Monday, January 02, 2006

"Darwinism" as a staircase

The front cover of the economist christmas edition shows the classical subliminal message that human evolution is about progress up the ladder (staircase in this case). Although the actual article does rail against the popular concept of "survival of the fittest" because it completely mis-states the reality; it does mention such things as "progress", "great leap forward" as scientific concepts of what was happening at various stages. Genetic palaentology has been able to put accurate dates on common ancestry, which is really illuminating. Great science is happening, but darwinism as a popular ideology doesn't require it. To remain popular, Darwinism must still place humans on a pedestal above other living things. This is to replace the "specialness" that is given to humans in various religions. Because, in general, Darwinists profess to be non-religious, why should they care what happens to the human race if we are not special or superior to animals?

19 comments:

Andrew Shellshear said...

I can only speak for myself, but the fact that we haven't been given a morality from a god just means that we have to make up our own. Some non-secular people certainly get worried about this, but to me, secular humanism is a fairly obvious consequence of realising that there isn't a meta-*. There's only Us, so we should stick together. And that goes not only for humans, but all life on Earth.

I tend to worry about people who think "Oh well, it'll all fix itself, because it's all part of God's plan," though I worry more about those who think "How can I bring the Rapture closer?"

Also, I don't think most darwinists see evolution as a staircase - that's just the popular parody.

Marco said...

Popular parody it may be, but for the average citizen, the subliminal messages are the reality they embody. The number of times that I've seen intelligent people in the process of being convinced that evolution is impossible just boggles my mind. The "staircase" analogy and "survival of the fittest" catch phrase are easy targets for evangelists. To me they are easy targets for scientists as well, because they are unscientific statements that grossly simplify and trivialise the reality scientists have pretty much proved.

The fact that we haven't been given a morality from a god just means that *all religions have just made up their own*. Are you presuming that secular humanism is going to bypass the vices that ideologies and dogmas entail just because they don't mention a "God" or any other supernatural devices? The worst atrocities in recent human history have been perpetrated by leaders with secular ideologies consistent with evolution. The concept of morality is alive and well even with humanists. It just tends to be myself first, then my family, then my community, then my country, then the human race, then other living animals, then plants. If we are going to make up our own morality, it might do us well to include an all-seeing entity so people realise that bad things shouldn't be done even if you can't get caught.

winstoninabox said...

Please excuse the tersness of my replies, but my blogging time is short.

Are you presuming that secular humanism is going to bypass the vices that ideologies and dogmas entail just because they don't mention a "God" or any other supernatural devices?

Are you building a straw man just to beat the crap out of it?

The worst atrocities in recent human history have been perpetrated by leaders with secular ideologies consistent with evolution.

I'm glad only recent human history is applicable. It would be a real disservice to the argument to look at the whole picture.

winstoninabox said...

Hmm, please excuse my spelling, too.

Dr. Clam said...

Er, only recent history is applicable, because only in recent history have leaders been free to hold explicitly secular ideologies.
Anyway, the word 'recent' can be removed from Marco's statement and it will still be accurate.

Dr. Clam said...

"I can only speak for myself, but the fact that we haven't been given a morality from a god just means that we have to make up our own."

How can we in good conscience force other people to adhere to the morality that we make up? Hmmm? That's the real problem.
Why is it a logical consequence that 'we should stick together' applies to all life on Earth? What is logically wrong about saying, there's 'only Us', where Us is people who look like us and speak our language? Or, 'there's only Us vegetarians'? Or, 'there's only Us capitalists'?

Marco said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Marco said...

Err, yeah, I was just about to say that :-). Just because I don't believe in the "supernatural" doesn't mean that I don't think that our leaders shouldn't!

Marco said...

I've often been told that religion in power is "bad". The concept of religion has been extended to include people like Hitler and Stalin because they followed their ideology and dogma "religiously". So basically, we want people in power that don't believe strongly in anything! Perhaps like the current leaders of France and Germany.

Dr. Clam said...

As I recall, your post before this one suggested that the leaders of France and Germany are incapable of making rational decisions! I think people who don't believe strongly in anything are going to be at a serious competitive disadvantage compared to those who do- they are the 'memetically unfit'. As I recall the leaders of Europe c.1925 also fell mostly into the 'don't believe strongly in anything' category, and they were displaced by a cohort who believed all kinds of wacky nonsense very strongly.
I would suggest that the leaders we want are those who believe strongly in the right things- i.e., those who are fanatic follower of me and/or Marco.

Marco said...

As I recall, your post before this one suggested that the leaders of France and Germany are incapable of making rational decisions!

You have correctly detected my facetiousness.

