Kansas BOE Chair - It’s either the evolution or the Bible, not both

| 145 Comments

As we have discovered in Dover, public statements by Board members that are subsequently reported in the press can later become important pieces of evidence about the true motivations of those Board members’ actions

Now Kansas sate BOE chairperson Steve Abrams, mastermind of the 1999 creationists standards, the May 2005 “science hearings” and the current 2005 creationist standards, has given us a quote to remember. Speaking to a “group of Christian men called Open Public Education Now,” the Lawrence Journal World reports that

During a question-and-answer period to a mostly receptive audience of church-going social conservatives fed up with evolution, Abrams said one couldn’t believe in the Bible and evolution. You must believe one or the other.

“At some point in time, if you compare evolution and the Bible, you have to decide which one you believe,” Abrams said. “That’s the bottom line.”(my emphasis)

Well, that takes care of that, it seems.

My friend Red State Rabble (Pat Hayes) comments:

Abrams statement that one must choose between evolution and the bible is somewhat different than his mantra at the science hearings in Topeka last May. There, he said “I have been a proponent… of empirical science being defined by observable, measurable, testable, repeatable, and falsifiable… “ so often, that the audience began to mouth the words with him.

This is but one more example, among the many that might be cited, of the basic dishonesty of creationist and intelligent design advocates who say one thing in public where everyone can hear them, and quite another when they are speaking privately before groups that share their views.

Yep, (or perhaps “amen”) is what I have to say to Pat’s remarks. (By the way, I highly recommend you bookmark Red State Rabble as a concise and thoughtful blog for regular news and commentary on ID, evolution and related topics.)

145 Comments

I think a lot of red-state conservatives strongly disagree with Abrams and see no need to believe there is a conflict between evolution and religion. Those conservatives could get some help in dispelling the notion that there is a conflict if scientists like Richard Dawkins were not so in league with Abrams in fostering it by insisting that evolution proves atheism.

It is, of course, not “the Bible”, Abram’s interpretation of the Bible which is in conflict with science. Many religious authorities accept science…

http://www.mindandlife.org/hhdl.sci[…]section.html

http://www.ncseweb.org/resources/ar[…]_19_2002.asp

http://www.catholicnews.com/data/st[…]/0504505.htm

However, Abrams shows dishonesty by completely changing his message according to his forum.

Dishonesty violates the ethical teachings of the Bible. That’s pretty much true under any Biblical interpretation.

ID - neither valid science, nor valid Christianity, either. Just a politically motivated, self-serving con game.

I think you mean “It’s either the evolution or the Bible, not both” in both the title and the hyperlink to the extended article.

Hope that helps,

Grey Wolf

Ken Willis Wrote:

I think a lot of red-state conservatives strongly disagree with Abrams and see no need to believe there is a conflict between evolution and religion. Those conservatives could get some help in dispelling the notion that there is a conflict if scientists like Richard Dawkins were not so in league with Abrams in fostering it by insisting that evolution proves atheism.

**** you. I have read open calls on this forum to stop ‘religion-bashing’. If this is desired, atheist-bashing should be stopped as well. What’s good for the goose is good for the gander.

Ken Willis -

“Those conservatives could get some help in dispelling the notion that there is a conflict if scientists like Richard Dawkins were not so in league with Abrams in fostering it by insisting that evolution proves atheism”

This is partly true. But people should have some judgment as well.

It is more or less guaranteed that at any given time in a free society, someone will be a prominent atheist, and that hard core atheists (including prominent ones) will claim that science “supports atheism”.

The idea that science deals only with the vast but limited sphere of things which are, at least in principle, observable (directly or indirectly), measurable, and testable, appears to be a subtle one, at least for some people.

Rather than wish that Dawkins would stop exercising his perfect right to express himself, a more rational answer would be to recognize the difference between his testable scientific ideas and his religious ideas.

I’m in shock.

Those conservatives could get some help in dispelling the notion that there is a conflict if scientists like Richard Dawkins were not so in league with Abrams in fostering it by insisting that evolution proves atheism.

Well, Dawkins is entitled to whatever religious opinions (or lack of them) that he likes. What he’s NOT entitled to do is claim that his religious opinions (or lack of them) are “science”. Which, of course, he does *NOT* claim.

IDers, on the other hand, *DO* make that claim.

Once again, I will point out that “atheism” simply isn’t relevant to whether or not ID should be taught. ID isn’t science, whether there is a god or not. ID doesn’t belong in a sciecne classroom, whether there is a god or not. ID makes no testable scientific statemnets, whether there is a god or not. And it’s illegal to teach religious opinion in public schools, whether there is a god or not.

So it simply does not matter to this debate if there is a god or not.

“At some point in time, if you compare evolution and the Bible, you have to decide which one you believe,” Abrams said. “That’s the bottom line.”

One of my worst fears is that, after the Dover judge laughs the IDers out of his courtroom, the school board elections kick out all the nutters, and a new board composed of sane members drops the case before it goes to the Supreme COurt and kills ID once and for all.

Fortunately, though, the Kansas Kooks seem to be every bit as determiend to shoot themselves in the head as the Dover Dolts have been. So I relax, knowing that we do indeed have a very solid Plan B if the Dover case gets withdrawn before it kills ID.

It is, of course, not “the Bible”, Abram’s interpretation of the Bible which is in conflict with science.

Indeed, the fundies seem to seriously beleive that not only is the Bible infallible, but THEIR INTERPRETATIONS of it are also infallible.

Sorry, but I simply don’t believe that fundies are infallible. (shrug)

The critical difference between Dawkins and Abrams is that Dawkins is not voting on (nor devising) proposals to change what it is taught in public schools. Everyone is free to have your opinions, but an elected official has legal responsibilities when acting in his official capacities. Therefore Abrams’ beliefs are significant here in a way that Dawkins’ aren’t.

Also, to Lenny: if the current BOE creationist majority is overturned in next year’s elections, the Kansas situation won’t wind up being settled in the courts either. However, if they retain their majority so they’re in power for two more years (until early 2009), then I think you’ll see the Kansas situation in court; and remarks like Abrams’ will be evidence of a sectarian purpose behind their actions.

Jack Krebs Wrote:

By the way, I highly recommend you bookmark Red State Rabble as a concise and thoughtful blog for regular news and commentary on ID, evolution and related topics.

