Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Why Do Humans Act UnNaturally?

Assumption:  Humans are the highest order of all species.
Assumption:  In order to get to the top, humans would need to conduct themselves in a manner that was consistent with both nature and Darwin's evolutionary theories.
Assumption:  In a naturalistic word view, it is impossible for anything to act other than under the laws of nature
Assumption:  A very clear understanding of evolutionary theory is that species will act selfishly and want to replicate themselves.
Exception:  There seems to be an inclination on the part of some life to stop replicating or reduce this natural inclination when they are feeling squeezed by the density of population.
Humans who are not squeezed are purposely reducing replication.  The humans who have the least amount to fear from density, food shortage, shelter issues, are the ones who are most likely to "unselfishly" agree to reduce replication.
Thus this intentional decision to not reproduce would seem to be both unnatural and potentially devastating to the most highly advanced of the most highly advanced.  (Sorry for the eugenics).  The very most successful, regardless of race, or any other observable trait, are the very ones who are most inclined to forgo reproduction.

Separately, the question of why do humans act unnaturally with regard to unselfish behavior of any kind?  Why would very, very large percentages of the human population believe that the unselfish approaches to life offered by Jesus and others would be the "best" way to live.  Even atheists and followers of other religions point to the beatitudes as ideal.

24 comments:

Bernardo said...

What do you mean by "highest order", "the top", and "highly advanced"? You make it sound like you're getting these ideas from evolution, but evolution has no concept of "advanced" or "progress"; Things can be better-adapted to their environment, and more successful at reproducing, okay, but not "higher" in any absolute terms.

(As far as being adapted to the environment: Bacteria and beetles are well "ahead" of us on that parameter, far more successful. Obesity, sexually-transmitted diseases, greed and war and social inequality, all point towards the fact that humans still carry many behaviors that were evolved for a different and more wild environment than the one we currently inhabit. Luckily, however, we have decided to act more cooperatively and compete less brutally, thus significantly lessening the impact of Darwinian mechanisms on the human species).

Sure, we are more COMPLEX than most species (looking at the kinds of systems in our bodies), but not significantly more complex than the mouse, whale, or octopus.

Of course, we do stand out due to our ability to reason and logic, to abstract and model and generalize. This is an ability that is sometimes not enough to over-ride our instincts and get us out of trouble (i.e. we don't do it as much or as well as we conceivably could), but it does give us an understanding of ourselves and of the world around us (and the tools to exploit that understanding and get what we want, or what we think we want) that other species do not have.

So that's one point I'd like to make. Your anthro-centric statements aren't well-established truths. In general I find that religious people want humans to be special, on a level totally different from any other species, while atheists are more comfortable with the fact that we're just a mammal with large-ish brains.

Bernardo said...

Another point: You pretend that evolutionary mechanisms select against cooperation and selflessness, and you pretend that helping others is detrimental rather than beneficial to the helper. Neither is the case.

First of all, in an evolutionary context; Any behavior that is caused by a set of genes, and that makes the set of genes more likely to be passed on, will by definition be more likely to be passed on and should eventually become present in most of the population. This can act on the individual level; that is obvious. (Individuals whose instincts do a better job of keepin them alive are more likely to have kids, and the kids will also have those instincts). But it is true on the GROUP level as well. A family or tribe that has a genetic instinct for "Helping those who are like you if they are young, sick, hungry, or otherwise in danger of dying" is a family that will be more successful than families who do NOT have that genetic instinct. So evolution gave us a genetically-driven instinct for helping those who are like us. This behavior has helped groups be more successful, and when the group is successful, the gene (assuming that people in one family or tribe all have a similar set of genes) is beneficial and eventually becomes more widespread.

Secondly, helping others is often a worthwhile investment. Sure, helping others out of altruism (either the genetically-driven compassionate instinct described above, or from a faith-based decision that it is better to improve justice than to always be as selfish as you can) is one thing, and this kind of Machiavellian self-interested "helping those who are likely to be in a position to help me in the future" is something else entirely. But the end result is the same: We sacrifice for the sake for improving others' lives. I'm sure I have pointed you to Carl Sagan's "The Rules Of The Game" at least once. It shows how game theory basically confirms the Golden Rule. The coldest mathematical analysis shows that those who initially trust and help others (but who stop trusting and helping those who betray them, until the betrayal stops) end up better off. You don't need gods or spirits: Naturalistic behavior of selfish agents self-optimizes towards cooperation.

