Pharyngula

Francis Collins will be so disappointed

Collins has argued that one piece of evidence for god is the human moral sense, which he claims could not have evolved. I guess we’re going to have to call monkeys our brothers and sisters then, since researchers have found that monkeys have a sense of morality. (Let me guess; he’ll just push the magic moment of ensoulment back another 30 million years.) Furthermore, they have explanations for how altruism could have evolved.

Some researchers believe we could owe our consciences to climate change and, in particular, to a period of intense global warming between 50,000 and 800,000 years ago. The proto-humans living in the forests had to adapt to living on hostile open plains, where they would have been easy prey for formidable predators such as big cats.

This would have forced them to devise rules for hunting in groups and sharing food.

Christopher Boehm, director of the Jane Goodall Research Center, part of the University of Southern California’s anthropology department, believes such humans devised codes to stop bigger, stronger males hogging all the food.

“To ensure fair meat distribution, hunting bands had to gang up physically against alpha males,” he said. This theory has been borne out by studies of contemporary hunter-gatherer tribes.

In research released at the AAAS he argued that under such a system those who broke the rules would have been killed, their “amoral” genes lost to posterity. By contrast, those who abided by the rules would have had many more children.

It’s a little glib and speculative, but it’s enough to shut down the claim that morality couldn’t have evolved.

I also have deep reservations about some of the claims in the article.

Other studies have confirmed that the strength of a person’s conscience depends partly on their genes. Several researchers have shown, for example, that the children of habitual criminals will often become criminals too – even when they have had no contact with their biological parents.

Ugh. Criminality is too flexible and too easily influenced by the environment — strip me of my income and throw me on the streets, and I’ll become a criminal, too, if it keeps me and my family from going hungry. But then, I suppose anyone could claim those are just the genes of my roots in the lower socioeconomic classes.

Comments

  1. #1 SC, OM
    February 16, 2009

    Other studies have confirmed that the strength of a person’s conscience depends partly on their genes. Several researchers have shown, for example, that the children of habitual criminals will often become criminals too – even when they have had no contact with their biological parents.

    Let’s just bring back Cesare Lombroso while we’re at it. Wanton idiocy.

  2. #2 Veltyen
    February 16, 2009

    I wonder if this has anything to do with “Tall Poppy Syndrome”.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tall_poppy_syndrome

    Certainly it seems to me to be linked to Schadenfreude

  3. #3 Slaughter
    February 16, 2009

    “strip me of my income and throw me on the streets, and I’ll become a criminal, too, if it keeps me and my family from going hungry. But then, I suppose anyone could claim those are just the genes of my roots in the lower socioeconomic classes.”

    I wonder what explains Republicans…

  4. #4 www.10ch.org
    February 16, 2009

    Eh… were you supposed to close the quotation?

    Anyways, haven’t people already come up with scientific explanations for altruism?

    Perhaps it is also forgotten that altruism and morality has come about with culture and economy: that is to say, the times. I am sure that, in the medieval ages, the moral sense was different. Morality has been developed to a certain extent, I think.

  5. #5 Jadehawk
    February 16, 2009

    PZ made a blockquote fail! :-p

    anyway, considering the keywords “climate change” “morality” and “distribution”, I predict AG pissing on the thread in 3..2..1..

  6. #6 Blake Stacey
    February 16, 2009

    Failure to close a blockquote tag properly is a sure indication of latent criminal tendencies.

  7. #7 Greg Esres
    February 16, 2009

    but it’s enough to shut down the claim that morality couldn’t have evolved.

    Evidence is going to shut down the creationists?

  8. #8 Jadehawk
    February 16, 2009

    Evidence is going to shut down the creationists?

    leave us our hope against all hope, for it is all we have! ;-)

  9. #9 OLorin
    February 16, 2009

    Not a really new result. And others have argued the evolutionary genesis (so to speak) of human morality. Marc Hauser (“Moral Minds: The Nature of Right and Wrong) argues that we have an innate moral grammar in the same sense as an innate language grammar. Not that it dictates morals, but that it provides a basic framework for learning a bunch of different moral languages determined by culture. Others argue that we have two moral senses—one at an emotional level, the other more rational—and that they can conflict with each other.

    Even algae can exhibit altruism. Big deal.

  10. #10 AG
    February 16, 2009

    *starts pissing*

  11. #11 Menyambal
    February 16, 2009

    PZ made a blockquote fail! :-p

    Blockquote has bee messing up on this blog a lot, lately. I’ve thought I messed up a couple, then checked the page’s source code, and seen that it wasn’t posting exactly what I had put in.

    Yeah, I was feeding bananas to a troop of monkeys, one time, (at Lake Toba in Indonesia) and the big male kept jumping on the smaller monkeys and taking their bananas. I REALLY wanted to kick the shit out of him.

  12. #12 SC, OM
    February 16, 2009

    Were these proto-humans also proto-monkeys?

  13. #13 Wowbagger
    February 16, 2009

    Makes me think of this:

    Burns: Absolutely! Who could forget such a monstrous visage? She has the sloping brow and cranial bumpage of the career criminal.
    Smithers: Uh, Sir? Phrenology was dismissed as quackery 160 years ago.
    Burns: Of course you’d say that…you have the brainpan of a stagecoach tilter!

  14. #14 a lurker
    February 16, 2009

    Evidence of morality in non-humans?

    Quick, someone post an “Old news is so exciting” graphic.
    :-)

  15. #15 SC, OM
    February 16, 2009

    Evidence of morality in non-humans?

    Quick, someone post an “Old news is so exciting” graphic.

    I will NOT link to Kropotkin.
    I will NOT link to Kropotkin.
    I will NOT link to Kropotkin.

  16. #16 J Myers
    February 16, 2009

    the claim that morality couldn’t have evolved

    This is a stupid claim to begin with. Can’t we dismiss it for that reason?

  17. #17 Chris Nowak
    February 16, 2009

    To an extent, everything about a person is genetic to a degree and everything is environmental to a degree. If two people with different genes were placed in the exact same situation where they had to have a conscience, I bet to a degree their decision would be affected by their genetic predispositions. Really though, a conscience is such a complex concept that I doubt there is something as simple as a “conscience gene”. It’s like saying there’s a “decisiveness” gene or some other fairly nebulous concept that really only matters in a particular context.

  18. #18 eddie
    February 16, 2009

    I thought that we sorted this in the SCM thread a few posts ago.
    Them early hominids as didn’t co-operate with their group, in hunting and defending against predators, got eaten.
    OT but I finally saw Religulous this evening, at the Glasgow Film Festival. Every bit as awesome as you guys said, ta. I was intrigued at part of the jesus experience when a woman ran screaming across the back of shot. I don’t think she was in character.

  19. #19 Crystal D.
    February 16, 2009

    But this is almost going to shut up Soul Man and White Horse, my two favorite live christian trolls (the live ones actually follow us around in person).

  20. #20 uray
    February 16, 2009

    Change the “confirmed” to “suggested” in the second part and then I wouldn’t have a problem with it.

  21. #21 Bobber
    February 16, 2009

    The article was interesting, but I do wonder why the mention of a possible genetic predisposition toward criminality was made at all. I also note that the article didn’t provide a reference to any of the studies the authors claim make the case for such.

    Divorcing human behavior (let alone chimp behavior) from social dynamics just won’t make for an accurate picture of the subject. It’s a variation on the “nature vs. nurture” debate. Are people “born” criminals? You must first define what a “criminal” is – and it isn’t as easy as one might think. Dahmer was a criminal. So was the fictitious Jean Valjean. There are moral distinctions to be made between them. If they mean to reference violent behavior, they need to say that. If they mean a predelection for thievery, they need to say that, too. And even so: if I have no job, a starving family, and a crowbar, and I make the claim that I would steal bread from a bakery in those circumstances, does that make me a “criminal”?

    I am always put off by how the word criminal is almost always used if the malefactor wears jeans, but not Armani suits. Do people who study genetic predispositions to criminality include white collar thieves in their surveys?

    Ugh. There’s far too much wrong with such thinking.

