Wednesday, April 27, 2005

Transcendant Naturalism...

Does it make sense, rationally, to posit that evolution has the capacity to produce a moral code? Consider that a sense of right and wrong, if valid, must transcend pure opinion. In other words, if it's wrong for John to murder Mark, then it probably follows that it's also wrong for Mark to murder John. Yet, the real issue in that case is not who is murdering whom, but whether or not murder itself is wrong. However, the issue is unpacked even further by addressing the question of whether or not the abstract concepts of moral right and wrong even exist. Proponents of naturalistic evolution fail miserably when attempting to give account for the existence of morality. If naturalism rules, and all our actions are merely determined by the laws of physics in conjunction with random variations, then exactly how does naturalistic evolution account for a transcendant rule of law - a moral code - an abstract reality that we all recognize? Furthermore, by what authority are we compelled to recognize a naturalistically derived moral code? Another, more sovreign naturalistically derived moral code? And why should we recognize that one? C. S. Lewis wrote,
When men say "I ought" they certainly think they are saying something, and something true, about the nature of the proposed action, and not merely about their own feelings. But if Naturalism is true, "I ought" is the same sort of statement as "I itch" or "I'm going to be sick."
Update: Tom comments, We're driven towards eating apples over dirt clods. It's transcendant. It's abstract. Yeah, there might be a weird dirt eating cult in Houston, say. But they'll be in the minority. Can you see why evolution might give us THAT drive? (And if you can get that far, is a mother nurturing her child that far away? I would argue that we eat apples based on data collected by our senses, not on some abstract notion that drives us to eat them. However, the color of the apple you eat is based on the notion of redness (if you’re eating a Red Delicious). The quality of redness is abstract and would still exist whether or not your senses properly interpreted the photons reflected by the apple. Or consider, for instance, that you see a single, red apple on the table. Your senses tell you that there is one apple there. But where do you get this concept of “oneness”? Where does the number “one” exist? You believe in the existence of numbers yet you have no empirical data to prove that they exist. It is an abstract concept, which comes from a mind. Note: Simply because you may believe that numbers exist or that a mother nurtures her child, does not, in and of itself, show us how evolution could have provided you with that belief. As for Lewis’ logic, perhaps another rendering of the passage you refer to will help alleviate your confusion: Jesus made certain truth claims about himself. They either were not true or they were true. If they were not true, then he either knew they were not or he didn’t know they were not. If he knew they were not true, then he is a liar. If he didn’t know they were not true, then he was crazy (or… just very stupid). If they were true, then he is who he claimed to be. Also, I didn’t present that argument in my Lewis’ quote, so while it is possible he could have been wrong in the passage you refer to, that does not mandate that he was wrong in the passage I referred to as well. Paul said, I'm getting a pretty clear sense of your desire for an unequivocal foundation for morality. But as strong as your wish may be, it doesn't make it so. … It [naturalistic evolution] does account for a morality that humans tend to subscribe to, which is easily explained by evolution with only one assumption: that a sense of morality is a competitive advantage. If that assumption is true, then beings that exhibit such a sense will tend to do better than those that do not. Actually, I wish I could do whatever I wanted, for my pleasure alone. I certainly don’t wish for an unequivocal foundation for morality… I simply see that that’s how it must be if morality truly exists. Otherwise, if there were no reason to follow one morality over another, then they all become valid (or invalid, depending on how you want to look at it). Either way, the very concept of morality becomes meaningless. Acknowledging that morality exists and then backing it into the goal-less process of evolution (goal-less except for, I guess, the one assumption presented) is hardly a convincing argument that evolution actually produced morality. By what authority are you appealing to by claiming that we use only one assumption? That we tend to do better? How do we know what better is? By how many organisms are left alive at the end of the day? Says who? How about by insuring that only the healthiest organisms are left alive at the end of the day (providing we know what healthy means)? So instead of waiting for natural selection to do its handiwork, we’ll circumvent the process and eliminate the unhealthy members of the species on our own. But we still have too many living members of our species breathing at the end of the day. So let’s not only kill the unhealthy ones, but let’s grind them up and cook them for the next day’s meal as well. After all, our one assumption is that we have a competitive advantage that allows us to do better – and what could be better than insuring that the healthiest members of the species survive? Is that right, or is it wrong? It matters on what the majority says? Says who? Pragmatism? And by what authority are you appealing to for that? Etc., etc., etc. What opponents to this idea of moral truth need to understand is that in presenting your argument, i.e., that naturalistic evolution can produce a moral code, you can appeal to nothing - save determinism and chance. No competitive advantages, no warm cuddly feelings, no emergent (read: magical) properties, nothing. Just electrical impulses and chemical reactions interacting amongst the myriad of pathways found within that extraordinarily complex entity known as homo sapiens sapiens.
**********
I’ll be out of pocket this weekend which, for me, now starts on Fridays. We’re finally getting away on another trip to visit some more California Missions and scope out any remaining wildflowers (the third try must be a charm). Hopefully LotharBot or Bonnie will join in the discussion on this post.

25 comments:

Tom said...

We're driven towards eating apples over dirt clods. It's transcendant. It's abstract. Yeah, there might be a weird dirt eating cult in Houston, say. But they'll be in the minority. Can you see why evolution might give us THAT drive? (And if you can get that far, is a mother nurturing her child that far away?

