Re: [asa] Altruism and ID

From: Iain Strachan <>
Date: Wed Jun 13 2007 - 17:06:05 EDT

Uncharacteristically, I'm on Pim's side here (goodness knows, we've had some
bitter disagreements!)

Would you not agree that compassion is an emotional response to a set of
circumstances, and that one's emotions are (at least in part) governed by
chemicals in your body (hormones etc)? I wouldn't say totally, but there is
at least some part of it that is determined by hormonal responses.

Compassion and altruism seem to go hand in hand. My voluntary work is as a
result of compassion I feel for those who are suffering, but who am I to say
that this makes me a "better" person than someone who doesn't care? Maybe
it's because I have a greater propensity to have compassion because of
distributions of various chemicals, which can then be linked to genes etc.
Since there are many people who testify about the organisation I work for
who say that it has literally saved their lives (from suicide), it seems
reasonable to say that my genetic makeup assists in a process that is saving
lives, and thereby ensuring survival? Maybe that's why such genes exist.

So what I'm saying is that "altruism" isn't of itself a biological concept -
but that the propensity for altruistic behavour nonetheless has biological
roots, and may be therefore expainable in terms of evolutionary processes.
I think (correct me if I'm wrong, Pim) that this is what Pim is saying, in
shorthand by suggesting that altruism "evolved". IOW, our propensity for
altruism, compassion etc evolved.

There you go, Pim. A let off. I'll probably go back to challenging you
before long! :-)


On 6/13/07, Gregory Arago <> wrote:
> The likelihood of my having continued interest to 'discuss' altruism and
> ID with Pim much after this is very small.
> My apparent confusion is Pim's intrusion. Is he really so stubborn and
> full-of on-line debate and insult throwing against ID and ID advocates that
> he won't pause for a moment and simply admit: concepts are not biological
> entities?
> "the concept of altruism evolved, refers to how scientists and
> philosophers have learned more and more about altruism and the meaning of
> altruism has gained various meanings." - Pim
> Let's apply a linguistic analysis to this paragraph: the word 'evolved' is
> linked with 'more and more' - this has been called the 'progressivist'
> legacy of evolutionary philosophy. 'Scientists and philosophers learn'
> suggests that science and philosophy is 'evolving,' i.e. getting better,
> i.e. progressing - new knowledge is added to our understandings. The
> passive voice is twice used: 'have learned' and 'has gained' - such language
> is consistent with evolutionary philosophy that underpriviledges human
> agency. 'Various meanings' - this acknowledges that many fields of study can
> attach meaning to the concept of 'altruism.' O.k.
> Now that the linguistics is addressed, let's start conceptualizing! The
> concept of evolution may CHANGE, but it does not EVOLVE. A concept is not a
> bio-physical entity! Ideas are not physical things; don't listen to the
> philosophy of Marx as an authority here. Let those who are conversant in
> ideas, as a profession, take priority over naturalists (Wilson, Trivers,
> Dawkins, et al.) who have ideological bones to pick with an altruism rooted
> in religious understandings of the place of human beings in the universe.
> Pim's definition of altruism seems devoid of any reference to spiritual
> wisdom; the evolution of humanity is an entirely physical process and the
> ethics of human life are reducible to genes! Where is God in Pim's version
> of 'science says' altruism?
> Meanings are indeed constructed, filtered through human knowledge, feeling
> and experience. Reason, emotion and fantasy are involved together. Let's not
> package off our knowledges and understandings so quickly. It is not so
> cut-and-dry as a physicist/physical oceanographer might imagine it.
> There is much more to this than simply 'science has discovered...'
> - it gets at the fundamental meanings, values and purpose of science in
> contemporary societies, and the importance of philosophical and theological
> knowledge and even wisdom in forming our collective and individual
> identities.
> Why natural scientists should be given priority in Pim's personal study of
> altruism is a mystery. It seems to me that, caught within a paradigmatic box
> of evolutionism, he merely reinforces the Enlightenment view that reason and
> science will lead to progress.
> Now Pim, of course, has the opportunity to explain how he doesn't actually
> adhere to my caricature of him, rather than simply lashing out at what he
> thinks is apparent confusion on my behalf. That is, he could act
> Christianly, with charity and grace, which fits with his study of altruism.
> Yes, of course I have incomplete knowledge (please excuse economics
> language, thanks to Hayek) about Pim's motivations. But I still don't see
> why he doesn't search for meanings, values and purposes attached to the
> concept and/or ideology of 'altruism' that are more consistent with
> Christian thought rather than allying himself (by this I mean quoting others
> as if they are 'real' authorities) with Wilson, Trivers, Smith, Dawkins and
> others who would deny the influence of religious thought on altruistic
> behaviour. Such a position seems to me ultimately untenable and contra la
> mission de ASA.
> Arago
> p.s. Pitirim Sorokin - *The Ways and Power of Love (1954)*
> **
> *PvM <>* wrote:
> Various people have suggested that I expand on my thesis as it may be that
> Gregory's confusion can be resolved by some simple statements
> First of all, Gregory, I thank you for your questions in email, I am
> however not interested in pursuing a discussion with you via private
> email. I stand by my observation that ID is a negative argument, and
> scientifically vacuous. I doubt that there are few reasons to argue
> that the first is not the case, and the second issue is almost self
> evident.
> As to the issue of evolution of concepts, there are of course two very
> different issues being confused here. Let me clarify.
> The statement: the concept of altruism evolved, refers to how
> scientists and philosophers have learned more and more about altruism
> and the meaning of altruism has gained various meanings. The
> statement: altruism evolved refers to the observations that natural
> selection can indeed explain altruism, and certainly kin altruism and
> reciprocal altruism, which are two specific forms of altruism. For
> altruism to be genetically selectable, there needs to be a genetic
> component, and this is what science seems to have uncovered.
> Quite fascinating if you ask me.
> And no, I am not in favor of evolutionism or any other of Gregory's
> ill founded claims.
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Received on Wed Jun 13 17:06:15 2007

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