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An Object Cannot Rise Above Itself

In my last post I referred to Richard Dawkins’ assertion that a state organized according to Darwinian principles would be a fascist state.  In response some of the commenters alluded to Dawkins’ statement that he is “anti-Darwinian” when it comes to politics.  Dawkins, the commenters said, believes we can “rise above” our Darwinian impulses.  The problem with this assertion is that Dawkins is trying to have it both ways.  He writes:

The universe we observe has precisely the properties we should expect if there is, at bottom, no design, no purpose, no evil and no good, nothing but blind, pitiless indifference. As that unhappy poet A.E. Housman put it: ‘For Nature, heartless, witless Nature Will neither care nor know.’ DNA neither cares nor knows. DNA just is. And we dance to its music.

Richard Dawkins, River out of Eden : A Darwinian View of Life (London: Phoenix, 1995), 133 (emphasis added).

In the last sentence Dawkins asserts that Darwinian determinism is absolute.  It is, therefore, incoherent for him to suggest that we can “rise above” our biological nature.  For if he is correct then we are nothing but material objects dancing to DNA’s tune, and it makes no sense to suggest that an object can rise above itself.

It is just here that O’Leary’s work in “The Spiritual Brain” comes into play.  I can rise above my material body ONLY if an immaterial ”me” exists that is separate from, and superior to, my body.  

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55 Responses to An Object Cannot Rise Above Itself

  1. Actually, under Darwinian principles, you can’t even infer that you *should* rise above your nature, since there’s no normative component present.

  2. I find nothing to dispute in this criticism of Dawkins.

    But this more about the limitations of Dawkins’ own capacity for philosophy than it does about the limitations of contemporary evolutionary theory.

  3. Let’s say it clearly: Dawkins is an embarrassment to atheists. What first struck people as a man fiercely devoted to an anti-religious ideal is more and more being revealed as a blowhard who doesn’t even have his own thoughts in order. Our destiny is tied to our genes one day, and the next we’re rebelling against them. We’re lectured to about evil and morality, and then we’re told the man isn’t quite sure what to make of morals. And mixed in there is something about those powerful Jews in the US.

    I’m willing to accept the man has a personality cult about him. That’s easy enough. But I’m done with pretending he’s a serious critic of anything outside his field of expertise.

  4. One of the consequences of there being no purpose in Darwinism is that not everything has to act in concert. It is perfectly feasible that Darwinism may produce one or more apparent contradictions.

    For example, if a parent is faced with a situation of danger where they can do something to save either their own life, or the life of their offspring, what choice would Darwinism suggest they make (on the assumption that propagation of their genes is the ultimate objective)? It seems to me that it could be either.

    Personally, I think our morality is a function of a combination of reason, memory and imagination. It just so happens that these attributes have evolved to an extent whereby their effect, in combination, may supersede other motivations.

  5. In truth, I find this and other statements that Dawkins makes to indicate that he is at least his own thinker, rather than the puppet of the masses.

    In addition to recognizing that darwinism naturally leads to facism, and that this is undesireable, he also contends that ID is not a-priori invalid as a scientific hypothesis. His position on ID and creationism is that if it were so, science should be able to discover it. He rejects both because he has not been convinced on the evidence.

  6. If you are an honest Darwinist then there is no way you can think about “rising above” it. Darwinism is, as Dennett maintains, a universal acid that dissolves away all personhood, politics, free will, and thought.

    You can’t just take a bite off the Darwinian sandwich. It’s all or nothing, leave it on the plate or take the full meal deal along with all its consequences.

  7. In my philosophy of mind class, it seems to me, in papers I read, free will is said to be possible under naturalistic framework somehow via feedback loops. It’s normally also hinted at that this free will is compatibilism and not libertarian. I don’t know what to make of this suggestion.

  8. “DNA just is. And we dance to its music”.

    How does DNA come have its being? Dawkins insists here that DNA is some kind of decisive ontological force. Not only is he inconsistent by declaring it possible (and ethically expedient) to transcend this “pitiless indiffference,” his very logic is incoherent at the outset.

    Must we simply assume that DNA preexists itself in order to write the code which gives it the power to do what it does? How can something be and not be at the same time while in the same relationship — with itself?

  9. The now-standard compatibilist view, as developed by Harry Frankfurt, is that we have various desires and beliefs, arranged hierarchically. So if I want to eat a candy bar, but decide not to, it’s because there’s a higher-order desire to be healthy overrides the first-order desire to have a sugary snack. Then there could third-order desires (desires about desires about desires), etc. Dennett generalizes this theory into what he calls “intentional stances.”
    And Dennett, for what it’s worth, has written quite a lot on free will and morality from a naturalistic viewpoint, in both Elbow Room and Freedom Evolves. So it’s not as if Darwinists have nothing coherent to say on these issues. Whether its fully satisfying is other issue.

  10. This is unfair. Take a quote, out of context no less and infer a world of meaning and implication from it. Poor Dawkins. In his defense, I found these 2 quotes:

    “It is a fallacy… to suppose that genetically inherited traits are by definition fixed and un-modifiable.”

    “We are not necessarily compelled to obey them [genes] all our lives.”

    Taken from “The Selfish Gene” page 3.

    BarryA quotes Dawkins: “DNA just is. And we dance to its music”. BarryA then boldly states that this is tantamount to “[asserting] that Darwinian determinism is absolute”. Sadly not, Dawkins merely is stating that DNA/genes play a role in our behaviour.

    Besides for this, are you going to say our genetic heritage plays no role in our behaviour whatsoever? Look at the genetic link for depression, anxiety, schizophrenia.

  11. I thought BarryA’s inferences from the quotation were pretty legitimate. It wasn’t a diamond in the rough that he snatched out of context; the control our genes and mutating DNA have over us is addressed frequently in “River Out of Eden. ” And in providing those other quotes in Dawkins’ defense, all I’m seeing is further confirmation of his inconsistencies.