  22. #22 Holbach
    February 16, 2009

    Evidence for god is evidence that the human brain thinks there is evidence for a god, even when there is no evidence. Hey, makes sense to me. You can unscramble gobbledegook and scramble it back into crap and you will still have no evidence for a god. Why don’t they just give up and write it off as if it were nothing, which it certainly is. Nothing is no evidence. Morons.

  23. #23 SC, OM
    February 16, 2009

    Ugh. Criminality is too flexible and too easily influenced by the environment ? strip me of my income and throw me on the streets, and I’ll become a criminal, too, if it keeps me and my family from going hungry.

    And throwing people in the streets to starve is contrary to our “monkey morality,” which didn’t evolve in a regime of private property, so who has the criminal genes in that scenario? Crime (having sex with children, drug use, acts of violence, prostitution, theft, collective action,…) is socially defined, and these definitions vary across time and space. The idea of a “crime gene” is absurd.

  24. #24 ba
    February 16, 2009

    It seems obvious that altruism could (in fact, did) evolve, but this raises an interesting issue. Here’s a thought experiment: assume that morality evolved for the reason given, i.e., rule-breakers were killed and so amoral genes were lost to posterity. If morality evolved because it promotes reproduction, does that mean there is nothing wrong with choosing to be amoral? For comparison, human sexual organs evolved in such-and-such a way because they promote reproduction, but there is nothing wrong with choosing to use your sexual organs for purposes other than reproduction (just to pick an example that that drives creationists nuts). It certainly seems that there is a difference between choosing to be amoral and choosing to have sex for recreational purposes. But what’s the difference?

  25. #25 SteveC
    February 16, 2009

    Somebody needs to tell Christopher Hitchens about this — that morality is rather easily explainable by evolution, and what that explanation looks like.

    See this debate:
    http://debunkingchristianity.blogspot.com/2009/02/christopher-hitchens-v-frank-turek.html
    (Heads up, it’s quite long.)

    He does alright until he gets asked where morality comes from over and over and fails to give a response that doesn’t suck, when it should have been easy.

  26. #26 Kel
    February 16, 2009

    I thought this issue was resolved decades ago, when they first applied game theory to social behaviour. Once you have an environment permitting cooperation as a superior strategy, surely it’s an inevitability that social creatures will emerge and that social bonding will be hard-wired into the creature.

  27. #27 'Tis Himself
    February 16, 2009

    Other studies have confirmed that the strength of a person’s conscience depends partly on their genes. Several researchers have shown, for example, that the children of habitual criminals will often become criminals too – even when they have had no contact with their biological parents.

    To say this supposition has been confirmed is too strong. It has been asserted many times for centuries, but confirmation, i.e., convincing evidence, has not been achieved.

    For example, what is a “habitual criminal”? Are we to assume that if Daddy was an axe murderer then Sonny will also be one? How about if illiterate Daddy is a petty thief living in a slum with an illiterate child? How about if Daddy is a political dissident?

  28. #28 AnthonyK
    February 16, 2009

    I think you’ll find that it was only the religious monkeys which demonstrated morality.

  29. #29 SC, OM
    February 16, 2009

    You know, Bobber, I wouldn’t have encouraged you to start posting more if I had known you would be beating me to the punch.
    ;)

  30. #30 QrazyQat
    February 16, 2009

    Morality involves deciding what is good or not. It’s not simply handed down in an unchangeable form from either religions or from an evolutionary past. Thinking that it is is an error both religious people and behavioral evolution fans often make. It’s not a mistake that needs to be made. People should try to stop making it. No matter how it arose (and I always thought Kropotkin’s book was interesting, sensible at root, and fascinating because it was so early in evolutionary studies) it depends on us deciding what we think is moral.

    This is something many people seem to find upsetting, as is the fact that what is considered moral varies both in the present day and from the past to the present day. The idea that we have to think about what we think is good, what is moral, shouldn’t be, IMO, upsetting.

  31. #31 AnthonyK
    February 16, 2009

    Seriously, having worked with young criminal primates, it seems to be that most of them become criminal because it’s in the world they grow into. It’s exciting, it’s all around them, and why not?
    Have you got a good reason not to nick things from shops? Puff a bit of wacky backy? Get into a stolen car? Oh, and weapons? Well…duh.
    Heartbreakingly easy.

  32. #32 Mena
    February 16, 2009

    If we didn’t have good American Christians, we wouldn’t have these fine values:
    http://halturnershow.blogspot.com/2009/01/judge-moment-of-silence-is.html
    Check out the rest of the guy’s blog if you want to see something really chilling:
    http://halturnershow.blogspot.com/

  33. #33 Bobber
    February 16, 2009

    SC:

    You know, Bobber, I wouldn’t have encouraged you to start posting more if I had known you would be beating me to the punch.

    Well, you’ve got two things going for you:

    (a) You’re smarter than I am.
    (b) Your writing is clear, coherent, and to the point.

    Whereas I am not as smart, and my writing is an a(ttention)d(deficit)d(isorder)led ramble. Not sure that speed compensates for murkiness! : )

  34. #34 Jadehawk
    February 16, 2009

    hmm, indeed “criminality” is a ridiculous concept for such a study; a potsmoker is a criminal, but a televangelist isn’t. maybe some well-defined form of “sociopathy”(as opposed to social empathy) would be more useful.

  35. #35 AnthonyK
    February 16, 2009

    Oh Mena, that is horrible. Truly “the devil lurks behind the cross”!

  36. #36 Engywook21
    February 16, 2009

    I was excited to see this post and read the article. I wrote my undergrad senior thesis in religious studies on the evolution of morality (my underhanded way of making a stab at the ridiculousness of religious superiority and authority while being fully immersed in the program. I actually solidified my atheism while working on this thesis) and looked mostly at the moral sense in different animals, mainly apes and bonobos. I was excited to see Frans De Waal’s contribution to the article because I used a lot of his work. I also looked at Goodall’s work and Baraba King’s (another primatologist). There’s also a lot of work done in regards to the game theory and Robert Axelrod’s tit-for-tat theory that help to explain the evolution of reciprocity in humans. Such fascinating stuff so I’m glad to see others recognizing it and continuing to research it!!

  37. #37 Menyambal
    February 16, 2009

    Hmm. Over on CNN . . .

    Police shoot, kill chimp that attacked woman.

    Was Darwin a Buddhist?

  38. #38 Holbach
    February 16, 2009

    SteveC @ 25

    I have watched that debate three times and am disappointed that Hitchens was not as forceful as he should have been. Hell, he should have called Turek on the title of his crap book, in using the word “faith” when describing atheists. Atheists don’t have faith, moron, so knock off with the coy crap and stick your faith where it should rightly go.

  39. #39 Bobber
    February 16, 2009

    Jadehawk said:

    hmm, indeed “criminality” is a ridiculous concept for such a study; a potsmoker is a criminal, but a televangelist isn’t. maybe some well-defined form of “sociopathy”(as opposed to social empathy) would be more useful.

    Unfortunately, the label of criminal is all too often used by those who control our legal, political, and media establishments to define what is inimical to their interests. For instance, we don’t differentiate between thieves by the reason for their theft – the guy who steals something because he wants to get cash for a cool car is in a different moral place than the guy who steals something because his kid needs an operation he can’t afford. But the propertied class sees theft of ANY property as a threat to their idea of the social order, and so a thief is a thief is a thief.

    I know I’m running off on a tangent here, but the last paragraph of that article touched a nerve, and I’ve been reading too much of Africangenesis and Walton today (not meaning to equate the two, mind you).

  40. #40 Steve Caldwell
    February 16, 2009

    “Criminality is too flexible and too easily influenced by the environment ? strip me of my income and throw me on the streets, and I’ll become a criminal, too, if it keeps me and my family from going hungry. But then, I suppose anyone could claim those are just the genes of my roots in the lower socioeconomic classes.”

    Criminality isn’t confined to just one economic class.

