The God Delusion - Chapter 6

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The God Delusion - Chapter 6

Post #1

Post by otseng »

McCulloch's question:
Does our morality have a Darwinian explanation?

An additional question:
What is meant by "good" and "moral sense"?

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Post #21

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otseng wrote:
Confused wrote:To use Dawkins example, on page 217, he shows how bees need nectar and flowers need to pollinate. One requires the other to survive. This is his reciprocal altruism.
When animals/plants cooperate, it would be called symbiosis (or probably more accurately mutualism). Animals and plants cannot be altruistic. Only if something is able to choose to do something would it be considered altruistic. Altruism requires a decision to give up one's own interest for the benefit of someone else. If no such decision is made, then it's not an act of altruism.
I see your point here. I am thinking more along the lines of the relationship between these in the abstract. I understand how it is to be an unselfish act for the better of the whole, but must it be a conscious choice? Do bees that give their own lives in protection of the "queen bee" do so consciously? Or is it instictive? Must one be able to consciously say "I am doing X for the better of Y"? Or can it simply be instinct or programmed?

I am not sure animals cannot be altruistic:
http://dictionary.reference.com/search?q=altruism
altruism (āl'tr-ĭz'əm) Pronunciation Key
Instinctive cooperative behavior that is detrimental or without reproductive benefit to the individual but that contributes to the survival of the group to which the individual belongs. The willingness of a subordinate member of a wolf pack to forgo mating and help care for the dominant pair's pups is an example of altruistic behavior. While the individual may not reproduce, or may reproduce less often, its behavior helps ensure that a close relative does successfully reproduce, thus passing on a large share of the altruistic individual's genetic material.

al·tru·ism (āl'trōō-ĭz'əm) Pronunciation Key
n.
Unselfish concern for the welfare of others; selflessness.
Zoology Instinctive behavior that is detrimental to the individual but favors the survival or spread of that individual's genes, as by benefiting its relatives.


al·tru·ism /ˈæltruˌɪzəm/ Pronunciation Key - Show Spelled Pronunciation[al-troo-iz-uhm] Pronunciation Key - Show IPA Pronunciation
–noun 1. the principle or practice of unselfish concern for or devotion to the welfare of others (opposed to egoism).
2. Animal Behavior. behavior by an animal that may be to its disadvantage but that benefits others of its kind, as a warning cry that reveals the location of the caller to a predator.
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Post #22

Post by otseng »

Confused wrote:
otseng wrote:
Confused wrote:Dawkins didn't refer to Enron in terms of survival of the fittest. I thought his reference was in terms of the Darwinian framework of the altruistic gene.
Survival of the fittest is a key component of Darwinian theory. Altruism would only be a factor in Dawkinian theory.
I am not sure I am following you. In terms of a Darwinian framework, reciprocal altruism could easily contribute to survival of the fittest.
I'm arguing that there is no such thing as altruism within the Darwinian framework. As I've argued above, being altruistic would mean that a conscious decision was made to put something else higher than oneself. No animals besides humans have this capability. Relationships might be called symbiotic, but certainly not altruistic.
The problem I have with this is that I can't quite grasp the genetic component. Theoretically, yes. But it would seem that this trait would be more learned rather then inherited.
I think you're right. It would not have anything to do with genetic evolution. At the best, it would only involve memetic evolution.
Once again, I am having a difficult time keeping his perspective in the scientific range.
Me too. And it applies to the entire book.

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Post #23

Post by Confused »

otseng wrote:One general comment about this chapter. I find it interesting that Dawkins paints a picture of Darwinism as being "generous", "kind", "altruistic", while at the same time denouncing any "bad" consequences (such as the case with Enron). Meanwhile, Dawkins paints religion as bad, evil, wrong and avoids mentioning any positive influence of religion. So, his bias is blatantly obvious.

I would admit that religion has its share of bad as well as good. But, I would state that in everything on Earth, if there's good, there will also be bad. It might be good to win the $10 million lottery. But it also means all sorts of people (government, long lost relatives, con artists, ex-wives, etc) will be hounding me for money. In order for bad not to exist, good cannot exist either. It would then be neutral. A scientific theory is not by itself good or bad. It is neutral. But the application of atomic fusion could result in good or bad.