In short; "A very clear understanding of evolutionary theory is that species will act selfishly", on an individual level, is simply incorrect, if you [incorrectly] assume that "selfishly" and "cooperatively" are incompatible.

You recognise how a gene for "Stop wanting to replicate so much when the population becomes too dense" helps the survival of the group, so such a gene is favored by evolution even though it goes counter to the individual's desire to reproduce (which also comes from genes selected by evolution). I don't know why you call this an "exception". It fits in well with the whole model. Wanting to reproduce makes the gene more likely to get passed on. Not wanting to reproduce when things get crowded ALSO makes the gene more likely to get passed on (since it keeps the group from destroying itself due to overpopulation). You have to stop thinking in terms of individuals and start thinking in terms of [selfish] genes.

Bernardo said...

And one final point (for now): Yes, some people decide to over-ride their instinctive desire for kids, since they realise that following this instinct would be detrimental to their long-term happiness. Instincts evolved in a wild environment different from the one we currently inhabit, so following them isn't always what's good for us. Since we're smart, we realize that sometimes the best thing is to go against our instincts.

Some people decide to over-ride their instinctive desire to eat as much as they can, and to engage in lots of sexual activity, since they realize that following these instincts would be detrimental to their long-term happiness. Instincts evolved in a wild environment different from the one we currently inhabit, so following them isn't always what's good for us. How is that form of restraint different from the decision to not have kids?

Randy Kirk said...

So as to point one. It seems that here again, the atheist that you describe, ignores reality to try and concoct some bizarre way of seeing humans as just another animal, and not the most highly advanced product of your own concept of evolution.

The short list of attributes you suggest as showing us as superior or at least different are just small advantages. I suppose it would be like sonar in bats or electric pulses in eels. The fact that we can use these minor differences to engineer our own sonar or electricity is just a minor consideration.

This, I suspect, is why your opinion of how things work remains in such a small minority. Like looking at the miracle of nature and declaring it to be all natural and not designed, you look at man and see him a not that much. And in both cases, to get there you have to stand reason on its head.

Randy Kirk said...

As to part 2, the theory of selfish genes isn't even past the theoretical stage, much less an established fact.

On the one hand you have a gene or a being or a group who selfishly destroy others, but who are on some other day so concerned about saving the scarce resources that they adopt one child per couple rules (China.) All of your positions assume that the genetic influences will result in rational behavior, and yet we human animals with our large brains act as anything but rational. Animals likely act more rational than us, but watching my kittens, they don't seem to always do a great job of thinking things through, either.

Randy Kirk said...

Your third comment solidifies my argument. Humans make dumb, antisocial, decisions every day. They make decisions against interest, but you would have them rationally decided to forgo childbearing to save resources.

I say hogwash. People who are not having kids today are either doing so because they have been brainwashed by scientists into believing scarcity religion, or they are so totally selfish they don't want to take time off from partying or driving expensive vehicles to have and raise kids. And the entire concept of overpopulation by humans is so recent that there is no way there could have developed a gene to deal with it.

And yes, Christians believe humans are different, large, and in charge. (And deep down inside, you probably do also)

Bernardo said...

About part 1: I don't think I have to stand reason on its head to say that humans are just another animal, one that is more complex than average, and one whose brains are just an advantage (like bats' sonar and whatnot) that helped us spread around the world. From an evolutionary point of view, that is all we are.

But from a HUMAN point of view, we are vastly more than that. I don't deny it. Like I've written recently somewhere in these comments, the human mind is an AMAZING thing. It's FASCINATING. The more you think about self-awareness, identity, thinking, consciousness, emotions, liking and wanting and desiring, happiness, the qualia of experience, the more baffled we are by how much we don't understand the mind, and more excited and empowered we are to set about exploring it. The human mind is, indeed, a precious jewel, a whole different KIND of thing than exists anywhere else on the planet. I don't deny that.

