Home » Uncommon Descent Contest » Uncommon Descent Contest Question 17: Why do evolutionary psychologists need to debunk compassion?

Uncommon Descent Contest Question 17: Why do evolutionary psychologists need to debunk compassion?

This contest has been judged . Go here for winner.

Well, it certainly sounds like debunking to me. According to the evolutionary psychologists, either compassion is a useful gene or it somehow spreads our selfish genes or it is an accidental “spandrel” in our makeup. Or whatever. It’s not a choice, and it’s not identification with another human being derived from the independent reality of a mind thinking today. Humans do it the way ants might do something else.

Evolutionary psychologists never feel the need to debunk rage or deceit, for example, so why compassion?

Here, I reference Robert (“Non-Zero”) Wright’s effort to explain the evolution of compassion. See also Clive Hayden here and Steve Pinker here.

Darwinists and materialists in general keep scratching this itch. Why? What is the threat? Also, how convincing are their claims that society will be better off if we accept their version?

So, for a free copy of The Spiritual Brain: a neuroscientist’s case for the existence of the soul (Mario Beauregard and Denyse O’Leary, Harper One 2007): Why do evolutionary psychologists need to debunk compassion? What’s in it for them?

(Note: For the record, compassion is not necessarily a virtue. The social worker who inappropriately identifies with an abusive mom, as opposed to the child she is employed by the government to protect, is showing misdirected compassion that can end in the child’s death. Compassion must be allied with reason and virtue in order to count as reasonable or virtuous.)

Here are the contest rules. Four hundred words or less. Winners receive a certificate verifying their win as well as the prize. Winners must provide me with a valid postal address, though it need not be theirs. A winner’s name is never added to a mailing list. Have fun!

Notes on compassion that may be of interest:

Psychology: Compassion is an emotion, not a virtue unless disciplined, prof says

The philosopher and his mother, a moral tale

Entrepreneur doctor honours promise

Desperate atheist rage

Is the altruism spot edging out the God spot in pop science?

The power of one: Compassion is strictly a one-to-one thing

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7 Responses to Uncommon Descent Contest Question 17: Why do evolutionary psychologists need to debunk compassion?

  1. “Why do evolutionary psychologists need to debunk compassion?”

    Debunking compassion is the only way these scientists can explain behaviors that completely defy Darwin’s theory. E. O. Wilson notably tried to explain morality in a Darwinian sense by stating that it’s materially and genetically determined “through thousands of generations [that] inevitably give rise to moral sentiments.” (“The Biological Basis for Morality”, The Atlantic Monthly, April 1998)

    Religious people can easily state that compassion results from being created in the image of a loving, compassionate God. Nonreligious people could even call on their consciences for instruction in dealing with others. However, those who adhere to neo-Darwinism have a problem explaining compassion since they assert that only materials exist. Materials don’t have morality. Physical particles that comprise human beings are not responsible for morality.

    If materials are solely responsible for morality, as E. O. Wilson asserts, then Hitler simply had bad molecules. He holds no moral accountability for what he did. People not versed in the art of logic and debate as well as those who are Ph.D. candidates in philosophy know this is sheer nonsense.

    Human thoughts on compassion aren’t material and cannot be accurately explained through materialist ideology or Darwinian theory. Wilson is wrong to suggest that morality is merely an instinct because humans have competing instincts and humans can (and do) ignore the stronger instinct (don’t get involved) in order to do something more noble (get involved and help). Wilson suggests that cooperative morals like compassion evolved to help humans survive together as a group. However, This assumes that an unintelligent, undirected process (natural selection) has an end (survival).

    By definition, Darwianian evolution has no end. Evolutionary psychologists chase their own tails by engaging in such circular reasoning.

  2. Barb gets my vote, not only because she is the only comment so far, :) but because her answer is fantastic.

  3. I don’t expect to win the contest without expanding on this, but the reason that compassion desperately needs to be naturalized (explained, or explained away?) has nothing to to with Darwin’s theory, and everything to do with it’s very close connection with, specifically, Christianity.

  4. Well, it certainly sounds like debunking to me. According to the evolutionary psychologists, either compassion is a useful gene or it somehow spreads our selfish genes or it is an accidental “spandrel” in our makeup. Or whatever. It’s not a choice, and it’s not identification with another human being derived from the independent reality of a mind thinking today. Humans do it the way ants might do something else.

    Explaining != debunking. The fact is that within one of the most powerful frameworks that exist in the biological sciences, the selfish gene model, altruism is a significant problem. An animal regularly committing an action that increases the fitness of another animal at the cost of of their own fitness does not immediately jive with a very naive gene-centered view. Let us assume that it can be demonstrated that altruism can evolve and remain a stable strategy under certain circumstances. So altruism is fully explained by certain biological facts. What does this change? How are altruistic acts by individuals still not (partially) choices? You seem to be implying that once you gain an understanding for why something happens, that the allure of that event and/or the moral culpability changes. But why? Outside of the realm of biology, we can hear a long story about why some defendant had some good reasons for committing murder but still think that they ought to be punished. Sure, a quality understanding removes from the moral arrogance that we have; that we think we are morally quite different from people who commit bad actions, but isn’t the defendant still deserving of punishment?

