September 20, 2014 | David F. Coppedge

Can Science Define the Common Good?

While attempting to tell us how fairness evolved for selfish reasons, evolutionists want to push for the “common good.”

An editorial in Science Magazine begins with a stern warning:

Humanity is at a crossroads. Do we continue trends of preceding decades that lift people out of poverty and extend life spans, but in the process run down the planet’s natural capital? Solutions to this profound problem will require greater cooperation among people. The rise of market fundamentalism and the drive for growth in profits and gross domestic product (GDP) have encouraged behavior that is at odds with pursuit of the common good. Finding ways to develop a sustainable relationship with nature requires not only engagement of scientists and political leaders, but also moral leadership that religious institutions are in a position to offer.

The two authors, scientists of Indian descent (one at Cambridge, one at Scripps), have climate change on their mind.  In their view, the “common good” consists of mitigating the effects of global warming through international treaties, to which all other groups (scientists, politicians, and religious leaders) must submit.  They see “market fundamentalism” (notice the loaded word) as the enemy of the common good.  Their article is heavily doused with the “sustainable/unsustainable” concept frequently used to support globalist agendas.  To decide if something is sustainable or not, though, relies heavily on complex data and modeling that conservatives and liberals often see very differently.  Liberals, for instance, claim that the earth is past “peak oil” so that current utilization rates are “unsustainable” as are the carbon emissions they generate.  Conservatives respond that new sources of oil continue to be found and new technologies are making its production cleaner, believing that market forces will take care of alternative energy production if and when they supersede the affordability of hydrocarbons.

Science Magazine only presents one side.  To Dasgupta and Ramanathan, there is only one common good, and that is leftist globalism.  Religion must be co-opted to support their vision of the common good, even if it means reducing life spans and slowing the efforts to lift people out of poverty.  It’s not that they don’t care about the poor; they just believe that exploitation of resources at “unsustainable” rates by greedy capitalists is plunging the world into a crisis that will make everyone poor, unless we find “ways to develop a sustainable relationship with nature” which, presumably, gets by without modern technologies and large families:

Environmental problems are manifest at scales from the global, such as climate change, to the local, such as declines in availability of fresh water and forest products in villages in the poor world. High fertility rates in the poorest regions exacerbate pressure on local systems and contribute to the persistence of poverty.

Unsustainable consumption, population pressure, poverty, and environmental degradation are intricately linked, but this is appreciated neither by development economists nor by national governments who permit GDP growth to trump environmental protection in their policies.

Conservatives and libertarians argue that technology offers the best hope for the poor; it’s government coercion and corruption that’s the problem.  An acre of wasteland can be transformed into a productive paradise when people have the freedom to use their gifts and talents, because market forces will require that human self-interest be channeled into making products others will want to buy.  It doesn’t have to be a zero-sum game, with rich getting richer and poor getting poorer.  From Adam Smith to Milton Friedman and Friedrich Hayek, conservative economists have shown how freedom solves the “tragedy of the commons” and generates the most wealth for the most people, whereas coercive governments often hurt the most people while wrecking the very resources liberal theorists want to make “sustainable.”  20th century examples abound (communist Russia, China, North Korea, Cambodia, Tanzania).

What’s notable about Science Magazine’s article is its very one-sided presentation of the problem and its solution, without any opportunity for comeback arguments by conservative scholars.  Where is the debate?  One might think that “science” requires airing of all the evidence, and a balanced presentation on controversial issues.  That is not evident here: it’s all one sided, using the language and arguments for global coercion to solve a problem framed by an ideology that arrogates “science” to itself.  Notice how Dasgupta and Ramanathan simply dismiss Adam Smith, passing the buck to other references as their authorities:

Because the socioecological processes giving rise to this state of affairs aren’t self-correcting (5), there is urgent need for collective action from the community level to the international level. Studies on resource allocation in nonlinear systems have shown that Adam Smith’s famous “invisible hand” cannot, even in theory, be expected to come to the rescue (8, 9). Natural and social scientists have done their part in documenting the irreversible environmental damages (albeit with large uncertainties) that we have inflicted and in spelling out specific mitigation actions (1). The transformational step may well be a massive mobilization of public opinion by the Vatican and other religions for collective action to safeguard the well-being of both humanity and the environment.

