Monday, December 01, 2008

The Moral Ape?

The Gazette has an article by Margaret Somerville on research into whether or not apes have ethics. This is her perspective:

Ethics can, however, be linked to a metaphysical base without needing to invoke religious or supernatural features or beliefs - it could be of a secular "human spirit" nature or, as German philosopher Jurgen Habermas describes it, an "ethics of the human species." I propose that ethics necessarily involve some transcendent experience, one that humans can have and animals cannot.

I am not sure I agree. I know some people that are very ethically-driven and yet have no belief in God or any "spirit", whatever. This is more of a "do unto others" sort of ethic and the notion that a community is more important than self. Here, the intellect takes the transcendent role. Those of us that are Christians are convinced that a higher power does, indeed, exist and that we as humans are incapable of acting in the best interest of all and need that higher power to guide us. Clumsily put, but basically "if you believe in me, do as I say." This is, oddly, where I think that the Richard Dawkins and Christopher Hitchens arguments do not hold water. Can you point to religious violence and intolerance? Yes, but you can also point to the Pol Pots of the world. Humans are, at heart, animals. I think that it is a matter of degrees but that, at one point, God made himself aware to us. It is our souls that make us unique. Can't show it empirically but that is where my faith in God leads me. She also says:

And I want to make clear that we can believe in evolution and also believe in God. The dichotomy often made in the media between being "atheist-anti-religion/pro-evolution," on the one hand, and "believer-pro-religion/anti-evolution," on the other, does not reflect reality. Evolution and a belief in God are not, as Richard Dawkins argues, incompatible.

True enough. Read the whole thing.

10 comments:

  1. But that is exactly the problem "Can't show it empirically but that is where my faith in God leads me".

    If you start from that position it is no wonder that you cannot see the logic and the necessity for it.

    And, as far as her last statement, "Evolution and a belief in God are not, as Richard Dawkins argues, incompatible" is concerned, it may be a position to take, as you appear to hold it yourself, it does not make it true.

    They theory of evolution by natural selection doesn't disprove the existence of god, it is impossible to do so.

    What it does do, however, is show that regardless of the truth it is unnecessary to postulate the need for god to explain the existence, variety of life forms and wonder that is the natural world we inhabit.

    For many of us that is good enough until, of course, evidence to the contrary is presented in support of any other theory!

    It's over to you but... "Can't show it empirically but that is where my faith in God leads me".

    I won't hold my breath too long!

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  2. I've been bumming around Christian evolutionist sites for a year or so now. Based on the posting of Atheists and ID/Creationists, I've come to the conclusion that the median Christian evolutionist conducts himself as a gentleman and the median Atheist and ID/Creationist conducts himself as an ass. (Tom, from YECs Anonymous is a conspicuous exception.) Rob Wilcox's post above is exhibit Q.

    Maybe it's sample bias, though. Perhaps it's just the median Atheist or ID/Creationist who posts on a Christian evolutionist blog that conducts himself as an ass. Maybe the guys who just post on their own blogs are amiable enough.

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  3. I have to agree that the median Christian evolutionist is usually a gentleman. I think this is natural since we don't have any friends, both athiests and creationists don't like us. Easier to lash out when you have your support group behind you. Plus, a Christian evolutionist is probably somewhat who has come from the Christian side which means they were convinced by actual evidence which means they are more open minded about exploring other issues and not being defensive.

    I'm not sure I agree though that atheists and creationists will act like asses, nor do I think Rob's comments here are out of line. Recognizing you said "median" but I think both the creationists and the atheists have their gentlemen and they jerks, but I would put the median somewhere on the friendlier side of ass.

    I don't know, anecdotal either way.

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  4. In the end, the whole debate is created between those who believe a thing and then set out to find support for their feeling and those whose beliefs are born out of what they observe time and again to be true.

    I am called an "atheist" by some, not because of what I personally believe about antyhing but rather because of what others believe about me. If you conclude I do not believe as you do, you continue to know very little about what I DO believe in and why. If your approach to knowledge is to seek confirmation of what you already believe versus believing a thing because of what you repeatedly observe, there is no wonder you spend little time fact-finding about those you call "atheists". You have concluded they do not believe as you do and are therefore a waste of time and resource.

    It may surprise you to know that many you might call "atheist" do not feel the same about you. They do not seek confirmation of their beliefs. They do not need to. Their beliefs were confirmed long before they were beliefs.

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  5. Thanks for the comments Rob. You are correct that nothing can disprove or prove the existence of God. That is where faith comes in. Some people have it and some people do not. For those that have it, it is an acceptance of a realm that is not physically describable. That doesn't mean it doesn't exist, just that science has no grasp on it. It may very well be that it does not exist and, as Paul writes in 1 Corinthians 15:19 "If only for this life we have hope in Christ, we are to be pitied more than all men."

    It is, of course, unnecessary to postulate the existence of God and that is certainly true where evolution is concerned. As I wrote in another post, science is what it is. If the evidence points in a particular direction, you go that way. As far as the statement "evolution and a belief in God are not, as Richard Dawkins argues, incompatible" goes, I take that position based on my understanding of the Bible and my understanding of evolution. It is evaluated based on those two things and has been evaluated that way by Kenneth Miller, Francis Collins and some others. We can never know whether or not it is true. Because we believe in God, we take it on faith. Not probably the answer you were hoping for but all I can provide at the moment.

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  6. AMW, I don't have a large sample size and would hate to use P.Z. Myers and Richard Dawkins as role models. I have also quoted Josh Rosenau's blog out in Kansas but he can sometimes be very caustic.

    I have responded to Rob's post because he raises some interesting questions. I trust he will respond in a kind manner.

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  7. Thank you for your comments, Naumadd. I think sometimes we let our understanding of what we call atheism to be tainted by the work of people like Richard Dawkins and Christopher Hitchens. My perspective is that belief is separate from science and you cannot use the latter to support the former. That is why they call it faith. Richard Dawkins scoffs at that perspective suggest that those of us who believe in God have bought a lie. Maybe. Or maybe God exists and he just doesn't realize it. Either way it is faith in one thing or another. You write:

    "It may surprise you to know that many you might call "atheist" do not feel the same about you. They do not seek confirmation of their beliefs. They do not need to. Their beliefs were confirmed long before they were beliefs."

    To what beliefs are you referring?

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  8. Thanks, Pete. Sort of like Frank Zappa said: "Ya ain't got no friends, and all the others, they hate ya." I am not sure that makes us more gentlemanly or not. What ought to make us more gentlemanly is that Christ demands we treat all people respectfully. Your comment that "a Christian evolutionist is probably someone who has come from the Christian side which means they were convinced by actual evidence" reminds me of a proposition someone once made and I can't for the life of me remember who. They asked (to paraphrase): "find me a non-believer in God who is convinced that the earth was created 6 to 10 k years ago, based solely on the evidence." I haven't found one yet.

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  9. Jim & Rob,

    I want to offer a semi-apology for my previous post. It didn't address Rob's statements, and wasn't particularly charitable, either. And Jim, you're right that Rob raises interesting questions. And not all atheists have the temperament of a Meyers or a Dawkins. And Meyers and Dawkins are still worth paying attention to, because they are sharp guys.

    Despite all that, I stand by the correlation I cited above, though I admit it is only through casual observation.

    Naumadd,

    I echo your sentiments on finding confirmation only in what you believe. Unfortunately, it's a well-known cognitive bias that we tend to overweight confirmatory evidence and underweight contradictory evidence. Fighting that internal bias takes a conscious, sometimes exhausting effort.

    And I'm happy to hear what you do believe any time.

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  10. Rob, how long you going to hold your breath?

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