RE: [asa] Altruism and ID

From: Alexanian, Moorad <>
Date: Thu Jun 14 2007 - 16:40:25 EDT

The subject matter of science is the physical aspect of Nature. Humans are both physical and nonphysical. Therefore, you are quite right that concepts like altruism are purely nonphysical and cannot be even conceived as being part of science.


We do observe certain behaviors in animals, but we cannot ascribe that to altruism. Of course, the same behavior in humans can be so ascribed since we ourselves are humans and have the inside story of the reasons for our actions. Not so in animals.


It is only extreme reductionism, viz., that the whole of reality is purely physical, that gives rise to false claims about altruism being part of the subject matter of science. A scientist qua human being can discuss altruism but not the scientist qua scientist.



From: on behalf of Gregory Arago
Sent: Thu 6/14/2007 4:12 PM
To: Christine Smith;
Subject: Re: [asa] Altruism and ID

Hello again Christine,
Thanks for your clarifying post. It does indeed put my argument with Pim into a nutshell by asking about a non-physical piece to the altruism puzzle. If the discussion is to take place using only physical language (skirting the issue of MN-PN), then as a non-physical scientist (i.e. a social-humanitarian ), my voice about altruism is rendered mute. Give the floor to Wilson, Trivers, Dawkins and co. in such a case.
There is of course nothing wrong with physical scientists discussing concepts and meanings and their implications. However, altruism simply cannot be reduced to physicality. This should be easy to agree upon here at ASA, shouldn't it?
When Pim says, "As a scientist I really do not know how to deal with mystical concepts such as a 'non physical part'," this is revealing. It is important to involve/invite those people who deal with non-physical concepts on a daily basis. Pim seems not to want to do that in the name of Science.
The difficulty in dialogue is when physical and non-physical scientists and scholars discuss things and the one expects the other to adibe by their disciplinary language. Sometimes the same words carry different meanings. In this case, 'altruism' is quite different when it is studying animals or humans.
To David's helpful list, it means my point at issue with Pim, just as the quotation that George showed by Mayr, but which Ian's argument didn't touch (altruism has a biological component/aspect or biological roots?), was category 4.


Christine Smith <> wrote:

        I hate to rehash old ground (events vs process?
        thread), but it really seems to me like this is coming
        back to the same issue. If I'm interpreting Pim and
        Greg correctly, Pim is arguing that the attribute of
        altruism is directly caused by our physical make-up
        (i.e. emergent property), while Greg is arguing that
        it is a spiritual attribute which occurs because there
        is a non-physical part of us. Please feel free to
        correct this if I'm understanding incorrectly...
        Iain, in your comments below, you state 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." Does't the admittance of "at
        least in part" affirm what Greg is saying, in that
        there is a non-physical piece to the altruism puzzle?
        Interesting that you also use the word "propensity"
        for altruism--gets back to my idea of a soul (spelled
        out in the events vs. process thread), in which our
        brain is simply the physical prism through which our
        souls are reflected--our physical brains directly
        influence that reflection (i.e. our *propensity*), but
        they are not the source of the light (God is the
        source of our recognition of and our desire of
        altruism). Would this be a fair assessment of your
        view of altruism?
        Christine Smith
        --- Iain Strachan wrote:
> 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! :-)
> Iain
> 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)*
> >


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Received on Thu Jun 14 16:41:19 2007

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