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The Silent Yawn

A culture’s creation narrative is foundational, for it forms the template for everything else. One of the consequences of evolution—the belief that the world spontaneously arose by itself—is that it underwrites moral relativism, which is not to say there is no right and wrong but rather that right and wrong is something that we decide. And since evolution is true, it is to evolution that we go for our rights. “We hold these truths to be self-evident,” proclaims the Declaration of Independence, “that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.” But with evolution there is no such endowment, for there is no such Creator. Not that evolution derives from atheism, it does not. Evolution derives from a different kind of theism, a kind where we decide what is right.  Read more

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48 Responses to The Silent Yawn

  1. 1
    Kantian Naturalist

    I’m no fan of moral relativism, and I agree that it’s much more rampant today than it used to be, but the idea that evolutionary theory has much to do with this just doesn’t make sense to me. I’m not even sure how the argument is supposed to go.

    What I see, or seem to see, here and elsewhere is something like this:

    (1) a commitment to objective morality depends on a belief in God;
    (2) a belief in God is undermined by accepting evolutionary theory;
    (3) therefore, accepting evolutionary theory undermines the intellectual underpinnings of the commitment to objective morality.

    Now, I’m not sure if I’ve got the argument right, so feel free to revise those claims as you see fit.

    The problem, as I see it, is that there just aren’t any reasons to believe that (1) or (2) are true. Yes, I know, that (1) and (2) are widely believed to be true, but of course that’s not a justification for them. And besides which, there’s no shortage of really good arguments for thinking that (1) and (2) are both false. So what I want to know is, what are some reasons for accepting (1) and (2), given the arguments against them?

  2. The problem, as I see it, is that there just aren’t any reasons to believe that (1) or (2) are true.”

    (1) Sez Who?

    (2) because Darwin himself insisted so

  3. Well, KN, your first sentence is a statement of your incredulity regarding the connection between evolution and moral relativism, as claimed by theists; and yet you cannot utter that without conceding that moral relativism is much more rampant today than it used to be.

    Don’t you see that moral relativism derives from the spiritual underpinning, i.e. today, the increasing want of one, of the age. Surely its not a great conceptual leap to realize that atheism is an equal opportunities sort of religion, as alluded to in the article, whereby one’s morality is a matter of personal discretion/taste, etc, and not of acceptance of the imposition of any external canons of morality.

    This blog highlights, day in and day out, the totally factitious nature of the amorphous theory of evolution beyond minor modifications within species; and evidently believed on metaphysical grounds, just as concluded by Dr Hunter, and in the face of continual scientific rebuttal by the evidence. And all but a few confused, Christian outliers, are quite rabid in their attachment to evolution, as confirmation in their eyes that there is no God.

    I should say, with regard to the latter hydrophobes, foaming at the mouth, that they are the vocal ones, the strident ones. Many who would not believe in evolution know that, for professional reasons (the totalitarian nature of corporatism), they simply have to keep their head down, and keep their own counsel, and for others, such as perhaps yourself, it is not a matter of feeling threatened, but of a genuine wish to understand.

    Was there ever a more authoritative peer-review, circus though it is – than that provided by the people – no doubt themselves evolutionists – who produce their own self-condemnatory evidence! And, invariably, airily dismissed with such regular expressions of astonishment, nay, wonder, that it has become all too easy to parody them and their routine.

    Somehow, I don’t think that kind of infantile charade was what the likes of Einstein, a panentheist, and therefore, an absolutely rigid IDer, had in mind when they spoke of being like a little child looking at the great library of creation.

    I don’t expect it would be profitable for either of us to ‘to’ and ‘fro’ with our responses, but I felt I had to tell you of my own puzzlement that you don’t appear to see the connections between a belief in amorphous, catch-all Evolution, starting with abiogenesis, and atheism, and how such ‘foundational beliefs’ form the spirit of the age; upon which you implicitly remarked.

    Please don’t interpret this as rudeness on my part. I can’t be intentionally rude to people who are not rude themselves, mindful of the effect of the words, ‘He/she speaks very highly of you’, on a person foolish enough, as, alas, I have been at times, to criticise someone else, detract from their character in effect, a serious sin according to our Christian canons of belief.

  4. 4

    KN (1):

    I’m no fan of moral relativism, and I agree that it’s much more rampant today than it used to be, but the idea that evolutionary theory has much to do with this just doesn’t make sense to me. I’m not even sure how the argument is supposed to go.

    What I see, or seem to see, here and elsewhere is something like this:

    (1) a commitment to objective morality depends on a belief in God;
    (2) a belief in God is undermined by accepting evolutionary theory;
    (3) therefore, accepting evolutionary theory undermines the intellectual underpinnings of the commitment to objective morality.

    Now, I’m not sure if I’ve got the argument right, so feel free to revise those claims as you see fit.

    No, that is not how it goes. Here is the abridged version. Evolution says that the world arose spontaneously (random chance events + natural law). Now if that is true, then it is altogether natural and reasonable to consider that ethics is also a product of evolution. Aren’t ethics part of our world? Thus it is not surprising that evolutionists for years have been devising explanations for how evolution created ethics. Otherwise, one would have to say that while, yes, evolution created the world, it did not quite create everything, such as ethics. So do you see that moral relativism is a natural consequence of evolutionary thought?

