Saturday, February 11, 2006

Penguins, Shy Swedish Females and the Non-Speciesist Imperative

Now we have this report from Yahoo! News:

BERLIN (AFP) - Six gay penguins at a German zoo are still refusing to mate with females of the species flown in from Sweden in 2005, the zoo said.

The problem was that the female Humboldt penguins have proven too shy in their advances, the director of the zoo in the northern port city of Bremerhaven said.

"The Swedes will not make the first move," Heike Kueck said.

The females were flown in last year in a bid to bring the males to mate and help save the Humboldt species from extinction.

. . . .

The initiative to "turn" the penguins and make them mate had prompted a furious response from gay rights groups.


I encourage you to read the whole article, which is quite short and is accompanied by a cute picture of penguins cuddling. [Update: if the link does not work, see below.]

So we have a great moral dilemma: the environmentalists want to save the species, and gay rights activists want a "hands off" approach to their sexual orientation. So I wonder: WWDD? (What Would Dawkins Do?).

In a previous post, I chuckled at Richard Dawkins' views (as expressed in this Washington Post article) and his belief that "the fact that humans think of themselves as altogether distinct from other animals -- and the biblical notion that humans have dominion over other animals -- is a sort of racism." He also condemns our culture's "speciesist imperative." However, I completely agree with him that "evolutionary science has a great deal to say about ethics and morality." I am glad that he is willing to stand up and be honest about it. As noted previously, intelligent design is a scientific theory with obvious philosophical implications. And macroevolutionary theory is a scientific theory with obvious philosophical implications. It is also obvious that macroevolutionary theory has ethical and moral implications. It seems to me that people who ignore or deny the implications of both are simply being obtuse (for example, a certain judge).

For these reasons and others, banning any criticism of macroevolutionary theory from the public schools and giving macroevolutionary theory monopoly status is arguably itself a violation of the Establishment Clause.

Dawkins' views on foxhunting and bullfighting are not the only moral and legal conclusions that you could draw from evolutionary theory. It could be (and has been) used to justify killing 6 million Jews, among other things.


* * *

Update: If the Yahoo News link does not work, try a Yahoo or Google search for "gay penguins Swedish Humboldt."


28 Comments:

At February 12, 2006 11:04 PM, Blogger MacIke said...

This is pretty darn funny. I am amazed at hat happens when evolutions get nailed by their premise.

As Dawkins said before, extinction is normal part of the evolutionary process.

MacIke

 
At February 13, 2006 12:16 AM, Blogger Vargas said...

"Dawkins' views on foxhunting and bullfighting are not the only moral and legal conclusions that you could draw from evolutionary theory. It could be (and has been) used to justify killing 6 million Jews, among other things."

Well there you go. Evolutionary Theory makes it easier to justify atrocities (like rape)and academic quackery (like the Bell Curve).

 
At February 13, 2006 12:50 AM, Blogger Sean said...

Like the Force and duct tape, there's a light side and a dark side to everything. Would anyone like to roll out the atrocities justified by, say, the Bible?

Just how does Evolutionary Theory justify rape?

 
At February 13, 2006 2:31 PM, Anonymous John said...

Just how does Evolutionary Theory justify rape?

Ask Daniel Dennett, David Barash, or Randy Thornhill, for starters.

http://human-nature.com/science-as-culture/dusek.html (skip down to NOVELTY AND CONTINUITY IN EVOLUTIONARY PSYCHOLOGY section)

Or you could just use Google:

http://www.google.com/search?hl=en&q=%2Brape+%2Bevolutionary&btnG=Google+Search

 
At February 13, 2006 2:39 PM, Anonymous John said...

Or if you prefer to think for yourself, you could think about how a male animal could go about being as genetically successful as possible.

If a male mates with and impregnates as many females as he can, whether the females are willing or not, then the male's genes will eventually dominate his rivals' genes.

Simple evolutionary theory.

 
At February 13, 2006 3:47 PM, Blogger Sean said...

Thanks for the references, I'll look them up.