Red State Rabble has been on my reading list for some time, and I second Jack’s recommendation.

To Panda’s Thumb I would add another recommendation: put Red State Rabble on your list of Science & Evolution Blogs, right after Pharyngula. It belongs in that company.

I ran my last post through spell check. It doesn’t like “blog” and it doesn’t like “Pharyngula.” Can the dictionary be modified to add these & other words we’re likely to use?

Also, to Lenny: if the current BOE creationist majority is overturned in next year’s elections, the Kansas situation won’t wind up being settled in the courts either. However, if they retain their majority so they’re in power for two more years (until early 2009), then I think you’ll see the Kansas situation in court; and remarks like Abrams’ will be evidence of a sectarian purpose behind their actions.

Well, there’s always Buttars as a Plan C. ;>

But then, if the political tide turns and all the looney right-wingers who give the political fig leaf to the IDers are kicked out on their butts, then ID will go back to being an ignored lunatic fringe. As it should.

One of my worst fears is that, after the Dover judge laughs the IDers out of his courtroom, the school board elections kick out all the nutters, and a new board composed of sane members drops the case before it goes to the Supreme Court and kills ID once and for all.

Ditto

Ken Willis: … scientists like Richard Dawkins … insisting that evolution proves atheism.

Pls provide a specific citation in which Dawkins makes that claim.

Lenny Flank et al -

I’m not so sure I trust the upcoming Roberts court. I’ll be happy when the ID school board nuts are booted out by the voters. A bird in the hand…

ID, Discovery Institute version, cannot be “killed” per se, not even by a supreme court decision. Fortunately, it will undergo exponential decay. Right now, people are realizing that it is garbage from a scientific, political, or religious point of view, and that bilking “supporters” out of money is a big part of its function. There will be a rapid decline in popular support for ID. Things like school boards pushing ID, “conservative” teen-agers declaring themselves ID advocates, “ID groups” at colleges other than Liberty U and BJU, and editorials that take ID seriously, will rapidly drop off the radar. Funding for the DI will suffer less, since it comes disproportionately from brains that have been exceedingly well-washed, and since DI has other sleazy products to tout, but DI funding will fall as well.

However, as time goes on, the rate of decline will decrease. Twenty years from now, Dembski will still be preaching ID to a very small group of supporters, whose numbers will decline only very slowly. The DI will be there as well. But they’ll be yesterday’s nuts, about as influential as the “Chariots of the Gods” crowd is today.

As for nutjob attacks on teaching science, especially from would-be authoritarians who want their own opinions taught to children as “science”, those will continue to arise. They’ll prosper in times when the politicians in charge are hostile to science for short-term self-serving reasons (as was the case for ID in the period that we are now seeing the end of); they’ll do more poorly when the public sees a need for science (as in the “Sputnik era”, or as may happen soon if the public begins to realize that science could have largely prevented or greatly lessened the impact of the recent hurricane-related tragedies). But they’ll always be there.

Classic Kent Hovind style, rip-off-the-poor-and-uneducated, theme-park-and-“debate” creationism will continue on, unabated, largely unaffected by the decline of ID.

Well, as Lenny always points out, it is just asking too much of these creationist types to conceal their evangelical motives for five minutes, even if their whole political success depends on it…

“Oh. Lord, make my enemies ridiculous.” -Voltaire

Granted!

Ken Willis:

I think a lot of red-state conservatives strongly disagree with Abrams and see no need to believe there is a conflict between evolution and religion. Those conservatives could get some help in dispelling the notion that there is a conflict if scientists like Richard Dawkins were not so in league with Abrams in fostering it by insisting that evolution proves atheism.

The problem is not with Dawkins. He famously said that “Evolution makes it possible to be an intellectually fulfilled atheist.” But that is neither an attack on religion nor a claim that evolution proves atheism. Indeed, stripped to its essentials it asserts no more than Philip Johnsons claim that without evolution, atheism would be incoherent. But even so anaemic a claim is greated with howls of outrage by (some) Christians.

The problem is, then that those “red state conservatives” interpret any failure to ringingly endorse Christianity as an explicit attack on Christianity. The problem is that while US Christians are not persecuted in any way, they need a persecution complex to maintain there faith.

I’m not so sure I trust the upcoming Roberts court.

I think the current political influence of the fundies is seriously overestimated.

I don’t think hte Republican Party wants to implement any of the funide agenda. And neither do the courts.

The corporados still run the Republicrat Party, and theocracy is bad for business.

At some point in time, if you compare evolution and the Bible, you have to decide which one you believe

And is there any doubt about the nature of the Belief Abrams is referring to? I think his “choose one or the other to believe in” is entirely consistent with the notion that Belief is something adopted blindly and defended on the grounds of righteousness rather than evidence. In Abrams’ view, he is being presented with two texts of Received Wisdom, each of which demand his worship, and which flatly contradict one another. The Path of Wisdom between the two passes through the Valley of Knowledgeable Thought, and Abrams can no longer travel it.

I hope someone has the good sense to go depose a few of the attendees at that affair, quickly, to get their views on what Abrams really said. Abrams, being not of the scientific view, will deny he said it, at trial, later. Get him on the record now.

Jack Krebs Wrote:

The critical difference between Dawkins and Abrams is that Dawkins is not voting on (nor devising) proposals to change what it is taught in public schools. Everyone is free to have your opinions, but an elected official has legal responsibilities when acting in his official capacities. Therefore Abrams’ beliefs are significant here in a way that Dawkins’ aren’t.

Bingo! No one is trying to get Dawkins’ books on philosophy and religion in biology classes or school libraries. The same cannot be said for “Of Pandas and People”.

‘I think a lot of red-state conservatives strongly disagree with Abrams and see no need to believe there is a conflict between evolution and religion. Those conservatives could get some help in dispelling the notion that there is a conflict if scientists like Richard Dawkins were not so in league with Abrams in fostering it by insisting that evolution proves atheism.’

Look, let’s be honest here. Evolution does serious damage to Christianity. Maybe not Buddism, Hinduism, Deism and others but it does throw a monkey(no pun intended) into the workings of Christianity. Just because many Christians accept evolution doesn’t make their position any more tenable. It most cases it creates even more questions that cannot be answered.

