their moral beliefs to me? And I am even more angry as a legislator who must endure the threats of every religious group who thinks it has some God-granted right to control my vote on every roll call in the Senate. I am warning them today: I will fight them every step of the way if they try to dictate their moral convictions to all Americans in the name of conservatism.

    (unquote)

    Was it:

    a. Bill Clinton

    b. Dwight Eisenhower

    c. Barry Goldwater

    d. Al Gore

    e. John Kerry

    f. Eugene McCarthy

    g. George McGovern

    h. Adlai Stevenson

    Tick-tock-tick-tock-tick-tock…RINGGGGGG!!!

    Time’s up!

    The answer: c. Barry Goldwater.

    Yup.

    That Barry Goldwater.

    The lionized ‘father’ of contemporary American Conservativism.

    (It would appear that Senator Goldwater didn’t win his every-step-of-the-way fight.)

    Quotation source: Congressional Record, September 16th, 1981; by way of The GOD Delusion, Richard Dawkins, Houghton Mifflin, 2006.

    PS to carrollt: thanks for the Russell essay. I’ll be reading it shortly.

  • Old Nick

    On Friday, September 29th, NPR’s Day to Day interviewed Sam Harris, author of The End of Faith, and Letter To A Christian Nation

    Here’s the blurb:

    Day to Day, September 29, 2006 · In his new book Letter to a Christian Nation, author Sam Harris argues that faith is an antiquated and destructive notion that should be challenged more vigorously. Harris attacks religious moderates – Muslim moderates in particular – who in defending their faith as tolerant and peaceful, provide cover for extremists. Harris talks with Madeleine Brand about the controversy his book is already generating.

    And here’s the link:

    http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=6166802

  • chilton1

    This conversation really demonstrates the non-secularity of the USA.

    In order to move on as a human race -together – I think need to have faith in our own biology.

    God is a billion years of evolution….immense, unthinkable, powerful.

    trust it.

  • girlsforscience

    I am a strong believer in science. I am sometimes perplexed that others think those of us who do choose to believe in religion for ourselves are without a spiritual sense of wonder or capable of self reflection. One of the really attractive aspects of science is that it really unfolds the world for me, and I find a tremendous sense of wonder in that. I feel there is so much to discover, and if I were to ascribe to anything, it would be to explore with great fervor what is right here.

    That said — it is possible to envision a world full of meaning and morality without God. Not only that, but I can’t possibly be proven wrong on this, because I am the best determinate of this for myself!! (lol)

  • girlsforscience

    To add one last contribution — I think one of the most difficult aspects of religion is leaving it in favor of your own search for meaning and morality. I come from a family that is deeply religious, and they belong to a community of like-minded individuals. I favor their charitable works to those in need, admitedly. But I have grown to interpret life very differently. I chose to break step with tradition by having a child outside of marriage. When I did marry, I chose a scientist, and fell in love with not only him but the scientific method. I hold deep love for both, and do not regret making the choice to pursue life as I observed it. But this does belay the obvious fact that I grew up immersed in churches. I never felt isolated. But having crossed to the other side…I feel very isolated and distanced from my family. We just don’t relate well anymore. I wish they shared my passions, but I think there is something about religious doctrine that makes it difficult to set aside. When children leave the flock, it is like choosing the life of an aesthetic, in a way.

  • manning120

    The massacre of schoolgirls at the Amish school at Bart Township, Pennsylvania on October 2, 2006 has raised questions relevant to this thread. In the aftermath, the “liberal media” focused on the forgiveness expressed by the Amish toward the shooter, Charles C. Roberts. Most stories or comments I’ve seen marvel that even family members of the slain children could forgive Roberts and offer kindnesses to his wife. The accounts invariably assume the forgiving attitude is called for by the Amish religion.

    I previously stated in this forum that moral truth can be discerned by reasoning. Religions incorporate certain beliefs, especially in the areas of morality and cosmology, “doctrinalizing” them, so that followers are commanded to accept, and relieved of the burden of understanding the thought processes leading to, the doctrinalized conclusions. In this, religion contrasts with science.

    I believe, based on rational analysis of human experiences and the likely consequences of not exercising forgiveness, that we have a duty, in appropriate circumstances, to forgive. This conclusion doesn’t depend on the existence of God, the divine status of Jesus, etc. The Amish have helped show why we have a duty to forgive. Their religion deserves credit for doctrinalizing this principle, and the Amish deserve credit for being open to the duty of forgiveness in this most difficult of cases. But when the media speak of the Amish forgiveness as something peculiar to their faith, and imply that non-Amish wouldn’t, or couldn’t, or even shouldn’t, do the same if faced with the same tragedy, that obscures the universality of the moral principle so nobly exemplified by the Amish.

  • chilton1

    Manning120, I too marvel at the ability of people like this to forgive. This is not limited to people of faith though.

    I think you confuse moral truth arrived at “by reasoning” (as you say) with the kind of moralities that biology has dictated. Our evolutionary path has been down a social one of late. This path requires social rules. These rules (which include acts of altruism) are behaviours that have been selected for because they increase our own chances of survival. What we are witnessing is competition between different moral rules in the current environmental arena. I agree we would not arrive at (in one life time) very functional moral “truths” (as you call them) by reasoning. Religion perhaps arrives at them culturally –i.e. through many generations. Unfortunately, religion-derived-morality can also be used politically. Biology on the other hand is objective and spans great lengths of time – independently of reasoning, scientific method etc.

  • manning120

    Chilton1, thanks so much for your comment. Your use of the phrase “moral ‘truths’ (as you call them)” shows what I think is a flaw in your thinking. You and many others see morality not as a body of assertions about right and wrong, subject to revision upon further analysis, but as an expression or manifestation of evolution. Actually, as I suggested in a previous post, evolution gave humans to a degree not seen in lower species the ability to be loving, hateful, compassionate, murderous, generous, or selfish. But whether acts that might be described as moral, immoral, or morally permissible in fact are, depends on rational analysis. For example, the line between murder and self-defense can be very fine, but it exists. Evolution doesn’t draw that line. Reason does.

    I disagree with your claim that “we would not arrive at (in one life time) very functional moral ‘truths’ (as you call them) by reasoning.” It’s true that moral reasoning is very difficult. But I think the existence of moral principles we all observe shows that such reasoning is possible. Moral behavior, whether it’s doing what persuasive moral authority has told us, or doing what our own analysis of circumstances tells us should be done, results from rational thought, not the unguided expression of instinct.

  • taliesin

    For a seasoned perspective on Morality, consider reporter, war correspondent and author Chris Hedges; who I believe graduated from the Harvard School of Theology.

    And of course there is Bill Moyers, who has produced more popular work on Morality than anyone else I can recall.

    A less obvious possibility is Kevin Burke, the Jesuit professor and scholar on the work of Ignacio Ellacuria. Burke was at the Weston School of Theology until very recently.

  • Giberson

    Great discussion guys. I enjoyed reading this thread.

    Manning: I hope you are not awfully disdainful of the “unguided expression of instinct,” as you call it. Complex issues can be tricky for mere rational persons to parse apart with the requisite degree of reliability under ordinary time constraints. As with morality based on religious traditions, instinctive morality can often be far more reliable than a solution that is the product solely of “rational thought.” Consider the classic debate between the comparative propriety of inflicting intentional harm and unintended but fully predicted harm. For instance, compare the propriety of blowing up a building with innocent people in it in order to kill innocent people to blowing up a town with innocent people in order to kill a couple of very bad people among them. Some rationalists would say that these acts are morally equivalent (or at least not terribly different) because they both produce the same vile result–the unnecessary slaughter of innocents. But are they really the same? Isn’t the former actually quite a bit worse for some instinctive reason? Perhaps that instinct is related to the breakdown in society that would likely occur if the former were normalized.

    Anyway, I don’t know about you, but I regularly encounter “rationally defensible” ethical solutions that do not seem practicable in comparison to widely recognized traditional or instinctual solutions (for example, the supposed impropriety of the institution of marriage).

    I’m looking forward to this show.

  • Samnang

    If I were picking guests, I’d pick Dr. Russell M. Nelson of Salt Lake City. He’s an internationally known heart surgeon and an appostle of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day saints.

    As a Medical doctor and as leader of a world-wide church, Dr. Neslon is uniquely able to speak both the languages of science and biology and and the languages of religion and morality.

    You can read a short biography here:

    http://www.lds.org/newsroom/biography/0,15609,3959-1—-43,00.html

  • Samnang

    Sorry above didn’t work. It gets you to the site, but not to the exact page.

  • Schumolberry

    Chris Hedges I think first came to my attention when Chris interviewed him for Whole Wide World or whatever it was. I’d like to hear what he has to say these days as well.

    I believe this was the interview I heard.

    http://blogs.law.harvard.edu/lydon/

  • Giberson

    If the upcoming show is intended to focus on epistemology and Christianity, I nominate Alasdair MacIntyre.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Alasdair_MacIntyre

  • chilton1

    Peter Singer

  • manning120

    Giberson, with due respect, I must say your 10/13/06 comment on my previous comment contains the same kind of thinking I was critical of in the previous comment. For example, you say, “instinctive morality can often be far more reliable than a solution that is the product solely of ‘rational thought.’” How can we possibly know that “instinctive morality” is reliable, let alone far more reliable, without rationally making that determination? You then offer comparative scenarios that seem to call out for rational analysis, not instinctive morality. Only someone lacking in the power of reason would suppose that intentionally killing innocent people is morally equivalent to incidentally killing innocent people in the course of killing very bad people among them. The issue of how much collateral damage would rule out a military operation calls for the highest degree of rational understanding (and I do think it’s a moral issue). The Israelis seem to have lost their senses in their last round with Hezbollah; I think their actions were more akin to instinctive morality, which has a large component of vengeance. I also fail to understand your comment about the impropriety of marriage. Perhaps you could explain a bit more.

  • carrollt

    I caught part of a program on evolution and intelligent design on the PBS show “Think Tank” earlier today and thought that it was pretty good. I would consider showing it to students to, say, get the ball rolling in a discussion. Here’s a link to the show site: http://www.pbs.org/thinktank/

    Perhaps one or another of the guests (Stephen Meyer and Michael Ruse) would be up for further discussion…

    What I particularly liked about the discussion was its civility, and by implication the tendency of the speakers not to descend into a black/white way of looking at the topic of evolution and ID.

  • chilton1

    yes I am amazed it could stay civil

    I for one have less tolerance

    If we are to put evolution and ID on an equal paring

    why not discuss The laws of Physics VS. Astrology while we are at it.

  • carrollt

    Chilton1 – The crux of your point depends on how we understand “equal paring” and the role “we” play in placing two items on “equal paring”.

    Since this was neither a biology class nor a scientific journal, I had no qualms about the balance of the discussion. I would hope that civility would prevail in any academic context although I know better than to expect it. Indeed, I think civil conversation is required if one wishes to move past the balkanization that can occur between religious conservatives (on the one hand) and secular humanists (on the other).

    I’m not sure exactly how “paring” is doled out in conversation, but I suspect there is a political dimension to this. Regardless, I have no problem with equal paring in the context of a philosophical conversation. After all, something like divine design would have been the majority opinion on the source of order in the natural world among philosophers until about 150 years ago. Since then there have periodically been philosophers who have brought out re-tooled versions of the design argument. However, the scientific community has moved on and no longer postulates non-naturalistic types of causation. Thus, there seems no longer to be any ground for equal paring in scientific conversations.