Good point. For instance, male koalas are percieved to rape females, (though this is a human perspective and at risk from anthropomorphising.)

Two things strike me, though.

Firstly: Evolution as justification for rape? How many rapists say to a judge "Sorry, your honour, don't blame me, it's my biological imperitive"?

Secondly: Atomic theory can be used to make nasty atomic bombs. But does that make it wrong?

 
At February 15, 2006 12:34 PM, Anonymous Farshad said...

Secondly: Atomic theory can be used to make nasty atomic bombs. But does that make it wrong?

IMHO, Nuclear Physics doesn't make any contribution to moral values either good or bad because it's pure science not philosophy, But Darwinism is different.

Darwinist definition for human that states we are some evolved mamals i.e. mutated beasts, can deeply impacts our moral system and values. Believing in neo-darwinism nullifies the spiritual side of human which almost all of moral values are based on.

Without Neo-Darwinism Dawkins couldn't be an intellectualy fulfilled atheist! It's Philosophical impacts can't be ignored and we can not just deal with it as pure science (though I'm highly doubtful if it is science at first place).

 
At February 16, 2006 5:41 AM, Blogger Sean said...

Here's a hypothetical (and remember, this is a hypothetical, so let's not argue the details, just focus on the question):

Let's imagine that somehow evolution has been proven completely correct and ID incorrect.

Would it be better to believe in ID, even though it's false, and dismiss evolution, even through it's the truth?

 
At February 16, 2006 10:14 AM, Anonymous John said...

Here's a hypothetical (and remember, this is a hypothetical, so let's not argue the details, just focus on the question):

You ask us to do something you either can't do or refuse to do. Your worldview is limited by dogma. Actually, it is limited by two incompatible systems of dogma, one of which has quasi-Pavlovian failsafes against countermeasures. Hence, this dogmatic system is the one you think is correct, because it doesn't allow you to think otherwise.

I could bring up a hypothetical situation that would show you and everyone else your limitations, and you would still deny that the boundaries exist. Such is the pernicious quality of your conditioning.


Let's imagine that somehow evolution has been proven completely correct and ID incorrect.

Nothing can be proven completely correct in science. There can always be another paradigm that comes along and makes even a scientific law obsolete.

For instance, until the 1950s most scientists (including Einstein) believed the Aristotelian idea that the universe had no beginning (the steady state model).

Evidence against this theory (which was pratically a law at the time) mounted to the point where scientists had to agree with what theologians had been telling them for millenia: that the universe indeed had a beginning.


Would it be better to believe in ID, even though it's false, and dismiss evolution, even through it's the truth?

There is no "better". To believe that anything is "better" means that there is such a thing as an objective "good", which as we all know does not exist. There is no "good" or "bad", there is only "different".

 
At February 16, 2006 12:32 PM, Anonymous John said...

Let me address the part of Sean's 3:47 PM comment that Farshad did not mention:

Firstly: Evolution as justification for rape? How many rapists say to a judge "Sorry, your honour, don't blame me, it's my biological imperitive"?

This may be coming to a courtroom near you, Sean (particularly since you're Canadian) sooner rather than later.

Darwinian rape theories are featured on Harvard's Law website, where they are dicussed as a foil to feminist rape theories.

http://cyber.law.harvard.edu/vaw00/theories_of_rape.html

This passage is particularly telling:
The scientists [Thornhill and Palmer] suggest that women should take steps to deter irrepressible male impulses by not dressing provocatively or participating in unsupervised dating.

Doesn't that sound suspiciously like something a Muslim imam or a fundamentalist Christian kook would tell women? The more things change, the more they stay the same, it would seem.

 
At February 16, 2006 3:27 PM, Blogger Sean said...

Darwinian rape theories are featured on Harvard's Law website, where they are dicussed as a foil to feminist rape theories.

http://cyber.law.harvard.edu/vaw00/theories_of_rape.html


From the same website (in larger font and bold type):

"But Darwinian biological theorists remind readers that the discovery of biological bases for destructive human behaviors (such as rape) does not imply social acceptance of such behaviors..."

