The Language of God: From Atheism to Belief

The Language of God, Chapter 1

By B.J. Marshall

The chapter begins with a description of Collins’ experiences growing up. His parents shrugged off the business world and lived an agrarian life on huge tracts of land in the Shenandoah Valley. His father went on to teach at a women’s college. Collins was homeschooled, and faith did not play a part in his upbringing. He went to an Episcopal church, but it was more for music appreciation than theology. OK, so we have a picture here of an ardent scientist who really didn’t have a place for theism.

It’s funny how, written from a theist perspective, he paints such a picture of atheists. Collins recounts how, as a student at the University of Virginia, conversations would easily turn to religion, where Collins’ sense of the spiritual was easily challenged by the one or two “aggressive atheists one finds in almost every college dormitory” (p.15). Later, he says he enjoyed his agnosticism because it was “convenient to ignore the need to be answerable to any higher spiritual authority” (p.16). Collins likens this to practicing the “willful blindness” of his number one idol, C.S. Lewis (p.16). After college, he pursued a Ph.D. program at Yale and shifted to atheism, where he felt “quite comfortable challenging” the spiritual beliefs of others (p.16).

That comfort obviously didn’t last long. After moving from chemistry to biology and getting accepted by the University of North Carolina, he did work that put him in intimate contact with very ill patients nearing death. He was astounded by their spirituality, and in one conversation a elderly woman simply asked him what he believed. He said he wasn’t really sure and admitted to himself that he had never really weighed the arguments for and against belief. He realized he “could no longer rely on the robustness of [his] atheistic position” (p.20). How does one go from being quite comfortable challenging theists to having their “robust” atheistic world-view crumble? Apparently all it takes is to have an elderly sick woman ask what one believes. Incredible. I would have loved to have seen the atheistic Collins in action when he felt comfortable challenging the spiritual beliefs of others. Of course, Collins never says whether those challenges ended in his favor; I’m guessing they probably didn’t.

So, Collins decided to look for answers and was pointed by a Methodist minister to look into the theology of C.S. Lewis. Collins marveled at how Lewis’ arguments seemed to anticipate what Collins was thinking. The idea that most rocked Collins’ ideas about science and spirit: The Moral Law and a Christian penchant for capitalization of random words. He then details a bunch of everyday problems, noting how it seems to be a universal human attribute to defer to some sort of unstated higher standard. “Though other animals may at times appear to show glimmerings of a moral sense, they are certainly not widespread, and in many instances other species’ behavior seems to be in dramatic contrast to any sense of universal rightness” (p.23).

Of course, Collins never cites his sources, so we are left wondering how he knows how narrowly spread these non-human glimmers of morality are, and we are left asking how Collins is able to differentiate between “any” sense of universal rightness and these animals’ behaviors – let alone the assertion that humankind’s behavior is all that noble and aligned with universal rightness. Ask Hitler, Pol Pot, or even Mother Teresa.

Jessica Pierce and Marc Bekoff’s book Wild Justice highlights the broad range of what we would call moral behaviors – fairness, trust, empathy, reciprocity, and more – in other animals. (I say “other” animals, because too often theists imagine humans apart from the animals). Pierce was interviewed on the Conversations from the Pale Blue Dot podcast. Here are some examples from her web site:

  • An older female elephant chasing away a male to protect and care for the younger female he injured in his rambunctiousness,
  • A rat in a cage refusing to push a lever which, although he knows he will receive food, he knows that pushing the lever will shock a neighboring rat, and
  • A group of chimpanzees punish latecomers because no one can eat until everyone arrives.

(I encourage you to add your own examples in the comments)

Over at Why Evolution Is True, Greg Mayer addresses this same excerpt of Collins’ book, so I will simply link to it rather than expound here.

