For evolutionary theory to work, all human behavior must originate from mindless natural processes. What does that do to honesty and kindness?
Godless potheads: A survey of Swiss men conducted by Lausanne University found that people who believed in God used fewer drugs than atheists. Medical Xpress reported the finding: the more atheistic, the more the drug use. “Karl Marx said that religion was the opium of the people,” the article quipped. “New figures now suggest that religion plays a role in preventing substance misuse.” Correspondingly, perhaps atheism instead is the opiate of the people: the dope that turns people to dope. Needless to say, any scientist trying to do believable scientific research must be in full use of his or her mental capacities.
Theism might be helpful even if not true: Does it matter if God exists? That’s the question a philospher at Ryerson University is studying, with funds from the Templeton Foundation, according to PhysOrg. Professor Klaas Kraay is not trying to prove or disprove God, but just to see if it makes a difference. “Through our research, we hope to clarify our intuitions about the difference in value that God’s existence makes (or would make) to our lives and to the world around us,” he said. So far, he is just framing the questions, but he and his colleague are trying to refute the position of Oxford philosopher Guy Kahane who has argued religion makes the world worse, and makes people’s lives meaningless. So far he has identified four positions on a scale of belief. “People seem to have strong intuitions and feelings about these four positions,” says Kraay. “However, this grant will enable us to move beyond intuition and feelings and into rigorous arguments about all aspects of this important issue.” But can he even approach the arguments if he is not trustworthy? How does he know rigor is good, if that is not a category of virtue? On what grounds can he assume that rigorous arguments generate true conclusions?
Who needs God? Ara Norenzayan’s new book Big Gods: How religion transformed cooperation and conflict (Princeton, 2013) looks like a throwback to the positivism of Auguste Comte (1947–1859), who viewed society in evolutionary stages, passing through a religious stage to culminate in a scientific one. Michael Bond, reviewing the book for New Scientist, summarized it as follows: “As societies mature, many outgrow the need for a spiritual superbeing,” according to Norenzayan. Bond, apparently an evolutionist himself, described the book’s perspective as “a kind of theological take on survival of the fittest.” He finds some of the book’s ideas compelling, such as the idea that having a “big god” enabled societies to control individuals with the notion they are being watched. Once a country outgrows that need, like Denmark or Sweden, they can dispense with the god hypothesis, he says. Still, he is a bit puzzled by the USA, an “outlier” on the graph; it’s “a reminder that religion is about more than cooperation, that belief thrives perhaps because it eases deep existential anxieties where reason and logic cannot help.” But on what basis does he believe in the legitimacy of reason and logic?
Fingering evil: Let’s try a test case. Is it legitimate to call Syria’s President Assad evil? He’s the dictator who allegedly launched a poison gas attack that killed over a thousand of his own people, and has killed over 100,000 in the civil war through conventional weapons. Whether we can call him evil is the question Maggie Campbell of Clark University is asking on Live Science. Posing this question on a science site presumes that science is capable of answering it. Campbell, a social psychologist, knows that the answer matters. In true academic style, though, she claims these are “not easy questions with simple answers.” Part of her answer depends on surveys she conducted of individual attitudes, but the gist of it puts the onus on the claimant: “the extent to which a person believes that some people, or social groups, are completely evil relates to that individual’s opinions on violence,” as if defining an opponent as evil justifies revenge. That sounds like relativism, yet later she makes her own value judgments: “Ignoring crimes against humanity is shameful, so any attempt at making the world pay attention is important.” One wonders what she would say if someone called her opinion evil.
Evolving good: Another article appeared trying to explain kindness in Darwinian terms – not just any kindness, but the costly kind Robert Trivers called “reciprocal altruism,” like a combat soldier throwing himself on a grenade to save comrades. “In principle, altruism confounds the basic logic of evolution by natural selection because individuals incur fitness costs while providing benefits to others,” Joan B. Silk writes in Current Biology. So does that falsify Darwinism? There is an out, Silk thinks: “Altruistic traits can evolve only when some cue allows altruists to direct benefits selectively to other altruists, and thereby increase the relative fitness of altruists.” Thus she relies on “inclusive fitness” or group fitness, where natural selection acts on the group rather than the individual. She points to putative examples of altruism in the animal kingdom, such as chimpanzee grooming and bat food sharing; Silk waffles, though, on whether the simple explanation works, pointing to other biologists who have disputed it. Asked “Aren’t humans special?”, she referred to evolutionists who have speculated that language enables humans “to inform their partners about their intentions and expectations and coordinate exchanges more effectively.” In the end, though, she urges caution, exiting the Q&A with the ‘further research is needed’ escape clause: “It would be profitable to assess the factors that stabilize reciprocity in human societies, because this information will influence estimates of the plausibility that strategies based on reciprocal altruism will exist in other species.” One can only hope she was writing altruistically (i.e., expending energy for the benefit of others).