But it does show the flexibility of the religion. But trying to fit evolution into the religion creates problems either on the front end or the back end. Particuarlly when evolution is accepted as the continuim that it is. I mean is it only homo sapiens that has a soul while neanderthal had none?

Chance has a good point. Christianity generally seems to brim with hubris. They concocted not just any old god(s), but one who made our species the crown of creation, the purpose of that creation, in a miracle of poof, and designed to look just like him. Christianity goes to considerable lengths to make people not only vastly and specifically above the “lower animals” (who in turn were specifically created for our pleasure), but very nearly gods in our own right.

And though some claim to be Christians and also claim to see no conflict, I can’t see how this incredibly lofty pedestal can be reconciled with the scientific position that people are Just Another Accident, essentially a transient and purposeless outcropping of a totally indifferent creative process which has for billions of years and may for billions more produce one such contingent accident after another, for no better reason than that’s what the process does.

harold:

The idea that science deals only with the vast but limited sphere of things which are, at least in principle, observable (directly or indirectly), measurable, and testable, appears to be a subtle one, at least for some people.

The idea that there exists anything other than the “limited” sphere of things observable by science is an assumption for which there is no justification.

Rather than wish that Dawkins would stop exercising his perfect right to express himself, a more rational answer would be to recognize the difference between his testable scientific ideas and his religious ideas.

What “religious” ideas would those be?

Don P:

The idea that there exists anything other than the “limited” sphere of things observable by science is an assumption for which there is no justification.

I think you are making a category error here, in what you are regarding as a “thing”. So here we go again: science can tell us if person A killed person B. But science can never tell us if this was the right thing to do. We recognize multiple circumstances where this behavior is acceptable (for example, self-defense) or even worthy of awards and decorations. In other words, rightness or wrongness is very real, very meaningful, and very much outside the limits of science.

You might wish to watch some court cases for a few days. The actual facts are in dispute only in a small minority of the cases – everyone agrees on what happened, and usually agree on why. But which party is “right” is important not just to the parties involved, but to all of us (because precedents are important). And science has nothing relevant to say about any of it. You call this “no justification”? Tell it to the judge.

flint:

I think you are making a category error here, in what you are regarding as a “thing”. So here we go again: science can tell us if person A killed person B. But science can never tell us if this was the right thing to do.

I think you’re the one making the category error. I never said anything about morality. My statement concerned beliefs about what exists, not beliefs about how one ought to behave.

We recognize multiple circumstances where this behavior is acceptable (for example, self-defense) or even worthy of awards and decorations. In other words, rightness or wrongness is very real, very meaningful, and very much outside the limits of science.

Huh? Why are moral beliefs any more “outside the limits of science” than any other kind of belief?

Flint:

And though some claim to be Christians and also claim to see no conflict, I can’t see how this incredibly lofty pedestal can be reconciled with the scientific position that people are Just Another Accident, essentially a transient and purposeless outcropping of a totally indifferent creative process which has for billions of years and may for billions more produce one such contingent accident after another, for no better reason than that’s what the process does.

Fortunately, the argument from incredulity washes no better in religion than it does in science. Just because you cannot understand it does not make the positions of Kenneth Miller, Simon Conway Morris, or Howard van Till any less coherent.

As a matter of interest, there is no “scientific position that people are Just Another Accident”. For there to be such a position, there would need to be a scientifically meaningfull concept of “intended” to operate as a contrast to “non-intended” (ie, accidental). It is a broadly accepted scientific finding that humans unusually or uniquely complicated in any biological sense (they have unique adaptions, but biologically they are not more significant than unique adaptions found in other species) - which is irrelevant to whether they are morally or ‘spiritually’ unique. There is also a commonly accepted, but disputed (see “Life’s Solution” by Simon Conway Morris) scientific hypothesis that given the existence of life on earth, the evolution of sapient bipeds with dextrous appendages is stastically improbable. Such a finding would be challenging to Simon Conway Morris’s theology, but he challenges the finding on cogent scientific grounds. It would be irrelevant to Kenneth Miller’s theology unless the probability was so small, or the probability of the naturalistic origin of life so small that the probability of such sapient life in the universe was small. It is completely irrelevant to Howard van Till’s theology regardless of other scientific findings.

Tom Curtis:

Just because you cannot understand it does not make the positions of Kenneth Miller, Simon Conway Morris, or Howard van Till any less coherent.

They’re not necessarily “incoherent.” They’re irrational. The world we actually find ourselves living in is not the world we would expect to see if it were the creation of an omnipotent and benevolent God. Science doesn’t disprove Christianity, but it does make it very implausible.

As a matter of interest, there is no “scientific position that people are Just Another Accident”.

Yes there is. The scientific evidence suggests that human beings exist at all only because of a series of cosmic accidents, such as the impact event that wiped out the dinosaurs 65 million years ago. If it had not been for this string of chance events, human beings would never have evolved. It’s hard to reconcile this evidence with the Christian doctrine that human life is part of some grand plan by a benevolent and omnipotent God.

Don P:

Actually, it’s not hard at all. If one posits that we are here because of a cosmic Grand Plan concocted by the Intelligent Designer Formerly Known As YHWH, then the dinosaurs HAD to give way, and their extinction was preplanned like everything else.

Don’t fall in the trap of accepting the reversal of the burden of proof: it isn’t science that has to show that those were chance events; it’s those who claim otherwise who need to show evidence of their teleology.

Tom Curtis Wrote:

There is a common creationist fallacy that because humans are religiously important, therefore they must also be scientifically important, ie, in some sense the end of any biological process which produces them. Because evolution does not have humans as an end (as opposed to a product), theists who commit this fallacy are certain that evolution cannot be the story of how humans got here.

There is also, unfortunately, a distressingly common fallacy amongst atheists: that because humans are not scientifically important (ie, not the “end” of the evolutionary process any more than bacteria or birds are), therefore they are not religiously important. This is supposed to be the essential discordance between religious belief and science - that religions assert the religious importance of humans, but that science shows they are not “anything special”. Thus while creationists assert “If religiously important, then scientifically important”; these atheists assert the contraposition - but it is a fallacy in either case. The most that can be legitimately be asserted is that science does not provide independant confirmation of the suposed religious importance of humans.