It is followed by a quote.

 
At February 16, 2006 7:31 PM, Blogger Sean said...

I posed the hypothetical to explore the situation that seems to be presenting here.

That is, do the moral implications of a theory, regardless of how true it is, dictate how a society should embrace it?

In other words: is it better to ignore a true theory if it does bad stuff?

[Braces himself for vitriolic expositions on the nature of the words 'truth' and 'better' in the Post Modern world...]

 
At February 16, 2006 9:15 PM, Anonymous John said...

But Darwinian biological theorists remind readers that the discovery of biological bases for destructive human behaviors (such as rape) does not imply social acceptance of such behaviors..."

But of course. The theorists must make the true implications of Darwinism palatable to people like yourself, who hang onto vestiges of religion.

The disclaimer they always put on such controversial material still doesn't change the fact that they see rape as an "irrepressible male impulse" and that women should cover up (maybe with burkas?) and be chaperoned (like the Taliban used to do?). Perhaps they perceive Muslims to be more evolved than we Westerners are.

That is, do the moral implications of a theory, regardless of how true it is, dictate how a society should embrace it?

In other words: is it better to ignore a true theory if it does bad stuff?


Morality is an invention, an artificial construct. "Bad stuff" is different in the mind of each individual; to tell others that something is "bad" or "good" is an attempt to impose your morality on others. If you don't think Christian fundamentalists should do such a thing, what gives you the right to do it?


[Braces himself for vitriolic expositions on the nature of the words 'truth' and 'better' in the Post Modern world...]

Do you consider Hume and Nietzsche to be Post Modernists? More likely, you simply haven't thought through how corrosive the Darwinian "universal acid" truly is, especially on the silly slave morality that you have yet to fully purge from your mind.

 
At February 16, 2006 10:15 PM, Anonymous John said...

As to the supoosed absurdity of using evolutionary theory to defend rape in a courtroom, it already has been used as a legal defense for anti-Semitism and the Holocaust, so I don't think rape would be that much of a stretch.

(URL is http://www.csulb.edu/~kmacd/newtimes.html in case the link doesn't work for some reason).

 
At February 17, 2006 12:55 AM, Blogger Sean said...

John said:

As to the supoosed absurdity of using evolutionary theory to defend rape in a courtroom, it already has been used as a legal defense for anti-Semitism and the Holocaust, so I don't think rape would be that much of a stretch.


According to your article: Though someone tried to use it as a legal defence, they were far from successful.

If someone was to use 'evolution' as defence they'll be laughed out of court. We only need worry when someone is aquitted of rape on the basis of 'evolution.'

 
At February 17, 2006 1:18 AM, Blogger Sean said...

John said:

The theorists must make the true implications of Darwinism palatable to people like yourself, who hang onto vestiges of religion.

Remember how Darwinism isn't a guiding principle for life, and existentialism? "There is no pre-defined essence to humanity, except that which people make for themselves."

Actually, what is your definition of religion?

You have interpreted The scientists suggest that women should take steps to deter irrepressible male impulses by not dressing provocatively or participating in unsupervised dating as that women should cover up (maybe with burkas?) and be chaperoned (like the Taliban used to do?)

Do you think that's a pretty harsh reading of that quote?

If you don't think Christian fundamentalists should do such a thing [impose their morality on others], what gives you the right to do it?

I'm more concerned with Christian fundamentalists imposing their religion on others. i.e. "No one else can save you! Trust Jesus today!"

I'm quite happy to "Do Unto Others..." Call it a weakness ;)

Do you consider Hume and Nietzsche to be Post Modernists? More likely, you simply haven't thought through how corrosive the Darwinian "universal acid" truly is, especially on the silly slave morality that you have yet to fully purge from your mind.

Dude, it was a throw-away comment. Take a breath!

By-the-bye, what's this "silly slave morality" I'm meant to have?

 
At February 17, 2006 10:41 AM, Anonymous John said...

If someone was to use 'evolution' as defence they'll be laughed out of court.

