Skip to comments.The Delusion of Darwinian Natural Law
Posted on 12/27/2003 12:44:51 AM PST by bdeaner
The Delusion of Darwinian Natural Law
In a short, inconspicuous paragraph in the conclusion to the first edition of On the Origin of Species, Darwin speculates that "in the distant future psychology will be based on a new foundation, that of the necessary acquirement of each mental power and capacity by gradation." One hundred and forty years later, Darwin's eerie prediction about the revolutionary effect of his work on human beings' self-understanding seems all too prophetic. After a century of dissemination, the once-novel theory of evolution is widely accepted as established scientific fact. Given the quasi-religious hold of evolutionary theory over the modern mind, it is not surprising that it should serve as the spiritual inspiration for developments within the field of psychology. First popularized in the 1970s by Harvard's Edward O. Wilson, evolutionary psychology, originally called sociobiology, interprets all human behavior in light of the evolutionary process. Evolutionary psychology aims to be a comprehensive science, explaining the origins and ends of every human behavior and institution.
Not wanting to be left behind, a number of conservative thinkers have let themselves be caught up in this movement. Conservatism initially identified evolution exclusively with Darwinian materialism and, therefore, viewed it as a fundamental threat to human dignity. But, recently, conservatives such as James Q. Wilson, Francis Fukuyama, and Charles Murray have used evolutionary psychology to show that morality is rooted in human biology. Fukuyama's The Great Disruption goes so far as to claim that "a great deal of social behavior is not learned but part of the genetic inheritance of man and his great ape forbears." Drawing on categories borrowed from evolutionary psychology, Fukuyama argues that human beings are drawn to the kind of moral order provided by traditional rules of trust and honesty.
Evolution's most ambitious and vocal conservative advocate, however, is political scientist Larry Arnhart. But where Wilson and Fukuyama speak of evolution generally, Arnhart appeals directly to Darwin himself. In Darwinian Natural Right: The Biological Ethics of Human Nature, Arnhart argues that conservative thought has fundamentally misunderstood Darwin. For Arnhart, Darwin is not a biological materialist but a modern disciple of Aristotle. Properly understood, Darwinism proves that morality is rooted in human biology. Indeed, Arnhart claims that Darwinism can identify twenty biological desires that are common to all human societies. The fulfillment or frustration of these desires provides universal standards for judging the morality of human social behavior. Darwinian natural right consists of the "right" to have these biological desires satisfied. Arnhart recently argued in the conservative religious journal First Things that both secular and religious conservatives currently "need Charles Darwin." By "adopting a Darwinian view of human nature," both groups would be able to give a rational, non-sectarian response to the prevailing dogma of moral relativism. For Arnhart, the attraction of Darwinism is essentially practical: It provides a "scientific"not "metaphysical" or "sectarian"basis for "conservative moral and political thought."
One has to question, however, the wisdom of evaluating any account of human nature primarily in terms of its political utility. But this does explain why, on every critical point, Arnhart lets his political concerns shape his theoretical defense of Darwinism. Consequently, Arnhart never really confronts conservatism's original charge that Darwinism reduces human beings to clever, biologically determined animals. But he does present natural lawyers with an intriguing and, by no means, inconsequential choice: Should they embrace Darwinism and give natural law conclusions the air of "scientific legitimacy," or should they continue to defend an unfashionable but richer account of human nature that transcends human biology?
The Biology of Morality
Essential to the Darwinian defense of morality is the belief that social behaviors are "biologically rooted" in human nature. Darwinians such as Arnhart start from the premise that human beings are "hard-wired" for specific species-preserving behaviors. Darwinism explains all human societies, ranging from families to political communities, as unintended byproducts of the evolutionary process. Social behaviors and institutions came into existence as evolutionary responses to "species-threatening" changes in man's environment. Friendships, marriages, families, and even political communities, all of which are commonly seen as vital features of a meaningful human life, have their origins outside of the moral universe. Every society came into existence in a world where "species-survival" and "species-extinction," not good and evil, were the fundamental human categories. Darwinism views sociality and morality as part of man's genetic inheritancethe adaptive means through which the species perpetuates itself. Contrary to popular belief, morality is really instrumental to the larger goal of individual and collective preservation.
