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28. March 2010

Evolution, racism, and the validity of intelligent design: a discussion

Filed under: philosophy,Theology — admin @ 15:13

Editor’s note: this Facebook discussion with a very intelligent evolutionist resulted after I created my sarcastic Facebook group (“Evolution affects my worldview on everything except racism and human rights”).  I felt that the conversation was too important to disregard, especially since it highlights critical arguments and topics regarding both evolution, intelligent design, and how racism is impacted by either philosophy.  I hope you enjoy this, and if  you decide to be persuaded by my side of the argument, feel free to join my group :)

Me: Just started my new group: “Evolution affects my worldview on everything except racism and human rights.”  Obviously I’m a Jesus guy, so don’t take this page seriously. Join it if you realize that evolution and human rights/racial equality are completely incompatible, and you’d like to make fun.  [Quote from group] “We also do not believe in social Darwinism, because every evolved monkey deserves a chance to feel good about themselves and have an education before they die a meaningless death on a rock which is flying in outer space. As such, we enjoy demonizing the rich for not sharing the wealth they accrued through superior adaption.”

Brad:  I guess for an evangelical Christian such as yourself, it would make a lot of sense to derive your worldview from your understanding of nature. Now, I’m not saying this approach is wrong, but without a good epistemic reason for doing so, it is not necessary.

To say that evolution occurs and explains much of what we see (both in human and non-human interactions) is quite different from saying we should seek to maximize our fitness or the fitness of our society. The former is a scientific claim, whereas the latter is a philosophical one. Science can only inform our worldview. It can never determine it.

Me: VERY good response, Brad. Actually, I agree with you 100% about the idea that science is responsible for “how,” but not “who” “what” and “why.” Those answers are best left to theologians and philosophers.

However, the group isn’t intended to insinuate that humans should only be declared human based upon science, but rather that–according to the theory of natural selection–there must be inferior and superior races of humans. Our thinking and behavior, according to a truly evolutionary standpoint, is only determined by our biological advancement thus far (otherwise we’d behave like monkeys), which means that minimal interbreeding in different geographical locations with different environments over thousands (if not hundreds of thousands) of years can only result in some people being biologically superior. The joke is that evolutionists refuse to acknowledge that races are different evolutionary branches, if evolution was in fact true.

Of course, I’m a Christian: we’re all created in His image. But an evolutionist has no other choice than to RECOGNIZE (not necessarily enforce) the superiority and dominance of specific races. That’s my point.

Once again, very thoughtful comment. Hopefully more to come?

Brad: Actually, based on your group’s description, it does look as though you are confusing explanations of behavior with excuses of behavior (e.g. Clinton). Again, I would argue that claims of the former type can be scientific (although claims of evolutionary psychology can be dubious), whereas claims of the latter type are philosophical or moral.

With regards to your claims about different levels of fitness between races, it’s true that if evolution occurs, then there is no reason why it would stop with us. In fact, we can trace the evolution and spread of lactose tolerance in Northern European populations, and several papers have even suggested that the rate of human evolution is increasing.

Now, lactose tolerance is an advantageous trait that is absent from most of the rest of the world, but I’m guessing you wouldn’t argue that such traits make Caucasians “superior” as a race. In general, the characters that make specific populations of humans well adapted to their environment don’t really change how we value people.

What, then, do you mean by “biologically superior”? This is not a term used in evolutionary biology, because each population has different selection pressures based on its specific environment, so one would expect each population to be most fit in the environment in which it is found.

Traditionally, scientists trying to demonstrate the “biological superiority” of their own race have turned to measures of intelligence. Some have found significant differences, but they committed an egregious error that you also made in your post. They — and you — assumed that any differences in intelligence could be attributed to genetic differences between races, completely ignoring the effects of culture.

Intelligence tests, by their very nature, cannot distinguish the effects of biological and cultural factors. In fact, the IQ test has been rescaled repeatedly over the past century because people are improving at it. Now, three or four generations isn’t really a long enough time for selection to act so decisively on a population, so the most likely explanations for this improvement are cultural. Teaching children how to think abstractly at a younger age improves their performance on the test. Differences such is these have a far greater impact on intelligence any genetic differences between races, real or imagined.

