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Ch. 1: Science and Sensibility (A Devil's Chaplain) 
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Post Ch. 1: Science and Sensibility (A Devil's Chaplain)
Please discuss Ch. 1: Science and Sensibility (A Devil's Chaplain) in this thread.



Tue Apr 12, 2011 12:22 am
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Post Re: Ch. 1: Science and Sensibility (A Devil's Chaplain)
Just a quote that I liked from the title essay to whet your appetite before the book discussion officially begins:

Quote:
Stand tall, Bipedal Ape. The shark may outswim you, the cheetah outrun you, the swift outfly you, the capuchin outclimb you, the elephant outpower you, the redwood outlast you. But you have the biggest gifts of all: the gift of understanding the ruthlessly cruel process that gave us all existence; the gift of revulsion against its implications; the gift of foresight - something utterly foreign to the blundering short-term ways of natural selection - and the gift of internalizing the very cosmos.


Found it online in this review, with some other quotes:
http://www.nobeliefs.com/dawkins2.htm



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Post Re: Ch. 1: Science and Sensibility (A Devil's Chaplain)
"Gaps in the Mind" is an extraordinary essay, for the explanation of humans' relationship with other apes and how we think about species. At the risk of spoiling Dawkins' prose, one image is particularly memorable -- imagine holding hands with your mother, and she held hands with hers, and so on. You would arrive at our common ancestor with the chimpanzee in about 300 miles, without ever having a sharp discontinuity; mothers would resemble their daughters as they always do.

I tend to not agree with the radical animal rights movement, but maybe I better not think about it too carefully. (Would they also try to prevent animal cruelty to other animals?)



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Post Re: Ch. 1: Science and Sensibility (A Devil's Chaplain)
Anyone reading the book? Anyone? Bueller?

One of the essays is "Postmodernism Disrobed" a review of the book "Intellectual Impostures". I haven't read the book, but Alan Sokal is one of the authors and I have read the book of essays describing the The Sokal Hoax. The fact that these pseudo-intellectuals that he's writing about have tenured positions at some of the best universities is very depressing. I don't know why there aren't more people who care about those schools and about education in general (not to mention those with a financial interest) trying to do something about it.



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Post Re: Ch. 1: Science and Sensibility (A Devil's Chaplain)
Hi Dexter... I just acquired my copy and have read the first essay but not seeing much going on here, didn't put the energy in to comment...

1.1 A Devil's Chaplain
This is surely a brave and proud start to an interesting perspective of picking and choosing a worldview. Yes, evolution. No, not to the consequences. Yes, to meaning in life because it is short. No, to fear or meaninglessness at being products of a cruel and merciless cosmos... Not sure this is philosophically viable.

"Stand tall, bipedal ape" makes me cringe.
The glory of man is so much greater than this imo

The image of this being a 'growing up' stance while faith is an infant-with-pacifier stance of ignorance, strikes me as ironic. Is there really 'deep refreshment' in considering myself a smart monkey with understanding, when in fact I don't know the first thing about my beginnings or endings?

Probably the most blatantly questionable statement was the one presuming that since we are blessed with brains, with a little education and a free rein we'll be up to modelling the universe. But since I'm not at all sure what that means it's hard to argue with it. What do you take it to mean? (12)

Oh and, what is meant by saying we've been given 'the gift of internalizing the very cosmos'. Sounds flowery and wonderful but... can't quite get a handle on it. (p12)

Anyway, those are my thoughts so far. On to section 2...


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Post Re: Ch. 1: Science and Sensibility (A Devil's Chaplain)
Dawn wrote:
"Stand tall, bipedal ape" makes me cringe.
The glory of man is so much greater than this imo

The image of this being a 'growing up' stance while faith is an infant-with-pacifier stance of ignorance, strikes me as ironic. Is there really 'deep refreshment' in considering myself a smart monkey with understanding, when in fact I don't know the first thing about my beginnings or endings?


I commend you for being willing to read Dawkins even though he is obviously hostile to your worldview. As he has said before, it may be that life is cruel and short, and you might find his philosophy of embracing evolution to be unconvincing, but that doesn't mean that believing in a myth that makes life "meaningful" is therefore true. It makes it all the more likely that people believe because it is comforting rather than true.

