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The failed search for an evolutionary morality

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Richard Weikart, author of The Death of Humanity And the Case for Life, reviews James Davison Hunter and Paul Nedelisky’s new book, Science and the Good: The Tragic Quest for the Foundations of Morality

There are many scientific problems with this project. Hunter and Nedelisky, however, only rarely point out the empirical difficulties. (They do point out the problems with Paul Zak’s claims about a “moral molecule.”) This is likely for the sake of argument. However, their critique would have been stronger if they had asked more questions about the scientific evidence. Instead, for the most part they accept the descriptive claims.

However, they still point out a glaring problem. Many of these “moral scientists” overreach by making prescriptive claims. They express moral approval or disapproval for certain behaviors. This misleads many people into thinking they are making real moral claims. However, they have redefined morality by rejecting moral realism.

Why all this confusion? Part of the reason, I think, is that the “moral scientists” are themselves conflicted. Their naturalistic approach tells them one thing: Morality has no objective reality. However, their conscience and experiences tell them something else: Some moral positions really are superior to others.

Death Of Humanity-COVER In my book, The Death of Humanity, I provide many examples of intellectuals who dismiss morality as non-objective. However, in their real life they are fanatically committed to moral positions. Richard Weikart, “Science and the Good: Can Science Help Us Learn How to Live?” at The Stream

Actually, rejecting moral realism makes a lot of sense if people plan simply to impose morality by rigid rules and constant surveillance. Then, they can’t be questioned even if the system is suddenly reprogrammed at the drop of a hat.

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See also: Richard Weikart on the anti-Semitic burst in evolutionary psychology

and

The Subjectivists Are Good at Emoting; Arguing, Not So Much (Barry Arrington)

5 Replies to “The failed search for an evolutionary morality

  1. 1
    Dick says:

    One wonders why a nat/mat would even bother to seek a basis for morality unless its felt that one is needed for public relations purposes.

  2. 2
    Seversky says:

    In my book, The Death of Humanity, I provide many examples of intellectuals who dismiss morality as non-objective. However, in their real life they are fanatically committed to moral positions. They may continue to insist that their moral positions have no objective validity. They may even admit that opposing moral positions are every bit as valid as their own. But do they really believe that? If so, why such vehemence in their moral condemnations of those who dare to disagree?

    There is no conflict. It is perfectly possible to deny that morality has any objective basis while feeling strongly about one’s own moral beliefs.

    Besides, what other basis can there be but feelings? Theists argue that their morality is handed down to them by their preferred deity but what is that but just another opinion? Were they the product of reason or just a divine coin-toss? We’re never told. God does not deign to provide us with a detailed account of the reasoning behind His edicts – assuming there was any.

    As for the notion that morality is somehow woven into the fabric of the Universe, when was that done – at the Big Bang? Moral guidance for humanity was set in stone over 14 billion years before the beings for whom it is intended came into existence? It sounds like just another attempt to justify human exceptionalism. It also sounds absurd.

  3. 3
    bornagain77 says:

    as to:

    In my book, The Death of Humanity, I provide many examples of intellectuals who dismiss morality as non-objective. However, in their real life they are fanatically committed to moral positions. They may continue to insist that their moral positions have no objective validity. They may even admit that opposing moral positions are every bit as valid as their own. But do they really believe that? If so, why such vehemence in their moral condemnations of those who dare to disagree?

    To which Seversky responds:

    There is no conflict. It is perfectly possible to deny that morality has any objective basis while feeling strongly about one’s own moral beliefs.

    Actually the claim that morality is illusory, and yet the Atheistic Materialist inability to live his life as if morality were actually illusory, as he adamantly claims, is a direct conflict between the atheist’s claim and how he actually lives his life.

    As the following article states: Nobody thinks his daughter is just molecules in motion and nothing but; nobody thinks the Holocaust was evil, but only in a relative, provisional sense. A materialist who lived his life according to his professed convictions—understanding himself to have no moral agency at all, seeing his friends and enemies and family as genetically determined robots—wouldn’t just be a materialist: He’d be a psychopath.

