Thoughts on "Recent thoughts from Doug"

From: FrankensteinJr
Sent on: Wednesday, April 7, 2010 2:15 AM

Doug made a couple of very thoughtful comments regarding a couple of threads from the last meeting (#1 & #2 in italics below) that I think would be a great topic of discussion at our next meeting:

#1) If we truly have no real free choice because we are simply carrying out decision trees that we are born with, how can we make the argument that we should not jail criminals? Can't the same argument meant to say that criminals are just being criminals because that is what they are be made about jailers jailing the criminals (I find this sentence amusing)?

#2) Tim the philosopher expressed the idea that our "purpose" of existence was simply to continue said existence, no different than a virus strives to multiply and spread. He also brought up the idea of evolution. The question that I asked myself that night, was that if our "purpose" is no different than the rest of the living creatures on this planet, then what is the evolutionary need for humans to have higher brain function to allow them to consider such things as the meaning/purpose/reason of life? Our brain function was good enough when we were cavemen and able to use simple weapons to kill what we needed to eat and start fires, so what is the evolutionary need for being able to contemplate life, or quantum physics? Even if we can explain the evolutionary pathway, such an evolutionary step is not necessary for the survival of the species. We should have gotten faster, stronger, or be able to breed more effectively... our evolution as humans seems to deviate in scope from those of other creatures.

Note:It will be helpful to keep certain categories in mind related to the big questions a person's worldview must address since it will affect any and all conclusions as well as the thought process that brings them there: A) Origins (Where did I come from?) B) Ethics/Morality (Ought I do X or Y?) C) Purpose (Why am I here? Where am I going?).

I offer the following brief musings:

Regarding Point #1 (Deals with B above, mostly) - If I follow this correctly, the main issue here boils down to our genes (what we are "born with") which simply tell us what decision trees to follow. The concept that criminality is just a convenient if unfortunate label is not a far fetched idea at all from a legal perspective (Lawrence Taylor, Genetic Delinquency, Genetics of Criminal and Antisocial Behavior). If humans are only an amalgam of particularly ordered genes then I'm not sure that there is any way to avoid the conclusion that any cultural notion of good and bad or Crime and Punishment is anything but arbitrary and inherently non-binding to any individual (there is no "ought"), whether a part of a "civilized" society or not. Frankly, I think it is more than safe to say that this is not the case. First, the technical arguments coming at this problem from the genetic perspective are far from conclusive and as of late seem to always take great pains to state (in not so subtle terms) that our genes simply don't tell the whole story. The initial theories and conclusions relating to this field are now seen as simplistic and ham-handed explanations which simply do not fit with the mounting, contrary body of knowledge on this subject. Second, technical arguments (much like genes in a physical sense) do not comprise all of human knowledge, insight and experience. There seems to be a profoundly deep-seated sense of justice within individuals (and here I would have to say this is universal) regarding the issues of ethics and morality. That doesn't mean everyone helps little old ladies across the street because it is right (some could do it for may other reasons which are not nearly so pure or just as simply push her in front of a bus) but I think it does mean that people are aware of their motivations for their actions and choose to act in line with those motivations. This does not mean all motivations are equal nor that they are all good, but it does mean people know the difference and act in concert with them. Any other concept of crime (here, the real freedom to do evil) and punishment (actual responsibility and accountability) would be meaningless. I know some would argue this is so, but I dare them to do this coming home to a ransacked house or in a courtroom facing their child's molester. We do know what justice is (not to be confused with man-made laws). For all the high-sounding arguments to the contrary we know it - particularly and palpably when we are the victim of an injustice. There are no victims if there are no crimes. Our humanness cries out for victims when we indeed see them.

Regarding Point #2 (Deals with A & C above, mostly): I think Doug addresses a valid issue here. A purely material (naturalistic) explanation for Origins and Purpose of any life form seems to ignore the obvious and astounding diversity found at whatever level one chooses to look (macro/micro, systems/subsystems/components etc...). This unguided (or random, chaotic or whatever term is used) biological process (aka evolution), can only be described as mind-numbingly creative (did you know there are 350,000 species of beetles?) and purposeful ("apparent" design in the Bombardier Beetle?) in its process and products, just at a physical level. I find it very difficult to accept the formula that chance + time = everything or (0+t=infinity). But even accepting this item as an axiom (in essence by faith), to ask Doug's question another way, "Why go beyond the basics?" Evolution has always been about matter and energy (pretty interchangeable it seems). A functioning organism gives something up energy-wise in the process and production of new physical features which hopefully (you will have to indulge me, this is not the technically the right word here since we are really limited by matter and mechanics, and any sort of forward-looking purpose cannot exist in an unguided process - but there just isn't any other way to express it) provides some sort of reproductive advantage for the species. There is a real cost involved since energy which is already devoted for another vital (or once vital) process or feature must be redirected (sorry, more purpose thrown into the mix where only atoms exist) for another use, process or feature. And of course being unguided, there is no expectation of getting this done right the first time or even in tens of thousands of times. We are not simply talking about biological blobs of goo here. Darwin may have erroneously thought this (see Darwin's Black Box by Michael Behe), but we know today without a doubt that we are talking about intricate and complex systems within systems (and here I would have to say that Doug's cavemen above were already vastly more complex than absolutely necessary, even before he started watching Sponge Bob Squarepants." Remember, all this again at just the physical level. And from this we are supposed to jump to abstract concepts like sentience, love, hate, right, wrong and Michelangelo's "David" (sorry had to get one of my favorite Italians in this thread)?. I share Doug's skepticism at this one...

I'd also like to comment on Doug's last point: I have to admit, number two is a really big kick to the throat to my mechanistic/evolutionary view of the world.

I gotta say that it takes quite a bit of courage and integrity to assess and even modify one's perspective on A, B & C above in light of new or additional information or experience. I will not assume too much here as it specifically applies to Doug, but I have to say that I really appreciate his willingness to put himself out there like this. I am glad that we have a group that is that open and honest. Can't wait to see you all.

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