  12. Without passing any comment on the larger issue, I could understand that particular line of Dawkins without interpreting it to mean that “Darwinian determinism is absolute”. The statement “DNA just is. And we dance to its music.” could be interpreted with quite a wide field of meaning, and I think you need to bring out more of the context to show that Dawkins means there what you say he does.

    http://david.dw-perspective.or.....exist.html

  13. I could truly scour all of the literature Dawkin’s has published and all I would get in return is that Dawkin’s is “inconsistent”.

    But as I asked, do you believe our genes play no role whatsoever in our behaviour?

  14. Dave557 writes:
    “BarryA quotes Dawkins: “DNA just is. And we dance to its music”. BarryA then boldly states that this is tantamount to “[asserting] that Darwinian determinism is absolute”. Sadly not, Dawkins merely is stating that DNA/genes play a role in our behaviour.”

    The problem is, who is this “we” Dawkins is speaking of? According to his worldview, we are fortuitously organized blobs of matter. The mind is an illusion. All our thoughts, actions, and feelings are entirely determined by the movement of matter. There is no free will. Now how can matter rise above matter? Dawkins is trying to have it both ways. On the one hand, we have no free will, but on the other hand, we can rise above this trivial shortcoming. You’re correct to say Dawkins is very “inconsistent”.

  15. nullasalus: “But I’m done with pretending he’s a serious critic of anything outside his field of expertise.”

    You mean you’re just getting ’round to this? ;)

  16. duncan: “It just so happens that these attributes have evolved to an extent whereby their effect, in combination, may supersede other motivations.”

    I expect a cookie and some milk with that fairy tale. ;)

  17. bFast: “He rejects both because he has not been convinced on the evidence.”

    That’s putting it way too mildly. He’s an unobjective active agent of antagonism toward views with which he disagrees with. He’s a man with a social agenda that bespeaks loudly of hidden motives. Hardly merely a matter of him rejecting this or that.

    Oh yeah, and he’s a kook on top of that.

  18. Ben Z: “free will is said to be possible under naturalistic framework somehow via feedback loops. It’s normally also hinted at that this free will is compatibilism and not libertarian. I don’t know what to make of this suggestion.”

    The question you have to ask yourself is this: if you rewind the system (our universe) to it’s initial state and let it run again, would it (including your brain states) be any different? If not, then we’re not talking about free will the way philosophers and theologians mean it.

    The essence of free will is a force that can be the *first cause* in a series of events despite the current state of the system.

  19. “believes we can “rise above” our Darwinian impulses”

    The inherent contradiction here is that Dawkins is assuming there is something higher, something “above”. This assumption presupposes both fundamental morality and that mind is something other than matter.

    Dave557 quotes “We are not necessarily compelled to obey them [genes] all our lives.”

    This also implies that mind and will exist beyond material causes alone.

    Dawkins is a bundle of contradictions mixed up in a wishful but impracticable atheism. None of his typical story telling tactics will ever release him from his intrinsic dichotomy of logic dilemma.

  20. Everyone remarks that Dawkins wants to have it both ways.

    But ALL atheists want it both ways. It is the inherent contradiction of atheists to want objective morals based on an always assumed absolute moral law, all while denying the existence of such a law.

    Why? Because the existence of such a law implies an the existence of an absolute mind and will. A will that prefers one set of motives and actions over another.

    Morals or not the stuff of matter.

  21. Borne: Why is it so impossible for our genomes to drive the development of our brain, and then in life a COMBINATION of instinct, drive and learned knowledge be what we live by?

    Just because we are “designed” by our genes, who says an element of that design is “free will” or the ability to “rise above” our primal instincts? NB I am talking about the GENES designing our bodies…

    Lastly, who says that atheists base their morality on some “absolute moral law”??

  22. My favorite scence from “The Big Lebowski;”

    Donny: Are these the Nazis, Walter?

    Walter Sobchak: No, Donny, these men are nihilists, there’s nothing to be afraid of.

    Nihilist: Ve don’t care. Ve still vant ze money, Lebowski, or ve ***** you up.

    Walter Sobchak: No, without a hostage, there is no ransom. That’s what ransom is. Those are the rules.

    Nihilist #2: His girlfriend gave up her toe!

    Nihilist #3: She thought we’d be getting million dollars!

    Nihilist #2: It’s not fair!

    Walter Sobchak: Fair! WHO’S THE NIHILIST HERE! WHAT ARE YOU, A BUNCH OF CRYBABIES?

  23. dave557,

    “Lastly, who says that atheists base their morality on some “absolute moral law”??”

    Most don’t. And some admit outright to subscribing to complete moral subjectivism while advancing their own (again, subjective) moral frameworks. The problem is that for a good number of atheists, there’s a shell game involved: They talk about evil and morality (usually with religious believers being particularly evil or responsible for evil, and atheists being particularly moral or encouraging morality) with as much certainty as a fire-and-brimstone preacher. How many times have we heard that atheists can be just as moral as theists, and in fact may well be even MORE moral?

    But when pressed, there’s a lot of spin, stammering, sputtering, and – if they don’t storm off – a Dawkins-style admission that they’re not even sure what morality is, or that there really is no good and evil after all. There’s just programming, and that famous “cold, pitiless indifference”. But it’s hard to couple that with angry demands for change and accusations of evil, so it tends to get (purposefully, desperately) ignored for as long as possible.

  24. What many of you are talking about has been addressed by C. S. Lewis in Mere Christianity. EVERYONE believes in absolute standards when it comes to how people think they should be treated. However, not everyone can extrapolate the belief on how they think they deserve to be treated to the big picture

  25. dave557:
    Yes, there’s a relationship between behavior and genetics. But is that all there is? What is the core issue here? What it comes down to is this: is the idea of self, this “I” or “me,” a product of, and therefore a slave to, the material? What many of us see from Dawkins is both “yes” and “no.” He chooses the answer that fits his ideology best.

  26. I meant to say the answer that fits the context best. My mistake.

  27. mike1962- “The essence of free will is a force that can be the *first cause* in a series of events despite the current state of the system.”

    This is an elegant description. Anyone else think this makes the question “Who created God?” much simpler?

    Why believe in infinite causality if you believe in free will?