  • chilton1

    thanks for your mild rebuke carrollt,

    I guess sometimes the weight ID seems to carry in debate (in the States) is perplexing for me.

    Of course- it is politics…

  • carrollt

    Hope I didn’t get on my high horse there — sometimes I can shift into my teacher persona…

    Anyhow, it is fascinating the purchase on the popular imagination ID has here in the States. My fear is that if scientists (and secular humanists and religious folk buy into evolution) refuse is engage ID theorists in public dialogue, it will serve to foster greater separatism, which could have some unfortunate political consequences.

  • carrollt

    …on the fourth line that should read “religious folk WHO buy into evolution”

  • rahbuhbuh

    Interesting article on Atheism “Church of Non-Believers” in Wired:

    http://www.wired.com/wired/archive/14.11/atheism.html

    discusses Dawkins, Harris, and Dennet

  • chilton1

    I don’t trust wired….it amounts to tabloid technology news for the nerd culture

    and atheism is not a belief structure…or it shouldn’t be

    sometimes atheists band together because of a certain amount of oppression

  • metolius8

    Now here is something we can all agree on, (said with tongue deeply embeded in cheek): Whether Morality is God Given or naturally evovled.

    Is there a way to drill down to the core of morailty? I think it’s like an oasis…we move toward it and it disapears. We can get close, but never bask in it. Morality is an illusion, and two thinking people can’t agree on what it is; note, I said THINKING people.

  • jazzman

    metolius8 says: I think it’s like an oasis…we move toward it and it disapears. We can get close, but never bask in it. Morality is an illusion, and two thinking people can’t agree on what it is; note, I said THINKING people

    1st welcome to ROS metolius8. I think you meant to say mirage instead of oasis but on this thread (and a few others) I’m known to be a nitpicker and it is illusory (that’s because it’s in peoples’ minds.) As neither the existence of God nor Darwinian Evolution nor ID is provable (and unnecessary for morality to exist – what is commonly termed morality has & does evolve, i.e. changes over time, as the creators of it are we – individually and en masse) the question becomes – Morality? THINKING people realize as did Shakespeare that “There is nothing either good or bad but thinking makes it so.” This of course applies only to “value judgment” morality which is a product of one’s beliefs concerning right & wrong or good & bad etc. I have tried to distill what I call Absolute Morality from what I consider to be universal truths and is somewhere above in this thread http://www.radioopensource.org/morality-god-given-or-evolved/#comment-4669#comment-4669 I have cited this idea many times here and have as yet received no objections – so if silence equates to assent then the THINKING people at ROS seem to agree.

  • manning120

    Metolius8, I find myself in sympathy with jazzman’s comment about your intriguing observation, “Morality is an illusion, and two thinking people can’t agree on what it is; note, I said THINKING people.” The fact that thinking people disagree doesn’t imply that thinking about morality, including thinking to reach moral conclusions, is wrong, or useless. Jazzman’s “Absolute Morality” example I think properly shows thinking people can reach a consensus.

    AlanK said on May 29, “. . . the key issue in the God/morality discussion is the force that binds us to it. Why would or should someone be obligated or bound to a moral code? If there is no commanding force behind morality, then why ought I to be bound by any rules?” AlanK seems to presuppose jazzman’s and my position that we think or reason to determine moral truth, but proposes a particular ontological playing field upon which we do this thinking. I answered that moral principles inherently cannot arise out of fear or desire, but must come from the same source as all other science: the quest for truth (truth binds us in a way that force doesn’t). This particular area of inquiry has stuck with me over time more than just about anything else in the thread.

    Does anyone disagree with my opinion that fear of hell, and/or attraction to heaven, aren’t sufficient grounds upon which to base morality? It’s striking that murder-suicide is so often committed by persons who believe in heaven and hell. (Of course, there could be other wrongs connected to the suicide, such as the child rapes the man in Pennsylvania evidently intended to commit.) Such persons would have no concern about being punished for moral transgressions while alive, and so if fear of going to hell, or longing to go to heaven, would ever be a ground of morality, it would be then.

  • Schumolberry

    Talk about drilling, how bout drilling down or back to the origins of (rationale for) the wall of separation?

    It’s amazing, taliesin, but no one’ll express interest. Watch and see. At any rate, here’s a Hedges article I just found (heard he went to Egypt on NPR a week or 2 ago).

    http://www.truthdig.com/report/item/200601019_chris_hedges_egypt/

    last posts prior: 28 Oct 06 & 15 Oct & 16 Sept. taliesin’s post was on Oct 12th

    Aug 28 put up dates for my posts throughout the thread

  • Jon

    Let the clock now strike 400 on this longest of possible shows. It is a measure of so much that has changed. I wish I could believe that Santorum’s recent defeat signals the beginning of the end of an infatuation with intelligent design as well. But at least with respect to Santorum himself, I believe we have lived through an evolution of thinking by the electorate–at least in this instance, I believe it is fair to conclude that Morality has Evolved.

  • Schumolberry

    Ok, we took a jump back. But remember what we jumped back from–the whole possibility will keep me more sober for years. The evolution debate AFAIK doesn’t signify anything. I wish I could believe the left would wake up to Rupert Sheldrake and leave whatever’s in that tree alone…but the symbolic analyst steretype (coveted) won’t allow this.

  • Schumolberry

    It seems to me nothing’s cut and dry. These long posts in their tiny faunt, I scan through them and find nothing that draws me in deeper. Get the feeling that their writers believe they know the exact location today of the completely restored tablets from Mount Sinai. Hey, this is my impression and I confess to having limited time. Could be I’ve missed real paydirt.

    But I sit here wondering, what’s a topic that will draw in believers and non-believers? Into some discourse for a little while rather than dangling conversations…

    and superficial sighs…the borders of our lives…

    Actually I’ve been wondering about this for some time. But last night I went through something I downloaded a couple years back. It’s from a Christian perspective but I invite all folks to read on because I truly believe the sociological/anthropological aspect might sustain the intersts of one or two who drop in here. It’s a comparison of Kierkegaard and Rene Girard. Title is “‘The Crowd is Untruth’: A Comparison of Kierkegaard and Girard” by Charles K. Bellinger.

    http://72.14.205.104/search?q=cache:jG2EyyP2ZjYJ:theol.uibk.ac.at/cover/contagion/contagion03_Bellinger.pdf+%22the+crowd+is+untruth%22&hl=en&gl=us&ct=clnk&cd=3&ie=UTF-8

    If the url above doesn’t work here’s the pdf file at a site I frequent, but Google cites it in many places

    http://theol.uibk.ac.at/cover/contagion/contagion03_Bellinger.pdf.

    No the tablets aren’t restored and are nowhere. No pictures yet of anything like the ark. Even so, it might not hurt any of us to go back much farther into the chaos…with Rene Girard. I’ll choose segments that I’m guessing might grab folks like me…I said grab…sorry if it strikes you I could have cited items closer to the kernel of the thing.

    Bellinger writes…

    “The second main point of difference between Kierkegaard and Girard concerns the starting point for their interpretation of human psychology. Girard starts on the horizontal plane with a secular account of the origin of religion among primitive people. This is similar to Hume’s attempt, in The Natural History of Religion, to provide a naturalistic, non-rational account of the origin of religion. We could paraphrase Hume as saying: ‘This is a plausible account of how religion first arose, even if there were no God.’ Girard is engaged in a similar project, in that he is providing a naturalistic explanation of the genesis of religion and culture. It is only after Girard has developed his theory of of interdividual psychology and the scapegoat mechanism that he arrives at the doorstep of theology and points his reader to the way of the kingdom and the life of faith.

    on mimetic desire…mimetic reflection (sorry the referenced quote isn’t here)…

    “It is interesting to note the similarity between Kierkegaard’s comments here and Girard’s review of 19th centruy novels in Deceit, Desire, and the Novel. Kierkegaard uses the metaphor of a penitentiary to analyze modern Western culture. When envy, which Girard calls internal mediation, is the basic principle of a social system, human life becomes a prison from which escape is very difficult. In his work, Girard speaks of ‘ontological’ or ‘metaphysical’ sickness, which suggests that modern culture is like a vast insane asylum which has been created by the minds of the inmates. Both authors are painting a picture of modern society as a hall of mirrors in which THE SELF IS LOST, AS IT CONTINUALLY SEEKS TO SEE ITSELF IN THE OTHER. As long as the individual strives to find himself in the nexus of reflections, he does not come to himself. In the asylum, men are either ‘gods’ or ‘demons’ in the eyes of each other.” [emphasis mine]

    last posts prior: 11 Nov 06 & 28 Oct 06 & 15 Oct & 16 Sept 06. taliesin’s post was on Oct 12th

    Aug 28 put up dates for my posts throughout the thread

  • manning120

    In today’s NYT, David D. Kirkpatrick discusses the evangelical view that U.S. support for Israel is “God’s foreign policy.” My August 14, 2006 post raises questions about this type of thinking. Kirkpatrick never directly addresses the central question: if Biblical prophecy says that Israeli control over the Middle East, a precondition for the second coming, is inevitable, why should anyone bother to assist Israel in bringing about that control? But some comments reported by Kirkpatrick, especially those from James Dobson, offer a possible answer. Dobson contends that God commands Christians to protect the Jewish people, God’s chosen people despite their flawed character. Does this imply that the triumph of the Israeli state, and after it, the second coming, aren’t, after all, inevitable?

    Kirkpatrick also offers the usual dodge regarding the way scripture influences President Bush’s thinking. “Administration officials say that the meeting with Mr. Hagee was a courtesy for a political ally and that evangelical theology has no effect on policy making. . . . Evangelical Christians who know President Bush, including Marvin Olasky, editor of the magazine World and a former Bush adviser, said Mr. Bush, unlike President Reagan, has never shown any interest in prophecies of the second coming.” So he isn’t an evangelical Christian? Did I miss something?

  • Chris Donalies

    You have requested some people on the religious side to discuss this topic with. My suggestions are below. I would love to here you provide a balanced debate on this topic – usually the conversations I hear on national, secular news programs are very biased toward evolution. FYI, I am against the false religion of evolution (a religion is something someone believes in, which is all you can do with evolution since they have no proof of it nor than they reproduce their theory).

    Kent Hovind – A Creation Science Evangelist. http://www.drdino.com. Travel extensively, performs many debates on this topic, and has a daily call in show online. Phone # 877-479-3466 (FL)

    Answers in Genesis – http://www.answersingenesis.org/. Phone # (859) 727-2222 (KY)

    Institute for Creation Research – http://www.icr.org/. Phone # (619) 448-0900 (CA)

  • Old Nick

    WNYC’s Radio Lab (I regret to report) seems to have scooped ROS: Morality, which presented a comprehensively plausible case that primates exhibit moral behavior. The Radio Lab episode goes on to demonstrate that not only is morality an evolved trait, it evolved from, or, at the very least, in conjunction with, empathy. Which I tried to suggest months ago in another ROS thread…or is in this one? Somewhere up there ^! Way, way up there near the top of this great thread!

