In my previous post, I expressed my reasons for abandoning Roman Catholicism (and traditional Christianity as a whole). I will now will explain my religious views.
A Moderate Naturalism and a Spiritual Nature
It is sort of unusual to argue that spirit is material. This view comes mostly from ancient philosophy, which conceives the soul as something diametrically opposite and, sometimes, opposed to the physical body. This goes as far back as Plato, who established the realm of ideas as the place where our souls originally come from, but fell, and now it is a prisoner of matter. Matter is corruptible, changing, and temporal. It is not the natural state of the soul to be contaminated with it.
As a contemporary Platonist, I have to point out the deep (but historically understandable) fallacy in which Plato fell into: that truths-of-reason and the spiritual realm are one and the same thing. Plato correctly distinguished between those objects that are understood but not sensibly perceived and those that are perceived but not understood. Yet, due to the fact that our minds (souls), not the bodies, are able to grasp the former, then that would mean that minds and the objects of understanding are essentially the same. Further, since he needed to explain how the physical objects participate from the ideal realm, he fell into another fallacy: that a Divinity (the Demiurge) actually created these ideas as a way to create a great material organism that participates from His Divinity (all of this is expressed in Timaeus). Judeo-Christianity only perpetuated these fallacies in lesser or greater degree (which is, once again, can be perfectly understood given its historical background).
My Platonist position about the objects of understanding is similar to Edmund Husserl’s: logical truths are essentially formal apophantics, and mathematics is formal ontology. Formal logic prescribes a priori all forms of truth whatsoever, while mathematics deals with the forms in which objects can be given. Both are a priori disciplines, meaning that they are only known through reason (i.e. they are truths-of-reason), and they are the unconditional, absolute, and logically necessary basis of any truth or anything whatever. It is in this sense, and only in this sense, that logical truths and mathematical objects exist, as well as formal categories, and so on. I extend this to ethical values in general, as well as ethical principles, among others.
There is no possible deity that can determine absolutely anything relating to mathematics and logic, nor can God make a genocide good in principle, nor make a square be round. As a matter of fact, gods or God (as traditionally conceived) Who can create and/or intervene in the physical world, must belong to the realm of matters-of-fact, not of truths-of-reason. Hence, spiritual activity (unconscious, subconscious, and conscious, elementary or highly evolved), also belongs to the realm of matters-of-fact, as Frege, Husserl, and other philosophical realists saw very clearly.
If both, material and spiritual realities belong to the realm of matters-of-fact, then in some sense they must be related. Contrary to Plato, who saw matter only as decadent and corruptible, what science has discovered recently is that matter is a thriving activity and self-creative. In fact, as has been pointed out by so many people, Ultimate Reality seems to be made up of nothing but emergent nested creativity:
- From quarks to atoms
- From atoms to molecules
- From molecules to stars
- From stars to galaxies, etc.
The material world is intrinsically emergent, where a new complexity emerges from another. Today’s cosmology is an emergent cosmology. It is within this creative activity, especially through evolution, organisms (autopoietic beings) came to be, who could replicate their genetic code, and through natural selection’s tinkering of the code and the emergence of forms of unintended cooperation, a rich variety of complex living beings came to be. Among them, many animals developed brains that could process few bits of information. Then through natural selection some minds became increasingly more complex and modular, specializing each more in operations of the senses, of action and reaction, and avoiding harm.
Humans today have a brain whose parts and modules have been inherited from our ancestors. Each of them became more and more conscious until humanity gained some spectacular abilities, such as to foresee consequences of its actions, of creating solidarity systems for collective action, and a wonderful way of adapting to the environment (needless to say our ability to make the environment adapt to us). Our souls literally come from active, self-creating matter.
For this, we should be thankful for matter, energy, and our own souls. We should celebrate our material origins and our emergence in this wonderful universe, so full of sacred moments. I remember the ecologist theologian Thomas Berry saying in a very moving statement:
We need to experience the developmental story of the universe as our sacred story. ..There was a time when the oxygen in the air had been created by the plankton in the sea. This oxygen, though, was poison, it was deadly… It nearly killed every living form. A transformation had to take place. Forms had to invent a way of using the energy to create organic substance in an inorganic world. Animals can’t do that. Only plants can do that. That’s why Ecclesiastes says that all life is grass, because all life depends on what grass can do. This I think is a moment of grace…. The invention of sexuality is a moment of grace. Evolution could not happen without the invention of sexuality. That one life form can live of another life form, that is another moment of grace. A Divine that creates the universe that can create itself, that is the miracle of creation.
In this light, everything material becomes sacred.
About God and Prophecy
I don’t believe in a supernatural God anymore. In that sense, you can call me atheist, just as most of us are atheists regarding Zeus, or Odin. I am an atheist regarding Yahweh and regarding Jesus. I don’t believe that Jesus is God, but I do believe about Jesus what practically all historians and Bible scholars hold as true: that Jesus existed as an apocalyptic prophet who was later deified by Early Christians, a process which culminated with the Councils of Niscea and Constantinople. For more on this, buy Bart Ehrman’s book How Jesus Became God (I have a big difference of opinion regarding the issue of Jesus’ burial, but the rest of the book is great). Simply speaking, there is no supernatural God. I don’t accept supernatural miracles anymore, nor do I think there are angels, nor a lot of things I used to believe when I was Catholic. The best apology for such a kind of God was Hans Küng’s Does God Exist? (a book that is very rich in knowledge, wisdom, and rigor of thought, and I highly recommend reading it), and still I was unsatisfied with his answer.
That being said, I am not antitheist, nor do I intend to become another antitheistic activist like Sam Harris or Richard Dawkins. I do respect a lot of theists who hold their belief in a supernatural God. It just didn’t work for me. My aspiration is to work along with religious people for a better future, and I do care deeply about religions in general.
I do believe in a God, and that is Ultimate Reality. God is a proper name, a personification of Ultimate Reality. Once again, He is a personification, not a person. He is a mythical way of relating to Ultimate Reality of which all of us are part of. He (or She if you prefer) encompasses all of material components, its energetic processes, and material and spiritual events. He also incorporates all of the history of the universe, or what Thomas Berry called The Great Story. Others have called it Big History. The Great Story is the one that incorporates every single story of the universe, even humanity’s history, incorporating mythical histories, all forms of understanding the relationship between humanity and the universe, religious thinking, ideals, moral values, and so on.
This is the Great Story of a creation that happened and is still happening all over the world. Humanity is a big contributor to this evolution. We have the huge problems of world hunger, climate change, wars, etc. In a world like this, God has made us an evolutionary gift: we can foresee the consequences of our actions or lack of them as basis to make decisions individually and collectively. We are moral beings (to make decisions based on values), who are able to be ethical beings (to make decisions based on objectively good values). As Peter Parker’s uncle used to say: “With great power comes great responsibility.” Paraphrasing A Course in Miracles (but in a radically different sense), each of us have the mind, the eyes, the ears, the voice, the hands, the arms, the legs, the feet … in other words, the body as instruments of salvation.
As a Religious Naturalist (and even when I was Roman Catholic), I recognize the role of being a prophet of this time. When I was young, and belonged to Líderes de la Paz (a missionary Roman Catholic group), I learned that a prophet is the one who announces and denounces righteously in God’s name.
Notice righteously, not self-righteously. To be righteous requires a lot of humility, as opposed to self-righteousness, which requires a lot of arrogance. Someone told me that for St. Theresa of Avila, “humility is the truth”. There is no better definition out there than this one. Both reason and experience of Ultimate Reality (of God) will keep us humble constantly. For this, we need Philosophy, Formal Sciences, Natural Sciences, Social Sciences, Humanities, and so on. It is necessary to pay attention to God’s own revelation (discovered facts) through all of these science. On that basis. we can make our own individual decisions, and help redirect society to help it make the best collective decision.
On such foundations, we can actually know what it is going to happen if we don’t do anything about climate change. It is not God’s punishment, but the result of our own sin. Even when people don’t like the term “sin”, we have to recover it within this Naturalistic view. For theologians, “sin” is not merely doing something wrong, it is making a wrong decision that disrupts our relationship with God. Within a Naturalistic reconception, our refusal to understand Ultimate Reality and not dealing with establishing our right relationship with God is a sinful behavior. Our indifference and hatred to manifestations and expressions of God such living beings, including xenophobia, homophobia, misogyny, ethnic cleansing, genocide, and others, are sinful, because they disrupt our relationship with God’s own creation of which we are part of. In light of this, we can say “Amen” when we can restate Naturalistically what the author of 1 John says:
Beloved, let us love one another, because love is from God; everyone who loves is born of God and knows God. Whoever does not love does not know God, for God is love (1 John 4:7-8).
An Evidential Faith
As we act this way, the deal of living spiritually is living in integrity. That does not just mean being honest. It means that I should align my mind and my actions with what factual evidence that empirical sciences can show us. Rev. Michael Dowd has talked about an evidential faith. This phrase is so strange because people think of “faith” as believing with no evidence. Actually, faith is synonymous with trust. Some people trust that God exists, and do so blindly. In my case, I think that we should trust evidence as it is revealed by the sciences in general, we should have an evidential faith to live in integrity.
What about things you don’t know? Simply speaking, I can speculate about could probably exist, but on the basis of evidence. Of others sorts of claims I will remain a skeptic, in the same sense of Skeptic magazine or the Skeptical Inquirer.
Short Summary of my New Religious Views
Rev. Michael Dowd has expressed in a metareligious sense the following principles:
- Reality is my God.
- Evidence is my Scripture.
- Big History is my creation story.
- Ecology is my theology
- Integrity is my salvation.
- Ensuring a healthy future is my mission
I hold all of these from a Naturalistic standpoint. Is there anything more to say?
I am a body … and more than that too!
I say this because a lot of people out there think that we are souls but we have a body (rephrasing a statement by C. S. Lewis). Yes! You are more than a body! But you are a body, it is an integral part of you without which you wouldn’t be who you are.
A great part of what you are is in your genes. Many of our own genetic predispositions along with the environment we interact with during our lifetime shape who we are in a very real sense. Scientists have found that a lot of our inclinations depend in part on our genes: our taste of food and clothing, our political views, our sexual orientation, the jokes we like, and so on.
Another great part of our body is our brain, without it, it would be impossible for us to live, breathe, and relate to society in any sensible way. To make decisions, you need the frontal lobes of your brain, without them, it would be impossible for you to create your own projects, build your own future, and know what to do with your life. Without your limbic system, you wouldn’t be able to establish an empathic relationships with anyone: not with your parents, nor with your children, nor with your siblings nor your friends. As many studies on serial killers have shown, the brain plays a great role in your behavior towards others. And, as it turns out, without key features of your limbic system, it would be impossible for you to make rational decisions either. Emotions play a great role regarding those sorts of decisions (e.g. acts of caring for others).
The way your body is built (with all of its strengths and weaknesses) serves as a foundation for your own relationships: it is your body that determines who your parents are, or who your children are, or who are your friends and neighbors. Without your body, your relational life is simply gone. There wouldn’t be any form for you to grow as a human being. Your body is the one that gives you the opportunity to smile, to see a landscape, to enjoy a meal with family, to watch the sky.