But from an evolutionary point of view, we're just another animal. Just as, from an evolutionary point of view, a Concorde is not very different from an ant hill, a creation arrived at by a group of animals roughly by trial-and-error and that made that group of animals a little better off than their counterparts. If that's all you see in a Concorde, you're missing a lot of really interesting stuff... but from an evolutionary point of view, that's all that there is to see.

Do most Christians believe that an atheist must restrict his/her point of view only to the aspects of stuff that are compelling from an evolutionary point of view? Evolution just explains one small set of phenomena. All kinds of fascinating phenomena lie outside of the scope of evolution. From the physics that drive the formation of solar systems, to the thermodynamics that drive the design of cars' piston engines, evolution has pretty much no insights to offer... but other ways of thinking do. So just because evolution says that "X is just a Y", doesn't mean that "X is just a Y" from every point of view. The impact that one kind of thing has in the phenomena explained by one model might be vastly simpler than the impact that that kind of thing has in other phenomena that are a part of human experience.

Bernardo said...

As to part 2... Of course it's an established fact. It's the foundation of all of biology; None of biology makes any sense without it. Physics has F=ma and the conservation of energy, at its very core. Biology has evolution (natural selection of traits caused by randomly-mutated genes) at its very core.

Yes, evolution is a "theory". Like the "theory" of relativity (without which GPS wouldn't work), quantum "theory" (without which MRIs wouldn't work), and the "theory" of gravity (without which we wouldn't be able to put things in orbit or send things to other celestial bodies). Saying that it's "not past the theory stage" does nothing but expose your misunderstanding of what "theory" means.

"All of your positions assume that the genetic influences will result in rational behavior"

That is incorrect. All I say is that natural selection in an environment will select for the behaviors that optimize the chances of survival and reproduction in that environment. A rational analysis would probably lead to many of the same solutions, yes. (If you want to live in the water, you should be good at swimming. If you live in groups, you should cooperate and sacrifice when the alternative is the death of a relative). However, once you put the beings in a different environment (e.g. take smart-ish and recently-evolved primates out of the savanna and put them in an interconnected global society, cities, etc) and all of a sudden those evolved traits are very much not what's optimal, and rationality has to fight against them in order to move towards optimal living.

"we human animals with our large brains act as anything but rational"

We act SOMEWHAT rationally. Sometimes our rationality has to fight our evolved impulses. Sometimes the rationality wins, sometimes not. But give us some credit: We've come a long way in the past few thousand years, even in the past hundred years.

"Animals likely act more rational than us"

No. Animals happen to live in the environment for which their behavior evolved. So no wonder their evolved behavior is more optimized for their good living. We lived in a different environment than the one we evolved in, so our evolved behaviors are non-optimal and we have to do what we can (never a perfect job) at using rationality to pick and execute more optimal behaviors.

Bernardo said...

I think that, for the most part, people choose to not have kids for roughly three reasons:

1) The government will punish them if they do. (China).

2) They are concerned about overpopulation.

3) "People who are not having kids today are ... so totally selfish they don't want to take time off from partying or driving expensive vehicles to have and raise kids.

I will grant you that number 3 might be the dominant cause.

But that doesn't matter. The fact is, people can choose to not have kids, in order to avoid what they see as undesirable consequences of having too many kids. It's relatively unimportant (for the particular point I'm trying to make) whether those consequences are undesirable for selfless (overpopulation) or selfish (time and expense) reasons. The bottom line is, they have opposing desires (to have a kid, to avoid the consequences of having a kid), so they make a choice, end of story. And no, there does not have to be a gene for it. Like I keep saying, we use what rationality we have to fight our genetic impulses and instinctive behaviors all the time (because, like you said, modernity is too recent for genes to have evolved to help us instinctively deal with it).

"Christians believe humans are different, large, and in charge. (And deep down inside, you probably do also)"

I do. But for reasons other than your fallacious "highest order", "the top", "most highly advanced product of your own concept of evolution" concept, which doesn't make too much sense (not beyond a "we are successful because of our brains similarly to how bats are successful because of their sonar" level, which, as you say, doesn't tell the whole story).

Randy Kirk said...

As to point one.