Not only does he confuse how animals can be moral, but he goes further to conflate morality with truth: “Let me stop here to point out that the conclusion that the Moral Law exists is in serious conflict with the current post-modernistic philosophy, which argues that there are no absolute right and wrongs…. If there is no absolute truth, can postmodernism itself be true?” (p.24). I’m not here to discuss the merits of postmodern philosophy, but I do find it amusing that he goes from moral relativism to the rejection of absolute truths. I can easily see how someone who holds to a relativistic standard of morality would still be perfectly well off thinking it’s absolutely true that all rocks dropped in Paris will fall to the ground.

Collins sees altruism as a stumbling block to naturalistic explanations. He claims that selfless altruism – he explicitly rules out reciprocal altruism – cannot be attributed to individual selfish genes that want to perpetuate themselves. He gives three arguments from sociobiologists such as E.O. Wilson (though Collins never cites his sources, so we don’t know without looking it up ourselves whether Wilson actually posited any of these three) that Collins think fail:

  1. Altruism as positive attribute for mate selection,
  2. Altruism as indirect reciprocal benefits, and
  3. Altruism as benefiting the whole group.

Before we unpack these arguments, we should note that Collins states that if altruistic behavior on the basis of its positive value to natural selection could be shown to be a credible argument, “the interpretation of many of the requirements of the Moral Law as a signpost to God would potentially be in trouble” (p.25). Well, sorry to say for Collins’ sake, there’s a lot of literature out there (check the references at the bottom of the page) explaining how evolution could have led to altruism – and not just in humans. Dawkins mentions four good reasons for individuals to be altruistic in “The God Delusion” (p.250-251):

  1. Genetic kinship: We evolved in small groups, allotting plenty of opportunity for kin altruism to develop,
  2. Reciprocal altruism: This one is out by Collins’ standards, but we’d have plenty of time to develop this altruism given that we’d meet the same people over and over,
  3. Reputation: Dawkins states that biologists see a survival benefit to not only being a good reciprocator but having a reputation for being a good reciprocator, and
  4. Conspicuous consumption: Those who can provide food/shelter/protection with no expectation of compensation can flaunt their superiority.

Additionally, I argue that reciprocal altruism might not be as plainly seen as Collins might think. OK, there’s the obvious “I scratch your back, you scratch mine.” But I think there are plenty of examples of altruistic behavior with no tangible repercussions. For example: We had a huge snowstorm, and I helped my elderly neighbor shovel out her parking space. I am not expecting anything from it, and it doesn’t even fall in line with Dawkins’ lines of evidence (genetic, reputation, or conspicuous consumption). I did it because it fulfilled in me a desire to help my neighbor. I felt good doing it. Collins would not have been able to see that.

So, it appears that altruism as a positive attribute for mate selection corresponds nicely with kinship altruism and conspicuous consumption. It appears to me that having a reputation for being generous does indirectly benefit oneself, so maybe Collins would cry foul that this is a type of reciprocal altruism. However, it seems to me and others that a group consisting of individual members with unique and sometimes competing desires living cooperatively together seeks a stable solution to cohabitation.

Since Collins thinks that altruism must come from outside humanity, where does it come from? Well, he quotes his beloved Lewis again (Collins says he was stunned by the logic you are about to read): “If there was a controlling power outside the universe, it could not show itself to us as one of the facts inside the universe – no more than the architect of a house could actually be a wall or staircase or fireplace in that house. The only way in which we could expect it to show itself would be inside ourselves….” (p.29). OK, so let me get the analogy straight. We can’t expect God/architect to be a fact inside the universe/house, so the only place we would expect to find God/architect is within us?? I’m in the universe, too, so why should I expect to find God in me and not outside me? On what grounds is this good logic? Although, it does explain why I’ve been haunted by my architect. Oh wait, no I’m not.

Collins has now found God, and he wonders what sort of God this is. He rules out deism out of hand on the grounds that, if Collins did indeed perceive God, then God would want a relationship with me. Sadly, I’ve tried to use this logic on Alyson Hannigan in vain for years. Given the high standards of the Moral Law, Collins concludes this God must be holy and righteous. He doesn’t even consider Euthyphro’s dilemma in trying to figure out the correlation between his God and the Moral Law: Does God arbitrarily dictate what is moral (in that case, isn’t he amoral?), or does God say stuff is moral because that stuff is moral (in which case, why’s God the middle man?). He also apparently didn’t consider any other god who might desire a relationship with him. Nope – just Yahweh. Well, Jesus: Yahweh 2.0.