Dawn wrote:
Probably the most blatantly questionable statement was the one presuming that since we are blessed with brains, with a little education and a free rein we'll be up to modelling the universe. But since I'm not at all sure what that means it's hard to argue with it. What do you take it to mean? (12)


Actually I think it is valid to wonder if our brains are up to the task of doing science, at least of the more speculative sort. And Dawkins acknowledges the following:

Quote:
You might think that our sense organs would be shaped to give us a 'true' picture of the world as it 'really' is. It is safer to assume that they have been shaped to give us a useful picture of the world, to help us to survive.


But as he says elsewhere, when you take a plane, the reason you don't plummet to the ground is because scientists were right.



Last edited by Dexter on Thu May 05, 2011 5:19 am, edited 1 time in total.



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Post Re: Ch. 1: Science and Sensibility (A Devil's Chaplain)
Dawn wrote:
"Stand tall, bipedal ape" makes me cringe.
The glory of man is so much greater than this imo

I'm a non-reading commenter at this point. But I thought Dawn's reaction reveals a key difference between those who embrace life--by that I mean biological life--and those who squeamishly want to deny our identity with other animals. I was talking to a pastor once about evolution. He said that he just didn't believe that he could be related to that, meaning a chimpanzee. I asked him what was so bad about chimps. Did they, after all, put a hole in the ozone layer or conduct a Holocaust? People are great in many ways, but why elevate them at the expense of other animals that are also quite wonderful? He then said something about seeing a chimp do something in "public" at a zoo (masturbating, I assume) that really disgusted him. And there I think we have the core reason for this insistence on human separateness from the rest of life--disgust about the grittier aspects of life. It's interesting that disgust itself has been proposed as a key feature separating the conservative from the liberal mindset, conservatives being more apt to have reactions of disgust.

Dawkins, the zoologist, has made clear on many occasions his love of life. He's a proselytizer of the glory of zoology, of which man is privileged to be a part.


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Post Re: Ch. 1: Science and Sensibility (A Devil's Chaplain)
DWill wrote:
Dawn wrote:
"Stand tall, bipedal ape" makes me cringe.
The glory of man is so much greater than this imo

I'm a non-reading commenter at this point. But I thought Dawn's reaction reveals a key difference between those who embrace life--by that I mean biological life--and those who squeamishly want to deny our identity with other animals. I was talking to a pastor once about evolution. He said that he just didn't believe that he could be related to that, meaning a chimpanzee. I asked him what was so bad about chimps. Did they, after all, put a hole in the ozone layer or conduct a Holocaust? People are great in many ways, but why elevate them at the expense of other animals that are also quite wonderful? He then said something about seeing a chimp do something in "public" at a zoo (masturbating, I assume) that really disgusted him. And there I think we have the core reason for this insistence on human separateness from the rest of life--disgust about the grittier aspects of life. It's interesting that disgust itself has been proposed as a key feature separating the conservative from the liberal mindset, conservatives being more apt to have reactions of disgust.

Dawkins, the zoologist, has made clear on many occasions his love of life. He's a proselytizer of the glory of zoology, of which man is privileged to be a part.


I have to apologize for not participating in this discussion. Unfortunately, I've become distracted by other books, one of them being Jared Diamond's The Third Chimpanzee. This haughty dismissal that humans are more than "just animals" is a rather ironic fallacy of religious belief. I have argued before that the so-called "Fall of Man" is actually the point in time we forgot who and what we are. Homo Sapiens, in fact, share 98.4 percent DNA with chimps, giving us a genetic distance of 1.6 percent. To put this in perspective, this is less distance than two individual species of gibbons (2.2 percent) and even less than the genetic distance between red-eyed vireos and white-eyed vireos (2.9 percent). We have far more in common, genetically, with the chimp than the chimp has with the ape. We are so much like a chimp, in fact, that our principal hemoglobin, the oxygen-carrying protein that gives blood its red color, is identical in all of its 287 units with chimp hemoglobin. That's where the title of Diamond's book comes from. Arguably, we are just a third species of chimpanzee (the pygmy chimpanzee being the other one).