And speaking of sky … one thing that is extremely important is to realize and is missed when we state that we are a soul and not a body … is the realization that we are part of the cosmic story. When we look at the stars, we look at our ancestors. Everything our body is, which make our minds possible, come from them. The iron that flows through our veins, the oxygen we inhale, the nitrogen that nourish plants, and so on, they come from stars. And here we are! We are their offsprings through billions of years of evolution. Thanks to our bodies, we realize that we are the universe conscious of its own existence, looking through the telescope, and be amazed by the millions of wonders that await to be revealed every day about who we are, where we come from, and how we came into being.
And as Neil Shubin (based on Charles Darwin) has shown in his book and his video series Your Inner Fish, a lot of our bodily features, are the footprints of so many creatures of the past. They are the ones who gave us the gifts that let us react towards immediate dangers, see colors, count numbers, walk to the park, smile, among all of the things we hold dear and treasure.
Yet you are more than your body … you are your body, and part of who you are is determined by it, but you are also what you do with it. As a matter of fact, it is the way we use our bodies (i.e. the way you treat others) that your soul is a good one or not. Nature is constantly revealing the truth that we are not apart from it, that what we do actually matters to others. Your soul arises from the depths of matter and your gazillion relationships with everyone and everything in the planet.
This is how God breathed on the Earth to give it life, because active matter is creative, building living things and making souls arise out of them. This is how the Creator created life in a world that is endlessly giving us existence in every instance and every moment.
Who are we to deny this beautiful way with which God kisses every being on Earth?
Earlier Posts in the Series: 1
What is Evolutionary Christianity?
I am an evolutionary Christian, which means many things, among them the following:
- I consider both faith and science as paths to truth and God. There is a revelation of faith so far as it provides the existential meaning for the reality of the world, but I also consider science to be divine revelation. As Catholic, I do believe in St Thomas Aquinas’ statement that a misunderstanding of creation leads to a misunderstanding of the Creator. As it has always been held by Catholicism and many Christian denominations reason and faith are both paths to God. A faith which rejects science is not worth having. In this sense, I do agree with Carl Sagan who said “Science is, at least in part, informed worship”. I worship God in the Church, in nature, in science, in philosophy, and try to worship Him in everything I do and write (not always successfully). From this standpoint, the whole religion vs. science debate makes little sense to me.
- I do not see God and creation to be static, but always evolving in some way. In this sense, I reject much of the idea of “perfection” as it was understood by Hellenistic philosophers, and whose doctrine were integrated to the Judeo-Christian understanding of God. Not that all of Hellenistic philosophy should be rejected, many of them must be kept in Christianity, but the particular notion of “perfection” as conceived by Parmenides and Plato are no longer adequate to be understood in the realm of matters-of-fact (as David Hume understood the term).
- I do believe in a Trinitarian God, but Who is not divorced from its creation. I am a panentheist (notice that I didn’t say “pantheist”), which means that I believe that God is ontologically different from His creation, but is not separate from it, but He is integrated to creation (He is immanent to it), but is more than creation (He is transcendent). This is perfectly consistent with the Pauline statement that in the Lord we live, we move and have our being (Acts 17:28). in God we find our ultimate reason for being.
- I do not see divine revelation as dictation of divine words in tablets of stone (metaphorically speaking). Although many Christians believe that, such belief is actually contrary to Scripture itself. Truth is always the same, but the way God gradually reveals Himself, and the way we have understood such revelation, how ever imperfectly, has changed over time.
- I think of the Bible, Christianity, and all world religions as forming part of what Brian Swimme and Thomas Berry have called “The Great Story” of the cosmos, of the universe. In this sense, the Bible should be placed within an evolving story, and its texts should be placed in a historical context, but without dismissing all of its important contributions with which it reveals the life-giving reality of God.
This is a very short summary of where I come from, although my thoughts on these issues are pretty much more complex, but this is my position thus far. These are the premises of what I am going to discuss in these series on the Bible from an evolutionary standpoint. Today and always, I will thank God for evolution in the broadest sense of the word, because He made the cosmos in such a way that life emerged out of it gradually, to the point of evolving an ever emerging consciousness … until we, each one of us, became the universe being conscious of itself.
The evolutionary epic is probably the best myth we will ever have. ~ Edward O. Wilson
The religion that is afraid of science dishonors God. ~ Ralph Waldo Emerson
We are the local embodiment of a Cosmos grown to self awareness. We have begun to contemplate our origins–star-stuff pondering the stars. ~ Carl Sagan
I am the eye with which the Universe beholds itself and knows it is divine. ~ Percy Shelley
From Simplest Societies to More Complex Societies
Many people ask why did I add to this discussion a reference to Steven Pinker’s book, The Better Angels of our Nature, on the gradual decline of violence. Other people (the vast majority) responded with great disbelief. Here is a conference about the matter if you don’t have access to the book, but want far more detail than I offered in my earlier blog post.
Yet, the trend to non-violent societies worldwide (not just in Christian countries) is evident. This does not mean at all that violence, rape, slavery, and other evil aspects of humanity have disappeared, but it does mean that they have been reduced significantly throughout history. Part of the reason why this peace is taking place and increasing is the fact that our societies keep growing towards complexity.
Gradual complexity is not only a trait of societies, but of all of evolutionary process. Although we cannot say that blind-guided evolution is not progressive in the sense that it will always lead to something “better”, it does have an arrow in the sense that it is directed towards increased gradual complexity. I recommend you the book Evolution’s Arrow, by John Stewart, if you wish to investigate more on the matter. Again, this complexification of reality is not only a trait of living beings, but of all of the universe (the “nested reality” which Michael Dowd talked about in the video in the earlier section). A side effect of a complex and diverse society is precisely the process of peace which Pinker talks about.
No religion is exception to this rule of complexification. These blog series are all about how this happened, and how we can understand the Bible (a complex object) as the result of an evolutionary process.
Three Sorts of Stories which the Bible Tells
When people open their Bible, it is evidently telling us a story … from Genesis to Revelation. The story is not always consistent, some parts of it are beautiful, some sublime, some horrifying, some make you think, and some are contradictory. Yet, traditionally people read it from beginning to end as if it is a single logically-linear argument.
Yet, I want to distinguish three sorts of stories which Bible tells us in different ways:
- The Literal Story: It is as basic as to read the Bible and understand the events as they happen.
- The Different Meanings of Passages: Regardless of whether the Bible is taken literally or not, it must be interpreted. This is the sort of reading heavily interpreted by religions as such. I will not discuss that here.
- The Story Behind the Literal Stories
The last one is the focus of these series, especially regarding the way the Bible came to be over time.
In order to understand what this distinction is about, I want to use a specific biblical passage which has been both admired and rejected by believers and non-believers respectively. By the way, the underline you will see is an important emphasis, not accidental.
It happened some time later that Elohim put Abraham to the test. ‘Abraham, Abraham!’ he called. ‘Here I am,’ he replied. Elohim said, ‘Take your son, your only son, your beloved Isaac, and go to the land of Moriah, where you are to offer him as a burnt offering on one of the mountains which I shall point out to you.’
Early next morning, Abraham saddled his donkey and took with him two of his servants and his son Isaac. He chopped wood for the burnt offering and started on his journey to the place which Elohim had indicated to him. On the third day Abraham looked up and saw the place in the distance. Then Abraham said to his servants, ‘Stay here with the donkey. The boy and I are going over there; we shall worship and then come back to you.’
Abraham took the wood for the burnt offering, loaded it on Isaac, and carried in his own hands the fire and the knife. Then the two of them set out together. Isaac spoke to his father Abraham, ‘Father?’ he said. ‘Yes my son,’ he replied. ‘Look,’ he said, ‘here are the fire and the wood, but where is the lamb for the burnt offering?’ Abraham replied, ‘My son, Elohim Himself will provide the lamb for the burnt offering.’ And the two of them went on together.
When they arrived at the place which Elohim had indicated to him, Abraham built an altar there, and arranged the wood. Then he bound his son and put him on the altar on top of the wood. Abraham stretched out his hand and took the knife to kill his son.
But the messenger of Yahweh called to him from heaven. ‘Abraham, Abraham!’ he said. ‘Here I am,’ he replied. ‘Do not raise your hand against the boy,’ the messenger said. ‘Do not harm him, for now I know you fear Elohim You have not refused your own beloved son. Then looking up, Abraham saw a ram and offered it as a burnt offering in place for his son. Abraham called this place ‘Yahweh provides’ (Yahweh yir’eh), and hence the saying today: ‘On the mountain Yahweh provides.’
The messenger of Yahweh called Abraham a second time from the heaven. ‘I swear by my own self, Yahweh declares, that because you have done this, because you have not refused me your own son, I will shower blessings on you and make your descendants as numerous as the stars of heaven and the grains of sand on the seashore. Your descendants will gain possession of the gates of their enemies. All nations on Earth will bless themselves by your descendants, because you have obeyed my command.’ (Gen 22:1-18).
This is a story which has been inspired by believers, and upsetting to unbelievers. It reflects how far Abraham was able to go to obey God. The first sort of reading (I talked about earlier) is the literal story as it is told in the Bible. It is enough to read it to understand its literal meaning.
Many religions or religious denominations interpret this story in very different ways, and here we can see the second sort of reading I discussed above: the meaning interpretation. Some believers think that this passage means that we should follow God unconditionally, no matter if whatever He requests can be at first sight completely reprehensible. Other believers see in it Abraham’s faith that God, in the sense that he knew that in the end God was going to fulfill His promise of having descendants through Isaac, so He knew God would spare him in the end.
Another form of interpretation comes from a humanist-antireligious standpoint, like the one Richard Dawkins expressed in The God Delusion:
God ordered Abraham to make a burnt offering of his longed-for son. Abraham built an altar, put firewood upon it, and trussed Isaac up on top of the wood. His murdering knife was already in his hand when an angel dramatically intervened with the news of a last-minute change of plan: God was only joking after all, ‘tempting’ Abraham, and testing his faith. A modern moralist cannot help but wonder how a child could ever recover from such psychological trauma. By the standards of modern morality, this disgraceful story is an example simultaneously of child abuse, bullying in two asymmetrical power relationships, and the first recorded use of Nuremberg defence: ‘I was only obeying orders.’ Yet the legend is one of the great foundational myths of all three monotheistic religions. (p. 242).
Dawkins will be Dawkins, but, from an ethical standpoint, he is right if the text is taken verbatim at face value.
Yet, there is also a third aspect, the third sort of reading, which is the one I am focused on. The reader may have noticed that I purposely underlined a part of the story. For reasons I will explain in my later posts, the original story comes from what Bible scholars have called the Elohist tradition, a tradition which was developed apparently in the northern Kingdom of Israel, by a group of priests proceeding from Shilo, one of the most sacred places in Ancient Israel. If you haven’t heard of Shilo, then don’t worry, it is almost never mentioned in Bible school nor Catechism. However, it was important, because it was the place where the Ark of the Covenant resided long before Jerusalem was built by King David (Josh. 18:1; 1 Sam 4:3-5). We know that the story comes from the Elohist tradition because it uses extensively the word “Elohim” to refer to God.
