Re: [asa] Altruism and ID

From: Gregory Arago <>
Date: Wed Jun 06 2007 - 20:30:01 EDT

Let's get the obvious off the table first: concepts do not 'evolve' into existence!! Just the fact that the sentence reads "A. Comte COINED the word..." is an indication that evolutionary theory is unsuitable to discuss its origins. We can speak of human intervention, invention, discovery, creativity, articulation, signification, etc. but we simply CANNOT use the word 'evolution.' It simply doesn't make sense!
  Even if you say, as I understand your argument, that the concept/percept of 'altruism' has changed-over-time, this does not change the FACT of its origins.
  Can this be agreed before any rant about how ID is or isn't applied Pim?

  E.O. Wilson and Robert Trivers and Richard Dawkins can be cited as experts on altruism afterwards, if Pim so chooses.
PvM <> wrote:
  On 6/6/07, Gregory Arago wrote:
> The difficulty with 'altruism' was raised here several months ago. I noted
> that August Comte coined the word. Also pointed to P. Sorokin's usage as
> opposed to the twists it has undergone in the hands of Travers, Dawkins, et
> crew.
> Pim seems to be a great fan of 'altruism' for a natural scientist. In a way
> that worries me. In another, it is doing exactly to social sciences what
> social scientists sometimes do to natural scientists - piggy-backing on
> their ideas without really digging into the content and form of their
> meanings.

What worries you about a scientist trying to understand the origin and
evolution of a concept like altruism? Understanding the genetic
components involved surely can help us unravel how altruism can be
found amongst higher animals (and perhaps even 'lower' animals?)

While Comte may have originally defined the term, it has a variety of
meanings, none of them necessarily better or worse than others.

The issue of altruism is complicated by the lack of agreement
about many aspects of it, including its very definition. The word
altruism, which comes from the Italian altrui, was coined in 1851 by
August Comte to refer to benevolence (2). Although not everyone agrees
today on what precisely altruism entails, the most basic definition is
seeking the welfare of others (1). This definition is often extended,
however, to include the necessity of some personal sacrifice on the
part of the altruist; Edward O. Wilson defined altruism as
"self-destructive behavior performed for the benefit of others" (1),
(3). There is also an idea of reciprocal altruism, which is
self-sacrificing behavior with the expectation that the favor will be
returned eventually (4). If this behavior is motivated by the desire
for future reward, it does not really fit the generally accepted
definitions of altruism.

Contrary to early expectations, concepts like altruism and reciprocal
altruism may very well have evolved.
( and

The problem with ID is that it see information and altruism as
something immaterial because it has no mass attached. Based on this
flawed premise, it argues that science cannot explain these concepts
without invoking something outside the material world. In this case,
it is the concept of intelligence which has evolved to a position
outside the material world. In fact, some ID proponents are on the
record of arguing that information has no mass, by showing a floppy
disk with and without data on it and arguing that there is not
difference if mass.
Such simplistic arguments lead proponents like Dembski to suggest that
information can be imparted without expending any energy via an
infinite wavelength signal (of course infinite wavelength also means
zero bandwidth!!) but such are just minor issues facing the ID
approach :-)

Altruism is an interesting topic, and finding natural explanations for
this, hardly undermines religion, in fact, I see it as strengthening
religious beliefs.

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Received on Wed Jun 6 20:30:31 2007

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