    There are plenty of folks who are willing to break societal rules who are not poor (e.g. Enron’s Ken Lay and other white-collar criminals, speed limit violators in all economic classes, folks who engage in illegal sharing of copyright-protected music who are generally not poor because they have computers and broadband internet, etc).

    Most of the non-poor folks who do these acts are operating at Kohlberg’s “Level 1 Pre-Conventional” stage of moral development – rather than worrying about the society’s reasons for rules or universal ethical concerns, the ethical concern at this ethical stage is simply not getting caught (“obedience and punishment orientation”).

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kohlberg%27s_stages_of_moral_development

  41. #41 'Tis Himself
    February 16, 2009

    Bobber,

    Not only is the motivation for crime not considered, but what is a crime in one particular place at one particular time varies. Homosexuality was a crime in Victorian Britain but is not a crime in present day Britain. Heresy was a crime in colonial Massachusetts (Roger Williams fled to Rhode Island because he was a heretic) but not in present day Massachusetts. Therefore the concept of crime has a certain fluidity.

  42. #42 Jadehawk
    February 16, 2009

    Unfortunately, the label of criminal is all too often used by those who control our legal, political, and media establishments to define what is inimical to their interests. For instance, we don’t differentiate between thieves by the reason for their theft – the guy who steals something because he wants to get cash for a cool car is in a different moral place than the guy who steals something because his kid needs an operation he can’t afford. But the propertied class sees theft of ANY property as a threat to their idea of the social order, and so a thief is a thief is a thief.

    actually sometimes it’s even worse than that in praxis (and in people’s minds). when a rich kids steals something, it’s a prank. when a poor kid steals something it’s a crime. this is why i thought criminality was a stupid term to us in the article

  43. #43 charley
    February 16, 2009

    Mena @ 33

    I think that guy should be reported to the appropriate authorities. He is clearly threatening violence in his 2/16, 2/14 and 2/13 posts.

  44. #44 Bobber
    February 16, 2009

    ‘Tis Himself:

    Spot on. Which lends credence to the idea that morality itself evolves – because we know from history that concepts of what is right and what is wrong can change. I just wish that our notions of criminality would have less to do with the color of a person’s skin, or his or her economic background, and more to do with the overall negative impact of the person’s actions on society. Say, instead of Willy Horton commercials, why weren’t we seeing video images of Ken Lay, who Steve Caldwell referenced above? Have we been conditioned to think of “white collar” crime in a different way than we do individual, more violent crimes? And why can’t we expand our definition of violence to include policies that lead to, say, the disenfranchisement of voters, or to the deaths of hundreds or thousands due to willful neglect (i.e., New Orleans)?

    And why am I not having a beer while musing thus? : )

  45. #45 'Tis Himself
    February 16, 2009

    a period of intense global warming between 50,000 and 800,000 years ago.

    Something is wrong with these numbers (PZ accurately quoted them from the original).

  46. #46 Keanus
    February 16, 2009

    Dawkins in The God Delusion devotes a chapter to morality, ethics, altruism and being “good,” constructing quite a nice argument for all being derivatives either directly or as byproducts of evolution.

  47. #47 Patricia, OM
    February 16, 2009

    I too was disappointed in Hitchens in that debate. He just wasn’t on his game.

    These god experiences christians keep droning on about have been solved. V.S. Ramachandran explained the issue at the 2006 Beyond Belief meeting. Why more people don’t cite his work in these debates, and articles is puzzling.

  48. #48 Aquaria
    February 16, 2009

    ctually sometimes it’s even worse than that in praxis (and in people’s minds). when a rich kids steals something, it’s a prank. when a poor kid steals something it’s a crime. this is why i thought criminality was a stupid term to us in the article

    And it gets worse than that even.

    Why do you suppose the guy who steals a TV gets 5-10 years in the state pen, but the guy who embezzles 800K gets 2 years at a Club Med type of jail?

  49. #49 Julian
    February 16, 2009

    All social animals are “moral” in the sense that they have a set of rules, mostly learned through interaction with other individuals, which govern how they relate to each other, and an innate ability to be affected by the physical and emotional state of their fellows. Even cats, who are social in a way almost alien to humans due to their role as predators, will mourn the death of another cat they are close to, and work to defend kittens within their colony even if they aren’t their own. In fact, as most vets and all animal behaviorists will tell you, cats allowed to detach from their mother naturally and raised with other cats of the same age will be less likely to misbehave. What other explanation for this can there be than that cats, to a point, learn what sorts of actions are and are not proper through their interactions with each other?

  50. #50 Jadehawk
    February 16, 2009

    oh and one more note on the unevenness of the “crime” concept: stealing a little money is generally punished harder than stealing a lot of money (just like murder is more likely to get punished than genocide). something about the abstract-ness of large numbers seems to numb us to the reality of large-scale crimes

  51. #51 Donnie B.
    February 16, 2009

    A recent article in Science News reported on an experiment that demonstrated that dogs have a sense of fairness.

    So do dogs have souls too?

  52. #52 Jadehawk
    February 16, 2009

    damn you aquaria for making my point for me. now i look silly for not refreshing before posting again :-p

  53. #53 Aquaria
    February 16, 2009

    Jadehawk: Hey, I had my usual quote fail, so we’re even. :)

  54. #54 nick nick bobick
    February 16, 2009

    I for one could not care less about any research on whether morality evolved. Most of the research seems to be done social scientists and philosophers and thus takes it out of the realm of pure science. Doesn’t this then lead us back into (possibly dangerous) “social darwinism” ways of thinking? And this is from someone who majored in Soc Sci as an undergraduate.

    My thoughts are that it is much easier to prove that morality and ethics are social constructs that come with group living and advance with civilization. This idea also defies the theistic claim that morality is god-given.

  55. #55 NewEnglandBob
    February 16, 2009

    Evidence of morality in non-humans…

    I do not see evidence of morality in most humans.

  56. #56 Janine, Ignorant Slut
    February 16, 2009

    Posted by: SC, OM | February 16, 2009

    Evidence of morality in non-humans?

    Quick, someone post an “Old news is so exciting” graphic.

    I will NOT link to Kropotkin.
    I will NOT link to Kropotkin.
    I will NOT link to Kropotkin.

    You know that you want to get every one to read The Conquest Of Bread.

  57. #57 John Phillips, FCD
    February 16, 2009

    @Tis Himself, forget the Victorian era, male homosexuality was only partially decriminalised in 1967 and was only finally made equal with heterosexual legislation, i.e. allowing sex between consenting 16 year olds irrespective of gender, in 2000. Additionally, it wasn’t until 2003 that buggery and sex between more than two men were removed from the statute books.

  58. #58 Jerome Haagen-Dazs
    February 16, 2009

    Ted Evans did similar experiments with capuchin monkeys for his thesis in 2003 (video illustrating the experiments):

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aAFQ5kUHPkY

    Then there was that one with dogs last year.

  59. #59 Blue Fielder
    February 16, 2009

    Mena @ #32: You mean the possible stealth FBI agent who got his ass handed to him by a sector of Anonymous? No thanks, I already know the story.

  60. #60 Lynn
    February 16, 2009

    Even animals, esp non-human primates, can learn, so the idea of “amoral genes”/”moral genes” has a pretty steep burden of proof ahead of it, just like “selfish genes.” We humans & animals are not quite as stupid as sociobiologists (genes determine all, or are the main determinant) make us out to be.

    Regarding criminality, considering that the rich harm and kill far more people than the poor…..well, I’d say criminality is pretty much evenly distributed throughout a society (tho societies differ in levels of criminality, so culture is pretty much a big factor; and I understand nonhuman primate troops also differ in levels of altruism).

    My own assumption is that the human condition includes psychological, social, cultural, biological, and environmental dimensions, which totally interpentrate the whole, so that we can only analytically separate them out — in reality they all contribute to our behavior, good & bad, and no single one of them is the ultimate determinant. And to the extent that some advanced non-human primates may have developed a code of conduct, which some violate, they could be considered moral. It’s just that human language (beyond other communication systems) makes things like lying & deceiving a lot easier. Apparently Koko the gorilla picked up lying all on her own.