    Anyway, don’t take my word for it: give the episode a listen.

  • Schumolberry

    Old Nick, someone mentioned to me reading about this new evolved-trait evidence in, I think, our local paper. I really wonder how Rene Girard (mentioned in my Nov 13th post) works in the Light that lightens every man [human] that cometh into the world…into his general scheme of things…I mean the Light’s function prior to the incarnation. I respect Girard for taking apparently different views from within Christianity toward some Christian doctrines–his point of views don’t present the facade that orthodoxy always makes sense.

    Trying to find in other religions/philosophies recognition of “the true light” is something I’ve been working with for a while. One could say you go with what makes sense to you and syncretism cannot be substantiated; nevertheless I have gone on in pursuit of it. Both the guys treated by the Bellinger piece I mentioned 11/13 seem to imply the light was relatively dim prior to the incarnation. I don’t know exactly to what degree myself our sojourns here were in the dark prior, but I respect both Kierkegaard and Girard for attempting to elucidate in their own ways what happens when humans aren’t/weren’t aware of the Light, or forget/forgot the Light, or keep/kept It under a bushel…prior to the incarnation and subsequent.

    All or most of these povs I guess one day…some of us here will bring to bear on “the wall of separation,” which I think they will definitely (but maybe paradoxically) support.

    last posts prior: 11 Nov 13 & 11 Nov 06 & 28 Oct 06 & 15 Oct 06 & 16 Sept 06. taliesin’s post was on Oct 12th

    Aug 28 put up dates for my posts throughout the thread

  • Schumolberry

    “…if Biblical prophecy says that Israeli control over the Middle East, a precondition for the second coming, is inevitable…” manning120 11/14

    I may seem to you only 2 degrees off Dobson’s course, but, preliminarily as a Christian…here are my questions:

    Do what the prophecies say pertain to things that already have occured?

    How fathomable are the prophecies?

    I wish I could find a list of these prophecies…some in Daniel as I remember, some in Revelations. And I wish I could find with them…comments that placed them in a non-predestinarian context.

    At the moment I can’t think of the scripture that justifies heavy, heavy retaliation for insurgency against Israel (over heavy). As party to many UN resolutions in the past the Palestinians have recognized Israel’s right to exist (and IMO we should be an ally due to the holocaust) but, manning120, it is frustrating that folks cannot see that modern Israel has gone back on their committment to these resolutions many, many, significant times. It’s like…because they are “the chosen” it’s impossible for them to go back on their agreements. Even if all these claims were accurate regarding the prophecies and Israel’s dominance…couldn’t Israel still go astray and mess up all the prophecies? Wasn’t Israel busted over and over in the OT…after Daniel? If they got busted too many times wasn’t it implicit the good prophecies could get trashed by their own ungodliness? We and our friends in the Mid East are in question. There was a special last night on mainstream television covering treatment of guest workers in the region. Finally this story is told outright, and not merely bya few brave souls (like BBC & the move “Syriana”). Too much injustice. Too much injustice is a Biblical concern, folks.

    I have some urls for timelines of the region since ’48 collected, but it’s one of my biggest challenges to keep them handy.

  • Schumolberry

    CORRECTION: I see above I mentioned the book of Daniel, when what would have been more appropriate would have been Isaiah.

    Daniel was too close to the incarnation to demonstrate errors after and inspite of prophecy…less than 200 years. But Isaiah (700 yrs prior) is a case in point of the dilemma–that book poses the problem individuals subsequent must resolve for themselves in regard to…prophesized events combined with admonitions that imply at the same time the freedom of the nation to stop “making” karma. At the beginning of the book are the admonitions which imply the freedom. At the end are the apocalyptic prophecies. The admonitions make sense to me. Prophecies regarding the incarnation make sense to me. But the ones at the end of the book…as we know, many have concluded they are from multiple pens. For me, applying them to the present day and unavoidable Armageddon seems a stretch.

    last posts prior: 18 Nov 06 & 11 Nov 06 & 28 Oct 06 & 15 Oct 06 & 16 Sept 06. taliesin’s post was on Oct 12th

    Aug 28 put up dates for my posts throughout the thread prior

  • constantino

    Tried to skim the comments to make sure this hadn’t been mentioned, but this conversation wouldn’t be complete without hearing from Frans de Waal. He is a Dutch-born primatologist and author who has written about the evolution of morality in humans and other primates, particularly in his 1996 book “Good natured: the origins of right and wrong in humans and other animals.”

  • Sarah Asher

    My evolution class (biology, not religion) tried to address altruism in light of natural selection. There was some hand waving about degree of shared genes and such. I finally asked the prof if I was correct in inferring that the most altruistic thing I could do would be to steal my sister’s birth control pills and replace them with aspirin…

    As to the philosophical question, I think the case is already well proven. Of course it is possible to have a strong moral base without reference to any religion – I and my entire family were raised with as much care for the morality of our behavior as any Christian (Muslim, Jewish, etc. ) family, although the rules we were to live by might be different. And most of us at least try to lead decent lives (with about the same degree of success as any other mortals).

    Not that anyone notices. As a non-Christian living in the Bible belt, I am confronted every day with a popular culture that ascribes all goodness and decency to a Christian upbringing. Not only do they (as a group) fail to re-evaluate this position when priests are indicted or evangilists caught misbehaving, but good deeds by the ‘humanists’ don’t seem to register, either.

    Even on a personal level, there seems to be a frustrating myopia. That is, even people who’ve known me for years don’t seem to ask themselves why I’m not running amuck, (given that I don’t have Hell to worry about!).

    So while we may find this discussion interesting, I don’t think it’s going to trickle down to the Old Time Religion Church… Much less, alas, to the voters.

  • Schumolberry

    Sarah, I’m not a “fundamentalist” (current usage) but I try hard to understand them. Don’t know if you’re in college or HS, but once you start tryin to earn the bucks to live, look around. If you’re eyes are open you’ll see the American dream is far, far more ellusive today than it was even in “Death of a Salesman” then. Folks in fact tryin to knock each other to the bottom. So, these fundamentalists watched all this come about. They equate progressives with advocates of unlimited replacements for themselves on the job. The pressure’s enough to bring so many to snapin…I never saw the movie. More and more information to boot…and none of it from their POV easing up the load. At any rate, to help me deal with these people I’m reading Thinking Points by George Lakoff. Why? Cause it’s gotta trickle down or the progressives’ll end up marching more and more smartly to Bush/Ashcroft tunes next time something happens (enough of this already from the “progressives” on the hill…until the vote).

    Everyone, I apparently erred twice in that 11/18 post. I said “the scripture” and should I guess have said “any scripture.” Sorry if you read the mistake and thought, what kind of nut….At the moment I can’t think of the scripture that justifies heavy, heavy retaliation for insurgency against Israel (over heavy).

    last posts prior: 18 Nov 06 & 13 Nov 06 & 11 Nov 06 & 28 Oct 06 & 15 Oct 06 & 16 Sept 06. taliesin’s post was on Oct 12th

    Aug 28 put up dates for my posts throughout the thread

  • manning120

    I listened to the program recommended by Old Nick in his 11/18/06 post. Although one of the speakers described the program as “an hour on morality,” the most important part of the program, the part Old Nick refers to, concerned people’s “sense” or “feeling” of right and wrong about a two-pronged scenario. In one prong, you have the opportunity to save five people’s lives by turning a switch that will kill a sixth person. In the other prong, you have the opportunity to save the five by pushing the sixth off a bridge. The level of moral reasoning is exemplified by the participants’ assumption (which I question) that the first and second choices are morally equivalent. The main guest in the segment, Josh Green, discusses brain patterns related to the decisions people made concerning the scenarios. Green says “basic primate morality” tells most people not to push the man off a bridge, but allows most people to use the switch. He concludes that our “most basic core moral values” are not “handed down from on high,” but result from hundreds of thousands of years of evolution. They’re “embedded in brain chemistry.”

    Morality isn’t feeling in favor of or against doing something. It isn’t instinctive behavior. It isn’t patterns of brain activity. Morality is a discipline that tells us to behave in ways that sometimes conflict with the inclinations or temptations of instinct or “brain chemistry.” Count yourself lucky if you instinctively want to do the right thing, but morality commands that you do the right thing even if your natural inclination is otherwise. I think the program participants showed no awareness of this fundamental principle. Does anyone disagree?

  • chilton1

    Sarah Asher Says:

    “My evolution class (biology, not religion) tried to address altruism in light of natural selection. There was some hand waving about degree of shared genes and such. I finally asked the prof if I was correct in inferring that the most altruistic thing I could do would be to steal my sister’s birth control pills and replace them with aspirin…”

    Ants are altruistic

  • Pingback: …My heart’s in Accra » Media lifespans, or how to make your photos live forever()

  • Sir Otto

    Four times as many comments on this subject than any other. It seems to hit home with all of us. Has anybody mentioned C.S. Lewis of The Chronicles of Narnia fame? He did a series of radio essays during WW2 and the blitz in Great Britain which was put together in a book. Mere Christianity. It’s been said, this book is for the good man who wants to be a Christian, but finds his intellect getting in the way. He makes a good argument for the fact of morality being the proof of a living God. One example. You hear a man in danger crying for help. You feel two desires. One a desire to help (your herd instinct), the other a desire to keep out of danger (the instinct for self-preservation). But inside, you find a third thing that tells you that you ought to follow the desire to help and suppress the desire to run away. This thing that judges between the two previous cannot be either of them. Same as a sheet of music that tells you to play this note and not that one cannot be either. This is the Moral Law given by God, of which was betrayed by Adam and Eve and reconciled to the Father through Jesus Christ. So he argues. I quote directly a lot here.

  • valkyrie607

    When is this show going to air? And when will they build a function into the site where the comments divide themselves into different pages? This one takes a damn long time to load.

  • travellingmind

    I’ll add this quote, from a philosophical side. This quote from Claude Adrien Helvetius(1715-1771). ” He insisted that the most important part of education was the moral part, which should instill “virtue”, or a set of desirable attitudes and habits. True morality, he said, had nothing to do with religion, and indeed a perverse morality was inculcated by priests.” Quote is taken from Questia online regarding Helvetius’ A Treatise on Man: His Intellectual Faculties and His Education. I recommend anyone looking for this answer to read a book by noted author and scientist Edward O. Wilson, “Consilience-The Unity of Knowledge”. I own and have read this book. Its a great read, and highlights one of my favorite periods in history, The Enlightenment. The basis for our Constitution and form of government were derived from this period.

  • Schumolberry

    On June 25th I posted my impression, among probably a few other references to same following, of Thom Hartmann’s version of what Jefferson gleaned from Paul de Rapin-Thoyras. That is…what light his history shed on older legal systems in England/Europe, grievance settling means, etc. It always seemed funny that no one reading this thread had anything further to add regarding what Hartmann had to say about Jefferson, de Rapin, and these legal antecedents. At any rate, perhaps no one with an interest in this topic has arrived here from the wide world outside via Google because, back in those months, I was spelling de Rapin’s name wrong!

    BTW, all this is germane to the wall of separation between church and state.