I think that is largely irrelevant, however. We humans are without question of moral significance; for we are the only beings on this planet capable of having moral values, of acting morally or immorally. That simple fact both acts as a counterexample to the fallacy, and underwrites as well as could be hoped any claim to religious significance by homo sapiens. The claim to religious significance fails not because it is without basis in the facts about humans; but because there is no God to underwrite it.

Except for the last sentence, which I disagree with because I’m a Christian, this is an excellent point. It’s at the heart of the evolution-Creationism conflict.

This is also an excellent point:

Tom Curtis Wrote:

If top scientists were noted for their theological sophistication, you might have a point. There is, however, no such thing as universal competence; and indeed, scientists in general are not noted for their theological (or philosophical sophistication). Nor should they be. A life devoted to studying science is, ipso facto, a life not devoted to studying philsophy or theology. The typical scientist’s understanding of theology, therefore, is not likely to be much better than a typical theologians understanding of evolution. So while the data is evidence that science is incompatible with naive theologies (ie, fundamentalism); it is not relevant to the issue of the compatibility of science and religion in general. Being a scientist no more puts you in a priviliged position to judge theology than being a lawyer puts you in a privileged position to judge science.

Flint Wrote:

Tom Curtis:

We humans are without question of moral significance; for we are the only beings on this planet capable of having moral values, of acting morally or immorally. That simple fact both acts as a counterexample to the fallacy, and underwrites as well as could be hoped any claim to religious significance by homo sapiens.

May I question this assertion? We observe “social norms” operating in other species, and we observe violations of those norms by individuals. We observe punishment meted out to the violators if they are caught. Should we project that we are seeing the operation of “moral values” in these behaviors, or should we insist that we are the only species so capable because WE SAY SO?

You are begging the question. In order to act morally or immorally, one must understand the difference between right and wrong, and be capable of freely choosing one or the other free of coercion. Your example changes the definition of acting morally to acting according to external coercion (or reward), not according to free choice. Your argumentation is that there is no such thing as moral choice, not that chimpanzees or dolphins are also capable of the same kind of moral choices that humans are.

In my personal model, a moral tenet is a social protocol, nothing more. Social protocols are implemented in two ways: by convincing individuals from birth that they are the “right thing to do” so that we do them pretty much without thinking, or are appalled by the idea of breaking them, or at the very least feel guilty and unworthy if we do break them (enforcement by morality). And by declaring civil penalties for violation (passing laws against something) whereby the motivation to behave “properly” is disconnected from our sense of self-worth, and associated with the probability of getting caught times the penalty if we are. The first enforcement mechanism is what religion strives to instill, the second is entirely secular.

Do you see the problem here? Free societies depend upon people following social protocols - the alternative is either chaos or a totalitarian state. And people following these social protocols depends upon them being inculcated in children, such that they learn to follow the norms instinctively. But the way they are inculcated is by telling children that it is imperative that they follow these norms, even if nobody is watching. Yet your “personal model” states that these norms don’t have any external reason for existence, aside from keeping society ordered. But why should any given individual care whether society is ordered? Especially if they would gain more personal power in a more anarchic society. If everybody adopted your “personal model”, your personal model could not exist.

While there has been a great deal of interesting information and view points shared on this thread.….

In summary, the arguments:

Argument 1.

Atheist: There is no god.

Non Atheist: Is too.

Atheist: Is not!

Non Atheist: Is Too!

Atheist: Is Not!

Non Atheist: Is TOO!

Atheist: Is NOT!

IS TOO!

IS NOT!

Continue ad infinitum.

Argument 2.

Theist: There can be no morality without a belief in God.

Atheist: Sure there can.

Theist: Can not.

Atheist: Can Too.

Theist: Can Not!

Atheist: Can TOO!

Theist: CAN NOT!

Atheist: CAN TOO!!!

Continue ad infinitum.

Have I missed the basic grist?

Shenda

It’s “gist”, unless you meant your post to be grist for the mill.

And I’d like to think there’s been a little more substance than that, but I’m not about to go back and read any of it again, tell you that.

Mike S with all due respect you are all wet.

‘I think this exemplifies a fundamental misunderstanding that many critics of Christianity (or of religious beliefs in general) have. Christianity is a combination of revelation (the Scriptures), rational argumentation (Christian philosophy and theology), and tradition.’

I’ll give you the first one, the rational argumentation is just funny and then tradition is simply an argument from authority saying nothing about whether the underlying premises are correct or not. The critics are not wrong, whatever it is it still posits the omnipotent, omnibenevolent God. Which is not a bad thing, but it is what is presented.

‘Many critics of Christianity start with the assumption that its adherents have some sort of ulterior motives for their particular beliefs (e.g. control over people, economic power, political power, to explain away unpleasant aspects of reality, or to explain natural phenomena).’

OK, but your forgot about simple indoctrination and cultural forces. The simple fact is your religion is a product of your culture. And you haven’t proven any of the assumptions incorrect.

‘Thus your claim that an omnipotent and benevolent creator God is a premise of Christianity implies that someone set out to create a religion, and for whatever reason (e.g. to placate people insecure about their place in the world) developed a set of premises for it, one of which was that God must be omnipotent and benevolent. But that is counterfactual - the theological claim that God is both omnipotent and benevolent has roots in revelation, rational arguments, and tradition within the church.’

Not rational arguments, arguments. What value is revelation really? I mean it could be revealed to me that you are totally wrong and you could provide no defense whatsoever outside of faith. And again tradition could just be building on the mistakes of a previous generation. No way to smell them out if you give deference to tradition as some form of idealistic endeavor. In science tradition is virtually nonexistent and an idea can be toppled with evidence and reality.

And whether you like it or not someone did set out to found each and every religion that exists in the world today. They were created and nursed by humans.

‘ut why should any given individual care whether society is ordered? Especially if they would gain more personal power in a more anarchic society. If everybody adopted your “personal model”, your personal model could not exist.’

This is so naive’ I’m suprised to actually read it on a science board. An individual will care is society is ordered for the same reason any social species does, it’s hardwired. We are social, it causes us emotional pain to be seperated or shunned from our ‘herd’. You have a common misunderstanding of human behaviour and seem to think ALL humans seek more personal power. We have some aspects of ‘alpha’ or dominant males in our culture but the majority of humans seek to provide good lives for their families and concentrate more on subgroups/ aka families.