Darwin's thesis that all species, including the human species, possess a biological drive for self-preservation is not novel. Arnhart, for example, frequently observes that Saint Thomas Aquinas, the natural law's classical exponent par excellence, makes a similar claim. And as Arnhart likes to note, Aquinas even once described natural right as "that which nature has taught to all animals." Aquinas's strongest statement on this matter, however, occurs in the context of a wider discussion of natural law. Aquinas there states that the natural law's second inclination, which man shares with all animals, directs him to preserve the species. But as Arnhart shows, Darwin extends this insight substantially further than Aquinas does. In contrast to Aquinas, Darwin believes that those behaviors that are necessary for the survival of the species gradually become woven into human biology itself. Over time, human beings eventually come to view behaviors that are necessary for survival as both meaningful and moral.
The Darwinian defense of morality characteristically points to the end of the family as illustrative of how morality is rooted in human biology. Arnhart himself traces the family back to the strong sexual drive of young men. Rooted in their "biological nature," this drive plays an important role in the preservation of the species, yet it also fulfills "the natural desire for conjugal bonding." Once properly channeled (Arnhart conspicuously never explains how or why this occurs), the sexual drive allows for the kind of bonding that naturally occurs within the family. The preservation of the family and, ultimately, of the species itself are the result of the "biological drive for sexual mating." Scrutinized from the Darwinian perspective, the biological desire for conjugal bonding is revealed to perform the necessary task of stabilizing society.
While Darwinism can defend the family as a natural institution, it is not a genuinely moral or spiritual defense. Wedded to biological materialism, Darwinism necessarily reduces the good to the usefulfinally viewing the family as instrumental to evolution's larger goal of the preservation of society. While family life undoubtedly helps stabilize society, this clearly is not the only thing that is good about it. Arnhart's recognition of natural desires for "conjugal and familial bonding" shows that he is aware of this fact. But the logic of his position ultimately requires him to view the family in terms of its preservation of society.
The Morality of Biology
But is this really compatible with conservatism? Is it really possible to understand family life solely in terms of its role in the preservation of society? Setting aside for the moment any sacramental notion of marriage(not mere conjugal bonding) and family life, Darwinism would have one believe that a husband's self-conscious love for his wife or the personal sacrifices that parents willingly make for their children are byproducts of a primordial desire to perpetuate the species. Viewed from the perspective of human beings' lived experience, Darwinism's appreciation of the family is even more dehumanizing than modernity's view of marriage as simply a contractual arrangement.
Part of the reason for this flattening of the human horizon is Darwinism's systematic identification of the good with the flourishing of the species rather than with the self-conscious individual. There is then something fundamentally incoherent about the effort to defend the intrinsic goodness of morality on the basis of Darwinism. This incoherence, however, explains a number of oddities about the Darwinian defense of morality. The most obvious of these is its creative effort to present Darwin as a teacher of "evolution." As surprising as it sounds, Darwin never uses this term in The Origin of Species. Rather, he speaks of "descent with modification." The difference between these terms is not merely semantic. Darwin realized that evolution is a teleological term. To say that something evolved is to say that it has evolved toward something. Evolution implies the kind of purposeful change by which something unfolds according to a prearranged planprecisely the understanding of evolution that the Roman Catholic Church claims is not necessarily inimical to Christianity. While often popularly misunderstood, what the Catholic Church consistently has opposed, from Pius XII's nuanced 1950 encyclical Humani Generis to John Paul II's recent statements, is not the idea of evolution per se but, rather, those materialist theories that reduce psychic humanity to biological animality.
Darwin, however, eschews such teleological thinkinggoing so far as to note in his manuscript not to use "hierarchical" terms such as higher and lower. For him, nature is intrinsically mechanistic. Change results from "natural selection," the process by which species adapt to environmental changes by weeding out variations that jeopardize their survival. Far from acting towards an end, nature responds to external forces of chance and necessity. It is not difficult to see why Darwinians such as Arnhart try to gloss over the harshness of this teaching. By drawing attention to the fact that nature is a blind and continuous process, they effectively undermine their political defense of the intrinsic goodness of morality.
Darwinism's teaching on perpetual modification points to another problem with the idea of Darwinian natural law. For Darwin, the process of modification is, in principle, continuous. Contrary to what they may wish to believe, human beings are not the end of the evolutionary process. The Darwinian defense of natural morality, therefore, is not to be taken too literally. Lacking the fixity of any genuine end, the goods supported by natural law are useful only over long periods of time. Like nature itself, they are transitionally good. This explains why Arnhart places so much emphasis on biology, since it offers the only real source of "temporary fixity" in the world.