    Evolutionary psychologists never feel the need to debunk rage or deceit, for example, so why compassion?

    Except they do. Do a google search for violence site:epjournal.net (this searches epjournal.net, an academic evopsyc journal, for the word violence) or any other combination; also, there are plenty of people who wouldn’t call themselves evolutionary psychologists who do take an evopsyc friendly approach to understanding violence, e.g. Richard Nisbett and others who have done work on cultures of honor. EvoPsyc folk do not privilege human’s nasty side from the universal acid of evolutionary thinking. Lying? Mainstream evopsyc; look up info on cheating detection. Rape? Mainstream evopsyc; and if Kim Hill’s work on the Ache is correct, then maybe rape is not as easy to explain as the Thornhill and Palmer camp believed it was.

    Darwinists and materialists in general keep scratching this itch. Why? What is the threat? Also, how convincing are their claims that society will be better off if we accept their version?

    Would you claim that someone who studies how the brain processes music or the physics of music does not still appreciate music? If not, then why is their seeking of a physical explanation different from “Darwinists and materialists”?

  5. By definition, Darwianian evolution has no end. Evolutionary psychologists chase their own tails by engaging in such circular reasoning. – Barb

    This.

    It’s an observational error endlessly propagated in a tautological narrative.

    Topologically speaking, this tautological error arises when projecting a 3-dimensional manifold onto 2-dimensional space, as in a painting of the folds of a garment. This produces the ‘caustics’ of mathematical singularity theory.

    If these vector caustics are observed over scalar spacetime, the quantities become infinite. This creates computational problems that chance-hypotheses can only fail to surmount.

    These problems obviously indicate the non-falsifiability of the Penrose-Hawking big bang theorem as well.

    I love watching the evolutionsists’ ouboros eat it’s own tail.

  6. In the service of their Theory that isn’t a theory, proponents of neo-Darwinian orthodoxy are instinctively aware of certain awkward anomalies they need to undermine and contradictions they must cover up if their Big Picture View is to appear to trump all others. In the case of compassion, they are required to show that, whatever else it may be, it isn’t *really* compassion. Compassion as it is – in its raw, undebunked state – is particularly threatening to the materialist worldview because it is a universally accessible and entirely tangible demonstration of the reality of higher orders of being.

    True selflessness lies not in the exclusion of oneself but in seeing another person *as* oneself. This is essentially ennobling not only because it rises above self-interest but because, in spirit (and in action), it lifts the other to the precisely same degree as ourselves, to the point where their interests and ours are seen as united within a much greater context. The existentially elevated ground upon which both are then able to stand – ground upon which neither could have stood alone – transcends both the material arrangements of the situation and the confines of each one’s personal mentality. Compassion has the power to free us from ourselves and thereby set us upon a very different road.

    It is not sympathy, where you suffer along with the person in the hope that this will make them feel better; neither is it pity, where you look down on the person and feel sorry for them from the position of your own safety. As a form of understanding – of oneself, other people and life generally – true compassion is astonishingly rich in content. It is intellectual and spiritual rather than emotional in nature, possessing a power to transform the character beyond recognition. On such a foundation, there is a sense of resonance and alignment with far higher orders, the contours of which we can hardly begin to discern, along with intimations of universal laws profoundly unlike those proposed by materialist observers yet plainly in harmonious accord with laws long since codified by spiritual tradition.

    For ideological reasons, materialists and Darwinians cannot allow anything to be in this world that is not of it. If they can show that every instance of compassion fits the grim calculations of one survival strategy or another, they can dismiss every spiritual teaching without further examination. Then they win!

  7. The process of debunking compassion is in the nature of the term: evolution. Evolution implies change; change based on survival.

    Compassion or altruism at a genetic level is unnecessary in the growth of the physical body, except in one aspect: mothering. We all must have genetic makeup that supports us in raising an infant.

    The evolutionary psychologists benefit on their “road to change” by not bothering about the genetic makeup for parenting. By managing an open ended question about the future of humans, we do not tie ourselves to the care of infants and small children since the process of birth and growth as a human may be called into question.

    Only when we delve into our change into humans from animals do we need to present compassion as a genetic trait for the preservation of infants and the elevation of the family unit.

    Once humans face a perception of the blessing of the family and the way that we can pass this information about family benefits to the lower animal kingdom, the family must be preserved evolutionarily so that humans can further change animals into more conscious living beings.

    It is not strictly for our own benefit that we engage a persistence of the family as a human trait. We wish to pass on this method to a lower animal kingdom for their evolution.

    We may at times be willing to let go of compassion as we call into doubt the question that we will live as families as we progress into higher and higher forms and contact with higher beings. If we do not live as families, then mothering instincts may die out.

    However, many like myself may insist that family traits be preserved as we expect to again enter the first through third human races (theosophy) where interactions with evolving animals will occur. At the present time, our future interactions (16 million years ahead) will concern the way that we die out or ascend due to the presence of a higher kingdom which I have named: girasas. Please search this word for further information.

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