It became clear to Collins that science would get him nowhere in questioning God. Collins states that, if God exists, then he must be outside the natural world (but inside all of us, I guess), and therefore outside the purview of science. Oh, if he could only get off that easily.

Other posts in this series:

About Adam Lee

Adam Lee is an atheist writer and speaker living in New York City. His new novel, Broken Ring, is available in paperback and e-book. Read his full bio, or follow him on Twitter.

  • Katie M

    Here are some more examples of moral behavior in animals-

    Dolphins often help sick or injured dolphins, even pushing them up to the surface to breathe. They have also helped drowning humans and protected them from sharks.

    Wolves bring back meat for any pack members who weren’t at the kill.

    Meerkat clans have “guards” who warn the rest when there is a predator.

  • Mathew Wilder

    So I’m supposed to take away from Collins that architects can’t live in the houses they build…for no reason at all. I’m supposed to accept that A can’t be in B but can be in C, a subset of B? Total logic fail.

  • jack

    I did it because it fulfilled in me a desire to help my neighbor. I felt good doing it. Collins would not have been able to see that.

    I’m not much of a philosopher, and I haven’t fully digested the explanation of desirism to which you linked, but there’s a more biologically-oriented way of making the same point. Your desire to help your neighbor, or any act of unreciprocated altruism, may be an evolutionary by-product of something else that is adaptive. Much of human social behavior, if not all of it, is implemented through emotions. You helped your neighbor because of the pleasure it gives you to do that act of kindness and generosity. Such acts often lead to reciprocation, so pleasure at doing them is favored by natural selection. Human social behavior is so important to us that that pleasure is high, and is easily triggered, even by acts that have little or no chance of being reciprocated.

    It is much like the pleasure we get from caring for a pet. Lavishing attention on my iguana for many years did nothing to pass my genes into the next generation. I did it because it was pleasurable, and it was pleasurable because such behavior would have helped to propagate my genes, had I been lavishing the attention on my similarly small, dependent and cuddly human child. I don’t have one of those, so the paternal urges found an alternate outlet.

  • http://oneyearskeptic.blogspot.com/ Erika

    Based on what you have said so far, it sounds like any interested readers should just skip Collins and go straight to Lewis (our maybe just not bother and skip both completely).

  • David

    This is pretty brutal. But his arguments are also pretty bad.

  • Mrnaglfar

    To tack onto number 3, it’s worth pointing out that many behaviors are either adaptive or maladaptive statistically. That does not mean each instance of the behavior will or won’t be adaptive, just that they tend to be.

    I am not expecting anything from it, and it doesn’t even fall in line with Dawkins’ lines of evidence (genetic, reputation, or conspicuous consumption). I did it because it fulfilled in me a desire to help my neighbor. I felt good doing it.

    You see this a lot; people confuse the ultimate function of a behavior or a trait with it’s proximate explanation.

    For instance: One of the reasons sexual jealousy involved is to help males better assure their paternity in children. However, male sexual jealousy is not assuaged should a man find his committed partner cheating on him even if she happens to be on birth control. Further, you see people continuing to have sex on birth control, even through birth control defeats the entire purpose of sex in the first place. Ultimately, sex functions to aid reproduction; proximately, it feels good and people and often motivated to engage in it. What it doesn’t mean is that each and every time someone has sex they are consciously assessing the possibility of achieving reproduction.

    Evolution does not design organisms that understand why they behave as they do; it designs organisms to generally act as if they know.

  • Reginald Selkirk

    where Collins’ sense of the spiritual was easily challenged by the one or two “aggressive atheists one finds in almost every college dormitory” (p.15).

    What forms of “aggression”? Did they go door to door in the dorms, handing out tracts? Did they set up a soapbox and preach in the quad? Consciously seek out downcast and foreign students as likely targets for conversion? … Or did they just challenge theist BS when it was offered?

