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Is it really possible for something like morality to be an evolved characteristic?


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In reply to an earlier post on Jun 13, 2012 2:12:22 PM PDT
Harry Marks says:
Conley -

I am making no point about involvement of God, the spirit of caring. Rather, I am arguing that biological forces, as embodied in DNA and the baggage it carries, is almost certainly not responsible for the refinements of these basic instincts. Cultural forces need to be evoked. The creation of skyscrapers has to do with longing to be recognized and to stand out, with the cost of land in Central Business Districts, with the refinement of building techniques to solve a host of practical problems, and with phallic symbolism. Just to warm up.

So don't go all reductionist on me with skyscrapers as a "mere extension of basic arithmetic" or I will tell Rachel about your poetic remarks upon the cello and she will make flattering remarks back at you and probably embarrass you.

In reply to an earlier post on Jun 13, 2012 2:18:19 PM PDT
Harry Marks says:
Redcrowdog -

Although I agree that Christianity doesn't consist of morality or encapsulate all that is worth knowing about morality, both being positions one can hear endorsed, I do believe that the relationship with God at the heart of the social phenomenon of Christianity is impossible to separate from the personal issue of morality. That said, I certainly salute Bonhoeffer's intriguing observation that we are fundamentally dealing with a rupture from the innocent relationship with God that lies buried somewhere deep in every soul.

Robert Bly went a step further and suggested that in every man's life his father will strike him. Whap! To be male is to be wounded, and wounded by the one figure that we most depend on to create a strong inner self.

Our inner alienation from self is only partly a creation of disillusionment and cunning. It is also a creation of the world's cruelty.

In reply to an earlier post on Jun 13, 2012 2:24:34 PM PDT
Harry Marks says:
Irish Lace -

"What mechanism stops the basic social behaviors from evolving?"

Well, evolution necessarily is embodied in genetic material. Culture is necessily embodied in teachable practices and concepts. We have no way of drawing a clean line of demarcation between them, since culture needs at least a potential within the biology of the person.

Culture comes from outside (which we have plenty of evidence for) since none of us comes even close to being able to replicate it without culture having been passed on to us. Unless you believe a child raised in the wild would encounter a piano and then compose the works of Beethoven, Chopin and Rachmaninoff, you have to accept that culture comes to each of us from outside.

In reply to an earlier post on Jun 13, 2012 2:26:02 PM PDT
Harry Marks says:
Mickey -
I think I have posted enough clarifications of how I was using the skyscraper reference. If I am missing something about the importance of the issue of it being a characteristic or not, please let me know. Otherwise, simply accept my apology for unclear wording - it is a besetting sin.

In reply to an earlier post on Jun 13, 2012 2:32:50 PM PDT
" Rather, I am arguing that biological forces, as embodied in DNA and the baggage it carries, is almost certainly not responsible for the refinements of these basic instincts."

What leads you to believe this? What evidence led you to reach this conclusion?

"Cultural forces need to be evoked. The creation of skyscrapers has to do with longing to be recognized and to stand out, with the cost of land in Central Business Districts, with the refinement of building techniques to solve a host of practical problems, and with phallic symbolism. Just to warm up."

So, biological evolution + cultural evolution, then?

In reply to an earlier post on Jun 13, 2012 2:52:18 PM PDT
Harry Marks says:
Michael -
"So, biological evolution + cultural evolution, then? "

Yes, exactly. But cultural evolution is a whole different ball game, if you see the point. Despite the usefulness of analogies like "memes" and the refined nature of biological pressures once sexual selection is taken into account, there is just no comparison as to the level of complexity that the one is able to generate versus the other. It would take DNA a long time to evolve the Library of Congress without cultural forces playing a role.