  5. General Brain Development
    Excerpt: Generally speaking, the central nervous system (which is composed of the brain and the spinal cord) matures in a sequence from “tail” to head. In just the fifth week after conception, the first synapses begin forming in a fetus’s spinal cord. By the sixth week, these early neural connections permit the first fetal movements–spontaneous arches and curls of the whole body–that researchers can detect through ultrasound imaging. Many other movements soon follow–of the limbs (around eight weeks) and fingers (ten weeks), as well as some surprisingly coordinated actions (hiccuping, stretching, yawning, sucking, swallowing, grasping, and thumb-sucking). By the end of the first trimester, a fetus’s movement repertoire is remarkably rich, even though most pregnant women can feel none of it. (Most women sense the first fetal movements around eighteen weeks of pregnancy.)
    http://main.zerotothree.org/si.....y_brainFAQ

    Though the preceding is impressive evidence for the pro-life movement, Theism goes one step further and holds that God ‘knows the soul’ of each man prior to the formation of the physical body:

    Jeremiah 1:5
    “Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, before you were born I set you apart;

    i.e. life begins before conception, not at conception, from God’s point of view:

    Whereas before we would have a very hard time supporting this pro-life position scientifically, now, due to advances in quantum mechanics, we can make a strong case for the Theistic position that the soul precedes body formation. First, advances in quantum mechanics have falsified local realism (the reductive materialism of Darwinism) as the correct view of reality:

    Quantum physics says goodbye to reality – Apr 20, 2007
    Excerpt: They found that, just as in the realizations of Bell’s thought experiment, Leggett’s inequality is violated – thus stressing the quantum-mechanical assertion that reality does not exist when we’re not observing it. “Our study shows that ‘just’ giving up the concept of locality would not be enough to obtain a more complete description of quantum mechanics,” Aspelmeyer told Physics Web. “You would also have to give up certain intuitive features of realism.”
    http://physicsworld.com/cws/article/news/27640

    Moreover, advances in quantum mechanics has consistently shown that consciousness must precede ‘material’ reality:

    “I’m going to talk about the Bell inequality, and more importantly a new inequality that you might not have heard of called the Leggett inequality, that was recently measured. It was actually formulated almost 30 years ago by Professor Leggett, who is a Nobel Prize winner, but it wasn’t tested until about a year and a half ago (in 2007), when an article appeared in Nature, that the measurement was made by this prominent quantum group in Vienna led by Anton Zeilinger, which they measured the Leggett inequality, which actually goes a step deeper than the Bell inequality and rules out any possible interpretation other than consciousness creates reality when the measurement is made.” – Bernard Haisch, Ph.D., Calphysics Institute, is an astrophysicist and author of over 130 scientific publications.

    Moreover quantum entanglement(spooky, instantaneous, action at a distance), though it was at first thought to be impossible that quantum entanglement would be found in molecular biology, has now been found in molecular biology on a massive scale:

    DNA Can Discern Between Two Quantum States, Research Shows – June 2011
    Excerpt: — DNA — can discern between quantum states known as spin. – The researchers fabricated self-assembling, single layers of DNA attached to a gold substrate. They then exposed the DNA to mixed groups of electrons with both directions of spin. Indeed, the team’s results surpassed expectations: The biological molecules reacted strongly with the electrons carrying one of those spins, and hardly at all with the others. The longer the molecule, the more efficient it was at choosing electrons with the desired spin, while single strands and damaged bits of DNA did not exhibit this property.
    http://www.sciencedaily.com/re.....104014.htm

    Does DNA Have Telepathic Properties?-A Galaxy Insight – 2009
    Excerpt: DNA has been found to have a bizarre ability to put itself together, even at a distance, when according to known science it shouldn’t be able to.,,, The recognition of similar sequences in DNA’s chemical subunits, occurs in a way unrecognized by science. There is no known reason why the DNA is able to combine the way it does, and from a current theoretical standpoint this feat should be chemically impossible.
    http://www.dailygalaxy.com/my_.....ave-t.html

    Coherent Intrachain energy migration at room temperature – Elisabetta Collini & Gregory Scholes – University of Toronto – Science, 323, (2009), pp. 369-73
    Excerpt: The authors conducted an experiment to observe quantum coherence dynamics in relation to energy transfer. The experiment, conducted at room temperature, examined chain conformations, such as those found in the proteins of living cells. Neighbouring molecules along the backbone of a protein chain were seen to have coherent energy transfer. Where this happens quantum decoherence (the underlying tendency to loss of coherence due to interaction with the environment) is able to be resisted, and the evolution of the system remains entangled as a single quantum state.
    http://www.scimednet.org/quant.....d-protein/

    Physicists Discover Quantum Law of Protein Folding – February 22, 2011
    Quantum mechanics finally explains why protein folding depends on temperature in such a strange way.
    Excerpt: First, a little background on protein folding. Proteins are long chains of amino acids that become biologically active only when they fold into specific, highly complex shapes. The puzzle is how proteins do this so quickly when they have so many possible configurations to choose from.
    To put this in perspective, a relatively small protein of only 100 amino acids can take some 10^100 different configurations. If it tried these shapes at the rate of 100 billion a second, it would take longer than the age of the universe to find the correct one. Just how these molecules do the job in nanoseconds, nobody knows.,,,
    Their astonishing result is that this quantum transition model fits the folding curves of 15 different proteins and even explains the difference in folding and unfolding rates of the same proteins.
    That’s a significant breakthrough. Luo and Lo’s equations amount to the first universal laws of protein folding. That’s the equivalent in biology to something like the thermodynamic laws in physics.
    http://www.technologyreview.co.....f-protein/

    Finding the ‘quantum transition model’ to be a ‘universal law’ of protein folding is no small matter since a ‘non-local’, beyond space and time, cause must be supplied to explain such massive quantum entanglement within proteins (and within DNA). Theism has always postulated a beyond space and time cause for life. Reductive materialism, upon which neo-Darwinism is built, simply has no beyond space and time cause to appeal to:

  6. Moreover there are two different types of quantum entanglement within molecular biology, one is the fairly close molecule to molecule quantum entanglement found with DNA and proteins:

    Quantum Information/Entanglement In DNA – Elisabeth Rieper – short video
    http://www.metacafe.com/watch/5936605/