Yet, look at the underlined section. One thing that strikes us is that instead of solely calling God “Elohim”, this section uses the name “Yahweh”. Also it talks about a messenger (an angel) of Yahweh appearing all of the sudden to substitute Isaac for a goat for the sacrifice. Yet, there is one characteristic of Elohist tradition which calls the attention of scholars. First, we must point out that where the underlined passage ends, it begins by God saying that Abraham has not refused his son. Another thing that happens is that in the rest of the Elohist tradition, Isaac never appears once again later. Finally, nowhere in the Elohist tradition does God say that his descendants will come from Isaac.
This led most Bible scholars to the following conclusion: the original Elohist story did actually involve a sacrifice of Isaac to God. In other words, apparently Abraham did kill Isaac. This should not surprise anyone who knows about the Middle East at the time, before 700 B.C. Human sacrifice, especially children, was a common practice if it was “required by the deity”.
But something happened to the story. It was edited by a later author. Who was he? We don’t know. Why was it edited? For one simple reason … because much later, especially after several religious reforms in Israel, forms of human sacrifice were increasingly rejected by Israelites. Contrary to what many detractors say, the story as we have it in the Hebrew Bible is not a story to legitimize human sacrifice. It is a story illustrating God as someone rejecting human sacrifice … all forms of human sacrifice.
The moral sense of the Ancient Israelites evolved in the process. THAT is God’s Word which many religious and non-religious are not able to find in the Bible if they do not place the origins of the Bible and its content in an evolutionary context.
In my next post, I will make a brief exposition of contemporary Neo-Darwinism and how it can help us understand this process of the edition of the Bible better.
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“Religions Never Change”
“Religions never change”, said a dear friend and adopted sister of mine when I posted something about using the best aspects of religious practice for peace. I know what she meant. Religions have been used very often to manipulate people, to make them act unethically, even engaging wars in the name of God. She, as a pacifist, rejects all of that. As a matter of fact, she has been heavily influenced by the so-called “New Atheists” (Richard Dawkins in particular and his book The God Delusion).
It is not a surprise that the renowned biologist and militant atheist P. Z. Myers stated that if you want children to reject Christianity completely, you have to do one thing: make them read the Bible.
Yes, there are wonderful stories there, but much of the content leaves much to be desired. Yet, children usually do not read these passages. I remember when I was teaching Humanities, I was about to talk about the Hebrew society, and was naming my students the best Bible translations (to Spanish) available to them. Then I described some inconsistencies in the Bible, while a dear student of mine was looking at me with disbelief. One of the inconsistencies I pointed out was that after David killed Goliath of Gath by cutting his head off (1 Sam. 17:40-54), but later, Goliath appeared alive and well just to be killed by Elhanan son of Jair (2 Sam. 21:29). She shouted with surprise: “I have NEVER heard of David cutting Goliath’s head off!”
Of course she was surprised! She was never taught that very gruesome part of the Bible. She was taught that David killed Goliath by throwing a stone at his forehead. Bible school didn’t tell her about the beheading. Yet, as I eventually showed her at the end of the class with the Bible in hand, that is not exactly what the Bible says:
Putting his hand in his bag, [David] took out a stone, slung it and struck the Philistine on the forehead; the stone penetrated his forehead and he fell face downwards on the ground. Thus David triumphed over the Philistine with a sling and a stone; he hit the Philistine and killed him, though he had no sword in his hand. David ran and stood over the Philistine, seized his sword, pulled it from the scabbard, despatched him and cut off his head. (1 Sam. 17: 49-51).
She was surprised once again, because no one told her that part of Goliath’s death.
[Note: If you have a King James Version translation in English or a Reina-Valera translation in Spanish, the passage 2 Sam 21:29 has been changed purposely to hide the contradiction. Yet the rest of the Bible translations show the real translation, that Goliath appears much later.]
In the Christian right, there is much emphasis on how violent the Q’uran is, and how, because of it, all (or at least most) Muslims are violent. Yet, they (convenientely) forget how violent the Bible is.
Yahweh Elohim can be said to be slow to anger and rich in mercy (Ps. 145:8), yet you have to look at many of the passages in the Pentateuch and Minor Prophets to see that His anger sparks at the slightest provocation, and, sometimes, no provocation. Take this incident, for instance:
They transported the ark of Elohim on a new cart and brought it out of Abinadab’s house which is on the hill. Uzzah and Ahio, the sons of Abinadab, drove the cart, Uzzah walked alongside the ark of God and Ahio went in front. David and the whole House of Israel danced before Yahweh with all their might, singing to the accompaniment of harps, lyres, tambourines, sistrums and cymbals. When they came to Nancon’s threshing-floor, Uzzah reached his hand out to the ark of God and steadied it, as the oxen were making it tilt. This roused Yahweh’s anger against Uzzah, and for this crime Elohim struck him down on the spot, and there he died beside the ark of God. (2 Sam 6:3-7).
We can understand why David was a bit pissed at Yahweh for doing that (2 Sam. 6:8). Any person who reads this passage, whether believer or not, will have the impression that Yahweh’s penalty doesn’t quite fit the “crime” … if it can be called a “crime” in any sense.
Yahweh is also not short of promoting genocide. For example, Yahweh commanded the annihilation of the Midianites (Num. 31:1).
The Isaelites took the Midianite women and their little ones captive and carried off all their cattle, all their flocks and all their goods as booty. They set fire to the towns where they lived and to all their encampments. Then, taking all their booty, everything they had captured, human and animal, they brought the captives, spoil and booty to Moses, the priest Eleazar and the whole communityof Israelites at the camp on the Plains of Moab, near the Jordan by Jericho.
Moses, the priest Eleazar and all the leaders of the community went out of the camp to meet them. Moses was enraged with the officers of the army, the commanders of the thousands and commanders of the hundreds who had come back from this military expedition. He said, ‘Why have you spared the life of all the women? They were the very ones who, on Balaam’s advice, caused the Israelites to be unfaithful to Yahweh in the affair at Peor: hence the plague which struck Yahweh’s community. So kill all the male children and kill all the women who have ever slept with a man; but spare the lives of the young girls who have never slept with a man, and keep them for yourselves. (Num. 31:9-18)
In other words, kill all children and married women … and, by the way, you may keep the young virgins to rape them. There are other passages which actually suggest to kill babies or rip a pregnant woman’s womb apart, especially when they are the enemy (2 Kings 6:12; Is. 13:16; Hos. 14:1, Neh. 3:10; Ps. 137:9). There are other examples of genocide, such as the command to kill the Amalekites. Samuel told Saul to “… crush Amalek; put him under the curse of destruction with all that he possesses. Do not spare him, but kill [every] man and woman, babe and suckling, ox and sheep, camel and donkey.” (1 Sam. 15:2-3). Yahweh also consents to slavery, sometimes more humane slavery for ones, but worse slave treatment for others (Ex. 21:2-11,20-21; Lev. 25:44-46).
My, my, my! These are the passages which are forgotten when many believers present the Bible as the story of “God’s love throughout history”! These are the passages not taught in Bible school. Yet, they are definitely there. According to the scholar Raymund Schwager, the Hebrew Bible alone (the Old Testament with the exception of the Deuterocanonical books),
contains six hundred passages that explicitly talk about nations, kings, or individuals attacking, destroying, and killing others. … Aside from the approximately one thousand verses in which Yahweh himself appears as the direct executioner of violent punishments, and the many texts in which the Lord delivers the criminal to the punisher’s sword, in over one hundred other passages Yahweh expressly gives the command to kill people (Schwager, 2000, pp. 47, 60).
According to Matthew White, supposedly there are 1.2 million deaths from mass killing in the Bible (excluding the half million dead due to the war between Judah and Israel in 2 Chron. 13 for considering it implausible). I have to add the fact that many of the battles told in the Hebrew Bible did not actually take place, but I’ll explain it in a future blog post in these series.
Yet Religions have Changed …
One of the things I had to tell my friend and sister when she stated that “religions don’t change” is that the fact that religions have changed refutes her arguments. If you don’t believe me, believe Steven Pinker. He is not exactly an ardent defender of religion. He is quite the opposite, an ardent critic of religion, especially in the most harmful aspects of it in relation to public policy. He is also an advocate for the hypothesis of what in neuroscience has been called “the God module”, a module which enable many people to believe in God, life after death or a world beyond our own.
Yet, recently he published a book I wholeheartedly recommend called, The Better Angels of our Nature.
The main argument of his book will seem very strange in light of the many battles, wars, and terrorist acts which occur every day … He thinks that violence in the world has declined. Yes! No kidding! Violence in the world has really declined! Even violence in religion has declined, and Pinker, as critic of religion he is, is honest enough to recognize its decline … which confirms his point! After talking about all of the unethical parts of the Bible, he then says:
If you think that by reviewing the literal content of the Hebrew Bible I am trying to impugn the billions of people who revere it today, then you are missing the point. The overwhelming majority of observant Jews and Christians are, needless to say, thoroughly decent people who do not sanction genocide, rape, slavery, or stoning people for frivolous infractions. Their revenrence for the Bible is purely talismanic. In recent millenia and centuries the Bible has been spin-doctored, allegorized, superseded by less violent texts (the Talmud among Jews and the New Testament among Christians), or discreetly ignored. And that is the point. Sensibilities toward violence have changed so much that religious people today compartmentalize their attitude to the Bible. They pay it lip service as a symbol of morality, while getting their actual morality from more modern principles (Pinker, 2011, pp. 11-12).
Much later, when he talks about more objectionable material from the New Testament (although less violent than the Old Testament), and the most unethical attitudes from early Christians (especially after Christianity was adopted as official religion by the Roman Empire) he states:
Once again, the point of this discussion is not to accuse Christians of endorsing torture and persecution. Of course most devout Christians today are thoroughly tolerant and humane people. Even those who thunder from televised pulpits do not call for burning heretics alive or hoisting Jews on the strappado. The question is why they don’t, given that their beliefs imply that it would serve the greater good. The answer is that people in the West today compartmentalize their religious ideology. When they affirm their faith in houses of worship, they profess beliefs that have barely changed in two thousand years. But when it comes to their actions, they respect modern norms of nonviolence and toleration, a benevolent hypocrisy for which we should all be grateful (Pinker, 2011, p. 17).
The only aspect where I part from Pinker’s company has to do with the statement that Christianity has “barely” changed its doctrine. Quite the contrary, as Hans Küng has pointed out in his work on Judaism, Christianity and Islam, although some of their paradigmatic core principles are preserved for millenia, the ever-changing historical reality of Christians (Jews and Muslims) and interactions among themselves have made them adopt a variety of philosophical and theological standpoints. In Christianity the Bible was not seen the same way by everyone during its Neo-Platonic stage, nor its Aristotelian stage, not even during the Protestant Reformation or the Counter-Reformation, not even today.