The pastor's disgust with seeing chimpanzees copulate or masturbate in public is rather relevant to the current chapter I'm reading. Diamond points out some interesting biolgical differences, not only between humans and chimps but between humans and most other social group-living animals, including primates. Those differences must be encompassed in that slight 1.6 percent difference between human and chimp DNA. One important difference is that the human female's ovulation is hidden, not just from the male but from the female herself. Conversely, most other primates only copulate when the female is ovulating which requires that at least the female "know" when she is ovulating. She advertise that fact by presenting her genitals toward males. "Lest a male miss the point, many female primates go further: the area around the vagina, plus in some species the buttocks and breast, swells up and turns red, pink, or blue. This visual advertisement of female availability affects male monkeys in the same way that the sight of a seductively dressed woman affects male humans." But in the human species neither males or even the females themselves know precisely when they are ovulating. As a consequence of concealed ovulation, humans waste an awful lot of time and precious energy having sex with only a 28 percent probability of conceiving, while elsewhere in the animal kingdom, the conception rate is much higher. And, yet, there must be an advantage to the way we do sex.

Coming back to the pastor's disgust at seeing a chimpanzee masturbate in public (oh, the horror!), another major sexual difference between humans and other animals is that we have sex in private. According to Diamond, all other group-living animals have sex in public, whether they are promiscuous or monogamous. So why are we unique in our strong preference for copulating in private? Like our concealed ovulation, there must be a reason. Diamond presents several theories. One of them promoted by Donald Symons is that human females evolved a hidden state of estrus in order to ensure a frequent meat supply in male-dominated hunter-gatherer societies. Another theory speculates that if males knew when females were ovulating, the man would only copulate with her when she was ovulating and neglect her the rest of the time. So females evolved hidden estrus to coax men into a marriage bond. Monogamous relationships are, or at least were, beneficial to the species. Human offspring require a lot of care, much more than other primates, and both the mother and father need to be involved to ensure survival of the young. A regular and private sexual relationship intensifies the connection between a man and a woman and ensures the cooperation necessary to rear their child while also ensuring that each can maintain cooperative and non-sexual relationships--i.e. engage in food-gathering (economic) activities--with other members of the tribe. So both hidden estrus and private sex are adaptations to promote private relationships within the cooperative setting of the tribe.


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Post Re: Ch. 1: Science and Sensibility (A Devil's Chaplain)
Quote:
Geo
As a consequence of concealed ovulation, humans waste an awful lot of time and precious energy having sex with only a 28 percent probability of conceiving
I would not call it wasted time...

Quote:
Geo
while elsewhere in the animal kingdom, the conception rate is much higher. And, yet, there must be an advantage to the way we do sex.

Don’t forget the FUN element!!! :D

Later


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Post Re: Ch. 1: Science and Sensibility (A Devil's Chaplain)
Dawkins' discussion of the ethics of evolution provides a good answer to those who would get from it some kind of normative value. First we had the social Darwinists trying to claim that natural selection provided a scientific rationale for ensuring that only the fittest humans survived to pass on their genes. Darwin has even been blamed for the Holocaust, as if he was supposed to suppress his findings. In any case, he never said a word to justify the social Darwinist interpretation. Then we had a minor, and harmless, push in the opposite direction, led by Julian Huxley, who said that evolution contains the knowledge we need to actually become an evolutionary force in our own right. We can consciously take up the standard of evolution but improve on it, making it less wasteful, more rational. Dawkins is having none of this latter talk, either. We can do what seems right for us to do, and we should, but the blind, directionless process of evolution offers no guide. It can be inspiring to think about evolution, in the sense that it gives a panoramic view of life through eons, but as Dawkins says, we need to be strict anti-Darwinists when it comes to morality.


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Post Re: Ch. 1: Science and Sensibility (A Devil's Chaplain)
DWill wrote:
Dawkins says, we need to be strict anti-Darwinists when it comes to morality.


I fear you are extrapolating your own views into Dawkins here. As I recall, in The God Delusion, Dawkins expresses support for neoliberal economics, on the basis that it is Darwinian. Hardly an anti-Darwinist moral theory.

The old fashioned Social Darwinism of the nineteenth century was a fascist movement, proposing eugenics and similar Nazi type policies which were actually implemented by Hitler. This whole context poisoned the well for discussion of the relation between evolution and ethics.

You don't have to advocate murder of the weak to be a Darwinist in morality. Indeed, I would argue that the Sermon on the Mount by Jesus Christ in Matthew 5 is an utterly Darwinian text, in its inner meaning, in that it argues that humanity has to evolve from an instinctive basis for morality to a basis in reason, recognising universal love as a driver for social organisation.