When a lion kills a deer, is that good or bad? Or is it simply just the way things are and would be neutral?

Good and bad is a consequence of freewill. If there is no choice in the matter, then there is no such thing as good or bad. A lion does not decide whether to kill or not to kill. It has no choice in the matter. So, it would be neutral.

Since good and bad is a result of the ability to choose, the question is not how Darwinism can explain good and bad, but how can it explain freewill? And why does it appear that man alone has this faculty?

Why it is also difficult for us to define what is meant by good? Yet why is it also at the same time universally agreed upon by what is good? We cannot articulate it, yet we all agree with it. As CS Lewis had pointed out, this is an indication that there is more to ourselves than our natural body. There is some transcendent nature that is beyond our natural body and yet common to all people.

I stated earlier that good and moral sense have nothing to do with Darwinism. The main reason is that good and moral sense is a consequence of freewill. And Darwinism is lacking in explaining the origin of freewill. Therefore good and moral sense cannot be explained by Darwinism.
I have to question something here. You say Darwinism lacks explaining free will, does religion do a better job? I am not sure you are implying it does, but wanted to clarify it.

Also, if good and moral sense are a consequence of free will, is this to say that those wo do good choose to do good and those who do bad choose to do bad? Can we honestly say that when even Dawkins has failed to define moral ( I read the chapter again and still can't find where he identifies what is moral and what isn't, perhaps because he can't). I think here we might have a stronger ground in genetics. Certain genetically acquired disorders can lead some to do what society has deemed bad based on their lack of ability to determine what is bad and what isn't.
What we do for ourselves dies with us,
What we do for others and the world remains
and is immortal.

-Albert Pine
Never be bullied into silence.
Never allow yourself to be made a victim.
Accept no one persons definition of your life; define yourself.

-Harvey Fierstein

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Post #24

Post by Confused »

otseng wrote:Me too. And it applies to the entire book.
I was afraid of this. It started so well initially. Then he bombed. I am still hoping he will redeem himself at some point in future chapters.
What we do for ourselves dies with us,
What we do for others and the world remains
and is immortal.

-Albert Pine
Never be bullied into silence.
Never allow yourself to be made a victim.
Accept no one persons definition of your life; define yourself.

-Harvey Fierstein

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Post #25

Post by otseng »

Confused wrote:I see your point here. I am thinking more along the lines of the relationship between these in the abstract. I understand how it is to be an unselfish act for the better of the whole, but must it be a conscious choice? Do bees that give their own lives in protection of the "queen bee" do so consciously? Or is it instictive? Must one be able to consciously say "I am doing X for the better of Y"? Or can it simply be instinct or programmed?
I think in terms of this chapter in explaining good, it does need to mean more than something that is instinctive. If something will automatically do something, how can it be considered to be doing something good? It would simply be just how things are.
I am not sure animals cannot be altruistic:
http://dictionary.reference.com/search?q=altruism
altruism (al'tr-iz'?m) Pronunciation Key
Instinctive cooperative behavior that is detrimental or without reproductive benefit to the individual but that contributes to the survival of the group to which the individual belongs. The willingness of a subordinate member of a wolf pack to forgo mating and help care for the dominant pair's pups is an example of altruistic behavior. While the individual may not reproduce, or may reproduce less often, its behavior helps ensure that a close relative does successfully reproduce, thus passing on a large share of the altruistic individual's genetic material.
According to these definitions, yes, animals can be altruistic. But, I would say these definitions are simply anthropomorphizing animals.

But, animals are not being "good" by these mutual relationships. If they are, then we should also classify animals that kill other plants/animals as "bad". What I'm saying is that these relationships are neutral. There is nothing inherently good or bad about it. Animals operate on instincts and do not consciously make decisions to do something good or bad.