Sadly I do have this sneaking hunch somewhere in one of CS Lewis's books he probably has some argument in that ponderous, pompous tone he can take on: "When men say 'They like eating apples over dirt clods' they probably feel as though they've made a transcendant, wise choice, but without God can't the naturalist see that dirt tastes the SAME as an apple?"

(Sorry, Rusty, I'm still in a snit ever since CS Lewis is forcing folk like me to believe I'm stuck with believing Jesus of Nazareth was either a liar or lunatic. We agnostics knew Jack was wrong with that dumb logic, so why trust him at all?)

But if you can't see that it seems to me, Rusty, more and more you're turning us humans into simply C.S. Lewis's god's little wind-up toy. No dignity at all. All programming. Pointless products of a puzzling Creature who seems so desperate for love and appreciation that he builds little genuflecting robots.

And for me at least that Houston dirt eating cult seems to have a semblance of free will, unlike the Mr. Machine programming C.S. Lewis seems so eager for.

Paul said...

I'm getting a pretty clear sense of your desire for an unequivocal foundation for morality. But as strong as your wish may be, it doesn't make it so. Take for example:

"Consider that a sense of right and wrong, if valid, must transcend pure opinion"
No, a sense of right and wrong does not have to transcend pure opinion. In some circumstances right and wrong are not matters of opinion, but that's in terms of correctness (is 2+2=5 right or wrong), not morality. But in neither case does a *sense* of right or wrong require an objective truth.

"exactly how does naturalistic evolution account for a transcendant rule of law - a moral code - an abstract reality that we all recognize?"
It doesn't, because there is no such thing. It does account for a morality that humans tend to subscribe to, which is easily explained by evolution with only one assumption: that a sense of morality is a competitive advantage. If that assumption is true, then beings that exhibit such a sense will tend to do better than those that do not.

"by what authority are we compelled to recognize a naturalistically derived moral code?"
You're not, you can recognize any naturalistically derived moral code you want. The society you live in may make that difficult, and may even try to compel you through their limited authority. But you don't have to recognize it.

Tom said...

Rusty, Rusty, Rusty... (sigh)

re: your statement I would argue that we eat apples based on data collected by our senses, not on some abstract notion that drives us to eat them.

You didn't write that with a straight face, did you? If so, my friend, you go on some weird grocery shopping trips. And if you and your family are ever in town, I want to take you out to a restaurant I choose!

Humans eat apples because they're sweet, crunchy, and seem to keep us up and running. (And I'm hating really that I chose that fruit as an example knowing its Biblical connections!!)

This drive towards good tasting foodstuff is not relative. Like I say, there might be a dirt eating group, but they're in the minority.

And at a human species level, we're drawn towards things that taste sweet. It's a warm, cuddly wonderful feeling that could be understood through evolution.

"...Just electrical impulses and chemical reactions interacting amongst the myriad of pathways found within that extraordinarily complex entity known as homo sapiens sapiens...."

There you go again! But you're playing a word game with us, in my opinion. When Paul (the other poster on this thread) and I say we like fragrant, tasty breakfast sausage, you explain to us patiently that sausage is blood, guts, brains, and bones of a pig all wrapped up in its intestines heated to 320degrees Fahrenheit. And then your readers look at us in horror!!

So go a few steps further in your mind. In the same way a dad buys tasty apples for his kids, he will jump in the water to save them if they're drowning. Because it brings out feelings of righteousness.

And why wouldn't a selfish gene (to use Richard Dawkins's term) not hang onto some way of bringing out righteousness in humans? It keeps the selfish gene replicating! Oh, and anticipating Mr. Koukl...righteousness in saving children most likely is fairly universal, not relative.

But all kidding aside, Rusty. I want to underline I'm not arguing atheism. Certainly a theist could understand why if God writes all the rules, He knows how to drop the dominoes to start selfish genes on our planet. And I have ZERO argument with a Christian that believes God is with us all the time helping us work through the myriad of impulses, good and bad, our genes bring out in us.

Finally, let me also say biologists and scientists who understand that evolution is the cornerstone of modern science are doing amazing work, like the Human Genome Project. The Human Genome Project can end much suffering in this world.

Efforts like the Human Genome Project need intelligent Christians like you, Rusty. The biologists have science and evolutionary mechanisms blah blah blah..., but they also need people who understand Jesus Christ. Like you. And I might be an agnostic, but I think Christianity has a role with projects like that.

ReSoT4eM said...

If the following statement is true: "It does account for a morality that humans tend to subscribe to, which is easily explained by evolution with only one assumption: that a sense of morality is a competitive advantage."

How does the evolutionist explain the existence of immorality?

386sx said...

How does the evolutionist explain the existence of immorality?

I don't know why you would use the word evolutionist. Lots of people who think that morality comes from monsters that throw people you don't like into the fiery pits of hell are quite comfortable with common descent. It's kind of like being comfortable with shaving. You might not like it, but hey that's just the way things are. It's like being happy with fiery pits of hell and monsters who send people there. You might not like it, but hey, that's how it is, so you better pretend like you like it... or the monster will get you! The invisible monster! Loooook ouuuut!

Tom said...

re: How does the evolutionist explain the existence of immorality?

Great question. I love the way you flipped our original argument. Here's how I'd address it using a selfish gene idea, a gene which survives if it can replicate itself. I'm no evolution expert, and certainly your question isn't easily answered. And I'd be interested in ReSoT4eM's response

I'm going to simplify the ideas down to the point where it certainly doesn't capture the idea of the complexity of human genetics, but it might help explain this.