In reply to an earlier post on Jun 13, 2012 11:57:40 PM PDT
AxeGrrl says:
Harry Marks wrote: "It would take DNA a long time to evolve the Library of Congress without cultural forces playing a role."
~~~~

Quick question......from what do you think 'cultural forces' arise, Harry?

In reply to an earlier post on Jun 14, 2012 3:25:08 AM PDT
Harry says: " That said, I certainly salute Bonhoeffer's intriguing observation that we are fundamentally dealing with a rupture from the innocent relationship with God that lies buried somewhere deep in every soul. "

Yes, me too, Harry and i agree that christianity is shrouded in thickets of ethics and morality, but I think Bonhoeffer's distinctly Christian position includes a bit more { see full discussion at: Bonhoeffer and the End of Christian Ethics /Bonhoeffer and the End of Christian Ethics by Thomas D. Pearson. if interested} :

" Like Karl Barth, and unlike Emil Brunner, Bonhoeffer rejected those natural law approaches to ethics that would make God the creator of an established moral order to which human beings must rightly conform. Bonhoeffer also avoids any sort of divine command theory of morality, whereby God functions as a divine commander, directly issuing ethical edicts to human beings whose proper response is simply to obey. Both natural law and divine command theories falsely posit metaphysical and universal ideals as the basis for moral action, when it is clear that ethical praxis takes place in specific contexts embedded in particular communities. Idealistic and universal ethics are a sham, according to Bonhoeffer; moral action is in fact practical and local. This contrasts with the essential core of the Christian message, which is precisely universal, and metaphysically rich in the scope of its application."
" This metaphysical density of Christianity, which stands in contrast to the mundane ethics of the plain person, is captured in the distinctive Christian declaration that God's action is redemptive of the human condition, and not simply remedial of human behavior.

"Christianity speaks of the single way of God to us, from the merciful love of God for the unrighteous and sinners," while "ethics speaks of the way of humans to God, of the encounter of the holy God with the unholy human."8 Bonhoeffer does not consider these two ways to be alternative modes of God's engagement with his creation, the divine condescension moving in counterpoint with the human striving. On the contrary, these two actions are opposed to one another. "[B]ecause the Christian message speaks of grace and ethics speaks of righteousness," these twoways do not only originate in different spheres, they seek different destinations.9 God's way is soteriological and eschatological, pursuing the reconciliation of all things in Christ, a reconciliation inaugurated by the cross: "there is only one way fromGod to humankind, and that is the way of love in Christ, the way of the cross."10 For Bonhoeffer, this is the ultimate metaphysical singularity: that all things worthy of theological consideration for Christians should be those things which originate in God's action toward creation, and that God's action originates in the cross. On the other hand, "there are countless ways from us to God, and therefore there are also countless ethics."11 Bonhoeffer here designates ethics as a human enterprise whose various manifestations reflect an effort to arrange our ordinary lives in such a way to secure an imagined favor with God. While God makes all things new in Christ, our ethics continue to be a scheme for managing all the old things. We are not surprised, then, when Bonhoeffer notes that "the discovery of what is beyond good and evil was not made by Friedrich Nietzsche . . . it belongs to the original material of the Christian message. . ."

" The reference to Nietzsche is revealing. The latter's long soliloquy, Beyond Good and Evil, articulates a pair of insights: that "good" and "evil" are constructs of human imagination, and that the most authentic human goods lay beyond the confining metaphors of "good" and "evil."
This was also Bonhoeffer's judgment: that the original material of Christianity was without the contrivance of ethics, in the same way that Christianity is now without the comforts of religion, as he would surmise some fifteen years later."

excerpt from : Thomas D. Pearson, Bonhoeffer and the End of Christian Ethics

In reply to an earlier post on Jun 14, 2012 7:02:33 AM PDT
Harry Marks says:
Redcrowdog -

"Bonhoeffer here designates ethics as a human enterprise whose various manifestations reflect an effort to arrange our ordinary lives in such a way to secure an imagined favor with God. While God makes all things new in Christ, our ethics continue to be a scheme for managing all the old things."

Mmm. That is good.

I watched a young man today going around the school making himself a total nuisance, alienating friends, hurting people, disrupting order, and not getting any detectable pleasure from the whole exercise. We have all felt it: something is wrong with that guy. In his case it was a total bad day, probably because exams are beginning and he hasn't been studying. But the specifics don't matter - he was messed up. We know instinctively that much of the disruption in the world is a cry for help.

God seeks reconciliation first. God is on our side. God is not trying to use us, God is trying to make us strong enough that we can achieve what we believe in. As a teacher, I often have to Lay Down the Law, and insist that such characters get out of other peoples' faces. But we both know, the whole time, that I am just being Another Brick in the Wall. Who will pay the price of breaking down the wall?

In reply to an earlier post on Jun 14, 2012 7:09:46 AM PDT
Harry Marks says:
AxeGrrl -

IMO, cultural forces are an interaction between the challenges (at later stages, opportunities) presented by the environment, and the desire to see our comrades (at earlier stages, our progeny) meet those challenges.

There was a nice article in Sci Am several years back about how one group of apes had preserved a cultural learning (something about teasing bees out of the hive? I forget) but those across the river had lost it. The authors were able to show that the ones across the river did not have a critical mass of opportunities to use the learning, and so it did not get passed on.

As biological forces are to chemical, so cultural forces are to biological - once a certain level of complexity of interaction is reached, the forces that dominate at the lower level disappear from view, and a new set of forces appear to determine the course of things.

In reply to an earlier post on Jun 14, 2012 12:32:37 PM PDT
AxeGrrl says:
What _is_ 'culture"?

What _makes_ culture?

Do you think culture is something 'outside' of human beings?

Posted on Jun 14, 2012 1:30:03 PM PDT
Harry Marks says:
AxeGrrl -

Culture is a big topic. Whole disciplines, notably anthropology, are organized around it.

It is from outside of any individual - we cannot help but feel that, like the more narrow and specific "art" or "music" or "mathematics," it is from outside ourselves.

In reply to an earlier post on Jun 14, 2012 1:43:42 PM PDT
AxeGrrl says:
Harry Marks wrote: "It is from outside of any individual - we cannot help but feel that, like the more narrow and specific "art" or "music" or "mathematics," it is from outside ourselves."
~~~~