    The Heretic – Who is Thomas Nagel and why are so many of his fellow academics condemning him? – March 25, 2013
    Excerpt:,,,Fortunately, materialism is never translated into life as it’s lived. As colleagues and friends, husbands and mothers, wives and fathers, sons and daughters, materialists never put their money where their mouth is. Nobody thinks his daughter is just molecules in motion and nothing but; nobody thinks the Holocaust was evil, but only in a relative, provisional sense. A materialist who lived his life according to his professed convictions—understanding himself to have no moral agency at all, seeing his friends and enemies and family as genetically determined robots—wouldn’t just be a materialist: He’d be a psychopath.
    http://www.weeklystandard.com/.....tml?page=3

    Contrary to whatever inaccuracies and/or lies that you are currently telling yourself Seversky (so as to hide from God I might add), this impossibility for Atheists to live consistently within their stated worldview directly undermines their claim that Atheism is true
    Specifically, as the following article points out, if it is impossible for you to live your life consistently as if atheistic materialism were actually true, then atheistic materialism cannot possibly reflect reality as it really is but atheistic materialism must instead be based on a delusion.

    Existential Argument against Atheism – November 1, 2013 by Jason Petersen
    1. If a worldview is true then you should be able to live consistently with that worldview.
    2. Atheists are unable to live consistently with their worldview.
    3. If you can’t live consistently with an atheist worldview then the worldview does not reflect reality.
    4. If a worldview does not reflect reality then that worldview is a delusion.
    5. If atheism is a delusion then atheism cannot be true.
    Conclusion: Atheism is false.
    http://answersforhope.com/exis.....t-atheism/

    Moreover Seversky it is not only morality that becomes illusory within the Atheist’s Materialistic worldview, you yourself, as a real person, become illusory as well.

    Here are a few quotes to get this point across:

    Ross Douthat Is On Another Erroneous Rampage Against Secularism – Jerry Coyne – December 26, 2013
    Excerpt: “many (but not all) of us accept the notion that our sense of self is a neuronal illusion.”
    Jerry Coyne – Professor of Evolutionary Biology – Atheist
    https://newrepublic.com/article/116047/ross-douthat-wrong-about-secularism-and-ethics

    At the 23:33 minute mark of the following video, Richard Dawkins agrees with materialistic philosophers who say that:
    “consciousness is an illusion”
    A few minutes later Rowan Williams asks Dawkins ”If consciousness is an illusion…what isn’t?”.
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HWN4cfh1Fac&t=22m57s

    “There is no self in, around, or as part of anyone’s body. There can’t be. So there really isn’t any enduring self that ever could wake up morning after morning worrying about why it should bother getting out of bed. The self is just another illusion, like the illusion that thought is about stuff or that we carry around plans and purposes that give meaning to what our body does. Every morning’s introspectively fantasized self is a new one, remarkably similar to the one that consciousness ceased fantasizing when we fell sleep sometime the night before. Whatever purpose yesterday’s self thought it contrived to set the alarm last night, today’s newly fictionalized self is not identical to yesterday’s. It’s on its own, having to deal with the whole problem of why to bother getting out of bed all over again.”
    – A.Rosenberg, The Atheist’s Guide to Reality, ch.10

    The Consciousness Deniers – Galen Strawson – March 13, 2018
    Excerpt: What is the silliest claim ever made? The competition is fierce, but I think the answer is easy. Some people have denied the existence of consciousness: conscious experience, the subjective character of experience, the “what-it-is-like” of experience.,,,
    Who are the Deniers?,,, Few have been fully explicit in their denial, but among those who have been, we find Brian Farrell, Paul Feyerabend, Richard Rorty, and the generally admirable Daniel Dennett.,,,
    http://www.nybooks.com/daily/2.....s-deniers/

    “that “You”, your joys and your sorrows, your memories and your ambitions, your sense of personal identity and free will, are in fact no more than the behaviour of a vast assembly of nerve cells and their associated molecules. As Lewis Carroll’s Alice might have phrased: “You’re nothing but a pack of neurons.” This hypothesis is so alien to the ideas of most people today that it can truly be called astonishing.”
    Francis Crick – “The Astonishing Hypothesis” 1994

    The Brain: The Mystery of Consciousness
    By STEVEN PINKER – Monday, Jan. 29, 2007
    Part II THE ILLUSION OF CONTROL
    Another startling conclusion from the science of consciousness is that the intuitive feeling we have that there’s an executive “I” that sits in a control room of our brain, scanning the screens of the senses and pushing the buttons of the muscles, is an illusion.
    http://www.academia.edu/279485.....sciousness

    “(Daniel) Dennett concludes, ‘nobody is conscious … we are all zombies’.”
    J.W. SCHOOLER & C.A. SCHREIBER – Experience, Meta-consciousness, and the Paradox of Introspection – 2004

    Please tell me Seversky, if you really exist, why in blue blazes should I trust anything an illusion has to say about reality?