    Later, he says he enjoyed his agnosticism because it was “convenient to ignore the need to be answerable to any higher spiritual authority” (p.16)

    Why is it that the only (alleged) atheists I have ever heard of who claim not to believe so they can escape God’s morality are former atheists who are acting as Christian apologists? How trite is that?

    On animal morality: Sam Harris put it well in his review of Collins’ book:
    The Language of Ignorance
    And just how widespread must “glimmerings” of morality be among other animals before Collins-who, after all, knows a thing or two about genes-begins to wonder whether our moral sense has evolutionary precursors in the natural world? What if mice showed greater distress at the suffering of familiar mice than unfamiliar ones? (They do.) What if monkeys will starve themselves to prevent their cage-mates from receiving painful shocks? (They will.) What if chimps have a demonstrable sense of fairness when receiving food rewards? (They have.) Wouldn’t these be precisely the sorts of findings one would expect if our morality were the product of evolution?

  • http://kpharri.wordpress.com/ Keith Harrison

    It’s disappointing to see such woolly thinking from Collins – someone who, by his record of scientific success, might be expected to think a little more clearly. It just goes to show how infectious the religious meme really is; how good it is at insinuating itself into critical and uncritical minds alike.

  • Katie M

    @Reginald-shared that link with my friends :)

    How on earth did Collins EVER get to be head of the Human Genome Project?

  • http://steve.mikexstudios.com themann1086

    You know, the Ethics 101 course I took spent the same amount of time (1 chapter) dismantling Natural/Moral Law as it did Cultural Relativism. People agreeing on what is right does not make it right; people disagreeing over what is right or wrong does not mean there’s no correct answer (there might not be one, but people disagreeing over what the answer is does not imply this).

    Seriously, Ethics 101. WTF Collins?

  • http://protostellarclouds.blogspot.com/ Mathew Wilder

    Collins’ philosophy is WAY worse, on all accounts than Coyne’s. I wish Massimo was chastising Collins as harshly for his nonsense as he was Coyne, since, even if Coyne is wrong (not completely convinced of that, btw), Collins is FAR MORE wrong!

  • BJ

    I am not expecting anything from it, and it doesn’t even fall in line with Dawkins’ lines of evidence (genetic, reputation, or conspicuous consumption). I did it because it fulfilled in me a desire to help my neighbor. I felt good doing it.

    @Mrnaglfar, jack: Perhaps my pleasure at helping my neighbor was a misfiring of some evolutionary knack, like a moth flitting into a lightbulb. Is this what you are suggesting by a confusion of proximate explanation and ultimate function?

    If I understand desirism (and I am new to this), it says in simple form that desires are the only real cause for action we have. Good desires are those that, when acted upon, promote more (and possibly stronger) desires. Desires that tend to thwart other desires are bad. So, my helping my neighbor promoted both my desire to feel good and her desire to not be stranded during Snowmaggedon.

    Maybe I am “designed” to be able to generally rationalize why I think I do something. Of course, it may be the case that none of us have libertarian free will. That’s something I really want to read up on.

    Thank you, all, for your comments!

  • http://www.daylightatheism.org Ebonmuse

    Thanks for a great post, BJ – I like very much how this series is going so far.

    It’s especially amusing to read how seamlessly Francis Collins switches back and forth between tiresome apologist narratives, even when they contradict each other, apparently without noticing that he’s doing it. At one point, he’s the aggressive village atheist, denying the existence of God and gleefully shooting down the religious beliefs of his dormmates. Then, a few years later, he’s the apathetic unchurched guy who’s never given any thought to the question of God’s existence and is thunderstruck when a little old lady asks him what he believes. Obviously these can’t both be true.

    He did pretty much the same thing in 2007, in an interview with D.J. Grothe:

    It’s amusing how Collins, in describing his own conversion, tries to employ two stock apologist narratives which contradict each other. First he says that he was an atheist when he was younger, and I see no reason to doubt that, but he also says that he had never really thought about or investigated the topic until prior to his conversion. This second admission greatly weakens the first, for if it’s true that he had never considered an intellectual defense of atheism, why should atheists who have studied the topic be impressed by his testimony? (When D.J. Grothe, to his credit, presses Collins on the obvious point that his lack of intellectual background in atheism made him “ripe for being plucked up” by proselytizers, he laughs and admits, “Perhaps so.”)