  • Seth Schrenzel

    It seems to me that a morality imposed by a higher power loses out to a self-imposed morality as it is applied to we humans. It is easy to comply with commanded morality under the threat of harm (e.g. eternal punishment). The real beauty of human-only morality is that the impetus to comply with one’s moral code comes from within. A morality system based on the ability to choose to do right and to adhere to that choice because it is the right thing to do (as opposed to adherence because of the threat of punishment) elevates humans to rational, caring creatures instead of reducing them to fear-based, punishment-avoiding types. I suspect (and hope) that we are the former.

  • Marcel

    On May 9th of last year I wrote a comment here, not so much about this topic, but about why it never airs, why we never seem ready for this one. And since then someone who had sex and got pregnant on that very day is just two weeks from delivering. A child is conceived, brought to term and is born in less time than Chris Lydon plucks up the courage to do this show! What am I missing here? This seems terribly topical: Would we have great wars if we didn’t believe that some higher was handing down revealed truths to us, but not to our enemies. And what if it isn’t true, but instead is some accident of disparate evolution, like round eyes and dark skin? Is it for lack of an expert? I say we are all experts on this one, especially if there turns out to be no god.

    Still under warming lamps? I want a fresh one.

  • god

    Hear, hear!

  • GodzillaVsBambi

    And then the angels asked … “What is your opinion of Yosi, Godzilla”? Being that I cannot tell a lie, immediately I responded. Why, Yosi reminds me of myself when I was very young, and uninformed. There is a certain innocence to the way he expresses himself that I feel should be nurtured, I said. You “Like him”, they asked. I don’t know him personally heavenly ones, but he speaks in a familiar tone. With laughter from the belly they told me that “His tone should indeed sound familiar”, and, that this one will be “Lost forever to the wolves”. So are you mocking me and wasting my time, I asked, or did you summon me for a constructive purpose? What’s the point in trying to pull him back now, I asked, if in the end he will be lost? He may be of assistance to you temporarily, the Angels said. Are you asking me to help him, or to sacrifice him willingly? You know I quit that stuff a while back (LOL) just to make your lives more miserable. Are you having memory loss or something? “Many a slip betwixt the cup and the lip” they cried while whirling away in frustration. Those Bastards! They know that I don’t like them or have to obey to them if I don’t want to, but they do on occasion breech the ether. On the other hand they usually do not appear unless some cosmic stirring is at hand. Their appearance has meaning for sure and I respect that, but because they have entered this realm what they say may be a lie.

    ……

    I’ll tell you why we’re not ready to have this discussion. Vampires, Jackals, Oxen and other Demons and Beasts do not wish to advance the discussion here on Open Source. The cannibals and the anencephalitics in here have more fun lynching innocent people than they do having an honest debate.

    Anyway, God and us occupy the same space, but we use different terminology. The same idea applies to the science vs. religion debate. We all live under the same roof, but we represent different manifestations of the, ongoing, creation process. There are no absolutes. Literalists hate to hear that, but it is true. As I stated elsewhere on this site, whether or not God exists is not the point. We PRETEND he exists in order not to treat each other like Russian and Chinese animals. Call me “opinionated” – Geeze, I wouldn’t wanna get caught with one of those.

    You guys read too much Dawkins, Dennett, and Harris. I know atheism and other anti-authoritarian ideas are trendy right now, but hell – even Darwin had to get eight hours sleep! What’s going on there in Boston? You guys feel OK?

    Yosi … they will accuse you of what they themselves are guilty of. They covet your innocence and your heart because it is pure, and strong. Theirs is not this way. They surrendered their innocence to survive in what they perceive to be a cold world. They gave up their hearts long ago. They want you to be as they are; to perceive as they perceive; to see as they see. They have a certain image in their heads about you, and when you don’t fit that image they attempt to force it on you. They resent you because they cannot be you. Do not fight the Devil with his own weapons, Yosi. Fight him with yours!

    Daniel: BramGolah@gmail.com

  • Lumière

    ///…like Russian and Chinese animals…\\\\

    Bears ?

    official animal of China is a Panda

    bear is a national symbol for Russia

    ??

  • herbert browne

    Oh, heck… isn’t god a product of Morality? Isn’t Morality a product (changing over time) of realizations, and of a desire for continuity?.. of both the individual and the community (from “family” and on, outward)? Looking back at the “tests’ offered (eg “it’s either him or them”) wouldn’t the more likely scenario be “it’s either Me or Us”? Isn’t that a root for Empathy?

    (manning120 offered) “Morality isn’t feeling in favor of or against doing something. It isn’t instinctive behavior. It isn’t patterns of brain activity..”

    I’d say it’s effects include all those things…

    ..”Morality is a discipline that tells us to behave in ways that sometimes conflict with the inclinations or temptations of instinct or “brain chemistry.”

    Well, I doubt that… Any “Morality” that “is a discipline”- why, where did that discipline originate? And, how can it “tell us to behave”? As an influence upon judgement, based upon our feelings and our observations (of ourselves and others), morality becomes a relative encouragement to behavior. Perhaps it came about as a mechanism that protected the community from the powerful individual…

    A young crow graced me with its attention, over a period of about two weeks… flying down from the neighbor’s when it heard our screen door moving in the morning. It would land on my head at first (then a shoulder, later), and begin to examine my head & facial features with its beak. At one point, as it moved this large pointy object through my eyebrows and then my lashes, the fleeting thought about “crows liking shiny objects” flashed through my mind- with regard to the appearance of my eye! As it moved on down to examine my teeth (I must have been smiling), I wondered at the early “rules” in the nest that had kept these creatures from losing an eye… and what may have been deduced by the animals, with regard to one another- ie what “rules” maintained a sense of community among them, and how they ascertained those ‘rules’ (and extrapolated them, to some degree). Based upon my (highly unscientific) information gathering that has produced no One-eyed crows, to date, I’m guessing that this successful, intelligent, gregarious tribe has developed a “morality” of sorts… and that anyone who watched them long enough could learn something from their behavior in this regard. (I’m as much in awe of the ability to wield the scalpel/pliers on the fronts of their faces like little surgeons, only a week after learning to fly, as I am of their abilities to serve themselves and their group simultaneously.) Anyway, why put this on the radio? It’s still a great “read”… and it’ll only inflame the “censors,” if it airs… ^..^

  • herbert browne

    …or, Holy Smoke!.. inflame the Censers. After sleeping on it, why couldn’t morality and empathy have a similar root in the Maternal “Instinct”- ie “we don’t eat our babies… unless we REALLY HAVE to”? The act of providing nurture (to a mate, to the young) has got to provide food for thought, as well… ^..^

  • manning120

    Well, at least one person read what I wrote, and that makes it all worthwhile. Herbert Browne, thank you very much for the comment. I think, however, that you tend to make the error so many people make of conflating evolution, especially the idea of “survival of the fittest,” with morality. I characterize morality as a discipline because it shares some traits of other disciplines, such as science. Moral action or thought does have effects including feelings of being in favor of or against doing something, and brain activity. Morality does arise instinctively in the sense that we are born ready to absorb and practice it, like language. Morality arises from reason, but as I explained months ago, the exact way that happens is difficult to describe. Of course, what is moral to one may be non-moral or even immoral to another, but there’s a common process of determining how to behave. People who approach morality from the perspective of evolution have trouble grasping the notion of moral truth. Nonetheless, clearly, universally, people believe in moral truths. Morality no more and no less results from evolution than the theories of relativity or the Big Bang, or Fermat’s Last Theorem (what do they have to do with survival of the fittest?). The essence of morality is the setting aside of natural inclination and instinct in favor of acting in accordance with moral truths. Among universally accepted moral truths is that killing people without justification is immoral, but the same thought process leads to wide divergences in such areas as abortion, capital punishment, and just wars.

    The crow analogy again reminds me of conflation of evolution and morality. If the crow decides (as I fear it might — please be careful) to put out your eye, because it doesn’t resemble a crow’s eye, I don’t suppose you’ll think that was the moral thing to do. What might pass for morality among animals is nothing like human morality, because animals, including our pets, behave in ways that aren’t learned, but produced by instinct. A dog will behave in a loving way, but does so because instinctively, its mental abilities are geared toward doing what brings rewards. Pit bulls aren’t restrained by their love for their owners from killing small children who happen into forbidden territory. Occasionally they even turn against their owners after years of a loving relationship. Humans (most of them, at least) transcend such limitations.

  • hugg

    This is an amazing blog, containing a rich and diverse collection of views, assertions, and questions on the subject. I’m (still) hoping that it leads to some sort of focused or multi-segment show at some point. (Good luck, Katherine!) For anyone deeply interested in the subject, FYI, I have written a book called “The Obligations Of Reason: Exploring the existence, nature, dynamics, and implications of the Natural Moral System.” It approaches the subject from the scientific AND philosophical standpoints, integrating the two, and I invite anyone to read or peruse it. You can get it via Amazon.com and many of the other leading on-line retailers, in hardcover or paperback. Or, you can visit the web site, at http://www.ObligationsOfReason.com. Although the name sounds “heavy”, and the book is scientific and philosophical at its foundation, it is not a conventional scientific or academic work. Anyhow, I hope that this blog continues and becomes re-energized, leading to a show eventually on this vitally important subject. Why so vitally important? Because morality in a broad sense, of course, has to do with how we treat each other, our families, our friends, our neighbors, our fellow citizens, other nations, other species, and our environment, and why. What could be more important?

  • enhabit

    heaven help us..another graduate thesis to digest from ROS…once again i’m gonna dive in before reading ALL of this and hope i’m not too redundant.

    was it freud who said that if God didn’t exist that man would have to invent him?

    as the product of cosmic debris in the process of becoming self-aware i take a slightly different take on this observation. the fact that such beings tend to need a God may imply something about whatever spirit it is that drives such an absurdity as nova waste becoming aware of itself.

    i grow weary of this link between the presence of God and organized religion. one can find spirit in the cosmos without a pope or a bible for heaven’s sake!! these are ancient structures attempting to organise and often exploit our need for digestable explanations of existence. anyone who has read “flatland” by edwin a abbot can begin to understand the difficulties of grasping the existence of anything that extends beyond the limits of our quite limited senses.

    so to say that there is without doubt no spiritual fabric to the universe makes no more sense than to say that without doubt that there is one….unless we go back to that nova waste thing again.

    who needs a bible when the evidence before us is as wondrous as it is. why would stardust tend to organise itself into lifeforms and eventually who-knows-what?

    if there is a God, then clearly she is not a micro-manager…but possibly a vast intellect who within the scope of our current awareness may have started something from a singularity or beyond….that could evolve on its own without help..what a fascinating exercise. exclamations of how no god could permit such horrors as we have that exist amongst us reduce us to playthings in God’s model railroad set.

    whether, for you there is a god or not..it is up to us..and only us..to live up to our potential and manage our affairs with reason, a product of evolution that requires unfettered debate…and not the slavish idol worship that following strict scripture (which has plenty to say but is still a human construct even if it is divinly inspired) as our guide. imagine if our great thinkers throughout our time here did not have to fear charges of blasphemy and waste time explaining themselves within biblical constructs.

    thanx ROS..always wanted to get that one out publically

  • CookiesAndCream

    There is only one God, and he is Jesus!

  • enhabit

    and we have the scripture to prove it!

