Saturday, February 23, 2008

Is NeoDarwinism morally nihilistic?

An excellent post drawing out the logical implications of NeoDarwinism on the concept of morality, with a focus on Richard Dawkins and Stephen Pinker. Such criticisms always elicit rabid responses from Darwinists, which alone makes it worth doing.

There is no indication who runs this blog (Vulgar Morality), but it is very much worth visiting.

25 comments:

Anonymous said...

Yep, we "Darwinists" are just a bunch of baby eating canibals. Therefore we have to teach the "talking snake theory" to students to make the world a paradise; just like the Eden it was when conservative religion ran everything.

Martin Cothran said...

You're engaging in hyperbole, of course, which is perfectly fine. But is this really his point? Isn't there a difference between charging someone with being an immoral person because of what he thinks on the one hand, and pointing out that the person's beliefs rationally undermine any moral position he might claim to hold?

Hannah J said...

Martin, you'll probably get flak too for promoting *misapplications* and *twisting* of Darwinism...hey, is it really our fault it got twisted? Maybe it was being taught in a (gasp) lite version that didn't fully explain the wonders of Our Great Naturalist's theory? (snort)

Art said...

Martin, one problem with your tortured reasoning is that you (as well as the author of Vulgar Morality) make some unwarranted leaps of logic regarding one's beliefs.

Your reasoning may be applied to Protestants, and the conclusion (based on obvious and well-known articulations by a founder of Protestantism). After all, a movement that has anti-Semitism so deeply ingrained in its roots has no moral authority, no basis to impose on society its demands (such as criminalizing homosexual behavior, or banning gambling, or, um, well, you get the point). Indeed, one might argue that the polar opposite of Protestant "morality" is likely to be the more moral and ethical position.

Then there is the inherently Roman nature of Catholicism. Romans were a pretty amoral bunch, and it may be argued that this pervades the modern Catholic Church. This pretty much erases any claims the Catholic Church has on morality.

Just so we are clear here, the sorts of responses to these examples, the basic structure of the refutations, also makes the twisted reasoning you and Vulgar Morality are plying moot. That's my point.

Martin Cothran said...

Art,

First of all, it always strikes me as rather strange that anyone could view a religion whose adherents worship a Jew as God incarnate, and who view the Jews as God's chosen people, as being anti-Semitic.

Obviously there are Christians, both protestant and Roman Catholic, who have been anti-semitic. But the question is whether that is a result of their Christian belief or a result of their ignoring or violating their Christian beliefs. If it is the former, then you have a case; if it is the latter, then you don't.

If you think there is something in Christianity itself that is anti-semitic, then I'd like to hear what it is.

Your argument seems to be:

Some Christians are anti-semitic
Therefore, Christianity is anti-semitic

Now you seem to be saying that this is the same kind of argument made in the post in question, when it very clearly is not. The argument isn't that, since some NeoDarwinists are immoral, therefore NeoDarwinism is immoral. The argument is that the beliefs that can be logically inferred from NeoDarwinism itself undermine the ability to say anything about morality at all.

If you want to say that the logic in the post is tortured, then it would be a good idea to confront the actual logic of the argument rather than misportray it.

KyCobb said...

Martin,

As I'm sure you are aware, there are many christians who have no problem with evolutionary theory, and they know from whence morality ultimately arises. Thus your complaint is really that atheism is morally nihilistic. Many scientific fields, like meteorology, geology, and physics, provide no more moral guidance than evolutionary theory does, but I don't see you complaining about them. One shouldn't expect to obtain one's moral principles from a scientific theory.

Adam Gurri said...

One shouldn't expect to obtain one's moral principles from a scientific theory.

Bingo, Ky (may I call you Ky?).

You'll notice that VM himself pointed out that you can't get an "ought" from an "is". The man he cites to this end is Hume, who was an Atheist and not a nihilist.

Both you and art failed to address any specific arguments being made.

Martin Cothran said the following:

Isn't there a difference between charging someone with being an immoral person because of what he thinks on the one hand, and pointing out that the person's beliefs rationally undermine any moral position he might claim to hold?