That's only because juries are comprised of people who are mostly uneducated about Darwinian evolution. Once we have succeeded in purging their goofy superstitions with the "universal acid" then they will accept such a defense.


We only need worry when someone is aquitted of rape on the basis of 'evolution.'

Why would we need to worry? Acquittal would mean that the majority of people in that area have finally figured out that Darwin was right. Rape (for lack of a better word) is a natural, irrepressible male urge, so why should we punish anybody for it?


Remember how Darwinism isn't a guiding principle for life, and existentialism?

Only you have claimed this. True Darwinians know better:

--------------------------------
The universe we observe has precisely the properties we should expect if there is, at bottom, no design, no purpose, no evil and no good, nothing but blind, pitiless indifference. - Richard Dawkins

Naturalistic evolution has clear consequences that Charles Darwin understood perfectly. 1) No gods worth having exist; 2) no life after death exists; 3) no ultimate foundation for ethics exists; 4) no ultimate meaning in life exists; and 5) human free will is nonexistent. - William Provine

Thus, there are no moral or ethical laws that belong to the nature of things, no absolute guiding principles for human society... - William Provine
--------------------------------


You have been either ignorant or dishonest when you made your repeated denials. Now that you are no longer ignorant, repeating the denials later will show that you are simply being dishonest.


Actually, what is your definition of religion?

Belief in non-existent beings or entities and/or the rules of behavior dictated by said beings/entities. The Catholicism in which you were raised is the one of the most prevalent examples.


Do you think that's a pretty harsh reading of that quote?

Why would you consider it harsh? It's a valid interpretation. Show me how the interpretation is incorrect.


I'm quite happy to "Do Unto Others..." Call it a weakness ;)

Suit yourself. Just don't tell me that rape, murder, thievery, etc. are "evil" or "bad" or "wrong", because they're not. Nothing is bad, and nothing is good. If this is my personal morality, you don't have any right to say otherwise and thus impose your morality on me.


Dude, it was a throw-away comment. Take a breath!

Your "throw-away comments" show your ignorance of the philosophies and philosophers you supposedly revere. I was merely informing you of your ignorance, since education seems important to you.


By-the-bye, what's this "silly slave morality" I'm meant to have?

If you had bothered to read Nietzsche, then you would know it refers specifically to Christianity and to religion in general.

You have not divested yourself completely from Catholicism's enslavement of your mind, thus you foolishly believe that there is such a thing as objective morality.

 
At February 18, 2006 12:42 AM, Blogger Sean said...

Love all. Play.

If someone was to use 'evolution' as defence they'll be laughed out of court.

That's only because juries are comprised of people who are mostly uneducated about Darwinian evolution. Once we have succeeded in purging their goofy superstitions with the "universal acid" then they will accept such a defense.

Conjecture. Love – One.

We only need worry when someone is aquitted of rape on the basis of 'evolution.'

Why would we need to worry? Acquittal would mean that the majority of people in that area have finally figured out that Darwin was right. Rape (for lack of a better word) is a natural, irrepressible male urge, so why should we punish anybody for it?

Sarcasm! Appeals to referee, but he’s unsure if argument is ironic or not...replay point!

Remember how Darwinism isn't a guiding principle for life, and existentialism?

Only you have claimed this. True Darwinians know better:

--------------------------------
The universe we observe has precisely the properties we should expect if there is, at bottom, no design, no purpose, no evil and no good, nothing but blind, pitiless indifference. - Richard Dawkins

Naturalistic evolution has clear consequences that Charles Darwin understood perfectly. 1) No gods worth having exist; 2) no life after death exists; 3) no ultimate foundation for ethics exists; 4) no ultimate meaning in life exists; and 5) human free will is nonexistent. - William Provine

Thus, there are no moral or ethical laws that belong to the nature of things, no absolute guiding principles for human society... - William Provine
--------------------------------

Selective quoting! Love – Two, game point.

You have been either ignorant or dishonest when you made your repeated denials. Now that you are no longer ignorant, repeating the denials later will show that you are simply being dishonest.

Non sequitur! Love – Three, and game!