  61. #61 Jadehawk
    February 16, 2009

    My thoughts are that it is much easier to prove that morality and ethics are social constructs that come with group living and advance with civilization. This idea also defies the theistic claim that morality is god-given.

    just because it makes for an easier explanation, doesn’t make it the right one, even if it serves the purpose of telling creationists to shove it just as well. besides, science has refuted that kind of tabula rasa a while ago.

    and I’m not touching the “pure science” comment with a 10 foot pole…

  62. #62 Chris Nowak
    February 16, 2009

    Also, maybe this is simplistic, but doesn’t morality make sense just from survival of the species? I would think that not all our instincts are centered around individuals prospering…it seems logical that those species that are most likely to survive over time are the ones that have the instinct to help others of their kind.

    Also, forming communities and working together and specializing was a pretty key turning point in human history…one that allowed for the discovery of agriculture which was key to the past 10 thousand years or so of history where we have seen insanely rapid technological development.

  63. #63 Pierce R. Butler
    February 16, 2009

    … the human moral sense, which he claims could not have evolved.

    I’ve only breezed through the edges of the process of raising children, but somehow acquired the distinct impression that “the human moral sense” is mostly the result of long years of dedicated teaching by parents & extended family to overcome innate selfishness and greed.

  64. #64 nick nick bobick
    February 16, 2009

    In the hour since my earlier post I have visited Jerry Coyne’s blog where he directed me to a review of his book _Why evolution is true_. A quote in the review does a better job of saying what I was trying to state than I did:

    “In Why Evolution is True, the American evolutionist Jerry Coyne deplores the tendency of psychologists, biologists and philosophers to Darwinise every aspect of human behaviour. Some behaviour may have evolved because it is adaptationist, he acknowledges: but not everything in nature, or human nature, is driven by Darwin’s evolutionary engine. Social Darwinism may be dead, but psychological Darwinism is now staking its claim.”

  65. #65 Jadehawk
    February 16, 2009

    Pierce… not to opine on something I haven’t experienced personally, but speech/language, while something that needs to be trained and learned, is still an ability with which we’re born. I’d say morality is very much in the same department (plus, very young kids aren’t even able to tell that others are actually people like themselves; that develops with time), so that the same way you have to teach kids to speak your language, you have to teach kids your morals.

  66. #66 Ben
    February 16, 2009

    Honestly, I can’t see the problem with anti-social behaviour having a genetic component? What’s the big deal?

    Twin studies have shown that there’s a definite genetic component in people’s personalities. Risk taking and political veiws have been shown to have a genetic component as well.

    As long as people don’t get confused between having a predisposition and genetic determinism there’s no issue.

  67. #67 Holbach
    February 16, 2009

    Patricia,OM @ 47

    Agree with you on V S Ramchandran giving an excellent presentation on the god thing in the brain at the Beyond Belief, November 5, 2006, the first and best of the series. I have The Science Network as a “favorite” and watch it several times a month. I still think this is the best, as the speakers are our kind of people and do their best in explaining the idiocy of the god thing. Those religious idiots, Joan Roughgarden, Francisco Ayala, and that moron from the Templeton should not have been admitted to that presentation. It was supposed to be a science thing, not a puking on religious crap. Really pissed me off to hear those three idiots and a few others talking about their god in the context of science. Freaking insane bullshit, er, I mean “bible”. I am going to get the DVD set of the series, as it is great science and well worth watching over and over.

  68. #68 Pikemann Urge
    February 17, 2009

    Meh. Well that was one of Collins’ poorer moments I guess – seems like apologetics, not philosophy. It seems like old news to me anyway and I don’t really watch this stuff on a day-to-day basis.

  69. #69 Ryk
    February 17, 2009

    This one seems so obvious as to be silly. I find it hard to believe that there are people who believe morality couldn’t have evolved. Why not? Wolves have a moral code, it is different than ours but it exists and can be observed in wolf packs that have never encountered each other. Ants have a moral code so do bees. These “moral codes” are called instincts. A set of behavior patterns which help a being function in a community ARE survival traits and will therefore develop and be passed on. If a species like man survives best as a community then traits such as cooperation, compassion and generosity which contribute to community survival will be retained. Behaviors like theft, murder, and betrayal will be discouraged. Our conscience is nothing more than our instincts identifying non survival behavior. Some may note that among other species community traits are not emphasized in the alpha males who are the most likely to breed. This is often true. However it is not only the males who pass on genetic traits, females are noted for such traits and they pass them on to both male and female offspring. The alpha male passes on traits of independence, leadership, and aggression which are useful in defending the tribe. Females pass on the traits which allow the tribe to function. Among modern humans where Alpha/Beta and Male/Female roles are less heavily determinative, individuals of either gender can exemplify both “civilized” and “aggressive” traits and have instincts for either.

  70. #70 Africangenesis
    February 17, 2009

    What working definitions of morality have been used in scientific studies? Is a mother bear preventing the murder of her cubs by a male acting morally, perhaps enforcing a “rule” against murder? Is a meerkat alpha female who forces out other females who dare to get pregnant enforcing morality? Are females in the group who voluntarily avoid breeding acting morally? Is a meerkat babysitter that protects one of the young from being too heavily picked upon engaged in morality? Is a meerkat that sounds a predator alarm at the risk of drawing attention to itself acting morally? Are chimpazee males who show proper deference to the alpha male acting morally? Are chimpanzee males who cooperate in defending the territory by killing a lone intruder chimp acting morally? Are chimpazees who cooperate to gradually kill off a competing group acting morally?

  71. #71 Jafafa Hots
    February 17, 2009

    My mother visited once, and brought with her her male and female cat and their kittens.

    The father cat had been badly abused as a kitten and was therefore afraid of most people and new situations.

    He immediately hid under a sofa in the basement where the cats were placed. On the other side of the room, my mother fed the mama cat and her 7 kittens some canned cat food. As the kittens gorged themselves, the mama cat, before eating herself, took a huge clump of food in her mouth and took it across the room to where Smokey, the frighted papa cat, was hiding, and put in in front of him under the couch.

    She somehow knew he was too scared to come out to eat, and took him food. That was definitely an “awwwwwww!” moment.

  72. #72 windy
    February 17, 2009

    Some researchers believe we could owe our consciences to climate change and, in particular, to a period of intense global warming between 50,000 and 800,000 years ago. The proto-humans living in the forests had to adapt to living on hostile open plains, where they would have been easy prey for formidable predators such as big cats.

    This part was weird. First of all the global increase in grasslands happened long before that, in the Pliocene, and is generally attributed to global COOLING. Second of all what “intense period of global warming” is supposed to have happened 800,000-50,000 years ago? One of the interglacials?

  73. #73 Lotharloo
    February 17, 2009

    @Patricia:

    Ramachandran explained the issue at the 2006 Beyond Belief meeting. Why more people don’t cite his work in these debates, and articles is puzzling.

    I completely agree. Neurology kills religion faster than evolution. Once you prove soul and personal experiences are delusions the question of whether a deistic god exists becomes irrelevant.

  74. #74 michel
    February 17, 2009

    @ kel #26

    I thought this issue was resolved decades ago, when they first applied game theory to social behaviour.

    if i understand it correctly, game theory claims that humans could best be as selfish and suspicious of others as possible. it failed miserably to explain actual behaviour, but it was/is still widely used to base policy on. the cold war is a good example.

  75. #75 Walton
    February 17, 2009

    Re the definition of “criminality”, perhaps the distinction between malo in se and malum prohibitum (long recognised by legal theorists) is helpful here? The former refers to those activities which are inherently wrong and are prohibited in all legal systems, usually because they deprive another person of his bodily security or property (assault, rape, murder, theft, etc.), whereas the latter describes those activities which are not necessarily inherently wrong in themselves, but are prohibited by a particular State for reasons of public policy (smoking cannabis, drinking alcohol, owning guns, parking on a double yellow line, etc.). Whereas most human beings (other than total sociopaths) know on some level that murder, rape and theft are morally wrong – and so most of us would not do these things even without the threat of legal sanction – the same does not apply to activities such as smoking pot or owning a handgun.