The Vulgar Moralist quotes Dawkins saying that he hopes we can make it so that "natural selection no longer applies" to human affairs. Dawkins, along with Pinker, and Dennett, have all made ample use of evolutionary theory to criticize people they disagree with, such as christians. However, when it comes to what they believe in, they just sort of fudge it and make vague assertions about hoping to live without natural selection.

Neither Martin, nor the Vulgar Moralist, are saying that evolutionary biology or the neodarwinists themselves are intrinsically immoral. What they're doing is pointing out the obvious--that what's being said by people like Dawkins, Pinker, and Dennett on the one hand completely demolishes the moral claims they're making on the other hand.

No one is saying that evolution doesn't exist, nor that believing in it makes you evil. No one has spoken one way or the other regarding the existence of a diety. Both subjects are quite interesting I'm sure, but entirely irrelevant to the topic being discussed.

KyCobb said...

adam gurri,

What I am saying is the entire topic is irrelevant. Evolution is a scientific theory. Its not designed to provide moral guidance. You might as well post as a topic, "Is General Relativity morally nihilistic?".

Adam Gurri said...

Again, it's not about "Evolutionary Theory"; it's about the Neodarwinists, a specific group of people who have behaved in very specific ways with regards to evolutionary theory.

The problem isn't that evolutionary theory doesn't provide a moral foundation, the problem is that the Neodarwinists use it as a platform to criticize other people's beliefs about morality, but don't hold themselves to the same standard of judgment.

You need to get your head out of big categories like "evolutionary theory" and pay attention to what the actual topic of discussion is.

KyCobb said...

Adam,

The topic isn't "Are Neodarwinists morally nihilistic". I assumed that when Martin used the term "neodarwinism" he was referring to evolutionary theory, thought it can be terribly difficult to determine what anti-evolutionists actually mean by the terms they use.

So I guess what you are saying is that Martin is using the term "Neodarwinist" to mean "atheists like Richard Dawkins" and didn't mean to imply that evolutionary theory is a belief system like a religion designed to provide moral guidance. If so, the term he chose to use is very misleading.

One Brow said...

The argument is that the beliefs that can be logically inferred from NeoDarwinism itself undermine the ability to say anything about morality at all.

I must disagree. Regardles of what you consider to be an authority for those beliefs, the fact that all human cultures, and the vast majority of humans within those cultures, share certain basics aspects of morality indicates that those particular aspects are effectively objective.

Martin Cothran said...

One Brow,

How can you infer from the fact that most--or even all--human cultures acknowledge something is "right" that it is objective? All that would establish is that it was universal.

To say that enough instances of men doing something gives that something some moral force is clearly jumping from the "is" to the "ought".

I'd like to know how you do that.

Martin Cothran said...

I should have said, "To say that enough instances of men acknowledging something as right..."

Adam Gurri said...

So I guess what you are saying is that Martin is using the term "Neodarwinist" to mean "atheists like Richard Dawkins" and didn't mean to imply that evolutionary theory is a belief system like a religion designed to provide moral guidance. If so, the term he chose to use is very misleading.

For crying out loud--look, I'm not going to pretend to know what Martin meant by it. But if you look at the post he linked to, VM specifically states that he is talking about a particular group of British Neodarwinists who tend to agree on a set of things and to follow a particular pattern of behavior.

This is not about evolutionary theory or atheists in general, but rather about the logic of particular arguments made by particular British neodarwinist atheists. Is that clearer?

One brow: so if everyone believes in a thing, it is true?

One Brow said...

How can you infer from the fact that most--or even all--human cultures acknowledge something is "right" that it is objective? All that would establish is that it was universal.

I would say those morals were objective in the sense of being uninfluenced by human prejudice and emotion.

Incorporating your correction below ...

To say that enough instances of men acknowledging something as right gives that something some moral force is clearly jumping from the "is" to the "ought".

If we were discussing how to find an objective meta-morality, that point might be more relevant. However, we are not discussing what all people do, we are discussing the normative goals that all cultures set. We are progressing from a universally present local "ought" to a universal "ought". It's still a step, but a much smaller one than from "is" to "ought".

One Brow said...

One brow: so if everyone believes in a thing, it is true?