    The other type of quantum entanglement found in the body is the fairly long range quantum entanglement in the brain:

    Quantum Entangled Consciousness (Permanence/Conservation of Quantum Information)- Life After Death – Stuart Hameroff – video
    https://vimeo.com/39982578

    Brain ‘entanglement’ could explain memories – January 2010
    Excerpt: In both cases, the researchers noticed that the voltage of the electrical signal in groups of neurons separated by up to 10 millimetres sometimes rose and fell with exactly the same rhythm. These patterns of activity, dubbed “coherence potentials”, often started in one set of neurons, only to be mimicked or “cloned” by others milliseconds later. They were also much more complicated than the simple phase-locked oscillations and always matched each other in amplitude as well as in frequency. (Perfect clones) “The precision with which these new sites pick up on the activity of the initiating group is quite astounding – they are perfect clones,” says Plen
    http://www.newscientist.com/ar.....ories.html

    notes:

    Quantum no-hiding theorem experimentally confirmed for first time – March 2011
    Excerpt: In the classical world, information can be copied and deleted at will. In the quantum world, however, the conservation of quantum information means that information cannot be created nor destroyed.
    http://www.physorg.com/news/20.....tally.html

    Quantum no-deleting theorem
    Excerpt: A stronger version of the no-cloning theorem and the no-deleting theorem provide permanence to quantum information. To create a copy one must import the information from some part of the universe and to delete a state one needs to export it to another part of the universe where it will continue to exist.
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Q.....onsequence

  7. The following is a interesting footnote:

    Twin fetuses learn how to be social in the womb – October 13, 2010
    Excerpt: Humans have a deep-seated urge to be social, and new research on the interactions of twins in the womb suggests this begins even before babies are born.,,,
    The five pairs of twins were found to be reaching for each other even at 14 weeks, and making a range of contacts including head to head, arm to head and head to arm. By the time they were at 18 weeks, they touched each other more often than they touched their own bodies, spending up to 30 percent of their time reaching out and stroking their co-twin.,,,
    Kinematic analyses of the recordings showed the fetuses made distinct gestures when touching each other, and movements lasted longer — their hands lingered. They also took as much care when touching their twin’s delicate eye region as they did with their own. This type of contact was not the same as the inevitable contact between two bodies sharing a confined space or accidental contacts between the bodies and the walls of the uterus,,,
    The findings clearly demonstrate it is deep within human nature to reach out to other people.
    http://phys.org/news/206164323.....-womb.html

    Of note: the same caring, loving, touch from the baby towards its twin is found when the baby strokes the mother’s uterine wall:

    Wired to Be Social: The Ontogeny of Human Interaction – 2010
    Excerpt: Kinematic analysis revealed that movement duration was longer and deceleration time was prolonged for other-directed movements compared to movements directed towards the uterine wall. Similar kinematic profiles were observed for movements directed towards the co-twin and self-directed movements aimed at the eye-region, i.e. the most delicate region of the body.
    http://www.plosone.org/article.....ne.0013199

  8. 8
    Kantian Naturalist

    Don’t you see that moral relativism derives from the spiritual underpinning, i.e. today, the increasing want of one, of the age. Surely its not a great conceptual leap to realize that atheism is an equal opportunities sort of religion, as alluded to in the article, whereby one’s morality is a matter of personal discretion/taste, etc, and not of acceptance of the imposition of any external canons of morality.

    This is a bit helpful in explicating the differences between my understanding and yours. On my view, the fragmentation of world-views, and the resulting eclecticism (to put it politely), has material causes: here I’m thinking about such things as the rise of pathological narcissism due to a consumer-based ethos due to the fact that the economic system of the modern West would collapse if not for constant over-production and over-consumption.

    To repeat a rather provocative claim I made a few weeks ago: Darwinism is being treated here as a scapegoat for social ills actually caused by capitalism.

    Evolution says that the world arose spontaneously (random chance events + natural law). Now if that is true, then it is altogether natural and reasonable to consider that ethics is also a product of evolution. Aren’t ethics part of our world? Thus it is not surprising that evolutionists for years have been devising explanations for how evolution created ethics. Otherwise, one would have to say that while, yes, evolution created the world, it did not quite create everything, such as ethics. So do you see that moral relativism is a natural consequence of evolutionary thought?

    Maybe I’m being just terribly dense here, but I don’t see how moral relativism follows from the claim that our capacity for ethical behavior arose through unguided, ‘naturalistic’ processes. Suppose someone who thinks that our capacity for empirical knowledge is a result of evolutionary processes, and that knowledge is fully objective in the requisite senses. Anyone who holds that view would have no reason for denying that the same could be true of ethics. So the inference from evolution to relativism just doesn’t work.

  9. 9

    KN (8):

    Maybe I’m being just terribly dense here, but I don’t see how moral relativism follows from the claim that our capacity for ethical behavior arose through unguided, ‘naturalistic’ processes. Suppose someone who thinks that our capacity for empirical knowledge is a result of evolutionary processes, and that knowledge is fully objective in the requisite senses. Anyone who holds that view would have no reason for denying that the same could be true of ethics. So the inference from evolution to relativism just doesn’t work.

    But his friend could arrive at a different ethics, and since the friend is a product of evolution, his different ethics is equally valid.

    But you can be an evolutionist and not a relativist (eg, a Christian who holds to the existence of ethics not created by evolution). I’m not saying the one *necessarily* leads to the other.

  10. 10

    But his friend could arrive at a different ethics, and since the friend is a product of evolution, his different ethics is equally valid.