  • enhabit

    this medieval intolerance that seems to mark the 21st century’s opening is profoundly disturbing in every sense of the word. we can be excused up to a point for feeling as though “progress” is out of control but….

    that which has made us what we are resonates loudly around us. no quarter of humanity has a monopoly on sensing it. someone once said (probably nietche again) that there are no facts only interpretations. morality may possibly be no different but i have to believe that there is a common ground where we can all “know it when we see it.”

    i once read that anthropologist are beginning to agree that evolution favors political skill over technical innovation in humans. if this is so..there must have been a concensus long ago that has a certain universality amongst us..one that evolved from a common ancestry when we weren’t quite so diverse and weren’t following quite so many prophets.

  • demarconia

    I think moral rules are established only after the rules have already been informally established based on societal evolutions. Thou shall not kill, for example, was clearly not the first suggestion that people shouldn’t be killing each other.

  • enhabit

    that’s good demarconia you’re right look at the basics:

    perhaps other practical concerns such as observable malfomitiy from incestial relations evolved into a moral code or taboo…ancient stirrings of family and communal relations etc..

    although.. the ancient egyptians for one were a bit loose on that one..

  • Damien

    There was show on morality on my local NPR station (KQED) earlier this week. The guest was philosopher Jacob Needleman, discussing the question, “Why can’t we be good?”. I recommend you check it out:

    http://www.kqed.org/epArchive/R703141000

    http://www.kqed.org/.stream/anon/radio/forum/2007/03/2007-03-14b-forum.mp3

  • enhabit

    this notion of ancient taboos perhaps having a practical origin…

    where other species rely on natural selection to cull out unfavorable behaviors..man tends to think his way out of them..a significant evolutionary step to be sure..

    back to the original question…Morality: God-Given or Evolved?…this bussiness of stellar matter becoming self-aware…do all higher life forms have to make this self-regulating moral leap?..do we happily graze in the garden without it?

    guess it depends on one’s point of view as to whether there is some purpose to the cosmos or not. freud would have us needing to give it one if it didn’t have one..still..quite incredible how nova waste can organize itself in such sophisticated ways.

  • enhabit

    # Lumière Says:

    March 13th, 2007 at 2:28 pm( Arendt Post-Game: On Empathy)

    Sentience refers to possession of sensory organs, the ability to feel or perceive, not necessarily including the faculty of self-awareness.

    ref: The Secret Life of Plants written by Peter Tompkins and Christopher Bird.

    you better educated philosophers out there..

    is this the moment when self-awareness starts kicking in..when we begin to alter behavior (in the macro sense) from observation and consideration? lots of beings on the planet do this in the micro…ravens watching you open something, then copying your actions..documented behavior…tigers teaching their offspring survival skills.

    these behaviors adjust to circumstance..learn and pass it on. does one begin to know that one is a tiger and not a sorrel because mom tracks sorrels and not other tigers? self-aware yet?

  • enhabit

    probably not..where does it begin though? when events begin to be recorded, requiring language?

    is this what whale song is about? memory of place and travel sequence augmented by echoes that are specific to certain locations. maybe they are self-aware and we have no way of knowing it..how would we?

    i ramble a bit. the point of the question..that moment when our ancestors “left the garden” what was it?

    (try not to get too biblical on me please with Lilith lurking about with her demonic offspring at the garden gate and all)

  • herbert browne

    Ten or 15 years ago I saw an article about brain scans in the Science News… with pictures of parts of the brain “lighting up” under different stimuli. There were nearly identical patterns when those being scanned were asked to “think of something that makes you sad,” and when they were required to learn new words. It occurred to me then that perhaps the first specific speech was an outpouring of grief, at the loss of someone very dear… a eulogy… which, when repeated, could call up the memory of the departed one; and, in a sense, such an act makes the subject “live” again- in memory- and offer the first intimations of the possibility of a sort of immortality. Vocalizing emotional attachments could become memorized litanies, tribal histories, lineages… reinforcing awareness of time & self. Acts of vocal expressions of grief may not be unique to humans… but the associative awareness of the subject matter of such an act could inspire self-awareness (ie “I grieve, therefore I am”- or possibly the appreciation of one witnessing such an outpouring may have inspired another to mimic it- and incidently memorialize the Cause of the original outpouring…). Can other animals (esp mammals) see resemblances in offspring to the parents? How long has That been part of “other-awareness”? Could it be one inspiration of moral behavior?.. ie a glimmering of the self-serving aspects of behavior that enhances the community’s survivability? (We certainly have come a ways from “my stardust melody..”) ^..^

  • enhabit

    supurb pass herbert browne..grief is so intense..lasting! wolves, for example have this remarkable marital fidelity and are known to suffer terribly at the loss of a mate.

  • enhabit

    this fascination with pattern and movement..wind through the trees of grass..not quite chaotic..a discernable pattern of movement..the eyes are drawn to anomaly..approaching threat? prey? mate or partner? this type of pattern recognition has clear evolutionary importance..to the point that it is beautiful to us.

    like music..ever notice how you can consciously pick out an instrument from a symphony? extraordinary ability.

    our brain’s synapsis can communicate across regions that are filled with information and thoughts that need to be ignored in order to for the rsynapsis relevant for the specific thought to coordinate…we love harmony, order..squirm a little at dissonance…are quite overwhelmed by chaos.

    again music. we are not the only species that delights in this by a long shot.

    we know that in humans spatial acquity is augmanted by musical study..is this a pleasurable thought environment in which evolution..or God if you prefer..draws us in so that higher processes are excercised? a more abstract problem solving environment..less constrained by “right or wrong”…greater and greater amounts of expression enter the equation? language emerges? art? a communal sense of awareness? dreams are discussed..the presence of alternative realities suggest themselves and need to be explained…out of the garden yet?

  • enhabit

    edit: “trees OR grass”

    where are my synapsis.

  • enhabit

    synapses good god!

  • Potter

    Marcel said on Jan 26th 2007:

    On May 9th of last year I wrote a comment here, not so much about this topic, but about why it never airs, why we never seem ready for this one. And since then someone who had sex and got pregnant on that very day is just two weeks from delivering. A child is conceived, brought to term and is born in less time than Chris Lydon plucks up the courage to do this show!

    Marcel- Consider that the dinosaur Gestation period might have been similar to that of a tortoise which can be up to three years.

    Dinosaurs could have possibly carried eggs within them for many years before laying them, and as the dinosuar becomes older the less chance the eggs are fertile, which may be the case with this ROS show.

    On the other hand this show gestation could be compared to the gestation period of a very large placental mammal; the largest mammals have multi-year gestation periods as well ( the African elephant has a 660-760 day gestation period results of a quick search).

    This thread is definitely the elephant in the room.

  • enhabit

    several thousand years of trying to work out the nature of existance can stand a little more gestation.

    ROS must be struggling with finding a worthy guest panel….will have to be a lulu

  • hug

    Many of these names have probably been mentioned before, but just in case, some great people for this theme would be (from various standpoints): Frans de Waal (Emory U.), Marc Hauser (Harvard), Michael Shermer (Skeptic Society; author of The Science of Good & Evil), and the recent winner of the Templeton prize, Charles Taylor (Northwestern), and Michael Ruse (Florida State U.). Actually, it would be great to have a three person panel, consisting of someone who argues that morality can (and does) come from nature; someone else who argues that it must come from God; and someone else who argues a bridging-type viewpoint, i.e., that we may never know for sure if God exists, or at least that we may never all agree, but that, as a practical matter, an understanding and appreciation for universal moral principles (whether they come from nature or God or both) would do the world a heck of alot of good at this stage.

    Still looking forward to this program (or it may need to be a multi-part series).

  • valkyrie607

    Yes, we’re all looking forward to it–and becoming impatient, in my case.

  • enhabit

    well don’t start with the gilded calf just yet..let’s get the thread going again

  • hug

    Many of you may have seen the helpful article in this Tuesday’s Science section of The New York Times, “Scientist Finds the Beginnings of Morality in Primate Behavior”, by Nicholas Wade (March 20, 07). It primarily discusses the work of primatologist Frans de Waal, which is very interesting and enlightening.

  • Elric

    Hug says: “it would be great to have a three person panel, consisting of someone who argues that morality can (and does) come from nature…”

    What about the position which argues that the morality both God-given or evolved is artificial, arbitrary set of rules restricting freedom? That for a rational and free person no moral can exist?

  • hug

    Elric: Good point in the sense that all views should be heard, discussed, and argued (in a positive sense), and the view that morality, whether God-established or evolved, is an artificial and arbitrary set of rules is certainly one that exists among a not-insubstantial number of people. So, ideally, an expert with that view should be added to the show. The view that you mention, that “for a rational and free person no moral can exist,” is perhaps a different or even stronger version of the artificial/arbitrary view.

    That said, based on my understanding anyhow, those views can be rebutted fairly well. For example, if a person were the only person on the planet, by himself or herself, that person could pretty much do whatever he/she wanted, with his/her own rules (or none at all), although if he/she stepped off a cliff or picked a fight with ten rattlesnakes, or lit his own house on fire while inside, he or she might well die, and thus have no children, and thus there would be no-one on the planet to go forth. Yet, if there were at least one other person in the first person’s vicinity (say a potential mate, so the two could have some chance of perpetuating their family and the race itself), then behavior with respect to another person’s views, perceived rights, and desires comes into play. That doesn’t mean, of course, that the two will both agree on detailed “rules”, but it does mean that they will have to deal with each other in some way, or suffer the consequences of not doing so, or avoid dealing with each other (and thus reproduction, companionship, etc.) altogether. For example, if only one man and one woman existed, even if the man felt and believed that “no moral can exist” for “a rational and free person” and that morality is merely an “arbitrary set of rules restricting freedom”, that man will still need to interact with the woman in some way that is reasonably acceptable to the woman if he wants companionship and a good chance at reproduction. For example (as an unfortunate example), if this man who doesn’t believe in any morals unwisely chooses bondage and rape to try to accomplish his reproductive goals, his unhappy partner-victim could (if she so chose) run away (or kill him) while he’s sleeping, or kill herself, or end the pregnancy, or harm the baby, or …. etc. So, the man and woman DO need to work something out if either one of them wants to have a decent chance at companionship and furthering the human race.

    Of course, the more people that are in a given vicinity, or community, or in the world at large (and there are about 6.5 billion of us now), the more important our behavior with respect to one another becomes. A person, as an individual, can certainly choose to “believe” that morality doesn’t exist at all, but as long as that person wants or needs to deal with at least one other person, or two, or a dozen, or hundreds, such a person will still need to find a way to restrain or manage his behaviors (those that impact or may impact others) to some degree, or those other people will eventually begin to act in ways that the first person (the one who doesn’t manage his own behavior) may find uncooperative.

    When I use these types of examples, I don’t mean by the word “morality” certain culture-specific detailed rules that sometimes seem without basis (and sometimes are without basis). Instead, I mean basic human social-moral dynamics such as the dynamics of reciprocity, trust (or lack of), self-defense, and so forth.

    Back to your point, though, I do think it would be helpful to have all views represented in the show, and the view that morality simply doesn’t exist is certainly a view held by many.

  • enhabit

    hug:

    like how your point begins to sound like the evolution of cell to more complex organism.

  • Elric

    Hug, thanks for your response.