Now, there is variation in intelligence within populations. Is it a necessary conclusion that the more intelligent ones are superior and the less intelligent ones are inferior? Absolutely not. In a biological context, fitness is defined in terms of reproductive success. In humans, people who are wealthy and intelligent tend to have fewer offspring, so in an evolutionary sense, they are less fit, but would probably be considered “biologically superior” in the sense you are using it. Hence, evolutionary fitness is not a measure of success as we humans tend to define it. Additionally, your definition of “biologically superior” has no basis in evolutionary theory. It is, in fact, a value statement: that intelligence, or some other suite of characters, are what is important, and the rest doesn’t matter. But we already agreed that such a claim is not scientific, so I don’t think that your argument is sound.

Me: That is a damn good argument, my friend. There’s really no argument around the fact that these kinds of value judgments are at best speculation and philosophical preference.

But there is one aspect of the evolution/race discussion that should appear (on some level) humorous to all of us, and it’s that yes–the evolution-supportive Left is quick to recognize that the only thing separating us from the monkeys is time, but quick to stop anyone from insinuating that the same changes are happening within our own human gene pool. For instance, when James Watson (the “inventor” of DNA) stated that genetics could improve the human race in serious ways, and that some traits were preferable to others, he was quickly disowned by the scientific community.

In this light, the joke is not necessarily that one side of the superiority debate is correct, but rather the fact that such a debate is politically suicidal in a society which readily accepts that populations must evolve over time, whether in intelligence or resistance to disease or something more banal like lactose tolerance. At some point someone evolves in a way which makes them more beneficial to society (a value judgment), but evolutionists are unwilling to allow discussion over the beneficial changes for society. And if we can evolve some sorts of differences–and surely, one must have evolved–then would it be wrong to have an opinion about which differences are preferable?

So we agree that these value judgments are something different than science, but we must also agree that consistency demands that at some point–perhaps at this very moment–the intelligence and subsequently the social structure which evolved through natural selection has advanced within some populations more quickly than others. Although we can claim all we want that culture influences IQ levels more than differences in human genetics (as a Christian, I’m a big culture guy myself), would we argue that monkey culture is what’s keeping the monkeys behind us?

In short, it’s the persecution of this kind of thought by evolutionists which deserves the jokes, not necessarily the truth of the debate itself. While the science itself is not the end of the discussion, the values that science presents us with are the meat of the matter, and evolutionarily-minded humans shouldn’t have a problem with preferences. At least not in a society which takes pride in intellectual tolerance.

Brad:  “This argument has become somewhat convoluted at this point, so I’m not entirely sure what you are trying to say.

If it’s that differences among individuals exist and that genetic engineering has the potential to eliminate or accentuate those differences, I agree, as would any reasonable person.

But the issue is fraught with ethical dilemmas, such as who should be able to receive treatment, which treatments should be allowed, not to mention the risks associated with such treatments (i.e. cancer). These concerns warrant a healthy caution, not just from “evolutionists” (because genetic engineering is a reality, regardless of your beliefs regarding evolution), and not just for the “left” (because these ethical issues will affect everyone, regardless of their ideology).

Suppose a suite of genes that increase the likelihood of a given person becoming a homosexual was discovered, and suppose your unborn child had all of them. What would you do? Would you even want to know in the first place? James Watson has been attacked because he argued that abortion should be an option in such a case; I doubt the left-leaning evolutionists were the only ones to attack him for espousing such a view.

With regards to your monkey argument, differences between humans and extant primates are genetic as well as cultural, but Homo sapiens is not the only species in the Homo genus. The Neandertal genome has now been sequenced, and it contains most of the genes we thought were unique to us. There is some evidence that Neandertals had the capacity for speech and were creating art when early humans encountered them in Europe, and there is a lot of debate over why these other big-brained, bipedal apes went extinct and humans flourished.

In other words, most major human characteristics were already fixed before we emerged from Africa, so it does not make sense to expect to see a difference today in traits that were historically highly selected, such as intelligence, because populations that did not have such traits could probably not be considered fully human, would have been out-competed by other groups, and never would have been able to leave Africa.

Even though you claim to agree that science does not make such value statements, you persist in referring to things such as “the values that science presents us with”, so I’m not sure you understand that acknowledging the former statement changes the premise of your argument. That individuals and populations vary is indisputable, but to what extent this variation results in measurable differences is unclear. Claims of racial superiority (or “preferences”, if you prefer that term) are rightly dismissed because they are based in chauvinism, not science. The debate is political suicide in scientific circles because it is not a scientific debate.

