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Monday, August 22, 2011

Bob Murphy on Evolution

Bob makes a good point on how many people misuse the biological theory of evolution to say silly things.

A self-refuting claim: "We are just apes." (It is the "just" that is the problem: that we are apes I have no doubt.)

No other ape than man ever claimed this. No other ape even has the concept of "ape."

26 comments:

  1. If you define away all the qualities of an advanced ape as being not ape qualities, then of course it's a tautology that we're not "just apes".

    What you and Bob are never clear on why you define it away in the first place, despite my asking you every time this comes up. If we are saying "apes don't do the sort of things humans do because that's not what apes do" then obviously I can't contend that we're "just apes". I'm not sure why one would say that, though, when we clearly do the things we do and we appear to clearly be apes. There's no evidence I'm aware of that we're alien cross-breeds or created by God out of the dust.

    If we're special (and I absolutely agree we are) it's because a group of apes got on a fortuitous evolutionary trajectory. Apparently you and Bob think that's an impoverished view of mankind. I don't at all. In fact the realization that these are some of the things that complex interactions can do and be is astounding and awe-inspiring to me.

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  2. 'If you define away all the qualities of an advanced ape as being not ape qualities, then of course it's a tautology that we're not "just apes".'

    I call foul. In the phrase "just apes" the word "just" plays the job of saying "not essentially different." The "just" means there really are no special, advanced features!

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  3. When would the word "just" ever be appropriate to apply in any situation then, Gene?

    Use "just" in a sentence that's allowable under those strictures for me.

    "I'm just commenting on Gene's blog right now". No, that won't work because I'm also thinking critically about what it is I'm commenting on, I'm breathing, I'm enjoying the aroma of my coffee, etc.

    When can you use "just" if any heterogeneity or difference negates the word?

    You have to consider the context - I'm using it in response to people that would rather divorce us from the miraculous larger family of life that we're part of. That's wrong - we're "just apes" - we can't separate ourselves from all this. Of course we are different from other apes in certain ways, just like they're different from us. Gorilla's are significantly stronger than us. They have that difference but they're still "just apes", right? Baboons can be far more brilliantly colored than us. That's a difference but they're still "just apes".

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  4. The other point is, while we are more advanced than a lot of our fellow-apes, those advanced features are ape features. The ways in which we are advanced are not gerbil features or dandilion features. We are advanced in ape-ish ways.

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  5. I'm not giving a rule for when just can be used. But if someone says of stealth bomber "Ah, it's just an airplane" their rhetorical strategy is clear. And it means, "Creating human civilization is really nothing much different than being physically strong or brilliantly colored."

    Otherwise, the simple "Humans are apes," with no "just" involved, suffices. I have no quibble with that. (Just as no defense contractor would object if you said, "The stealth bomber is an airplane," but will object if you say it is "just" an airplane.)

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  6. But the dominant narrative is not that we are a notably advanced species that does share an ape lineage - it's that we somehow transcend our ape lineage. And in response to that dominant narrative it's entirely appropriate to say we're "just apes".

    If someone said (and people do) "the stealth bomber is so amazing it must be from another world - it must be given to us by aliens", it would make perfect sense to say "no, it's just an airplane - it's an impressive, advanced airplane that we are within our rights to get very excited about, but it's just a human-made airplane".

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  7. Seriously: if we were really just apes, then how could one possibly explain the Holocaust?

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  8. Very good point, Danny -- no "mere" ape has ever done anything remotely approaching that degree of awfulness!

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  9. Daniel wrote:

    When would the word "just" ever be appropriate to apply in any situation then, Gene?

    Use "just" in a sentence that's allowable under those strictures for me.

    "I'm just commenting on Gene's blog right now". No, that won't work because I'm also thinking critically about what it is I'm commenting on, I'm breathing, I'm enjoying the aroma of my coffee, etc.


    To know if the word use is appropriate, you have to look at the context. In some situations, it *would* be OK for you to say, "I'm just commenting on Gene's blog right now."

    For example, if your wife comes in and says, "Are you busy? I need someone to help my unload the groceries." Then you would say, "I'm just commenting on Gene's blog--be right there." Your wife wouldn't think, "Holy cow! Call 911! Daniel apparently is no longer breathing!!" I.e. your statement to your wife was true, even though technically you were doing more than "just commenting on Gene's blog."

    However, if the police ask you what you were doing last night, and you say, "I was just commenting on Gene's blog for a few hours," when you were also pressing the remote-control device that blew up your neighbor's car as he got into it, then you would clearly be lying. It was inappropriate for you to omit that part of your actions, since it was relevant to the question.

    Back to the matter at hand: You (and Tyler) are trying to make sure people don't get puffed-up images of themselves. You want them to be humble and remember that they are "just primates." And that is precisely what the historical opponents of evolution were afraid of, that the theory would be used to make people think they didn't differ in very special ways from other "lower" animals.