I think people who don't believe strongly in anything are going to be at a serious competitive disadvantage compared to those who do- they are the 'memetically unfit'.

To be more correct the countries that they lead are at a serious competitive disadvantage. I am trying to push this evolution of countries analogy a lot.

As I recall the leaders of Europe c.1925 also fell mostly into the 'don't believe strongly in anything' category, and they were displaced by a cohort who believed all kinds of wacky nonsense very strongly.

I can imagine future leaders will use homeopathy as the basis of their new ideology :-)

I would suggest that the leaders we want are those who believe strongly in the right things- i.e., those who are fanatic follower of me and/or Marco.

Sure, we wouldn't even have to know about it. We could be their advisers - or they could get all their policy ideas from our blogs :)

winstoninabox said...

Er, only recent history is applicable, because only in recent history have leaders been free to hold explicitly secular ideologies.
Anyway, the word 'recent' can be removed from Marco's statement and it will still be accurate.

To your first point dr. clam, I wasn't disagreeing with Marco's point per se, but at its limited use as an argument against the straw man he constructed against andrew's post.

As to your second point Dr. Clam, well that's a whole different bag of atrocities 8)

Marco said...

Your terseness makes it hard to work out exactly what you mean. My initial point of disagreement was that secular humanism is not a likely uniting concept, and there's at least as much to worry about with secular leaders as with religious nutters. My other point was that the very images and catch-phrases that make Darwinism popular and powerful are also its vices and scientific weaknesses. If I have built a straw man etc. to make these points, so be it :-)

winstoninabox said...

Then again I apologize. I had only a few minutes to type at the time, and when I reread it my meaning is unclear and my terseness is woeful inadaquete.

Marco said...

Don't apologise! If only my supposed blog-reader friend Sandor could actually take a minute to make some smart-alec comment. I know he has some opinions on creation, science etc. or at least a good counter to the "survival of the fittest" catch phrase, or why evolving to a more intelligent level breaks fundamental rules of entropy (not)

Andrew Shellshear said...

You said:

"Because, in general, Darwinists profess to be non-religious, why should they care what happens to the human race if we are not special or superior to animals?"

...which I think I answered. There followed a great deal of what looked rather like secular-humanism-baiting. I'm pretty sure I didn't assert that secular humanism solves all the world's ills, or that we should force people to be secular humanists. And I'm aware that "There's only us" doesn't capture precisely the subtleties of secular humanist philosophy - people are free to set Us to be whatever subset they like for whatever purpose they like, and, of course, do so on a regular basis. There's nothing logically wrong with that: it just seems to me that the sensible place to set the boundary is at human/intelligent life for some purposes, and The Earth for other purposes. I suppose the setting of the boundary of "Us" at that broad position is one of the tenets of secular humanism.

I don't really have to explain secular humanism, do I?

Marco said...

For the purpose of discussion, assume that I'm also secular humanist, but I am pointing out what I disagree about this philosophy that I generally follow from day to day. To this end, "established religion bashing", playing loose with how a religion is defined, attacking lack of science within religions, but ignoring lack of science in secular organisations - are all things that are distinctive of secular humanists and are not right. I am not so much trying to bait secular humanists as trying to get them to say whether they agree that it is not right.

Even being a secular humanist, I still want my children to believe in God. I accept that I am very hypocritical in this sense.

Dr. Clam said...

Yes, you do have to explain secular humanism! Definitions are vital, because otherwise we go on for weeks or years before discovering that we are talking about completely different things...

I regret that my contributions looked like secular humanist baiting. There was no baiting going on whatsoever, as I would understand the term- i.e., accusing secular humanism of exhibiting or implying various forms of naughtiness with the motive of provoking a response.
I know you never suggested that everyone should be secular humanists (though I would be much happier if you did suggest it!). Society must impose certain basic standards on everyone, and I feel profoundly uncomfortable if it has no philosophical justification underpinning its ability to do so. We *need* to be able to force people to do what is required to maintain some sort of social cohesion, with some justification better than 'behave in this way or you will be punished'.

Anyway, here is me question: How is the basic axiom that the boundary of 'Us' be set at the boundaries you cite as a tenet of secular humanism justified within that ideology?

Marco said...

Based on not "needing" to explain secular humanism, one can quote ad hoc an explanation of its axioms such as these axioms and note that the placement of humans at the top of the ladder of evolution is actually a humanist assumption! (see humanist attitude {1}). It easily follows from this axiom that the respect for other species only extends to how it potentially affects humans. The humanist "idea" that religion is "bad" only really relates to the "inhumanity" religious people may demonstrate from time to time. This ignores the excellent "humanity" shown by other religious people (even zealots?) without having to be deterred by the threat of earthly punishment.