Suppose you had two genes which want to replicate. One Gene P ("Protect self") drives the concept of "Always protect yourself! If you keep yourself alive, you can keep mating and keeping babies reproducing!" And imagine a second Gene S ("Save babies") driving a concept of "Save your babies if you already have some! They'll grow up and mate. If you've already mated, don't worry about your own safety!"

Both genes seem to have properties to help themselves replicate in future generations.

Let's say over millions of year Gene P triggers a smug sense of satisfaction that the human has protected himself from harm. Let's say over millions of years Gene S brings out a feeling of righteousness that a baby has been saved.

Okay, what happens if you toss that dad's kid in a river? Two genes have built a human conciousness which is battling it out. One gene wants the dad to stay on shore. Why risk your own life? The second gene wants the dad to jump in. Save the baby!

In cold hard evolution, the gene that wins out is the one that over many many years appears to help replicate the gene more than the other one.

I think it's probably demonstrable that Gene S has already won out over Gene P in humans. You might check some obscure Stone Age tribe in Africa, but I bet dads jump in the water when their kid gets tossed in. It's not relative. When they jump in the water after a drowning child, dads all over the world feel a sense of righteousness.

Let's look at it like an Evangelical Christian might. And frankly, though I'm an agnostic, I have no problem with the faith of Christians. I ain't got a dog in this fight, as they say.

And this might be a horribly clumsy example, but I just want to make the point that evolution is essentially a fact of life on Earth. It's scientifically sound. Not all the gaps are filled in yet. But good scientists keep working to fill in gaps.

And evolution as a robust scientific theory certainly doesn't rule out Christianity.

Okay, so which gene does Satan want to support? Probably the gene that triggers saving oneself over a drowning baby---Gene S. What gene does a loving God want to support? Probably the gene that triggers saving a drowning baby---Gene P.

Say the dad says a quick prayer on the riverbank. He communicates with his God, ignores Satan's scurrilous whisper for selfishness, and jumps in the river, saving the drowning baby. You Christians understand prayer better than I do. I'm giving you my best guess.

Over time, evolution says Gene S (save the baby) wins out. Was God involved in helping Gene S win? The atheist and theist will differ.

The atheist might say, "Ah, the dad was simply talking to himself. There's no God!" But the Christian will have a different opinion, certainly. And based on my best guess, for a Christian, God is winning this fight over Satan.
------
My personal plea to Evangelical Christians:

I might be an agnostic, but...

The brilliant folk that know and understand that evolution is the cornerstone of modern biology are using that knowledge to do wonders with modern medicine, such as the Human Genome Project, brilliant surgery, and marvelous wonder drugs. (So-called intelligent design theorists are peddling books to an unsuspecting public and couldn't get their articles published in good mainstream science journals like Science or Nature on a bet.)

Great work is being done by biologists, but... there's the most important role for religion and Christians in this. Reality: A doctor with a hypodermic needle of life-saving serum is faced with a huge range of suffering on this planet and maybe not enough serum to go around.

We---agnostics, atheists, and religious folks alike---need Christians to weigh in on these issues and tell us WWJD.

What would Jesus do with the limited amount of life saving serum? As an agnostic, I hope you have some insight that might help us all.

(lol, Rusty---it's my selfish genes simply wanting to replicate---I don't have any grandchildren yet.)

Tom said...

oops...I realized I made an editing error in my paragraph: Okay, so which gene does Satan want to support? Probably the gene that triggers saving oneself over a drowning baby---Gene S. What gene does a loving God want to support? Probably the gene that triggers saving a drowning baby---Gene P.

I meant to say that Satan would want to support Gene P (protect yourself) over the loving God supporting Gene S (Save the Baby). Hope I got it right this time.

Paul said...

"How does the evolutionist explain the existence of immorality?"

I'll take a slightly simpler path. If by immorality you mean the concept of things that we think are wrong, then there's not really a question; classifying something as moral is the same as classifying something as immoral, because it concerns modifications of behavior. Whether that's a positive thing "Save the baby" to be encouraged" or a negative thing "Eat the baby" to be discouraged makes no real difference.

If you're asking why actual immoral things like eating babies actually exist, well that too is inevitable. If we take all possible behaviors and label some as moral, then what we have left will, at best, be amoral. And if some of those things are clearly the opposite of what we consider moral, then we would naturally classify them as immoral.

Bonnie said...

But if you can't see that it seems to me, Rusty, more and more you're turning us humans into simply C.S. Lewis's god's little wind-up toy. No dignity at all. All programming. Pointless products of a puzzling Creature who seems so desperate for love and appreciation that he builds little genuflecting robots.

Tom,

As someone who’s read C. S. Lewis, I don’t recognize your characterization of him! But that’s OK :-)

A God who wanted wind-up toys wouldn’t allow them free choice on moral matters. Programming, as you refer to it, is what someone who believes in evolutionistic determinism might use to explain his/her moral choices. Either that or, like Paul, he/she uses “majority morality” as a guide. It’s pretty clear, though, that throughout history, majority moral trends usually did not start out as majority opinion. They started with the ideas of one (or a few) highly influential individuals.

Humans eat apples because they're sweet, crunchy, and seem to keep us up and running.

