Thanks for the well thought out reply and the welcome.
I avoided the Dawkins derailing issue since it's not germane to my OP, and even Dawkins himself regrets the title since it was easily misinterpreted (he states with hindsight.). Others have adequately addressed it as well, so we can leave it as not applicable to this thread.
Ok, so onto your post:
I think you've improperly placed a sort of personality into natural selection. Let me explain what I mean by personality. Natural selection (NS) is simple, it is merely a form of the principle of least resistance. Competition is at the top, and everything else is below it (if there even is anything else). Survival is the highest priority. Cooperation is often a tool used to achieve survival, there is no doubt. But cooperation cannot be placed on the same level as competition. The bees cooperate to compete; they do not compete to cooperate.
So the way I interpret it is this-- since NS is
mindless and only directed by success in survival, there is not only no personality ascribed to it (I believe you've incorrectly assumed that I imply there is), but rather all tools are equally important to survival
. In short, NS makes no specific (conscious) choice that "survival is at the top of the hierarchy"; rather, survival is a priori
with NS because anything that doesn't survive has no say in the outcome.
The bees cooperate to survive. A lone bee without a flower will neither survive nor even evolve in the first place (which is an argument against creationism in and of itself, at least as any valid scientific proposal -- by necessity, a created nature would require miracles from start to finish, even if relegated to the Deistic "winding it up and walking away" paradigm).
We are in agreement that survival, in the end, is the only outcome that matters in the NS model, but I don't agree that there is a degree of importance or less importance in how that survival is achieved-- it's all
important, for every successful species.
By trying to make out NS to be a sort of horizontal spectrum, with competition on one side and cooperation on the other I'm afraid we've allowed our humanity to seek in where it does not belong, if you know what I mean. It sounds nice to have evolutionary theory balancing between competition and cooperation. We could have a healthy amount of competition to stimulate growth and progress complemented by a side order of beneficial cooperation. That sounds nice to me. But that is not NS. NS does not care whether cooperation or competition is used to gain the advantage only that an advantage is gained and that that advantage is allowed to pass on to the next generation. So that's what I meant when I said I thought you had slipped in a sort of personality into NS.
On this we agree to a point. It is NS's very lack of consciousness that compels it to the balance of cooperation and competition. NS is powerless to make a choice as to what is more important -- competition or cooperation. Since no successful living entity is wholly unto itself, we must conclude that competition and cooperation are equally (though not consciously) important. Remove either, and the organism fails.
You seem to have appealed to evolution for the reason you do not steal and do not murder, the source of your morality if you will. You made a case that evolution was a balance of competition and cooperation and out of the cooperation comes our desire to do good, if you will, the desire to resist stealing, to resist murdering, and I will go further: to resist taking a women at a moment’s whim, to resist our fear of standing up for those who cannot stand up for themselves. Hopefully I have shown that evolution is first and foremost of competitive nature, BUT as we clearly observe in nature there are many instances when cooperation is the path by which a species becomes maximally competitive. Therefore your statement is not unreasonable. It seems quite possible that your morality has arisen through the process of NS.
Except altruism functions in part because it has a self-ish (not "selfish"
) component. Even one's willingness to sacrifice one's life for a common benefit is mutual back-scratching; indeed the only instance of the system going awry that I can cite is that of a suicidal individual whose sacrifice really doesn't benefit his or her survival rate (it negates it). But "suicide" in furtherance of an ideology has positive application (providing you and your tribe ascribe to that ideology of course). Throwing oneself on a hand grenade in combat is the cliched example. Does this have a practical survival based outcome? Yes. If it furthers ones protecting of one's liberty and safety or the safety of one's culture and family (i.e., offspring), self-destruction may have a practical, positive outcome.
So what about that evolutionary morality? This is where it really becomes fascinating to me. Suppose during the course of NS the human race found it beneficial, so to speak, to cooperate with one another in order to increase the vitality of the species, as you mentioned this would mean we don’t steal and we don’t murder each other, just like the bees. But now suppose humans suddenly fall upon the ability to reason (because obviously we haven’t always been rational, somewhere along the way we began to pick up the ability to reason). What do we do now? All this time we’ve supposedly kept ourselves from stealing and murdering because it was beneficial to the survival of our species but now we are suddenly aware of the source of our morality: mindless evolution!
Well, I consider the ability to reason to be a key component that assist us with our survival. In fact, our reason is our key natural weapon against extinction, though there are evolutionary complexities that are very evident. As another animal on the vast stage of evolutionary experimentation (and all species are a form of "will this work?" albeit without a conscious driver behind it), we happen to represent a unique niche between baser instinct and higher level intuitions. We can think beyond our evolutionary programming at a number of levels, though not at the ultimate "core survival" level (and this applies even if we are willing to self-sacrifice for a higher purpose, as illustrated above). What is unique about humanity is that we clearly demonstrate the ability to make choices above
instinctual behavior, which is evident from our reworking of our environment, our discipline of thought, our art, our cultures, religions, civilizations, etc.