This was not always the case, as smaller populations tend to favor more concentrated power to a few individuals. You see a similiar event in communes and among certain religious groups where a leader emerges who monopolizes the commune and eventually the reproduction.

A good argument could be made that those who give their minds over to ‘tradition’ are simply following the perceived alpha leader without actually thinking for themselves. From a biological perspective that is.

Mike S:

I think we are talking past one another, which often happens in discussions of this sort.

In order to act morally or immorally, one must understand the difference between right and wrong, and be capable of freely choosing one or the other free of coercion.

In the cases I had in mind, this is *exactly* how I interpret the known behavior. The individuals know they’re violating norms. They know they risk punishment by doing so. They calculate the odds, and sometimes cheat. As I see it, the only way to dismiss this behavior as “not understanding what they’re doing” is to DECLARE that they don’t understand, behavior be damned. These species are by all indications making moral choices.

Do you see the problem here?

No.

Free societies depend upon people following social protocols - the alternative is either chaos or a totalitarian state.

Totalitarian states ARE societies. I said nothing about “free”; this is a loaded political term.

And people following these social protocols depends upon them being inculcated in children, such that they learn to follow the norms instinctively.

On the contrary, as I wrote, this is ONE way it’s done. If it were the only way possible, our entire legal system would be moot.

But the way they are inculcated is by telling children that it is imperative that they follow these norms, even if nobody is watching.

Yes, this is one way. Speaking generally, moral rules won’t work otherwise. Our efforts to legislate morality are worse than a failure, they are the poster child for the Law of Unintended Consequences. It doesn’t work.

Yet your “personal model” states that these norms don’t have any external reason for existence, aside from keeping society ordered.

So what? As an aside to Chance here, I own and have read Shermer’s book, in which he contends that “human nature” evolved over the last 100,000 years or so SOLELY because it kept society ordered. It was only formalized into religion as we know it over the last 10,000 years or so. What other “external reason” would you have in mind?

But why should any given individual care whether society is ordered?

Because a disordered society is extremely unpleasant, unpredictable, dangerous, and confusing.

Especially if they would gain more personal power in a more anarchic society.

You are assuming your conclusion. There is no such thing as an “anarchic society”, since anarchy is the absence of any society. And in such an absense, personal power is meaningless. Personal power is a *social construct*, and makes sense only within that framework.

If everybody adopted your “personal model”, your personal model could not exist.

My personal model was not a recommendation for how to behave, but rather an explanation for WHY people behave the way they do. If my model poorly describes what people do, this doesn’t change social behavior anymore than Ptolemy’s system prevented the earth from orbiting the sun.

sanjait:

It is clear that morality does influence selection, which we presume from observations of altruism and fairness in animals.

I’m not convinced. I agree with you that we are *observing real moral behavior* in these animals (although Mike S disagrees), but I still don’t see the feedback being significant. I’m sure there is some, but I consider morality to be a general category of behaviors not very reducible to genetics. In other words, I think gregariousness is heritable, so perhaps morality in the abstract (institutionalizing what works through socialization) reduces breeding opportunities for non-gregarious individuals. But specific behaviors (though shalt not do X, but always do Y) are highly cultural.

Shenda:

Some societies (and religions) have no gods. Yet they have morality, often exquisitely defined.

Just for the record I’m a theist and I think you can have morality as a natural construct. As mentioned. So I guess it blows the gist.

This is the thread that will never die. Maybe it should now.

Later folks.

“It’s “gist”, unless you meant your post to be grist for the mill.”

From Merriam-Webster OnLine:

Main Entry: grist Pronunciation: ‘grist Function: noun

3 : matter of interest or value forming the basis of a story or analysis

Huh. Thanks. never seen it used thataway.

’ I agree with you that we are *observing real moral behavior* in these animals (although Mike S disagrees), but I still don’t see the feedback being significant.’

See here we go, I think you folks see it but don’t A. want to accept it B. can’t see the origins of ‘morality’ among simpler life forms.

You can see traces of what we call moral and immoral behaviour among many animals-higher and lower if such a term has validity at all. I mean what is ‘real’ moral behaviour. Morality is an opinion and nothing more. What you are actually talking about is behaviour among an animal species- homo sapiens. Then assigning a value to it.

Imagine if you were an alien field researcher studying homo sapiens. Through that lens you would make observations of behaviour minus the ‘moral’ opinion. Using said observations your determining nature for an action would have a biological origin. Just as when we see ants attack another colony, chimps hunting monkeys or making war, etc.

It’s only our language and our prejudices which keeps this from being fairly obvious.

‘I’m sure there is some, but I consider morality to be a general category of behaviors not very reducible to genetics. In other words, I think gregariousness is heritable, so perhaps morality in the abstract (institutionalizing what works through socialization) reduces breeding opportunities for non-gregarious individuals. But specific behaviors (though shalt not do X, but always do Y) are highly cultural.’

But again ones actions in said culture is often determined to a large degree by ones genetic predispositions. It’s unlikely a timid individual will rise to the alpha position, likewise the overly aggressive individual may not succeed do to the ‘herd’ response to their actions.

Thats it for me, great conversation but man this thread is to long.

20 years we’ll pick it up folks.

“Huh. Thanks. never seen it used thataway.”

An English degree is occasionally (but not often) useful. :(

Shenda Wrote:

An English degree is occasionally (but not often) useful.

An English degree in what? Or did you mean “degree in English”? :)

Well, in either case it’s better than a degree Celsius. %:->

Uber,

I’m not going to get into the weeds on the theology/morality issue. I do want to respond to a couple things you said, however,

In science tradition is virtually nonexistent and an idea can be toppled with evidence and reality.

This is flat-out false - tradition is highly important in science. Tradition alone does not justify any particular scientific claim, but the process of doing science is highly influenced by tradition. I know you don’t agree, but the same is true of Christianity.

A good argument could be made that those who give their minds over to ‘tradition’ are simply following the perceived alpha leader without actually thinking for themselves. From a biological perspective that is.

The same argument can be made about those who intinctively reject tradition. No thoughtful person blindly accepts all traditions, and no thoughtful person rejects all traditions.

Flint,

I think we are talking past one another, which often happens in discussions of this sort.

I think the problem is that we have fundamentally different concepts of what morality is, which is not going to be reconciled in the comment section (if it’s even possible in the first place).