Taste and sensation are senses! Since food is a basic human requirement, maybe we’re designed to desire food that pleases our senses. If God wanted to demean us, He could create in us an absolute need to eat dirt but still allow us the same general sensory revulsion to it that we have now.

When Paul (the other poster on this thread) and I say we like fragrant, tasty breakfast sausage, you explain to us patiently that sausage is blood, guts, brains, and bones of a pig all wrapped up in its intestines heated to 320degrees Fahrenheit. And then your readers look at us in horror!!

huh??

In the same way a dad buys tasty apples for his kids, he will jump in the water to save them if they're drowning. Because it brings out feelings of righteousness.

It does? I thought it brought out basic feelings of love. What dad really, in the face of his child’s imminent drowning, thinks about righteousness?

What need is there, anyway, for a feeling of righteousness in a morality determined by evolution? What need is there for righteousness, and who determines what’s righteous?

Your suggestion that morality is genetically selected is interesting but where's the proof? How would you explain a person who, prior to a Christian relationship with God, commits dreadfully immoral acts, yet after such a relationship develops, experiences a drastic change in behavior? (the behavior change being due to a change in motivation.)

Paul said...

In response to your update to the main comment:

I don't mean to suggest that you want to be bound by external morality as a matter of choice, but rather that you feel a need for some external anchor, some bright line that will define right or wrong for you. A very understandable need. But not one that makes what you need any more or less real.

My comment on one assumption for evolution's role in morality was a technical one, not a moral argument itself. Evolution can explain any characteristic that provides an advantage (it can also account for things that give no advantage, or are even a handicap, but let's focus on the simple case). If morality gives individuals a competitive advantage, then they are more likely to succeed in a competitive environment. And those that had such an advantage will look like they 'won' from our point of view, i.e. they are what became us. I don't assume that morality is 'better' in this argument, just that it gives a competitive advantage. If it didn't (and I think we both agree that it does) then it would be harder to explain (though still not particularly difficult).

And to clarify the meaning of 'better' - I don't assume any moral or other authority on this. From where we sit we naturally assume that those that survived and reproduced did better. You can call it something else if you like (they did 'longer', or 'nicer', or 'purpler'), or you can call it nothing at all; the fact is that they survived and passed their characteristics on more reliably than those we might label 'not better'.

Grinding your competitors up for food, or any of the other behaviors we might look on as morally wrong, *can* provide some advantage (which is in part why they still exist), but on the whole it turns out that they don't (which is why societies don't generally function like that).

Incidentally, your idea of grinding up the least healthy members of the group is flawed exactly because of the question you pose; "Who decides what 'better' is?" If you leave it to us to decide, we'll decide wrong because we're trying to play a game that doesn't exist. The only measure of better (or 'purpler', if you prefer) is that the species continues, and we can't possibly know the best way to achieve that; we might grind up exactly the individuals whose weakness would let them cope best with the next epidemic that comes along.

Your dismissal of emergent properties is interesting, given that you accept them without question as a fact. Or do you think that if I gave you the component molecules of an apple they would taste tangy and sweet?

Finally (!) your assertion that we can't use competitive advantage is ludicrous. Competitive advantage is the defining feature that we can use, and probably the only one in this context that doesn't make an appeal to outside authority; whatever has the competitive advantage continues, while what doesn't, doesn't.

Tom said...

Bonnie, re: your question What need is there, anyway, for a feeling of righteousness in a morality determined by evolution? What need is there for righteousness, and who determines what’s righteous?

A gene triggering the feeling of righteousness (or concern or care---whatever feelings you want to describe what a dad feels) would be selected through evolution because it causes the dad to save a child. If he saves the child, the gene gets a chance to replicate (the child grows up and mates).

Similarly a gene triggering a feeling of self-protection would be in competition with this righteousness/concern/care gene.

I'm just saying you have good feelings to taste sweet crunch apples. Can you see why a gene triggering those feelings would be successful through evolution? Then, go another step. A gene that gives a human positive feeling when behaving altruistically towards children would be successful.

And in a cold-hearted way, yeah, that gene is simply selfish and trying to reproduce. But it manifests itself in a wonderful way.

If you want to bring in God, please do. Your God would have created the rules to have these "selfish" genes come about over billion years. Then God could be working through prayer to assist the success of the genes He feels are best.

(But you might also see here that free will is also present. Rather than God simply programming in righteousness genes. Wow, if there's a God, he's plugged in free will as a by product of evolution.)

Listen, why listen to me, a friggin' agnostic? I got a better guy you might talk to.

Francis Collins is the director of the Human Genome Institute at the National Institutes of Health and an outspoken evangelical Christian. Per MSNBC, Collins wrote recently of his view that God, "who created the universe, chose the remarkable mechanism of evolution to create plants and animals of all sorts."

This is an Evangelical Christian evolutionary bioligist who understands biology WAY better than 99.99999% of the average scientist. And look at the great stuff to help humanity he's bringing his Christianity to.

Don't listen to a bunch of "Flat Earth Society" spokespeople that are trying to tell you evolution doesn't work. And please use your good Christian brain to understand how God might be working within His marvelous world. I'm an agnostic. I can't help you much there.

Bonnie said...

Tom,

Thanks for your response.

The flaw in your explanation is that there are other determinants of a person’s behavior besides his/her genes. A person’s genes remain the same throughout his/her life, but his/her mental and emotional states change, sometimes quite drastically (as result of a religious conversion – a change of heart and mind – for example). Such a change can and does result in a change of behavior.