And yes, that has pushed us to a new level of species, which, at the very least, should give us pause as to the nature of this unique and complicated animal. So, to your next section:
We now have a choice, will we continue to steer our morality down this path of least resistance or will we decide to do something else? This is fascinating. Evolution seems to have outsmarted itself. We are no longer not stealing because we have been subtly guided that way through countless years of NS. No, now we are not stealing because we make a conscious choice not too. An evolutionist might say, “But the reason we think stealing is wrong is because it is beneficial for a society to make stealing wrong. It is merely an extension of millions of years of NS into our culture, simply the path of least resistance in action. There is no need whatsoever for God to be the source of our morality.”
Agreed to the above... but then this hard right turn:
But we know this is not true. The source of our morality is not NS. As soon as we happened upon the ability to reason the source of our morality changed (actually I would go so far as to say we did not actually have morality until we had reason).
But we already know that creatures without reason cooperate in ways that are altruistic, and this dismantles the theists case for a god-ordered morality (well, it makes it unnecessary). Dolphins, apes, dogs, even species of antelopes have been seen holding at bay predators while others make an escape. There are many examples of this, and you can find them online -- but here's one:http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VYZQbZ1jK58
-- Dog saves another dog hit by a car
Reason allowed us to take a step back and consider our motivations for the morality that NS had seemingly produced. We may still choose the same path that NS has supposedly led us on all these years, but it is now us doing the choosing. We take a moment and consider why it is we do what we do. We ask ourselves why we don’t steal, and perhaps might say, “We don’t steal because if everyone was permitted to steal, then we are just as likely to be thieves and murderers as we are to be victims of theft and murder and this would not be beneficial to our survival and we want to survive because living is good.”
I would disagree on this as well. what has really
happened is an artifice has come into play -- something called "civilization". Civilization, by definition, is a construct of humanity-- without humanity, it would not exist (that we know of). And this social
lever has now overshadowed brute-force evolution. If we doubt this, consider our reaction to warfare scenarios where all pretense of civilization has been removed. We recoil from this, because it violates now thousands of years of social consciousness-raising; though it too can be shed in a moment due to other
effective artifices, like nationalism or patriotism. But in terms of what now drives people to not steal, murder, and so on-- that has had its roots in evolutionary balances of cooperation and competition, but is now coming from a cultural leverage.
In short, much like humans harnessed evolutionary techniques to breed dogs and fatter cows and better yields of wheat, we have also harnessed those self-same levers in our social constructs. What leads to greatest opportunities of survival? A balance
of competition and cooperation -- thus, we adopt those behaviors and flourish. When we abandon them-- that's when chaos, suffering, and ruin rule the day, and we rightly recoil from it.
But what is going on here? This is not NS selection talking. NS does not care if a species wants to live. Living is not good and dying is not bad. The concept of good has no place in NS.
Nor does such moral imperatives need to be applied to a simple function of reality -- and now it is you
who are applying human personality where it does not apply. Just like logic needs not be "good" or "bad"-- it simply needs to be logical
-- and as long as it is neutral in its process but consistent it its production, we either derive a benefit or not from it. But in and of itself, it need not be either good or bad.
It is only by a random chance that the first living organisms possessed within themselves a desire to continue to live and to reproduce and which allowed NS to take action.
Again-- here you are the one personalizing it a directionless biological function. No, simple organisms possessed no desires
whatsoever-- they do not have the complex wiring upon which to found "desires". This is tantamount to asserting that stars pursue a desire to change hydrogen to helium using fusion. They do not. They simply function under the laws of physics that permit them to function this way.
That life fell into a pattern of change and mutation that led to complexity (and in a sense, the universe becoming aware of itself via our consciousness, if you want to be poetic about it), is perfectly acceptable given what the physics of biology clearly allows. There is nothing magical nor mystical about it. Assigning "desire" to it though is fallacious and inaccurate.
For if living things do not have a will to live NS cannot take effect, or I suppose it’s effect is short, sweet and right into the grave.
Again-- anthropomorphizing it. No "will". Simply reproductive capability.
But now this random chance has been discovered.
Evolution isn't "random". That which adds to the complexity and helps the organism to survive is kept, that which does not will cause the organism to fail and self-filter out of the equation. that's not randomness; that is incremental compiling of information.
Now we know that the only reason we want to live is because some time long ago a gene was randomly created which gave life the desire to push forward, the desire to live.
Again -- "desire". that's not applicable.
The truth about our sense of good has been blown wide open. There is no such thing as good. Living is not good, nor is it bad. Now a person has a lot to consider, a lot to rethink, how are they going to respond to this new found truth?