Actually, what is your definition of religion?

Belief in non-existent beings or entities and/or the rules of behavior dictated by said beings/entities. The Catholicism in which you were raised is the one of the most prevalent examples.

Concise description. One – Love.

Do you think that's a pretty harsh reading of that quote?

Why would you consider it harsh? It's a valid interpretation. Show me how the interpretation is incorrect.

The interpretation is not incorrect but extreme. One all.

I'm quite happy to "Do Unto Others..." Call it a weakness ;)

Suit yourself. Just don't tell me that rape, murder, thievery, etc. are "evil" or "bad" or "wrong", because they're not. Nothing is bad, and nothing is good. If this is my personal morality, you don't have any right to say otherwise and thus impose your morality on me.

Rhetoric. One – Two. Match point.

Dude, it was a throw-away comment. Take a breath!

Your "throw-away comments" show your ignorance of the philosophies and philosophers you supposedly revere. I was merely informing you of your ignorance, since education seems important to you.

Foul! Hypersensitive...appeals again to the referee...indeterminate...replay point.

By-the-bye, what's this "silly slave morality" I'm meant to have?

If you had bothered to read Nietzsche, then you would know it refers specifically to Christianity and to religion in general.

You have not divested yourself completely from Catholicism's enslavement of your mind, thus you foolishly believe that there is such a thing as objective morality.

Rhetoric! Game and Match!

Another?

 
At February 18, 2006 4:04 PM, Anonymous John said...

You know what's funny, Sean?

You've just knocked down most of the rhetorical nonsense used by nearly all rabid Darwinian fundamentalists.

You've beaten the very same conjecture you've supposedly been supporting the whole time.

You've even disagreed with Dawkins, the very same scientist you initially were defending.

It's amusing to watch you pummel yourself, though. It's cruel of me to enjoy it, possibly, but cruelty is a virtue in Darwin's world.

Use italics with the bold font this time. I want to see blood, not just bruises.

 
At February 18, 2006 5:12 PM, Blogger Sean said...

Just saying things don't make them true.

You've just knocked down most of the rhetorical nonsense used by nearly all rabid Darwinian fundamentalists.

No, I haven't.

You've beaten the very same conjecture you've supposedly been supporting the whole time.

Really? When?

You've even disagreed with Dawkins, the very same scientist you initially were defending.

Uh, no, Dawkins and I still agree with one another. Don't forget the second part of the definition of existential philosophy!

It's amusing to watch you pummel yourself, though. It's cruel of me to enjoy it, possibly, but cruelty is a virtue in Darwin's world.

Ah, but remember Darwinism isn't a guiding principle to life...

Use italics with the bold font this time. I want to see blood, not just bruises.

Using bold was a formatting issue. I would have used a different font if I could, but bold type was all that was left. If you look, I wanted to quote both of us.

What's really funny is that we're both walking away from this thinking we've won: you with your vitriolic arguments, and me with my tongue-in-cheekness that I'm sure you haven't understood. The sad thing about is that no one else is watching.

I tell you what. Posting comments is a real pain in the arse, and I really want to demonstrate how Dawkins and I are congruent. Drop me a line at sean.m.elliott at gmail.com

But we've got to agree to be nice to one another. (And don't start about how that's me pushing my morality on others! ;) )

 
At February 18, 2006 10:59 PM, Anonymous John said...

Just saying things don't make them true.

I agree. How about backing up anything you've written? I've supported most of my claims with quotes and logic. You've simply waved your hands and declared victory.


No, I haven't [knocked down rabid Darwinian rhetorical nonsense].

Really? When [did I beat the very same conjecture I was supporting the whole time]?

You claim to have knocked down my arguments, correct? My arguments are simply Dawkins et al taken to their logical but absurd ends. Reductio ad absurdum.


Uh, no, Dawkins and I still agree with one another. Don't forget the second part of the definition of existential philosophy!

Dawkins: "The universe we observe has precisely the properties we should expect if there is, at bottom, no design, no purpose, no evil and no good, nothing but blind, pitiless indifference."