You are trying to dismiss this as a joke, but alleging that “evolution and human rights/racial equality are completely incompatible” is not funny and just plain wrong.

Me: Sorry, by “values that science presents us with” I meant “characteristics that science presents us with.” I wasn’t careful to use different words, and it looked like I was stating the opposite of what we’d already agreed upon.

Anyway, here’s a great article about why Neanderthals are humans.

And may I ask you why the Left is concerned with aborting gay babies if they’ve already given the green light to aborting any babies for any reason? Are unborn babies now protected from hate crimes? Not that the gay gene exists, since the APA reversed its stance maybe last year.

Human rights are an extension of spiritual meaning and purpose: when evolutionists propose a lack of objective meaning and purpose (we came from goo by accident and are all going to die and go nowhere), they get rid of the foundation of human rights, since humans become a part of the environmental life forms which we morally terminate upon desire or need.

Suggesting that Christians and evolutionists can both agree about ethical dilemmas is correct, but only a Christian can explain why. An evolutionist’s only foundation is in the love/ethics he either invented through social construct (which means the definitions may vary widely, including what you described as “wrong”) or even worse: it evolved by accident, making his ethics no different than the bristles on the back of a porcupine.

So that’s why this is a joke: a meaningless universe produces meaningless accidents, not dignity or purpose or even solid reason. One man’s reason may be another man’s evil. Consider the Heinz Dilemma! From which of the six paths do you derive your moral code?

Racism and evolution are completely compatible, and belong together. If you are an evolutionist and disagree, then perhaps you might consider that the preferences arising from my social construct are different than yours (and they are: mine come from the God who created the universe).

Brad: If you show me a peer-reviewed article published in a scientific journal stating the same thing I would take a look at it, but I don’t really trust the ICR as a source. In this case, it has a clear motive to argue against the distinction between humans and Neandertals (to advance the creationist agenda), and is therefore biased. For deciding what constitutes a separate Homo lineage, I turn to the overwhelming majority of professionally trained anthropologists who say that Neandertals and humans were separate species.

The James Watson example was only to illustrate what kind of person he is– the kind that naturally draws ire from all sides. I did not mean to imply that the “Left” had an opinion on the matter.

The source of morality argument falls a good deal outside our debate, and I don’t really feel like getting into it right now.

Racism and evolution are compatible to the same extent that racism and the Bible are compatible. But you went one step further by saying that “evolution and human rights/racial equality are completely incompatible”– this implies that racism is a necessary consequence of belief in evolution. If we can agree that this claim is unfounded, I will consider the debate over.

Me: Well that’s not really fair, because you’re going to only accept evidence proposed by people with very outspoken and specific philosophical prejudices; namely that Scientism (or the belief that the material world comprises all of existence) is the only acceptable direction that any science can take us. In short, what you’re saying is that you’re not willing to accept scientific statements from accredited scientists and organizations which do not agree with your metaphysical understandings. The majority of scientific journals today purposely ostracize theists because theists believe the scientific evidence leads toward a Creator, which is why Creationists get their stuff published in peer-reviewed scientific journals under pseudonyms. When no philosophical statement is given, their work is readily accepted.

That’s not science, that’s theology.

If you’re interested in seeing how theistically-minded scientists work completely within the realm of acceptable science, I’d recommend checking this out. It’s a little more than an hour long, and it’s got perfectly reasonable claims which haven’t yet been successfully refuted. I found rebuttals to Behe’s concept of Irreducible Complexity, but none of them were really very good: I challenge you to watch the video instead of seeing peoples’ diagrams about stone bridges and such. Make your own mind up based upon the science, not based upon metaphysical presumption.

I’ve also argued that prominent atheists (Dawkins, of all people) have acknowledged the existence of another lawless universe out of which our universe’s physical laws were created. What does that sound like to you?

Anyway, while I have to say once again that you’re very intelligent, I cannot for one second grant that a belief in human evolution from monkeys gives human beings any sort of nobility, or should result in the belief that we are all equal, or that we have a duty to protect the weak. If anything in those directions, it grants people the ability to live according to their evolved emotions about humanity, which may range widely, but can never be compatible with an idea of universal human dignity. At best, human dignity would be a construct, which could be morally discarded as soon as someone decided otherwise.