    In that context, I’d assume the laughter was a psychological defense mechanism against the realization of how he’d just contradicted himself. Granted, I can understand someone making a slip like that in a live conversation. But even when he writes a book – even when he’s setting his thoughts down on paper and has unlimited time for editing and revision – it’s incredible that he still does exactly the same thing.

  • Eurekus

    Will we ever have a theist that makes sense? Not even a professor is impressive. Isn’t it obvious there’s no God?

  • http://cafeeine.wordpress.com Cafeeine

    I’m enjoying this series. I read Collins book back when it came out in paperback, and, while still a very recent atheist, I was struck at how unconvincing it was. I no longer have the book, so I’ll be reading this as it comes out.

  • Alex Weaver

    Collins states that, if God exists, then he must be outside the natural world (but inside all of us, I guess), and therefore outside the purview of science. Oh, if he could only get off that easily.

    I gathered Collins was pretty enthusiastic about his theology, but that’s an image I really didn’t need ;/

  • Zietlos

    Yay! Book review! Book review!

    Good pointing out there. I noticed it as well: First, he was a weak agnostic atheist, and then, through time, he became a strong atheist (“challenging the beliefs of others”), and then an old lady asks him if he’s a theist and he says “Oh, right, that. Yeah.”

    Admittedly, old people asking you things is an odd way to oust yourself. I mean, an old lady at work asking if I was Jewish prompted be to say I was atheist, my first publicly declaring so. Theoretically, a similar situation but in reverse could have occurred to this fellow, who was really theist but needed a prompt to tell himself so. Just as many people are deconverting, there are as well some who (re)convert. It is a possible situation.

    Still, even if it is explainable, it isn’t really good for a history to be so… wishy-washy. It is like the claim to be a strong-atheist was purely pandering to the crowd. It gives the aire of an invented story, which is bad, because it might not be, but it loses all credibility once it has that invented aire. I can tolerate ignorance, but I will not suffer bad writing! :)

    I look forward to the continuation of this series.

  • Mrnaglfar

    @BJ

    Perhaps my pleasure at helping my neighbor was a misfiring of some evolutionary knack, like a moth flitting into a lightbulb. Is this what you are suggesting by a confusion of proximate explanation and ultimate function

    Sort of. Some behaviors are evolutionary byproducts, like the moths flying into a light bulb. It’s hard to say for certain precisely what is an adaptation versus what’s a byproduct. I was merely adding two points:

    1) Conscious motivations, thoughts, or intentions do not always reflect the ultimate function of a behavior. For instance, most all the species on the planet today probably don’t grasp the notion that sex leads to reproduction, nor do they have any insight into reproductive biology or evolutionary theory. However, they behave as if they know how to make offspring and desire to, as well as understand connections between genetic fitness and offspring fitness, etc.

    2) Behaviors and psychology need not be adaptive in each and every instance they function in order to be adaptations. A socially conscious person may be taken advantage of again and again, yet their prosocial impulses may well be adaptations. There are some people who are born blind and others born nearly blind; that would not imply that sight is not an adaptation. People may often behave in downright maladaptive ways using well-adapted psychology.

  • Jeff

    Collins likens this to practicing the “willful blindness” of his number one idol, C.S. Lewis (p.16).

    That was all I needed to read (although I did read beyond it) in order to dismiss him. I’m not at all interested in anything else he has to say. Someone who is impressed by Lewis has nothing to say to me. I will never understand what these people see in him.

    As for the rest of Collins’ recollections – I’m sure he’s remembering events as he wants to. He’s cobbled together a life narrative so that it leads him to where he is now.

  • Reginald Selkirk

    Seriously, Ethics 101. WTF Collins?

    Well, Collins didn’t take your course, did he?