Quoting your previous definition:
"There is no pre-defined essence to humanity, except that which people make for themselves."

So if I make my "essence" rape, murder, torture, thievery, etc., then I remain within the bounds of existential philosophy. That is my morality.

There is at bottom no evil or good in the universe. Darwin has, according to you, Dawkins, Provine, Kurtz, etc., destroyed the possibility of God or anything else outside of the universe (or metaverse, if you want to get pedantic). Humans are part of the universe. Therefore, it is not possible for there to be good or evil in humans.

This is what you're not smart enough to understand.


Ah, but remember Darwinism isn't a guiding principle to life...

Just saying things don't make them true - Sean, 5:12 PM

More generally it is completely unrealistic to claim, as Gould and many others do, that religion keeps itself away from science's turf, restricting itself to morals and values. - Richard Dawkins

The Darwinian theory is a scientific theory, and a great one, but that is not all it is. The creationists who oppose it so bitterly are right about one thing: Darwin's dangerous idea cuts much deeper into the fabric of our most fundamental beliefs than many of its sophisticated apologists have yet admitted, even to themselves. - Daniel Dennett

Despite its claims to be above society, science, like the Church before it, is a supremely social institution, reflecting and reinforcing the dominant values and views of society at each historical epoch. Sometimes the source in social experience of a scientific theory and the way in which that scientific theory is a direct translation of social experience are completely evident, even at a detailed level. The most famous case is Darwin’s theory of evolution by natural selection. - Richard Lewontin

A God or purposive force that merely starts the universe or works through the laws of nature has nothing to do with human morals, answers no prayers, gives no life everlasting, in fact does nothing whatsoever that is detectable. In other words, religion is compatible with modern evolutionary biology (and indeed all of modern science) if the religion is effectively indistinguishable from atheism. - William Provine

To anyone who adopts this view [Deism] I say, ‘Great, we’re in the same camp [as atheism]; now where do we get our morals if the universe just goes grinding on as it does?’ This kind of God does nothing outside of the laws of nature, gives us no immortality, no foundation for morals, or any of the things that we want from a God and from religion. - William Provine

Nevertheless, I have now come to see that our biological origins do make a difference, and that they can and should be a starting-point for philosophy today. - Michael Ruse

If God does not exist, wherein lies the force of morality? Why should we not do precisely what we please, cheating and lying and stealing, to serve our own ends? Dry answers by philosophers aiming for purely secular answers tended not to convince.

Evolution destroyed the final foundations of traditional belief. To many people, it was evolution that would provide the foundations of a new belief-system... Evolution would lead to a deeper and true understanding of the nature of morality. Thus were born (what are known know as) 'evolutionary epistemology' and 'evolutionary ethics'. - Michael Ruse

Evolution is promoted by its practitioners as more than mere science. Evolution is promulgated as an ideology, a secular religion — a full-fledged alternative to Christianity, with meaning and morality. I am an ardent evolutionist and an ex-Christian, but I must admit that in this one complaint — and Mr. Gish is but one of many to make it — the literalists are absolutely right. Evolution is a religion. This was true of evolution in the beginning, and it is true of evolution still today. - Michael Ruse

My Ctrl-C and Ctrl-V buttons are worn out tonight. - John



What's really funny is that we're both walking away from this thinking we've won: you with your vitriolic arguments, and me with my tongue-in-cheekness that I'm sure you haven't understood.

Sure, I understood your "tongue-in-cheekiness", I just didn't find it humorous. Go over and comment on P.Z. Myers' blog if you want to be humorous about how (in the words of Dawkins) only ignorant, stupid, or insane people can disagree with you. The irony will undoubtably be lost on you.

The sad thing about is that no one else is watching.

It's not stopping you from replying, I noticed.