The better question: does the fact that "everyone" (meaning every culture) chooses one particular normative standard, but there is considerable disagreement over a different normative standard, indicate a difference in the qualities of the standards?

Motheral said...

This is not about evolutionary theory or atheists in general, but rather about the logic of particular arguments made by particular British neodarwinist atheists. Is that clearer?

Yes, is, thank you. But it raises some other problems; the first being that, if that really is what Martin's post is about, then his title, which refers to "neodarwinism" in general, not any particular group of people, is extremely dishonest -- as is most creationists' use of the word "neodarwinism," which they never satisfactorily define.

If Martin and VM are talking about a narrow group of British atheists, and not any scientific theory, then they really have no basis even to ask whether "neodarwinism" is "morally nihilistic." It's a bit like disguising an accusation you know to be false as a question, as in "Do Mormons believe Jesus and Satan are brothers?"

Martin Cothran said...

Motheral,

For one thing, VM's use of "neoDarwinism" was very clear in his post. But f you are so concerned about how those terms are used, why don't you suggest a proper use, and we'll take a look at it. Until then, I think you know as well as I do that those terms are used differently by different people.

Anonymous said...

The usage of "neodarwinism" obviously isn't clear to me either. How about a definition and examples?

jah

PS "f you"?

Adam Gurri said...

But it raises some other problems; the first being that, if that really is what Martin's post is about, then his title, which refers to "neodarwinism" in general, not any particular group of people, is extremely dishonest

Wow. That sounds like the complaint of someone who didn't take the time to actually read the post that was linked to. After all, if you'd actually read the context provided by the post, you wouldn't have to rely on the title to get your information, now would you?

Anonymous said...

Hi Adam,

I actually read the post that was linked to and I am confused as well. Mr Cothran's comment "VM's use of "neoDarwinism" was very clear" merely demonstrates that he is cleverer than I. It doesn't help me understand anything. If I don't understand and you guys do, why not at least try to explain to us who don't comprehend?

[Mr Cothran's choice of titles, as demonstrated by the 'not so impractical after all' does seem to be confusing at best.]

jah

Art said...

I see that Martin misunderstood something I said.

Martin's take: "Your argument seems to be:

Some Christians are anti-semitic
Therefore, Christianity is anti-semitic"

That's not what I meant. I suggested that Protestantism in and of itself is rooted in anti-Semitism. I then used the "logic" wielded by the author of Vulgar Morality to propose that Protestants must, if they are to be true to their heritage, be anti-Semitic. And that they forfeit whatever claims they may assert when it comes to passing judgement on matters of morality.

The structure of the retorts to my suggestion also forms the foundation of an effective rebuttal of the claims found on the Vulgar Morality blog.

Adam Gurri said...

I suggested that Protestantism in and of itself is rooted in anti-Semitism. I then used the "logic"

Well, you are certainly correct in your chronological retelling--you argued that Protestantism is innately anti-semitic first, and made an attempt to use logic second.

Protestantism is not innately anti-semitic or anti-anything just because you say it is. If you have any substance to back up the claim, you're welcome to attempt a defence on its behalf. Otherwise, there's little reason to care what the "logic" of the rest of your argument consists of.

Art said...

adam gurri, it's my hope that others here can see the parallels between my remarks about Christian denominations and those being bandied about by the author of Vulgar Authority (look carefully - they're there). Once this is done, you'll be able to grasp my point.

Adam Gurri said...

Essentially you're making the same mistake that everyone else here did, only less explicity--you attempted to make it through satire. Good show--still wrong.

Again, when speaking of the Neodarwinists, VM was referring to specific people. If that was poor phrasing on his part, well, there it is. But he is not talking about Neodarwinist theory, insofar as it is a theory of biology. He is talking about people like Dawkins, Pinker, and Dennett, and the particular gyrations they have made concerning the matter of morality.

VM never said that to believe in Neodarwinist theory you must become a nihilist; he himself views their scientific accomplishments as great contributions. What he argues is that people like Dawkins make use of evolutionary theory in arguments against traditional morality, but the arguments they make could apply just as easily to the very morality that Dawkins believes in himself.

The "logic" which you are "applying" with "satire" does not exist in the argument being forwarded at Vulgar Morality.