The part about the “benevolent hypocrisy” should not be taken to be an ill-willed criticism against Christians. After all, we are all hypocrites in one level or another, as many cognitive scientists know very well. Yet, in many cases it cannot be said that this is because “readers ignore passages”. Many theologians were perfectly aware of such passages, yet provided rational philosophical and theological basis to confront them or deal with them. Unfortunately, not many believers read these theologians.
What these Series are About
Yet, why is the Bible the way it is? Why are there hateful passages? In fact, why are there contradictions in the Bible? How can we understand these contradictions? Didn’t anyone notice that these passages were there? Militant atheists love to laugh at these passages to embarrass Christians in the process. Yet, such behavior contributes little to the conversation.
I want to explore the Bible from a very unusual standpoint, from an evolutionary standpoint. Yes, mostly from a Darwinian standpoint. The degree of violence we find in the Bible (and antiquity in general) will be described more accurately as the result of biological evolutionary processes. The eventual process of change in religion (in many cases for the better) can be understood as the way cultural evolution interacts with biological evolution in order to benefit greater and greater groups of humans. Contrary to what has been stated, religion has been a great force of group cohesion, yet it is not the only one.
In my next blog post, I will present a brief summary of current Darwinian evolution, especially the parts regarding our present discussion.
On a side note, I was always dissatisfied with official Catholic theology on revelation. Although the theology worked on and elaborated in the Second Vatican Council is a great advance, it is not enough. I hope that much of the reflections I have to offer will serve, in the end, a scientific and philosophical basis for a more adequate unerstanding of the Bible, and what do we mean when we say that it is God’s Word.
The New Jerusalem Bible. (1989). NY: Doubleday.
Pinker, S. The better angels of our nature: why violence has declined. US: Viking.
Schwager, R. (2000). Must there be scapegoats? Violence and redemption in the Bible NY: Crossroad.
White, M. (2011). The great big books of horrible things. The definitive chronicle of history’s 100 worst atrocities. NY: Norton.
Como ustedes saben, he hecho disponible en mi página de internet una lectura con fines educativos titulada: "¿Por qué somos seres morales? Una perspectiva biológica". Hoy hice disponible la versión 2.2 del escrito.
Lo que es distinto de esta versión de la anterior es fundamentalmente un énfasis en selección de grupos. Al principio de la sección titulada "Condiciones Ambientales para el Desarrollo del Sentido Moral" puse una cita del mismo Charles Darwin en el que propone la selección de grupos como la explicación ambiental de cómo los seres humanos adquirimos un sentido moral. Además, en las notas finales, añado que este tema de selección de grupos, aunque es aceptado hoy día por la mayoría de los evolucionistas, es un tema controversial y señalo algunas referencias que pueden ayudar a los estudiantes a comprender mejor los aspectos controversiales. Por otro lado, también proveo fuentes para que los mismos estudiantes puedan aclarar sus dudas en torno a la selección de grupos, ya que, por lo visto, aún en las mejores universidades del mundo, algunos de los mejores evolucionistas presentan una extraordinaria caricatura y representación maliciosa de dicho concepto (véase, por ejemplo, la Clase número 3 del curso abierto de la Universidad de Yale titulado: Principles of Evolution, Ecology, and Behavior por Stephen C. Stearns).
Nota Aclaratoria: El curso de Stearns es buenísimo y lo recomiendo para cualquier persona que desee comprender con lujo de detalles la teoría de la evolución neo-darwiniana y gran parte de la evidencia a su favor. Sin embargo, entiendo que suscribe un punto de vista ingenuo en torno al llamado "conflicto genético" como alternativa a la selección de grupos y una mala exposición del punto de vista de selección de grupos.
Incluí entre las fuentes al libro de Conor Cunningham, Darwin’s Pious Idea, por entender que, a pesar de que él es teólogo, él comprende muy bien el debate que se está dando entre los biólogos hoy día en torno a este tema. Él hace una breve, pero extraordinaria, exposición de los orígenes del debate en torno a la selección de grupos: tanto el origen de la idea en las obras de Charles Darwin, como la formulación ingenua conocida como el análisis Wynne-Edwards, su rechazo en la comunidad científica a favor de la selección por parentesco, para que resurja (como dicen en inglés "with a vengeance") la selección de grupos a la luz de nueva evidencia a favor de esta perspectiva.
A la misma vez, añado como fuente un artículo publicado en la revista Nature titulado "The Needs of the Many", que explica brevemente la mayor parte de los aspectos del debate .
Finalmente, añadí también la referencia a un artículo publicado en la revista académica, Evolution, titulado "Eight Criticisms not to Make about Group Selection", porque ayuda a distinguir entre la concepción de selección de grupo que los opositores sostienen y lo que la selección de grupos (no-ingenua) realmente sostiene.
Para leer o bajar ¿Por qué somos seres morales? Una perspectiva biológica en distintos formatos, pueden ir a esta página.
Tema aparte: Para posibles objeciones al uso de la selección de grupos en el escrito educativo por ser un tema controversial.
Mis Conclusiones en Torno a la Selección de Grupos
Soy un cristiano evolucionista (un teísta evolucionista), en calidad de filósofo de las ciencias trabajo también temas relacionados a la teoría de la evolución, pero no soy evolucionista en el sentido de que no soy un biólogo evolucionista. He estado estudiando la teoría de la evolución orientándome bastante con autoridades en el tema. Utilizo como referencia principal el libro de texto (universitario) Evolution (2nda. edición) de Douglas J. Futuyma, un estudioso evolucionista mundialmente reconocido, además del curso de Stephen C. Stearns que mencioné anteriormente. El libro Evolution contiene una discusión importantísima en torno a selección de grupos, aunque lo entiende como una suerte de selección de parentesco, y que me da a entender su cientificidad porque tiene un alto poder explicativo y los modelos que provee pueden ser cuantificados, lo que hace que esta propuesta sea falsable (en términos popperianos). Otras autoridades como E. O. Wilson (cuya formación en este campo no puede ponerse en duda), David Burnie, David S. Wilson, entre otros, endosan abiertamente la selección de grupo. Incluso, el artículo de "The Needs of the Many" cita a un antiguo opositor de la selección de grupo, Andy Gardner: "Everyone agrees that group selection occurs". En el caso de este artículo y del libro de Futuyma, selección de grupo a múltiples niveles parece explicar un tipo de adaptación especial de organismos, aunque parece que no otras.
Mientras más leo del tema, más me doy cuenta de que la razón del debate se debe a que distintos evolucionistas sostienen perspectivas incompatibles en torno a la evolución, lo que lleva a algunos a pensar que hace falta refinar la semántica de la discusión para que se aclaren muchas dudas teoréticas en torno al tema. Aún así, aparentemente, hoy día, la opinión predominante en torno al tema es que la selección de grupo realmente ocurre.
Hay otro factor importante en cuanto al conflicto: los prejuicios y unos puntos de vista transmitidos de una generación de académicos a otra ("received views"). Gran parte de este problema tiene que ver con la primera formulación de la teoría en el siglo veinte en la modalidad Wynn-Edwards, que postula que las características de los organismos evolucionan "para el bien del grupo". A esto se le conoce como "punto de vista ingenuo de la selección de grupos". Hoy día, ningún proponente de la selección de grupos sostiene este punto de vista. Ningún organismo evoluciona características para el bien del grupo, sino que estas características prevalecen porque hay factores ambientales que lo permiten y que resulta en el mejor comportamiento entre los miembros de un grupo. Una vez estas características, en combinación con factores ambientales, posibilitan un comportamiento altruista o solidario entre los miembros de un grupo, la tendencia de ese grupo es a la de sobrevivir. Sencillamente, grupos en que prevalecen los solidarios y altruistas sobreviven sobre los grupos en que prevalecen los egoístas. En otras palabras, el comportamiento altruista es desventajoso dentro de los grupos (porque el altruista está en desventaja ante el egoísta), mientras que es ventajoso entre grupos (porque un grupo en que predomina el altruismo aventaja al que predomina el egoísmo). Eso lo explico con lujo de detalles en mi escrito educativo ¿Por qué somos animales morales?
Supuestamente, de acuerdo con la visión predominante ("received view"), William D. Hamilton propuso la selección de parentesco como una medida para explicar el altruismo en especies tales como las hormigas o las abejas. Esta perspectiva se ve entre mucho como una extensión de la selección genética y una alternativa a la selección de grupos. De acuerdo con los oponentes de la selección de grupos, los comportamientos que son resultado de la evolución solamente se pueden entender en términos de selección de genes. Esta perspectiva tuvo su máximo empuje con la propuesta del "gen egoísta" de Richard Dawkins en su famosa obra The Selfish Gene. ¿Qué dice la "selección de parentesco"? Que, usualmente, los organismos hacen que sobrevivan los genes suyos mediante su comportamiento altruista al sacrificarse por aquéllos otros que comparten su propio código genético. Hamilton también proveyó una famosa ecuación que describe cómo esto ocurre y que parece confirmarse a nivel experimental. Muchos despreciaron la versión ingenua de la selección de grupo y abrazaron las ideas de Hamilton.
Lo que los evolucionistas en general no saben, y que fue bien documentado por David S. Wilson en su blog, Hamilton no formuló la selección de parentesco como alternativa a la selección de grupos, sino que más bien los que se oponían a la selección de grupos tomaron la propuesta de Hamilton para no abrazar cualquier versión de la selección de grupo. En su mente, ellos equiparaban la visión ingenua de selección de grupos con la de cualquier otra propuesta similar. Es iluminador observar cómo Hamilton concibió ulteriormente su propia propuesta cuando se encontró con otra fórmula matemática hecha por George Price que suponía la selección de grupo. El mismo Hamilton admitió que su propuesta de selección de parentesco no es otra cosa que una forma de selección de grupos. (Para más información, leer este artículo).
Este prejuicio contra la selección de grupos empeora aún más cuando tomamos en cuenta cuáles son las voces públicas (fuera de la academia) más importantes para la divulgación de la teoría de la evolución. La voz más conocida es, sin lugar a dudas, la de Richard Dawkins. Le tengo una tremenda admiración a Dawkins en términos de cómo él hace exposiciones bien lúcidas de aquellos detalles de la teoría de la evolución que son difíciles de exponer al público, además que me resulta un intelectual bien agradable con un celo por las ciencias que realmente admiro y que, en muchos aspectos, quiero emular. De todas las obras de Dawkins, siempre recomiendo las siguientes: The Selfish Gene, The Blind Watchmaker, Unweaving the Rainbow, Climbing Mount Improbable y The Greatest Show on Earth. De hecho, en mi escrito educativo, utilizo los libros de Dawkins como referencia.