    For instance, I don’t view drinking alcohol as morally wrong, and in my own country I drink from time to time; but when I visited the United States this summer, it would have been illegal for me to consume alcohol (I’m 19, so over the UK drinking age but under the US one), so I refrained from doing so, not because I agree with US law but because I feared its sanctions.

  76. #76 Kel
    February 17, 2009

    if i understand it correctly, game theory claims that humans could best be as selfish and suspicious of others as possible. it failed miserably to explain actual behaviour, but it was/is still widely used to base policy on. the cold war is a good example.

    Nope, it showed quite clearly on repeated experiments that reciprocal altruism (tit-for-tat) was the most dominant strategy. And it’s a strategy we see all through nature too. Dawkins has a doco on it, called Nice Guys Finish First. It’s on Google Video.

  77. #77 michel
    February 17, 2009

    ah, *that* francis collins… (from wikipedia):

    But if your mind is open about whether God might exist, you can point to aspects of the universe that are consistent with that conclusion.

    if your mind is open to ufo’s, you can point….

    can it get any weaker?

  78. #78 SC, OM
    February 17, 2009

    Morality involves deciding what is good or not. It’s not simply handed down in an unchangeable form from either religions or from an evolutionary past…No matter how it arose (and I always thought Kropotkin’s book was interesting, sensible at root, and fascinating because it was so early in evolutionary studies) it depends on us deciding what we think is moral.

    And that’s why Kropotkin wrote a follow-up (was finishing when he died) – Ethics: Origins and Development.
    :)

    ***

    BTW, this interview with Austin Dacey on the subject is interesting:

    http://www.pointofinquiry.org/austin_dacey_moral_values_after_darwin/

  79. #79 Ryk
    February 17, 2009

    Africangenesis: I would say that the examples you gave all show animals acting morally. If meerkats had a religion (which for all I know they might) it would probably enshrine the reproductive rights of the dominant female. It would praise the sexual morality of submissive females who righteously avoided sinful mating, and the meerkat god would surely demand exile for those wicked females who immorally mated out of turn. The proverbs of the meerkats would extol the virtues of the kindly babysitter and the vigilant alarm giver. Looking at it from this perspective it sounds like a perfectly good moral code and for meerkats it is because they evolved it. Just like humanity evolved ours. I wonder if a meerkat who was too cowardly to sound the alarm would be troubled by his conscience.

  80. #80 SC, OM
    February 17, 2009

    The former refers to those activities which are inherently wrong and are prohibited in all legal systems, usually because they deprive another person of his bodily security or property (assault, rape, murder, theft, etc.),

    Do they offer anthropology, sociology, or history classes at Oxford? Those focusing on crime, law, and deviance, for instance? Will you please fucking take one and stop lecturing from ignorance here?

  81. #81 Jadehawk
    February 17, 2009

    Damn you SC for putting things on my reading list that my library doesn’t have. I know The Conquest of Bread is part of the Gutenberg Project, but I can’t read books on the computer, and I’d feel guilty for printing it out…

  82. #82 Jadehawk
    February 17, 2009

    matter of factly, this entire state doesn’t seem to own a copy… alright then :-/

  83. #83 melior
    February 17, 2009

    Everything on Gutenberg Project is public domain and royalty free. There’s no reason in this regard to feel any guilt (unless you’re worried about killing trees).

  84. #84 Jadehawk
    February 17, 2009

    yeah, it’s the amount of paper that worries me. that’s a good +200 pages right there. guess i’ll be reading it in really tiny bits and pieces.

  85. #85 MH
    February 17, 2009

    Jadehawk #50 wrote: “…something about the abstract-ness of large numbers seems to numb us to the reality of large-scale crimes”.

    Eddie Izzard puts it perfectly:

    Pol Pot killed 1.7 million people. We can?t even deal with that! You know, we think if somebody kills someone, that?s murder, you go to prison. You kill 10 people, you go to Texas, they hit you with a brick, that?s what they do. 20 people, you go to a hospital, they look through a small window at you forever. And over that, we can?t deal with it, you know? Someone?s killed 100,000 people. We?re almost going, “Well done! You killed 100,000 people? You must get up very early in the morning. I can?t even get down the gym! Your diary must look odd: ?Get up in the morning, death, death, death, death, death, death, death ? lunch- death, death, death – afternoon tea – death, death, death – quick shower?

  86. #86 MacNTosh
    February 17, 2009

    There’s quite a bit of discussion of the evolution of the human ability to live in large non-family groups in “Before the Dawn: Recovering the Lost History of Our Ancestors” by Nicholas Wade. It’s quite an interesting book about what recent genetic discoveries can tell us about how humans evolved while changing from hunter gatherers to city dwellers.

    Recently there was some research that showed that dogs also understand fairness. Vampire bats practice altruism and chimpanzees indulge in warfare. The idea that humans are so very different from other animals is just religious arrogance.

  87. #87 ConcernedJoe
    February 17, 2009

    Morality driven by religion (by god through their “word of gawd” books and preachers) basically is either of the Pre-Classical (laws meant to entrap and enslave a population – e.g., attend mass every Sunday or go to Hell) or of the Classical (do or avoid this because it is in your Rational best interest – e.g., avoid adultery and avoid being stoned to death by anger mobs – as well as the Hell fire). Even its most positive forms are so Classical or Pre-Classical in nature. They are so obviously rules established by people to control people or maintain order or health as they understood it.

    Most non-law (non-government or non-religion) morality is so obliviously evolved from our need to be empathic (feeling another member’s pain vicariously so we than could avoid the pain situation without experiencing it for real, or sensing what one was thinking so quite for hunting or avoid being hunted maintained, etc.), and for our need to work together defeat stronger more dominant species or environmental situations.

    All so bloody obvious and explored rather extensively and basically confirmed in legitimate scientific works.

    Religionists — those incapable of admitting to the obvious and real when it conflicts with their superstition.

  88. #88 Walton
    February 17, 2009

    MH at #85: I think the frequently-cited words of Stalin sum it up adequately. A single death is a tragedy; a million deaths is a statistic.

    I would suggeste, though, that the only real difference between a mass-murderer like Ted Bundy or Jeffrey Dahmer, and a mass-murderer on the scale of Hitler, Stalin or Pol Pot, is one of power; since the latter three were born in circumstances where they were able to take control of the State, they were able to kill on a much larger scale. But the sociopathic psychology and sheer evil is exactly the same.

  89. #89 David Marjanovi?, OM
    February 17, 2009

    What comment 72 says. Cooling, not warming, makes the world drier, because it decreases evaporation and therefore precipitation, and because it increases the percentage of precipitation that ends up in glaciers and stays there.

    In the time of Titanoboa, there were no deserts on this planet, because it was too warm.

  90. #90 AndrewC
    February 17, 2009

    This assumes the proper morality is altruism. Philosophy first with morality, and with most anything. Check your premises.

  91. #91 Matt Heath
    February 17, 2009

    Lynn@60:

    Even animals, esp non-human primates, can learn, so the idea of “amoral genes”/”moral genes” has a pretty steep burden of proof ahead of it, just like “selfish genes.”

    Oh those last four words, like the thirteenth toll of clock bell, removing all credibility from what went before!

    “The Selfish Gene” was, in retrospect, a crappy name for a book. It gets misinterpreted both as “Genes that make us have to be selfish” and “Genes with intentionality that “want” to pass themselves on”. Lets recall the actual main thesis of the book, though:
    1) Genes are what natural selection acts on (because higher-level selection for individuals or groups can always be undermined at the gene level)
    2) This means that over large time scales genes will appear to be acting in their own “selfish” interests.

    We humans & animals are not quite as stupid as sociobiologists (genes determine all, or are the main determinant) make us out to be.

    I’m pretty sure no serious biologist actually claims that. Dawkins or Wilson would no doubt agree with what you say about complex interactions at different levels; they’d just add that the biological level is the one they are particularly interested in (they are biologists, after all).