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Post #26

Post by Confused »

otseng wrote:
Confused wrote:I see your point here. I am thinking more along the lines of the relationship between these in the abstract. I understand how it is to be an unselfish act for the better of the whole, but must it be a conscious choice? Do bees that give their own lives in protection of the "queen bee" do so consciously? Or is it instictive? Must one be able to consciously say "I am doing X for the better of Y"? Or can it simply be instinct or programmed?
I think in terms of this chapter in explaining good, it does need to mean more than something that is instinctive. If something will automatically do something, how can it be considered to be doing something good? It would simply be just how things are.
I am not sure animals cannot be altruistic:
http://dictionary.reference.com/search?q=altruism
altruism (al'tr-iz'?m) Pronunciation Key
Instinctive cooperative behavior that is detrimental or without reproductive benefit to the individual but that contributes to the survival of the group to which the individual belongs. The willingness of a subordinate member of a wolf pack to forgo mating and help care for the dominant pair's pups is an example of altruistic behavior. While the individual may not reproduce, or may reproduce less often, its behavior helps ensure that a close relative does successfully reproduce, thus passing on a large share of the altruistic individual's genetic material.
According to these definitions, yes, animals can be altruistic. But, I would say these definitions are simply anthropomorphizing animals.

But, animals are not being "good" by these mutual relationships. If they are, then we should also classify animals that kill other plants/animals as "bad". What I'm saying is that these relationships are neutral. There is nothing inherently good or bad about it. Animals operate on instincts and do not consciously make decisions to do something good or bad.
And I think this is the point that Dawkins is making a play on. In our social evolution, from the earliest tribal interactions, reciprocal altruism need not have been good per se. Rather, a necessity for survival. "Guns, Germs, and Steel" made a good (but very difficult to follow) historical account of social evolution. I can see how Dawkins may have "borrowed" (not saying he did) some of his concept from it. The tribes that advanced in technology and learned to barter and trade for what they needed that others had was more likely to survive. If they had to sacrifice the daughter of a head leader to marriage to another tribe in order to cement a relationship between them, they did this. It increases their chances of survival. Yes, it is a conscious choice, but it may not be the choice they would have liked to have made. The daughter may be in love with another leaders son. However, necessity forces her to acquiesce for the better of the tribe.

It is almost instinctive for our genetics to choose the optimal path for replication. Failure results in miscarriages. Do our genes consciously choose this? One can't possible support this because it ascribes a consciousness to genetics rather than an primal instinct. But it doesn't change the end result.

Once again though, we are moving out of the hard sciences realm and into the softer, postulated side. I know of no specific gene that is attributed to altruism. Rather it would likely just rehash the nature vs nurture debate, uuuggghhhh!!!!!
What we do for ourselves dies with us,
What we do for others and the world remains
and is immortal.

-Albert Pine
Never be bullied into silence.
Never allow yourself to be made a victim.
Accept no one persons definition of your life; define yourself.

-Harvey Fierstein

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Post #27

Post by QED »

otseng wrote: Good and bad is a consequence of freewill. If there is no choice in the matter, then there is no such thing as good or bad. A lion does not decide whether to kill or not to kill. It has no choice in the matter. So, it would be neutral.

Since good and bad is a result of the ability to choose, the question is not how Darwinism can explain good and bad, but how can it explain freewill? And why does it appear that man alone has this faculty?
I think you'll find the key ability here is imagination. The ability to run simulations of the external world is something that has been tested for in various animals and Man's ability has been found to be miles ahead of all other animals in this respect. The ability to be able to predict the consequences of actions ("what if?") without actually performing those actions can totally transform the way agents operate. I think you're aware of "game theory" -- the game can be played in a totally different way if each player has the ability to model the other players reactions.

We then have to look at the evolution of the human brain to see how this ability could develop. That is no problem, the primitive ability has been found in apes (who have been seen modelling the re-positioning of a box to enable access to an otherwise out-of-reach banana) but this was about the limit of the ability, showing that while present in some degree in other animals, the human ability to model and mentally simulate the world is far more developed.
otseng wrote: Why it is also difficult for us to define what is meant by good? Yet why is it also at the same time universally agreed upon by what is good? We cannot articulate it, yet we all agree with it. As CS Lewis had pointed out, this is an indication that there is more to ourselves than our natural body. There is some transcendent nature that is beyond our natural body and yet common to all people.
This is precisely the description we might give to the "sum over histories" of "best strategy" encoded into our genetic inheritance. It seems that you look at individuals in isolation, as though each individual is a blank slate upon which everything must be acquired anew from each birth. Yesterday in our garden a baby bird was floundering around having presumably fallen from its nest. Worried that our cat would find it we eventually decided to try and place it in a bush -- but despite it having been on the lawn for the entire afternoon, our close approach apparently caused it to "learn how to fly". But it didn't have to learn what was dangerous, it already had a set of instructions that it was born with.
otseng wrote:I stated earlier that good and moral sense have nothing to do with Darwinism. The main reason is that good and moral sense is a consequence of freewill. And Darwinism is lacking in explaining the origin of freewill. Therefore good and moral sense cannot be explained by Darwinism.
That draws on a dubious logic, peculiar it seems, to religion -- the notion of freewill. The ability to choose a course of action with the benefit of prior modelling is, I think, wholly responsible for (the possible illusion of) free-will.