  28. DrDan: Good point- I must say I do agree with absolute moral standards when an action is done to me…

    Reminds me of a Peter Singer paper, that dabs on something I find immoral:
    http://www.nerve.com/Opinions/.....g/main.asp

    Also to add to this conversation, I think the very fact that we feel compelled to give our lifes meaning attacks darwinism- why should we feel compelled to have any meaning whatsoever? Don’t we first have to acknowledge that life has no meaning before we can attribute any to it- else there is no reason for meaning to propagate throughout humans. And, if we acknowledge that life had no meaning first, what evolutionary advantage did that give people to allow this mindset to continue- any reasons I can think of are immoral. Of course- this is dependent that our intermostdesires and instincts are naturalistic.

    For all I know, life has no maning- but the very idea that I can think that almost seems to contest it…

  29. Ben Z said: “…free will is said to be possible under a naturalistic framework somehow via feedback loops. It’s normally also hinted at that this free will is compatibilism and not libertarian.”

    Check out this study in PLoS One:
    http://www.plosone.org/article.....ne.0000443

    Scientists tested Drosophila fruit flies’ behavior in a featureless environment. The results showed that their flight behavior can not be explained by blind external causes or blind internal circuitry noise (feedback). The scientists were led to posit a mysterious “initiator” somewhere in the fly brain (although they don’t know where). They concluded that “this initiator falsifies the notion of behavioral determinism. By virtue of its sensitivity to initial conditions, the initiator renders genuine spontaneity (‘voluntariness’) a biological trait even in flies” (Maye, sec. 6).

    It’s a fascinating study and has huge implications for humans. I would add that compatibilism is basically the same thing as determinism when it gets down to it. A compatibilist defines freedom as a lack of constraint. So a man is free to do x so long as there is nothing keeping him from doing x. Likewise, an apple is free to fall to the ground so long as there is nothing stopping it, such as a table, or Newton’s head. But that does not mean the apple is “free” in any philosophical sense of the word. Nor does it mean a man is free.

    Carl Sachs said: “The now-standard compatibilist view….is that we have various desires and beliefs, arranged hierarchically.”

    True, but they also claim that we have no control over the arrangement of the hierarchy; it is our genes or environment, or both (i.e. blind external or internal causes) that determine the priority of desires and impulses. Thus, in the compatibilist view, our strongest impulse always wins out, and we cannot “choose” which impulse to act upon. I see no “elbow room” for freedom in this view.

  30. Dave557:

    “Why is it so impossible for our genomes to drive the development of our brain, and then in life a COMBINATION of instinct, drive and learned knowledge be what we live by?

    First, what is instinct? What is drive?

    To say that, “birds fly south in winter by instinct”; means that we don’t know what makes birds fly south in winter. Instinct is a genetic program running. But we don’t know how it works at all.

    Then, you seem to equivocate our physical brains with our minds.

    But if brain = mind then all our thoughts are based on non-rational processes which make thought of no more value than dirt. Thus materialism, and its science methodological naturalism, cuts it’s own throat. I hope you see that.

    Just because we are “designed” by our genes, who says an element of that design is “free will” or the ability to “rise above” our primal instincts? NB I am talking about the GENES designing our bodies…

    Blind, mindless, indifferent nature can no more create free will than a rock can create logic.

    Lastly, who says that atheists base their morality on some “absolute moral law”??”

    Atheists have no ultimate foundations for ethics and morality. Thus they either become relativist (which is self contradictory since by definition relativism must itself be relative) and abandon all belief in real objective moral values, OR they do as Dawkins – they unconsciously assume that there really is a true Right and Wrong, all while denying the foundations demanded by such.

    They then assume that somehow society can collectively decide what is right and wrong based solely upon the Darwinian concept of survival for survival’s sake.

    But society can no more invent moral values than it can create a new primary color.

    The moral sense is not “an illusion fostered upon us by our genes to get us to cooperate” as the atheist said. It is real or it is futile. If there really are no absolute moral values, a real Right and a real Wrong, then all morality is arbitrary. Then all right and wrong is merely ones preferences versus another’s and no true blameworthiness or justice exists at all.

    But as soon as the atheist claims there are no objective (absolute) moral rights or wrongs you will find him contradicting himself immediately after by claiming that he is right and you are wrong.

    He claims there is no absolute truth. Is that the absolute truth?

    And if any one offends his beliefs or insults him, he is the first to cry out “you have wronged me!” Thus demonstrating, by his actions, that he really does believe in an absolute moral law.

    Raping children – is it relatively wrong or absolutely wrong – ie always wrong in all cases? If wrong then why?

    If there be no ultimate moral law defined by an ultimate moral being (since morals assume thought & will) then the rape of children, or indeed, any other action whatsoever loses all moral definition – thus becoming amoral.

    If there is no ultimate accountability then all proximate accountability is mere tyranny. If there is no ultimate standard than who has the right to claim their own arbitrary standard is “Right”?
    No ultimate rule means all measurements are subjective. All measurements subjective means all law is tyranny of the powerful over the weak. Furthermore if there be no absolute rule by which to measure all actions, then no actions can be measured accurately at all.

    Morals, if real, thus imply the existence of an absolute mind that prefers one set of motives and actions over another.

    Morals are not the stuff of rocks.

    Morals require mind, logic and the concept of good and evil. Nature has no such concept not having mind.
    Atheists thus shoot themselves every time they claim morals without foundations.

  31. Dave 557: “the ability to “rise above” our primal instincts?”

    To continue – here you assume that there is an “above”. By what measure do you measure? What standard of morality do you use to even say this? Your implications is again that some morals are above or better than others! By what rule? You see you’re assuming an absolute Rule of right all along.

    What are “primal instincts”? Yet another meaningless Darwinian term? Instincts are genetic subroutines. But no one knows what or how exactly that works.

    Hope you’re seeing this.

  32. The sword is mighty powerful among humans when it comes to survival and selection.

  33. Disclaimer: I am not a Dawkins fan when he wanders outside of science, which seems to be pretty all he does these days, so I’m not here to discuss him or his views.

    But I do want to respond to Barry’s last line:

    I can rise above my material body ONLY if an immaterial ”me” exists that is separate from, and superior to, my body.