  92. #92 Mrs Tilton
    February 17, 2009

    Collins has argued that one piece of evidence for god is the human moral sense, which he claims could not have evolved

    Now I know that Collins is better than the ID creationists in that, unlike them, he tries to keep his religious beliefs compartmentalised. But he and the IDCists could profit from the same advice: don’t put your hope in a God of the Gaps, because gaps have an annoying tendency to get filled.

    Holbach @67,

    Those religious idiots… Francisco Ayala… should not have been admitted to that presentation. It was supposed to be a science thing, not a puking on religious crap

    I think Ayala is religious, and for all I know he is a puking crap idiot as well. But judging by the stuff on this page, the organisers’ mistake in admitting him to a science thing looks understandable to me. But then I am a layperson; given the huge size of your own list of awards and peer-reviewed publications, things probably look different from your perspective.

    we could owe our consciences to climate change and, in particular, to a period of intense global warming

    Hey, an upside to global warming! Somebody inform George F. Will that it will increase morality; I’m sure he’ll be eager to believe in it then.

  93. #93 kevinj
    February 17, 2009

    for the claim about the children of habitual criminals.
    I would like to see the breakdown of how many of those kids were in care and the measure of those kids vs other kids also in care.

  94. #94 mayhempix
    February 17, 2009

    OT but I couldn’t resist posting the nuanced idiocy of this letter to the editor in the NYT:

    To the Editor:

    Carl Safina?s idea that ?Darwinism Must Die So That Evolution May Live? (Essay, Feb. 10) is right, but he doesn?t spell out the key distinction.

    Exact science is successful because it studies observable, measurable changes in matter. Insofar as evolutionary science stays modestly within this methodological limit, it is on firm ground. But many scientists have made sweeping philosophical claims in the name of science.

    Evolutionary scientists need to make their thinking and their vocabulary more precise, and a good start would be to consign nonquantifiable assertions about life on earth to the philosophical category of Darwinism. Roger Bonilla

    Sunnyvale, Calif.

  95. #95 lowmagnet
    February 17, 2009

    I recently read a SF novel that involved genetically amoral people. The book is called “Thirteen” (US) or “Black Man” (everywhere else) by Richard Morgan. I don’t want to give the story away, but it has something to do with the subject of this article.

  96. #96 Eric
    February 17, 2009

    I have no problem with the notion that our moral sense evolved, but I do have a problem with the notion that this actually ‘explains morality’ in any meaningful or interesting sense.

    First, if you go too far with this explanation, you’re in danger of committing the genetic fallacy. But second, let’s say our moral sense is a product of evolution: well, so is our selfishness and our competitiveness. When our moral sense is in conflict with our innate selfishness, then what? Both are equally ‘valid’ or ‘legitimate,’ both have resulted from the same fundamental pressures, and both have a survival value. An evolutionary explanation, coupled with a few supporting premises, may be able to prescribe a strategy in such cases, but few of us would identify strategies with morality (and I know most atheists wouldn’t: just think about some of the best known criticisms of Pascal’s wager). In essence, we must make a distinction between an explanation of morality and the prescriptions of morality. Evolution, it seems to me, can adequately provide (in principle; it hasn’t yet) a description of how our moral sense arose, but it cannot address the much more difficult — and much more interesting — questions about moral prescriptions (except in the wholly inadequate language and logic of ‘strategies’).

  97. #97 Holbach
    February 17, 2009

    Mrs Tilton @ 92

    I am also a lay person without a list of publications and peer-reviewed credentials. This absence of “qualifications” is irrelevant to my comments on the mentioned religious idiots who interjected religion into the discussion which was supposed to be the scientific origin for religious thought and expression. They should have had a separate venue for the expression of their religious views on a purely mystic presentation and not in the scientific discipline. I could have degrees and awards and reams of credentials to my name and would still express my distaste for their prensentation in a scientific meeting. Science and religion should not be intermixed in a presentation of the scientific exploration of religious irrationality. I want to know and do know how religion takes hold in minds, is rejected by the rational mind but adheres in the irrational mind. Origins of religion in a religion discussion, scientific explanation of why religion in a science discussion. We know they have a god in their brains and why they want it to remain. I know science disproves this idea unequivocally and am content with its evaluation. Ayala can be smothered in degrees and papers, but this does not subtract the fact that, in my opinion, he renders those degrees useful when he discusses his field of expertise, but useless when he attempts to induce religion into a purely rational field devoid of such nonsense as science should remain. He and his equivocal kind have no respect from me.

  98. #98 Ouchimoo
    February 17, 2009

    Other studies have confirmed that the strength of a person’s conscience depends partly on their genes. Several researchers have shown, for example, that the children of habitual criminals will often become criminals too – even when they have had no contact with their biological parents.

    I think it was poorly worded. I remember getting into a lot of criminal science info back when I was younger. The list of serial killers were a mixed bag of socioeconomic classes and parental/community attention or lack there of. It was concluded that it was a personality problem and they started doing genetic testing to see if that was the reason.
    So I can see where the article is going with this.

  99. #99 eric
    February 17, 2009

    The paper PZ describes sounds pretty weak. As an adaptation for preventing unequal food distribution, morality is both unnecessary (look at lions) and ineffective (look at current unequal food distribution among humans).

  100. #100 Matt
    February 17, 2009

    >>>strip me of my income and throw me on the streets, and I’ll become a criminal, too, if it keeps me and my family from going hungry

    Just like Bernie Madoff.

  101. #101 Africangenesis
    February 17, 2009

    Eric#96,

    I have no problem with the conclusion that our moral sense has evolved either. But I do have a problem with the hubris that somehow it has become more evolved since the end of WWII, or since the pol pot regime, or since the genocides in Bosnia or Ruwanda. Others might choose have an earlier time in mind for the beginning of the a clearly superior strain of higher moral evolution, perhaps the time of Kropotkin.

    “When our moral sense is in conflict with our innate selfishness, then what? Both are equally ‘valid’ or ‘legitimate,’ both have resulted from the same fundamental pressures, and both have a survival value”

    We still haven’t agreed on what are our morals yet. Some seem to be assuming a restricted social obligation or atruistic morality. But morality in almost every society has included more, at the individual or family fabric level: monogamy instead of polygamy, provision for ones children as opposed to abandoning them, honoring ones vows and contracts, honesty, hospitality, loyalty to the extended family, respect for the spouse, parents and in-laws, self-sufficiency as opposed to dependency, loyalty and service to the ingroup, courage and skill in defense against the outgroup, leadership, care for the widows of ones relatives, etc.

  102. #102 Lynn
    February 17, 2009

    OK, let me try thinking this way: morality depends on what is known to be harmful or helpful to others & to society, otherwise one cannot refrain from said harm or engage in helpful behavior. Animals don’t have as much knowledge of this. People of the past didn’t have as much sci knowledge to know what is harmful/helpful as people have today.

    We know global warming is harmful. Sci studies first reached .05 sig by 1995 (and we know that sci is trying to avoid false positives, while we laypersons & policy-makers should be trying to avoid false negatives). Hansen (top NASA climate scientist) gave a recent presentation about how if we burned ALL fossil fuels, incl tar sands & oil shale, we could push the system into runaway warming as on Venus well before the sun goes supernova (see http://www.columbia.edu/~jeh1/2008/AGUBjerknes_20081217.pdf ).

    Yet our greenhouse gas emissions keep increasing, even accelerating, even tho we could reduce by 75% from our 1990 emissions cost-effectively without lowering living standards or productivity (esp here in the US — I know, I’ve done it, incl reductions in water, products & other things that involve emissions).

    I’d say were in a pretty big morality decline, huge devolution. Or, we’re just plain evil. And if people think it’s not going to get hot enough here on earth for them & their descendents, wait till they get to the much hotter realm for eternity. And, of course, that axe would fall most heavily on the so-called religious folks, who should know better, esp the denialist camp for their double evil.

    We know very well about this problem. We’re highly culpable.

  103. #103 Africangenesis
    February 17, 2009

    Lynn,

    “We know global warming is harmful.”