    Moreover, besides our sense of self, along with our sense of morality, becoming illusions, there are many other things that also become illusory in the Atheist’s materialistic worldview:

    In fact, although the Darwinist firmly believes he is on the terra firma of science, the fact of the matter is that Darwinists are adrift in an ocean of fantasy and imagination with no discernible anchor for reality to grab on to:

    Darwin’s Theory vs Falsification – 39:45 minute mark
    https://youtu.be/8rzw0JkuKuQ?t=2387
    Excerpt: Basically, because of reductive materialism (and/or methodological naturalism), the atheistic materialist is forced to claim that he is merely a ‘neuronal illusion’ (Coyne, Dennett, etc..), who has the illusion of free will (Harris), who has unreliable beliefs about reality (Plantinga), who has illusory perceptions of reality (Hoffman), who, since he has no real time empirical evidence substantiating his grandiose claims, must make up illusory “just so stories” with the illusory, and impotent, ‘designer substitute’ of natural selection (Behe, Gould, Sternberg), so as to ‘explain away’ the appearance (i.e. illusion) of design (Crick, Dawkins), and who must make up illusory meanings and purposes for his life since the reality of the nihilism inherent in his atheistic worldview is too much for him to bear (Weikart), and who must also hold morality to be subjective and illusory since he has rejected God (Craig, Kreeft).
    Bottom line, nothing is real in the atheist’s worldview, least of all, morality, meaning and purposes for life.,,,
    Paper with references for each claim page; Page 37:
    https://docs.google.com/document/d/1pAYmZpUWFEi3hu45FbQZEvGKsZ9GULzh8KM0CpqdePk/edit

    Thus, although the Darwinian Atheist firmly believes he is on the terra firma of science (in his appeal, even demand, for methodological naturalism), the fact of the matter is that, when examining the details of his materialistic/naturalistic worldview, it is found that Darwinists/Atheists are adrift in an ocean of fantasy and imagination with no discernible anchor for reality to grab on to.

    It would be hard to fathom a worldview more antagonistic to modern science than Atheistic materialism and/or methodological naturalism have turned out to be.

    Of supplemental note: In the following article, which is an excellent read, (and which I just read this morning), it is pointed out that even our concept of humanity itself becomes illusory within the Atheistic Materialist’s worldview:

    Darwin, Design & Thomas Aquinas
    The Mythical Conflict Between Thomism & Intelligent Design by Logan Paul Gage
    Excerpt: First, the problem of essences. G. K. Chesterton once quipped that “evolution . . . does not especially deny the existence of God; what it does deny is the existence of man.” It might appear shocking, but in this one remark the ever-perspicacious Chesterton summarized a serious conflict between classical Christian philosophy and Darwinism.
    In Aristotelian and Thomistic thought, each particular organism belongs to a certain universal class of things. Each individual shares a particular nature—or essence—and acts according to its nature. Squirrels act squirrelly and cats catty. We know with certainty that a squirrel is a squirrel because a crucial feature of human reason is its ability to abstract the universal nature from our sense experience of particular organisms.
    Think about it: How is it that we are able to recognize different organisms as belonging to the same group? The Aristotelian provides a good answer: It is because species really exist—not as an abstraction in the sky, but they exist nonetheless. We recognize the squirrel’s form, which it shares with other members of its species, even though the particular matter of each squirrel differs. So each organism, each unified whole, consists of a material and immaterial part (form).,,,
    One way to see this form-matter dichotomy is as Aristotle’s solution to the ancient tension between change and permanence debated so vigorously in the pre-Socratic era. Heraclitus argued that reality is change. Everything constantly changes—like fire, which never stays the same from moment to moment. Philosophers like Parmenides (and Zeno of “Zeno’s paradoxes” fame) argued exactly the opposite; there is no change. Despite appearances, reality is permanent. How else could we have knowledge? If reality constantly changes, how can we know it? What is to be known?
    Aristotle solved this dilemma by postulating that while matter is constantly in flux—even now some somatic cells are leaving my body while others arrive—an organism’s form is stable. It is a fixed reality, and for this reason is a steady object of our knowledge. Organisms have an essence that can be grasped intellectually.

