Monday, July 14, 2008

Gay Penguins and the Inductive Argument from Hell

So far as I know, there is no name for a particular kind of science article in which an observation is offered of some sort of animal behavior, and then, under the Darwinian assumption that humans are simply advanced animals, concludes that the behavior is somehow indicative of how humans too should be able to act.

This week's model for human behavior comes, via Scientific American, from the Central Park Zoo, and involves two male penguins named Roy and Silo.

The first order of business in such an article is to make the behavioral observation. In this case, we find animals engaged in deviant behavior. We go now to the action in Central Park: "Two penguins," says writer Emily V. Driscoll,
native to Antarctica met one spring day in 1998 in a tank at the Central Park Zoo in midtown Manhattan. They perched atop stones and took turns diving in and out of the clear water below. They entwined necks, called to each other and mated. They then built a nest together to prepare for an egg. But no egg was forthcoming: Roy and Silo were both male. 
Robert Gramzay, a keeper at the zoo, watched the chinstrap penguin pair roll a rock into their nest and sit on it, according to newspaper reports. Gramzay found an egg from another pair of penguins that was having difficulty hatching it and slipped it into Roy and Silo’s nest. Roy and Silo took turns warming the egg with their blubbery underbellies until, after 34 days, a female chick pecked her way into the world. Roy and Silo kept the gray, fuzzy chick warm and regurgitated food into her tiny black beak.
Where are the Jerry Falwells of the animal world when you need them?

After the behavioral observation, comes the generalization. It is not only these animals who have decided to lead a life of bohemian extravagance: it turns out that such scandalous behavior is common in the animal kingdom:
Like most animal species, penguins tend to pair with the opposite sex, for the obvious reason. But researchers are finding that same-sex couplings are surprisingly widespread in the animal kingdom. Roy and Silo belong to one of as many as 1,500 species of wild and captive animals that have been observed engaging in homosexual activity. Researchers have seen such same-sex goings-on in both male and female, old and young, and social and solitary creatures and on branches of the evolutionary tree ranging from insects to mammals.
After the behavioral observation and the generalization comes the human application, which consists of asking why it is that humans are so out of touch with their more distant evolutionary relatives. Here it is (you knew it was coming):
These observations suggest to some that bisexuality is a natural state among animals, perhaps Homo sapiens included, despite the sexual-orientation boundaries most people take for granted.
This scientific reasoning procedure--from observation of the behavior of particular animals, generalization to the entire animal kingdom, and finally the application to human beings--takes the following form, when stated as a syllogism:

Proposition #1: Birds do it
Proposition #2: Bees do it
Proposition #3: Even educated fleas do it
Conclusion: Let's do it, lets fall in love (with someone of the same sex)

It's not exactly a model piece of logical deduction. In fact, it's the Inductive Argument from Hell. But publications like Scientific American seem willing to ignore this weakness in the interest of social progress. The main problem is that if humans are to accept bisexuality as normal because it is not uncommon in the animal kingdom, then wouldn't humans be forced to find acceptable other, less becoming behavior which is even more common in nature?

What, for example, about sexual promiscuity in general? In a March 18, 2008 story in the New York Times, Natalie Angier explains that our tendency to condemn acts of adultery like that on display in the famous case of New York Governor Eliot Spitzer ignore the prevalence of such behavior among non-human creatures:
It’s all been done before, every snickering bit of it, and not just by powerful “risk-taking” alpha men who may or may not be enriched for the hormone testosterone. It’s been done by many other creatures, tens of thousands of other species, by male and female representatives of every taxonomic twig on the great tree of life. Sexual promiscuity is rampant throughout nature, and true faithfulness a fond fantasy.
Of course, I'm against letting Spitzer off the hook simply because his behavior is reflected in other species, and yet there is something about the process of comparing his behavior to that of the great grey shrike and the freshwater flatworm, as Angier does, that seems to throw the universe into balance.

In any case, if we are supposed to accept bisexuality because of two penguins in Central Park, then why not promiscuity? Romantic sponges, they say, do it. Oysters down in Oyster Bay do it. What, then, is preventing us from doing it as a part of the normal course of human affairs?

