Friday, November 03, 2006

More on Darwin and Apostasy

I made three long responses to the good feedback I've gotten in the comment box, but I think it would be simpler to pull them all out and make a single post.

The most important thought the comments remind me is how many issues are involved in the "Bible vs. Darwin" debate, and how necessary it is that they be treated separately.

Among the issues are:
1) Biblical authority vs. any account that doesn't look very similar
2) Total common ancestry vs. special creation of each species
3) Darwinism vs. the other possible evolutionary "motors" that have been proposed.

What I'm talking about is 3), and I am talking about it because (to go back to how this started) John Derbyshire's apostasy was not caused by learning that the Biblical account read literally was not true, nor was it caused by learning that we are related to apes, but by learning that natural selection working through genes explains such vast swathes of our behavior that we can no longer conceive of ourselves as being creatures made in the image of God.

Rick's comment, for example, about how to read Scripture is important but basically about 1)

In responding to JS Bangs' comment, I think it is very important to separate TCA (total common ancestry of all living things) from the idea of natural selection/inclusive fitness etc.

All Darwinian systems, indeed any conceivable modern biological system, is going to involve TCA, simply because, as I said, TCA gives unity to the biological world and science demands unity. But, not all TCA systems involve Darwinism. Lamarck, for example, was a non-Darwinian TCA-er. Lynn Margulis is a major evolutionary thinker whose idea of symbiosis is at least partly non-Darwinian (see here.) If I was a biologist, I would find engaging with the thought of people like Lynn Margulis to be very important.

What JS is saying, I would contend, is the TCA is completely compatible with an attitude of gratitude and reverence. I agree. In fact, I will go so far as to say that I find TCA is in fact desirable theologically, for precisely the reasons Rick touched on -- the redemption of Jesus then involves not just the redemption of all human flesh, but of all flesh, all life, even all matter. (Whether it is true or not, however, is a question to be decided by scripture.)

I do think there is a real difference of viewpoint. Lynn Margulis and Edmund O. Wilson both agree that TCA is the "story line" of modern biology, if you will. They differ not because one is a scientist and one not, but because they differ on who the main character is (the gene vs. community), and what the protagonist's motivation is (purely selfish or partly selfish and partly communitarian). Or to use a different metaphor, they agree on the road, but differ on the nature of the "motor."

Jeremy's objection relates to the whole question of what attitude we are to adopt to all this.

Maybe I have a hard time explaining this because it's more intuitive than well thought out. I would strongly suggest a read of "The Abolition of Man." But here goes . . .

The presupposition of Jeremy's question is that fact and sentiment are by nature separate (the famous fact-value distinction). What we have between me and God is a chain of morally neutral causes. Only by adding God's intent, at the top of the chain, does one then have a basis for objectively correct moral feeling. The chain goes like this: God's love >> mechanics >> me.

Now let me add, that if that's the case, then no matter how important the "mechanics" are, they do not provoke any moral sentiments. Even if parents are "incredibly important" to how God makes us us, that importance doesn't provoke moral sentiments unless we somehow get our parents out of the category of mechanics.

Let's examine closer the attitude one should have towards one's parents. Are they just "mechanics"? I don't think so and I know Jeremy doesn't either. Why not? Because we all accept the (prima facie) idea that parents gave birth and raised us because they loved us and wanted us. Reproduction was due to intent. In other words, the chain goes: parental love >> mechanics >> me. Fold this into the previous one and you get: God's love >> mechanics >> parental love >> mechanics >> me.

What I see as problematic with Darwinian explanation is the splitting off of the causal nexus of love from creation. A Darwinian explains both the actions of creation (and I'll use that term because I don't just mean egg and sperm, I mean the whole deal, mothers and fathers sacrificing their life for their children, etc.) and the sentiments associated with those acts are both themselves caused by the process of natural selection which mechanically resulted in the replication of genes.

Let's use a sci-fi nightmare. What if, one day, you discovered that your mother was actually a robot? That for reasons unknown, but certainly having nothing to do with you personally, she had been programmed to take care of you. Would that change your attitude towards her? My argument is that the "Darwinian attitude" (not the evolutionary attitude, not the TCA attitude, but the Darwinian attitude) is one that says, we do not have an adequate scientific explanation of human/animal/whatever child-rearing attitudes until we have done the mental equivalent of turning parents and children into robots created by the necessity to replicate genes. Incredibly important robots, quite possibly. But still robots.

This last point raises the issue: To what extent can Darwinism make good its claim to be able to actually explain behavior? If some Darwinists believe parental influence is incredibly important, and some believe it is of little importance, and both can create natural selection "just so" stories to back it up, then is there actually any cognitive content to Darwinism, or is it just "attitude" in the negative sense?

Now, I'd be the first to admit that when it comes to explaining human behavior, "attitude" (in this negative sense) is most of what it is. How important human parents are for children, for example, is an empirical question, and adding fantasy stories about "cave men" (one way or the other) is to try to explain the brightly lit by the almost completely obscure. (You have to always keep in mind how immense, profound, and far-reaching is the ignorance of even the best anthropologists on, say, the Neolithic Middle East, let alone Paleolithic Europe or Africa.)

But the fact that people tell such stories should lead us to ask why? Why tell such "just so" stories? (I mean apart from the idea of trying to get around brightly-lit facts today by appealing to obscure suppositions about a virtually unknown stone age.)

One reason is the desire to turn human beings into "robots" -- this is the emotional derangement that wants the Darwinian picture to be true.

But I don't think that's the only reason. Another reason is that inclusive fitness, the whole deal, etc. has done some very solid work in explaining animal behavior. One big breakthrough, for example, was when observation showed that worker ants feed larvae in exact proportion to how many genes they might be expected to share with the larvae. (In ants, larval workers, drones, and queens from the same hive all look different and share different percentages of genes). You can read all about it in Edmund Wilson's "Sociobiology." Only if you do, don't do what every journalist did and skip to the human behavior part. Stick with the ants and Cape hunting dogs -- because if you don't you won't get any sense of the intellectual power of inclusive fitness and so on to explain some examples of animal behavior.

So if we can explain ant behavior by inclusive fitness, a "unified field theory" of biological behavior would push us to believe, as a hope, even if not a fact, that inclusive fitness can explain chimpanzee behavior, and even H. sapiens behavior. Even scientists without the emotional derangement that leads to liking Darwinian explanation, will be sympathetic because it gives unity to the study of animal behavior.

Yes, I'd agree, but at a very high cost.

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