    Denial of True Species
    Enter Darwinism. Recall that Darwin sought to explain the origin of “species.” Yet as he pondered his theory, he realized that it destroyed species as a reality altogether. For Darwinism suggests that any matter can potentially morph into any other arrangement of matter without the aid of an organizing principle. He thought cells were like simple blobs of Jell-O, easily re-arrangeable. For Darwin, there is no immaterial, immutable form. In The Origin of Species he writes:
    “I look at the term species as one arbitrarily given, for the sake of convenience, to a set of individuals closely resembling each other, and that it does not essentially differ from the term variety, which is given to less distinct and more fluctuating forms. The term variety, again, in comparison with mere individual differences, is also applied arbitrarily, for convenience’s sake.”
    Statements like this should make card-carrying Thomists shudder.,,,
    The first conflict between Darwinism and Thomism, then, is the denial of true species or essences. For the Thomist, this denial is a grave error, because the essence of the individual (the species in the Aristotelian sense) is the true object of our knowledge. As philosopher Benjamin Wiker observes in Moral Darwinism, Darwin reduced species to “mere epiphenomena of matter in motion.” What we call a “dog,” in other words, is really just an arbitrary snapshot of the way things look at present. If we take the Darwinian view, Wiker suggests, there is no species “dog” but only a collection of individuals, connected in a long chain of changing shapes, which happen to resemble each other today but will not tomorrow.

    What About Man?
    Now we see Chesterton’s point. Man, the universal, does not really exist. According to the late Stanley Jaki, Chesterton detested Darwinism because “it abolishes forms and all that goes with them, including that deepest kind of ontological form which is the immortal human soul.” And if one does not believe in universals, there can be, by extension, no human nature—only a collection of somewhat similar individuals.,,,
    Implications for Bioethics
    This is not a mere abstract point. This dilemma is playing itself out in contemporary debates in bioethics. With whom are bioethicists like Leon Kass (neo-Aristotelian and former chairman of the President’s Council on Bioethics) sparring today if not with thoroughgoing Darwinians like Princeton’s Peter Singer, who denies that humans, qua humans, have intrinsic dignity? Singer even calls those who prefer humans to other animals “speciesist,” which in his warped vocabulary is akin to racism.,,,
    If one must choose between saving an intelligent, fully developed pig or a Down syndrome baby, Singer thinks we should opt for the pig.,,,
    https://www.touchstonemag.com/archives/article.php?id=23-06-037-f

    One final note, every time I ponder the abject failure of Atheistic Materialism to provide any objective basis for discerning what is real from what is illusory, I am reminded of Poe’s poem, “A Dream within a Dream”

    A Dream Within a Dream
    BY EDGAR ALLAN POE
    Take this kiss upon the brow!
    And, in parting from you now,
    Thus much let me avow —
    You are not wrong, who deem
    That my days have been a dream;
    Yet if hope has flown away
    In a night, or in a day,
    In a vision, or in none,
    Is it therefore the less gone?
    All that we see or seem
    Is but a dream within a dream.

    I stand amid the roar
    Of a surf-tormented shore,
    And I hold within my hand
    Grains of the golden sand —
    How few! yet how they creep
    Through my fingers to the deep,
    While I weep — while I weep!
    O God! Can I not grasp
    Them with a tighter clasp?
    O God! can I not save
    One from the pitiless wave?
    Is all that we see or seem
    But a dream within a dream?

    Verse:

    2 Corinthians 10:5
    Casting down imaginations, and every high thing that exalteth itself against the knowledge of God, and bringing into captivity every thought to the obedience of Christ;

  4. 4
    Silver Asiatic says:

    Sev

    There is no conflict. It is perfectly possible to deny that morality has any objective basis while feeling strongly about one’s own moral beliefs.

    The conflict he was talking about was not whether people can have their own moral beliefs. He said …

    If so, why such vehemence in their moral condemnations of those who dare to disagree?

    There should be no condemnation of other people’s views. That’s the conflict. In the subjectivist view, one’s morals are “right for that individual”. They cannot be projected on society because any other subjective view is just as valid. You cannot insist that your personal view has to be accepted by everyone else.
    That’s the difference with objective morals – all people must (and do) accept them.

    Theists argue that their morality is handed down to them by their preferred deity but what is that but just another opinion?