For their authorities, they reference themselves!  They also cite Paul Ehrlich, who has been demonstrably wrong on many of his doomsday predictions.  The only other reference is to David A Starrett, a Stanford economist whose 1987 book Foundations in Public Economics doesn’t have any reviews on Amazon.com; his assumption-based theories appear to be of interest only to academics (example), and lack the track record of free-market economists.  So why do the authors cite these few as authorities for such audacious claims that market economics cannot work?  This is picking and choosing evidence in a very unscientific way.  The authors also use buzzwords of globalism: transformational, collective action, international, sustainable, and mobilization.  Does this one-sided political-economic advocacy piece belong in a “Science” magazine?

Their solution is for governments to take inventory of their assets, and then for internationalists to decide how they are to be allocated (i.e., redistribution of wealth).  History shows that has never worked: governments get bigger, corruption increases, and the poor suffer more (see, for instance, Jay Richards‘ 2010 book, Money, Greed, and God: Why Capitalism Is the Solution and Not the Problem).  Religious leaders appear in their article only as useful idiots who can use their powers of persuasion to push the global agenda: “The transformational step may well be a massive mobilization of public opinion by the Vatican and other religions for collective action to safeguard the well-being of both humanity and the environment.”  They get downright moral about this.  Since they believe “there is a need to reorient our attitude toward nature and, thereby, toward ourselves,” they look to the Pope and other religious leaders for the “moral leadership” that can “mobilize people to act” according to their perspective on what is the common good.  Clearly, they would not be happy if religious leaders used their moral leadership to mobilize people against the global agenda and toward individual liberties endowed by the Creator, as expressed in America’s Declaration of Independence.

Does Evolution Even Have a Common Good?

What makes Dasgupta and Ramanathan’s opinion piece seem especially out of place is the context: Science Magazine is also a one-sided outlet for Darwinian evolution.  All the talk about a common “good” and “moral leadership” must be derived from evolutionary theory, with no filching from Judeo-Christian presuppositions.  Can it be done?

A recent attempt was made by evolutionists at Georgia State.  In  “Research Shows Human Sense Of Fairness Evolved To Favor Long-Term Cooperation,” a press release tells how Dr. Sarah Brosnan and Dr. Franz de Waal have spent the last decade working with primates to discover the secret of fairness evolution.  Their work bears direct relevance to the preceding article about global cooperation:

“This sense of fairness is the basis of lots of things in human society, from wage discrimination to international politics,” Brosnan said. “What we’re interested in is why humans aren’t happy with what we have, even if it’s good enough, if someone else has more. What we hypothesize is that this matters because evolution is relative. If you are cooperating with someone who takes more of the benefits accrued, they will do better than you, at your expense. Therefore, we began to explore whether responses to inequity were common in other cooperative species.

They found through experiments that a number of species appear upset if another individual gets a bigger reward for the same task, but the “sense of fairness” requires more than that: it requires recognizing unfairness when you get more than the other individual.  Without elaboration, the article asserts, “Thus far, this has only been found in humans and their closest relatives, the apes.”

More detail on this study is provided by Rachel Kendal, a Senior Lecture at Durham University, in The Conversation.  Her conclusion is announced right in the headline: “The human race evolved to be fair for selfish reasons.”  As could be expected, the Darwinian explanation for morality is rooted in selfishness: survival of the fittest—only in this case, it’s survival of the fittest population (inclusive fitness), not fittest individual.

Kendal first dismisses the fairness our parents taught us.  External rules don’t cut it.  “In fact, children do not need encouragement to be fair, it is a unique feature of human social life, which emerges in childhood,” she claims.  That’s Darwin’s puzzle:

Biologists are surprised by this tendency to behave fairly. The theory of evolution by natural selection predicts that individuals should behave in ways to maximise their inclusive fitness. So behaviours are only selected, and hence evolve, if they ensure the survival and reproduction of the actor or kin whom contain copies of the actor’s genes. However, the behaviour displayed by children seems to be at a detriment to themselves, especially when those who benefit from their selfless behaviour are not the children’s kin.

