Naturalistic Worldview Discussion on Facebook
This is a discussion I had with a friend on facebook. I found that we had a good discussion and that I found the experience to be enlightening. My hope is that you will find it enlightening as well.
I am at airport reading Scientific American, and came across an article that says that studies show sex for men can be life-prolonging. However, extramarital sex increases risk of sudden coital death. Apart from STDs man die from cardiovascular issues. Get this, the article says, guilt may play a role. Really, you think? Study confirms what we should know. I wonder how the naturalistic worldview explains this.
Lol. I'm going to make a point with my wife that she needs to help save my life!
A worldview that really has no basis for morality and thus guilt. I guess they feel it is a social construct. I don't know that is why I ask.
I think you mean a "nonreligious" worldview. If that's the case, then it's not that they don't utilize morality or ethics, it's just that they don't believe it's derived from a supernatural source. e.g. Take Yahwey out of the equation, and people don't suddenly think it's fine to then murder, rape, or cheat on their spouse. Humans evolved with a sense of cooperation and fair play, and it's a part of the reason why we made it to the top of the food chain.
There are Deist and Atheists that are naturalists. The naturalist worldview is really just how people answer the question of the boundary of the universe. In other words, there is nothing beyond the material of this Universe. Deists that are naturalists would hold that God is part of the fabric of the Universe.
The question I have is how does random chance and luck result in morals? Why and how does my DNA care about other people’s feelings? Morals are needed for our society but not for survival. This is what puzzles me.
Ok if they are created by man then they really are just subjective preferences on behavior. Why should I feel guilty if I don’t share a particular preference in behavior? Why is this are universal phenomenon?
It's not random. It's naturally selected among social animals. People who "play nice" with others had an easier time than those who didn't. Also, there are other primates who demonstrate cooperation and morals. I also read an article sometime ago that stated that children have a better survivial/developmental rate with monogamous parents.
Also, read "Superfreakonomics". Human altruism only goes so far. If this were divinely created, then there's a flaw.
Where is the flaw?
We're not more altruistic on things that wouldn't determine our destination in an afterlife.
Here's another question out of the blue: would Joe Pa's actions/inactions be held against him biblically?
AC there is a lot going on in your last comment. Let me see if I can unpack it a little. I don’t know if we can equate morality with altruistic behavior. Much of what animals do is based on reciprocity and can be attributed to being advantageous for survival. However, acts like that of a Japanese nuclear reactor working going in to fix a reactor are not based on reciprocity, especially when death is the known outcome.
I agree with you and think many (but not all) religious people are doing altruistic or good behavior in order to gain merit from an ultimate being or in an attempt to position themselves for the afterlife. I can only speak for myself as a Christian. I don’t do what is right because of a reward system. I do what is right because I know and understand how wrong, wrong is. Because I do believe there is evil and because I hate it, I avoid it. Have you ever notice what animals do with sick and lame animals or animals with birth defects? They let them die. Why as humans do we do everything in our power to prolong the life of a child with downs syndrome or other genetic defects? How is it in any way advantageous for society or the survival of the human species? As a Christian I see them as God sees them, valued and loved. A better definition of altruistic behavior is taking care of them at great expense, work and possibly suffering for me or society without reciprocity. I just don’t see animals doing this. I just don’t see picking fleas off the back of another primate as even close to similar.
As for Joe Pa I am not familiar with him. I will have to look him up and get back to you.
Oh you mean Joe Paterno? Biblically, just as in our legal system, things can be wrong based upon action or inaction.
I have not read what his alleged actions or inactions were. So I can’t speak to specifics. What do you think?
I wasn't touching on a "reward motive" for religious people; that's a completely different discussion. I was just referencing a chaper in "Superfreakonomics" whereby people will mostly avoid sharing fairly with others if given a chance. Nothing serious, as it's not against the 10 Comnandments, etc, but if an omnipotent god gave us our system of right and wrong/morality, wouldn't that aspect have been addressed? I guess you can say it's part of the golden rule, but breaking it won't keep you out of heaven, so it doesn't seem a needed aspect for the whole free will calculation of where you go after death. (Karma addresses this though, but that's a different belief system.)
