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deWaal vs Dawkins 
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Post deWaal vs Dawkins
I'm not sure if this subject is a relevent one for the Ridley discussion, but it might be interesting to ask his view on this:

Franz deWaal gave what was for me the best lecture at the Values conference at the weekend.

His main point was that humans - like apes -are not innately "bad". He argued that there is a strand of thought going back to Huxley (in deWaal's book "The Ape and the Sushi Master" he takes this back to Hobbes) in which Humans think of themselves as being innately bad but with a thin veneer of culture which gives them their "goodness". He attacks this view and argues that love and niceness evolved too. He argued that Darwin agreed with him on this point and that Huxley misrepresented Darwin's views.

Then he put up a slide. Imagine a cutaway view of the Earth with the core at the centre and the mantle around it and with a very thin crust at the surface. Now imagine that the very thin crust is labelled good the mantle is labelled bad and the core is labelled very bad. I don't know if this will work without the picture but it had the audience in roars of laughter.

He argued that Dawkins perpetuates this myth by saying that we can fight our "nasty" nature.

There is something of a history of disagreement between Richard Dawkins and Franz deWaal on this point.

Dawkins has accused deWaal of poetic science for somthing he wrote in one of his earlier books.

In the conference they clashed about deWaal's point . Dawkins defended Huxley and quoted Darwin's statement about "What a book a devil's chaplain might write". In reply deWaal said that Huxley had been influenced by his religious upbringing and that was why he saw it so black and white.

Anyone have a view?

Edited by: PeterDF at: 10/13/03 5:48 pm



Mon Oct 13, 2003 4:38 pm
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Post Re: deWaal vs Dawkins
I think it's a semantic point on Dawkins use of the word "nasty" before nature. Dawkins isn't using the word to imply some sort of innate evilness present within humanity...indeed, evolutionarily, there is no "good" or "evil", only survival. Rather, I think Dawkins uses "nasty" to imply selfish, in that our base nature, thanks to evolution, is to look out for ourselves, in order to improve our survival.

Thus the argument is largely (to me) a straw man, because it's essentially refuting an argument I don't think any evolutionist has ever made. Good and Evil are moral terms, and morality is a social convention that perhaps helps our evolution, but is not in itself an intrinsic requirement of evolution. To claim that one individual's actions for survival are "good" or "evil" requires some subjective basis made on our own social contract, and really has no objective bearing in the biological world.




Thu Oct 16, 2003 9:55 am
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Post Re: deWaal vs Dawkins
Good point Zach.

I agree that Dawkins does accept that evolution by natural selection is a mechanistic process and therefore neutral in the sense of any human value system.

I admit to not quite understanding what is going on here. I does seem a shame that two very clever people who, I think, should be on the same side should appear to differ on this.




Thu Oct 16, 2003 4:28 pm
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Post Re: deWaal vs Dawkins
Peter

Have you ever read Howard Bloom's "The Lucifer Principle?"

Quote:
A revolutionary work that explores the intricate relationships among genetics, human behavior, and culture to put forth the thesis that "evil" is a by-product of nature's strategies for creation and that it is woven into our most basic biological fabric.


That conference must have been incredible and I'm quite jealous. I am hearing through the grapevine that the 2004 Atheist Alliance International Convention might be in Colorado next year. I'd love if some BookTalk member were able to attend. I met Dawkins at the 2003 convention in Tampa, FL, and had a reeally good time with fellow heathens.

Chris

"When once you have tasted flight, you will forever walk the earth with your eyes turned skyward,for there you have been, and there you will always want to be."



Fri Oct 24, 2003 10:45 pm
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Post Re: deWaal vs Dawkins
Chris

No I have'nt read "The Lucifer principle" it sounds interesting though.

I think deWaal is trying to say that one could equally argue that mankind could equally be said to be co-operative, loving and "nice".

Perhaps the problem is deWaal's attack on Huxley. Dawkins might legitimately be thought to have taken on Huxley's role as Darwin's bulldog (I think someone described Dawkins as Darwins rottweiler). Maybe Dawkins might feel that any attack on Huxley must be rebbutted.




Sun Oct 26, 2003 6:55 pm
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Post Re: deWaal vs Dawkins
Peter

Yea, Dawkins is a strict Darwinian evolutionist (even though "evolutionist" isn't a word). I think many people feel the need to instantly refute any challenge to the ideas or theories of those they admire. This can be dangerous as it can lead to a closed mind. And I think "rottweiler" is a great choice of breed to describe Dawkins - having met him and experienced his "bite" up close. He went after one person that said something on stage that didn't meet with his approval. Otherwise, Dawkins is rather reserved in nature. Just don't piss him off or you could lose a limb.

Chris

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Sun Oct 26, 2003 7:53 pm
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Post Re: deWaal vs Dawkins
Chris

I agree with everything you say. I know what he is like. Just imagine how I felt when I approached him about my book. He was OK though - I think he understood that it is important to get an evolutionary biologist to read the case I present.

I was well prepared for the meeting and I felt confident because I know I am right about my case but it could have gone badly wrong if I had inadvertently said the wrong thing.




Mon Oct 27, 2003 7:05 pm
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