Natural Law and the Humanization of Biology
What is most striking about the Darwinian defense of morality is that it argues for one of the positions that natural law traditionally has argued against. Natural law historically has opposed any simplistic identification of the natural with the biological. Contrary to Darwinism's identification of the natural with the instinctual, natural law associates the natural with the reasonable. It seeks to humanize and transcend the realm of biology by incorporating it into the realm of reasonto view the low in light of the high, not vice versa. Whereas materialist Darwinians see human nature culminating in the biological instinct to perpetuate the species, Aquinas thinks that man's natural inclination directs him to seek the truth about God and to live in society. Rather than insisting that he be completely at home in the biological world, natural law realizes that his natural desire for transcendence ensures that man can only be ambiguously at home in the world. Psychically different from other creatures, the rational creature (not merely the calculating, species-preserving animal) somehow embodies all of the aspirations of the evolved biological world.
This natural desire to know does not negate the desire to perpetuate the species but, in fact, can explain why such perpetuation is desirable. Part of the attraction of natural law thinking, therefore, lies in its ability to show that human beings are not slaves to their instincts but, rather, that they possess the psychic freedom to make sense of these instincts. Over and against Darwinism's biological determinism, natural law theory is grounded in the all-too-human experience of wrestling with matters of conscienceof trying to do what one ought to do and not merely what one instinctively wants to do. Rejecting the reality of such an inner life, Darwinian-based defenses of morality are necessarily self-defeating. They replace relativism's belief that nothing can legitimately make a claim on the human soul with materialism's belief that human beings are biologically incapable of caring about their souls.
Near the end of his essay in First Things, Arnhart celebrates the remarkable recent advances of science in the areas of neurobiology and genetics. In light of these advances, Arnhart warns that "if conservatism is to remain intellectually vital, [it] will need to show that [its] position is compatible with this new science of human nature." But what does Arnhart think Darwinism has to say to these new sciences? If there really are no natural limits on human beings, if nature really is in a constant slow state of flux, how can a Darwinian, even a morally serious Darwinian, oppose something such as the "new science" of human cloning? A self-conscious Darwinian such as E. O. Wilson realizes that cloning is simply the next stage of human "modification." Faithful to the spirit of his Darwinism, Wilson looks forward to the day when cloning or "volitional evolution" will allow scientists to alter "not just the anatomy and intelligence of the species but also the emotions and creative drive that compose the very core of human nature." Less consistent Darwinians such as Arnhart choose to remain blissfully unaware of this fact. Consequently, they fail to recognize that what they offer is not so much up-to-date moral guidance as the ultimate moral justification for the "brave new world."
Only if the science was inadequate to properly characterize the system, or the guys doing the math were idiots and did the math incorrectly.
I would also note that for many kinds of engineering, complex mathematical models without experimental verification is how MOST of the engineering work is done i.e. it will go from design to production without ever existing in the real world. And this includes systems for which a convenient mathematical solutions don't exist e.g. an unsolvable system of differential equations. It is worth pointing out that we use "unsolvable" approximate expressions primarily because the correct solvable expressions are intractrable in application.
If you've kept up in science and engineering at all, you know that more and more of all the science and engineering that is done is mathematically derived rather than experimentally determined. Not only is it more accurate in practice, but often cheaper as well since computing power doesn't cost much these days. It is why all sciences now have a subfield called "computational field", which is slowly taking over many laboratory functions of science. We still do experiments occasionally to see if the science was right on the fringe where the science is uncertain, but for most well-studied areas of science one does not need to verify a mathematical derivative.
I'm still waiting for an example where science is not subject to mathematical derivation. But since that would mean that mathematics was fundamentally flawed, I'm not holding my breath. Mathematics only produces garbage if the science that uses it is garbage.
Yes. Cards with velcro that works for some combinations but not others. After a few shuffles, you get the ordered sorting you're looking for. That example was originally from jennyp.
No. What I'm showing [for those who are slow-or-unwilling to grasp concepts] is that when you have component parts that already exist, you can assemble larger structures without the need to simultaneously re-invent each sub-component. So if you factor in the use of previously existing sub-assemblies, as nature does, your model collapses.
No. Most probabilistic models are continuous. You should study Itô's work to see what is really going on.
It's generally accepted I think that quantum phenomena are random.
It is only treated this way statistically for many practical purposes. Nothing in our universe is inconsistent with a purely deterministic model, and certain properties of the universe are only expressed in deterministic systems which lends some credence to the concept. Quantum phenomenon in particular have been formulated as expressions of deterministic processes (whether those specific formulations map to reality is unknown -- they only prove the possibility). Papers have been published on this.
There are many classes of simple finite state systems that cannot be perceived as anything but random even if you had an intelligent machine with the full state space of a finite universe at your disposal. For example, strong cryptography is premised on this fact and uses algorithms with exactly this property.