No, Christians in no way think that you are restricted in any way. Those who believe in creation believe that God's character as a creator is carried over into his creation. Understanding nature, subduing it, and creating engineering marvels are all clearly part of the plan as detailed in the Bible.

On the other hand, those who believe that evolution (of the macro king) is necessary for a full understanding of truth, also tend to want to extend that model to social and political and philosophical spheres. If we ever have solid evidence of man evolving from Apes, it won't change the fact that God created man. It will make a bit of a mess of the creation story in Genesis.

So, please, allow yourself to truly be free of the restrictions you've imposed on your pursuit of truth. Allow that the vast majority of humans both now and for all of time have believed there is something greater than themselves, and that they might know something you are failing to grasp.

Randy Kirk said...

Part 3 - So have we had any evidence before man of an animal or other living creature not attempting to maximize the species when it wasn't in a crowded situation or lacking in resources. If there are a couple of examples it still wouldn't actually help much, since it would still be way outside the norm.

If Darwin was right, our inbred nature should be to make lots of babies regardless.

Randy Kirk said...

Part 2

The problem with Evolution as a fact is that this fact has so many facets. You clearly know that no Christian denies what we call micro evolution or the ability of life forms to change within a range of attributes. I would say that virtually all of the engineering advantages and medical successes we have through evolutionary theory is due to this part of the theory.

We do not need to have interspecies evolution to make good genetic drugs or to make decisions about how to improve corn crops. In fact, the Bible has its own genetic selection being described over 4000 years ago.

We believers currently draw the line at that point and at the point of life from non life, and once again from the point of nothing to something. This is not evolutionary fact. These are faith based truth claims.

Bernardo said...

"those who believe that evolution is necessary for a full understanding of truth, also tend to want to extend that model to social and political and philosophical spheres."

That's not just untrue, it's insulting. If we didn't have a long history of talking about this kind of thing, that comment would make me walk away from this discussion and not look back.

Do I bother explaining all the levels in which that comment is incorrect? Sigh...

1) Just because some crazy people believe in something, doesn't make that something untrue.

2) Evolution requires brutal competition, eliminating the least successful. Developing a line of algorithms, bacteria, bananas, or cows via natural/artificial selection is OK because (or, rather, to the extent that) killing them is ok, since killing is a fundamental part of selection. (Selection IS killing!) But killing people is NOT ok. Preventing people from having children at all is not ok. Someone who fails to see that killing people is not ok has bigger problems than whether or not they understand the mechanisms that brought about biodiversity.

And while the reasonable part of me tells me that I should take the high road and refrain from saying the following, my animal impulses are too strong to resist, so allow me to be illogical for a second: "People who believe in Jesus tend to be ignorant hicks who unthinkingly do whatever their preacher tells them to, can't think critically or do math, and are too brainwashed to realize it". How does that feel?

Anyways, back to the discussion...

"So, please, allow yourself to truly be free of the restrictions you've imposed on your pursuit of truth."

You have to have an open mind, but not so wide open that your brains fall out.

"Allow that the vast majority of humans..."

Argumentum ad populum! Argumentum ad populum! Do you really not realize how illegitimate this argument is? The earth is flat, diseases are caused by demons, heavier-than-air flight is impossible, everyone knows these things!

Bernardo said...

Life-from-non-life is a relatively "micro" chemical event. As soon as you have a self-replicating molecule, the race is on! I BEG you to read that one chapter from The Selfish Gene. I might just scan it and email it to you. It shows how the beginning of life, from a chemical point of view, is far simpler and less unlikely than divine intervention.

Why is there something instead of nothing? Because the "nothing" is physically unstable:

http://www.csicop.org/sb/show/why_is_there_something_rather_than_nothing

Macro versus micro evolution... I can't explain it any better than others have:

http://www.skeptic.com/eskeptic/10-06-30/#feature

Bernardo said...

"Have we had any evidence, before man, of an animal or other living creature not attempting to maximize the species when it wasn't in a crowded situation or lacking in resources?"

How would that be evidence towards your point? Yes, evolutionary forces only select for anti-maximizing behaviors when those would be detrimental to actual maximizing (due to a crowded situation or scarce resources). If all you're trying to say is that humans are capable of overcoming the impulses that our ancestors evolved via Darwinian mechanisms, this is something I have never denied.