    On the one hand, this is trivially true. On the other hand, I don’t believe it is true in the more important sense that Barry intended it. Irrespective of how human nature came to be, or how its metaphysically grounded, it is true that human nature is layered, ranging from very primal functioning to a much “higher” cognitive level capable of understanding and acting on various kinds of principles. In all societies there are traits that are seen as “elevated”, and towards which the people strive as part of a perception of wanting to be the best person they can be. (Way too long a sentence, but I’ll let it stay.)

    For many of us, part of growing and maturing involves broadening our vision of what is important, “rising” from a more narrow, self-centered focus on more basic satisfactions towards satisfactions based on giving to others, being less concerned about our place in society and more about our inner character, etc. It is true, I would guess, that whether people are highly motivated to make this type of growth is not correlated with metaphysical viewpoint: it is equally common among materialists and theists, Christians and Buddhists, etc.

    So from this point of view, i strongly disagree with Barry. You don’t have to believe in an immaterial “me” separate from the body to grow from being focused on more primal bodily and egocentric satisfactions to a much broader concern with the good of everyone and a dedication to living a life of character and virtue.

  34. Jack Krebs, you miss my point. The existence of the immaterial “me” has absolutely nothing to do with whether I or anyone else “believes” in its existence. You point to people’s ability to grow and mature as evidence that people can grow and mature without an “immaterial me.” Of course this is a non sequiter. It assumes the very thing to be demonstrated.

    Matter in motion simply cannot have free will. It is literally absurd to suggest that it can. Matter in motion cannot will itself to — to use your words — “mature and grow.” Matter in motion’s actions are absolutely determined by physical laws. Therefore, if matter in motion is all I am, I am simply a material object, a rather complicated one to be sure, but nothing but a material object nevertheless. Which brings me back to my point. A material object, even a complicated one, cannot rise above itself.

  35. Barry A has framed this issue in exacly the right way. I have often contended against Darwinists who would challenge my notion of a mind independent from the brain. As I pressed on in my defense of a rational soul, the discussion would get bogged down by a series of irrelavent objections. Suddenly I realized what was happening. My adversaries were not CHALLENGING MY ARGUMENT, they were DEMANDING A DEFINITION. The concept of a mind was totally new to them. I had to take time out from the debate to teach them the difference between metahphysical dualism and metaphysical monism.

    Most of us who visit this blog have been blessed with a well-rounded education. We often underestimate the extent to which our adversaries have been cheated out of a decent education by an earlier generation of secularists. Some of them have brainwashed almost to the point of being uneducable. They know nothing of the reltionship between Purpose or chance–mind or brain–design or no design–guided or unguided–free will or determinism. Much less do they understand the way these problems tie in to the big picture. They don’t even know that there is a big picture. To them, materialism is truth–period. Barry A is correct in pointing to the importance of OLeary’s book.

  36. BarryA correctly states: “Matter in motion simply cannot have free will.”

    There you have it. I tried to explain this in my previous post. We can talk about this till the cows come home but it all comes down to the existence of a real mind…or not. Matter does not have free will, no matter how good you want to feel about yourself if you believe in materialism. Matter cannot rise above matter. This is simple to understand and something Dawkins always seems to miss.

  37. Jack Krebs,

    Without a non-material mind, we cannot truly be moral agents. If all we have is the physical organ we call a brain, we have no power of choice. Everything that we do is determined by electrical impulses, chemical signals, and synapses. If our brain tells us to be sad, we are sad. If it tells us to be happy, we are happy. If there is no mind to say yes or no to the brain’s impulses, then there is no capacity to make moral choices. We are, quite simply, nature’s plaything. If we are not free, there is no morality and there is no responsibility. Only a mind can separate itself from the physical universe’s laws of cause and effects, of which the brain is part, and assert itself as a causal agent from the spiritual world acting on the material world.

  38. I know this is the standard belief of non-materialists, but I don’t think a lot of this is true. However, all I have time to do right now is register my disagreement – will have to discuss some other time.

  39. “The problem with this assertion is that Dawkins is trying to have it both ways”

    I did suggest that Dawkins was an “anti-darwinian” although I agree with your analysis Barry. They guy is deeply confused and deeply philosophically illiterate. Pity really because does actually write pretty well.

  40. Ladies and Gentlemen:

    Excellent thread!

    Borne in 29 gives teh classic summary of where the incoherence of evolutionary materialism is coming from, I have added just one clarifying note in sq brackets:

    But if brain = mind [in a world that originated by the chance + necessity only evo mat cascade from hydrogen to humans] then all our thoughts are based on non-rational processes which make thought of no more value than dirt. Thus materialism, and its science methodological naturalism, cuts it’s own throat.

    And that is why all of the other incoherences keep coming out:

    [a] materialism . . . argues that the cosmos is the product of chance interactions of matter and energy, within the constraint of the laws of nature. Therefore, [b] all phenomena in the universe, without residue, are determined by the working of purposeless laws acting on material objects, under the direct or indirect control of chance.

    But [c] human thought, clearly a phenomenon in the universe, must now fit into this picture. Thus, [d] what we subjectively experience as “thoughts” and “conclusions” can only be understood materialistically as unintended by-products of the natural forces which cause and control the electro-chemical events going on in neural networks in our brains. (These forces are viewed as ultimately physical [i.e. Physicalist reductionism], but are taken to be partly mediated through a complex pattern of genetic inheritance [“nature"] and psycho-social conditioning [“nurture"], within the framework of human culture [i.e. Socio-cultural relativism in thought].)

    Therefore, [e] if materialism is true, the “thoughts” we have and the “conclusions” we reach, without residue, are produced and controlled by forces that are irrelevant to purpose, truth, or validity. Of course, [f] the conclusions of such arguments may still happen to be true, by lucky coincidence – but [g] we have no rational grounds for relying on the “reasoning” that has led us to feel that we have “proved” them [i.e. Certitude is a perception not a reality]. And, if our materialist friends then say: [h, an objection] “But, we can always apply scientific tests, through observation, experiment and measurement,” then we must note that [i, a counter to h] to demonstrate that such tests provide empirical support to their theories requires the use of the very process of reasoning which they have discredited!

