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Monday, October 18, 2010

When Primate Experts Try to Ape Philosophy

Yikes, the results are ugly. Let's start with this:

"For those who believe that morality comes straight from God the creator, acceptance of evolution would open a moral abyss."

Yes, is why the Catholic Church has refused to accept evolution all these... Wait, say what? The Catholic Church never rejected Darwin's theories, and now fully accepts that humans evolved from primates? And what, St. Augustine actually anticipated Darwin by some 1400 years?

Oh, never mind.

OK, but what about this little proof of the (basic) irrelevance of God to morality?

"Does anyone truly believe that our ancestors lacked social norms before they had religion? Did they never assist others in need, or complain about an unfair deal? Humans must have worried about the functioning of their communities well before the current religions arose, which is only a few thousand years ago. Not that religion is irrelevant — I will get to this — but it is an add-on rather than the wellspring of morality."

So, if someone proposed to de Waal that gravity is essential to our bodies staying planted on the earth, I suppose his comeback would be, "Ha! Humans stayed on the surface of the earth long before Isaac Newton developed the theory of gravity! So gravity is at most an add-on."

And he goes on to show that many animals exhibit forms of what we would consider moral behaviour. Which goes to show that God can't be the root of moral behaviour, since, as religious people admit, animals have nothing to do with God. Or, as de Waal puts it:

"I take these hints of community concern as yet another sign that the building blocks of morality are older than humanity, and that we do not need God to explain how we got where we are today."

Yes, and it is clear that animal life doesn't depend on oxygen either, since oxygen was only discovered in the 1790s, and animal life existed long before then!

In short, de Waal has thoroughly confused the proposition "Morality springs from God" with the proposition "Morality springs from the idea of God."

What a muddle!

4 comments:

  1. He forgot to mention how the empathic chimpanzees wage war on each other for territory.

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  2. We evolved from earlier animals, but did our ancestors??

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  3. They did not, Wabulon.

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  4. "For those who believe that morality comes straight from God the creator, acceptance of evolution would open a moral abyss."

    These seems correct for some Christian faiths (viz., fundamentalists), if not for the Catholic Church itself. Is it not true for Muslims as well?

    Not that religion is irrelevant — I will get to this — but it is an add-on rather than the wellspring of morality."

    I too disagree with de Waal, because the evidence strongly suggests that community religions are ancient, co-evolved with and are strongly tied to our sense of morality: http://mises.org/Community/blogs/tokyotom/search.aspx?q=rappaport

    I do agree with your closing paragraph; de Waal is confused as to what the evidence establishes.

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