"our nature should be to make lots of babies regardless."

Yes. And our nature is to eat as much as we can (especially carbohydrates and fats, which sustain us for longer and are relatively rare in the wild) and to have lots of sex. But we manage to overcome those impulses (most of the time) when we rationally decide that they are against our modern interests, given our current environment (which is different from that of our ancestors).

Bernardo said...

I wrote one sentence incorrectly. What I meant to say is...

Yes, evolutionary forces only select for anti-maximizing behaviors when the alternative (the typically-maximizing behavior) would be detrimental to actual maximizing (due to a crowded situation or scarce resources).

Randy Kirk said...

Bernardo. So touchy. Sure, I believe that eugenics was totally an outgrowth of Darwinism. And major scientists and the Ivy league intelligentsia bought in. And, to be honest, when I first heard it as a teen, it seemed to me that it made no sense to allow the poor and the genetically handicapped to procreate. But, leaving that aside, (and in no way suggesting you have any such belief), the core understandings of naturalism suggest cause and effect for everything. Thus, we have a very hard time blaming folks for their bad behavior, since they are merely a product of neurons firing and bad parenting. This is the kind of thing I'm referring to.

Moreover, even huge scares like global warming don't stop with scientists turning over their results to politicians. The scientists themselves become front runners for the scary news, helping to insure future income for further research.

And lastly, naturalists work hard to keep our POV out of the public discourse in schools, universities, public museums, etc. Sure, in the past, our POV was dominant. But there is no denying that the opposite is true today.

None of this has to be you, but it is definitely what is happening and has happened. Your comparison of hicks that do what the pastor want is demonstrably untrue. Virtually the entire leadership of the United States now and throughout our history, no matter your view on their competence as leaders, proclaim Christ.

Randy Kirk said...

Argumentum ad populum! Because there are examples of huge population groups having it wrong does not preclude the position of the majority being a piece of evidence. Otherwise we would just stop trusting science altogether. Argumentum ad naturalist. Science has made massive monumental mistakes. And scientists commonly use the argument, themselves. Since we scientist are all in agreement about evolution or global warming, it must be true.

Randy Kirk said...

I've read the selfish gene, and all the theorizing about how life came from non life and something from nothing. I actually think it happened because Santa Clause was bored with making toys and decided to create the first replicating intelligent cell that had the ability to create its own parts. Works for me.

Randy Kirk said...

I guess that if we can overcome our natural instincts that would make us "better" than other species? Or would it make us likely to go extinct as we depopulate and devolve. And where does that leave our poor selfish genes. They should be screaming at us for not keeping the clan growing.

Bernardo said...

"Because there are examples of huge population groups having it wrong does not preclude the position of the majority being a piece of evidence. Otherwise we would just stop trusting science altogether."

No we wouldn't. Science doesn't work by votes or by consensus. It works by dissecting physical, mechanical processes, by falsifying hypotheses, by trying to think of all the causes of a phenomenon and then doing control experiments to see which factors are actually relevant. In short, by looking at evidence. It has nothing to do with majority/minority.

"Science has made massive monumental mistakes."

So has religion. But, like you yourself said in another post's comments, science corrects itself and learns from its mistakes while religion in general does not (or tries not to).

"And scientists commonly use the argument, themselves. Since we scientist are all in agreement about evolution or global warming, it must be true."

That is a sad truth. Scientists use these arguments to persuade people, not because the arguments are valid, but because many people can't be persuaded by valid arguments, only by fallacious ones. It's called marketing.

"I guess that if we can overcome our natural instincts that would make us "better" than other species? Or would it make us likely to go extinct as we depopulate"

We can rationally decide that what makes us happy as individuals is not what our genes try and get us to do. I've said this many times: The impulses caused by our genes, which we evolved for survival in the wild, can be detrimental to our health and happiness in the modern world. So yes, we can decide to fight our genetic impulses. We can decide to depopulate, if that's what we think will make us happier. Just as we can decide to not eat junk food and not have all the sex we can.