I tell you what. Posting comments is a real pain in the arse, and I really want to demonstrate how Dawkins and I are congruent. Drop me a line at sean.m.elliott at gmail.com

Email you at sean.m.elliot@gmail.com ? Why would I want to email you at sean.m.elliot@gmail.com if I can't demonstrate how ignorant you are to other people. That's the purpose of commenting on ideologically opposed blogs instead of emailing someone at an email address like sean.m.elliot@gmail.com . If I were to email you at sean.m.elliot@gmail.com , then you might send my email address (formatted much like sean.m.elliot@gmail.com is) to spammers who will keep sending email to me trying to convince me to worship Jesus, or make my penis bigger, or enjoy gay porn, or get a low rate mortgage,
or send money to Nigeria to help a friendly native out of a jam. So no thanks, I think I will not send email to sean.m.elliot@gmail.com .


But we've got to agree to be nice to one another. (And don't start about how that's me pushing my morality on others! ;) )

Nope. Bye!

 
At February 19, 2006 12:08 AM, Blogger Sean said...

Email you at sean.m.elliot@gmail.com ? Why would I want to email you at sean.m.elliot@gmail.com if I can't demonstrate how ignorant you are to other people. That's the purpose of commenting on ideologically opposed blogs instead of emailing someone at an email address like sean.m.elliot@gmail.com . If I were to email you at sean.m.elliot@gmail.com , then you might send my email address (formatted much like sean.m.elliot@gmail.com is) to spammers who will keep sending email to me trying to convince me to worship Jesus, or make my penis bigger, or enjoy gay porn, or get a low rate mortgage,
or send money to Nigeria to help a friendly native out of a jam. So no thanks, I think I will not send email to sean.m.elliot@gmail.com .


Dude. You left a 't' off 'elliott'.

 
At February 19, 2006 6:18 AM, Blogger Sean said...

Are you comfortable? Then I’ll begin.

"...there is no pre-defined essence to humanity, except that which people make for themselves..."

This is the existentialist's dictum, which you could break into two questions: "how did we get here?" and "what should we do now?"

In Dawkin’s case, he asks himself "how did we get here?" and the answer comes "evolution." Then he asks ourselves "what should we do now?"

The answer that you suggest is that we should live the Darwinian way, and, like the animals we are, rape and bonk like there's no tomorrow because that's what it says in our genes.

This is what I call using evolution as a guiding principle to life.

However, evolution is not a guiding principle to life. It is merely the answer to the first question "how did we get here?"

Richard Dawkins also believes this. He is often quoted as saying:

"The universe we observe has precisely the properties we should expect if there is, at bottom, no design, no purpose, no evil and no good, nothing but blind, pitiless indifference."

But this is stating the first part of the existentialist’s dictum: "there is no pre-defined essence to humanity."

He goes on, at length and at pains, to point out that although evolution is how we came to be here, we should not use evolution as a guiding principle to how we live our life or construct society.

For instance, in the Selfish Gene:

"I am not saying how we humans morally ought to behave. I stress this, because I know I am in danger of being misunderstood by those people, all too numerous, who cannot distinguish a statement of belief in what is the case from an advocacy of what ought to be the case. My own feeling is that a human society based simply on the gene's law of universal ruthless selfishness would be a very nasty society in which to live." [Selfish Gene, chapter 1.]

He goes on to say:

"Among animals, man is uniquely dominated by culture, by influences learned and handed down." [Selfish Gene, chapter 1.]

(These both indicate the second part of the existentialist's dictum, though not wholly.)

He talks about how we can beat our 'genetic programming' (my term) in a couple of other chapters in the same book, particularly in chapter 11 on memes (which finishes off "We, alone on earth, can rebel against the tyranny of the selfish replicators") and in particular chapter 13 "The long reach of the gene."

This chapter he has extended into a book called the Extended Phenotype, in which he spends quite a bit of time exploring the 'how' of the second part of the existentialist's dictum "...except that which people make for themselves."

This, to Dawkins, is free will. One of the evolutionists you quoted, William Povine, rejects the existence of free will. As does (I think) Richard Lewontin, but don't quote me on that. The other one, Michael Ruse, I don't know enough about. (I much rather read more and understand them then to just use Google and my Ctrl-C and Ctrl-V buttons.) But they are not the only evolutionary biologists in the world, and there are others in the Dawkins camp.