In the cases I had in mind, this is *exactly* how I interpret the known behavior. The individuals know they’re violating norms. They know they risk punishment by doing so. They calculate the odds, and sometimes cheat. As I see it, the only way to dismiss this behavior as “not understanding what they’re doing” is to DECLARE that they don’t understand, behavior be damned. These species are by all indications making moral choices.

To me, choosing not to do something bad because you might get caught is not moral choice (or morally good choice) - it’s simply behaving based upon the external coercion of being fined, or put in jail. I do not think that e.g., chimps, are making moral choices at all - they are making choices based upon risk/reward calculations. Sometimes humans do this as well. You seem to think that these types of choices are a) moral choices, and b) the only kinds of choices that humans are capable of. But we aren’t going to get to the bottom of this issue here.

Totalitarian states ARE societies. I said nothing about “free”; this is a loaded political term.

It’s only “loaded” if you want to argue that there is no moral difference between totalitarian and free societies. If that is the case, there really is a chasm between our respective understandings of morality.

And people following these social protocols depends upon them being inculcated in children, such that they learn to follow the norms instinctively.

On the contrary, as I wrote, this is ONE way it’s done. If it were the only way possible, our entire legal system would be moot.

Here I think we are talking past one another. My point was precisely that our legal system would be moot without the vast majority of people instincively obeying the rules. If all we had was the coercive power of our legal system to control people’s behavior, either the system would break down or the state would have to completely control everyone’s lives - hence, a totalitarian state.

Yes, this is one way. Speaking generally, moral rules won’t work otherwise. Our efforts to legislate morality are worse than a failure, they are the poster child for the Law of Unintended Consequences. It doesn’t work.

I don’t understand why this statement and the previous one are not contradictory.

But why should any given individual care whether society is ordered?

Because a disordered society is extremely unpleasant, unpredictable, dangerous, and confusing.

Not to the person with power. Iraq was such a society when Saddam was in charge, but it was great for him - he could indulge his every whim. You seem to be arguing here as if humans are all perfectly rational. And you also seem to be ignoring the fact that the vast majority of humans, past and present, have lived under such societies. Although perhaps we are talking past each other regarding the meaning of an “ordered” society. To me, Saddam’s Iraq, North Korea, and Haiti are all disordered societies.

You are assuming your conclusion. There is no such thing as an “anarchic society”, since anarchy is the absence of any society. And in such an absense, personal power is meaningless. Personal power is a *social construct*, and makes sense only within that framework.

This is an artificial distinction. Places like Liberia, or Haiti, are anarchic, but there are still groups of people there interacting with each other. If you want, we’ll come up with some other word besides society to describe “groups of interacting humans”, but I don’t know what that word is. And personal power in such a context may seem meaningless to you, but it’s not to the warlord, or 16 year old thug whose stronger and meaner than everyone in his neighborhood. Nor to the weak who live or die at the mercy of the strong.

Mike S:

OK, I’ll talk past you now…

It’s only “loaded” if you want to argue that there is no moral difference between totalitarian and free societies. If that is the case, there really is a chasm between our respective understandings of morality.

I guess so. I regard states and societies as amoral. Individuals are moral. And this is why legislating the sort of morality you are referring to doesn’t work. It’s a good question whether you can have a functional society composed of groups whose varying value systems are to heterogeneous.

My point was precisely that our legal system would be moot without the vast majority of people instincively obeying the rules. If all we had was the coercive power of our legal system to control people’s behavior, either the system would break down or the state would have to completely control everyone’s lives - hence, a totalitarian state.

This could lead to a very long discussion. Perhaps for convenience, we can divide legal rules into two categories: those that cast moral codes followed by most people anyway into legal terms to provide a legal excuse to punish those who do NOT follow them, and those that are morally neutral in the minds of most of us. Few people find it immoral to speed, I suppose. Most administrative regulation falls into your risk/benefit calculation category. I certainly agree that society could not work unless most people acted in predictable ways most of the time. But not even the most totalitarian state would work otherwise: you’d need at least one cop per citizen, and the cops themselves wouldn’t follow the rules…

I don’t understand why this statement and the previous one are not contradictory.

My fault, I was talking about different things. The sort of legislation that fails is the sort that attempts to enforce the moral behavior almost entirely honored in the breach. Generally, this is the sort of moral behavior *other people* should adopt, but not me.

Not to the person with power. Iraq was such a society when Saddam was in charge, but it was great for him

Nope, we missed completely. Iraq wasn’t even remotely disordered under Saddam, it was HIGHLY ordered. When I speak of order, I speak of people speaking the same language and able to communicate, people working together at any time to do anything, etc. Iraq was downright monolithic by comparison. My idea is, there CANNOT BE a “disordered society” by definition. Some species are extremely solitary, coming together only to mate (and even then, one party being eaten). THAT’S the kind of behavior I was thinking of. Personal power means little during anarchy.

This is an artificial distinction. Places like Liberia, or Haiti, are anarchic, but there are still groups of people there interacting with each other.

I think you may misjudge the political reality in such places. In real life, the national borders of places like Liberia are arbitrary lines drawn on maps by outsiders, not corresponding to traditional social (tribal) territories. The “recognized government” (by the US, anyway) may not be able to exercise meaningful authority outside the capital city (i.e. can’t raise taxes elsewhere), and each outlying population center has its own effective governance. This isn’t anarchy for the individual, but it means the lines the outsiders drew are not politically meaningful. Imagine the surprise all of the Amazon tribes (who exist in a kind of prickly territorial mutual tolerance) if they were to learn that they were all “Brazilians”. Imagine how many different languages you’d need to tell them this. Yet each tribe is a society, not anarchic at all.

personal power in such a context may seem meaningless to you, but it’s not to the warlord, or 16 year old thug

I understand what you’re saying, but you don’t seem to. What’s to prevent the warlord or thug’s potential victims from simply moving on? What ties them to circumstances that cause such misery? Clearly, these ties are even more powerful than the motivation to get away. And it is THOSE TIES that give the thug his power. What are they, anyway? The thug’s power derives from his use of the ramifications of ordered society as leverage.