    You are going beyond the science. GW may turn out to be a net benefit, if it increases agricultural productivity and the availability of fresh water and prevents an ice age. But, lets go with your assumptions and see where they take us.

  104. #104 Ryk
    February 17, 2009

    Eric:
    I would like to address some of your points.
    first you ask “When our moral sense is in conflict with our innate selfishness, then what?” the answer it seems to me is what religion calls sin. If morality were our only instinct then there would be no immorality or crime. However it is not our only instinct. When our instinct to acquire food conflicts with our “moral” instinct against theft, we sometimes steal. When our instinct for monogamy comes against an opportunity to breed with a fertile female we may commit adultery. We make choices about which instinct to follow. Just as a hungry rodent may overcome its instinct to flee a predator in order to find food. When we feel guilt it is our instincts complaining that we have made a bad choice.

    You claim that:

    “Evolution, it seems to me, can adequately provide (in principle; it hasn’t yet) a description of how our moral sense arose, but it cannot address the much more difficult — and much more interesting — questions about moral prescriptions (except in the wholly inadequate language and logic of ‘strategies’).”

    However you fail to explain why the logic of strategies is as you claim “wholly inadequate” it seems fully adequate to me. It seems your strategy is to make a challenging statement then bar any challenges based on the best argument against your statement. It would be like telling someone that his formula can not be proven except by using the inadequate language and logic of mathmatics.
    I fail to see why “few of us would equate strategies with morality” that seems the logical connection to me. Moral codes delelop as a set of strategies that enable group survival, “conscience” is the instinct that tells us to obey these codes. Strategies that hamper a groups survival are abandoned in favor of other instincts. Say for example a group of primates had evolved a moral code that A. allowed the strongest to horde food and B. strongly discouraged theft. In the normal course of events this code helps the tribe survive by nurturing the offspring of the strongest. Then the habitat changes and starvation among the majority threatens the groups survival. The instinct against theft would fail against the instinct for survival and thieving would happen. The next generations would favor those who stole. As distribution of resources equalized the instinct against theft would once again become valuable and a new paradigm would emerge where resources are now shared and theft is once again prohibited.
    Clearly I am making a logical argument not a scientific one and I don’t claim otherwise. However I have in a limited way explained how moral codes can be explained by the logic of strategies. The key point I feel is that among communal species (packs,tribes, herds,colonies, etc.) adaptation selects for the survival of the community not the individual. Individuals may follow instincts that benefit them personally but if by doing so they weaken the tribe, the tribe will fail in favor of stronger societies. A strong set of moral prescriptions which are strongly enforced are a survival strategy. Perhaps the principal evolution is not the specific moral code. Perhaps it is the ability to implement moral laws which is the evolutionary advantage.
    It could be that evolving a strong, but adaptive sense of morality was the key advantage that elevated man over other primates in the first place.

  105. #105 Ryk
    February 17, 2009

    To ERIC: I’m sorry I directed my last post to you by mistake. The post I was responding to was from AFRICANGENESIS, apparently in response to you and seeing your name at the top I mistakenly thought you had written it.
    Sorry again.
    Also sorry to everyone for the length of my post and lack of paragraphs. It seemed much smoother as I was writing it.

  106. #106 Lynn
    February 17, 2009

    #103, Africangenesis &
    You are going beyond the science. GW may turn out to be a net benefit, if it increases agricultural productivity and the availability of fresh water and prevents an ice age.http://www.realclimate.org/index.php/archives/2005/03/how-long-will-global-warming-last/langswitch_lang/in ) and reduce humanity to a small fraction — and perhaps (acc to Hansen’s latest research) into a Venus syndrome, that would wipe out all life on planet earth.

    But don’t take my word — check out RealClimate.org & see their links to the IPCC reports and other basic books on climate change. And note that science is VERY conservative, requiring high levels of confidence to make claims, so there’s a tendency to underestimate the problem, which is why the reports keep coming out “It’s worse than we thought.” You don’t have to be a rocket scientist to see which way the wind is blowing on this issue. And you don’t have to be a rocket scientist to screw in a compact fluorescent bulb, turn off lights not in use, change your showerhead to save 50% hot water, and a myriad of other measures.

  107. #107 Africangenesis
    February 17, 2009

    Sorry Lynn,

    realclimate.org is not a peer reviews source. Did they mention there that the models that project the droughts only manage to reproduce one half to one third of the precipitation INCREASE associated with the recent warming?

    http://www.remss.com/papers/wentz_science_2007.pdf

    CO2 fertialization will also decrease evaporative losses and increase drought resistance of crops. The “decrease” in nutritional value you mention is actually an increase in caloric production and thus a slight decrease in nutritional density. There is still calorie malnutrition in this world.

  108. #108 Africangenesis
    February 17, 2009

    Lynn,

    “And you don’t have to be a rocket scientist to screw in a compact fluorescent bulb, turn off lights not in use, change your showerhead to save 50% hot water, and a myriad of other measures.”

    Hopefully, you don’t have to be a rocket scientist to realize that incandescents require far less materials and energy to manufacture and are still most environmentally friendly technology for those locations where they will be on just a minutes to hours a year, like many closets, sheds and storage rooms.

  109. #109 KI
    February 17, 2009

    Is the need to hijack threads genetic or environmental?
    And back to topic: Does anyone here see a difference between “criminal” and “outlaw”? In my view breaking the law for necessity is different from pure criminality, the difference between Jean Valjean and Vito Corleone, to use two fictional examples.

  110. #110 Hugh Troy
    February 17, 2009

    I wonder if scientists will ever find a sense of morality in creationists? They’d have a hard time finding one if they studied Kent Hovind, William Dembski or Adnan Oktar.

  111. #111 The Other Ian
    February 17, 2009

    strip me of my income and throw me on the streets, and I’ll become a criminal

    I give this quote about a week before it gets mined and used as evidence that atheists are immoral.

  112. #112 Douglas Allchin
    February 17, 2009

    Get the synoptic view at http://EVOLUTIONofMORALITY.net
    –part of the same AAAS presentation.

  113. #113 David Marjanovi?, OM
    February 17, 2009

    GW may turn out to be a net benefit, if it increases agricultural productivity

    When more CO2 is available, plants invest it in the sterile parts, not in reproduction. But we don’t eat the stalks or leaves of wheat or rice. We eat the seeds.

    Also, increases in the occurrence of extreme weather aren’t going to help.

    It’s true that a little more warming would make the Sahara green — if there’s enough rainforest left in West Africa to provide the necessary evaporation, and that has to be doubted.

    and the availability of fresh water [sic]

    How is that supposed to happen, when the mountain glaciers are gone? Precipitation increases alone aren’t going to cut it, because they won’t be distributed regularly enough through the year unless maybe (!) if the temperatures reach, say, middle Miocene levels.

    and prevents an ice age.

    The next ice age is scheduled to begin in 50,000 years. Yes, we may be preventing it right now, but I’d rather worry about something more urgent.

    Like Bangladesh. Sure, Bangladesh is toast anyway because there are too many dams on the Ganges and the Brahmaputra to supply enough sediment to keep the delta up, but we really can’t use any acceleration of that?

  114. #114 David Marjanovi?, OM
    February 17, 2009

    It’s true, however, that fluorescent lamps have disadvantages. For real progress we’ll have to wait till fluorescent diodes hit the market.

  115. #115 Piltdown Man
    February 17, 2009

    PZ Myers:

    strip me of my income and throw me on the streets, and I’ll become a criminal, too, , if it keeps me and my family from going hungry.

    Ah, but you might hesitate if you thought you’d go to hell as a result.

  116. #116 Nerd of Redhead, OM
    February 17, 2009

    Ah, but you might hesitate if you thought you’d go to hell as a result.

    Oh, you mean that fictional place next to fictional heaven?

  117. #117 CJO
    February 17, 2009

    Ah, but you might hesitate if you thought you’d go to hell as a result.

    For steling in order to feed one’s family? That’s a stint in The Purg at worst, and what with the retro fashion of plenary indulgences making a comeback, what’s to fear?

  118. #118 Ichthyic
    February 17, 2009

    Ah, but you might hesitate if you thought you’d go to hell as a result.