    Thus, [j, a conclusion entailed by the chain of implications a - i above] evolutionary materialism reduces reason itself to the status of illusion. But, [k] , issue of self referential incoherence] immediately, that includes “Materialism.” For instance, Marxists commonly deride opponents for their “bourgeois class conditioning,” but what of the effect of their own class origins? Freudians frequently dismiss qualms about their loosening of moral restraints by alluding to the impact of strict potty training on their “up-tight” critics — but doesn’t this cut both ways? And, should we not simply ask a Behaviourist whether s/he is simply another operantly conditioned rat trapped in the cosmic maze?

    In the end, [l, bottom-line] materialism is based on self-defeating logic, and only survives because people often fail (or, sometimes, refuse) to think through just what their beliefs really mean.

    As a further consequence, [m, key applications] materialism can have no basis, other than arbitrary or whimsical choice and balances of power in the community, for determining what is to be accepted as True or False, Good or Evil. So, Morality, Truth, Meaning, and, at length, Man, are dead.

    This was of course thrashed out at length in the Charles Darwin thread of Aug 20th. The materialism defenders were never able to shake it. Dawkins is just bringing out the same problem.

    GEM of TKI

    PS: Borne, can I use that great quote, with attribution of course?

  41. Borne (29)

    Things have value because they have value to US – why is this such a threatening or despicable notion?

    You say that “Atheists have no ultimate foundations for ethics and morality.” What is an “ultimate foundation”? Why would ‘reason’ not qualify?

    “Raping children – is it relatively wrong or absolutely wrong – ie always wrong in all cases? If wrong then why?”

    Hypothetically, would it be morally permissible to sanction the rape of 1 child if it would prevent the rape of 50 others?

    Personally, I think it is wrong because of the injustice and damage dealt upon the child. But you seem to think that our notions of these things are puny and unreliable. Does that therefore mean that you consider God’s upset at the rape of a child more important than the effect on the child him/herself?

  42. Duncan:

    Cf. 40 just above on what is being raised by Borne, and why.

    Since it seems to be a common misconception nowadays, I will observe that it is the explicit teaching of the NT — cf. here, e.g., Rom 1 – 3 esp. 2:5 – 8 & 14 – 15 with a side-glance at 13:8 – 10, that all normal men have moral and indeed logical intuitions, which we have some ability to heed, however imperfectly.

    The problem for evolutionary materialist views — the form that atheism takes in our time, is that as just seen above [cf. 40 and the Aug 20 Darwin thread for details], on pain of self-referential incoherence, it cannot ground such intuitions on the terms of the system, which is what Borne has eloquently summarised.

    As to the attempted dilemma that one child be raped as a condition of saving fifty more, no-one who offers such a bargain is trustworthy to not abuse the power that makes such a threat to 51 children credible. So, the purpose of such a pretended dilemma would be only to corrupt the victims by coercing them into going along with rape.

    More fundamentally, rape generally [and plainly rightly] seen as is wrong. But, why, and what is “wrong” beyond subjective preference or social group consensus or might makes right?

    For that matter, relative to Evo Mat premises what is reason, and why should we trust its deliverances?

    GEM of TKI

  43. “You say that “Atheists have no ultimate foundations for ethics and morality.” What is an “ultimate foundation”? Why would ‘reason’ not qualify?”

    Atheism can conceive of a morality that seems right, but it cannot establish a morality that is right. Only He who created a rational universe and fashioned rational minds that could comprehend that universe, understands the relationship between the two well enough to establish a natural moral law.

    Further, if there is an afterlife, then every human act has consequences that have will have repercussions into eternity. There is no simply no way that humans, using their reason independent of the natural moral law, can take into account all the permutations and combinations involved. Only the Creator who designed that integrated unit in the first place can place the morality of every act in the context of the big picture. Thus, only that same Creator can decide on the appropriate moral law that would provide an appropriate guide for humans and qualify as the binding standard by which they should finally be judged. Reason can intuit this natural moral law, but it cannot establish it.

    Of course, if there is no God or no afterlife, then what does it matter? All suffering and all joy will come to an end anyway. So the only morality we could come up with would be our best guess about how to navigate through a meaningless universe. By definition, there could be no objective morality because there would be no meaning to inform any morality. It follows that all morality would have to be subjective. We would simply use our will, (what good is intelligence is there is no objective good to know or any permanent goal to pursue) to navigate through the meaningless maze as best we could. That’s called existentialism and its the best we can do without God.

  44. kairosfocus: “Borne, can I use that great quote, with attribution of course?”

    No problem. The statement is actually an extension of a CS Lewis statement.
    “If naturalism were true then all thoughts whatever would be wholly the result of irrational causes…it cuts its own throat.”
    –A Christian Reply to Professor Price

    You post actually assembles in short point form much of what Lewis says in his “Abolition of Man” – a defense of ultimate Moral Law as a real thing.

    Here’s a couple of quotes that fit well in the current context.
    “If nothing is self-evident, nothing can be proved. Similarly if nothing is obligatory for its own sake, nothing is obligatory at all.”
    –The Abolition of Man

    “The very idea of freedom presupposes some objective moral law which overarches rulers and ruled alike…Unless we return to the crude and nursery-like belief in objective values, we perish.”

    “The human mind has no more power of inventing a new value than of planting a new sun in the sky or a new primary colour in the spectrum…”
    –Christian Reflections
    “There is nothing indulgent about the Moral Law. It is as hard as nails…If God is like the Moral Law, then He is not soft.”
    –Mere Christianity
    “Those that hate goodness are sometimes nearer than those that know nothing at all about it and think they have it already.”
    –The Great Divorce
    Looking for God–or Heaven–by exploring space is like reading or seeing all Shakespeare’s plays in the hope that you will find Shakespeare as one of the characters…”–’The Seeing Eye’, Christian Reflections (150)

    “A great many of those who ‘debunk’ traditional [absolute, objective]…values have in the background values of their own which they believe to be immune from the debunking process.”

    “An open mind, in questions that are not ultimate, is useful. But an open mind about the ultimate foundations either of Theoretical or of Practical Reason is idiocy.”
    –The Abolition of Man

    I’m always amazed that materialists cannot see these things. Truly they are blinded.

