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 #31

Post by bunyip »

> "I would say these definitions are simply anthropomorphizing animals."

This view has been challenged by Richard and many other zoologists in several works. The problem with "anthromorphising" animals isn't a fault of science, but of language. When we describe behaviour we have only human terms to use. Making up new ones is difficult at best and confusing at worst.

The best example, i think, is "adultery" among animals. Many species, once thought to be "monogamous", simply are not. Birds are a good example - the cardinal in my neighbourhood is out whistling away all summer long. Is he "defending" his territory? He is not. He's out seeking more reproductive partners. We call it "adultery" [if he succeeds], but some zoologists refer to it as "Extra Pair Mating" or EPM.

Which term would you prefer to describe the behaviour?

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Post #32

Post by otseng »

bunyip wrote: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]
I'm not sure what you mean by the use of "Darwinian" and "Darwinism" as misleading. Dawkins uses the terms throughout the book.
> "I would say these definitions are simply anthropomorphizing animals."

This view has been challenged by Richard and many other zoologists in several works. The problem with "anthromorphising" animals isn't a fault of science, but of language. When we describe behaviour we have only human terms to use. Making up new ones is difficult at best and confusing at worst.
However, there are already several words that more accurately describe the relationship - symbiosis, mutualism. Using the term "altruism" confuses the issue because it implies that animals can do something "good".

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Post #33

Post by bunyip »

> "I'm not sure what you mean by the use of "Darwinian" and "Darwinism" as misleading. Dawkins uses the terms throughout the book."

Yes, he does, as do others. It's a term of convenience because most people weary of typing "evolution by natural selection". Nevertheless, the way i've been seeing it used here implies dogma. That's hardly Richard's usage.

> "the term "altruism" confuses the issue because it implies that animals can do something "good".

We humans, particularly in the West, use "altruism" in that manner. It's a value judgement that has no place in biology. "Reciprocal altruism" is more explanatory and closer to the mark.

I'm not certain what you mean by "mutualism", but "symbiosis" isn't considered a form of altruism unless you stretch the definition almost beyond reason. Symbiosis is an adaptive trait by two species as part of their survival strategy. Birds picking croc teeth are in symbiosis - both survive better for it. Lichens are fungi and algae living as a single organism - the classic symbiosis arrangement. Altruism is generally accepted to be a single act - or several without regular continuity.

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Post #34

Post by otseng »

bunyip wrote:Yes, he does, as do others. It's a term of convenience because most people weary of typing "evolution by natural selection". Nevertheless, the way i've been seeing it used here implies dogma. That's hardly Richard's usage.
I use the term Darwinism to mean evolution by natural selection.
I'm not certain what you mean by "mutualism", but "symbiosis" isn't considered a form of altruism unless you stretch the definition almost beyond reason.
About mutualism:
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mutualism
Altruism is generally accepted to be a single act - or several without regular continuity.
I agree. However, when Dawkins gives examples of reciprocal altruism, he cites symbiotic relationships. So, he does not give examples of single acts, but continuous acts.
page 217 wrote:The living kingdoms are rich in such mutualistic relationships: buffaloes and oxpeckers, red tubular flowers and hummingbirds, groupers and cleaner wrasses, cows and their gut micro-organisms. Reciprocal altruism works because of asymmetires in needs and in capacities to meet them.

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Post #35

Post by McCulloch »

otseng wrote:I'm not sure what you mean by the use of "Darwinian" and "Darwinism" as misleading. Dawkins uses the terms throughout the book.
I think that he is using the terms Darwinian and Darwinism in the same sense as one might use Newtonian , Euclidean or Cartesian and not in the more dogmatic sense of, for instancMarxist or Calvinism.
Examine everything carefully; hold fast to that which is good.
First Epistle to the Church of the Thessalonians
The truth will make you free.
Gospel of John

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Post #36

Post by bunyip »

> " think that he is using the terms Darwinian and Darwinism in the same sense as one might use Newtonian , Euclidean or Cartesian and not in the more dogmatic sense of, for instancMarxist or Calvinism."

That's logical. The problem with any "ism" is the implication of dogmas.