Pragmatic or mystical virtue: Rather than reason philosophically about virtue, some authors approach it pragmatically. An article on Medical Xpress, for instance, is titled “Love thy neighbor; It could lower your risk of stroke.” A little reflection shows, however, this is not really love; it is selfishness. Other evolutionists approach it mystically. A photo of neuroscientist Tania Singer in Science titled “Concentrating on Kindness” shows her in lotus position on an MRI machine. Singer is convinced that compassion and empathy would “make the world a better place.” The scientist in her wants to know where a “signature of compassion” might be located in her subjects’ brains, using MRI experiments. If identified, she wants to find “evidence that the instinct to be kind to others can be nurtured through meditation.” She seems to find as much motivation in the Dalai Lama, Buddhist monks and the possibility of “altered states of consciousness,” though, as in scientific evidence in pursuit of her ill-defined goal of trying to make the world a better place. Who defines “better” in evolutionary terms? Needless to say, “many of her colleagues are skeptical of her sweeping vistas—and even more about getting there through meditation,” partly because “historically, meditation is intertwined with religion.” Singer tries to purify her experiments of religion, but Science (its materialist bias showing) questioned her motives, knowing that her funding came from the Templeton Foundation, “a philanthropic organization that has frequently been criticized for trying to blur the boundaries between science and religion.” Meditation is ill-defined, the article points out, and experiments are typically performed with little scientific rigor. Can Singer convince her colleagues she is not on a mystical quest? Either way, who is being truthful and virtuous in the debate?
In each of these instances, the evolutionary authors “helped themselves” to the notions of truth and virtue, assuming that their readers would consider them to be speaking or writing altruistically and honestly with unmixed motives, attempting to lead people toward a true understanding of the world. But without genuine truth or virtue—in a survival-of-the-fittest world—anything goes. Cartoonist Zach Weiner showed this cleverly on his strip, Saturday Morning Breakfast Cereal, that appears to satirize evolutionary game theory, showing that ethics is unsustainable in such a world.
Evolution implodes when you ask its proponents if truth evolves or virtue evolves. At first, they will launch into their just-so stories about reciprocal altruism, evolutionary epistemology, or whatever. But unless truth and virtue are rock-solid realities independent of what human beings think or feel about them, there is no assurance that anything is really true or virtuous. What’s more, what is considered to be true or virtuous today might be its opposite in the future. Because of this, evolutionists have no grounds for judging anything, including the validity and value of their own beliefs. Consider the consequences. On what grounds can an evolutionist call Assad evil? If Maggie wants to argue that it depends on one’s views on violence, do a little role playing: “Suppose someone called your views on evolution evil and wanted to kill or imprison you and all who agree with you. What would you think of that?” You get the picture. Evolutionists cannot weep if Islam or some future Genghis Khan kills all the evolutionists, because that is a possible outcome of natural selection. Can you imagine any evolutionists not calling that horrendous outcome “evil”? All the “knowledge” bequeathed to us by Father Charlie would be wiped out! “So what?” you respond. “Evolution is as evolution does. Stuff happens.”
When the evolutionist is recovering from the horrid thought of the Golden Age of Darwinism being wiped from the history books, similar to the frightening end of George Orwell’s 1984 wherein the history of any resistance to the regime is systematically erased, leaving no trace of the valiant efforts to restore freedom, truth and virtue, you deliver the coup de grace. You ask the evolutionist if truth evolves. If he answers yes, because everything evolves, you ask how he knows that evolution is true. If it becomes false tomorrow, wouldn’t that allow for the possibility that creation is true? If he answers no, you welcome him into the ranks of supernaturalists, because he has just acknowledged that some realities (e.g., truth, virtue, and the laws of logic) are immaterial, timeless, and universal. Most evolutionist brains will have short-circuited before this point, producing a limbic reaction to go on the attack – proving they are only acting out mammalian “survival of the fittest” behaviors, and therefore are not to be trusted. If your interlocutor hears you out, though, you ask him if he is aware of any concept that is simultaneously trustworthy and virtuous (within the constraints of being immaterial, timeless, and universal), if not personal (i.e., like God). Without God, therefore, evolutionary theory is self-refuting.
Truth and virtue are preconditions of science—indeed, of any kind of logical reasoning. Evolutionists routinely “help themselves” to these rich foods from the Christian smorgasbord without paying the philosophical price. For that, they are being neither honest nor virtuous. Show a little tough love and graciously but firmly help evolutionists out of their hopeless condition before it implodes on them.