And then there is cannibalism. Cannibalism too is a common occurrence among the brutes. In a National Wildlife Federation article titled, "Eating Among Friends," by Dave Brian Butvill, we are regaled with manifold examples throughout nature of animals whose diet includes even members of their own nuclear animal families. "":

I would say that the majority of animal species that are carnivorous might, at some point in their lives, engage in cannibalism if the right conditions are present,” says David Pfennig, a biologist at the University of North Carolina who studies the behavior. And in some cases, he and other scientists are finding that it makes perfectly good sense to eat among friends—even when you’re the meal.
Yes, I know. You are less appalled by animals eating others of their own kind than by the fact that there actually exist specialists in animal cannibalism in our universities. But there you have it: from the African Lion to the dime shaped fingernail clam, says Butvill, animals are having their close relations for dinner on a daily basis--and they are not surviving until the dessert course.

Cold Cape Cod clams, 'gainst their wish, do it. Even lazy jellyfish, do it. They all do it. So what's holding us up? Nothing, if Darwinian ethics is all you have to go by.

Obviously, there are some forms of animal behavior that are already common among humans. I am thinking specifically of the female histiostoma murchiei, a mite, which tries to create a husband upon her own specifications. But using the behavior of animals as a model is a dangerous business. The Ichneumon wasp tortures other insects; the female rheobatrachus, an East Australian frog, takes her young into her mouth and swallows them; and then there is the hippopotamus (a species in dire need of an Emily Post), which attracts its mate by urinating and defecating.

Where are the articles in science magazines touting these behaviors as models for human beings?

Finally, I'm trying to recall if there has ever been a case in which a woman has, immediately after a particularly romantic encounter with her mate, turned on him and eaten him. But if it ever were to happen, can we expect the Darwinists to come to her defense by pointing to the female redback spider? This spider (and here is where Darwinian ethics meets its Waterloo), along with a number of other spider species, eats the male immediately after mating.

It is, admittedly, a dastardly reversal of the more normal human sequence, in which the human female first makes dinner for the male, and only then submits to the conjugal act, but it is normal for many kinds of spiders. Is there any reason then, from a Darwinian perspective, to consider it abnormal if it were engaged in by humans?

Of course, farmers have known about the strange things that animals do for millenia. My stepfather was telling me just the other day about taking my boys out with him to feed the cattle, only to find, when he reached the herd, one of his two bulls directing his romantic attentions toward the other. Farmers are fairly familiar with this kind of behavior, but, innocent of the advanced Darwinian perspective, they have never attempted to derive a moral lesson out such incidents.

Besides, why it is that the higher animals (that's us, say the Darwinists) should model their behavior along the lines of the lower animals? I mean, isn't that one of the benefits of being a higher animal: that you can look down on those lower than you in the natural scheme of things, shake your head, and feel smug about your more civilized behavior?

If you can't do that, then what's the point of being a higher animal? That's what I'd like to know.

So while I am happy to know that Roy and Silo have found some sort of domestic bliss, I think in the final analysis, that there are few human lessons we can draw from it, other than that maybe there are Central Park Zookeepers who need something else to do.

10 comments:

Anonymous said...

MC: So far as I know, there is no name for a particular kind of science article in which an observation is offered of some sort of animal behavior, and then, under the Darwinian assumption that humans are simply advanced animals, concludes that the behavior is somehow indicative of how humans too should be able to act.

I suspect the name would be "nonexistent". The Scientific American article referred to makes no such conclusions.

MC: After the behavioral observation, comes the generalization.

The "generalization" is actually further observation.

MC: (that's us, say the Darwinists) ...higher... lower...

Uh, MC is no "Darwinist". "Higher" and "lower" are his terms, not scientific ones.


This is the first post in awhile which is not a brief (at times misleading) reference to an article.
Perhaps it is not surprising that it is about homosexuality. Despite Mr Cothran's apparent fondness for that topic, the underlying subject here may be morality. Mr Cothran seems to believe that the only decent morality has to be imposed from outside humanity. Thus a secular humanistic concept of treating others as they wish to be treated is inherently inferior to a religiously based "absolute" standard.


jah

John Ellis said...