    Idle threat from an idle mind.

    do you stop posting nonsense out of fear you will be banished to the dungeon on this blog?

    well?

  119. #119 Ichthyic
    February 17, 2009
  120. #120 Steve_C
    February 17, 2009

    Hahaha. Piltdown… spoken like a true asshole.

    Because what’s more important? Worrying about a fictional hell or not dying of starvation.

    Such a dumbass.

    A god that lets people starve and the punishes them for attempting to live is truly disgusting. Luckily god is just a myth.

  121. #121 Anton Mates
    February 17, 2009

    Eric,

    But second, let’s say our moral sense is a product of evolution: well, so is our selfishness and our competitiveness. When our moral sense is in conflict with our innate selfishness, then what? Both are equally ‘valid’ or ‘legitimate,’ both have resulted from the same fundamental pressures, and both have a survival value.

    Then we go with whichever one affects us most strongly, which is why people often behave selfishly.

    Of course we should go with the moral option, by definition of “should.” But we often don’t.

    In essence, we must make a distinction between an explanation of morality and the prescriptions of morality. Evolution, it seems to me, can adequately provide (in principle; it hasn’t yet) a description of how our moral sense arose, but it cannot address the much more difficult — and much more interesting — questions about moral prescriptions (except in the wholly inadequate language and logic of ‘strategies’).

    What sort of questions are you thinking of? It strikes me that the “prescriptions of morality” are simply those behaviors toward which our moral sense pushes us. Is there any meaningful way in which this is different from the “prescriptions of self-preservation” or the “prescriptions of hunger?”

  122. #122 R Hampton
    February 17, 2009

    Man the Hunted: The Origin and Nature of Human Sociality, Altruism and Well-Being
    March 12-14
    Washington University, St. Louis

    The conference will be the first of its kind to include academics from around the world and across multiple disciplines ? anthropology, psychiatry, human evolution, biology, religion, education and medicine ? to focus on the evolution of cooperation, altruism and sociality and possible factors that led to the evolution of these characteristics in primates and humans.

    Evolutionary biologists, primatologists, anthropologists and other social scientists have found data on seemingly altruistic behavior in many animal species, as well as in human societies, that do not conform with models of kin selection and altruism based solely on competition and the evolutionary drive to pass on selfish genes.

    http://news-info.wustl.edu/tips/page/normal/13507.html

  123. #123 Sherry
    February 17, 2009

    Dogs also have a sense of “fair play.”
    Additionally, they are the only animal so in tune to human behavior that they will look in the direction a human in pointing.

    I don’t believe in god, but I really believe in DOG.

    “Animals Make us Human” by Temple Grandin with Catherine Johnson Incredible book!

  124. #124 Lynn
    February 17, 2009

    RE #107, Africangenesis, this thread it proving that many nonhuman animals are moral and altruistic (I always expected that might be the case). We humans should be aping them. We’re bad, very bad. We’re global warming hot bad. I know, we’ll find some way to blame the animals for that too.

    You obviously are a new-comer to the idea of global warming (please read the science journals… one is called SCIENCE, another is NATURE, etc), or you have bought into the denialist camp lies. Your favorite sources are probably funded by Exxon or other fossil fuel industries (for Exxon funding see http://www.greenpeace.org/usa/campaigns/global-warming-and-energy/exxon-secrets ).

    See, people, how immoral we humans are, so much more than animals could ever be. We’re artists at it, and ergo ?? superior.

    Africangenesis, of course RealClimate.org is NOT a peer-reviewed journal or article, it’s a BLOG. But check out the specs on all the contributors — Caspar Ammann, David Archer, Eric Steig, Gavin Schmidt, Michael Mann, Rasmus Benestad, Ray Bradley, Ray Pierrehumbert, Stefan Rahmstorf, Thibault de Garidel, William Connolley — and you’ll see they have plenty of peer-reviewed publications. For instance, here are David Archer’s pubs, http://geosci.uchicago.edu/~archer/reprints/ . Just follow the links on the lower left side.

    I guess science is whatever one thinks it is. It’s all relative to one’s mood or inclination. It’s just a matter of opinion :(

  125. #125 smash
    February 17, 2009

    And let’s not discount the possible effects of epigenetics on short-term inheritance of moral propensities.

  126. #126 christian aaron
    February 17, 2009

    hope I’m not repeating anything someone else may have posted, but scientist Thunderf00t on Youtube talks about “morality” as well in Why People Laugh at Creationsist #29. he expands his definition of morality a little i think, but as always, well worth the watch….

  127. #127 Greg F.
    February 17, 2009

    … But then, I suppose anyone could claim those are just the genes of my roots in the lower socioeconomic classes.

    Wait, isn’t the reason why children of criminals tend to grow up to be criminals too due to their lack of opportunities to do anything else with their lives? Didn’t we kill off Social Darwinism in the 1800s? You know that whole Herbert Spencer thing designed to make blue bloods feel good…

  128. #128 Facilis
    February 17, 2009

    @Christian Aaron
    ‘Thunderf00t video on morality is filled with logical fallacies and unsupported assertions as well as insults.
    Watch this video on the mistakes he makes in moral epistemology and ontology.
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6bVIYDjjCDA&feature=channel_page

  129. #129 Nerd of Redhead, OM
    February 17, 2009

    Facilis the Fallacious Fool, any thing you refer to is considered a lie. You have lied and shown no evidence for your illogical and unreasonable assertions, so you have no credibility left. Do everybody a favor and just fade into the band width with a shred of dignity left. You are just a boring idiot to be mocked.

  130. #130 Kel
    February 17, 2009

    ‘Thunderf00t video on morality is filled with logical fallacies and unsupported assertions as well as insults.

    Since when do you know what a logical fallacy and an unsupported assertion is? You make them both all the time – it’s the only way you argue.

  131. #131 Facilis
    February 17, 2009

    So many atheists miss the point of the moral arguments. Let’s take for granted that our ancestors had some kind of morality we inherited.
    Does this mean our morals are as arbitrary as the fact that we evolved 5 fingers? why are we obligated to follow this standard just because of our past? Why this moral standard and not any other?

  132. #132 Kel
    February 17, 2009

    So many theists miss the point of morality because they attribute it to god and thus belief that there is an objective standard for morality instead of the provisional morality we see permiate throughout the world.

  133. #133 Rev. BigDumbChimp
    February 17, 2009

    o many atheists miss the point of the moral arguments. Let’s take for granted that our ancestors had some kind of morality we inherited.
    Does this mean our morals are as arbitrary as the fact that we evolved 5 fingers? why are we obligated to follow this standard just because of our past? Why this moral standard and not any other?

    Do you think morals evolved outside any social, herd, tribal implications?

    Seriously. That’s a pretty lame question facilis.

  134. #134 Nerd of Redhead, OM
    February 17, 2009

    Facilis, you deists miss the point of our arguments. God is not needed for anything. Period, end of story. But you can’t see that due to the blinders of your delusions. Time for you to see the light and acknowledge god doesn’t exist. You have been here long enough to see the truth if you were looking for it.

  135. #135 Anton Mates
    February 17, 2009

    Facilis,

    So many atheists miss the point of the moral arguments.

    No, we don’t think they prove their intended point, which is a little different.

    Does this mean our morals are as arbitrary as the fact that we evolved 5 fingers?

    The fact that we evolved 5 fingers isn’t completely arbitrary. Horses evolved, effectively, 1. We kept all 5 because it was useful to our ancestors’ lifestyle.

    why are we obligated to follow this standard just because of our past?

    Cause they’re our morals. What does it mean to be obligated to do anything? It means that your morals tell you to do it!

    Evolution can tell you why you like the taste of sugar–does that suddenly make you not want sweets anymore?

    Why this moral standard and not any other?

    Partly selection, as game theory suggests, partly contingency.

  136. #136 SC, OM
    February 18, 2009

    Dr. Allchin @ #112,

    Thank you for the link.

    (I must admit I was amused by the “Not recommended” books in the reading list with the big red Xs through them. :))

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