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 #41

Post by bunyip »

> "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?"

Then you need to brush up on your biology. It isn't "altruistic" at all. It's genetic. There is a range of reproductive strategy known as "r through K" in which some species do indeed simply scatter eggs and sperm and wander away. Others, particularly humans [and elephants] spend a great deal of time and resources in caring for young. The general picture is that a species that needs a long gestation time tends to spend more effort in supporting offspring to maturity.

We focus on such species and deem them "altruistic" because our judgemental literature reflects our own patterns of behaviour. Remember the wave of horror that passed through science [and society] when Jane Goodall discovered chimpanzees murder and make war? Or the sight of langur monkeys or lions killing offspring of another father in order to bring mums into oestrus so they could pass on their genes?

"Altruism" and "moral sense" are Western judgemental terms that need much closer inspection and definition before they can be properly debated here.

Dawkins makes a fine case here for animal altruism, but de Waal makes a better one. You might take him up.

the bunyip

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Post #42

Post by Confused »

otseng wrote:
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.
Elephants protect all their young. If the mother elephant of one "herd" is killed, the infant is "adopted" and cared for by the rest. Whats more, all the elephants will attempt to protect all the young, not just their own.

It is hard to say that it is instinct alone. We cannot possibly say that other mammals don't display altruism.
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 #43

Post by bunyip »

> "It is hard to say that it is instinct alone. We cannot possibly say that other mammals don't display altruism"

We're back to assessing other species by human standards - which means the definition of "altruism" here is still out in the back paddocks someplace.

It's difficult, i know, to shed the idea that all species have to be viewed in human terms, but the effort must be made if we are to debate on common ground. Elephants are a group species with their own behaviour traits. I don't know if a male elephant wishing to mate would attempt to kill off a pup [?? wot is a young elephant?? cub??], but given what you say about "herd protection", i doubt he'd get very far.

On the other hand, lions do it all the time, whereas cheetahs and leopards do not. Generalisations of any kind relating humans and the rest of the animal kingdom are risky at best. But "altruism" in numerous forms exists across a wide spectrum of animal life.

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Post #44

Post by otseng »

McCulloch wrote:
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.
I think it all hinges on my assertion that no animal has the capability to discern what is the right thing to do. If no animal has this capability and only man does, then evolution cannot explain it since it appeared only when mankind arrived.
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?
Dawkins mentions several tests starting on page 223 - the trolley test, pushing the fat man test, the waiting room organ donar test. Would there be any animals that could make the same type of judgements in any of these cases that humans do? I believe for any animals to decide what is the right thing in these cases would be much too complex and beyond their capabilities. Do I have any research to support this? No, but I believe it is a reasonable assumption.
Is our seemingly altruistic behaviour something other than symbiosis?
I would not classify the altruistic behavior of humans as symbiosis.

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Post #45

Post by Furrowed Brow »

Otseng wrote:I think it all hinges on my assertion that no animal has the capability to discern what is the right thing to do. If no animal has this capability and only man does, then evolution cannot explain it since it appeared only when mankind arrived.

I think we need to be clear about altruistic/moral behaviour, and the ability to discern a moral choice. And then we need to question how we come by such a distinction.

All moral behaviour can be exampled in terms of behavioural models, and thus evolution. But the question is whether this misses anything - the moral discernment to which Otseng refers.

If the answer is yes then this make it seems that the morality deployed by humans is a step not reached by other animals because we are doing something different when discerning moral choices.

I found this article by Greg Koukl Here

He makes an interesting point.
This statement captures a major flaw in Wright's analysis. His entire thesis is that chance evolution exhausts what it means to be moral. Morality is descriptive, a mere function of the environment selecting patterns of behaviour that assist and benefit the growth and survival of the species. Yet he frequently lapses, unconsciously making reference to a morality that seems to transcend nature.

Take this comment as an example: "Human beings are a species splendid in their array of moral equipment, tragic in their propensity to misuse it, and pathetic in their constitutional ignorance of the misuse."[emphasis mine] Wright reflects on the moral equipment randomly given to us by nature, and then bemoans our immoral use of it with words like "tragic," "pathetic," and "misuse."

He writes, "Go above and beyond the call of a smoothly functioning conscience; help those who aren't likely to help you in return, and do so when nobody's watching. This is one way to be a truly moral animal."

It's almost as if there are two categories of morality, nature's morality and a transcendent standard used to judge nature's morality. But where did this transcendent standard come from? It's precisely this higher moral law that needs explaining. If transcendent morality judges the "morality" that evolution is responsible for, then it can't itself be accounted for by evolution.
Koukl’s point is a “thinking about thinking” problem, or rather “thinking about morality”. Does the human ability to think in abstractions, or invoke what Koukl calls a ‘transcendental standard’, mark humans out as different from the other animals. Perhaps. But then I think the argument moves away from morality and on to cognitive functions. And then the question becomes whether chimps, elephants etc completely lack certain cognitive functions that belong to humans’ or whether they have them by degree; or wther there is some cognitive threshold to be reached - an ability to think in terms of transcendental standards - before a being can be considered moral. All these questions seem moot.