    At the very least, a teaching that comes from prophet for example, can be evaluated, as the prophet himself can be. In Catholicism, for example, a system of morals can be studied and analyzed. Reasons are given for each of the moral statements. Values are fixed. That’s a lot different than just having feelings about something, or than someone’s personal, uninformed opinion.

    Your personal morals Were they the product of reason or just a divine coin-toss? We’re never told. God does not deign to provide us with a detailed account of the reasoning behind His edicts – assuming there was any.

    As explained in detail elsewhere – natural, objective moral principles are part of rational, human nature. Other moral norms are developed by reasoning from those first principles. After that, theological teachings from God give more detail and refinement.

    In the subjectivist view, it is as you say – just feelings. The individual can change opinions. There is no accountability. The individual is the lawmaker, defendant, prosecutor and judge in all moral issues. If a certain moral rule is constantly disobeyed, the rule can be changed. What was considered evil yesterday could be considered good today. There is no reason why not.

    As for the notion that morality is somehow woven into the fabric of the Universe, when was that done – at the Big Bang? Moral guidance for humanity was set in stone over 14 billion years before the beings for whom it is intended came into existence? It sounds like just another attempt to justify human exceptionalism. It also sounds absurd.

    You’re wondering what the precise day and time was when God had the idea for the creation and design of human life?

    Ok, think about it.

    God is the First Cause – without beginning.

    Understood?

  5. 5
    john_a_designer says:

    NYU professor Jonathan Haidt, who is anything but a dyed-in-the-wool conservative, makes a valiant but misguided attempt find a naturalistic basis for morality in an article that was republished last year in the National Review. Does he succeed? I think he falls short. Here are a few excerpts from his article:

    When we look back at the ways our ancestors lived, there’s no getting around it: we are tribal primates. We are exquisitely designed and adapted by evolution for life in small societies with intense, animistic religion and violent intergroup conflict over territory. We love tribal living so much that we invented sports, fraternities, street gangs, fan clubs, and tattoos. Tribalism is in our hearts and minds. We’ll never stamp it out entirely, but we can minimize its effects because we are a behaviorally flexible species. We can live in many different ways, from egalitarian hunter-gatherer groups of 50 individuals to feudal hierarchies binding together millions. And in the last two centuries, a lot of us have lived in large, multi-ethnic secular liberal democracies. So clearly that is possible. But how much margin of error do we have in such societies?

    Here is the fine-tuned liberal democracy hypothesis: As tribal primates, human beings are unsuited for life in large, diverse secular democracies, unless you get certain settings finely adjusted to make possible the development of stable political life. This seems to be what the Founding Fathers believed. Jefferson, Madison, and the rest of those 18th-century deists clearly did think that designing a constitution was like designing a giant clock, a clock that might run forever if they chose the right springs and gears.

    Haidt is alarmed by the way illiberal tribalism has begun to take over our democratic institutions– the media, higher education and government. Can a diverse multi-ethnic culture like we find in the United States survive a resurrected form of tribalism? If the trends continue the way they have been going for the last the last 50 years, the answer, in my opinion, is NO.

    It appears to me that the secular progressive left have gone all in with tribal identity politics. Despite claims to the contrary, they really don’t have arguments based on reason, facts, evidence, logic and truth; rather it’s a commitment to group-think– “we are reasonable and right because of who we are.” Again that kind of group-think was/is also typical of Marxists and Fascists. That should be no surprise much of the secular-progressive left is made up of cultural Marxists. Haidt appears to agree with me:

    Today’s identity politics has another interesting feature: It teaches students to think in a way antithetical to what a liberal-arts education should do. When I was at Yale in the 1980s, I was given so many tools for understanding the world. By the time I graduated, I could think about things as a Utilitarian or a Kantian, as a Freudian or a behaviorist, as a computer scientist or a humanist. I was given many lenses to apply to any one situation. But nowadays, students who liberal major in departments that prioritize social justice over the disinterested pursuit of truth are given just one lens — power — and told to apply it to all situations. Everything is about power.* Every situation is to be analyzed in terms of the bad people acting to preserve their power and privilege over the good people. This is not an education. This is induction into a cult, a fundamentalist religion, a paranoid worldview that separates people from each other and sends them down the road to alienation, anxiety, and intellectual impotence.

    Read more at: http://www.nationalreview.com/.....ge-outrage

    (*Emphasis added.)

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