  45. Thank you for your responses – I’m enjoying it too!

    I will make another post on why I think your analysis of materialism is unconvincing with regard to this issue. In the meantime I’d like to post some rhetorical questions on why I think the status you give a creator is misplaced.

    1. Why should we automatically assume that a creator is well-intentioned and to be deferred to? What if the creator was a demonic / satanic figure – would that mean that all that we now think of as bad would become good, and vice versa, because that would please the creator?

    2. Does the creator actually require us to be moral, or merely obedient? What is the lesson in the story of Abraham and Isaac – that something that would otherwise be bad is good if the creator endorses it? And that we must obey God at all costs?

    3. The creator threatens to torture us in perpetuity unless we do what he says (I appreciate that this is not the only message of Christianity, but still ….). Is this really inspiring and moral behaviour? Is it behaviour that we might legitimately ape?

    4. Which is worse – the fate of ‘the starving millions’, or God’s displeasure at their fate (assuming He is displeased)?

    5. Why is it less inspiring deciding for yourself what the purpose of life is, rather than being told what it is, whether you like it or not?

  46. duncan: “1. Why should we automatically assume that a creator is well-intentioned and to be deferred to? ”

    I guess it depends on your point of view. But implicit in the following is an answer to that question: In the Christian tradition, Satan and his followers apparently took issue with how things were run and decided to overthrow Powers that Be. If you don’t like the Powers that Be (whoever they might be) you are free to rebel too. Maybe the outcome will be pleasant for you and maybe it won’t. Only the future knows.

  47. Duncan “2. Does the creator actually require us to be moral, or merely obedient?”

    Morality is a compendium of general principles, like the laws of nature. But as miracles supercede nature, God’s commands can supercede a general morality.

    “What is the lesson in the story of Abraham and Isaac – that something that would otherwise be bad is good if the creator endorses it? And that we must obey God at all costs?”

    There are several different views of that, and I will only offer my own:

    There are three main points to the story: A) obey Yahweh, even in the face of contradiction; B) Yahweh hates human sacrifice; C) …except for the human sacrifice that Yahweh Himself will provide (in the form of Jesus Christ according to the Christian view.)

    “3. The creator threatens to torture us in perpetuity unless we do what he says (I appreciate that this is not the only message of Christianity, but still ….). Is this really inspiring and moral behaviour?”

    It’s a severe threat to be sure. But the nature of the discomfort may be due to our own “spirit” (consciousness) natures, and it’s relationship to the rest of Reality. I like the way C.S. Lewis puts it, to paraphrase, to have Heaven without God is to have no Heaven at all, because if you understand Reality you would see that separation from God cuts you off from everything desirable. Cutting yourself off from God is like throwing yourself into a black hole. It’s not going to be fun in here. And he warns you not to try.

    “4. Which is worse – the fate of ‘the starving millions’, or God’s displeasure at their fate”

    I hesitate to answer this one, because it treads upon my own private philosophical position too closely. But let’s just say, our view from earth doesn’t see over the metaphorical hills past or future. What if, somehow, you came to the certain view that this planet is basically a prison, and that all those starving millions did things in the Real World equivalent to a Hitler or Stalin? Would you be that worried about them then?

    “5. Why is it less inspiring deciding for yourself what the purpose of life is, rather than being told what it is, whether you like it or not?”

    It depends on who’s doing the telling. One should, by all means, carefully consider the various views presented, including one’s own, and try to make decision. We all choose one way or another. Some of us just think a bit more carefully about it. At any rate, obviously, it’s not a bad thing to accept the view of another, if you come to see that the person is right.

  48. This is getting a little far afield from Barry A’s formulation, but I suppose duncan’s comments merit a response, albeit a lightning round approach.

    “1. Why should we automatically assume that a creator is well-intentioned and to be deferred to?”

    We should not assume that. We should investigate the matter from a theological perspective. According the the Judeo Christian revelation, God tells us that his intentions are good and then proves it with his actions. Further, we should employ the use of our reason to assess the truth claims of all the major religions–and then embrace the Judeo-Christian ethic.

    “2. Does the creator actually require us to be moral, or merely obedient?”

    According to revelation, the Creator describes our role as creature and explains which behaviors will naturally do violence to our nature and which ones will not. The standard for this behvior, the natural moral law, also provides the rational foundation for a well-ordered society.

    “3. The creator threatens to torture us in perpetuity unless we do what he says.

    The creator points out that we will experience torture should we insist on separating ourselves from the source of life to the very end, because the condition of separation causes torture. To deny the source of life is to impose self-punishment.

    “4. Which is worse – the fate of ‘the starving millions’, or God’s displeasure at their fate.

    The fate of those who ignore “the starving millions” will be worse than the fate of the starving millions. Assuming that life doesn’t end, it matters what kind of disposition one cultivates throughout life.

    5. Why is it less inspiring deciding for yourself what the purpose of life is, rather than being told what it is, whether you like it or not?”

    The temporal purpose of life is a matter of choice. The eternal purpose of life is a function of what we have been made for. To resent what one has been made for is to disavow one’s role as creature. Contrary to secularist propoganda, creatures can be happy as creatures and will become miserable when they try to become gods.

  49. I’m a little late to the party, but…

    “Lastly, who says that atheists base their morality on some “absolute moral law”??”
    Whenever anyone—from any school of thought or perspective—makes a moral argument, they are expressing an idea that they believe is obligatory, and that they expect other people to conform to.

    Consider the difference between, “We should go to a movie tonight,” and “We should all minimize our ecological footprint.” The first is mere preference; in the second, the speaker wants or expects all people to agree that this is good or right, and that they should act in a way that’s consistent with it.

    And everyone who makes a moral argument has this expectation—Dawkins most of all, who insists that all religion is “wrong” and should be eliminated.

    The obvious question becomes, why is Dawkins right? Why should any of us listen to him, when his own world view informs us that he is nothing more than a bag of matter cobbled together by “blind, pitiless indifference?” The output of his brain mere chemistry.