As for taking care of the geneticly less fortunate, humans aren't perfect, but do we do a better job compared to other animals because of desire, or does it play more to ability/intelligence/technology? I think we do more because we're able to do more. Animals aren't slouches though. There's a YouTube video which shows a dog risking it's life to rescue another dog stuck on a freeway. There are also reported incidents of one dog leading another blind dog with a stick, a dog rescuing a human child from a house fire, or a police dog stepping in to save it's vulnerable human against an armed attacker. Dogs can't be "saved" religiously, so why do they do that? Dogs are a social pack animal however, and are similar in that regard to humans. It's part of the reason why the two species get along so well. There are also primates who will help feed their sick, etc., so it looks like it's less of a human only trait.
As for Joe Pa, I'm not an expert on the bible, and I don't know of any passages off hand that would condemn his choosing to look the other way. I was just curious and thought you might be a source to ask. It also seems relevant to the current discussion since people uniformly feel he acted badly. (I do remember Lot(?) offering up his daughters to be ravaged by a crowd in order to protect an angel though. Not exactly father of the year material, or a condemnation of rape. Joe Pa could theoretically argue with St. Peter that the school was his equivalent of the angel...)
Dog Rescue: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fXXaRECHHT4&feature=youtube_gdata_player
Dolphins support sick or injured animals, swimming under them for hours at a time and pushing them to the surface so they can breathe. - Davidson College, biology department (2001) Bottlenose Dolphins - Altruism, article retrieved March 11, 2009.
Bonobos have been observed aiding injured or handicapped bonobos. - October 7, 2005, Hour Two.
Humans, like animals, are also influenced by kin selection, so we would also have to look at nonrelated morality/altruism. Are we profoundly better than other animals? Perhaps, but look at a homeless shelter or orphanage. Also, when money's tight, what's the first thing to go in budget cuts: social services for the vulnerable or needy.
We can argue all day that the examples of possible animal morality. I still see them at a level different than that of human self-sacrifice, with known outcomes. I can see we could argue either way ad naseum. So let’s take it from the angle of gratuitous evil. Do animal act immorally to the same magnitude as do humans? I mean like, Pol Pot, Vlad Tepes, Hitler, Stalin, Mao, Ted Bundy, etc… Animal don’t kill for ideological reasons. They kill to eat or protect. Lions don’t decide one day that all the monkeys must die because they are different. Only moral agents do this level of evil.
About sins of omission for Joe Pa see James 4:17 "Anyone, then, who knows the good he ought to do and doesn't do it, sins."
I should clarify what I mean by moral agent. That being when one can choose to do or not, what one ought. This means one can choose self-sacrifice (altruistic) or gratuitous evil, either of which goes beyond normal animal behavior.
Good versus evil in animals isn't much of a distinction as it still runs up against the same problem of ability/intelligence/technology. e.g. In order to have an "animal Hitler" you'd need a verbal form of communication, a written language, and a system of economics, etc. It's like saying (erroneously) that humans are the only species that can use tools because no other animal has built a suspension bridge. We're at the top of the food chain for a reason, but you need to set your sights lower with other species and focus on what's within their capabilities.
With that being said, animals do demonstrate their propensity for "evil". For instance, let's look at chimps:
"'Demonic Males' (1997) discusses new evidence that killer instincts are not unique to humans, but rather shared with our nearest relative, the common chimpanzee. [...] Besides killing of conspecifics, Wrangham 'includes infanticide, rape, and regular battering of females by males' as a part of this inherited legacy of violent behaviors shared by humans and chimpanzees." (1997:108).