Regarding science, there’s a difference between observation (perception) and interpretation, interpretation being the more subjective of the two and therefore harder to verify. A person’s philosophy, borne of many factors, greatly influences his/her interpretation of things, and often even his/her observations. There’s no such thing as total human objectivity. Which is to say that it’s easy, and common, for interpretation to be wrongly regarded as fact, and for philosophy to masquerade as truth.

Tom said...

Bonnie,
A million questions. I'm really interested.

Does your understanding of evolution rule out God?

Tom said...

Bonnie,
re: The flaw in your explanation is that there are other determinants of a person’s behavior besides his/her genes. A person’s genes remain the same throughout his/her life, but his/her mental and emotional states change, sometimes quite drastically...

No, actually I think you're beginning to see what I'm saying, but in a way that surprised me at first. To simplify things I left out a step that maybe I figured was assumed, but maybe I should make it clearer.

Focus on this part of your statement: "A person’s genes remain the same throughout his/her life..."

Okay, the part I left out is that genes are simply architectural plans of life on earth (fine with me if you feel that's God's way of building humans...I'm agnostic and don't have a dog in that fight). Genes direct how the body is constructed, including the brain. They would build a brain that would include the ability, as you say, "...his/her mental and emotional states change, sometimes quite drastically...."

But as you say, some things remain the same throughout his or her life. The things created by genes. Genes are the basic mechanism of evolution. That's how changes are transferred from parent to child. Successful genes replicate. Unsuccessful genes die out...the child doesn't grow up to reproduce, or maybe is never born.

In other words, those things transferred by genes AREN'T relative. "They remain the same throughout life" is sort of the way you're understanding it.

Think about this:
-A child in Los Angeles pops a slice of orange in his mouth.
-A grandfather in Moscow chews a slice of butter bread
-A scientist at the Antarctica South Pole drinks a mug of steaming hot chocolate.
-An Australian aborigine cooks then chews the meat of a wild pig

What is the feeling each of them have when they put food into their mouth? It's a sense of satisfaction. In fact, they seek that satisfaction again and again over time.

A gene drives that sense of satisfaction. It's NOT relative---I wanted my example to show it's the same all over the world. All humans have it. The gene directed a tiny piece of the human brain to be created to feel REAL good when food is popped in the mouth.

Now can you see why that gene is successful? Why that gene would be passed on through generations? It's blindly and chemically simply replicating, but if it triggers something apparently valuable (Food tastes good! Eat food!!) it gets passed on.

Well, you're almost there. Suppose there's another gene in those wonderful human chromosomes of ours that builds a brain that makes a dad feel good when he saves his drowning baby?

(And I don't take away your good point that emotions and mental states change all the time, but some things remain the same.)

Replay that thought experiment of the food, but this time with a dad saving a baby in LA or Moscow or Antarctica or Australia. They all save the baby.

Can you see why it's a successful gene? Why it's passed from generation to generation?

Your God knows how to build those genes starting with a Big Bang 15 billion years ago. And He made evolution that has built a human dad that saves babies, and apparently sure likes the feeling he gets when he pops an orange slice in his mouth. And his baby will grow up the same way. And his baby's baby. Etc.

(And his emotions and mental state change, and sometimes he'll pop an apple slice into his mouth. Same good feeling though.)

Paul said...

I'll add one thing to Tom's last comment. The relative influence of various genes can vary enormously. The genes that control the color of my hair, for example, are essentially impossible to avoid. The genes that influence hunger can be temporarily ignored, but it's very hard to deliberately starve yourself to death. The genes that influence what we might consider moral behavior are even 'weaker' - it is relatively easy to ignore such impulses, to the extent that in many people they appear to be largely absent.

It's a testament to how powerful such genetic contributions are, therefore, that they make enough of a difference over time to continue and grow.

Rusty said...

What is the feeling each of them have when they put food into their mouth? It's a sense of satisfaction. In fact, they seek that satisfaction again and again over time.

A gene drives that sense of satisfaction.


Which gene is that, Tom? (i.e., has it been isolated?)

Also, consider:
I slice a vine ripened tomatoe, pop it in my mouth, and savor it's flavor.

My wife does the same and is repulsed.

Are you saying that the same gene is expressing itself differently in these cases? If so, then it should simply be a matter of isolating that gene. You can't ignore the fact that you don't know whether or not there is a sense of satisfaction until you get informed so by the person in question.

Bonnie said...

Tom,

Genes direct how the body is constructed, including the brain. They would build a brain that would include the ability, as you say, "...his/her mental and emotional states change, sometimes quite drastically...."
But as you say, some things remain the same throughout his or her life. The things created by genes.


Isn’t that a contradition? That genes build a brain with the ability to change, yet the things created by genes remain the same throughout the life of the thing with the genes?

Genes may predetermine things, but I seriously don’t believe that they predetermine a person’s every thought and act. They may make a brain capable of varying mental states, emotions, etc., but something else other than genes must determine a person’s choices.

I’m making a distinction between what we can choose and what we can’t. The need to eat, which is something we can’t control, i.e., choose, cannot be equated with a desire (or choice, though the two may be different) to save a child or not. In other words, we have a choice in matters of morality but not in ones that I would say are genetically determined. In many ways, our actual identity is shaped by our choices, in addition to our genes. This also applies to what Paul said regarding strength of genetic contributions. Whether a gene’s contribution is “weak” or “strong,” it is still something over which we have no choice.