If our world wants to obtain the economic resources to protect the weak, it needs to apply that other Christian Darwinian text, 'to those who have will be given', from the parable of the talents in Matthew 25, recognising that evolution rewards success. The dialectic of the creation and distribution of wealth is at the center of morality, and can only be properly understood against a Darwinian evolutionary framework.



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Post Re: Ch. 1: Science and Sensibility (A Devil's Chaplain)
Robert Tulip wrote:
DWill wrote:
Dawkins says, we need to be strict anti-Darwinists when it comes to morality.


I fear you are extrapolating your own views into Dawkins here. As I recall, in The God Delusion, Dawkins expresses support for neoliberal economics, on the basis that it is Darwinian. Hardly an anti-Darwinist moral theory.


I don't recall him mentioning economics in that context. I was under the impression that he is something of a leftist when it comes to politics.

But he certainly isn't claiming that morality comes from evolution. This is from the essay "A Devil's Chaplain," and he says a similar thing in The Selfish Gene:

Quote:
I am a passionate anti-Darwinian when it comes to politics and how we should conduct our human affairs.


I don't understand your last bit about economic resources.



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Post Re: Ch. 1: Science and Sensibility (A Devil's Chaplain)
Robert Tulip wrote:
DWill wrote:
Dawkins says, we need to be strict anti-Darwinists when it comes to morality.


I fear you are extrapolating your own views into Dawkins here. As I recall, in The God Delusion, Dawkins expresses support for neoliberal economics, on the basis that it is Darwinian. Hardly an anti-Darwinist moral theory.

The old fashioned Social Darwinism of the nineteenth century was a fascist movement, proposing eugenics and similar Nazi type policies which were actually implemented by Hitler. This whole context poisoned the well for discussion of the relation between evolution and ethics.

You don't have to advocate murder of the weak to be a Darwinist in morality. Indeed, I would argue that the Sermon on the Mount by Jesus Christ in Matthew 5 is an utterly Darwinian text, in its inner meaning, in that it argues that humanity has to evolve from an instinctive basis for morality to a basis in reason, recognising universal love as a driver for social organisation.

If our world wants to obtain the economic resources to protect the weak, it needs to apply that other Christian Darwinian text, 'to those who have will be given', from the parable of the talents in Matthew 25, recognising that evolution rewards success. The dialectic of the creation and distribution of wealth is at the center of morality, and can only be properly understood against a Darwinian evolutionary framework.

Try as you might, Robert, I don't think you can yoke Darwinism to some point where humanity needs to evolve. Darwinism has to be restricted to to natural selection as laid out by Darwin, modified by Mendel. Your position has something in common with Julian Huxley's, cited by Dawkins. I see it as a God substitute.


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Post Re: Ch. 1: Science and Sensibility (A Devil's Chaplain)
Dexter wrote:
Robert Tulip wrote:
DWill wrote:
Dawkins says, we need to be strict anti-Darwinists when it comes to morality.

I fear you are extrapolating your own views into Dawkins here. As I recall, in The God Delusion, Dawkins expresses support for neoliberal economics, on the basis that it is Darwinian. Hardly an anti-Darwinist moral theory.
I don't recall him mentioning economics in that context. I was under the impression that he is something of a leftist when it comes to politics. But he certainly isn't claiming that morality comes from evolution. This is from the essay "A Devil's Chaplain," and he says a similar thing in The Selfish Gene:
Quote:
I am a passionate anti-Darwinian when it comes to politics and how we should conduct our human affairs.

I don't understand your last bit about economic resources.

Dawkins certainly is on the left when it comes to religion, as he is a caustic critic of conservative traditions. Yet, in economics he expresses sentiments that are right wing. From The Selfish Gene, we find the argument that evolution proceeds by individuals doing what is best for their own genes, with any higher apparent harmony emerging as an evolutionarily stable strategy out of the confluence of individual behaviour. In The God Delusion (p215) he states "The logic of Darwinism concludes that the unit in the hierarchy of life which survives and passes through the filter of natural selection will tend to be selfish." This exactly mirrors the invisible hand discussed by Adam Smith in The Wealth of Nations as the operation of market forces to deliver results that are motivated by private interests.