"where does that leave our poor selfish genes. They should be screaming at us"

My selfish genes have been screaming at me for months, because of how I've decided to eat very little carbohydrates and go on a series of long runs. Their protest is a familiar sensation, and knowing how to deal with it is a key part of improving my health, my happiness, and my longevity. I say, let them scream. I know what makes me happy and I'm going for it. I'm not letting my evolved impulses hold me back.

Bernardo said...

Okay, it's looking like the disappearing comments from Monday night aren't coming back, so... I'll try to re-write mine.

Part 1:

"the core understandings of naturalism suggest cause and effect for everything. Thus, we have a very hard time blaming folks for their bad behavior, since they are merely a product of neurons firing and bad parenting."

That is actually a very interesting topic.

Even if our sense of "I" is fictional, and even if our behavior is deterministic and thus effectively inevitable... blaming and punishing people are still not entirely bad things. We do these things because, at a very primal sub-rational level, we crave justice, we are vingative. So if we can reasonably fulfill that craving (in a way that isn't detrimental to people who don't deserve it), I say, so be it. Besides, punishing people for unjust/detrimental actions is something that serves as a deterrent to potential future unjust/detrimental actions, so it makes the world a better place. The prison system could benefit from extensive reform, but it is not in principle incompatible with naturalism.

"And lastly, naturalists work hard to keep our POV out of the public discourse in schools, universities, public museums, etc."

You're combining a bunch of issues into a single lump, and that might not be fair. The trend may be consistent, but the causes/motivations are not.

This discourse does not belong in public schools because it is not the role of the government to take sides on theological issues.

Supernaturalism is rejected by most universities, most museums, etc, because it is made up (James Randi has a million dollars for you if you can demonstrate otherwise) and because it gets in the way of finding the REAL causes and mechanisms behind observed phenomena. If I claim that there is an invisible gnome who sits on my head and makes it rain, it would be reasonable for universities and museums to not include my invisible-gnome model in their discussions of meteorology.

"in the past, our POV was dominant. But there is no denying that the opposite is true today."

Progress!

Bernardo said...

Part 2:

"Argumentum ad populum! Because there are examples of huge population groups having it wrong does not preclude the position of the majority being a piece of evidence."

Sometimes the majority is right. Sometimes the minority is right.

If I said "Sometimes the minority is right, so in this case the minority MUST be right", then that would be a fallacy, yes. But ehat I'm saying is "Sometimes the minority is right, so in this case the minority MIGHT be right". I am not precluding either possibility. You may wish to re-read that post about Bayesian Inference

"And scientists commonly use the argument, themselves. Since we scientist are all in agreement about evolution or global warming, it must be true."

That is a sad truth. Scientists do use this fallacious, logically invalid argument. They do it because many people are not persuaded by valid arguments, but ARE persuaded by fallacious arguments. It's called "marketing".

"I guess that if we can overcome our natural instincts that would make us "better" than other species? Or would it make us likely to go extinct as we depopulate"

Like I keep saying, we have the ability to determine that the things that are ACTUALLY good for us (i.e. causing greater happiness and well-being) are sometimes NOT the things that our genetic impulses lead us to. If we decide that a smaller population would cause most people to be happier, and if we can figure out how to go in that direction without being unfairly detrimental to any individual, then why not go for it? Our genes are not our masters. They haven't been for a while.

"where does that leave our poor selfish genes? They should be screaming at us"

My genes have been screaming at me for months, since I decided to drastically reduce my caloric intake and go on a series of long runs. Doing this is beneficial to my longevity, my health, and my overall happiness. Hearing my genes scream at this is a familiar sensation, and knowing how to deal with it is a key part of the process. I know what I want, and what I must do to optimize my happiness (at least in this regard), and I'm not going to let my genes hold me back.

Page1Listings.com said...

Not sure that being thin is something that bring happiness. I know happy fat people and miserable skinny folks. In fact the jolly fat man is a metaphor. Thin has been shown in some studies to be better for health. Newer studies are showing that being just a little plump might be better for long life.

See how hard it is to get this happiness and health thing nailed down? The Bible says nothing about thinness. Just says that your body is God's temple and therefore you should not abuse it. This includes gluttony and drunkenness. However, the Bible, unlike society, nowhere calls being fat a sin.