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Post #46

Post by Confused »

Furrowed Brow wrote:
Otseng wrote:I think it all hinges on my assertion that no animal has the capability to discern what is the right thing to do. If no animal has this capability and only man does, then evolution cannot explain it since it appeared only when mankind arrived.

I think we need to be clear about altruistic/moral behaviour, and the ability to discern a moral choice. And then we need to question how we come by such a distinction.

All moral behaviour can be exampled in terms of behavioural models, and thus evolution. But the question is whether this misses anything - the moral discernment to which Otseng refers.

If the answer is yes then this make it seems that the morality deployed by humans is a step not reached by other animals because we are doing something different when discerning moral choices.

I found this article by Greg Koukl Here

He makes an interesting point.
This statement captures a major flaw in Wright's analysis. His entire thesis is that chance evolution exhausts what it means to be moral. Morality is descriptive, a mere function of the environment selecting patterns of behaviour that assist and benefit the growth and survival of the species. Yet he frequently lapses, unconsciously making reference to a morality that seems to transcend nature.

Take this comment as an example: "Human beings are a species splendid in their array of moral equipment, tragic in their propensity to misuse it, and pathetic in their constitutional ignorance of the misuse."[emphasis mine] Wright reflects on the moral equipment randomly given to us by nature, and then bemoans our immoral use of it with words like "tragic," "pathetic," and "misuse."

He writes, "Go above and beyond the call of a smoothly functioning conscience; help those who aren't likely to help you in return, and do so when nobody's watching. This is one way to be a truly moral animal."

It's almost as if there are two categories of morality, nature's morality and a transcendent standard used to judge nature's morality. But where did this transcendent standard come from? It's precisely this higher moral law that needs explaining. If transcendent morality judges the "morality" that evolution is responsible for, then it can't itself be accounted for by evolution.
Koukl’s point is a “thinking about thinking” problem, or rather “thinking about morality”. Does the human ability to think in abstractions, or invoke what Koukl calls a ‘transcendental standard’, mark humans out as different from the other animals. Perhaps. But then I think the argument moves away from morality and on to cognitive functions. And then the question becomes whether chimps, elephants etc completely lack certain cognitive functions that belong to humans’ or whether they have them by degree; or wther there is some cognitive threshold to be reached - an ability to think in terms of transcendental standards - before a being can be considered moral. All these questions seem moot.
You just transcended way over my head!!!!! Wanna try this in english??? #-o #-o
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 #47

Post by Furrowed Brow »

Confused wrote:
Furrowed Brow wrote:
Otseng wrote:I think it all hinges on my assertion that no animal has the capability to discern what is the right thing to do. If no animal has this capability and only man does, then evolution cannot explain it since it appeared only when mankind arrived.

I think we need to be clear about altruistic/moral behaviour, and the ability to discern a moral choice. And then we need to question how we come by such a distinction.

All moral behaviour can be exampled in terms of behavioural models, and thus evolution. But the question is whether this misses anything - the moral discernment to which Otseng refers.

If the answer is yes then this make it seems that the morality deployed by humans is a step not reached by other animals because we are doing something different when discerning moral choices.

I found this article by Greg Koukl Here

He makes an interesting point.
This statement captures a major flaw in Wright's analysis. His entire thesis is that chance evolution exhausts what it means to be moral. Morality is descriptive, a mere function of the environment selecting patterns of behaviour that assist and benefit the growth and survival of the species. Yet he frequently lapses, unconsciously making reference to a morality that seems to transcend nature.

Take this comment as an example: "Human beings are a species splendid in their array of moral equipment, tragic in their propensity to misuse it, and pathetic in their constitutional ignorance of the misuse."[emphasis mine] Wright reflects on the moral equipment randomly given to us by nature, and then bemoans our immoral use of it with words like "tragic," "pathetic," and "misuse."

He writes, "Go above and beyond the call of a smoothly functioning conscience; help those who aren't likely to help you in return, and do so when nobody's watching. This is one way to be a truly moral animal."

It's almost as if there are two categories of morality, nature's morality and a transcendent standard used to judge nature's morality. But where did this transcendent standard come from? It's precisely this higher moral law that needs explaining. If transcendent morality judges the "morality" that evolution is responsible for, then it can't itself be accounted for by evolution.
Koukl’s point is a “thinking about thinking” problem, or rather “thinking about morality”. Does the human ability to think in abstractions, or invoke what Koukl calls a ‘transcendental standard’, mark humans out as different from the other animals. Perhaps. But then I think the argument moves away from morality and on to cognitive functions. And then the question becomes whether chimps, elephants etc completely lack certain cognitive functions that belong to humans’ or whether they have them by degree; or wther there is some cognitive threshold to be reached - an ability to think in terms of transcendental standards - before a being can be considered moral. All these questions seem moot.
You just transcended way over my head!!!!! Wanna try this in english??? #-o #-o
Err...sorry. I was alluding to the ability to step back and evaluate a behaviour or choice of behaviours, rather than just "acting morally". It has been noted how some animals will defend their young even unto death, and humans too. So this is altruistic behaviour. But in humans there is also an expectation that at times the human might think "I could cut and run here, but that would be wrong". So in such cases altruistic the ability to think about and morally evaluate a behaviour parallels the behaviour we might describe as moral. I think Koukl's use of the term "transcended standards" suggest that he thinks that the evaluation is rooted in some kind of abstract realm, and not biology. And then perhaps this is an abstract realm only humans can access.