    Collins’ philosophy is WAY worse, on all accounts than Coyne’s. I wish Massimo was chastising Collins as harshly for his nonsense as he was Coyne, since, even if Coyne is wrong (not completely convinced of that, btw), Collins is FAR MORE wrong!

    Agreed. I am on Coyne’s side in that dispute, and think MP did a poor job of backing up his attack. I saw MP in person once. He was pointing out the bad arguments on ‘both sides.’ For theists, he chose Frank Tipler, which is going for the low-hanging fruit. As an example of a philosophically unsophisticated atheist, he used Dawkins, and misrepresented arguments from the God Delusion. He claimed that Dawkins that that God could be definitely ruled out by science. Anyone who read TGD knows this is a mischaracterization. Here’s an interview in which MP makes a few more inaccurate assertions about Dawkins and others.
    CPBD 055: Massimo Pigliucci – The Limits of Science

    Since MP’s main assertion seems to be that science has nothing to say about God, here is Victor Stenger with a different message:
    Absence of Evidence Is Evidence of Absence
    In all of these examples, evidence for God should have been found, but was not. This absence of evidence is evidence of absence. It refutes the common assertion that science has nothing to say about God. In fact, science can say, beyond any reasonable doubt, that God — the Judeo-Christian-Islamic God — does not exist.

    Well, this is getting pretty far off-topic.

  • jack

    @BJ

    Perhaps my pleasure at helping my neighbor was a misfiring of some evolutionary knack, like a moth flitting into a lightbulb. Is this what you are suggesting by a confusion of proximate explanation and ultimate function?

    Yes, although the case of you helping your neighbor is more subtle and ambiguous than the moth flying into a light bulb. The latter is clearly maladaptive, but it is a by-product of the moth’s innate mechanism for nocturnal navigation, which is adaptive in the absence of light bulbs. In the case of you and your elderly neighbor, the cost to you in helping her is nonzero but not catastrophically great. And even if, as far as you can tell, it will bring you no reciprocal reward, there is some small chance that it will. Maybe she will change her Will and leave you a nice piece of furniture when she dies. Maybe she will praise you in front of someone else who does have the means to reward you in some way. If you never get any kind of reciprocal reward for your kind act, from a biological point of view it was wasted effort on your part. But that waste is a side-effect, or by-product, of a brain that is tuned to get pleasure from altruistic acts, a tuning that has made our species a highly successful social one. So the genes that produce that behavioral tuning propagate throughout the human population.

    As for “proximate” and “ultimate”, these are important concepts from behavioral biology.

    Proximate explanations deal with the physiological and anatomical mechanisms of a behavior. They are usually answers to ‘how’ questions. How do crickets chirp? They rub their forewings together, one of which has a rough surface that causes the vibration, and that makes the sound. They have a central pattern generator circuit in their nervous system that drives the wing muscles in just the right sequence to make that happen. The neurons in those circuits have voltage-sensitive ion channels in their membranes that make them electrically excitable. (etc.)

    Ultimate explanations deal with the evolutionary origin of a behavior and its role in the propagation of the animal’s genes into the next generation. They are usually answers to ‘why’ questions. Why do crickets chirp? Only males chirp. The chirping repels other males and attracts females. Chirping is a signaling mechanism by which male crickets establish territories and attract mates.

    By the way, thanks for doing this book review. Collins got a lot of attention with this book. It merits a thorough going-over.

  • AnonaMiss

    Collins sees altruism as a stumbling block to naturalistic explanations. He claims that selfless altruism – he explicitly rules out reciprocal altruism – cannot be attributed to individual selfish genes that want to perpetuate themselves. He gives three arguments from sociobiologists such as E.O. Wilson (though Collins never cites his sources, so we don’t know without looking it up ourselves whether Wilson actually posited any of these three) that Collins think fail:

    1. Altruism as positive attribute for mate selection,
    2. Altruism as indirect reciprocal benefits, and
    3. Altruism as benefiting the whole group.