Not to insult the several rather thoughtful people who have contributed into turning this thread into a discussion of morality, but discusssing morality with a Christian is kind of like discussing sexual technique with an eighty-year-old virgin: they have neither knowledge of the subject nor the ability or courage to act upon any useful information offered to them. To set forth my ultimate indictment of many humans, and most Christians, and all Xians: they have no interest in seeing things working out in their own compromsed-but-increasingly-reasoned-ever-disorderly way, in a human and therefore very “imperfect” (by their standards) world, but in their ideals, which they have no stake in save pride, being proclaimed supreme, at varying costs of (others’) life.

(Get’m here, folks! Long, convoluted sentences!)

Have I missed the basic grist?

Nope, you got it jsut fine.

And I’ll just repeat what I said before:

ID isn’t science, whether there is a god or not.

ID has nothing scientific to offer, whether there is a god or not.

ID is nothing but religious apologetics, whether there is a god or not.

It is illegal to teach religious apologetics, whether there is a god or not.

So what difference does it make, in the fight against ID, if there is a god or not, and why the hell are we wasting so many electrons arguing over it?

I’m recycling my electrons.

Flint:

May I question this assertion? We observe “social norms” operating in other species, and we observe violations of those norms by individuals. We observe punishment meted out to the violators if they are caught. Should we project that we are seeing the operation of “moral values” in these behaviors, or should we insist that we are the only species so capable because WE SAY SO?

In my personal model, a moral tenet is a social protocol, nothing more. Social protocols are implemented in two ways: by convincing individuals from birth that they are the “right thing to do” so that we do them pretty much without thinking, or are appalled by the idea of breaking them, or at the very least feel guilty and unworthy if we do break them (enforcement by morality). And by declaring civil penalties for violation (passing laws against something) whereby the motivation to behave “properly” is disconnected from our sense of self-worth, and associated with the probability of getting caught times the penalty if we are. The first enforcement mechanism is what religion strives to instill, the second is entirely secular.

Evidentally we have different definitions of morality. I follow Kant in only accepting as moral those principles which can be stated without use of proper names or indexicals. So “everybody ought to give me the money they owe me” can only be a moral principle if derived from a statement of the form, “For all x, and for all y, if x owes y money, then x ought to give y that money.” But this statement also has the implication that, “IF I owe someone money, I ought to give it to them”. That is the cruncher about moral principles - any principle you expect others to comply with must also be complied with by you, if it is a moral principle. Of course, if it is not a moral principle, we cannot rationally expect them to comply with it except by the threat of punishment or reward.

I would argue that such principles are cognitively complex. They are well beyond the comprehension of two year olds, for example. And cognitive capacity is significantly a function of linguistic capacity (not just the ability to speak, but the ability to use language mentally). Given that the linguistic capacity of even the most capable of non-human primates equates to that of a two year old, this strongly suggests that such primates do not have the cognitive capacity to be moral agents.

Of course, the best cognitive performance (not linguistic, but cognitive) by a non-human primate equates to that by a seven - nine year old human; and seven to nine year old humans are certainly capable of moral discrimination. Further, it is certainly possible to act according to a principle without being able to express or understand it. So in principle, higher primates and cetaceans may be capable of moral behaviour. The test of this is not whether they are punished for violating social norms, but whether they (occassionaly) punish themselves for doing so, either by guilt or remorse. I am not aware of behaviour that could reasonably be interpreted as guilt or remorse in the animal kingdom (but what I don’t know about observational ethology would swamp the world’s data bases).

Given the above, I am prepared to concede for the sake of argument that higher primates and some cetaceans (and possibly some other animals) are capable of moral agency. This would just mean a putative god would have reason to be interested in them also. It would not challenge humanities special status on this planet. The moral capacity of humans for good or ill far outstrips that of any other animal without question.

Discovering genuine moral capacity (by my definition) in another animal species would, however, have momentous consequences. If chimps had a genuine moral capacity, however limited, then killing them would be murder just as much as killing a human.

Finally, this stark (as I see it) moral contrast between humans and other animals is not a significant biological contrast. The difference in moral capacity is almost entirely a function of difference in linguistic capacity. And that difference is almost certainly very small in terms biochemistry and neurological function. In formal terms, an automaton capable of moving only one way on a tape is equivalent in computational capacity to the language ability of chimps. Just allowing that same machine to move in both directions lifts its capacity so that it can be a universal turing machine, and gives it the same formal capacity as human language.

Lenny Flank:

So what difference does it make, in the fight against ID, if there is a god or not, and why the hell are we wasting so many electrons arguing over it?

A) Because it is enjoyable to have an intelligent conversation; something all creationist debaters face a lack of on the internet;

B) Because we are all opinionated, and opinionated people always suffer from last-word-ittis;

C) Because the science versus pseudo-science aspect of the debate is the sympton rather than the disease in creationism. By debating the relationship of God and science, and or morality, we hope to treat the disease both in creationists and in some anti-creationists who present differently but suffer from the same disease.

darwinfinch:

Not to insult the several rather thoughtful people who have contributed into turning this thread into a discussion of morality, but discusssing morality with a Christian is kind of like discussing sexual technique with an eighty-year-old virgin: they have neither knowledge of the subject nor the ability or courage to act upon any useful information offered to them.

I will note your opinion that discussing morality with Martin Luther King Jr would have been a total waste of time; and that discussing it with Nelson Mandella or Desmond Tutu would also be pointless - and treat it with the contempt it deserves.

Tom Curtis:

Given the above, I am prepared to concede for the sake of argument that higher primates and some cetaceans (and possibly some other animals) are capable of moral agency. This would just mean a putative god would have reason to be interested in them also. It would not challenge humanities special status on this planet. The moral capacity of humans for good or ill far outstrips that of any other animal without question.

As I read it, what you are describing is the mental horsepower necessary to think abstractly enough to be able to (more or less) predict the consequences of one’s actions. With that predictive ability comes a corollary - the notion that we can (more or less) *control* those consequences by behaving differently. And in this context, morality is one step more abstract: given that we are able to exercise this control, we can encourage organized behavior which by trial and error turns out to produce what we approximate as the greatest good for the greatest number, within a society. And the more clearly any desired behaviors are codified, the larger the society that can operate under them.

So in my lexicon, morality is the behaviors we wish to make universal (Kant’s “platinum rule” – that we should do unto others as we would wish everone to do unto everyone in the same circumstances), while ethics are the codification of that morality. Of course, Kant is presenting us with a framework for devising protocols which will (if properly applied) result in a certain class of behaviors, one which Kant likes. I’m not sure that ANY stable human society MUST use Kant’s framework or something close to it.