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Post #48

Post by Confused »

bunyip wrote:> "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?"

Then you need to brush up on your biology. It isn't "altruistic" at all. It's genetic. There is a range of reproductive strategy known as "r through K" in which some species do indeed simply scatter eggs and sperm and wander away. Others, particularly humans [and elephants] spend a great deal of time and resources in caring for young. The general picture is that a species that needs a long gestation time tends to spend more effort in supporting offspring to maturity.

We focus on such species and deem them "altruistic" because our judgemental literature reflects our own patterns of behaviour. Remember the wave of horror that passed through science [and society] when Jane Goodall discovered chimpanzees murder and make war? Or the sight of langur monkeys or lions killing offspring of another father in order to bring mums into oestrus so they could pass on their genes?

"Altruism" and "moral sense" are Western judgemental terms that need much closer inspection and definition before they can be properly debated here.

Dawkins makes a fine case here for animal altruism, but de Waal makes a better one. You might take him up.

the bunyip
Would you like to provide some evidence that no animals are altruistic, that it is genetics or even instinctive? Unless you can physically communicate with an elephant or a mother bear, I think it would be conjecture at best. I am quite current on my biology, as well as genetics. There is no evidence currently that genetics predetermine anything altruistic, influence perhaps, but not determines. I will pass on de Waal for now, my reading list is already heavy enough.

Exactly how is altruism such a "western judgemental term"?

You would be correct in saying morality would need a closer inspection to define it before one could debate it, but you won't find a single overwhelming moral that is consistent across all cultures or all history. We can work at it in the most generic of terms, but one can't give it an absolute definition that doesn't raise more questions than it answers.
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 #49

Post by Confused »

Furrowed Brow wrote: Err...sorry. I was alluding to the ability to step back and evaluate a behaviour or choice of behaviours, rather than just "acting morally". It has been noted how some animals will defend their young even unto death, and humans too. So this is altruistic behaviour. But in humans there is also an expectation that at times the human might think "I could cut and run here, but that would be wrong". So in such cases altruistic the ability to think about and morally evaluate a behaviour parallels the behaviour we might describe as moral. I think Koukl's use of the term "transcended standards" suggest that he thinks that the evaluation is rooted in some kind of abstract realm, and not biology. And then perhaps this is an abstract realm only humans can access.
Ok, thanks for the english, LOL. I see what you are saying, but it isn't possible to determine if an animal thinks this way or not. Is there some point where the mother elephant might say I can have another, why risk so much for one? Yet they don't abandon them. A lioness would fight for one cub while leaving 3 others unprotected. Why?

In Koukls evaluation, I have to wonder, what part of this abstract realm is universal? For if one exists, in which only humans can access, why are morals different across cultures and across time? Why do some humans lack morality at such early ages? Did they miss the stop at this "abstract realm" to pick them up on their way to conception?

What I am getting at is that trying to limit the source of morality to any one substance or experience or genetic sequence is nearly impossible to validate. To say that it is uniquely human is also not correct. If one other mammal displays any sort or moral trait, then how can any one person say that the mammal isn't thinking the process through, rather than just acting on instincts? Can mice not learn to navigate a maze for the right motivation? Can dogs not learn to salivate at the sound of a bell? If morality is learned rather than acquired in some abstract realm, then why would it be limited to man only?
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 #50

Post by bunyip »

> "Would you like to provide some evidence that no animals are altruistic, that it is genetics or even instinctive? Unless you can physically communicate with an elephant or a mother bear, I think it would be conjecture at best. "

Sorry? Where did i say this? I would have problems comparing the behaviour of a mother bear or elephants [let alone the primates] with creatures that simply spill reproductive cells into the sea and "hope for the best". That's about as "genetic" a mechanism as you could ask for. If you want to call the spilling of eggs and sperm into a nestless unprotected environment "altruistic", i suppose you can. But don't expect me to follow that track.

> "Exactly how is altruism such a "western judgemental term"?

Not many of this planet's societies, even in their oral traditions, set "altruism" as a topic for debate or even definition. Our literature is full of it, but you'll be a long time finding such an idea in Japanese writings, for example. In fact, i can cite a good many stories that predicate the opposite.

> "You would be correct in saying morality would need a closer inspection to define it before one could debate it, but you won't find a single overwhelming moral that is consistent across all cultures or all history. "

Really? "Single overwhelming moral" is an easy stance to take, since the human mind has found any number of ways to circumvent our biological foundation. Still, "murder" is a pretty universal crime, even if the defined victims are a restricted set [such as the Ten Commandments dictum]. While there are obvious exceptions, "adultery" is another.

You're correct that absolutes must be avoided, but that shouldn't blind us to what universals, no matter how foggy about the edges they may be, actually exist. Otherwise, we miss the lessons of the other primates and complex creatures.

the bunyip

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