Another aspect is that terms like "Newtonian" or "Cartesian" have come to imply that there are other, competing concepts out there. I'm not a philologist, but i don't think "Newtonian" emerged as a meaningful term until the rise of "Einsteinian" physics [is that a "gotcha"??] as a contrasting idea.

"Cartesian" dualism, which has dominated Western philosophy [and literature!] for three centuries, is slowly being binned, although the only "competition" that can be identified is the broad spectrum of "cognitive science".

"Darwinism" has no idea competing with it except supernatural causation. Hardly a meaningful concept, let alone "competition".

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Post #37

Post by otseng »

In this chapter, Dawkins asks, "Does our moral sense have a Darwinian origin?"

First, he fails to define what is meant by "moral sense". I don't necessarily fault him for this since it is hard to define. But, if he does not define it, how can he then claim to have an explanation for its origin?

I've offered a definition of moral sense as "the ability to discern what is the right thing to do." With this definition, it is clear that evolution cannot account for it. The ability to discern what is the right thing to do is only found in humans. No other animal possesses this. Dawkins cites reciprocal altruism as evidence of moral behavior. However, I argue that the relationships are simply symbiotic. The relationships are not a result of animals deciding to do anything good, but because it's simply how things are. Animals are acting instinctively and have no choice in the matter. Further, if animals can be "good" by helping others, then they are also "bad" by hurting others. So if animals are to be described as altruistic, then they are also to be described as criminal.

So, our moral sense does not have a Darwinian origin.

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Post #38

Post by Confused »

otseng wrote:In this chapter, Dawkins asks, "Does our moral sense have a Darwinian origin?"

First, he fails to define what is meant by "moral sense". I don't necessarily fault him for this since it is hard to define. But, if he does not define it, how can he then claim to have an explanation for its origin?

I've offered a definition of moral sense as "the ability to discern what is the right thing to do." With this definition, it is clear that evolution cannot account for it. The ability to discern what is the right thing to do is only found in humans. No other animal possesses this. Dawkins cites reciprocal altruism as evidence of moral behavior. However, I argue that the relationships are simply symbiotic. The relationships are not a result of animals deciding to do anything good, but because it's simply how things are. Animals are acting instinctively and have no choice in the matter. Further, if animals can be "good" by helping others, then they are also "bad" by hurting others. So if animals are to be described as altruistic, then they are also to be described as criminal.

So, our moral sense does not have a Darwinian origin.
I know we aren't into the next chapter yet, but it would seem that this chapter is setting up for his next one.

I still disagree about animals being altruistic. Does a mother bear not fight to the death to protect her cubs. Would she not die for it? Why would she not have a choice? Other animals walk away from their young at birth. They would no more nurture it than protect it. Yet many mammals do this. Is this not altruistic?
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What we do for others and the world remains
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Post #39

Post by McCulloch »

otseng wrote:I've offered a definition of moral sense as "the ability to discern what is the right thing to do." With this definition, it is clear that evolution cannot account for it.
Perhaps you can expand on this thought. I is not clear to me that evolution cannot account for a moral sense.
otseng wrote:The ability to discern what is the right thing to do is only found in humans. No other animal possesses this.
Do you have any support for this assertion?
otseng wrote:Dawkins cites reciprocal altruism as evidence of moral behavior. However, I argue that the relationships are simply symbiotic. The relationships are not a result of animals deciding to do anything good, but because it's simply how things are. Animals are acting instinctively and have no choice in the matter. Further, if animals can be "good" by helping others, then they are also "bad" by hurting others. So if animals are to be described as altruistic, then they are also to be described as criminal.

So, our moral sense does not have a Darwinian origin.
Is our seemingly altruistic behaviour something other than symbiosis?
Examine everything carefully; hold fast to that which is good.
First Epistle to the Church of the Thessalonians
The truth will make you free.
Gospel of John

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Post #40

Post by otseng »

Confused wrote:Does a mother bear not fight to the death to protect her cubs. Would she not die for it? Why would she not have a choice?
I would explain it as motherly instincts. However, if she fought to the death of protecting another bear's cubs, then that could certainly be a case of altruism.

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