Finally, this stark (as I see it) moral contrast between humans and other animals is not a significant biological contrast.

Well, we aren’t going to agree here. I see it as a PURELY biological result of the computing power of a given brain. I’m not sure what to think about your associating this power so tightly to the ability to articulate our thoughts. I wonder – do you think dogs think in words, because they can trained to obey verbal commands? How about parrots? I personally have a hard time regarding the behavir as “moral” of any organism incapable of constructing a behavioral model – IF I do this, THAT will happen. That is, organisms that are strictly stimulus-response.

Flint:

Well, we aren’t going to agree here. I see it as a PURELY biological result of the computing power of a given brain. I’m not sure what to think about your associating this power so tightly to the ability to articulate our thoughts. I wonder — do you think dogs think in words, because they can trained to obey verbal commands? How about parrots? I personally have a hard time regarding the behavir as “moral” of any organism incapable of constructing a behavioral model — IF I do this, THAT will happen. That is, organisms that are strictly stimulus-response.

Last comment first for reasons of logical clarity.

There are two issues raised by this comment. The first I will tackle is the nature of linguistic representation. The minimum level of linguistic representation is simple words, in which an arbitrary association is established between a semantic unit and a lexical unit. Many examples are found amongst animals, of which the most famous is that used by Vervet monkeys. Such systems are limited in that the number of concepts expressible is strictly limited to the number of lexical units. Further, such systems cannot express abstract concepts; and suffer from terminal semantic ambiguity (but not behavioural ambiguity).

The next step up is where two or more lexemes are used together, and that use modifies the meaning of each. At its simplest level, this is represented by the kind of “sentences” uttered by chimps in language laboratories. A typical sentence would be something like, “Nim, banana, banana, Nim, Nim, banana.” Frequent utterances of different words without regard to word order show that their is no grammatical ability; but the number of expressible concepts rises significantly above the number of lexical units.

The next step is where word order (or equivalently, inflections) determine some aspect of the meaning. Thus “The cat was on the mat” means something quite different from “The mat was on the cat”. This stage of linguistic competence is represented by two year old children, who unlike chimps, get word order right.

Finally, the next stage is reached by recursion. In this stage, a two word unit is itself treated as a unit that can be further modified. With this stage and only at this stage, the number of concepts expressible rises without limit, even with a fairly restricted vocabulary. For example, all of mathematics can be expressed using around 20 basic lexemes (although not very conveniently). Also at this stage, abstract concepts become relatively easy to express, whereas before this stage they are undefinable (unless given as primitive by the hardwiring of the brain). Finally, at this stage great economy of expression becomes possible. It is said that a picture is worth a thousand words, but in fact purely linguistic information can express far more information (of some types) than can pictures. The more abstract the information, the more this is so. That is why we write encyclopaedias rather than picture books to summarise knowledge.

It is only language use at the recursive stage that carries the conceptual capacity to ensure moral capacity. In fact, without recursive linguistic conceptual capacity, morality simply could not be understood, though concievably somebeing could have the full suite of moral behaviour hardwired in without the linguistic capacity. Thus while concievable that some animal might be a moral agent without recursive language; they could not be a moral agent in virtue of their conceptual capacity and we need not fear the assignment of moral agency to dogs and parrots because they can learn a few commands (the lowest level in the sequence).

The second issue is a moral issue. Every moral system must have a basis to determining which sorts of being count as moral agents, and hence are bound by the rules of, and protected by the rights of the system. Because every moral system must satisfy the universalisability requirement (my view), it must set its limit at the limit of capacity to be a moral agent. If its limit includes beings not capable of being moral agents, then it will quantify over those beings when it asserts particular obligations; which is absurd. If it excludes beings capable of being moral agents, then it will undercut the universalisability by arbitrary restrictions.

So, the first part of my claim, the ability to be a moral agent makes a vast moral difference. It does not follow from that that it makes a big biological difference, or arises from a big biological difference. In fact the biological difference is probably quite small (a few tens of point mutations on a handfull of proteins and regulatory sequences would probably be enough). In ethological terms, these differences will make almost no difference. In ecological terms, they make a huge difference. In this it is no different from a number of major transitions (eg, fish to tetrapod; theropod to bird).

As I read it, what you are describing is the mental horsepower necessary to think abstractly enough to be able to (more or less) predict the consequences of one’s actions. With that predictive ability comes a corollary - the notion that we can (more or less) *control* those consequences by behaving differently. And in this context, morality is one step more abstract: given that we are able to exercise this control, we can encourage organized behavior which by trial and error turns out to produce what we approximate as the greatest good for the greatest number, within a society. And the more clearly any desired behaviors are codified, the larger the society that can operate under them.

That is almost it. Again we can identify a cognitive hierarchy. The first step is solipsism - the being has a mental representation of the world, but does not recognise that others also have that mental representation. Such a being is capable of predicting the consequences of their actions. The next step, which has certainly been evidenced in higher primates is the ability to recognise that others also have a mental world, which is not necessarily the same as your own. This results in a more complex environment to manipulate, but does not by itself include the capacity of moral action. The next step is recognising the mental states of others as possible ends in themselves rather than just as means to achieve your own ends. It is this additional step which makes morality possible. In contrast, without it we could not even recognise the “greatest good for the greatest number” as a possible goal. To take this step, all that is necessary is the recognition of others mental states, together with the cognitive capacity that comes with recursive linguistic ability.

Finally, you appear to be misunderstanding me because you are trying to read my ideas in the light of your definition of morality. But I do not accept that definition.

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darwinfinch,

Apparently you are unable to notice a past tense when it hits you in the face. I will revise my estimate of your intelligence accordingly.

I notice also that you have total disregard to how offensive your remark would have been to Christians, some of whom are very valuable contributers to the PT. The obvious offence with which you took my remark marks you as a hypocrite. Duly noted.

I have noticed that on the PT there are a clique of atheists who believe their atheism gives them the right to be offensive to all, and shallow thinkers to boot. If you wish to include yourself in that group, it will not lessen my opinion of you.

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This page contains a single entry by Jack Krebs published on September 25, 2005 11:47 AM.

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