Also researchers have shown that there are "cultural" differences between different groups of chimps and that this has been a source of conflict, as resource scarcity and female availability have been ruled out in specific instances:
"Research in recent years (2006) has focused on chimpanzees and other monkeys who murder their own. Field studies in Tanzania have demonstrated that chimpanzees will attack and kill other chimpanzees, and brutally so.
In one study (that took place over a five-year period), a group of male chimpanzees directed attacks on a splinter group of chimps that had broken away from the larger group.
Each member of this splinter group was beaten and subsequently died. Young male chimps initiated these attacks, usually using their hands, feet and teeth, though sometimes stones were thrown, as well."
Lastly, self sacrifice requires knowledge that something will definitely kill you. Since animals have only a comparatively rudimentary knowledge of risk, we're back to the suspension bridge argument. Even so, you have to admit that the dog in the video rescuing another on the freeway is at the very least knowingly jeopardizing his life to save another. (Otherwise, why go through the effort of pulling the other dog off?)
With these types of observations, I think you can see how someone with a "naturalistic worldview" can posit that our sense of morality evolved along with us, like our culture and technology, and could still harbor guilt about cheating on a spouse. Our culture places value on fidelity, and that can exist outside of religion.
A dog on its own trying to save another dog is easily explained in self-serving terms. Dogs, for protection, always hunt in packs. A lone dog would try to keep members of the pack alive, if the pack is low in numbers as it aids in survival. If there was a pack of ten dogs we don’t know that any of them would have saved the wounded dog, especially if saving the dog would be a detriment to the pack and by extension individual survivability. This is a plausible explanation and really does not advance the argument in either direction.
I agree that humans are different. However, our ability to choose to go against our fight or flight response is different not in magnitude but in kind. What happens when a fire fighter runs into a building to save someone? The chemicals in his body tell him or her to run the other way. Yet, in his or her mind they think about another person possibly dying, compassion or sense of duty overrides their natural and physiological reaction. He or she then makes a choice to run into the burning building; into harm’s way. As far as we know no animal contemplates the ramification of their actions and chooses actions that in some instances will be a detriment to themselves and other times a benefit. Sometimes it is a benefit or a determinate the specious as a whole. The point is animals don’t need technology or culture; they need moralistic thinking that goes above and beyond mere survival.
Another example: Are primate brutal, yes, but not the same kind as humans. I am not talking about technological advancement either. Humans not only are brutal but often make sport of it and in some cases enjoy causing pain on other humans. Humans do unspeakable things that go well beyond the brutality of anything in the animal kingdom. This is how I know we humans are different in kind and not in magnitude from animals. Animals have the ability to harm others for fun but don’t. When food is plentiful you won’t see apes killing young primates because they are an imposition or because they want more bananas than they need. Apparently only humans do those sorts of things.
A materialistic worldview would say genetics causes our morals. However, genetics can’t be the cause of our morals if we can choose to suppress them. This ends in a very nice mess of determinism making any moral code immoral. It would be cruel to impose punishment when it is not possible for a person to react in a different way than as dictated by their genetic makeup. The naturalistic worldview however does not suffer from this contradiction; they have cultural evolution as the alternative. Memes instead of genes become the carrier of moral codes. However, this really deteriorates into moral relativism. In which case, whose rules should we follow? The cultural norm? Which culture? Do different cultures evolve different morality? We can’t justify killing Nazi’s if they were following their own moral code. We all know it was wrong and they even seemed to know they were wrong. What is more intriguing to me is that we seem to agree what is good behavior and what is bad behavior, across all cultures. I wonder if we would evolve with these definitions apart from our religious heritage. If it is a meme that has served us well, why deny it? If not, why are we in a hurry to cast off the shackles? The only worldview that makes sense of the world we live in is the theistic worldview. It posits a moral code that is above us. A code that tells us that people are valuable and that if we can do go we have a responsibility to do it. For the theist it was their duty to stop the Nazi’s even at the cost of thousands of lives. For the evolutionist there is no logical reason to fight the Nazi’s and every reason to join them. Why not? Nazi’s sought to take random chance out of the evolutionary equation and take control of our next evolutionary steps. Why leave our evolution to chance? We do this all the time when we breed animals. After all what are humans in the naturalistic or materialistic worldview? We are only animals or a random selection of atoms.