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  10. Hey Gene,

    I know this is off-topic, but do you know that Wikipedia still lists you an "American Anarchist"?

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  11. Austro-Libertarian, I suppose because no one has updated that page in that regard! I don't control what Wikipedia says about me. And Wikipedia specifically advises *against* getting involved in editing material about oneself.

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  12. "it's that we somehow transcend our ape lineage."

    Well, you've just conceded the entire point Bob and I have been making -- the word "just" was playing *exactly* the role we have been saying it was in your statement. To us (if I may be so bold as to speak for Bob) it is rather obvious that we transcend our ape lineage, and that the Taj Mahal is of a different order of distinction from other apes than is a baboon's shiny ass.

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  13. Using the term "ape" in a human-inclusive sense is non-standard and silly, anyway. For a human-inclusive term, just use "hominoid."

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  14. "But the dominant narrative is not that we are a notably advanced species that does share an ape lineage - it's that we somehow transcend our ape lineage. And in response to that dominant narrative it's entirely appropriate to say we're "just apes"."

    So certain are you! As the wise Master Yoda taught: "Luminous beings are we -- not this crude matter!"

    I certainly can't speak for either Gene or Bob, but if I had to guess, I would say that part of what frustrates them about this perspective is the conflation of the *science* of evolution with the *philosophy* of materialism. The latter does not follow from the former. Nor does a denial of materialism require "alien cross-breeds," creationism or intelligent design.

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  15. Of course, apes do commit mass murders on other tribes of apes, eat their enemies alive, and often snatch babies away from their mothers so that they can play with the baby's torn up corpse.

    And they are very systematic in their conduct of the same.

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=a7XuXi3mqYM
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CPznMbNcfO8

    So the difference between men and apes is just that apes don't become mass murderers on the scale of humans, because their population never rose as high as humans.

    Chimpanzees can't kill six million other chimpanzees, because there never six million chimpanzees on earth, as it is.

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  16. Gene -
    Why is doing better than any other ape on a wide variety of metrics "transcending" our apeness?

    This is what I don't understand about you guys. The only reason why you seem to think this is not ape-like is that we're the only apes that do it. That seems odd to me.

    But once again - if you're just defining things that way of course if I accept your definition I have to agree with you. It just seems like a strange definition. All the great stuff we do doesn't seem to me to be separate from our apeness.

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  17. OK, Prateek, a Yale researcher writes "Chimpanzees sometimes raid other tribes and kill their members."

    If you see no difference between an occasional raid to take out a few members of another tribe and the systematic, ideologically driven effort to industrially exterminate an entire race of people over a period of a decade, other than the sheer numbers involved, then I really have no idea what to say.

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  18. "I would say that part of what frustrates them about this perspective is the conflation of the *science* of evolution with the *philosophy* of materialism. The latter does not follow from the former."

    Just so, Mike. A science of phenomena that tells us where our bodies came from has nothing whatsoever to say about what humans, "in essence," are.

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  19. "If you see no difference between an occasional raid to take out a few members of another tribe and the systematic, ideologically driven effort to industrially exterminate an entire race of people over a period of a decade, other than the sheer numbers involved, then I really have no idea what to say."

    In a previous blog post you stated:

    1. The abundance of violence is a human problem (as opposed to something systematically wrong with the current organization of society)

    2. Without a "state" to (limit?) organize violence, society would descend into tribal warfare like in pre state society.

    3. Man has a fallen nature which is why he can do terrible things.

    And now you are saying:

    4. Apes do the whole tribal warfare thing.

    5. Men (due to their fallen nature?) have the ability to plot a systematic, ideologically driven effort to industrially exterminate their brother.

    So, if you would excuse me trying to connect the dots, it seems to me that you're saying that part of the "thing" that separates a man from apes is man's ability to let loose the gods of war on a massive scale, (a curse that came with the blessing of "humanity" or part of our "fallen nature") something our close animal relatives, in their inhumanity, lack.

    Now in the previous comment thread I made a quip about how communists thought that the reason food was hard to come by at some points was also because of "the fallen nature of man", they didn't stop to think that maybe there was some sort of systematic thing going wrong with the legal order that was screwing everything up.

    I think that violence on a massive scale is mot due to the curse of man's humanity at all. Even you yourself admitted that without a "state" to organize violence that violence would regress to tribal raids.

    Anyway my point is that according to things you said the ability of man to industrially exterminate his brother isn't part of his humanity, just the fact that he's smart enough to organize a "state" (because stateless society, as you have stated, is characterized by tribal warfare). So its not part of our "humanity" at all, as animals have the same capacity for cruelty, rather humanity just acts as a multiplier (rationalizing violence, organizing violence, getting better tools for violence etc.) in the wrong conditions.