Not to worry; evolutionists are clever with imagination.  Kendal turns to Brosnan and de Waal’s theory.  She repeats their assertion that many species, including dogs, birds and fish, will appear agitated if another gets a bigger reward for an equal task.  The flip side, expressing displeasure at getting a larger reward than a neighbor, is rare: “Such inequity aversion, at a cost to oneself, has only been recorded in humans and chimpanzees.”  So what’s the Darwinian explanation?

Brosnan and de Waal propose that the motivation to seek equal rewards, despite disadvantaging oneself, is to prevent dissatisfaction of the co-operative partner and avoid any negative outcomes that may follow. The main negative outcomes are the likelihood of conflict and loss of future advantageous co-operation with the partner.

Also, one’s reputation is tainted, reducing the chances of forming future beneficial partnerships. When we humans “play fair” we are doing so, according to Brosnan and de Waal, not due to a motivation for “equality for its own sake but for the sake of continued cooperation”.

Because humans also have large brains, they can ponder the benefits of self-control.  Because we have language, we can express our fairness policies in regulations.  Nevertheless, it is striking that only chimpanzees and humans show this ability.  How did that come about?  “Because responsiveness to advantageous inequity is only seen in humans and chimpanzees, Brosnan and de Waal hypothesise that its evolution, since the split from other primates, was the starting point for the eventual development of the advanced sense of fairness displayed by humans.”  It’s strange, then, that chimpanzees show so much violence toward one another, if their social evolution favored cooperation (see BBC News, “Murder comes naturally to chimps”).

Kendal ends by undermining any intrinsic meaning or value from altruistic actions.  It’s all disguised selfishness:

The many heroic and selfless actions of individual humans, for example rescuing strangers in mortal danger and money or blood donation, are inspiring and admirable. Yet, however distasteful to contemplate, it is likely that these individuals gain in terms of their reputation and future cooperation from others, known as indirect reciprocity. If extreme prosociality is a “costly signal” indicating ones worth to future mates, it makes sense that highly visible individuals, such as celebrities, may feel the most pressure to act charitably.

But is this an explanation or a just-so story?  A unique attribute of humans (and perhaps of chimpanzees, depending on how well designed the experiments are in the absence of language) has been “explained away” as a product of inclusive fitness: you are unselfish toward strangers because you might need their cooperation some day, and you strategize that kindness is the best policy for getting dates so that you can pass on your genes.  Why isn’t this a law of nature for all animals, then?  Why is it not seen in lower primates and in dogs, fish, and birds?  Ah, the evolutionist says: it’s because chimps and humans have big brains.  Yet other animals have large brains relative to their body sizes.  Well, then, it somehow got selected when chimpanzees split from other primates.

This is not only unfalsifiable, it’s mystical.  None of these evolutionists has identified a mutation or variation that first led Chimpanzee A to take offense at being given a larger reward than its neighbor.  If that was a spontaneous mutation due to unguided, physical causes, it would have had to cause Chimp A to be so much fitter that its mutation would spread rapidly through the whole population, without any plan or forethought.  Simultaneously, all the other chimps without the mutation would either have to die off, or want to mate with Chimp A because somehow their brains recognized that it was a nice thing for Chimp A to express displeasure at getting a smaller reward.  It’s not clear how any of this can fit a blind mutation-selection theory.  Can that really explain why people cross the world to help the poor?  Are we to believe that is why Medal of Honor winner Michael Murphy exposed himself to enemy fire to save his comrades, because he thought they would cooperate with him later and make him more attractive to the ladies?  It sure didn’t help Murphy pass on his genes.

Tying This All Together

Returning to the Science Magazine paper (and assuming that Dasgupta and Ramanathan are evolutionists, which is highly likely if they are respected at Scripps and Cambridge), we must conclude that they are acting selfishly.  Their pretended altruism to help the poor and save the world is a mechanical ruse, thrust on them without their control, determined by an evolutionary past that rewarded acts of “fairness” that have nothing to do with the meaning of fairness.  In short, their genes are making them talk that way so that they can attract females and pass on their genes.  Since the evolutionary explanation is self-refuting, all this talk by Dasgupta, Ramanathan, Kendal, Brosnan and de Waal can be dismissed as nonsense.