Another way to explain the game-theoretic approach to explaining the apparent absolute nature of morals is to imagine a very trivial example: imagine that whenever confronted by an opportunity to steal we referred to our genetic instruction book and found it told us to go ahead and take without paying. This act, being repeated time and time again by every individual, eventually undoes the vital economy of the society and the population dwindles. On another continent, the instructions are different and the instinct is to pay. The economy works and the population booms. What population would we typically find ourselves a member of today?

The only argument that I can see against this is that the instruction book could not be inherited from generation to generation, but Darwinism has no difficulty in explaining how traits for successful adaptation are amplified and we have examples of other examples like the instruction books that tell baby birds what to do in novel situations.

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Re: The God Delusion - Chapter 6

Post #28

Post by bunyip »

Does our morality have a Darwinian explanation?

An additional question:
What is meant by "good" and "moral sense"?

There are a number of posts here i would like to respond to, but time constraints force a "broad-brush" reply

First of all, the use of "Darwinian" in so many posts [including the one being replied to] is false and misleading. The term "Darwinian" or "Darwinism" implies a dogma that doesn't exist. "Natural selection" is the proper term, and for those [like me] who aren't comfortable typists, may i suggest "E/NS" [Evolution by natural selection]

The question of "morality" and "good" are meaningful in E/NS as they relate to behaviour traits. Any attempt to depict a situation as "Darwinian" must be examined in terms of whether the trait appears to be adaptive.

The Enron example is typical in that all the discussion appears to look at the financial dealings instead of the individuals involved. Those people exhibited quite discernible primate interactions in their dealings among themselves, with their employees and with outsiders. While it's true that capitalism has modified natural society to an even greater degree than monotheism has, there is still an underlying set of patterns that can be seen.

Having read Hauser's [and a number of other recent works on the E/NS roots of "morality" and "good", i see no grounds for claiming Dawkins has "bombed" in any context.

the bunyip

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Post #29

Post by Confused »

Is Dawkins accurate on page226-227 when he presents:
If there is no God, why be good> Is it truly an ignoble statement that presents Christians as sucking up to God in an effort to avoid punishment and gain his approval and acceptance?
"
He goes further to state on 227
that by Micheal Shermers evuation (whom I respect) would call this a "debate stopper". IF you aggree, that in the absence of God, you would commit robbery, rape, and murder, you reveal yourself as an immoral person. If you however, admit that you would continue to do good when not under divine surveillance, you have fally undermined your claim thar God is necesary for us to be good.
What we do for ourselves dies with us,
What we do for others and the world remains
and is immortal.

-Albert Pine
Never be bullied into silence.
Never allow yourself to be made a victim.
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-Harvey Fierstein

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Post #30

Post by otseng »

Confused wrote:You say Darwinism lacks explaining free will, does religion do a better job? I am not sure you are implying it does, but wanted to clarify it.
Religion doesn't per se "explain" freewill.
Also, if good and moral sense are a consequence of free will, is this to say that those wo do good choose to do good and those who do bad choose to do bad?
Most of the time, yes. The major exceptions are those who do something out of repeated use and forms a habit and those who are not in full control of their faculties.
Can we honestly say that when even Dawkins has failed to define moral ( I read the chapter again and still can't find where he identifies what is moral and what isn't, perhaps because he can't).
One problem is that if we don't know what Dawkins means by "moral", then how can he be clear on what its origin is?
QED wrote:That draws on a dubious logic, peculiar it seems, to religion -- the notion of freewill. The ability to choose a course of action with the benefit of prior modelling is, I think, wholly responsible for (the possible illusion of) free-will.
I would not say that the concept of freewill is restricted to the area of religion.

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