    I’m not sure what the point here is. The fact that we have different ethical judgments, and sometimes even principles, isn’t a result of accepting evolutionary theory. In any event, the commitment to objectivity about moral principles doesn’t mean that there’s no disagreement about particulars. What objectivity about moral principles guarantees is that, when there is disagreement, it can be resolved without resorting to violence.

    What doesn’t make to me — and I don’t know if anyone here is actually taking this view or not — is the view that accepting evolution is consistent with the objectivity of knowledge but not with the objectivity of morals. For one thing, ethics and epistemology aren’t cleanly separable, as Putnam has pointed out (re-inventing the pragmatist wheel, there).

    So, if accepting evolution is consistent with the objectivity of epistemic principles, then it’s also consistent with the objectivity of ethical principles; if it’s not consistent with the objectivity of ethical principles, then it’s not consistent with the objectivity of epistemic principles, either. (That’s not good, since the theory depends on those principles.)

    I’m familiar with Plantinga’s evolutionary argument against naturalism (EAAN) and in fact I’m reading Naturalism Defeated?, among other things, trying to get a really good handle on it. I do find it intriguing that there’s only one major philosopher who fully embraces what Plantinga calls “Darwin’s Doubt,” and that’s Friedrich Nietzsche.

    But you can be an evolutionist and not a relativist (e.g., a Christian who holds to the existence of ethics not created by evolution). I’m not saying the one *necessarily* leads to the other.

    Good, we agree on that much — that one can be a Christian and accept evolutionary theory. (I’m not a Christian, but speaking “philosophically,” I’m willing to defend the intelligibility of that option.) What’s still not really clear to me is why the intelligibility of objective moral principles depends upon a transcendent source of those principles.

    Maybe the view that folks here want to defend is that physics depends upon God — that’s a well-known view in the history of philosophy and science, and it has no shortage of able-bodied defenders today — but if objective physics doesn’t depend on God, then I don’t see why objective ethics would.

  11. 11

    KN (10):

    I’m not sure what the point here is. The fact that we have different ethical judgments, and sometimes even principles, isn’t a result of accepting evolutionary theory. In any event, the commitment to objectivity about moral principles doesn’t mean that there’s no disagreement about particulars. What objectivity about moral principles guarantees is that, when there is disagreement, it can be resolved without resorting to violence.

    Let me try again. You were talking about an evolutionist who believes evolution gives him the ability to arrive at objective knowledge and ethics. Thus, he is not a moral relativist.

    I disagree because as an evolutionist he must give equal weight to his friend who arrives at different ethics (not just particulars) because, after all, his friend is a product of evolution so his ethics are also a product of evolution. You’re saying he has a commitment to objectivity, but how does that commitment hold up given that there can always be a friend with different ethics?

    I’m not sure where the “resorting to violence” came from. There need not be violence to have a difference in ethics. But it seems to me that the potential for conflicting ethics, which the evolutionist must respect as equally valid, means he cannot escape moral relativism.

  12. 12

    KN (10):

    Good, we agree on that much — that one can be a Christian and accept evolutionary theory.

    However since evolutionary thought entails claims about divine intent which contradict the Bible, such a Christian must reject those particular biblical passages (or he could believe in a different sort of evolutionary theory).

    What’s still not really clear to me is why the intelligibility of objective moral principles depends upon a transcendent source of those principles.

    Well it is not clear to me how one could arrive at objective ethics with only evolution as one’s resource.

  13. It seems to me that entirely too many people believe in evolution without understanding what that belief entails.

    “With me the horrid doubt always arises whether the convictions of man’s mind, which have been developed from the mind of the lower animals, are of any value or at all trustworthy.” – Charles Darwin

  14. 14

    I disagree because as an evolutionist he must give equal weight to his friend who arrives at different ethics (not just particulars) because, after all, his friend is a product of evolution so his ethics are also a product of evolution. You’re saying he has a commitment to objectivity, but how does that commitment hold up given that there can always be a friend with different ethics?

    For one thing, evolutionary theory is an explanation of the origins of capacities across populations. So the evolutionist wouldn’t regard her friend as a product of chance and necessity separate from herself. She would regard herself and her friend as having capacities for empathy, imagination, and reasoning — the same capacities that we all deploy in ethical deliberation — but just have a ‘back-story’ about the origins of those capacities.

    If we want to tell a story about how different families or theories of ethical practices came into existence, it’s quite obvious that evolutionary theory can’t help at all. If that’s what we wanted to talk about, we’d have to talk about cultural history, not natural history. What evolutionary theory could do is explain how it is that cultural beings, self-conscious beings with histories, came into existence into the first place.

    That’s quite consistent with thinking that there are basic features of the world to which any system of ethical practices is ‘answerable’, just as there are basic features of the world to which any scientific theory is answerable.

    Whereas the features of the world for physics are the properties and relations of material objects, the features of the world for ethics are the conditions of human flourishing. If some system of ethical practices only promotes flourishing for the privileged, then there’s something objectively wrong with that system.

    Of course, on my account, there was no ethics before certain types of large-brained social animals evolved, but so what? That doesn’t undermine the objectivity of ethics, anymore than the objectivity of biology is undermined by the fact that life has not always existed.

    However since evolutionary thought entails claims about divine intent which contradict the Bible, such a Christian must reject those particular biblical passages (or he could believe in a different sort of evolutionary theory).

    Or she could read Plantinga’s nice distinction between “random” and “unguided” and thereby claim that evolutionary processes are random from the human point of view but guided from the divine point of view. I make no claims about that from a theological perspective; I have neither background nor interest in theology. But it does not strike me as incoherent or indefensible, either.

  15. 15

    KN (14):

    Or she could read Plantinga’s nice distinction between “random” and “unguided” and thereby claim that evolutionary processes are random from the human point of view but guided from the divine point of view.