Do you see why recognition of self-refuting propositions provides a shortcut to sound conclusions?  You didn’t need to read all their fluff and worry about whether it made sense.  By their own presuppositions, it is all nonsense.*  Next time, look for that, and you can save a lot of time.  We went into detail as a training exercise so you can learn the principles.

Now, go be altruistic in the power of the spirit of God, your Maker, who endowed us with awareness of His righteous character by making us in His image.  He also provided the ultimate empirical evidence of unselfish love by taking upon Himself our guilt and punishment on the cross, leaving an empty tomb, so that trusting in His great act of love, we might live forever with Him in great joy (Romans 5).  The Bible, thus, provides logical consistency, understanding, and evidence.  Given the root meaning of science (knowledge), which view should be considered the more “scientific”?

*If the authors want to argue for redistribution of wealth from sensible presuppositions, we will listen to their arguments on stipulation that God’s word is the final authority for all thought, morality, and action.

 

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Comments

  • Gary says:

    My comment is of minor significance in the context of your whole article, but it is one that has bothered me in the past, too, so I mention it here.

    Please show me from scripture where certain unstated “individual liberties” are “endowed by the Creator.” Whether a document (such as America’s Declaration of Independence) written by humans insists on it is immaterial because humans do not necessarily write truths. On the other hand, direct statements in context from God’s Word or logically deduced therefrom are truth.

    The Declaration lists specifically three unalienable rights: life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. The first, life, does seem to be a right endowed by the Triune God. Yet even the right to life is limited. God has instituted government to control human behavior – with the sword if necessary (capital punishment, war, etc.). Still the right to life (more a prohibition on one individual taking another’s life) is included in the Decalog.

    The second, liberty, is definitely NOT a right endowed by the God of the Bible. And the right to overthrow a government that does not grant its citizens liberty (as insisted upon in the Declaration) is definitely NOT a right endowed by the God of the Bible. Government, whatever the form (democracy, monarchy, oligarchy, benevolent dictatorship, malevolent dictatorship, etc.) has been instituted by God. Jesus, in his statement “Render unto Caesar”, makes it our responsibility to obey our government (inasmuch as such obedience does not break God’s law) even if it is as God-hating and bad as the Roman government!

    The third, pursuit of happiness, is so patently NOT a right endowed by the God of the Bible that I won’t waste anyone’s time by discussing it. Before the Fall, I’m sure it WAS a right, or better, automatic.

    Don’t get me wrong, I am overjoyed that my United States goverment condescends to grant me some freedom! But I am under no illusion that will be the case forever. And if the government continues to erode my personal freedom, I know that I do not have a God-given right to join an insurgency to overthrow my government. As long as I have the privilege to vote, I can use that to “overthrow” whatever current bad government is tyrannizing me. Beyond that, I depend on God’s mercy.

    • Editor says:

      Gary: Thank you for sharing your thoughts. Your points, like you say, are of “minor significance” to the article, but suffice it to say that the founding fathers of America where informed by Judeo-Christian theism rather than atheism, and many were strong Bible-believing Christians. I think there is room for dispute about the Biblical concepts underlying liberty and the pursuit of happiness. No one, not even an atheist, would think these are unlimited. Christian “liberty” (circumscribed by love for God and neighbor) can be found in passages like Romans 14 and I Timothy 4:1-5. And “happiness” did not mean hedonism to the founding fathers; it was more “eudaimonia” (the good life, a fulfilled life, a worthy life) that could involve charity and unselfish work that brings satisfaction to the individual who has the freedom to pursue it within his conscience. Certainly “joy” is a rich theological term overlapping with happiness. The Bible-based historical literature supporting overthrow of tyranny is also rich, though it was a heady dispute in colonial days. Some of your arguments hinge on definitions. Since these considerations are not the point of the article, we can leave it at that.

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