This kind of justification, "because other do it", is the same kind of adolescent reasoning teens use when asking a parent if they can do something their parents would not normally allow. It is the same kind of reasoning Kinsey used in his studies of sexuality in the human male and female. Studying behavior patterns is one thing, but to then move on to say "People are doing these things so they must be natural and therefore good" is going too far. It assumes that humans have no control over their behavior, and merely act upon instinct - if it feels good, do it. But then, this is to be expected from an evolutionary understanding of humans - all we really are are animals.

Anonymous said...

Did I read the same article Mr Cothran and Mr Ellis did? I see nothing about "justification" and "People are doing these things so they must be natural and therefore good".
The observations are that homosexuality is not uncommon among animals. Where do all the conclusions that Messrs. Cothran and Ellis draw come from?
Homosexuality can be observed among animals, including human. By most definitions of the the term, it is therefore "natural". Whether it is morally "good" is a separate question.

According to http://www.bible.org/page.php?page_id=1302, quoted below, homosexuality is a sin for Christians. It doesn't say anything about the behavior of non-Christians, or the responsibility of Christians to dictate and regulate the behavior of others.


Q. How does one determine if the practice of homosexuality is right or wrong?

That depends upon who is answering the question. The Christian point of view is based solely upon the Bible, the divinely inspired Word of God. A truly Christian standard of ethics is the conduct of divine revelation, not of statistical research nor of public opinion. For the Christian, the Bible is the final authority for both belief and behaviour.

Q. What explicitly does the Bible teach about homosexuality?
...
Then there is homosexuality which likewise is condemned in Scripture. ...

Homosexuality is an illicit lust forbidden by God.




jah

Martin Cothran said...

Jah,

The relevant language is here:

These observations suggest to some that bisexuality is a natural state among animals, perhaps Homo sapiens included, despite the sexual-orientation boundaries most people take for granted. “[In humans] the categories of gay and straight are socially constructed,” Anderson says.

I suppose you could say that it doesn't say explicitly that morality is involved, but I'm just waiting for the same people who say that the Louisiana Science Education Act will certainly impose religion in Louisiana schools (despite the fact that a) it won't, and b) it clearly says it doesn't mean that) to say that this passage doesn't imply that bisexuality should be considered acceptable.

The whole point of saying that homosexuality is inborn is to relieve its practitioners of moral culpability. That's their whole argument: that since homosexuality is natural, it can't be morally condemned. Where have you been?

Francis J. Beckwith said...

"Mr Cothran seems to believe that the only decent morality has to be imposed from outside humanity. Thus a secular humanistic concept of treating others as they wish to be treated is inherently inferior to a religiously based `absolute' standard."

If a Malthusian logician were assessing these two sentences he would have to conclude that he had come upon a straw man population explosion.

Any moral position that begins with "I want" is as doomed as any marriage that begins with the vow "until I don't like it anymore."

Alan said...

So the crux of your argument is that Cole Porter songs tend to be poor moral guides? Lol?

Seriously, the use of the phrase 'Darwinist ethics' is oxymoronic. Neither Classical Darwinism nor the Modern Synthesis contain any moral code at all. Certain biologists may employ the Naturalistic Fallacy, but Biology does not; science is descriptive, not prescriptive.

Yet the science of moral psychology has come quite some way in describing the formation and contents of the human moral sense. You seem to focus much more on the purity/sanctity locus of this moral sense, while the penguin watchers seem to be centered around the do-no-harm/fairness locus. Thus, no harm-no foul(npi!).

What we're really arguing about here is the origin of this moral sense. Is it the gift of god, or an emergent phenomenon of evolution? Science proposes to study it with rigor and integrity. What do you propose?

Anonymous said...

MC: ...but I'm just waiting for the same people who say that the Louisiana Science Education Act will certainly impose religion in Louisiana schools (despite the fact that a) it won't, and b) it clearly says it doesn't mean that) to say that this passage doesn't imply that bisexuality should be considered acceptable...