And furthermore, if you think Christian scientists should be banned from scientific magazines because of their philosophical beliefs, is it because counterarguments about the statements can be presented? Because the stuff that people print in “scientific” journals is refuted all the time. Like in this article, which explains that raptors evolved from birds and not the other way around. This basically flies in the face of all the presumptions before it.

If science is always changing, and people usually have counterarguments, then why are Creationists who publish scientific data banned? It’s not because the information is arguable, but rather because of the direction the science takes them.

Nicole: Boys, boys, boys.. The book was called: “On the Origin of Species by Means of Natural Selection, or the PRESERVATION OF FAVOURED RACES IN THE STRUGGLE FOR LIFE’

Just listen to the man himself and you can see what he really thought about who he called the ‘savages':

“At some future period, not very distant as measured by centuries, the civilized races of man will almost certainly exterminate, and replace, the savage races throughout the world. At the same time the anthropomorphous apes, as Professor Schaaffhausen has remarked, will no doubt be exterminated. The break between man and his nearest allies will then be wider, for it will intervene between man in a more civilized state, as we may hope, even than the Caucasian, and some ape as low as a baboon, instead of as now between the Negro or Australian and the gorilla.”
(Chapter 7; Origin of Species)

and finally,

Brad: Not all scientists adhere to metaphysical naturalism, only methodological naturalism. You are either getting all of your information about scientists from Richard Dawkins, or are simply ill-informed. Also, it appears the ICR’s program is not, in fact, accredited.

Again, this is getting beyond the scope of the debate, but Behe’s argument for irreducible complexity is countered by the evolutionary mechanism known as exaptation, or the recombination of existing traits into something novel. It gives us a plausible explanation of how something that appears to be irreducibly complex could, in fact, come from preexisting parts. Behe, at least in his arguments that I have read, only allows single base mutations in his models. Until he can show a well-known system that cannot be explained by exaptation, his argument remains unconvincing. I am not saying that Creationists should be banned from scientific publications, but I do take their claims with a grain of salt, because of the biases I already stated.

I never said that belief in evolution grants humans any distinct nobility. You are putting words in my mouth. Additionally, you keep saying that “humans evolved from monkeys”, but this is an obfuscation of what evolution says. We share a common ancestor with monkeys and cows and crows and snakes and frogs and sponges, etc. Please stop injecting your own biases into scientific claims.

There will always be differing interpretations of the available evidence, and I hold that the scientific community is the best body for adjudicating such disputes. It is not surprising to see differing interpretations of bird / dinosaur ancestry because the fossil evidence is necessarily sparse. As new fossils are found, the disputes can be resolved.

I am not here to debate the implications of moral relativism, but if the beliefs of numerous scientists and religious institutions are any indication, moral relativism is not a necessary consequence of acceptance of evolution. I want to know whether or not you still think racism is a necessary consequence of belief in evolution. I have repeated this several times, but you always reframe the question or ignore it entirely. If you are unwilling to address it directly, I will not reply again.

Me: Sorry this took me so long to get back… I’d been sleeping horribly the last couple of days, and needed a brain to write a response. Great discussion, though, still!

Methodological naturalism? Like, as in, looking to the scientific method to prove something actually happened? That’s what Creation scientists do, it just leads them to a point at which the scientific method doesn’t work anymore, which is the same place ALL science leads. As soon as we start explaining the origin of the universe, we know that something beyond the laws of physics dictates our existence, otherwise we wouldn’t be here. If you go to my article on the subject, I have a great lecture by an atheist who explains in great detail how the universe-creating universe exists beyond scientific law.

And btw, while ICR’s school may not accredited, their scientists are from prominent and accredited universities all over the US. That’s what I’m getting at.

Also, if you watch the ID video I linked, you’ll find that they discuss the idea of exaptation (they call it co-option) in decent enough detail to explain why it doesn’t work.

And whether or not you say we share a common ancestor with a snake, we share a common ancestor with their common ancestor (primordial ooze) which you HAVE to be saying in order to be an evolutionist. And this leads me into the point you want clarified: evolution does not necessary lead to racism, it IS racism. Everything that is good about being a human came from the same processes that turned goo into bears, the same processes which have been working on the human race, and the only processes which are responsible for proper civilization.