    Absolutely, in our interactions with others or environment there are rules, since no single individual is allprowerful. But can we call these kind of rules a moral? That’s exactly my point. Those rules you mention are just rules of a game i.e. relative and arbitrary.

    I oppose claims for intrinsic moral values: you can not derive them from mere human cooperation.

  • hug

    Elric: Thanks for the comment. And, great post.

    The questions and points you mention in your second para (“But can we call these kind of rules a moral?” and “Those rules you mention are just rules of a game i.e. relative and arbitrary.”) are two slightly different but related points, in my view.

    Regarding the first point, what we call a “moral” is, at least in part, a question of semantics and definitions. So, although important in some ways, the question of what we call or name something is less interesting, to me, than the question of exactly what we are talking about, how it works, its implications, and so forth. So, at least for now, let us set the question of terminology aside.

    Regarding your second point, and the idea that these types of rules are just rules of a “game” and are “relative and arbitrary”, my view is that some of these types of rules (it depends on which ones we are talking about, and to what degree) are much more rooted, and less arbitrary, than many people think. For example, the imprecise reciprocal notion and tendency that often exists between two humans — i.e., whatever you do to me, you should expect that I might do to you, so don’t do anything to me that you wouldn’t want me to do to you — WHEN VIEWED IN A VACUUM (i.e., without other context or realities of life), can seem to be entirely relativistic. If you treat me as I treat you, it might seem that we are free to agree on ANY rules, without them being rooted in any other factors. Thus relativistic and random. But, that’s only true and accurate in some areas of behavior and to limited degree. For example, we can agree to paint our house orange, or blue, or whatever, or we can agree to paint half of it orange and half of it blue. We can agree to allow certain behaviors in public, and others only in private, or whatever. Many “rules” or norms, many of which some people think of as morals, are really just styles and preferences. However, that said, there are some realities of life, and actions, that are more important, consequential, and universal. We all are born, live, and die. We tend to want to live, or at least to make our own choice as to when we are ready to die. We generally don’t want to die, involuntarily, at the hands of someone else. We have children. We tend to want out children to live. Human nature, (for purposes that have arisen from our evolutionary development), tends to cause most people to get uncomfortable if they are placed on the lacking/losing end of a dramatically unfair situation. Our human lives can last only so long, at this point, biologically speaking. Thus, there are some realities of life that are, at least as far as we know, fixed (in the sense of limited within a range) and universal, among humans. These realities of life limit, anchor, and provide certain direction to the principle that says “you and I can agree to anything, as long as I treat you pretty much like you treat me”, which can, without these anchors, seem like we can literally agree to anything.

    For example, there is the “rule” or “moral”, “do not commit murder.” This rule or moral normally comes with certain understood definitions and exceptions, such as “do not kill someone else unless you do so in necessary self-defense, or unless he is clearly an enemy combatant trying to kill you (and you are ordered to capture or kill him first), or unless your society condones the death penalty and you are the official executioner of your state and your subject has been convicted of murder by a jury and given all chances at an appeal, etc.” The particulars of the exceptions may vary by culture, and by religion, and by individual, but the basic underlying principle, “do not commit murder”, or, put another way, the general underlying principle “do not end someone else’s life in a way that he or she doesn’t want, unless the situation meets certain narrow exceptions” is not random. It is rooted in the real dynamic of life itself (i.e., the very existence of life and death), the natural tendencies that are a part of evolved human nature, and in the nature of human reciprocity.

    Thus, some rather basic moral rules, or (you could call them) moral dynamics, are rooted and, at their central core, are not random or completely relativistic. One way of realizing this is to realize that the “game” you mention is not a board game, or a T.V. quiz show. It is life. Life does involve some basic realities and some very real consequences. It is those realities and consequences that anchor (in some areas, to some degree) and limit the universe of relativistic possibilities that might otherwise seem limitless as long as you treat me as I treat you.

    Looking forward to your thoughts (and to the show, hopefully!).

  • hug

    Sorry. There was at least one typo error in my post above: Rather than writing “We tend to want out children to live”, I intended to type “We tend to want our children to live.”

  • Michael Beaton

    I dont know where this belongs:

    The question is asked in the show description above : but we’re looking for good guest suggestions on the religious side, too. We’ve put in a request for an interview with Rick Santorum but haven’t heard back yet. Thoughts?

    I dont know of any good candidates on the religious side. What I would like to avert is having Santorum, or pretty much any polititian as a representative of the ‘religious’ side. I wish there were a philosopher/theologian I could point to. Maybe someone else will have a good idea about who that might be.

    What I am afraid of is having a boviating voice who will speak in banalities not insight. I am not asserting “truth” or right/wrong, just decent, reasoned, and hopefully non-dogmatic conversation. I may be wrong. I dont think that is possible w/ a polititian of this stripe. Just like I would hesitate to invite a Dobson or Fawell to represent the “religious” side. Same reason.

  • hug

    Regarding the above question, Dr. Francis Collins is a leading scientist who has a deep belief in God (as I understand it), so he might be a great guest, though hard to get. Or, Prof. Charles Taylor, the recent winner of the Templeton Prize?

    Who is the current version of Rev. William Coffin (not sure I’ve spelled his name right)?

    It occurs to me, and I’m sure ROS has thought of this, that ROS should decide what it wants this show to be. If this entire topic needs to fit into just one show somehow, rather than a series (one show a month) for several months, and if ROS wants to get highly prominent guests for a showy show, then ROS could get (or try to get) people like Richard Dawkins, Francis Collins, E. O. Wilson, etc. On the other hand, there are a number of people with perhaps less “name recognition” on the public stage (although well known in their fields) who might be great guests, for example, Prof. Leda Cosmides (evolutionary psychologist) on the science-evolution viewpoint. Other scientists and writers who have written on the subject include Marc Hauser, Matt Ridley, Michael Shermer, Robert Wright, Steven Pinker, and others.

    It seems to me that a key question (for ROS) is how to frame this show. The question “does morality come from nature, or God, or both?” can very easily shift to the question “does God exist?” That question has been very well debated and will be debated for a very long time. Yet, it is perhaps hard to debate very well whether morality comes from God or nature without addressing the other question. So, if the show needs to be ONE show, rather than a longer series, perhaps the question should be re-framed, something like . . .

    Whether morality comes from nature/evolution or from God, or both, what can theology and science tell us about fundamental moral universals? Are there moral universals? What are they? How do we know? Can we find common ground, then?

    These are very practical, interesting, and important questions, and they may (to an extent) help people find common ground rather than endlessly debating the question of God’s existence. These questions will have the scientists on the panel, and the theologians, and perhaps even some of the philosophers, agreeing (to a degree) on many points. And, as mentioned, they are very practical questions. It is, I believe, on the basis of basic moral universals (i.e., let’s not kill or rape each other, or steal each other’s things) and common ground that we will be better able to address world problems.

    I have very recently written on this subject but don’t have much “name recognition”. I suggest my book, The Obligations Of Reason: Exploring the existence, nature, dynamics and implications of the Natural Moral System, for interested readers.

  • Elric

    When I talk about morality, in general I mean Judeo-Christian and Humanistic tradition but the same critical approach can be applied to any belief system.

    Indeed, some ‘moral values’ can seem ‘natural’ but it’s only because we are conditioned so by our upbringing and brainwashing.

    ‘I treat you as you treat me’ is not a good example. It can work in some moments when both parties are equally weak. Once one gets an upper hand the balance will be altered and the more powerful will break the arbitraty rule. It was always happening in history of the humanity, and I don’t see any reason why it shouldn’t be so.

    My main point is that being rational can not be combined with having an irrational belief system as morality. (The fact that some moral values can be practical and seem rational in some moments doesn’t count).

  • hug

    Elric: I appreciate your post but don’t quite understand some of your points. So, I’ll try to briefly express a few thoughts that might, at least in part, address some of your points.

    You mention an “irrational belief system as morality.” If you mean that morality is irrational or that all moral systems are largely irrational (aside from the notion that no system is perfect, of course), or that any moral system, by definition, is irrational, then I (respectfully) disagree, but perhaps it’s because we are using terms differently. The terms “rational” and “morality” sometimes mean different things to people. So, that may be part of our difference?

    Aside from that thought, and assuming (for a second) that we have somewhat similar interpretations of the terms, I would argue that truly universal moral tendencies — those tendencies that allow people to live together, cooperate with each other, trust each other, etc. (to the degree that we do, which is far from perfect, of course) — are very practical and helpful. Indeed, we have them (very roughly and imperfectly) in our human nature for the very reason that they have helped us (the ancestors of those humans alive today) to survive as social beings. Although many of the random or completely cultural twists and flavors, “rules”, that exist are indeed culture-specific, and some are helpful and others are not, the basic fundamental dynamics of human social-moral nature are there for a reason, and they have helped us get this far (which admittedly requires much improvement going forward).

    One way of seeing that some of our most basic social-moral tendencies are real, and not random or useless, is to see that many animals have similar tendencies, or at least the roots and beginnings of such tendencies. You might want to read a book or article by Dr. Frans de Waal, a leading primatologist.

    Also, a great book to read is Robert Axelrod’s classic book on cooperation, titled “The Evolution Of Cooperation.” It’s super, and short.

    I’m not, of course, arguing that all the various “rules” that are considered moral rules, in all their variants, are productive, fair, good, wise, or truly moral. There are many moral rules that are actually immoral if you compare them to some basic universals. So, I’m certainly not defending the state of moral thinking or moral action today. Far from it. But, I (and many others) have the view that basic moral tendencies do exist, and are very real, and can be utilized very positively and productively, and should be understood.

    There is, admittedly, often a negative reaction to the idea of real morality. Morality as a term and concept has often been misused. Nobody likes, at least not much, the idea of someone else telling him/her how he/she should behave, and that’s not the way it normally and ideally should work. At the same time, most people do behave within certain broad moral constraints. I’m sure you do — unless you are writing to me from a lonely island or from a prison somewhere. From a terminology standpoint, “morality” is somewhat like “love” in the sense that much of the time, people have slightly different definitions of what they are talking about.

    Anyhow, I’d suggest reading a Frans de Waal book and Axelrod’s Evolution Of Cooperation, and I look forward also to continuing the dialog here.

    Regards.

  • Elric

    Indeed, my response was somewhat vague and not well-structured.

    So, here I give another try.

    1. Morality ‘God-given’ or ‘evolved’ is a set of beliefs and as such – relative.

    2. Intrinsic morality doesn’t exist.

    3. Criteria for good or bad are relative.

    4. Even if absolute majoruty of population agrees on some moral values (or other beliefs) it doesn’t make the moral intrinsic.

    5. Moral values in us which may seem ‘natural’ are result of conditioning.

    6. Certain rules of interaction between the individuals and groups exist, but it can not be called a moral (in a sense that if you don’t meet its requriement you feel guilty etc.), it’s just a powerplay.

    6. Power-holders succesfully use and apply morality and other belief systems to control the masses (and I don’t say that this is BAD!:):) )

    Please give an example of any ‘basic moral tendency’ and let’s see if it is not possible to prove it being relative and arbitrary.

    And the fact that I might behave within certain broad moral constraints doesn’t support the argument for morality. It just proves the power of conditioning and upbringing.

    Thanks for the tips. I’ve already ordered in library few books by de Waal. Unfortunately Axelrod’s one is not available. And looking forward to read your book once I’ll have a possibility to get it.