    The great irony is that his case for a moral argument depends on the existence of a real, external moral standard to which all of us must submit. Theism provides for such a standard; his own world view denies that such a transcendent standard is even possible.

    And it’s not just Dawkins who has to live with the contradiction; it is anyone who subscribes to his world view.

  50. Duncan,

    Your questions implicitly assume that all we’ll ever be able to do is theorize about God. However, what if it is simply the case that all of the millions of believers in the world simply know God personally, having actually encountered Him? What if it is possible to know and understand the goodness of His character through direct encounter? Believers don’t accept God’s goodness because they’re credulous, or because they’ve somehow solved some sort of logical conundrum, but because they have “tasted and seen”. No one who is not yet a believer is barred from doing the same. However, at some point a step of faith is required. If you precondition knowing God with having every single logical conundrum or possible escape clause answered, it’s just not going to happen. Once you do know God however, these sorts of questions simply aren’t that much of a worry. It becomes a virtuous circle. A saint (Augustine?) said “I believe in order to understand and understand in order to believe.” Relationship with God effectively gives new premises from which to reason, which provides new insight, which leads to greater trust, which leads to virtuous action for the sake of God rather than self, which leads to greater spiritual illumination.

    Notice, I do not propose this as an argument, but simply a testimony of what I have found to be the case (as have countless others). In that respect it is more like primary data than an inferential conclusion. Conversion, at some point becomes more a question of will than intellect, which is not to say that it is anti-intellectual. In fact, further intellectual progress toward resolving these conundra (at least to ones own satisfaction) can eventually only be made after an illumination of grace, which comes after an assent of the will to God. That is the “physics” of the situation, if you will.

  51. duncan: “I think your analysis of materialism is unconvincing”
    I suggest you re-read what’s been written already.
    I also suggest you ask yourself why it is ‘unconvincing’ and then tell us exactly. You need to re-reason it through.

    If it is because you do not wish to be convinced that is another matter indeed.

    Materialism is dead as far as moral values go. There are no moral values in matter. Rocks don’t have morals.

    Once again I must stand amazed that materialists can’t see this simple and obvious truth. What is the problem? Even your questions belie that you believe there is absolute truth. Otherwise upon what basis are you arguing from?

    Even in the act of debating moral value itself you reveal that you do indeed believe in real, objective moral values. Otherwise you could not have any possible reason for debate since no one could be Right and no one could be Wrong.

    You are, in the very act of denying the existence of objective values appealing to some standard of truth outside of yourself!! This is so clear I cannot fathom why you can’t see it.

    Matter carries no morals, no values. Materialism states that we are nothing but matter in motion. Matter cannot reason or evaluate values.

    If matter is all you are then you waste your time in any debate whatsoever.

    As to your questions I think others have answered very well already but I’ll add my own 2 bits worth:

    “2. Does the creator actually require us to be moral, or merely obedient?”
    Obedient to what? Moral to what?
    Define your terms of reference.

    Morality is useless without accountability. Law is non existent without accountability. To whom are we accountable? There is no such thing as binding law without sanctions.

    “3. The creator threatens to torture us in perpetuity unless we do what he says.”
    And what would you say if I said all rebellion against the highest authority in all existence and against the greatest moral Law ever written for the greatest common good of all moral agents, actually deserves such punishment?

    Again no sanctions no law.

    Sin (selfishness, crime against the law of love, intentional rebellion against the same rule) is contagious.

    Example is the highest moral influence.

    If sin (crime) were allowed to be perpetuated the entire universe of living moral beings (and their environment) would come into the same bloody mess of war, rape, hatred, etc. that this planet witnesses every minute. Why should the creator allow that? Indeed, how could any responsible magistrate allow it?
    So that’s why there is an end in sight and the proverbial “judgment to come”. This world’s days of free evil doing are numbered. There will be justice in the end.

    No one will ultimately “get away with” anything at all – except the forgiven!

    Hell is the state penitentiary of the universe.

    As CS Lewis said (I quote from memory), “God won’t send you there, but if you choose to go, nothing he can do will ever stop you” Otherwise he would have to break the law of free moral agency under which all moral agents are governed.

    “4. Which is worse – the fate of ‘the starving millions’, or God’s displeasure at their fate.

    What’s your point? The very word ‘worse’ implies that you do indeed believe in a “better or worse” rule – but by what standard do you measure?

    “5. Why is it less inspiring deciding for yourself what the purpose of life is, rather than being told what it is, whether you like it or not?”

    Simple. 1) You don’t have a ruddy clue what is best for your life. The creator does – from a to z. You don’t even know why you’re here, so how are you going to choose the right road for yourself let alone others?

    2) Your question misses the whole point of this discussion thus far. If there is no ultimate purpose then all proximate purpose is futile, vain and destined to be lost in eternity as dust in space.

    All the greatest acts of self sacrifice, all the heroic acts of those who loved others as themselves, all the death and suffering, all the great accomplishments of history – all life will eventually be swallowed up in eternal meaninglessness. Forgotten, never to be remembered. The stories never to be told.

    Was it really all for nothing? Materialism allows no other option.

    All the deeds of courage, bravery, self giving, defense of the poor and needy, the saving of lives, the adoption of orphans, the feeding of the hungry – all will be engulfed in irretrievable pasts, having been but a speck of insignificance on the scales of time.

    Worse, all the unpunished crimes, the lame cowardice and ugly violence of genocides, rapes and lies going forever without justice. So why should the criminal heart care for mere temporal consequences?

    Is that what you really want to believe? All human history with it’s acts of courage and self-sacrifice in the face of imminent dangers and hateful acts is essentially meaningless in the long term?

    Materialism gives you no other choice. And if that is not sobering to you then you must already be dead.

  52. All:

    I think the current broadening of the blog’s discussions to address the implications of “materialist ideology” is bringing out a decisive shift in the balance of the discussion.

    For, it is increasingly evident that evo mat is intellectually and morally dynamically impotent to account for the origin of the very mind used to think materialist thoughts.

    Borne’s summary in 29 [thanks for permission to cite it!] is ever so telling:

    But if brain = mind [in a world that originated by the chance + necessity only evo mat cascade from hydrogen to humans] then all our thoughts are based on non-rational processes which make thought of no more value than dirt. Thus materialism, and its science methodological naturalism, cuts it’s own throat.

