Thursday, November 12, 2009

Three Options

Here's a multiple choice question from Barry Arrington on Uncommon Descent [Is a Modern Myth of the Metals the Answer?].

He's concerned about the "fact" that "Darwinism" leads to immorality.
There are three and only three options.

1. We can continue to fill our children’s heads with standard Darwinian theory (which Dennett rightly calls “universal acid”), understanding that at least some of them are going to put two and two together and realize that the acid has eaten through all ethical principles – and act accordingly.

2. We can try to come up with a secular noble lie. “OK kids. You might have noticed that one of the implications of what I just taught you is that your lives are ultimately meaningless and all morals are arbitrary, but you must never act as if that is true because [fill in the noble lie of your choice, such as “morality is firmly grounded on societal norms or our ability to empathize with others”].

3. We can teach our children the truth – that the universe reveals a wondrous ordered complexity that can only be accounted for by the existence of a super-intelligence acting purposefully. And one of the implications of that conclusion is that God exists, and, reasoning further, He has established an objective system of morality that binds us all, and therefore the moral imperatives you feel so strongly are not just an epiphenomenon of the electro-chemical states of your brain.

Looking around I see that for the last several decades we have tried options one and two, and we have gotten what we have gotten. I vote to give option three a run.
Tough choice. I guess I'll opt for #2 although I don't think that telling children the truth about where morality comes from is a lie.

And correct me if I'm wrong, but haven't we already tried #3? It didn't work out very well, did it?


  1. Actually, what I would say is that we have a perfectly good account of how morality is derived in terms of natural causes, and it is account that is a mix of random and non-random elements. Sexually-reproducing bipeds with big heads inevitably had longer pregnancies, longer periods of infant care, increasing the vulnerability of young and female to predation. To survive, we absolutely had to develop as a social species, and to some extent as a species that uses sexuality for more than reproduction. Monogamy has been described as a social solution to a biological problem. I see morality in the same light.

  2. We´re primates. Primates are a natural example of "unity gives streght". So... what does this perdon is talking about?
    I´m do not think that natural selection is everything in evolution. But, I do think that for primates to survive, they (we) have to stick together and for socials groups to preserve themselves, rules are needed. So, this is a case where natural selection actually applies.

  3. Well now I'm just mad:

    Barry Arrington is an uncommonly descended moron. As if the animals we evolved from don't have a sense of right and wrong...but wait, Arrington is gonna try to make two points in response to any counter arguments: 1) if animals have ethics (or morals) he'll just say they were designed that way--gee Barry, anymore platitudes you care to spit out? and 2) he'll use the ole "ethics versus morals" ploy--the kinda vapid shit we see high schoolers chatting about in local coffee shops. I can hear him now: "I said 'ethical principles' not 'morals' hence I was referring to righteous behaviors decided by humans in a human society--any perceived 'ethical' behavior in animals is just a coincidence."

    In any case it's best not to jump in the trenches and fight it out fact-by-fact with such fuckwits. Stay above the fray and just point out the obvious truth--their dogma and their own ignorance of simple philosophical and evolutionary principles suffice for us to call them out as being anti-intellectual dumbasses.

    Does he seriously view this tripartite argument as some sort of compelling argument?...fucking sad is what it is. If he fills his kids minds with this shit, I hope at the very least he feeds them nutritious food--their mental diet is for shit.

  4. #3 is hiliarious!

    Yet another recent example of the ID community conflating their purportedly non-religious 'theory' with Christianity.

    Whoops, there, you've given the game away...

  5. #3 is also humorous for the use of the phrase "reasoning further" in the middle of a rather glaring non-sequitur. Even if one accepts his claim that "God exists", it does not imply that "He has established an objective system of morality that binds us all".

  6. Option #2:
    OK kids. God's inexistence does not mean your lives are meaningless, because you're individuals. You exist by yourselves, you're not some God's slaves, you're not bound to any Mighty Power's whims. God just went *puff* but we're still here, right? Just like ten minutes ago, when God still existed in your brains. Nothing's changed. Remember Dumbo's magic feather? Your own selves must make your lives worth living, you must endow your lives with meaning. That's your responsibility. We all are in a tiny boat at open sea in the middle of nowhere and we're on our own. And that's why you should be nice to each other, kids, because we need each other in order to make this trip as great as possible. What do you mean "what's the point"? Haven't you kids read Whitman? Or at least seen Dead Poets Society (07:00)?

    That's the point.

    So let's have a Fresca. I pay!

  7. Congratulations on hitting the problem head on.

    I have to admit as I grit my teeth: You're probably right about option #3.

  8. How many thousands of years of #3 can be swept under the rug so taht kids might not see the drag on human progress it has placed.

    I would rather have an option #4:

    Hey, kids, we have been fortunate that processes of natural evolution have led us to the stage at which we can explore the universe from the macro down to the nano. Here's how we know what we know so far, let's see what you can discover!

  9. Prof. Moran has the insight and integrity to admit that there's a difficult here for the naturalist. Painting a smiley face on the problem is not the solution, nor do animals know right from wrong.

    The problem is the foundation.

    "Now that I know that my impulse to serve posterity is just the same kind of thing as my fondness for cheese--now that its transcendental pretensions have been exposed for a sham--do you think I shall pay much attention to it? When it happens to be strong (and it has grown considerably weaker since you explained to me its real nature) I suppose I shall obey it. When it is weak, I shall put my money into cheese." (C.S. Lewis, Miracles)

    Now I will also acknowledge that option 3 has been tried, with failure, but people will manifestly not subscribe in the long run to a charade, especially when it requires them to go against their will and their wishes at times, as moral principles do.

    The point is that a moral principle, to be valid, has to have a foundation better than an itch or an urge, and that lacking this, the only real choice for the naturalist is to give up any principles of morality.

    The choice for theists being to acknowledge that they are sinners, apart from help.

    And the question then is which view is real, not which one is expedient...