Suggesting that it doesn’t lead to racism because you don’t have a preference is like saying you don’t believe in superior morality because you’re a moral relativist: the existence of a mind makes it impossible. We all have preferences on everything, and whether they be cultural or biological, the differences we prefer which affect our survivability and our comfort can come from nowhere other than evolution. So in order to be a non-racist evolutionist you either have to be dishonest or you have to pretend the differences don’t exist, and neither of those answers makes any sense to me (I don’t think you’re being dishonest, by the way… I just see that you’ve bought the myth of neutrality).”

Brad: Methodological naturalism is an epistemological view which states that the natural world should be explained only in terms of natural laws and events. While I won’t say that creation scientists do not ever adhere to methodological naturalism, ID claims violate it by definition: they explain natural laws and events using supernatural phenomena.

I agree with you that the question “where did the universe come from?” can’t be answered scientifically, since scientific inquiry is limited to physical phenomena. However, on some level, this question is no different from the question “where did God come from?” You might object and say that God is eternal or God is not entirely physical, but one can imagine a multiverse with the same properties. Either way, it’s turtles all the way down.

Exaptation-based software can find novel solutions to problems, so it is theoretically possible and you can’t dismiss it out of hand as a mechanism by which “irreducibly complex” systems may have evolved. Since an argument from irreducible complexity depends on the impossibility of a natural explanation, to argue that a system is irreducibly complex must show that no combination of evolutionary mechanisms (e.g. exaptation and mutation) could give rise to it. Any preexisting structures that are similar genetically to the one in question could have been co-opted. This makes Behe’s argument extraordinarily difficult to make.

Preferring one trait over another is completely different from preferring one race over another, and neither preference is a necessary consequence of belief in evolution. In fact, it seems as though you are making the argument that the existence of observable differences between populations inevitably leads to racism. You don’t need to believe in evolution to see observable differences between populations. By your argument, racism is the only valid way to look at the world. Frankly, I don’t think this argument holds any water at all.

Me: It’s not really turtles all the way down, because God is the beginning. What created God? Nothing. At some point, outside of time, outside of our universe’s physics, beyond our scientific understanding, something is. Just because our brains are limited by our entrapment within the physical universe doesn’t necessarily mean that all of existence has to follow the scientific rules we understand. I mean, it’s a little silly to think that time can be warped, or that another lawless universe created this one, but for some reason our personal understandings apply to beings within it. Don’t you think that’s a bit weird to imply?

As far as exaptation is concerned, you MIGHT be able to craft some sort of argument in its favor, but you have to remember that in Behe’s case (in which he was discussing the co-option of parts for the bacterial flagellum), 30 of the parts which would have been derived from co-option were unique. Only ten of them were similar to other functional machines.

But the part where the exaptation argument really breaks down is in the discussion of DNA. There’s absolutely no way that the replication of DNA could have existed without the help of a host of finely calibrated machines, and without DNA, a being cannot reproduce. Please, just watch the video. All these arguments are discussed in great detail, and if they’re wrong, you’ll just end up with a better argument. Start from part 3 if you want to skip the introductory stuff.

And as far as racism is concerned, regardless of what college professors may say, behavioral trends among races are readily apparent in all kinds of aspects, like crime and illegitimate childbirth. If indeed you believe that some cultures are more advanced than and preferable to others (which I’m assuming you do, since you don’t care for racism, and you haven’t moved to Valdosta, Georgia), what do you ascribe these virtues or the lack thereof to? If it’s not evolution through genetics or culture (the latter of which would be dependent upon genetics), I would like to know.

Christ is the monkey-wrench in the machine of chauvinism. In an evolutionary world which has no explanation for human behavior other than evolution of civility either through genetics and/or culture, social ills cannot be a result of anything other than a lack of evolution. When Christ is in the picture, all the problems of the world are due to the free choices made by the image bearers of God. While we can recognize trends and praise or condemn them, dealing accordingly, we know that a hope exists for each individual beyond mere naturalistic processes. We know that a person can either embrace light or darkness.

With us, sin is the problem–not lack of advancement–and the cure is introduction to Jesus Christ, the God of righteousness and mercy. With you, the problem comes from nowhere other than a lack of evolution, from beings which cannot act outside the biological cause-and-effect input system. And judging by behavioral trends, that lack of evolution must necessarily run along racial lines.”

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