I'm not in agreement that an "evolutionist" would refrain from wanting to stop the Nazis, (Welcome back from the east coast, BTW ;-P) as religion isn't needed to place value on the individual. E.g. To be extreme, I don't see Richard Dawkins reported as a serial killer or holding values contrary to your own. Also, I think you're paying too much deference to the theist view. Without a theist view, why would the nazi's hate the christ-killing jews, etc. Also, why were Republicans against Bill Clinton intervening in the ethnic cleansing in Yugoslavia? (Aren't republicans supposed to be the party of religious values which place morality over base politics?) Also, not all gods agree on values. The west has (slowly) come to welcome women as equal actors, but in Saudi Arabia the female Olympic athletes were forced to walk behind the men and were referred to back home as prostitutes. While a lack of ethnocentrism is good for anthropology, a person who commits an honor killing in the west demonstrates the limitations of tolerance as we will not sanction it, even if their religion/culture does. Nor do we allow the killing of "abominable" homosexuals, etc.
Going back to animals, I agree that we'll just spin our wheels if we simply go back and forth over particular animal examples. So rather than narrow the issue (examples of good or evil), let's broaden it instead. Correct me if I'm wrong, but I think I understand your position to be that humans have something (morality/altruism) that animals don't, and this seemingly appeared on it's own. My position, on the otherhand, is that animals do have that and that humans can better express it because of particular evolutionary advances to the species. If your view is correct for the sake of argument, then that would appear to be the only example of it, and (to me) its status as an outlier should raise some red flags. Take language for example. Humans have an elaborate spoken language due to changes to our vocal cords that primates did not develop. We can sing, recite poetry, etc. Does that then mean that humans are the only species that have language? No. Animals can still communicate with one another even though they can't form words. Primates can and do communicate to each other, the same with whales, dolphins, dogs, etc. Primates can even be taught to communicate with each other and humans through sign language. Can humans communicate better than animals? Yes. Are animals incapable of getting their point across? No. (Just ask any dog owner.) However no man, nor any species, is an island. Traits don't suddenly appear out of the blue, and you can always trace its development from some earlier species, or its codevelopment in others. I don't see altruism any different than language; humans are better at expressing it, but it's a tall order to show that it's uniquely human.
I am not saying an atheist like Dawkins can’t have morals. Obviously he does. In reality, Dawkins has just accepted the morals of the culture he is in, which happens to have strong Judeo–Christian roots. However, that is not what I don’t understand. My question really centers around the grounding of those morals. There seems to be two choices, one where morality is a product of evolution and is genetically coded in us or it is a product of individual’s preferences. (Unless you know of another source?) It seems the atheist/naturalist is on the horns of a dilemma. The source or grounding of morality is either deterministic or relativistic. If deterministic, then everyone is born the way they are, which makes for a great criminal defense but practically leaves us devoid of true justice. The other horn of the dilemma leaves us with a relative sea of morals with no solid ground to base anything on. Not to pay too much pay too much deference to a theistic approach but it does not suffer for this particular dilemma. As you have indicated the theistic position suffers from inconsistencies and hypocrisy, however that is another debate.
BTW thanks for the debate I have found it enlightening and am glad people can still discuss things civilly.
About the animals, I think my hang-up is on choice. We obviously have choice where I don’t know we can prove that animals are capable of thinking out their actions and the impact of those choices. While I will admit your explanation is possible, the need for choice in any moral system seems to be a stumbling block for me to think it is probable. Who knows, maybe someday science will be able to tell us what dogs think. At least we seem to agree there is a difference, the question is it a difference in kind or degree.