So, to sum up, Dawkins says we came about through evolution, but what we do from there doesn’t have to be based on evolution.

 
At February 19, 2006 11:12 AM, Anonymous John said...

Dawkins, evolution, blah blah blah

What's really funny is that we're both walking away from this thinking we've won... The sad thing about is that no one else is watching.
Posting comments is a real pain in the arse and I really want to demonstrate how Dawkins and I are congruent. - Sean, 5:12 PM

You'll keep commenting here as long as I want you to. You have no choice in the matter. Your free will is an illusion, as Provine states and Dawkins is either naive or dishonest about. I personally think he is dishonest, much like Dennett. He does want to keep selling books and to be listened to, so much like Darwin before him, he must capitulate to those he perceives as inferior intellects with mealy-mouthed disclaimers.

It amuses me to cause you enough emotional discomfort to keep responding to me. I do not deny my nature, and it thrills me to see you to deny yours and fail in your struggle against it.

Indulge me. Fail again. Let your impulses take control. It's a beautiful, natural, Darwinian thing.


Dude. You left a 't' off 'elliott'.

Whoops! My bad.

I didn't mean to leave a "t" off of sean.m.elliott@gmail.com , because that would have been incorrect, because obviously sean.m.elliott@gmail.com is spelled with two "t"s. Common last name in Montreal, that "Elliott" in
sean.m.elliott@gmail.com is. They have Elliots too, but more Elliotts as in sean.m.elliott@gmail.com .

That's what I get for trying to type sean.m.elliott@gmail.com too quickly, then copying it to the clipboard and pasting it, thus resulting in repeated incorrect email addresses, instead of sean.m.elliott@gmail.com . Thanks! But I'm still not sending email to
sean.m.elliott@gmail.com . However, if I decide to in the future, I sure will remember sean.m.elliott@gmail.com .

 
At February 19, 2006 5:33 PM, Blogger Sean said...

John, the only way I can get any mail to you is through these comments! Drop me a line; we'll do a good job at challenging one another.

That's what this conversation is doing for me: challenging some assumptions, etc. And even though there are time when you act your age, (by-the-bye, did I get your age right?) I actually find this conversation a lot of fun!

So, onto your next challenge:

I personally think he is dishonest, much like Dennett. He does want to keep selling books and to be listened to, so much like Darwin before him, he must capitulate to those he perceives as inferior intellects with mealy-mouthed disclaimers.

I think your being disingenuous to Dawkins. Read some of his work (from cover to cover...not just some choice quotes from Google!) In Selfish Gene:

"...it is perfectly possible to hold that genes exert a statistical influence on human behaviour while at the same time believing that this influence can be modified, overridden or reversed by other influences."

For instance, people use contraception, which is arguably going against the determinism of genes.

What do you think?

 
At February 19, 2006 7:59 PM, Anonymous John said...

I think you failed again.

I made a pizza from scratch tonight. After I raped some children and killed them, that is.

 
At February 19, 2006 8:04 PM, Anonymous John said...

Oh, forgot to mention, they were other people's children, so Darwin won twice - once with your inability to control your impulses and again with my eliminating the offspring of my competitors. I think I'll rape and impregnate their wives to make sure Darwin gets more mad props.

 
At February 19, 2006 8:11 PM, Anonymous John said...

One more thing, did you ask me to email you at sean.m.elliott@gmail.com again? Because I want to make sure I have the right email address, that being sean.m.elliott@gmail.com . Last time I typed it, I got it wrong, but I know the correct one is sean.m.elliott@gmail.com now, so I'm not going to make that same mistake of typing something other than sean.m.elliott@gmail.com again. Two "t"s, yes? That's what sean.m.elliott@gmail.com has in it, unlike the incorrect one. If I embedded that into a webpage, wouldn't be something mailto:sean.m.elliott@gmail.com ? These computer things confuse me sometimes, where I'll put the wrong URL formatting for email addresses like sean.m.elliott@gmail.com .

 

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