No because life happens to feel
good ("good" as in enjoyable, not as a moral judgment). The survival instinct, married to more complexity, does
create the desire to live. Equating a single cell organism with a complex human animal is a very problematic argument. Yes, now we have desires. We are more complex.
This path is dark and meaningless. There is no good, no bad, no worse, and no better.
Why not? Of course there are things we consider good or bad now -- but just because they are human constructs doesn't diminish them. Building are human constructs as well-- they are complex, serve a wonderful purpose, and help us to survive. Do we need to argue or posit a god to build buildings then? No we do not. Human constructs have purpose simply because we say they do. So "good" and "bad" things are ours to define.
For some reason, theists seem to think this is somehow a nihilistic viewpoint, which to the atheist is actually somewhat comical because-- you created god as well, so your "model" is, in fact, as much a human construct as a shed, an outhouse, a skyscraper or an ideology. there's no objective reality to the idea that your god construct has any validity whatsoever, and indeed the Judeo-Christian god-model is forever cursed with really horrific unjust behavior and examples that force the believer into saying "Uh, er, well... uhm-- anything that god does is good! There, that solves it!" Except, of course, it does not-- it merely highlights the circular nature of the god construct.
(And I don't know if you believe or not-- but it doesn't matter as I am addressing the perspective, not you personally).
There is no hope because there is no such thing as despair.
Again-- of course there is despair (and as a result, hope). Because not all things worked to our specific interests and desires. So if one loses their family to a tidal wave, they will have precisely the evolved responses higher-thinking complex, sapient/sentient beings will have-- they will have an emotional response. In fact, one is hard-pressed to understand why a supernatural-after-life-god-believing theist has any despair; after all, in the end god will make all things right so-- whatever is now, simply is.
All things simply are.
In fact this path is so inhabitable for human life that even the purest of naturalists have trouble contending with it. Instead these naturalists attempt to create their own purposes and attempt to give their own lives meaning (and I do not blame them for how can anyone really live in such an environment?).
There is nothing negative to developing one's own purpose and meaning in life. In fact, we all do it. Theists develop a god-head to worship to give their lives meaning and purpose. I don't see the concern here.
It is interesting to see now that the evolutionist’s response for why we don’t steal is entirely unfounded:
“We don’t steal because if everyone was permitted to steal, then we are just as likely to be thieves and murderers as we are to be victims of theft and murder and this would not be beneficial to our survival and we want to survive because living is good.”
We have just shown that there is no such thing as good,
No, you have not shown it. You remove human desire from the equation, and subjectively our desires have meaning for us. There is a "good and bad" for humans, pertinent to humans.
which is what the whole argument for the evolutionists mortality depended on. In effect and in all honesty a naturalistic world cannot have a moral system, which at the fundamental level says one thing is better than another. Remember there is no good, no bad, no worse, and no better.
I disagree with your premise and conclusion. In fact, there is
a good, bad, better, worse, etc. for and from humans. It's just that we define it for ourselves, and evolution has been the mechanism by which we attained it. Survival instincts remain, blended with sapience and culture/civilization levers. It's a very well-ordered, completely functional model, and it doesn't require us to postulate extra unnecessary explanations that actually create more mystery, like "the supernatural".
I can easily
demonstrate benefits and costs to humans within various models (read: good vs bad; or, naturalistic morality) whereas no theist can even remotely hope to demonstrate a supernatural realm much less a god realm that drives it. It's simply a specious assertion that such is true (and--- there are a few thousands of such assertions, none more demonstrable than the next, which permeates human history, many of which have been summarily... abandoned). In fact, they seem to only rely on writings from a time when people were vastly less sophisticated about the workings of reality than they are now.
And ironically, not only do they not solve and mysteries (about why there is a good or evil) they actually complicate the entire model by asserting a whole new
realm of mysteries they couldn't possibly hope to solve (the supernatural, etc.). That's lose-lose. What you basically gain out of it a dead model you can point to and claim is realm, but has utterly no grounding in the natural realm whatsoever (because... it's "super" natural).
Perhaps the only hope (but really if he was to be honest the naturalist would never need hope, it should never cross his mind that he needs to find a hope) that the naturalist has is to invent his own moral system and perhaps try and unify the rest of his brethren on what exactly that moral system should have in it, even though they are well aware their morals are not founded outside of themselves and are actually contrary to the careless indifferent flow of the rest of the universe.
Yes, it's obvious that you have come to a conclusion you feel (but cannot demonstrate) is "true" and your entire premise is founded upon it. But in terms of being able to demonstrate actual reality, I have the upper hand -- I can demonstrate natural altruism, and I can do it devoid of human involvement (i.e., you don't even need sapience to be altruistic); furthermore, I can demonstrate competition and cooperation paradigms, and show how these are not specific to humans but instead across the entire fabric of life.
Respectfully-- what can the theist demonstrate
about the call to a supernatural realm that drives it all?
This post of yours was a little long and I have to go so I will respond to more later.