    Well Plantinga’s distinction between random and unguided doesn’t help. If an evolutionist says that evolution was according to divine intent, then he simply is, as I mentioned, believing in a different sort of evolutionary theory.

  16. 16

    As for “Darwin’s Doubt,” nicely raised by Mung in (13) above, here’s the quote:

    Nevertheless you have expressed my inward conviction, though far more vividly and clearly than I could have done, that the Universe is not the result of chance. But then with me the horrid doubt always arises whether the convictions of man’s mind, which has been developed from the mind of the lower animals, are of any value or at all trustworthy. Would any one trust in the convictions of a monkey’s mind, if there are any convictions in such a mind?

    Several points in order here:

    (1) Darwin expresses his ‘conviction’ that the Universe is not the result of chance. Deep down, Darwin is not an Epicurean.

    (2) He calls this a “conviction,” and while it’s hard to know what he really has in mind here, I would like to point out that there’s a long-standing, and very British tradition (e.g. Newton, Locke, Berkeley, Hume), which distinguishes between science and metaphysics. I venture the suggestion that here Darwin is casting doubt on our capacity to intuit the fundamental structures of reality, not on our capacity to discern causal relations between objects and events as we experience them. So doubt about metaphysics need not infect doubt about science, if they can be isolated from one another — as many British empiricists believed they could be.

    (3) There could be, after all, perfectly good reasons to believe that animals have reliable cognitive capacities. A monkey probably doesn’t intuit the deep structure of reality, but then again, neither do we. But a monkey does learn from trial and error (including the trial and error of other monkeys) which fruits are safe to eat, and how different is science from that, really? (I’m not saying that they are the same thing — I’m saying that, on a pragmatist philosophy of science, the differences are instructive but subtle.)

    (4) Plantinga’s EAAN, from what I’ve read, depends entirely on a priori considerations in order to motivate the argument for the low or inscrutable probability of the reliability of our cognitive capacities, given unguided evolution. I say this because his argument depends on what we find conceivable or imaginable: we can conceive of scenarios in which semantic content makes no positive contribution to adaptive behavior.

    To show that we can conceive of not-p does, at the very most, that p is not necessarily true. (I’m not even sure it shows that much!) But of course p can still be true in the actual world without being true in all possible worlds. So his argument doesn’t show that semantic content isn’t in fact connected to adaptive behavior; at best his argument shows that it’s not necessarily so connected.

    Plantinga’s argument doesn’t even touch on this, from what I can tell, which means that his argument is pretty much useless. But I’ve only begun studying it, and maybe he deals with it somewhere.

  17. 17

    KN (14):

    I still don’t see it.

    the features of the world for ethics are the conditions of human flourishing. If some system of ethical practices only promotes flourishing for the privileged, then there’s something objectively wrong with that system.

    Now you are simply asserting right and wrong ethics. So it sounds circular. You say an evolutionist can have objective ethics. I ask what about a friend with different ethics. You say if it doesn’t roughly fit my ethics, then its wrong.

  18. 18

    KN (14):

    the features of the world for ethics are the conditions of human flourishing. If some system of ethical practices only promotes flourishing for the privileged, then there’s something objectively wrong with that system.

    btw, are you pro-choice or pro-life?

  19. 19

    If an evolutionist says that evolution was according to divine intent, then he simply is, as I mentioned, believing in a different sort of evolutionary theory.

    I’m sorry, but I have trouble seeing how that can be right. The theory concerns the best explanations for various patterns and processes. The theistic evolution and the naturalistic evolutionist do not disagree about the science. They disagree about the metaphysics, about the “deeper” reality that transcends all possible empirical testing. So they have the same evolutionary theory; where they part ways has everything to do with the interpretation of the theory, but not the content of the theory itself.

  20. KN: “Or she could read Plantinga’s nice distinction between “random” and “unguided” and thereby claim that evolutionary processes are random from the human point of view but guided from the divine point of view.”

    Plantinga’s distinction, which marks the difference between ontological randomness and epistemological randomness, does not apply in this situation. Proponents of Darwin’s theory assert ontological randomness and would reject the proposition that Random Mutations can be reduced to epistemological randomness. In other words, Darwin’s theory asserts that the randomness is real, not merely perceived as such. While the orthodox Christian might be able to accept epistemological randomness, he must reject Darwin’s ontological randomness in principle.

  21. 21

    KN (19):

    The theistic evolution and the naturalistic evolutionist do not disagree about the science. They disagree about the metaphysics,

    No, they do not disagree on the metaphysics. Read Ken Miller, Francis Collins, etc. Same metaphysical claims about divine intent as Christians from centuries back. And same metaphysical claims about divine intent as atheists of today.

  22. 22

    btw, are you pro-choice or pro-life?

    I don’t have political views that can be summarized on a bumper sticker or T-shirt. So if you’re taking a survey, you can put me as “neither” or “both”, I don’t care which. :)

    I think that in a perfect world, there wouldn’t be any abortions, or very few, because in a perfect world, all pregnancies would be intentional. I’m strongly against making abortion illegal or hard to access, because I do not believe that any woman should be forced to give birth against her will.

    But, at the same time, I do think that there is something morally wrong with abortion, though it does not, in my view, rise to the level of murder. Under existing economic and political realities, I consider access to safe and legal abortion to be a necessary evil — which is to say, it’s being evil does not make it less necessary, nor does its being necessary make it less evil. It could be made considerably less necessary with significantly better sex eduction, more widespread contraceptive education and use, and less puritanical attitudes towards sex in general.

    Generally speaking, I guess you could say I’m a left-wing cultural conservative. It’s a “type” that doesn’t exist much anymore. Theodor Adorno represented it well in the mid-20th century, and so did Christopher Lasch in the 1970s through 1990s. The gist of this position, especially in Lasch’s version, is that cultural conservatives have some of the correct complaints — the decline of confidence in the objectivity of moral principles, the rise of sexual promiscuity, lack of critical thinking, lack of a historical sensibility, pathological narcissism and consumerism — but that these symptoms of cultural decline have material causes (that’s where the ‘left-wing’ comes in), and in particular, with transformations in the structure of post-WWII capitalism.