Lo que lamento de Richard Dawkins es dos cosas. La primera es que utiliza la teoría de la evolución como una bandera contra la religión y a favor del ateísmo, lo que ha hecho la vida de cuadritos para aquellos de nosotros que queremos enseñar la teoría de la evolución al público. Contrario a lo que la mayor parte del público parece creer, Charles Darwin y Thomas Huxley, despreciaban este tipo de abuso de la teoría de la evolución.
La segunda, es que la voz de Dawkins tiene una carga de autoridad pública desproporcionada, lo que lleva al público a pensar que lo que él sostiene en sus libros y en su página de internet (con todo y lujo de detalles) es el consenso de los evolucionistas. Es cierto que la mayor parte de lo que él expone en sus libros es plenamente correcto en torno a los detalles de la teoría de la evolución. Sin embargo, no todos los evolucionistas están de acuerdo con su punto de vista de selección genética (o su metáfora del gen egoísta). Por ejemplo, Simon Conway Morris, evolucionista hartamente reconocido, considera que esta metáfora es simplista y que no da cuenta de la enorme complejidad de los procesos evolutivos. Sin embargo, la voz de Dawkins en cuanto a este tema, especialmente en cuanto a sus más ávidos lectores, se asemeja mucho a la de los seguidores de alguna figura religiosa, que creen que la autoridad de su "líder" es casi universalmente aceptada, cuando, en realidad, sus puntos de vista tanto en la religión como en otros asuntos no son realmente compartidos por la inmensa mayoría de los evolucionistas. Es más, muchos resienten el hecho de que haya hecho de la evolución su bandera anti-religiosa.
Uno de los temas en los que Dawkins no goza de mayoría es precisamente en el tema de selección de grupos. Él abraza la selección de parentesco y la selección genética como alternativas a la selección de grupo. Inevitablemente sus expresiones contra aquéllos que favorecen la selección de grupo, específicamente sus palabras decepcionantes contra E. O. Wilson y, especialmente, contra David S. Wilson, han llevado a una gran parte del público (no de los científicos) a pensar que Dawkins está en lo correcto. Desgraciadamente los dos Wilsons no gozan de la misma popularidad de Dawkins, pero, aún así, David Sloan Wilson ha mostrado por qué Dawkins está rotundamente equivocado. La selección genética promovida por Dawkins y la selección de parentesco no conflijen con la selección de grupos, contrario a lo que parece insinuar Dawkins (véase las respuestas de D. S. Wilson a Dawkins aquí y aquí). Utilizando la metáfora del gen egoísta, un gen podría sobrevivir mejor si utiliza como "vehículo" a organismos sociales cuyo comportamiento altruista permite la supervivencia de un grupo o una especie. ¿Cuál es el problema? El problema es que Dawkins desea que el metafórico egoísmo del gen sea fundamento exclusivo del proceso de evolución y selección natural, y que explique, a su vez, el comportamiento altruista. Desgraciadamente, si los genes individuales compiten con otros genes individuales, la evolución moral no hubiera sido posible, así como Thomas Hobbes ilustró en el caso de los hombres: la moral no se puede desarrollar en una "guerra de todos contra todos". La selección genética sí ocurre, pero la selección de grupo es un mecanismo por el cual la selección natural hace que sobrevivan grupos en que predominan altruistas y solidarios, lo que a su vez permite el desarrollo del sentido moral en muchos de los primates, incluyendo al ser humano. Ésta y otras razones muestran por qué, aunque la metáfora del "gen egoísta" es útil, puede ser simplista en un gran número de casos si no se tienen en cuenta otros procesos evolutivos. David Burnie, una autoridad de la evolución, también caracteriza a esta metáfora como simplista por la sencilla razón de que los genes no luchan o compiten entre ellos, sino más bien los organismos. Es más, a veces es competencia entre grupos a diferentes niveles. Otras críticas aparecen en la obra de Cunningham, Darwin’s Pious Idea, que contiene aún más críticas de otros científicos y eruditos en el tema, incluyendo las críticas de Jan Sapp, Simon Conway Morris, K. Weiss, S. Fullerton, entre otros (pp. 41-78). Como filósofo, también Cunningham le echa más sal a la herida cuando afirma que la distinción "gen/vehículo" re-establece una especie distinción cartesiana mente/cuerpo que no es deseable en las ciencias. Yo también añadiría, con un poco de mayor malicia (lo confieso), que el concepto de memes también vuelve a introducir otro elemento indeseable para las ciencias: la creencia en la posesión diabólica o demoníaca … "no es que creas en la religión por impulsos racionales, sino porque los memes religiosos te han poseído"; para Daniel Dennett "nuestro yo es también un meme".
Éstas son las razones por las cuales decidí introducir el tema de la selección de grupo en la discusión del escrito educativo que escribí para mis estudiantes. Recuerdo que como el escrito está disponible bajo una licencia libre, cualquiera que use este escrito puede modificarlo si lo considera apropiado. Aún así, espero que la gente entienda perfectamente por qué creo que el poder explicativo de la selección de grupo para dar cuenta de la moralidad de los seres humanos es bastante grande. La validez del argumento es sólida. Como siempre, estoy abierto a cambiar mi parecer si el argumento está bien explicado. A fin de cuentas, no debería predominar el fundamentalismo en la filosofía, en la teología ni en las ciencias.
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Ya está disponible la versión 2.1 del documento educativo "¿Por qué somos seres morales? Una perspectiva biológica". Hice majoras de contenido para añadir mayor presición en la información. Añadí también una referencia bibliográfica pertinente en cuanto a cómo se da cuenta de la evolución del ojo. Esta referencia es un capítulo de un libro de Richard Dawkins, Climbing Mount Improbable.
Espero que el escrito sea útil. Recuerden que es una obra funcional con propósitos educativos. Esta obra la escribí para mi curso de Ética (FILO 4021) en la UPR – Colegio Universitario de Cayey. Como se halla bajo licencias plenamente libres y que cumplen con las definiciones de obra cultural libre y conocimiento abierto, invito a otros profesores y estudiantes a que utilicen este material, lo modifiquen, y lo mejoren, como les sea conveniente.
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This article is part of a series of articles on the subject of evolution, ethics and spirituality:
Evolution, Ethics, And Spirituality: Part XXI — The Stuff You Give Away without Losing (I)
(The entire analysis from here on is based on this proposal by the philosopher André Comte-Sponville with some modifications of mine)
Bah! I hate celebrities! Hmmm … let me correct that. I hate all the gossip about celebrities. I’m not interested in reality shows about celebrities either. Don’t people realize that when there is a camera around, the show is not "real" anymore?! I can care less about celebrities’ marital life, divorces, drinking habits, drug habits, religious habits, etc.
Let me correct that. Actually I am drawn to that kind of information, but I think that the situation in Afghanistan, Iraq, Egypt, Japan, and so on are more important than celebrities. I also believe that we should think more seriously about many economic and social issues. We can leave celebrities’ scandals aside. However, in commercial TV in general, the discussions about all of these subjects is retarded, mostly for people’s entertainment. That’s why I hated MySpace when it turned into Celebrity Gossip land. Who cares?! I wonder if people actually saw Lions and Lambs and thought deeply about its message.
Yet, one of the reasons (but not the main one) why TV networks are so darn successful in ratings is that they have studied the psychology of people who watch. And they know how to make people interested in the small things in life: about celebrities, fashion, baseball, and fishing. Not that at least baseball or fishing have no merit of their own, or are not worth watching or knowing, but we have to wonder about the news priorities in people’s minds. A great part of it is media manipulation, sometimes in ways we can’t even suspect. Hey … it’s a game!
Much of our "needs" are artificially created by these networks. It is, as Chomsky says, it is the philosophy of futility. Part of those artificial needs is …. knowing about celebrities … gossip!
But let’s confess it, we are suckers for this kind of gossip. Who wouldn’t want to know when is the next Youtube video Tom Cruise is going to appear doing or saying something crazy. Think about when Tom Cruise revealed on Oprah that he was going to marry Katie Holmes.
and aaaaaallll the fun after that!
Oh! Oh! And did you enjoy that famous Tom Cruise Scientology video? Everyone thought he was crazy for real! I really loved watching this …
… and all of the fun after that!
Oh! C’mon … you loved these videos! Didn’t you?! Yes, and I did too.
Yet, there is something wildly peculiar about this Tom Cruise-Scientology video which was not funny in the long run … at least for a lot of people. Issues about this particular video in Youtube would unleash something that would really … really cost a lot for Master Card, PayPal, Visa, Amazon.com, even PostFinance, a Swiss bank. Recently it has become a headache even to some homophobic fundamentalist hate-groups in the U.S. In fact, the consequences of this video is of international proportions.
Now … why the heck would a weird Tom Cruise-Scientology video have such huge consequences? Well … that’s part of the problem. The common ground for all of these events is simply Anonymous …
Cultural Problem-Solving Branching
Do you recognize this mask?
This is the famous mask of V for Vendetta, a great movie. Today, this mask also represents Anonymous. And by Anonymous, I don’t refer to an unknown author, but to a group, an organized group of unknowns on the net. Usually hackers who are engaged now in "hackivism". This is their flag:
The organization appeared in 2003 more or less as a form of entertainment, until they started focusing on some targets, practically for purposes of criticisms or social reasons. Yet, the Tom Cruise-Scientology video led Anonymous’ hackivism and activism to a whole new level.
This video upset the Church of Scientology, because it was never meant to be disseminated in Youtube, and they made a copyright claim on it. Youtube removed it from the Internet in January 2008, but in that same month, Anonymous sent a message through Youtube against the Church of Scientology because of Internet censorship. After that, they flooded the Church of Scientology with DDoS (denial-of-service) attacks, phone calls, faxes, and so on.
The Church immediately threatened them, and accused Anonymous of being a group of cyberterrorists and child molesters.
Note: Anonymous itself has nothing to do with child molestation. The problem is that the Church of Scientology tends to accuse its opponents of being child molesters. That’s their favorite accusation when they harass people.
After an appeal made by Mark Bunker, a movie producer and director, Anonymous dedicated itself to make peaceful protests against the Church of Scientology. This operation is called Project Chanology, which is a whole operation of protest and orientation on the web about the harms of that particular Church.
But why the mask? It is very well known that the Church of Scientology has practiced a policy of harassment against protesters. L. Ron Hubbard, the Church’s founder, established that people labeled by the Church as "suppressive person" were fair game. If you attack the Church of Scientology, and they declare you a suppressive person, be aware that it will literally engage in an intelligence operation and see who you are, where you live, they’ll sue you to bankruptcy (regardless of whether the accusations are true or not), and even go to your boss to tell him or her that you are a "child molester", or an "alcoholic", or an "adulterer", etc. Hence .. the mask! A very carefully chosen mask. The members of Anonymous hide from Scientologists who might harass them, and let them know that Anonymous is protesting, and what they stand for.
Yet, this whole new level of Anonymous activism drives that group to a whole new level of hackivism that even have corporations and governments extremely worried … far more worried than Wikileaks as a matter of fact. When Wikileaks was censored on the Internet by Amazon, Master Card, and other companies, Anonymous went on to hack their servers, and drive those companies and governments crazy.