Do you see the implications of this?

Regarding satisfaction, the sense of satisfaction derived from a physical condition such as having one’s stomach full of savory food is different than a sense of moral satisfaction derived from doing something helpful rather than hurtful (or the other way around ;-) ).

We don’t eat food primarily because it tastes good; we eat it because if we don’t eat, we die. This is true for every human being on earth. Whether a father saves his drowning child or not does not determine his physical survival nor the survival of his progeny, except for the one he let go.

As I said in my last comment, your explanation does not take into account a person who changes from being a child-neglecter to being a child-protector in the course of his/her lifetime, due to a conversion.

Also, I’m not sure how you can classify genes as “successful” or “unsuccessful” unless you think we’re evolving toward some sort of perfection. To define “success” based merely on whether or not an organism lives for a period of time (long enough to reproduce) is to take a pretty limited view of the term, even genetically-speaking.

It seems silly to me to suggest that there may have been creatures at one time that had genes which told them that food tasted bad and therefore they all died out. I’d think that they would eat anyway, whether food tasted good or bad, because food is necessary to survival. I don’t think the creatures that found food bad-tasting would’ve died out entirely, because surely there’d have been a few that were stubborn enough to eat bad-tasting food. You can’t say it has anything to do with dominant vs. recessive genes either, because gene dominance is not analogous to gene prevalence.

Tom said...

Okay, we've hit a low point. We can't even seem to agree that food tastes good. Sigh.

Bonnie apparently eats and feels no pleasure. "We don't eat food primarily because it tastes good; we eat it because if we don't eat, we die."

I think that's a striking sentence. It seems like you're writing stuff you don't believe, just to hold onto a certain position. That's a striking sentence. I'm just blown away that you're writing that.

Really, really think about it, Bonnie. You don't eat food because primarily it tastes good? Are you really writing that sentence and really believing it? Food doesn't taste good to you?

(Luckily you're probably at the right blog because I think Rusty said "we eat apples based on data collected by our senses...")

We're at a dead standstill, I think. I can't hope to make an argument if I can't convince you food tastes good automatically in most humans. And that genes are the architectural plans building a brain that drives those sensations. That mom and dad didn't need to teach you food tastes good.

Can I just say, "I give up!" on that particular line of argument? You win. (But I think you might want to read the chapter on Gregor Mendel that followed the chapter on Darwin in Bio 101.)

But okay, I'd be interested for you folks to go here and give me your thoughts:
http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/evolution/religion/faith/discuss_04.html

Mark Noll, flawless Evangelical Christian credentials, PhD professor at highly regarded Wheaton College, a Christian University. See its mission statement here: http://www.wheaton.edu/welcome/mission.html#mission

Mark Noll is a hero of mine, and that probably says a lot since I'm an agnostic. You'll see his name all over when the media wants a quote about science and Christianity. I've been reading his wonderful book, "The Scandal of the Evangelical Mind." http://www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/tg/detail/-/0802841805/104-6539042-0005535?v=glance

This is what Noll says about evolution,
"If evolution is taken to be the series of conclusions that responsible scientists deliver responsibly about, say, DNA similarities throughout the life chain, about geological evidence, about other sorts of evidence concerning what actually went on in the past and what goes on in the present with living organisms, then it's an entirely different matter. Then we're talking about an issue that I think can be handled fairly easily by traditional believers.

And the way that that issue is handled fairly easily is by reference to the doctrine of Providence.

The doctrine of Providence in Christian, and I believe Jewish and Muslim teaching also, does not say that God's ruling of the world is going to take place as opposed to natural material conditions. It's not a zero-sum game, where the presence of God means the absence of things we can figure out by nature, or the things we can figure out by nature means the absence of God.

Rather, Providence says God works in, through, with, under the material processes of this world. Many believers, for example, pray when they're sick and go to the doctor. And that's an entirely legitimate thing to do in terms of theistic faith, because by going to the doctor someone is trusting what science has discovered; by praying, a believer is showing the belief that God, in fact, controls the process of the material world."


Mark Noll and I both apparently eat food because it tastes good. Okay, to summarize his argument, go with the weight of scientific thought and accept evolution. The doctrine of Providence would allow it. (You might want to surf a bit in that website to read his other comments.)

What do you think of Noll's argument?

Paul said...

"Also, I’m not sure how you can classify genes as “successful” or “unsuccessful” unless you think we’re evolving toward some sort of perfection. To define “success” based merely on whether or not an organism lives for a period of time (long enough to reproduce) is to take a pretty limited view of the term, even genetically-speaking."

There is only one measure of success in evolution, and that's whether something survived to pass on its genes. A succesful gene is one that managed to pass its pattern on; a succesful organism is one that managed to survive long enough to reproduce. No goal is intended: the gene or organism could have stayed exactly the same for a billion years, and as long as it was able to continue reproducing it would be considered successful.

Note that successful doesn't mean good, or virtuous, or moral. It just means that it got to continue.

Tom said...

Paul,
Yeah, I agree with you. A gene that is successful (or "stable," I think, is a better way to describe it) moves to the next generation. The only thing I want to add is to try to see it from, say, the way the Catholic Church or mainstream Evangelical Christian thinkers like Mark Noll or brilliant Evangelical Christian evolutionary biology scientists like Francis Collins sees it---a "theistic" evolution standpoint.