In A Devil's Chaplain, Dawkins makes this point (p226):
Quote:
As Adam Smith understood long ago, an illusion of harmony and real efficiency will emerge in an economy dominated by self-interest at a lower level. A well balanced ecosystem is an economy, not an adaptation.


In The God Delusion Dawkins says (p197), in discussing how genes cooperate,
Quote:
"we have here something more like a free market than a planned economy... The invisible hand of natural selection fills the gap. That is different from having a central planner... the invisible hand will turn out to be central to our understanding of religious memes..."


On Darwinian economics, Dawkins says "Darwinian selection habitually targets and eliminates waste" (TGD 163). Here we see the neoliberal focus on efficiency and effectiveness as grounded in the science of evolution. Nobel Prize winner Friedrich Hayek used this Darwinian philosophy as the basis for his neoliberal thought, arguing that in society as in nature, a free market where individuals seek their own advantage will produce a superior outcome compared to a society where the state seeks to plan centrally. This makes sense if you think about it, as private incentive to maximise production is the best way to create surplus value that becomes available for distribution. A centrally planned approach provides no incentive for the individual, so overall resources will be less, and under socialism the economy will be more stagnant and retarded.

This is the basis of my comment on economic resources as a dialectic morality of Christianity from Matthew 25, that using our talents to maximise production provides the wealth that then becomes available for works of mercy.

Hayek observes that law that builds on precedent is evolutionary in nature, and suggests that all economic theory should seek to be evolutionary. In courts as in nature, law works through the evolutionary principle of cumulative adaptation.

On morality, Dawkins says "the origin of moraliy can itself be the subject of a Darwinian question" (TGD 207). We should note that Dawkins specifically refutes the traditional distortion of evolutionary thinking as 'survival of the fittest', where fitness is defined in some way different from adaptivity. But the misuse of Darwin for a moral theory by Spencer and others does not suggest there is no moral theory inherent in the theory of evolution. Dawkins says (TGD 219) that there are four good Darwinian reasons for altruism, namely kinship, reciprocity, reputation and conspicuous generosity.

We do have capacity to rise above instinct, and in this sense politics should not be Darwinian when evolution is equated with instinct. This does not mean Dawkins is saying we should rise above evolution, because evolution is an omnipotent natural law. It is rather that he promotes a deliberate cultural evolution, taking adaptive moral memes and building on them, especially as regards the shift from authority to evidence as a basis for moral reasoning. The moral theory of evolution sets facts as the highest value.



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Post Re: Ch. 1: Science and Sensibility (A Devil's Chaplain)
And now, actually having read this chapter :) I would like to add some comments on it, here just on the first essay, A Devil's Chaplain.

Dawkins cites Darwin's claim that nature is cruel and indifferent, and suggests morality consists in human rejection of selectionist pressure towards cruelty. However, while this idea of the indifference of nature may be true in aggregate, considering how much of the universe is inhospitable to life, it is not true for our planet, which is apparently unique in its kindness towards life. By maintaining liquid water for four billion years, earth has enabled the spectacular flowering of life.

Dawkins quotes TH Huxley:
Quote:
Let us understand, once for all, that the ethical progress of society depends, not on imitating the cosmic process, still less in running away from it, but in combating it.

I disagree entirely with this claim. The idea that the cosmic process is hostile to life is refuted by the existence of life on earth.

Dawkins then quotes TH's grandson Julian Huxley
Quote:
The Universe can live and work and plan, At last made God within the mind of man.

Dawkins sees Darwin's grandeur in this observation. Could he not also see a kindness in nature, in enabling our existence? He quotes geneticist Theodosius Dobzhansky
Quote:
In giving rise to man, the evolutionary process has, apparently for the first and only time in the history of the Cosmos, become conscious of itself.

This succinctly presents a real meaning for the traditional myth that man is made in the image of God. Dawkins expands on this idea:
Quote:
We are blessed with brains which, if educated and allowed free rein, are capable of modelling the universe, with its physical laws in which the Darwinian algorithm is embedded.

This capacity to represent reality accurately, understanding percepts with concepts, is a unique (as far as we know) human trait that is enabled only by the kindness of the cosmos in giving us a safe and hospitable place to live. Nature is not cruel and indifferent, it is very hospitable to us. This observation of a local cosmic benevolence does not require any anthropomorphism, but it does help to explain the origin of religious sentiment.



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A Nation Under Judgment by Richard Capriola


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