  • enhabit

    and yet elric:

    is there no room for the love of a parent for its offspring, is this strictly learned behavior? if so what started it? if it is strictly instinct, what put it there? evolution? could be….even tigers love their offspring..there are long term consequences in the case of humanity, how might that seed a greater and greater concern for ever larger social circles..family, tribe, region, species, biosphere etc..

    yes there was at some point the move to the internalization of ethical behavior. from tribal shame to personal shame..we straddle this today..learned behavior..certainly but where are its roots?

  • hug

    Elric: thanks very much for the post and for the specificity of your objections and concerns.

    enhabit: thanks for the helpful points.

    I’ll attempt to provide a rough, far-from-complete, oversimplified, imprecise initial response to many of your objectsions, Elric. That said, as you know, it is a big and complex subject, and if you are interested (as it clearly seems you are), you are on a good and open-minded track to read some of the books mentioned. I would also be interested in your suggestions for me to read, i.e., books or articles that attempt to present a compelling argument that morality is completely random, not based in nature, and so forth. Here goes (numbered according to your numbered points, above):

    1. When I speak of morality, I’m speaking of our human moral capacities, moral emotions (or moral roles of emotions that have many roles), social-moral dynamics and tendencies, and social-moral patterns … and, of course, eventually the principles, “rules”, and actions that reflect and result from our capacities and tendencies, etc. Of course, some (and probably many) of the specific “rules” that are culture-specific are not at all universal and may be downright unwise, harmful, unfair, and immoral. But, many aspects of morality (in the sense mentioned above) run very deep in evolved human nature and are not based on belief. Put another way, our deep moral capacities, emotions, dynamics, and many of our tendencies are not “beliefs” and are not random.

    Also, I think there is at least a slight difference, depending on how you are using the terms, between “random” and “relative.” So, although the specificity in your list is very helpful, I’m still a bit confused regarding whether you are saying that some moral rules are random, or that some are relative, or that ALL moral principles are random, or that ALL are relative, etc.?

    2. As enhabit seems to be suggesting, and as scientists understand, healthy babies are born with certain capacities, automatic actions, and predispositions. Most babies cry and express discomfort when they feel very hungry. Most babies begin to show early signs of mirroring or empathy for other babies, i.e., they cry when other babies cry. Etc. Scientists are studying the proportions of a human’s design, biology, and behavior that are determined or influenced by his/her genes, by his/her immediate environment (even in the womb, or during early childhood, etc.), and by broader surroundings (including culture), and by the intimate interaction among these factors. More and more, scientists are realizing that important aspects of human development have to do with gene-environment interaction. What you mean (or might mean) when you use the term “intrinsic morality” (which you say doesn’t exist) depends, when it comes down to specifics, on whether we are talking about an embryo, a new-born baby, a two-year-old, a teenager, a mature adult, etc. Also, when discussing how much of a human capacity, tendency, or behavior pattern is largely genetically determined, or influenced, and how much is influenced by environment, we need to think about ranges of environmental normalcy. For example, the development of some healthy universal capacities and tendencies takes place (still in varying degrees) within a certain range of normal environments. But, if a baby develops in the womb of a mother on drugs, and is taken away from the mother minutes after birth, and is not given reasonably healthy parenting in its early stages of development, you can indeed end up with a human being who has a level of empathy well outside of a normal range. Certain environmental conditions are more conducive to creating people with Antisocial Personality Disorder, or people with Narcissistic Personality Disorder, or etc. etc. So, yes, the interaction between genes and environment is important, very important, and that does help us understand the complexities of human development, but that doesn’t mean that intrinsic morality doesn’t exist. When you read Frans de Waal, or Robert Axelrod, or other authors, that might help you understand what I’m trying to get at.

    3. Again, we have the “relative” or “random” question. But, my view and understanding is that, the “criteria” and definition for “good” and “bad” are not completely, or even largely, relative when it comes to some basic universals. The task of trying to convincingly clarify the definition of “good” and “bad” is well beyond the scope that can be accomplished here. But, directionally and imprecisely speaking (i.e., an oversimplification), “good” is associated with activities that promote the survival of our genes into future generations, and thus our families, and our friends, and thus (in an expanding circle) our neighbors and communities, and (as we increasingly exercise our empathy and use our brains, and as we increasingly understand human inter-relatedness and our common challenges) the global community, and our environment. “Bad” is, directionally speaking, associated with the reverse.

    4. I definitely agree that “consensus” and “majority” are not the same as truth on any given subject, and sometimes don’t lead to truth, or wisdom. Just because a majority or minority of people believe in a certain moral principle does not mean that the moral principle (or the human capacities that lead to it) are intrinsic. Yet, if the vast majority of (or all) cultures share certain basic social-moral capacities and dynamics, at a root level, then that suggests that those root-level social-moral capacities and dynamics are indeed “intrinsic” and “universal.” Here again, though, it depends on what you mean by “intrinsic.” Depending on the capacity and behavioral predisposition being discussed, the roles of genes, environment, and gene-environment interaction act in different degrees. If the only things that you consider “intrinsic” are those things that are 100% genetically determined, without ANY role or requirement for environmental factors, not much is “intrinsic” by that definition. After all, if a gene doesn’t at least get “food” from its environment, and doesn’t have other genes to interact with, etc., it can’t do anything and will quickly die. But, if you define “intrinsic” as anything that is genetically determined or that is heavily influenced by genes, AND that allows for gene-gene interaction, AND that has a strong tendency to develop within a normal range of human environments (for example, not in a furnace, not in a freezer, not in a highly abusive situation, and not being raised by giant roaches in the jungle), then there are many aspects of human biology, of course, and many human capacities, mechanisms, predispositions, and tendencies (including some with a social-moral role) that are indeed “intrinsic.”

    Given limits of time, and post length, I think I’ll pause here for now. Later, I will try to comment on your other observations.

    I hope some of this is helpful. I’ll look forward to future posts.

  • enhabit

    dynamite hug as always. can’t find who said it but it seems relevant to believer and atheist alike:

    there is no greater evidence of the existance of God than the love of a parent for a child.

    ie something a little extra can be found there.

    did find this though..she was too much!

    If you have never been hated by your child you have never been a parent.

    -Bette Davis

  • Elric

    Enhabit, the world is full of abandoned and abused children, so I can’t accept your argument. Parent-offspring relation is relative as well.

    With all respect “there is no greater evidence of the existance of God than the love of a parent for a child” is a just a sentimental aspiration with no real meaning.

    Hug, thanks a lot for your witty and profound responses.

    I think, I’ll wait for the rest of your remarks before my reply.

    Greetings

  • enhabit

    elric:

    every system has anomaly…every system…with the possible exception of mathematics….basing dismissal on anomaly is binary and irrelevant in this context. the vast majority of parents would die without hesitation in protecting their children and that is not sentimental…respect and all.

  • enhabit

    one more thought elric:

    is it sentimentality that keeps you away from a bear and her cubs?

  • enhabit

    speculation:

    if one was to threaten anybody’s child in their presence what would be the response? a new testament response or an old testament one.

    would any parent in a very large sampling be tolerant of this event?

    what if the threat was deadly and there was no effective resistance? turning the other cheek across the board? an unwillingness of parents to put themselves in harm’s way?

    i suggest that one would find that sentimentality would be quite absent fom the situation. needless to say, this is not a scientific study…therefore with no real meaning.

  • hug

    Elric: Great. I’ll try to finish my initial comments later today or over the next couple days, in chunks.

    enhabit: thanks. good comments. And you mention a good point and question . . .

    All: Enhabit mentions a great question, “If one was to threaten anybody’s child in their presence what would be the response? a new testament response or an old testament one.”

    Without discussing the Old T vs. New T question, or in those terms, I’d like to take a cut at answering the first part of the question.

    If a person approached another person’s young child, in the parent’s presence, and the first person was going to kill the child, most parents in most situations would try to do something to stop or prevent the pending harm. The actual first step and second step and third would depend on the people involved and the situation. Some people would plead, some would try to convince, some would try to delay and capture (the assailant), and some would get downright physical right away. But, most people, in most situations, would try to protect their child, if success to some degree were at all possible (and in some cases even if success were impossible). In the animal world, among many animals, the very last place you want to be is between a mother and her young infant, if the mother thinks that you are threatening the infant.

    There are a few aspects of natural social-moral dynamics that this type of situation can help us discuss. . .

    First, not all people are the same, of course. So, a few people, a small minority, will not be touched or moved at all. Some will be vocal. Others will be quick to act, physically. And someone, after all, will unfortunately be the assailant. (Let’s assume that there is no justifiable reason for the big strong assailant to try to harm the young and innocent child.) The fact that people are not identical does not mean that there aren’t universal human social-moral capacities, dynamics, and predispositions.

    Second, the number of occurrences does eventually matter. Under some situations, if the parent of the child has a certain strong set of beliefs (for example, to be passive no matter what), then that parent will be sad but may not do anything, or at least anything physical, to try to stop the assailant and prevent the harm to her child. This is especially true if the relative physical (or other) power of assailant and the child’s parent are way out of balance. If it happens once, the parent, and his/her friends, might be passive. That said, the more times that type of thing happens, the parent will either try very hard to avoid situations where her child is near the assailant, or she will eventually act, or her friends will act on her behalf. The play-out of situations as time passes often does hot happen as immediately with organisms and humans, and human groups, as it does with atoms, molecules, and purely physical systems. For example, you can pretty much count on a steel ball to roll down a steep smooth slope right away, if the other conditions are right. But, if you harm a person once, the result may be delayed, or it may be mitigated, or it may only start to be expressed if you hurt the same person three more times, in which case, watch out. Same is true in other social dimensions. If an interesting lie is told, the thing told may travel quite quickly. You might have a million people believing it as a truth in a matter of hours. It might take the truth ten years to catch up. So, human beings and human groups sometimes react less precisely, and less immediately, than physical systems.

    (Oops. Gotta go and pick up my son. I will complete this later. Regards.)

  • hug

    Continuing previous post . . . .

    One more important idea can be understood via this example (see previous post):

    If parents were repeatedly passive in situations where their young children were seriously threatened, i.e., if they had a strong tendency to be passive in such situations or even to place their children in harm’s way, the family lines of those particular parents would not last long relative to the family lines of parents who have a strong tendency to protect their children. In other words, if there were humans or pre-humans with a strong predisposition to let their children be killed, and their probably were, their family lines are probably not around today, or at least they are a very small portion of the overall human population. Why? Because when children die, genes aren’t passed on to future generations, and predispositions aren’t passed on (predispositions that are the result of genes or of upbringing or of a combination of gene-environment-upbringing), relative to other genes and predispositions. So, the directionality of our natural tendencies is, consistent with my (abbreviated and imprecise) discussion of “good” in an earlier post, aimed at life rather than death (a broad and imprecise statement, of course, and oversimplified, but directionally and essentially correct).

    Similarly, the capacities and tendencies and predispositions of the social behaviors of any successful social species living today also serve the “effective” role of helping that species survive, at the gene level.

  • enhabit

    so evolution made us care. that’s good. love it!