This is just one illustration of what happens in culture. One single video can generate lots of fun, criticisms, activisms, hackivisms, you name it. Each solution formulated within our culture can generate several branches of a problem-solving process (in Popperian terms).
As I have argued before, this resembles Darwin’s description of speciation, but in other ways it is not a Darwinian version of evolution. I already mentioned in one post that culture is mostly (although not completely) Lamarckian, but there are other differences between evolution by natural selection and culture.
Darwinian evolution occurs because of lack of resources, if there were no scarcity of available energy in nature, there wouldn’t be any "struggle for existence". There is in principle scarcity of resources a species can thrive with. Species compete for those resources and adapt accordingly. Yet, culture is different. Cultural objects have a peculiarity due to our inherent drive to know stuff. We are driven to gossip, because the information gives us an adaptive advantage in case it is true. Each gossip is delicious, and we enjoy it when we hear it. The media knows all of this very well. Youtube thrives on it. Our pseudo-need to know about the latest gossip about celebrities happens to be a result of an adaptation … of a Darwinian sort. Yet, the way culture spreads and operates is different from Darwinian processes.
What is "knowing" (in an informal sense of the word)? To "know" is essentially to grasp information with our minds. That’s all cool, until you realize what is particularly different than species competing for scarce resources …
Giving Away your Cake, and Keeping It! (To Eat It … of Course)
If you don’t understand what information has to do with scarcity (or lack of it), let me quote you Thomas Jefferson (in a letter to Isaac McPherson in 1813):
If nature has made any one thing less susceptible than all others of exclusive property, it is the action of the thinking power called an idea, which an individual may exclusively possess as long as he keeps it to himself; but the moment it is divulged, it forces itself into the possession of every one, and the receiver cannot dispossess himself of it. Its peculiar character, too, is that no one possesses the less, because every other possesses the whole of it. He who receives an idea from me, receives instruction himself without lessening mine; as he who lights his taper at mine, receives light without darkening me.
There may be scarcity of food or territory, but there is no scarcity of information. This observation made by Thomas Jefferson, was observed by many people before him, particularly St. Augustine. As a great Neo-Platonist that he was, St. Augustine did recognize the abstract meaning grasped by souls (minds) and is shared by everyone.
What I am saying right now is being grasped by you, dear reader, and you can tell everyone else about it. Maybe you can tell your friends to read these words, and there will be more minds grasping my message. But get this! It doesn’t matter how many people grasp the information, I will never lose it …
Let me correct myself again … I can lose it if I ever have Alzheimer’s, or am treated with shock therapy … or, as it happens so many times, I forget!
Yet, as G. W. Hegel, Karl Marx, and Karl Popper recognized, culture has a pretty good way of having a life of its own. Each new information shared by many heads generates a Popperian problem-solving process far more aggressively and faster than in nature. In the realm of living things, natural selection is restricted because of scarcity of resources, and its problem-solving process is mostly improper. But in culture, the problem-solving process is a proper one, it is abstract, and it is understood by many minds. Each idea, concept, or expression has a way of generating a whole series of results … just like a Tom Cruise-Scientology video.
For purposes of our discussion, I would like to place this cultural problem-solving process mostly in the techno-scientific realm. This placing has the defect that it places the other strata as being somehow "outside" of culture, when in reality they are also cultural processes. Yet, it has the advantage of treating cultural processes as a sort of economy, which operates on its own, and which is regulated by the juridical-political stratum (see illustration at the top of this blog).
Our distribution of physical wealth is an economy based on principles consistent with our human nature, following rules based on the idea that resources are scarce, and that selfishness should be the main driver of the economy. Yet, when it comes to an economy of information, the rules are different, because the objects being distributed by minds are not based on scarcity at all. Our selfish human nature is revealed in the distribution of scarce goods, but our generosity as part of our human nature is revealed when distribution of goods are not scarce. Interesting irony about our human nature isn’t it?!
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This article is part of a series of articles on the subject of evolution, ethics and spirituality:
Evolution, Ethics, And Spirituality: Part XVI — Stratum of Emotional Love
One of the big problems which has been raised regarding evolution has to do with our developed brain capable of giving us a "moral sense". If everything is competition, a "survival of the fittest" as it is traditionally understood by people, then why are we predominantly good people, at least within our communities? This is a very good objection. Let’s think about it. Good people want a moral sense to behave well in society and be better individuals. On the other hand, bad people never play by the rules, they don’t care about people, just themselves. We can think of a list of what makes good people good, and bad people evil.
Traits of Good People
Traits of Evil People
If we look at this list, it looks like if we placed a good person and evil person in a desert island, then the former will end up being a victim of the latter, perhaps even dinner if there are not many resources in that island.
Let’s look at comics for clarification (yeah … comics!). The problem for a good person in a case like this is the one which Todd McFarlane found about his Spawn comic book series. The hero of the story, Al Simmons, went to Hell when he died because he was a mercenary and assassin, and the Devil chose him as Hell’s Spawn to lead its militia against the forces of Heaven and God. Yet, how should Heaven be? If Heaven’s militia is a band of Mother Theresas, such battle wouldn’t be won by Heaven in a million years. As a result, in the Spawn series, Heavenly forces must be as ruthless as Hell’s demons. When people think "survival of the fittest", people think that there is no chance in "heck" that good virtuous people can arise out of it: there are always evil people, and to deal with them, you will have to be as bad as they are … or worse.
There is something wrong with this picture of evolution. It reminded me of the time I watched the Superfriends when I was little. Ya know! Superman, Batman, Aquaman … etc. always triumph over evil. Yet, as an adult, I watch these series and I’m actually bored with them. If evil was so effective, I wouldn’t know in a million years why wouldn’t evil be triumphant over good.
Yet, there was a recent version of the same idea. In 2001, Warner Brothers released a TV Series called The Justice League and a sequel called Justice League Unlimited, which were far more believable, more interesting, and better version of the Superfriends. Besides, Kevin Conroy gave the Batman his voice … Conroy’s is the best voice for Batman EVER! (but that’s another issue 😛 ). One of the things I liked about these series is that they were more "truthlike". There was not one "Legion of Doom" like in the Superfriends‘ series, but rather an inability of the evil villains to keep the group together! In The Justice League and Justice League Unlimited there are four different efforts to create something like "The Legion of Doom" (once under Lex Luthor’s leadership, once under Aresia’s (aka Fury), then twice under Grodd’s, although in the last case, it ended up with Luthor’s), without any success whatsoever of persisting. What was the problem? How ever they wished to establish solidarity against the good guys, evil guys are … ahem! … evil. Elements of dishonesty, thirst for power, self-service, betrayal, and ambition corrupted the group again and again, because each one of the bad guys were bad guys.
If you still don’t get my point, let’s make an imaginary experiment. A whole group of good guys end up in an deserted island, while a group of bad guys end up in another one. What will happen? In the end, the good guys will probably thrive or build a boat to escape, while the bad guys will self-destruct.
What is our lesson here, ladies and gentlemen? That our view of evolution about competing individuals and choosing the success of individuals is wrong. The reason why goodness exists it is because a species is going to succeed through good actions than through evil in a group. So group selection can explain why so many species have altruistic behavior. We developed also a moral sense because not everyone in society is good, hence a moral sense will enable us to recognize good in the world while trying to diminish the evil in society in many ways.
If you think this is only a comic book sort of scenario, think again! Experiment after experiment have confirmed the validity of multi-level group selection in relation with other models such as gene selection or kin selection (which is regarded as a level of group selection). For instance, William Muir carried out an experiment with hens regarding the egg production. He chose the best individual chickens in terms of egg production in one cage, and then he chose the best group of chickens in another cage. Notice that in the latter, there may be some unproductive chickens in terms of egg production. Result? After six generation, only three chickens of the first group survived. The best individual chickens tried their very best to produce eggs by suppressing the production of the other chickens. So, of the original nine, only three remained … the rest were murdered by the three. Even though, yes, the best individual chickens produced more eggs individually, the total of egg production as a whole plummeted . However, in the case of the best group of chickens, not only were they wholly alive, healthy and kicking after six generations, but its egg production increased with every generation.
David Sloan Wilson loves to use this chicken experiment as an example of group selection. At the end of one of his lecture, one university teacher approached him and said: "This describes my department! I know the names of those three chickens!" Apparently his department created an environment based purely on merits, disregarding other aspects of academic life. The result was eerily similar to those of the best individual chickens.
On the other hand, as Omar Tonsi Eldakar has shown in an experiment with group selection in the case of strider, being a gentleman lets you go a long way, needless to say, a successful reproduction and survival of the species. Isn’t that right Jessica?
(Recently there have been a rash of women telling me that
if only their boyfriends or husbands were gentlemen, and not
take them for granted, they would be happier with their relationships.
Similar experiments have been carried out on beetles with similar results (Futuyma, 2009, p. 288-289; Wade (1977)).
What is our lesson here, ladies and gentlemen? That, indeed, selfish people do triumph within groups, yet, they are unable to thrive between groups. Much to the dismay of Richard Dawkins, group selection is the way to go (Wynne-Edwards (1986), Wilson, 2008, pp. 28-35).
From an Evolutionary Standpoint: Love Matters!
As we have explained before, we don’t practice ethics just because of it, we are interested in behaving well or as best as possible. Most organisms out there have absolutely no notion of what ethical is, they have no idea what good or bad values are, or what is right or wrong. Yet, they are able to develop such behaviors which we call "good" (kindness, altruism, cooperation) which let these species survive. One big example of this is the bacteria. We wouldn’t be here today if it weren’t for the fact that at some point in our prehistory, cooperating bacteria led to their own survival through cooperation, which led to the creation of the eucharyotic cell. The reason why we have bacteria (e.g. mitochondria) in our cells is precisely because they form part of this sort of cooperation. Mitochondria and chloroplasts (especially the latter) make our lives possible. Chloroplasts trap the sun’s light and transform them within plant cells. Mitochondria provide energy to all of our cells. This theory of cooperation among bacteria to create a higher level organism, the eucharyotic cell, was proposed originally by Lynn Margulis, and it is called the endosymbiotic theory.
Other animals such as ants or bees cooperate because of instincts more than anything else. If you look at bees, they cooperate among themselves because their genes, through natural selection (group selection) favored those genes which inclined them to cooperate.
Yet, unlike ants or bees, humanity lacks some instincts for survival. Yet, as we have seen before, we have developed empathic emotions, especially love emotions, which enable us to behave well, to be inclined to solidarity and altruism. We can see this in all primates, including those close to us, and we can see it in ourselves too.
This is not exempt from controversy, though. As obvious as all of this may seem, many people ask, from a philosophical point of view: "What is love?" I wish to offer a response to this question by making two very different sorts of "love".
- Emotional Love
- Ethical Love
Let me start explaining the second sort of love. This is the kind of love which Kant understood in his works on Ethics, and which has been defended by so many other authors.