  23. 23

    KN (22):

    Thx for the response.

  24. KN: “I’m strongly against making abortion illegal or hard to access, because I do not believe that any woman should be forced to give birth against her will”

    That is the official definition of “pro-choice.”— the elevation of the woman’s legal right to kill a fetus over the fetus’ moral right to live.

  25. KN:

    “[abortion]… could be made considerably less necessary with significantly better sex eduction, more widespread contraceptive education and use, and less puritanical attitudes towards sex in general.”

    Actually, artificial contraception leads to abortion.

    From Dr. Janet Smith:

    “Most abortions are the result of unwanted pregnancies, most unwanted pregnancies are the result of sexual relationships outside of marriage, and most sexual relationships outside of marriage are facilitated by the availability of contraception. To turn this ‘progression’ around: contraception leads to more extra-marital sexual intercourse, more extra-marital sexual intercourse leads to more unwanted pregnancies; more unwanted pregnancies lead to more abortions.”

    From Germain Grisez:

    “In the first place, promoting contraception, especially among the young, condones and even encourages immoral sexual activity. Even if contraceptives are provided and used, this activity will lead to many pregnancies, since all methods of contraception have a failure rate. Moreover, the children who come to be as unwanted are likely to be aborted, or neglected and abused, because, unlike children who are unplanned by people open to new life, they were rejected in advance.”

    From George Akerlof (a liberal-leaning Nobel prize-winning economist)

    “Thus, many traditional women ended up having sex and having children out of wedlock, while many of the permissive women ended up having sex and contracepting or aborting so as to avoid childbearing. This explains in large part why the contraceptive revolution was associated with an increase in both abortion and illegitimacy.”

  26. “Darwinism is being treated here as a scapegoat for social ills actually caused by capitalism.”

    Hehehe…

    A few years ago I was in a room full of IDists and they were scapegoating Darwin for ills actually caused by Descartes.

  27. Cornelius Hunter writes:

    Evolution says that the world arose spontaneously (random chance events + natural law).

    Absolutely wrong!!!

    Evolution says absolutely nothing about how the world arose.
    Evolution is a theory that attempts to explain how, given that somehow life got started on Earth around 2 billion years ago, it diversified into the objective nested hierarchy of extant and extinct organisms we observe.

  28. ‘This is a bit helpful in explicating the differences between my understanding and yours. On my view, the fragmentation of world-views, and the resulting eclecticism (to put it politely), has material causes: here I’m thinking about such things as the rise of pathological narcissism due to a consumer-based ethos due to the fact that the economic system of the modern West would collapse if not for constant over-production and over-consumption.’ – Kantian Naturalist

    But don’t you see that those material causes arising from precisely such evils as you mention, namely, the pathological narcissism driving the consumer-based ethos, which is part and parcel of our western economic system, with its dependence on ‘constant over-production and over-consumption’, are totally atheistic, whatever pious blandishments the aforesaid narcissists and their PR people of a similar stamp will utter.

    I know there are exceptions, or individual atheists who are, substantially, exceptions, such as yourself, but most polemical atheism we encounter in the public arena are driven by a fierce desire for there not to be a God, or should he exist, for such God not, under any circumstances, to be acknowledged. So I see naturalism, Evolution, materialism, all, as simple expressions of atheism – the operative, the most seminal culprit.

    And, what’s more that same godless, unbridled capitalism has indeed brought the now hegemonic, global, economic system to the verge of collapse. Not simply and proximately via the extreme polarisation of the wealth through usury and massive fraud – for which our narcissistic-psychopath friends, the arch-malefactors are totally impenitent and just as determined to hold onto every last cent they have effectively stolen from the rest – but through the pillaging of the planets raw materials, most notably of course, oil.

    Unless science is able to come up with an energy source as portable and convenient as oil, the days of clippers and barges seem likely to return – not to speak of horse-drawn carriages.

    If only the Christian Church had been as critical of the economic right as it has been of Communism! Yet, ironically, the sole description of the Last Judgment in the whole of Christian scripture, given in Matthew 25 by Christ himself, God Almighty, does not even cite formal belief in God, as being pivotal, but instead, Charity, selfless – and real, because practical – love of our fellow human beings in their need. ‘Not everyone who calls me, Lord! Lord!….’

  29. Alan Fox:

    Evolution says absolutely nothing about how the world arose.

    Then it can’t say anything about how the diversity of life arose as the two are directly linked- as in how life arose is how it evolved.

    If life was designed then the inference would be that life was designed to evolve/ evolved by design.

    Evolution is a theory that attempts to explain how, given that somehow life got started on Earth around 2 billion years ago, it diversified into the objective nested hierarchy of extant and extinct organisms we observe.

    1- It can’t do that unless it says something about the ORIGIN of life

    2- We do NOT see an objective nested hierarchy with prokaryotes- so you “theory” is falsified, according to you

    3- If all the alleged transitionals were still around we would NOT have any objective nested hierarchy with metazoans as gradual evolution PREDICTS a smooth blending of characteristics indicative of a Venn diagram.

    IOW Alan Fox continues to prove that he doesn’t know anything and he is apparently proud of that.

  30. Correction

    For “around 2 billion years ago”

    please read;

    “around 3.6 billion years ago”.

    PS @ Joe

    Please remember what happened at Dr Hunter’s blog. ;)

  31. PS @ Alan Fox,

    Your ignorance has been exposed, again. Deal with it.