How is art or music 'outside' of ourselves? If there were no human beings, art and music wouldn't exist. They're both forms of (very) human _expression_.

Without human beings, there wouldn't be 'art', there'd just be the materials we use to make it.
Without human beings, there wouldn't be 'music', there'd just be sounds.

In what respect is culture something 'outside' of human beings?

Posted on Jun 14, 2012 1:53:40 PM PDT
Harry Marks says:
AxeGrrl -

You skipped over "from". I am not saying we do not consider music to be human. But each individual experiences music, even a given song, as being from beyond themselves. Something they didn't create themselves. The ancient Greeks seemed to think it was divinely inspired, which is an interesting angle to think about. Certainly when I look at a Picasso or even a van Gogh or El Greco, I experience a kind of dislocation, as if some perspective that I had never experienced has suddenly been revealed to me.

In reply to an earlier post on Jun 14, 2012 2:09:04 PM PDT
AxeGrrl says:
Harry Marks wrote: "But each individual experiences music, even a given song, as being from beyond themselves. Something they didn't create themselves."
~~~~

Yes, I think everyone understands/acknowledges that that's how it might _feel_ to us, but that doesn't mean that it IS "from beyond ourselves".

And that, right there, is the crucial issue.

In reply to an earlier post on Jun 14, 2012 2:10:43 PM PDT
Irish Lace says:
"I think the question of whether animals have "morality" is misleading. Animals have _behaviors_ instilled in them by instinct via evolution; so do humans. We, as humans, have chosen to describe some behaviors as "moral" and others as "immoral" courtesy of our manufactured concept of a moral code. We then apply those terms to species that don't have such a concept, but still display behaviors that (to some degree) correspond with our own, and conclude "animals are moral beings!"

Hmmm... interesting point. I shall think about this. Thanks, Brian.

In reply to an earlier post on Jun 14, 2012 2:19:53 PM PDT
Irish Lace says:
""What mechanism stops the basic social behaviors from evolving?"

Well, evolution necessarily is embodied in genetic material. Culture is necessily embodied in teachable practices and concepts. We have no way of drawing a clean line of demarcation between them, since culture needs at least a potential within the biology of the person."

I think you may have changed the subject on me.

You said, "I don't mean to downplay the evidence that social animals have morality. Only that I think many aspects of morality are just too complex to be biologically based." My comment quoted above addresses that assertion in that we as beings are "biologically based" and there is no evidence for any aspect of our humanness that isn't based on our biology at its foundation. Therefore our culture is, even as you describe it, still merely an outgrowth of that biology. To claim that there our aspects of culture that are "too complex" to arise from our biology (or do I misunderstand you?) is to seem to claim it arose from some other source.

What is that source?

In reply to an earlier post on Jun 14, 2012 2:21:26 PM PDT
Irish Lace says:
"It would take DNA a long time to evolve the Library of Congress without cultural forces playing a role. "

You speak of "cultural forces" as if they are not the product of our biology, including our DNA.

In reply to an earlier post on Jun 14, 2012 2:24:14 PM PDT
Irish Lace says:
"
It is from outside of any individual - we cannot help but feel that, like the more narrow and specific "art" or "music" or "mathematics," it is from outside ourselves. "

As individuals? Sure, mostly. But individuals collected in communities create the culture. There is nothing "outside" humanity that creates its cultures.... at least, nothing we have evidence for.

In reply to an earlier post on Jun 14, 2012 2:35:43 PM PDT
Harry Marks says:
Irish Lace
"there is no evidence for any aspect of our humanness that isn't based on our biology at its foundation. Therefore our culture is, even as you describe it, still merely an outgrowth of that biology" We are also chemical. To say that our morality is chemical is obviously reductionist - it leaves out everything that matters, in the way the chemicals are organized. Might as well say it is an outgrowth of thermodynamics and mechanics.