  • hug

    enhabit: I love the brevity and eloquence of some of your posts. Wish I could do that. That said, by the brevity of your comment and the “love it!” phrase at the end, and without reviewing your previous posts, it’s hard for me to tell if you are sincere in your most recent post or if you strongly doubt that evolution can generate caring. If you like (up to you), please let me know where you stand.

  • enhabit

    absolutely sincere

  • enhabit

    the cosmos gave us a lot..you just gave me a good insight hug..thank you

  • hug

    enhabit: THANKS much for the comment. I’m glad you got an insight. If you are interested in this and related topics, from a combined scientific-philosophical standpoint, you might enjoy my book. You can get the info at http://www.ObligationsOfReason.com and then get the book via Amazon.com or other on-line bookseller, and if you get the paperback version, it’s not very costly. But, if you got an insight from previous posts, you’d probably get more from the book. Also, remember other books I’ve also suggested, on specific aspects of the topic by the original scientists, i.e., Axelrod’s The Evolution Of Cooperation, Dawkins’ The Selfish Gene, etc. etc. For more info, you can go to my post under “Hugg” on March 9 near one of your earlier posts, I believe. If you do ever read the book, in whole or in part, I’d be very interested in your thoughts, which you can send me directly via http://www.ObligationsOfReason.com.

    Enough for that. Off to bed. Regards.

  • Elric

    Hug, I’ll be replying later on. Now just a quick remark. I’ve noticed that you express genocentric viewpoint. Maybe you should consider having a look on Systems Biology approach? Not that I agree with it (I am not happy with evolutionary approaches in general) but Systems Biology gives new insights and overcomes shortcomings of the ‘selfish gene’ kind of theories.

    As for some books or articles supporting my ‘nihilistic’ approach to morality, nothing specifically comes to my mind. I guess, my ideas were indirectly influenced by Orthodox Christian teaching, Zen, Nietzsche, Castaneda, Machiavelli, Wittgenstein and Deconstructionists among many others.

    Enhabit, thanks for your comments. I’ll be replying later on.

  • enhabit

    hug:

    i’ll repeat myself a little it’s just too far back in the thread.

    there is nothing in any scripture or creation myth that can begin to compare with the emerging picture of creation that science is providing us. why so many faithful feel threatened by this i don’t know. it does not disprove the existence of any higher inteligence. indeed it may even suggest it.

    what could be more wonderous than having stellar “waste” material organise itself into not just life forms but self aware life forms that have the capacity to understand it all. string theory for example..it only makes sense on paper..and then one must allow for many many extra dimensions to the fabric of the cosmos in order for it to work.

    a recommended read, written in the victorian era btw, Flatland: A Romance of Many Dimensions (Oxford World’s Classics) by Edwin A. Abbott and Rosemary Jann. it discusses the dificulties that 2 dimensional beings would have understanding a 3 dimensional universe. a worthy exercise. we have a long way to go before a 12th dimension is going to make experiencial sense to us.

    so how can we say without a doubt that interdimensional intelligences and beings are out of the question?

    evolution is a spectacular mechanism..it has shaped us in so many ways..including as you say our caring nature.

    if one takes a MAJOR long view of it all..our morality however relative..however indefinable..is, like our inteligence and understanding of it all, the product of this process from big bang and whatever came before to nova after nova to organisms to ghandi. literally unbelievable, but there it is.

    god given..who knows..a gift from the cosmos..certainly..planned?..who knows..such a question is unverifiable either way..the product of evolution? definitely!

  • enhabit

    so if we are going to ask our selves the question: Morality: God-Given or Evolved?

    and seriously expect an answer. if that answer is expected to be in verifiable terms… then we must lay out what we don’t know and won’t know in this lifetime and proceed with those things in mind but without allowing them to drive the discussion.

    evolution may be thought of as the term that we have come to use in reference to the process of creation, however nasient our understanding of that process may be….most of us can agree that we are a product of this process..as are our thoughts and desires.. it is our most verifiable model of that creation process, and it works pretty well at explaining most things..not that everything has to make perfect sense…evolution will exploit a useful accident….

    but in verifiable terms…hug is on to it. a little clinical at times but i suppose one has to be around scientific thinkers. as for the other side of the question? it all comes down to God or no God in the final analysis though..and if yes..then intentional or not..and if yes..then does God manipulate or micro-manage the situation…and if yes..why?

  • hug

    Elric and enhabit and anyone else out there: Thanks for the posts. We seem to be having a great and interesting discussion.

    I have a few thoughts that relate to the two previous posts (one by each of you), partly but not completly responding because of time this AM.

    Elric, please let me know if you have any recent great books on systems biology to suggest. I’m interested in reading new stuff. Most of my view, from a scientific perspective, rests on core arguments and theories from people like Darwin, W.D. Hamilton, Robert Trivers, E.O. Wilson, Dawkins (“selfish gene”), Robert Axelrod, Leda Cosmides, Frans de Waal, and others, and also includes and embraces the importance of gene-environment interaction. Also, of course, the influence of culture is very important, in many ways, in influencing and shaping many of our daily behaviors. Within the context of evolution by natural selection, as we currently understand it (and scientists are learning more all the time), the question of whether kin selection, reciprocal altruism, etc. are fully sufficient to explain all of our evolved social-moral capacities, or whether some form of “group selection” is also at work at some level, is still somewhat disputed to a degree, although “group selection”, i.e., selection at a large-group level, as originally proposed and as a main driver, is not necessary (and has some fundamental logical flaws) given the much more solid grounds on which kin selection and reciprocal altruism stand; so whatever form of “group selection” might have been at work, if at all, is most probably not as important as many once thought. (This is a very imprecise way of saying things, so please don’t quote me; I’m doing the best I can with limited space.) The answer to that question of whether some limited form of “group selection” has been at work, at least in some situations, matters if you want to answer certain specific questions, and it matters, of course, if one wants to know the exact details of everything, but the answer is not necessary to answer many questions, including many of the big ones.

    I’ve read The Prince and also Thus Spake Zarathustra, and they are great books, and I’d suggest them to many people, and they provide great wisdom on many fronts (as well as some wisdom that’s not so valid or good, in a few cases), but I don’t find them to be convincing scientific or philosophical arguments regarding the origins of morality. I don’t find any of the reading or listening I’ve done, so far, to be convincing on assertions such as “reality doesn’t exist”, “everything is in the mind”, “morality doesn’t exist”, etc. or that leaders should follow the Prince recipe or that humankind should aspire to create some sort of Superman. I think it would be much better if we all understood the dynamics of human social-moral nature, recognized our common condition, emphasized and exercised the better elements of our nature, respected each other, applied more wisdom, and took more intelligent (and empathetic) steps to address the world’s challenges more quickly.

    My focus has been on understanding morality, and especially its origins, nature, dynamics, and universal aspects. Since I believe we should understand the universal aspects common to all humans, and do a better job finding “common ground” to solve our practical problems, I don’t talk publicly (at least not yet) about the question of God. There is, in some sense anyhow, too much debate among many people about God’s existence, while we (too often) don’t follow the moral ideals that he/she would espouse AND that are prescribed by the better side (and better abilities) of our evolved human nature. In some senses, anyhow, it’s like people beating each other up at a party in an argument about who invited them in the first place. Why not just get along? We’ve all been invited to this party (all 6.5 billion of us), so why not get along, have as much happiness as we responsibly can, respect each other, AND (very importantly) leave the place in as good of a condition, or (ideally) in a better condition, for the next generations? Yet, sometimes we spend more time arguing about who invited us. That conversation is a good and valid one, of course, except to the degree that it distracts us from the ideals that we should be following in any case, or provides an excuse for us not to follow them.

    I will point out that many people with scientific backgrounds don’t believe in a god, and many do, and many believe in a spiritual dimension or aspect of the natural universe that others wouldn’t call God but that nevertheless, to them, accounts for human spirituality and ideals. Dr. Francis Collins is an example of a leading scientist, in a scientific field totally related to evolution and genetics, who has (as I understand it) a strong belief in God and can reconcile his belief in God with his belief and confidence in evolution. I’ll also point out that science usually doesn’t claim that it can prove or DISprove anything with finality, at least not things that might be beyond our ability to sense or understand. The idea that science can ever prove or disprove, with finality, whether God exists or not, doesn’t make sense to me (and I have a scientific background). To me, that doesn’t mean, as some argue, that science and religion (or nature and God) are completely different spheres of reality or of intellectual thought. We all live in the same universe, however that universe works, and whatever it includes. It simply means that science may never be able to prove or disprove, with finality, whether God exists.

    If I understand enhabit’s recent post, I think my views and his/hers may have much in common, at least on many of these questions. But, each person has his/her own flavors and twists, even of views that are similar. Humans are complex, which is part of the fun.

  • valkyrie607

    God is lurve.

  • Elric

    Enhabit, back to the parent-offspring relationship:

    First of all, even if ‘parent-child love’ relation would have no exceptions, it would just indicate an instinct or prgram if you like, and wouldn’t point to the existence of God.

    Secondly, even in animal kingdom parents eating or abandoning their offspring is quite wide-spread phenomen. Plus the animals born in captivity and raised without parents, don’t have skills for parenting themselves. All this proves that parent-offspring relationship is not as ‘natural’ as it seems.

  • Elric

    Hug, in my opinion, ALL moral values are relative and some might be random.

    I still can’t see what are the basic universals for good an bad. The gene viewpoint is not acceptable on personal level. Whatever results can we derive from the population development from gene point of view, it’s in no way helpful in determining how unique person makes his choices. Plus, as I’ve already mentioned, selfish-gene approach is challenged in modern Biology.

    BTW, here are the best authors (in my opinion) for Systems Biology: Ludwig von Bertalanffy, Humberto Maturana, Francesco Varela, Stuart Kauffman, Eugene Thacker, Athel Cornish-Bowden and Leroy Hood. A good introduction to the subject can be the ‘Foundations of systems biology’ by Kitano.

    As for the God question, every serious discussion about the ‘deep’ topics like morality will inevitably lead to the problem of the origin of universe, creator, meaning of life. Here we can just mention it for the argument’s sake but not go in a further discussion, since it’s not a topic of the thread.

    To make my position clear: I am a nihilist and do no accept any belief, scientific or religious, although I tend to think that the universe has a creator, but this doesn’t make me religious since I can’t see what was the point of the creation.

  • DreadfulBastard

    deity#42 keeps this thread poking along for weekend recreational use…

  • hug

    Elric: I very much respect and applaud the fact that you have your views and I think we can see that, in this venue anyhow, it is unlikely that we will come to any resolution, and we don’t have to, of course. As long as people are reasonably good, respectful neighbors of each other, and can live together well, there is no need to have the same underlying or ultimate views. If you would like to read further, the books I’ve suggested (Axelrod, etc. and even Darwin himself, or other great books are The Science of Good & Evil, or The Moral Animal, or The Blank Slate, or The Origins Of Virtue, or Primates & Philosophers, or Dawkins’ The Selfish Gene, etc.) might be interesting for you.

    That said, I am interested, if you are, in approaching a good discussion from another angle, and that is this: I’m not really sure what you mean by “nihilist”, because that term is used in different ways and to different degrees, sometimes. So, if you could get a bit more specific on what you mean by that, that might be helpful, and I might learn something, and probably would. Also, the other (very important) follow-on question is this: Given your particular brand of nihilism, how do