    And yes what happened at Dr Hunter’s blog was evos were allowed to run around spewing their lies unabated. That has now stopped.

  32. Prediction-

    Alan Fox will never support his claim about objective nested hierarchies and he will not answer to the refutations of his claims (because he is a coward).

  33. Alan Fox:

    Evolution is a theory that attempts to explain how, given that somehow life [but not just any life, specifically, life capable of Darwninian evolution] got started on Earth around 2 billion years ago, it diversified into the objective nested hierarchy of extant and extinct organisms we observe.

    Alan Fox:

    But I find the interesting question (and the hardest for science to answer, I suspect) is where is the point that evolutionary processes can kick in.

    The “theory of evolution” doesn’t even tell us the point at which evolutionary processes can “kick in.”

  34. 34

    Alan (27):

    Absolutely wrong!!!

    Why did Laplace say to Napoleon, “I’m in no need of that hypothesis”?

  35. 35
    Kantian Naturalist

    Plantinga’s distinction, which marks the difference between ontological randomness and epistemological randomness, does not apply in this situation. Proponents of Darwin’s theory assert ontological randomness and would reject the proposition that Random Mutations can be reduced to epistemological randomness. In other words, Darwin’s theory asserts that the randomness is real, not merely perceived as such. While the orthodox Christian might be able to accept epistemological randomness, he must reject Darwin’s ontological randomness in principle.

    Though I’m ashamed to admit it, I haven’t read Origin of Species, so I’m in no position to make any claims about where Darwin himself stood on the question. That said, I understand “epistemological randomness” to mean, “so far we humans can tell, the sources of genotypic variation can’t predict what will be adaptive to the organism”. And I understand “ontological randomness” to mean, “at the most fundamental levels of reality, there are some events that have no intelligible relation to other events”.

    I’d like to call these shallow randomness and deep randomness — how things seem, on the ‘surface’ of human experience, and how things really and truly are. In those terms, it’s clear that shallow randomness is all that evolutionary theory requires. I agree that there are various exponents and popularizers of Darwin’s theory who also accept deep randomness. Jacques Monod might be a good example, and perhaps also Dawkins, though I find Dawkins almost incoherent as a philosopher. But I don’t think there’s any direct inference which runs from shallow randomness to deep randomness, and any argument which gets us from one to the other would have to a lot of serious metaphysics in between.

  36. In those terms, it’s clear that shallow randomness is all that evolutionary theory requires.

    Why should the theory require that mutations be random with regard to fitness?

    How does that follow from the theory or even advance the theory in any meaningful way?

    Do you think that if mutations are discovered which are not random with regard to fitness that it would falsify evolutionary theory?

  37. 37
    Kantian Naturalist

    But don’t you see that those material causes arising from precisely such evils as you mention, namely, the pathological narcissism driving the consumer-based ethos, which is part and parcel of our western economic system, with its dependence on ‘constant over-production and over-consumption’, are totally atheistic, whatever pious blandishments the aforesaid narcissists and their PR people of a similar stamp will utter.

    There’s an interesting question here, about how to specify the relationship between atheism and capitalism. My hunch (I really don’t know what else to call it) is that Epicureanism becomes the legitimizing ideology for capitalism in the modern period, much as the Church turned Aristotelianism into the dominant legitimizing ideology for the late medieval period.

    How exactly Epicureanism assumed that role is a complicated story I don’t fully understand, and no doubt there are rival forces at work that need to be taken into account — for example, the rise of Christian Stoicism during the Scottish Enlightenment.

  38. 38
    Kantian Naturalist

    A few years ago I was in a room full of IDists and they were scapegoating Darwin for ills actually caused by Descartes.

    That’s hilarious — and very interesting — please feel free to elaborate!

  39. 39
    Kantian Naturalist

    Why should the theory require that mutations be random with regard to fitness?

    How does that follow from the theory or even advance the theory in any meaningful way?

    Do you think that if mutations are discovered which are not random with regard to fitness that it would falsify evolutionary theory?

    You know, that’s a good question. I stand by my claim but now I’m puzzled as to why it makes sense. If mutations were discovered which were not random with regards to fitness, it wouldn’t falsify the entire body of evolutionary theory, but it would mean that a lot of the theory would have to be seriously re-examined.

  40. ‘There’s an interesting question here, about how to specify the relationship between atheism and capitalism. My hunch (I really don’t know what else to call it) is that Epicureanism becomes the legitimizing ideology for capitalism in the modern period, much as the Church turned Aristotelianism into the dominant legitimizing ideology for the late medieval period.

    How exactly Epicureanism assumed that role is a complicated story I don’t fully understand, and no doubt there are rival forces at work that need to be taken into account — for example, the rise of Christian Stoicism during the Scottish Enlightenment.’ – Kantian Naturalist

    Well, KN, perhaps you find that interesting as a scholar, who likes to see such issues within an eclectic, academic context: the big, erudite picture, so to speak. However, for me, atheism’s inevitable path towards moral relativism and all its ugly consequences, of which we are already seeing for too much, is far too brutishly simple for me to countenance speculating upon.

    One could say that capitalism is akin to the law of the jungle, but with the difference that the worst malefactors of capitalism derive sadistic pleasure from the effects of their machinations – and they can never have a full belly.

    The point is that it is designed in a quite dedicated way to favour the advancement of psychopaths and chronic recidivists to very top of their companies, sometimes, professions, too. The ‘bottom line’, shareholders’ profit, is God, so to speak; moral considerations are touted as potential enemies of the common good, against the national interest, national security, etc. Milton Freedman expressed it succinctly enough.