I'm struggling to see why Bonnie or Rusty would have a problem with that. It's a huge hill to climb to coherently argue that all these smart biologists have misunderstood genes and the way successful genes transfer to another generation. I don't think any mainstream biologist disagrees that evolution is the cornerstone of modern biology. And gene transmission is the cornerstone of evolution. I think it's similar to arguing a "flat earth" if you're against evolutionary theory.

So Paul, when you say, "...[In evolution] No goal is intended...." I think a Christian conception of a loving God would expect that God creates the rules allowing evolution and gene transmission with the intent that a free-will human would evolve. Obviously the genes that build current day bacterias are happy to stay building baby bacterias---those genes are incredibly successful (Expect that bacteria genes transferring to their kids will last nearly as long as generations of cockroaches and reruns of "Gilligan's Island.")

But a loving God that set off the Big Bang firecracker might want to set up the possibility that, besides bacteria, free-will humans will evolve also out of a primordial soup on a certain planet Earth revolving around the Sun. And that these free will humans would have genes that actually evolve a conciousness that allows them to pray and sincerely converse with their Creator to help guide their lives.

Bonnie said...

Tom, Tom, Tom,

Relax!

Note the word “primarily” in my sentence, and note where it was placed. I was saying that the primary reason we eat food is not because it tastes good, but because if we don’t eat, we die. The good taste of food is a secondary reason for the fact that we eat as well as a primary reason for our food choices. I thought I expounded upon that in the rest of my comment.

Note that I never said that in general we don’t choose to eat food that tastes good! Of course I choose food according to my preferences. Although I can say I’ve been a guest to dinner where some of the dishes were not exactly appealing; but, to be polite, I partook.

I have no differences with Mark Noll’s statement. I don’t see anything in there about food, though. It seems to me that you’re making inferences and drawing conclusions from both my words and his that are not warranted.

Paul, no argument with your definition of success, but I wasn’t suggesting that “successful,” in this context, means “good,” “virtuous,” or “moral.” That’s why I qualified my sentence, “To define “success” based merely on whether or not an organism lives for a period of time (long enough to reproduce) is to take a pretty limited view of the term, even genetically-speaking.”

Certainly there are lots of genes in the human gene pool right now that lead to death before reproduction, yet they persist. There are also genes that are otherwise less than desirable but nevertheless do not prevent an organism from surviving long enough to reproduce. I’m not aware of a single human being who prefers to eat food that doesn’t taste good, though. Why? (That's a rhetorical question.)

Tom said...

Bonnie,
Yes, I do need to chill. Thank you. (deep breath) Okay. Please accept my apologies for rudeness. I'll try not to do that again.

The point is so amazing to me because both you and Rusty seem to argue about evolution, but in my eyes, have such a weak understanding of the basics.

Why does a baby eat?

Hunger?
Taste?
Because it thinks that if it doesn't eat, it will die?

I think the answer is #1 and #2. That an evolutionary successful gene has developed a brain part that triggers hunger and taste.

There's no learning.

This is important in that I'm getting the impression that
you don't understand the role of genes and evolution and how genes build a body.

If you don't understand that, you might assume "Well...this just comes 'naturally!' What does hunger and taste have to do with evolution?"

Then you start going down a path, "Hmmm...what is 'naturally'? There must be a God that tells me to eat when I'm hungry."

And then you might go through the same thinking when it comes to deciding to save a baby. "Wow, why would I have a good feeling when it comes to saving my baby? It must be God."

But genes are building bodies that trigger both feelings---"hunger/taste-good" and "feel good when saving babies"

Because both genes will replicate. They are evolutionary "successful."

And I'm not making any decisions about God. God could work in genes or not.

re: your statement, Bonnie "Certainly there are lots of genes in the human gene pool right now that lead to death before reproduction, yet they persist.

Good. Good!!!!! You're getting there. Now...which genes are more successful, and which will we see more of in human populations? Genes causing death before puberty, or genes causing death after puberty?

Concrete example. Who dies more often of gene-driven cancers? 0-12 year olds, or 25-85 year olds?

Welcome to evolution and gene selection, Bonnie. Don't be afraid of the answer. :-)

The gene that triggers cancer after puberty is far more prevalent in humanity.

It's more evolutionarily successful, because it would allow replication, unlike a gene that kills a child before puberty...before a child could reproduce.

Hmmm...I bet you see that, and I bet God didn't just disappear in a pit of aimless relativism.

:-)

Bonnie said...

Hi Tom,

You are saying things that Noll never says. He does not assume that every single thing evidenced by a person is genetically determined. He says, Providence says God works in, through, with, under the material processes of this world... by praying, a believer is showing the belief that God, in fact, controls the process of the material world.”

Not only this, but if one believes in a spiritual realm, which would be the one God inhabits, then one believes that there is a dimension -- a reality -- that is separate from the material world. Not in a gnostic sense, but in the sense that it is not genetically determined.

You haven’t answered my question yet as to why there aren’t people around who prefer to eat food that tastes bad to them. I’m also wondering if there have been any documented cases of babies who died from not eating because they weren’t born with a sense of hunger. I’m not aware of any. You’d think that even if such a gene had un-successed it’s way out of the gene pool, occasionally a mutation would occur to bring this phenomenon about.

I am sure that genes have something to do with sensations of hunger, but...is the need to eat genetic?