We know what the Louisiana act is about, who is behind it, and what the record of Louisiana is on the subject of evolution in schools.

Where have you been?

Human beings are of course animals. What are they if not?

Martin Cothran said...

Alan,

Far be it from me to question Cole Porter's qualifications as a moral philosopher.

You say that science is descriptive, but not prescriptive, but if I take that statement as a descriptive statement, I find that it is not always the case. I think the present article is a case in point. In fact it is not at all uncommon to hear scientists speaking prescriptively.

I suppose you could argue that insofar as they do this they are speaking nonscientifically, and that is correct as far as it goes, but the fact of the matter is that they do it and it is perceived by those who are not used to making such fine distinctions as speaking from the scientific perspective. Furthermore, they know, when they do this, that their audience is perceiving it this way and often do little to dispel what they have to know is misleading.

So while I think your descriptive statement is problematic, I could agree with you on the prescriptive statement that science should be descriptive only, although in practice it often isn't. But it does seem rather strange to make prescriptive statements about something that is supposed to be descriptive doesn't it?

But why is it that when scientists speak prescriptively those who believe they shouldn't don't say anything, but when someone outside of science takes their statements at face value, the champions of science (still very much in the prescriptive mode) chastise them for doing it?

I think I understand the distinction you invoke here between the "purity/sanctity" aspect of the moral sense and the "do-no-harm/fairness" aspect of it, but the important thing to notice as that both are still prescriptive, and therefore addressing either of them from a "scientific" perspective--according to your own definition--shouldn't be considered legitimate.

And by the way, I really liked the pun you didn't intend.

I'm not sure I understand your last statement: that science proposes to study "it" with rigor and integrity. What is the "it" to which you refer? Morality? If so, how can science, which is, as you say, descriptive in nature, say anything fundamental about the prescriptive?

It seems to me that the limitations on science which you yourself articulate make it impossible to do this.

Anonymous said...

FJB "Any moral position that begins with "I want" "

? Who wrote that?

jah

Anonymous said...

As has been discussed here, these are merely descriptions of natural behavior. ["Natural" means occurring with no forcing.] Any prescription is done by MC, FJB, and/or JE. [Whose unstated assumption appears to be that anything natural is ok.] As Mr Cothran has pointed out above, cannibalism occurs in animals and humans. Yet most, Christian and non-Christian, scientist and non-scientist, will agree that this is at least almost always wrong. There are many examples of behavior which occur naturally which are nonetheless considered immoral by the majority of humankind.
The difference is that many non-religious people will try to treat others as they want to be treated, whereas the religious often follow rules prescribed in a book and on occasion feel superior to those who base their morals on other ideals. And yet religions (have) often command(ed) the slaughter of others including children. Religious people are much more likely to want to regulate the behavior of others which doesn't appear to affect themselves. I fail to see how this is superior. It's based solely on the assertion that some individual religion has unique access to the truth.



jah


http://www.guardian.co.uk/uk/2005/sep/26/religion.world

I was walking across a bridge one day, and I saw a man standing on the edge, about to jump. I ran over and said: "Stop. Don't do it."

"Why shouldn't I?" he asked.

"Well, there's so much to live for!"

"Like what?"

"Are you religious?"

He said: "Yes."

I said: "Me too. Are you Christian or Buddhist?"

"Christian."

"Me too. Are you Catholic or Protestant?"

"Protestant."

"Me too. Are you Episcopalian or Baptist?"

"Baptist."

"Wow. Me too. Are you Baptist Church of God or Baptist Church of the Lord?"

"Baptist Church of God."

"Me too. Are you original Baptist Church of God, or are you Reformed Baptist Church of God?"

"Reformed Baptist Church of God."

"Me too. Are you Reformed Baptist Church of God, Reformation of 1879, or Reformed Baptist Church of God, Reformation of 1915?"

He said: "Reformed Baptist Church of God, Reformation of 1915."

I said: "Die, heretic scum," and pushed him off.