Solomonoff induction is one of the most brutally limiting concepts in mathematics, and somewhat analogous to the incompleteness theorem but in systems theory. There are a great many things about any finite state system that can never be known from within that same system. Quantum phenomena my very well fall under this umbrella such that even if we can know that it is deterministic in fact, we can never treat it as such as a practical matter because we cannot measure the state of any particular instance.
Demonstrating that a process is finite state to extremely high certainty is cheap and trivial. Determining the actual state of the same process is typically intractable.
No, that's not correct. The state evolves determinstically according to the theory but the state is not the observable. The observable phenomena are "generated" from the state in a random manner, again according to the theory. It is not a matter of practicality - there is currently no better description.
Ermmm, you almost said what I said (I probably wasn't clear). I'll rephrase.
We can mathematically test that the system is extremely likely to be deterministic i.e. not mathematically random. However, we are (perhaps just currently) incapable of measuring or reverse engineering the state for most systems. Without knowledge of the state the system will appear random, not because it necessarily IS random but because induction is intractable, as it often is.
Strong PRNGs are good classical examples of this. Cryptographically strong PRNGs are generally very simple deterministic processes, yet there exists no possible machine in our universe that can discern the deterministic nature of these processes without knowledge of the internal state (for the good ones anyway). As a result, we have to accept these processes as "random" for all practical purposes when they are not random by definition.
Our inability to see inside the state of quantum processes forces us to model them as "random", yet there is substantial evidence that these are in fact deterministic processes that are merely intractable from the standpoint of Solomonoff induction. Therefore, we treat them as "random" even if we know they probably are not from a strictly technical standpoint.
The importance of the distinction is that "random" and "deterministic" have VERY different consequences from a theoretical standpoint. It does not matter that we cannot discern the state of quantum processes, merely knowing whether or not they are deterministic is immensely important and powerful. More so than most people imagine. It is what puts hard limits on what is possible in our universe.
Having quantum processes that are truly random describes a universe that is wildly different from quantum processes that are deterministic but merely beyond the predictive limits of our machinery to discern.
Without knowledge of the state the system will appear randombut according to the theory we can have complete knowledge of the state of a system and (certain) measurements will still yield random results.
As to your claim that having quantum processes that are truly random describes a universe that is wildly different from quantum processes that are deterministic that seems very unlikely to me.
Therefore, computers are impossible. Or miracles.
Buzzzzzz, wrong. Do you need some instruction in how to use Google or are you just blind to the facts?
Accompanied by a large number of attempts.
All 50 proteins:...
You are misinformed, there can be wide variation in flagella's, as evidenced by the fact that there are, in fact, a wide variety of flagella extant in various creatures. Where there can be variation, there can be selection. See "Finding Darwin's God", by Miller, for a blow-by-blow account of Behe's failed predictions on this subject.
Such arguments suffer badly when forced to come to grips with the real world. Much of the functionality of our genetic heritage is really rather flexibly manifest in the architecture of our folded protein structures, which will often still be quite functional with a few random hits in the exact composition of the generative DNA chain. This means we, as a population with dominents and recessives, can end up with a toolkit of nearly-alike genes, any one of which might suddenly be heavily favored by natural selection, in a mere couple of generations after a traumatic major change in the environment.
& give some thought to what the immune system does--producing overnight a brand-spanking new protein in response to an invading virus.
The model you are working with to produce these bogus odds-calculations is an insult to the richness of the field of discourse it pretends to describe.
Remember that "random" means utterly discontinuous functions of time.
That is not what "random" means. You may be referring to the particular case of uniform continuous distributions. But if so, it still sounds kinda garbled. Distributed over time is merely one possible attribute of a random function, and it's unclear to me what it means to be "discontinuously" distributed over time. I think you might be meaning to say: NOT a function of time at all.
...which might, or might not, mean a uniform continuous distribution. If it does, then this is, I think, your strongest argument. Assuming it is, I will point out that, while mutational change appears to be random with a uniform continuous distribution (but probably isn't quite). The resultant mutated population that gets to breed is decidedly a mean distribution with a strong central tendency, because the outliers have been eliminated by natural selection.
At some point if the improbabilities become too large then theory becomes insufficient.
You weren't there, Behe wasn't there, and Dembski wasn't there. You cannot construct a meaningful calculation of the odds against an event, if you can't rigorously specify the state-space and the selection criteria--and you can't.
Given that, there is a scientific rule of thumb that says: "don't bet on miracles, it ain't paid off yet one single time". Which suggests lots of small steps with small odds against, and lots of time to throw the dice, and, we suspect, extrapolating from the behavior of the immune system, decidedly crooked dice, on top of all that.