One of the biggest reflections we find in many philosophers’ minds, including Kant’s, is that Jesus asks people to "love one’s enemies". If Ethics has everything to do with obeying an objective command of reason, this particular command doesn’t make any sense. Kant clarifies this commandment in light of his Ethical theory:
It is undoubtedly in this way, again, that we are to understand the passages from scripture in which we are commanded to love our neighbor, even your enemy. For love as an inclination [emotion] cannot be commanded, but beneficence from duty –even though no inclination impels us to it and, indeed natural and unconquerable aversion opposes it– is practical and not pathological love, which lies in the will and not in the propensity of feeling, in principles of action and not in melting sympathy; and it alone can be commanded. (AK 4:399).
"Pathological" in this sense only means a love which is emotionally based (the term is not used to describe emotional love as an illness, the Greek term "pathos" means "feeling"). So, this kind of love that is been commanded is what I will call here ethical love, a love which is not felt but practiced. This is the love that operates in the ethical stratum, as described in our last post. Remember, the ethical stratum consists in, for all practical purposes, what Kant called the "Kingdom of Ends": rational beings legislate maxims as universal laws which are ends-in-themselves, which are simultaneously means for rational beings who are also ends-in-themselves (if this has a Rousseau sort of flavor, it is no accident!) (AK 4:434).
This is the sort of love that is talked about by Erich Fromm in his famous work The Art of Loving, who agreed wholeheartedly with Kant that true love considers another rational being as ends-in-themselves and not as mere means. For him, love is a way of being rather than a mere feeling. It is the sort of feeling that is produced by the practice of caring, respect, and knowledge.
The so-called father of "pop psychology", Morgan Scott Peck, went along those same lines in his bestseller The Road Less Traveled. Yet, for a so-called "father" of pop psychology, the content of the book is not so "pop". His book is philosophical, but it infuses a lot of what he learned as a psychiatrist. The first lesson you must learn when it comes to love is that … that … ummm… life is difficult! (In the footnote he reminds us that the first of Buddha’s Four Noble Truths is that "Life is suffering"). Although we all know this is true, we all forget it. Yet, to overcome difficulty, we need to have discipline. Why would he talk about discipline first and leave "love" for later, if the book is about love itself? Peck replies that without discipline there can be no love. What kind of discipline do we need for true love? Peck gives us four aspects we must fulfill in our lives:
- Delaying gratification in the present for future gains.
- Acceptance of responsibility for one’s decisions and actions.
- Dedication to the truth, which means being true to oneself and with others in words and deeds.
- Balancing by prioritizing conflicting requirements. We referred to this as that it is true applied ethics.
Now that we have discipline, we are able to discuss love. As in the case of Fromm, for Peck, love is not mere attraction or "falling in love", or a passion we feel towards something or someone. Peck calls cathexis the attraction we feel towards something or someone, which we should differentiate from love. Love is not a feeling either, nor is "self-sacrifice", especially if it means denying yourself the good things you need for yourself; self-sacrifice is important for love, but it shouldn’t be absolute for the rest of your life. Remember, you should love yourself too. Remember that the key word in "delaying gratification" is "delaying", it does not mean "eliminating gratification altogether".
What is love then, for Peck? He defines love as the will to extend oneself for the purpose of nurturing one’s own and another’s spiritual growth (Peck, 1978, p. 119). Love, then is an activity not a feeling. Even Peck argues that true love sometimes acts against emotional love.
But to understand this conception of love, we must ask: what does he mean by "spiritual growth"? It means to contribute to others and to oneself to the point of being able to make responsible decisions, show empathy, not accept everything through blind faith, and even lose an irrational attachment to our self-interests for everyone’s sake (including ourselves).
Yet, there is something lacking despite the validity of ethical love. It operates at the level of the ethical stratum. Yet, as we have said before, we don’t care for ethics just because. Emotions play a central role as motives to act ethically. Without emotions, we are simply unable to make rational decisions, we are totally and absolutely unable to create the necessary empathy to be able to respect others as human beings as ourselves.
André Comte-Sponville talks about a fourth stratum which he calls "ethical", yet it is an inappropriate term. For Comte-Sponville, his notion of "ethical stratum" is extremely close to that which I describe as emotional love. However, Comte-Sponville’s notion of "ethical stratum" is a bit confusing, because in many other ways it seems to correspond to what I call here "ethical love". Inspired in St. Augustine’s ethics, there is a dimension of emotional love which needs "training". As St. Augustine said, we should learn to love first, then do what we will. According to Comte-Sponville, we should develop three sorts of emotional love:
- Love for the Truth
- Love for Freedom
- Love for Humanity
For him, love should serve as motivation for what we (not him) call the "ethical stratum", the ethical stratum should be an external restriction to the juridical-political stratum, which simultaneously establishes external limits to the techno-scientific stratum. So, here is how our final scheme looks like:
This is the scheme we will work with from now on in our next blog posts. When we discuss religion and spirituality, we will consider yet another possible stratum which Comte-Sponville talks about. For now, these are enough for our next discussions.
Comte-Sponville, A. (2004). El capitalismo, ¿es moral? México: Paidós.
Fromm, E. (1956). The art of loving. NY: HarperCollins.
Futuyma, D. J. (2009). Evolution. US: Sinauer.
Kant, I. (1999). Groundwork of The metaphysics of morals. In P. Guyer & A. W. Wood (eds.), Practical philosophy. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Muir, W. M. (2009). Genetic selection and behaviour. Canadian Journal of Animal Science, 89, 1, 182.
Peck, M. S. (1978). The road less traveled: a new psychology of love, traditional values and spiritual growth. US: Touchstone.
Wade, M. J. (1977). An experimental study of group selection. Evolution, 31, 134-153.
Wilson, D. S. (2008). Evolution for everyone: how Darwin’s theory can change the way we think about our lives. US: Delta.
Wynne-Edwards, V. C. (1986). Evolution through group selection. Oxford: Blackwell Scientific.
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This article is part of a series of articles on the subject of evolution, ethics and spirituality:
Evolution, Ethics, And Spirituality: Part XI — Darwinism, Culture and Ethics (3)
Ethical Implications of Evolution
I’m usually annoyed at Creationists constantly asking "if evolution is true, then why haven’t I seen a cat evolve into a dog? If there are intermediaries where is the crocoduck (i.e. this is the intermediate between crocodile and a duck)?"
And last, but not least, there is this question: "If evolution is true, why haven’t we seen a monkey evolve into a human?" Yet, I have to blame that one mostly on the scientific community, especially evolutionists (ever since Thomas Huxley), for this confusion. Why? They know perfectly well that it is not true, that humans did not come from monkeys, yet, even in pro-science magazines I always see something like this.
I am a teacher. My interest is for my Ethics students is that they learn evolution correctly, in order to understand well why we are moral beings. This is the reason I created a teaching material to explain them evolution, most of them have heard of evolution and "accept it" but have absolutely no idea what it really states. To "deprogram" or "debug" them from this famous stereotypical (but false) image on evolution, I place something like this in my teaching material:
Yet, some of the people who ignore much of evolution actually have very serious questions, and I mean VERY serious questions such as this one: are we humans evolving? If we are, then it is not obvious. We don’t actually see ourselves and our offspring "changing to a new species", right? As it happens, evolution happens at every level, even at the level of sub-species, and even at the level of "gene pool". We don’t see this right away, but Homo sapiens has evolved. How do we know? First, there is genetic evidence that there were two subspecies of humans which interbred in the past. One of them was Homo sapiens neanderthalensis (yep — neanderthals) and the other one, the earlier form of Homo sapiens sapiens (us!) (read all about it here). Both of them interbred in Europe. So, if you want to know if you have Neanderthal genes inside your cells, just ask if your ancestors came from Europe or Asia, and if they did, then you do have them. If your ancestors came solely from Africa, then you don’t. The other one has to do with color pigmentation, one thing that humans in Africa needed to evolve through natural selection. If you are an albino born in Nigeria, then chances are that you are almost certainly going to die of cancer. Melanine is involved in the pigmentation of the skin to protect us from sun radiation. Now, if you go to northern areas of the Earth, such as Great Britain, or as far as Norway or Sweden, the color pigmentation usually goes away because it is not as needed.
But that is not the most interesting part about this whole issue. The most interesting part of all of this is the answer to the question: are humans still evolving now as we speak? I’m going to answer you this way. Not only are we evolving … but we are evolving in a faster rate than any previous stage in the history of humanity. Our evolutionary rate cannot be seen in front of our eyes, but when you study gene-pools in different parts of the world, and compare them also with genes we have from our ancestors (recent and ancient), you can reach no other conclusion. I suggest you read The 10,000 Year Explosion: How Civilization Accelerated Human Evolution by Gregory Cochran and Henry Harpending. You can also watch a conference by Christopher Dye in this ForaTV video.
Most of us are uncomfortable with this idea. Shall we evolve into a new species or (to be truer to Darwinism) sets of species? This has important sociological and ethical implications! Think about it. Our entire religious, economic, juridical and even institutional buildings are all human-centric. New species can spring from humanity, these may or may not end up being more intelligent than us. Remember, evolution is not progressive, since it has no specific end. From a scientific standpoint, evolution is inherently an irrational process, and it does not itself have a purpose or drives any living being to a specific end.
Even among people who clearly favor evolution, they feel a sort of unrest with this idea that humans are evolving. The famous evolutionist Stephan Jay Gould was one of those who said that in the last 40,000 years humans have not evolved at all. Steven Pinker also has stated that he hates the idea of human evolution and all of the ethical implication that could have for humanity, and said: "I would rather believe that significant human biological evolution stopped 50,000-100,000 years ago, before races diverged, which would ensure that racial and ethnic groups are biologically equivalent." (my emphasis)
And problems do not stop only in the aspect of human evolution. What about cloning? Already, in conservative Christianity (including very conservative Catholicism) there is the idea that possible future human clones are not really humans, therefore, they will have no souls. Actually, I can say that in the case of traditional Catholicism, this statement would be false. If someone has memory (in the theological sense of the word), will, and understanding, he or she has a soul regardless of whether he or she is a clone or not. But these sorts of debates indicate the huge potential of future discrimination towards clones if human cloning is ever achieved.
What about Artificial Intelligence (AI)? If biocomputers reach the level of actual intelligence and reasoning, can we consider them moral and rational beings? There is an episode of the Animatrix (an animé extension of The Matrix trilogy) called "The Second Renaissance" which explains why the Matrix came to be. The Matrix was the result of continuous human discrimination against androids and machines. Do they have to be considered "human" in order to enjoy "human" rights? (Notice how human centered our language is about rights).
The Phenomenological Dimension
To explore the ethical dimension of this issue we need to move away from the Naturalistic standpoint, or else we will join Pinker with his worry about moral equivalence on a biological basis. The reason for this move I’m making is that biology itself can explain how moral beings came to be, but it does not tell us why should we accept the objective validity of ethical norms. Last time I checked, ethical norms are not subject to empirical inquiry. I know that there are many people out there who want to be in favor of an empirical approach to Ethics, but at the end of the day all of that particular enterprise fails.