Where did life itself -- that whatever-it-is that makes living things alive (which humankind doesn’t know how to create, though they’ve tried to) -- come from? Is the state of being alive itself genetic? No. (This doesn't mean that it's spiritual, either.)

Now...which genes are more successful, and which will we see more of in human populations? Genes causing death before puberty, or genes causing death after puberty? Concrete example. Who dies more often of gene-driven cancers? 0-12 year olds, or 25-85 year olds?

Tom, first of all, probably 1/4 (some say even more) of all conceived individuals die long before birth, and no one knows why. Many are lost and the mother doesn't even know it. Many that would die are also killed before they’re allowed to die on their own, but that’s another story.

Regarding cancer, I’m no expert, but I know enough to know that there are more factors than merely genetic ones that bring it about. (Environmental, dietary, exercise-related, etc.) Besides, the genetic causes of cancer are mutations, from what I understand. What exactly causes these mutations?

(Your cancer-death categories are rather arbitrary, aren’t they?)

When I said, "Certainly there are lots of genes in the human gene pool right now that lead to death before reproduction, yet they persist,” I was asking, “why?”

Tom said...

re: You are saying things that Noll never says. He does not assume that every single thing evidenced by a person is genetically determined.

You're right. I probably was not clear. Noll doesn't see life evolving as I do. (For example he makes a cool point about Adam and Eve I love, but it's out of my realm and for the Christian community.) But Noll and I agree on the soundness of evolutionary theory generally.

My (probably garbled) point was that Noll is an Evangelical Christian who argues why Christians should be able to accept evolutionary theory because of the acts of Providence. And I simply wanted to know your view on that.

re: You haven’t answered my question yet as to why there aren’t people around who prefer to eat food that tastes bad to them. I’m also wondering if there have been any documented cases of babies who died from not eating because they weren’t born with a sense of hunger. I’m not aware of any. You’d think that even if such a gene had un-successed it’s way out of the gene pool, occasionally a mutation would occur to bring this phenomenon about.

Right, I'm a little confused here. You're answering your own question, I think. A gene that would cause people to feel bad when they ate would probably not replicate.

And you might be right, there might be mutations that could bring about a gene, say, that kicked in at early adulthood and caused the person not to feel pleasure or hunger with food. Oddly this gets back to an earlier discussion. I suppose THAT gene might be successful in current day America, since we have big enough brains that a person knows they have to eat anyway.

But at an earlier time in evolutionary history, that kind of mutation would probably die out quick. There might be one creature carrying that gene, and it has nothing to remind it to eat so it might faint and die.

I am sure that genes have something to do with sensations of hunger, but...is the need to eat genetic?

I don't know how you'd get around that. It seems so basic. I'm no expert, though.

Where did life itself -- that whatever-it-is that makes living things alive (which humankind doesn’t know how to create, though they’ve tried to) -- come from?

Great question. We'll part company here. I'm agnostic in that though I'm a nonbeliever, I can't rule out the possibility that there's a God that created the universe, created the rules, and knew life would start somewhere. And He knew that His creatures would evolve to the level that they could communicate back with Him through prayer. And then guide them through difficult decisions in life. In contrast to me, you're betting your life on the existence of God.

Tom, first of all, probably 1/4 (some say even more) of all conceived individuals die long before birth, and no one knows why. Many are lost and the mother doesn't even know it.

Yes, I'm not aware of that stat, but I have no reason to doubt it is reasonably accurate. Not all of those embryonic deaths would necessarily be from bad genes, I agree. For instance, let's say there was a miscarriage from the impact involved in a car crash. And the other embryonic deaths might be from bad genes, say, the genes got criss-crossed and didn't build the brain correctly so the embryo died in utero.

Regarding cancer, I’m no expert, but I know enough to know that there are more factors than merely genetic ones that bring it about. (Environmental, dietary, exercise-related, etc.)

Oh believe me, I'm no expert either. But I think the environmental, dietary, exercise issues, etc. are related to genes. For example, let's say there's a gene that triggers cancers when the amount of bright sun hitting a particular patch of skin exceeds 10 years. You could keep that gene from triggering by covering up.

(Your cancer-death categories are rather arbitrary, aren’t they?)

LOL, yes. I just wanted to keep it black and white to make a point. Genes can kick in early in life, mid life, late in life, etc.

When I said, "Certainly there are lots of genes in the human gene pool right now that lead to death before reproduction, yet they persist,” I was asking, “why?”

Great question. At this point you could probably answer that as well as I could.

The gene triggering skin cancer after 10 years of sunshine could be successfully replicate in many parts of the world where there's not a lot of sunshine.

Bonnie---we're probably so far afield from poor Rusty's original point, I vote to move on. Thank you so much for discussing this. I felt embarrassed several times for being rude here. Please forgive my weaknesses. I'll try to keep better control.

Bonnie said...

Tom,

No need to apologize. And thank you for the discussion -- I love discussion, in case you couldn't tell.

Before we table it, though, please allow me to make sure a couple things are clear:

1) I accept Noll's statement regarding evolution (the first paragraph of your quote of him) as it stands, and nothing more. I tried to point out where things you stated parted ways with what he said.

2) You seem to want to say that everything having to do with life and living is at it's absolute origin genetic. I tried to point to various things that show that this can't be the case.

I'm happy to continue discussion in my own space, Tom, should you so wish. You are welcome to email me.