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November 28, 2006

The Trouble with Altruism

Responding to my post yesterday about Harvard's decision to include a faith and reason requirement in the core curriculum, Donald McLaughlin pointed out a particular reason objectors believe religion has no place or at least a lower standing in academia:

In [The Blank Slate], Steven Pinker argues that our thoughts, beliefs and so forth really are little more than the result of the biochemical processes by which our minds operate. For Pinker, everything, including our thoughts are the end product of the blind, purposeless process of evolution. But that creates a real problem for Pinker. His belief that religious belief is irrational or his belief that science and reason produce truth is ITSELF the result of those same blind, purposeless evolutionary processes. Presumably Pinker 'believes' that his cognitve faculties, themselves the end products of those blind, purposeless evolutionary processes, have as one of their primary functions the production of true beliefs. But surely there is something amiss here: it is mere question begging to make that assumption independent of other confirming data.

At best, if Pinker were going to do the intellectually honest thing, he needs adopt a position of agnosticism towards his own belief; at worst outright rejection of it. Niether choice is very convenient, however, for his philosophical naturalism.

In today's BreakPoint commentary, Chuck addresses the problem altruism poses for evolution.

While Darwin himself never acknowledged the difficulty posed by altruism, his acolytes and disciples did. Their responses led to the creation of the discipline known variously as “evolutionary psychology” or “sociobiology.”

Whatever it’s called, the evolutionary “explanation” for altruism is basically the same: It’s really selfishness in disguise. When the son offers to give away half of his food, it’s not goodness—it’s a kind of enlightened self-interest. We do what we perceive as “good” for others so that they, in turn, might do the same for us and, thus, increase both of our chances for survival.

Of course, the transaction being described isn’t “altruism” at all; it’s called “cooperation.” It’s the stuff of zebras and baboons, both of which live in large groups for mutual protection and neither of which would knowingly sacrifice its life to save another’s.

But in the Darwinian scheme, true altruism “has no place in nature.” When you start from the assumption that our behavior is the product of “selfish genes,” then you must agree with the sociobiologist who wrote “scratch an ‘altruist’ and watch a hypocrite bleed.”

Little wonder that [David] Stove [in Darwinian Fairytales] called Darwinism, especially sociobiology, a “ridiculous slander on human beings.” Darwinism not only cannot account for what is most essentially human—that is, things like altruism and music—it insists on denigrating them, as well.

Read the rest of the commentary and share your thoughts here.

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Donald McLaughlin

Well here's another little tidbit. This is about Sam Harris, one of the so-called "New Atheists" (See cover story of November -06 WIRED magazine). I posted this on another blog:

The mysterious and ubiquitous Sam Harris, author of Letter to a Christian Nation and The End of Faith has been a busy boy lately. What with major news network interviews, magazine interviews, radio show interviews…its a wonder the buy gets time to think any thoughts as at all, let alone ponder the deep mysteries of the cosmos to arrive at the ’scientific’ and ‘rational’ conclusion that religious faith in all forms is irrational and dangerous.

Consider the following from a recent interview with Sam Harris by L.A. Times writer Gina Piccalo:

"Then Harris started talking about the philosophy of the mind and his blue eyes started to shine. “We’re the thinker of our thoughts and the experiencer of our experience,” he said, with no hint of irony. “And it’s actually a false view. Because there’s just experience. There’s just consciousness and its contents. There’s not an ‘I’ or ‘me’ in the middle of consciousness to whom it’s all relating.”"

Earlier in the story it was noted that “He [Harris]expects that once his dissertation is finished, it will lead to his next book, a close look at the “biology of belief.”" Based on Harris’s view of personhood, you have to wonder who, exactly, will be writing this book! I guess the only answer, a la Harris, is: “from the experience that exists in the brain inhabiting the human body called Sam Harris will emerge a book.” Well, the experience that exists in the consciousness and brain inhabiting the body of Donald M thinks this is all tommy rot!! And Harris (and Dawkins and Dennett and Pinker, et.al.) want us to believe that this constitutes the end results of strict adherence to scientific method and scientific reasoning?

Amazing how these strong proponents of Darwinian evolution simply can not see the obvious fallacies of thier own logic.
The sadness of it is that this is the blindness that comes from willfully rejecting those things that, as Jay Budziezewski says, "we can not NOT know".

Jesse Fagan

Altruism is not a problem.

The form of altruism, true altruism, you quote as having 'no place in nature' is simply false.

If you explore the evolutionary origins of emotion and empathy you will find a great wealth of experimental and observational data to support the theories of the evolution of altruism in humans and other animals (particularly mammals).

Two books would be Descartes's Error by Antonio Damasio, a neurologist, and Passions Within Reason by Robert Frank, an economist. Both detail these ideas very well, from different angles.

But then, I may have simply wasted my time posting this.

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