    That is, it is self-referentially incoherent and logically necessarily false. Just, too many people and institutions don’t realise it yet. (but that is changing as we speak!)

    In that light, we can now address the power of a reasonable and empirically well-supported alternative paradigm: design.

    For, it is a commonplace of experience and observation, that causal chains include chance, mechanical necessity, and agency. It is a further well-established empirical datum that in every instance where an event exhibits Complex Specified Information and we observe the causal chain directly, such CSI is the product of agency.

    Moreover, since our presence/absence as observers has no direct causal influence on most things of interest [I here except the cases where the act of observing disturbs the situation significantly], we have excellent reason to infer that this pattern also extends to cases where we have no direct observation of he chain of causation.

    Further to this, we know that the reason why CSI works so well as a filter is that in situations dominated by contingency, mechanical necessity is not the decisive causal factor. Also, when a situation is complex beyond the Dembski type bound [about 500 to 1000 bits or so of information], the probabilistic resources of the observed cosmos are credibly exhausted, so it is implausible that chance has given rise to the observed effect.

    That leaves agency as the best, empirically anchored explanation. [The resort to metaphysical speculations on an unobserved quasi-infinite cosmos as a whole with sufficient randomness to make all possibilities actual in some sub-cosmos or another is a backhanded acknowledgement of the force of this point.]

    That brings us back to the OP by BarryA.

    In effect, the reason why Mr Dawkins tries to have it both ways and so sadly but almost comically lurches from one of two mutually contradictory poles to the other, is that his worldview system as a whole is self-contradictory, first logically then also by extension morally. [And, I note here that methodological naturalism boils down to the assertion that we only consider entities in science that fit in with the evolutionary materialist view of spontaneous origin of the cosmos, from hydrogen to humans. That is, it boils down to philosophical materialism.]

    So, we see him saying in one breath:

    The universe we observe has precisely the properties we should expect if there is, at bottom, no design, no purpose, no evil and no good, nothing but blind, pitiless indifference.

    But, he is after all a man, made in God’s image with moral intuitions. So, on seeing the implications of such amoral and arational Darwinism in the state — “fascism” loosely understood — he recoils in horror.

    And, thank God! Mr Dawkins, in the end, is a better man than his theory/ worldview would predict — if it were true!

    If he would only follow up where that telling clue of existential incoherence leads . . .

    GEM of TKI

  53. Dawkins, The Selfish Gene (1976), p. 201:

    [O]ur conscious foresight — our capacity to simulate the future in imagination — could save us from the worst selfish excesses of the blind replicators… We are built as gene machines and cultured as meme machines, but we have the power to turn against our creators. We, alone on earth, can rebel against the tyranny of the selfish gene.

    In the endnotes of the 1989 edition of that book, Dawkins says:

    The optimistic tone of my conclusion has provoked scepticism among critics who feel that it is inconsistent with the rest of the book… [But it] is perfectly possible to hold that genes exert a statistical influence on human behaviour while at the same time believing that this influence can be modified, overridden or reversed by other influences. Genes must exert a statistical influence on any behaviour pattern that evolves by natural selection… We, that is our brains, are separate and independent enough from our genes to rebel against them. As already noted, we do so in a small way every time we use contraception. There is no reason why we should not rebel in a large way, too.

    I recalled this passage, and re-read it to see if it might make sense of Dawkins’ position, but, of course, it doesn’t. What are these “other influences”? Is Dawkins not a materialist? Materialists are supposed to believe that consciousness is just an illusion, a mere “epiphenomenon” of the brain. Per materialism, matter is all there is, and the brain must be strictly the result of the “actions” of deterministic genes and memes, and chance. There is nothing else — nothing that can rebel. Illusions can’t rebel.

    Nota bene: Dawkins used the word “conscious” in 1976. In his 1989 comments, he seems to avoid it.

  54. Interesting: “but we have the power to turn against our creators.”
    Is exactly the Christian doctrine with regards to the Creator!
    But then Dawkins, as usual, turns and speaks nonsense:
    “We, alone on earth, can rebel against the tyranny of the selfish gene.”
    How does he know this? How can this be proven? Of course it cannot. His “illusion of free will” deceives him even here. For how could one possibly know that ones rebellion is not in fact yet another naturalistic outcome of the workings of the physical brain?

    Seems an obvious enough question and no answer is possible for even the answer may be just more neurons firing by undirected means and thus have no bearing on reality.

    I’m not surprised he didn’t see his own dilemma.

    Indeed, it is not possible, according to materialistic ideology, to turn against ones self, because ones self doesn’t really exist as a ‘self’. (Interestingly “Until you have given up your self to Him you will not have a real self…”– Lewis, Mere Christianity)

    And since we are made of genes how can we possible ‘rebel’ against their ‘tyranny’?

    Conclusion? Materialists don’t have a clue.

    And, like I say elsewhere, materialist/atheist thought leads to mental illness (Hoyle – Mathematics of Evolution, 1987), it cripples the reasoning faculties of the brain. This is probably because it forces neurons and synapses to fire the logic gates the wrong ways or something. It immunizes one against true reason and logic. Sad but true.

  55. Agreed: I would add this. The notion that one can invent one’s own truth makes the mind lazy. If that person already has the truth, then there is no need for him to exert his intellect in order to find it. Under these circumstances, the mind doesn’t get the exercise necessary to grow and mature.

    One the other hand, If truth is “out there” somewhere, then the mind must discipline itself to bridge the gap between where it is and where it ought to be. Thus, the seeker of truth must undertake a rigorous journey full of frustrations and pitfalls. As someone once put it, “education is a series of questions, the answers to which, cause confusion and frustration and a whole new series of questions at a higher and more important level.”

    Materialism, like its corollary moral relativism, produces dull minds because it doesn’t challenge them to ask those questions, experience those frustrations, and resolve those paradoxes. For materialists, there are no paradoxes. Indeed, it admits of no paradoxes and, as we have found, will not tolerate those who find them and are willing to do the necessary work to resolve them.

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