The basis for Ethics is metaphysical, as Kant pointed out. Remember Hume’s distinction between relations-of-ideas (rational truths, or truths of reason), and matters-of-fact (factual truths, or truths regarding temporal states-of-affairs). Empirical science, by its own nature, is only concerned with matters-of-fact, while Ethics, by its own nature, is concerned with certain relations-of-ideas or truths-of-reason, i.e. truths which are not about experience, but which consist of necessary or universal truths valid for all rational beings. You can study brains and societies’ behavior all you want, but in the end of the day neurons, economic, political, institutional dynamics cannot even begin to tell us what is duty, dignity, principles to follow, good, bad, right, or wrong.
The advocates of empirical ethics want to evaluate ethical theories as being good taking the results as the best criterion? For the sake of argument, let’s take the best form of empirical ethics possible: the best ethics is the one that is best for the vast majority of people possible. This conviction stems from this premise: "we ought take the best measures for all people in the world (i.e. do the best to preserve their lives, and guarantee safety, home, food, and decent living)". Yet, this statement is not an empirical proposition. You can look at the microscope or have all sorts of sociological data and never actually see what we "ought" to do, we only observe what is. Hence, this particular proposition is a metaphysical one, rooted and discovered on reason alone.
What do we do about the ethical worth of something or someone? This is not an empirical question, it is a rational one. If we are looking for the recognition of the ethical worth of someone or something, we must make a phenomenological approach. I’ll use the phenomenology developed by Edmund Husserl and to some extent by Rudolf Carnap.
Note: Maybe someone reading these lines out there will raise an eyebrow when I talk about Carnap’s phenomenological approach. That person probably thinks that I’m nuts, because Carnap was a Neo-Kantian, later turned Logical Empiricist. I’m sorry, but I disagree. I believe, contrary to the received view, that Carnap was not Neo-Kantian before being Logical Empiricist… He was a Husserlian disguised as a Neo-Kantian. For the evidence about this, I recommend you read Guillermo E. Rosado Haddock’s most recent book The Young Carnap’s Unknown Master.
I will save my readers from an extensive explanation about the phenomenological travel Husserl makes us do in his works, by providing only a few basic concepts which will help us in our discussion.
Phenomenology basically consists in getting rid of our prejudices about the world (our scientific, religious, every-day prejudices) and attend only to what is given to our consciousness. Carnap calls this the "autopsychological" basis of a constitutional system. "What is given" can be physical or temporal objects (TVs, computers, pens, Glen Beck), it can be states-of-affairs (a book on the table, a computer in front of me, a pizza beneath the mattress … that’s in case of Oscar in The Odd Couple TV series … 😛 ), or even essences (i.e. I can see as evident what can or cannot happen, or what is possible or impossible): we can see that it is possible that a child can grow up to be a fireman, or possible that she can become an electrician; and it is also evident that all circles must be round, and that a round square is impossible.
Husserl (and in his way also Carnap) applied our intuition of essences in exploring the essential properties of our consciousness. For our consciousness to be possible, there must be an ego (an "I", a "me") who carries out the conscious act, and there must be an objectuality (state-of-affairs it is conscious of). This objectuality includes our own subjective feelings about it, or all the ways it is given: I can have Napoleon’s statue in front of me, and I appreciate it (or hate it). Again, these objectualities are not limited to states-of-affairs that are there in front of me, but also in my imagination, and even abstract objects which my imagination cannot represent such as numbers or sets in their purity. I can represent in my imagination a group or a set of pencils, but I can’t represent in my imagination a set itself without the pencils. Yet, I can direct and attend my thoughts at that pure set, and describe all its mathematical properties.
Given this scenario, let’s notice that by attaining ourselves to what is given and being led by our intuition of essences, we will be guided to a purely logical and non-naturalistic constitution of the world.
Note: The term "constitution" as it used by Husserl and Carnap does not mean "construction". From a phenomenological standpoint, we don’t "construct" our reality, rather it is given to our ego. Constituting means that our ego becomes conscious of a particular objectuality (I am aware of the presence of this table, I have a representation of Pegasus in my mind, I think that 2+2=4).
Since we attend only to what is given … what about when other conscious beings are given and we recognize them as other egos which also carry out conscious acts? These conscious beings seem to live the same lived-world as us. In this case, the world we live and is constituted by multiple conscious acts by different egos is objective (i.e. is intersubjectively valid); objective states-of-affairs for Husserl are "heteropsychological" in Carnapian terms.
Yet, all I see sensibly are the objects in the physical sense, but not their egos. How can we validate such egos, so we can validate the objectivity of the world we constitute? In phenomenology this is called the problem of intersubjectivity. Both, Husserl and Carnap give us the same solution to this problem.
Our egos find themselves as the agents of our human bodies, we have a living experience of our bodies and our surroundings. Our body is "ground zero" (so to speak) of our living experience, hence as a constitutional object. We can constitute indirectly other egos in other bodies, precisely because their bodies are like ours but in a very peculiar sense. In Husserl’s own words, their bodies are not just physical, they are "psycho-physical", we are given "souled" (living) bodies.
We can determine the fact that these living bodies are like ours because of their behavior. This is called kinaesthesia by Husserl. The fact that another person’s body looks and acts like ours leads us to the constitution of another person’s ego, a self like ours. We immediately think that, like us, such body has a mental life of its own. I can perceive the physical body, not the ego itself, but because of kinaesthesia we apperceive the ego, we constitute an "invisible" part of the body, the ego. This understanding by analogy is not itself a reasoning process we carry out, but a sort of empathy. Carnap highlights the fact that verbal and facial expressions seem to play a role for this empathic act of constitution to take place; yet, apparently Husserl already assumed them in the analogical aspect kinaesthesia.
More recently, Guillermo Rosado Haddock, a philosopher and an authority in both Husserl and Carnap, has included some aspects that actually contribute to the discussion on the constitution of another ego, another self. He rightfully points out that kinaesthesia is not enough to establish an ego like ours to another body. Your dog can act like it is animated, can do several things like you do (drink for instance), can move his eyes, make facial expressions, and even bark at you as a sign for something it wants. Yet, that’s not enough to say that its ego is a human self like ours. In this sense, with respect to humanity, the dog is not equal to me. It may be equal to me with respect to being a living being, but not with respect to humanity.
Rosado Haddock suggests that to grant another ego its humanity we need another criterion for empathy: language. If I talk to another person, I can constitute another person’s ego as a human self because we both share a language. In fact, language lets me have "access" (so to speak) to another person’s way of thinking and his or her experience. In other words, the empathy is greater in the sense that we can share each others’ mindsets.
Rosado Haddock ends his critical assessment on Husserl and Carnap on intersubjectivity this way:
… it is clear that the present solution to the problem of intersubjectivity has ethical consequences. The constitutional subject, by acknowledging the intersubjectivity of his own language, as a language he shares with others, is compelled also to acknowledge the existence of other human beings, equally capable of constituting their common world, including the original constitutional subject. The grounds for any principled or essential difference between the constitutional subjects disappear. Each human being is a constitutional subject in his own right and in principle equal to each other. An autonomous equalitarian ethics can be founded on the solution to the problem of intersubjectivity, an ethics grounded on rationality … and capable o serving as a rigorous foundation for the claim for equality and justice in all those aspects of the lives of all human beings that depend exclusively on what is essential or substantial for human existence. Hence, the solution to the problem of intersubjectivity could serve as a non-Kantian autonomous foundation of ethics and as an ethical foundation of a genuine equalitarian society and community of societies of all human beings (Rosado, 2008, p. 97).
Trascendental Intersubjective Basis of Ethics
I want to go a bit beyond my former thesis director, Rosado Haddock, regarding his suggestion. I do agree that the Husserl-Carnap solution for the intersubjectivity problem plus language can actually be an ethical basis. But there is a problem with his analysis. He is only dealing with human empathy, assuming human egos. But coming back to the central subject of this article … what if humans evolve, what if different species spring from us, and are no longer human (i.e. Homo sapiens of any kind)?
Any primate (remember … we humans are primates) species coming from us presumably will have intelligence (superior or inferior to us), in which case, the intersubjective solutions formulated above would not be valid if we focus on "humanity". I want to make it to another abstract level, the level of rational beings in general … human or not!
One aspect of our consciousness Husserl was fascinated about was the fact that we are self-aware, that we understand our situation, can constitute states-of-affairs, and organize them logically enough to express them in a system of signs (language). We can identify essential traits of any rational mind, and we, humans, qualify. Yet, any other species or AI which will come to be in the future complying with these essential traits must be considered a rational being like us.
If the new species is made up of rational beings, in general, it means that it is also made up of moral beings, since they will be able to make rational decisions on what they consider right and wrong. And also they will be able to be ethical beings, meaning that they can establish criteria to evaluate individuals and society on a rational basis.
And here is the crux of the whole matter: the whole basis to recognize and be recognized a moral status as equals depends on the fact that empathy (phenomenologically founded on kinaesthesia and language) can give us access to the mind of the members of a species and of artificial intelligence to determine their status as rational and moral beings. Although Rosado-Haddock talks about the intersubjective solution by Husserl and Carnap as non-Kantian (in the transcendental arena), it leads us back to Kant (in the ethical arena). Remember, for Kant, the Formula of Humanity (FH) version of the categorical imperative (and other formulas) places the ultimate value of rational beings as ends-in-themselves on the fact that they are the only ones who can "legislate" maxims as universal ethical laws, which leads them to discover which laws are ethical, and act accordingly
In conclusion, we should not fear evolution! Humanity is evolving, maybe some species will be more or less intelligent than us, maybe intelligent computers will be possible in the future. However, their moral status ultimately depends on the fact that they are moral beings. On that particular basis we can actually build a juridical, economic, and other institutions on the basis on the equality of rational and moral beings. Sociologically it is another story! When the European conquerors denied Native Americans their dignity (i.e. their value as rational beings), it led to injustice, theft, and genocide. Yet, at the end of the day, such European, American, African, and Asian societies can recognize today that Native Americans, and all human beings of all races have a dignity. The implication of a clash of civilizations, or a clash of species, or a clash of natural beings versus artificial intelligence, does terrorize. Yet, there is always philosophy to be a compass to guide us in this journey.
Carnap, R. (2003). The logical structure of the world and pseudoproblems in philosophy. R. A. Geore (Trans.). IL: Open Court. Originally published in 1928.
Cochran, G. & Harpending, H. (2009). The 10,000 year explosion: how civilization accelerated human evolution. NY: Basic Books.
Husserl, E. (1999). Cartesian meditations: an introduction to phenomenology. D. Cairns (Trans.). Dordrecht: Kluwer Academic Publishers. Originally published in 1931.
Husserl, E. (2002). Ideas pertaining to a pure phenomenology and to a phenomenological philosophy (second book). Dordrecht: Kluwer Academic Publishers. Originally published in 1952.
Rosado Haddock, G. E. (2008). The young Carnap’s unknown master: Husserl’s influence on Der Raum and Der logische Aufbau der Welt. US: Ashgate.
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