    That same moral relativism also bears on the pursuit of knowledge – particularly in the field of medicine. Among all the other cynical stunts of a similar kind pulled by the Allied intelligence services after WWII, the CIA, possibly at the time, still the SOE, did a deal with the owner of a Japanese chemicals plant, who had used captured GIs for cryogenic tests to destruction: he would not be punished, if he made the research available to them. Not that I imagine they would have coveted such data for the furtherance of benign medical knowledge.

    However, medical and pharmaceutical laboratories now routinely perform research and invention in ways the Nazis might initially have blenched at: truly the stuff of nightmares. It’s a long time ago since I read it, but if I remember correctly, Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World doesn’t begin to approach the wickedness of the worst activities currently being performed in genetic engineering.

    Domestic cats will play with their captured mice, but, generally, I believe, in the wild, even the big cats only kill to eat. Alas, it looks like it will take a global economic cataclysm to rein in some of the worst of mankind’s predators. Hubris-nemesis.

  41. Cornelius Hunter

    Why did Laplace say to Napoleon, “I’m in no need of that hypothesis”?

    There seems some doubt that he actually said “Je n’avais pas besoin de cette hypothèse-là.”. The only eye-witness that recorded the meeting between Laplace and Bonarparte in his diary does not confirm it.

    Not sure how hat bears on my point that evolutionary theory only attempts an explanation of the diversity of life on Earth, not its origin nor the origin of the World.

  42. Excuse the Joeism! “hat” should be “that”.

  43. 43
    Kantian Naturalist

    Axel, I don’t disagree with anything you said in (40) above. In a format like this, where I’m talking with people who are basically complete strangers to me, I tend to retreat into an intellectual mode of self-presentation. But I do take these issues as seriously as you do.

  44. ‘Why did Laplace say to Napoleon, “I’m in no need of that hypothesis”?’

    Wasn’t that what the general said to Napoleon, when the latter asked him if the young officer he was recommending for promotion was lucky?

    KN – Don’t mind me. And don’t put yourself down by saying you were ‘retreating’ into an intellectual mode of self-presentation.

    You boffins probably probably wouldn’t recognize my forays into intellectual self-presentation, but I often have to replace the more vernacular, Anglo-Saxon words, when they ‘lower the tone’ inappropriately.

    And I don’t doubt your desire for the good, or for the true. Truth-seeking is always personal and idiosyncratic, isn’t it? Everyone’s path is different.

  45. Wrong again, Alan- Joe messes up the “h”. that = tat. the = teh- it’s just a random variation, ie evolution.

  46. 46

    Picking back up on my exchanged with Hunter, @ his 17:

    Now you are simply asserting right and wrong ethics. So it sounds circular. You say an evolutionist can have objective ethics. I ask what about a friend with different ethics. You say if it doesn’t roughly fit my ethics, then its wrong.

    What I’m saying here is that someone who accepts evolution can consistently accept that there are objective moral principles. But there’s all the difference in the world between believing that there are objective moral principles and believing that the principles that one actually holds are objectively right. The commitment to objective principles means that there are standards against which one’s own views can be compared, and quite possibly, found wanting.

    In other words, my own commitment to objectivity, in ethics as in everything else, just consists in my willingness to be persuaded that I’m wrong. There’s a very deep connection here between objectivity and error or falsity, to the point where we can say that objective reality just is whatever it is we can be wrong about. By contrast, if I’m depressed or angry, then I cannot be wrong about my being in that emotional state — those are subjective.

    (Though of course I can be mistaken about the objective causes of my subjective emotional states — I might be angry with a friend because she broke a trust, but I’m really angry with myself for not having communicated my expectations more clearly — the subjective reality of my being angry is not something I can be mistaken about.)

    The key to discovering objective reality, of course, is the process of mutually reinforcing self-criticism and criticism from others. If someone proposes an ethical judgment that differs from mine, then it falls to me to decide if I’m going to challenge or let it slide. Same with the other person. Either we engage with each other, or we don’t. If we do, then the dialectic gets underway, and it’s sustained by our joint commitment to using reason to figure out what the objectively right principles are, and also — very importantly — which principles apply in this particular situation, how conflicts between principles should be resolved, what the reasonable compromises might be, the epistemological and metaphysical status of those principles, and so on.

    What I’m pointing out isn’t rocket science — these are the truisms of what it is to be a mature, rational, human being. (Or so I would naively think.)

  47. 47

    KN (46):

    What I’m saying here is that someone who accepts evolution can consistently accept that there are objective moral principles. But there’s all the difference in the world between believing that there are objective moral principles and believing that the principles that one actually holds are objectively right. The commitment to objective principles means that there are standards against which one’s own views can be compared, and quite possibly, found wanting.

    This doesn’t address my question very directly, but now I think I get it. I don’t see how you avoid moral relativism because there can always different people (who evolved) who hold to different ethics (and believe they are right). Since they both evolved their ethics are the products of evolution, so evolution can create opposing ethics. But if I understand you correctly, you simply would say that one or both of them are wrong, by definition. So you are simply decreeing there to be an objective ethics out there that evolution somehow created, even if we can never figure out what it is.

    Of course there is the question of how evolution could have done this. The usual answers provided are no better than explanations of how evolution could have created arms, legs, muscles, brains, consciousness, etc.

    And since it is contingent on chance events, there is the question of why should evolution’s system of ethics be any better than any other system, which evolution happened not to create?

  48. 48

    Alan (41):

    Not sure how hat bears on my point …

    Evolutionary thought long predates 1859. Darwin built on a foundation that had been laid for two centuries (you can trace it back to antiquity as well). In the 17th and 18th centuries theologians and philosophers were calling for and mandating a naturalistic origins. And scientists were providing it, mainly in cosmology in the 18th century (such as Laplace). Darwin’s arguments come right out of those earlier thinkers. He did a great job of applying the thinking to biology and the origin of species, but evolutionary thought didn’t start with Darwin or biological origins.

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