I am not arguing for something extrabiogical in morality. Only for giving due regard to the emergent organization that comes with cultural forces and has little to do with biology.

Ask the question this way - do you think you could knock out a gene and get someone who is incapable of distinguishing a rationalization from a genuine plea based on principle? I doubt it.

Posted on Jun 14, 2012 2:46:27 PM PDT
If you get a good Interlinear Bible, either the one by Jay Green (Hebrew OT and Greek NT) or the Apostolic Bible Polyglot (Greek throughout because it uses the LXX for the OT), available from apostolicbible dot com (both have original language, English translation under the words, and Strong's numbers above the words), you can look up a lot of stuff for yourself. The latter also has a complete Greek Concordance and Lexicon in the back.
For instance, where your Bible uses 50 different English words here and there to translate a single term, it's harder to grasp what God meant by that word. If you notice that it's the same original word, you begin to see how it's used and what it means. When God breathed into Adam the breath of life and Adam became a living soul, that's significant, particularly when God previously used the same word when He created the souls that dwell in the sea and the souls which dwell in the field. Will I see my dog in heaven? I don't know, but I'm starting to think, Maybe yes.

In reply to an earlier post on Jun 14, 2012 3:14:25 PM PDT
Harry Marks says:
Irish Lace -
"individuals collected in communities create the culture"

I have another semantic quibble to raise. While we obviously do "create" culture, we also "find" it. Like one finds mathematical theorems. There are external structures that we must accept, and the creative act is often in the finding of ways to work with those structures and not against them.

I suggested above that the challenges and opportunities of nature are one side of the cultural forces that shape us. This is like the reason for convergent evolution: certain ecological niches are there to be filled, and evolution will lead the biology to create something that fills them. So, in the same way, we should acknowledge the "cultural requirements" as having a role, so that our "creation" of culture is not experienced as arbitrary, on the one hand, or hubristically heroic (one thinks of Wagner, or Napoleon) on the other.

In reply to an earlier post on Jun 14, 2012 4:58:33 PM PDT
AxeGrrl says:
Harry Marks wrote: "Only for giving due regard to the emergent organization that comes with cultural forces and has little to do with biology."
~~~~

But that's precisely the problem, Harry. How do you _know_ that the "organization that comes with cultural forces" has "little to do with biology"?

In reply to an earlier post on Jun 14, 2012 5:03:06 PM PDT
Last edited by the author on Jun 14, 2012 6:00:49 PM PDT
AxeGrrl says:
Harry Marks wrote: "While we obviously do "create" culture, we also "find" it. Like one finds mathematical theorems."
~~~~

Mathematical theorems aren't the same as a painting or a musical composition ~ without human beings, the _creative act_ that turns oils into paintings and tonal frequencies into music wouldn't happen.

These are human things and _everything_ 'human' owes a great deal to biology.

In reply to an earlier post on Jun 14, 2012 8:14:43 PM PDT
Irish Lace says:
"Irish Lace: "there is no evidence for any aspect of our humanness that isn't based on our biology at its foundation. Therefore our culture is, even as you describe it, still merely an outgrowth of that biology"

Harry: "We are also chemical. "

Me: Um... Harry, is that "chemical" not biological?

Harry: "I am not arguing for something extrabiogical in morality. Only for giving due regard to the emergent organization that comes with cultural forces and has little to do with biology. "

Me: Sorry, Harry, but you lost me. What "cultural forces" do you have evidence for that have "little to do with our biology"?

Harry: "Ask the question this way - do you think you could knock out a gene and get someone who is incapable of distinguishing a rationalization from a genuine plea based on principle? "

Me: Maybe it's just late and I'm just tired, but I don't understand the question.
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