    Humanity doesn't have to act as a multiplier for violence though. Just like it doesn't have to act as a multiplier for the inefficient distribution of bread. Just the conditions are wrong.

    If anything god gave man rationality so man can think of ways to control himself, using reason to think of laws that give him prosperity.

    It's a very pessimistic outlook to just say "yeah this is the way things are cause people are naturally evil, and you can't do anything about it" because to a large extent it's not true. It wasn't true with the bread, and it's not true with the nation state vs nation state total war thingo.

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  20. "Even you yourself admitted that without a "state" to organize violence that violence would regress to tribal raids."

    I did? Where?

    In any case, your whole point crashes to the ground with a resounding thud once you realize that tribal warfare was often far, far more deadly than life in a state. The coming of the state reduced, not increased, the level of violence in human life.

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  21. "Why is doing better than any other ape on a wide variety of metrics "transcending" our apeness?"

    Why do we say the Mona Lisa transcends mere portraiture? Bob and I are using words in a perfectly ordinary and widely accepted sense. It is you who are suggesting novel usage, and based entirely on a misuse of the theory of evolution.

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  22. "I did? Where?"

    Yeah, you did. Here:

    Avram:
    "I don't think getting rid of the state would make it so I can wish muggers away, but it would get rid of all the crazy nation vs nation organized military violence."

    Gene:
    "Yes, it would. And replace it with clan vs. clan and tribe vs. tribe violence, like in the days before the state."

    It is from a previous discussion at this link.

    http://gene-callahan.blogspot.com/2011/08/arendt-on-competition.html

    And yes my point does go crashing to a resounding a thud if I admit the things you said.

    Two things you should consider:

    1. Arguably there might be less violence if you live in an domestically liberal agressor state that is constantly on the attack, as opposed to one constantly getting attacked. I'm sure if you lived in Afghanistan now or Russia during WW2 you would be very happy to replace that with tribal warfare.

    2. I never said I agreed that tribal warfare is what would happen if there was no state, which I argued in the other thread not this one. I didn't want to argue it here because I just wanted to say that I don't think it's very clever to throw your arms up in the air and say "yeah the current way of things is great, because people are evil it can only be worse without the millitaries, wars and so on" It isn't true.

    Anyway nothing productive is going to come from this discussion cause you're going to keep saying "no, nation states are great, there is less violence with them *ignores roman empire, persian empire mongolian empire, japanese empire, the reichs, the carthaginians, the macedonians, the ottomons, the austro-hungarian empire, the russian empire, the soviet empire, mao's china, the british empire, the aztec empire, the U.S.A empire* than there was when two or three cavemen killed eachother, oh and without a nation state we would all be cavemen again" which to me is a ludicrous viewpoint but then again I am crazy and you are some successful professor dude with his own blog.

    So I dunno, I'll come here to talk about other things in he future.

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  23. Ah, the problem is "regress." I think the odds are that violence would *advance* to a whole new level if we did away with the state today. (I think it a near certainty that one day something else will replace the nation-state, just as the nation-state replaced feudal organizations. And that "something else" may be more or less violent than the nation-state -- who could say?)

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  24. "I'm sure if you lived in Afghanistan now or Russia during WW2 you would be very happy to replace that with tribal warfare."

    Nope, tribal warfare was more violent.

    ""no, nation states are great, there is less violence with them *ignores roman empire, persian empire mongolian empire, japanese empire, the reichs, the carthaginians, the macedonians, the ottomons, the austro-hungarian empire, the russian empire, the soviet empire, mao's china, the british empire, the aztec empire, the U.S.A empire*"

    1) I don't recall ever saying "the nation-state is great."

    2) I am not ignoring any of those things. Tribal life was more violent even considering them.

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  25. Interesting.

    So you see a difference between feudal society and the modern nation state. I do as well.

    I also agree that whatever the nation state is replaced with may be more or less violent and that observation would be a very fast way to find out.

    You didn't say the nation state was great, that is correct. But I don't see you saying any alternative is better either. This leads me to believe you think it is the best thing but that the best thing sucks, because you think that humans are naturally evil.

    When you think about stateless warfare you seem to think about South American or African tribal warfare where about every second male ever born dies. I think about feudal warfare such as warfare in medieval Germany or Switzerland as imo this is more appropriate.

    Do you think that there has been less violence *in Europe or caused by Europeans overseas* in the last 2000 years with nation states involved than without?

    I would say the 18th to 21st centuries there was the most there has ever been, because with the rise of nation states you got the napoleonic wars, the british empire, both world wars and so on whereas before that it was little factional skirmishes between some knight or another. But I will admit I know no actual numbers and just have a cartoon version of history in my head.

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  26. "This leads me to believe you think it is the best thing but that the best thing sucks, because you think that humans are naturally evil."

    No, Avram, I think we are fallen.

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