    I ran into some confusion here; no one else seems to have, so maybe it’s just me. Why does Collins think these explanations fail to explain selfless altruism? Were his arguments against them good enough that you feel the need to search for other explanations to give him, or does he dismiss these three out of hand, and you’re humoring him by not confronting that and just proposing more?

  • Reginald Selkirk

    Evolution does not need to explain every single act of altruism, it only needs to explain fixed traits, i.e. behaviours which have become widespread in a population. Thus if an act of true altruism is costly to the doer, but is quite rare, there is simply nothing which needs explaining.

  • 2-D Man

    Here’s one little gem that you missed, BJ. I found one of Collins’ attempts to support his CS Lewis’ Moral Law arguments hilarious:

    He states that for most immoral actions the perpetrator will try to offer an ad hoc moral justification (such as ‘I’ve got to feed my family’ in the case of a bank robber). This, he states is evidence that we all agree on what is moral, therefore goddidit. And then he concludes with this little bit of idiocy:

    Virtually never does the respondent say, “To hell with your concept of right behavior.” [p. 23]
    When evangelical Christians say that it’s morally imperative to make abortion illegal, guess what I say? When libertarians* say that starving people must not have worked hard enough to get food and therefore it’s morally imperative to let them starve, guess what socialists say? When Nazi Germany said that all of Europe rightly belongs to them, guess what the rest of Europe said? When fundamentalist Muslims say that we have a a moral duty to disembody the heads of Muslim apostates… I think you get the idea. I would go so far as to venture a guess that this response Collins says “virtually never” happens is actually the most common response to moral challenges.

    *I know, this doesn’t apply to you, personally**.
    **That’s not at issue here.***
    ***I know that you’d love to discuss the benefits of free-market capitalism here, but for that, I’m sure you can find a brick wall that will be far more eloquent than I.

  • 2-D Man

    I did it because it fulfilled in me a desire to help my neighbor. I felt good doing it. Collins would not have been able to see that.

    Actually, I’m pretty sure that this was Collins’ point. He’s saying that the desire doesn’t have any evolutionary advantages and therefore could not have arisen through evolution. Then he makes an argument from ignorance, stating that if evolution’s not responsible, god is. And I think that horse has pretty much been beaten to death in this thread.

    [OT alert]FYI, Ebon, I wanted to fix my blockquote tag in my previous post, but Ajax said I don’t have permission to do that, but I still had 50 seconds or so to edit. I’ve been able to edit comments before, so I’m not sure what happened there.

  • BJ

    @AnonaMiss

    You’re right to note that I did not post the counter-examples Collins provides to show how E.O.Wilson’s three arguments fail; instead, I tried to jump right to showing the supporting evidence for Wilson’s arguments via Dawkins and McAndrew.

    * Note: I just discovered the link in my post is missing a character. Here’s the actual URL: http://faculty.knox.edu/fmcandre/altruismchapter.html

    Collins did not dismiss Wilson’s arguments out-of-hand. I just decided to gloss over them and get right to the punch because I think evolution can account for Wilson’s arguments.

    Here’s one example of Collins’ counter-argument. He claims that the notion that indirect reciprocal benefits come from altruistic behavior cannot account for human motivation to do small things that go unnoticed. (Sounds kind of like our earlier conversation about evolutionary misfirings and proximate-v-ultimate.)

    @2-D Man

    As I understand it, “libertarian” as used in free-will arguments is completely different from “libertarian” as used in socio-economic terms.

  • 2-D Man

    Sorry, BJ. I wasn’t trying to conflate the two; I was referring to the socio-economic policy. And my post-script comments meant to be addressed to any political libertarians in an effort to shut down the off-topic argument* that tends to ensue after someone mentions them. I can certainly see how unclear my phrasing was.

    *See above post-scripted statements, if necessary.

  • http://andrewfinden.com/findothinks/ AndrewFinden

    I did it because it fulfilled in me a desire to help my neighbor. I felt good doing it. Collins would not have been able to see that.

    You’re simply restating the point that needs explaining – you haven’t shown why you should feel good about doing such an altruistic act, which is Collin’s point.