Sunday, 1 September 2013

Natural selection as a coherent religion also requires implicit Platonism plus covert moral assumptions

Natural selection is  a common 'bottom line' religion for many people nowadays

But, natural selection as a religion does not make any sense, I mean it is strictly incoherent, unless underpinned by other assumptions. And this is what we find.


I know this from experience, because I tried very hard to have Natural Selection as my bottom line religion - but to do so requires adopting several non-obvious assumptions. The result is a version of systems theory, especially as formulated by Niklaus Luhmann

See Appendix to:


But systems theory is extremely abstract and unintuitive, and the most typical assumptions which underlie natural selection are implicit, and of a broadly Platonic type.

These include the idea that Mathematics and the Laws of Physics are close approximations for being basic attributes of the universe.

Within this implicit structure, natural selection is assumed to operate. Thus (implicitly) natural selection is not truly the bottom line of reality, but Maths and Physics are.

(In this kind of evolution-as-religion, Maths and Physics, the 'laws of nature' are assumed not to evolve by natural selection - but to consist of eternal and necessary truths.)


But even this does not describe the range of assumptions implicit among those who have natural selection as their religion: in addition to this is a set of (again implicit) moral imperatives which assert that it is the duty of humans to work with the grain of Nature; to cooperate with the workings of natural selection - that is, humans are assumed to have a duty to believe in natural selection, and to make choices primarily to promote their own genetic selection (and secondarily the selection of their genetic relatives: family, tribe, race).

In a nutshell, the morality is that reproductive success is good, while extinction is evil.


So, this is an outline of the religion of natural selection -

1. Explicitly natural selection, plus

2. Implicitly an underlying Platonism, plus

3. An implicit moral system based on the goodness of reproductive success.


The combination of all these aspects does indeed make a coherent religion of natural selection - coherent enough for living purposes; but a religion that is arbitrary, nihilistic, alienating; and lacking in any human appeal beyond being a rationalization for selfishness: selfishness at various levels and on various scales between short-termist attempts to spread one's own genes in the here and now, via familial or tribal expansionism, up to the long-termism of racial nationalism.


So this is the traditional form of natural selection as religion - Social Darwinism - which is a Right Wing type of atheistic progressivism.

And naturally this has led to a leftist reactionary elaboration, which I first saw explicitly characterized in Keith E Stanovich's book The Robot's Rebellion - but the book was describing an established situation, and Leftist Natural Selection can be seen all over the place in academia among those who reject the Rightist implications of natural selection: it is indeed mainstream.

Leftist natural selection is the same as the religion described above, except for the assumed morality - Leftists replace the morality of increasing reproductive success with the usual (supposed) Leftist morality of increasing happiness/ reducing misery.

So Leftist natural selection is hedonic and not based on reproductive success.


Hedonic for whom? - since what makes one animal happy may make another miserable (or dead), and what makes one animal miserable may make another happy?

In theory, hedonic for 'everybody' - in practice, the test is an inversion of Rightist natural selection: hedonic for non-genetically related persons, for 'others'.

So, Leftist natural selection is a universalist kind of religion - in theory. In practice, since universal happiness maximization is nonsense, it is an inversion of Social Darwinism: whatever Social Darwinism says is good is bad, and vice versa, and by this Leftists demonstrate to themselves and like minded persons that they have transcended Social Darwinism.


The basis for doing this is that humans are presumed to have transcended the imperatives of lower animals, or rather that humans should transcend the imperatives of lower animals (that 'should' is adding yet another undefended assumption), and therefore that humans have transcended the moral imperative of Social Darwinism to increase reproductive success - or indeed to take any notice of reproductive success whatsoever.

(Note: the idea that reproductive success is morally good is an assumption of Social Darwinism. An assumption, not a discovery.)

Hence the modern, typical, mainstream religion of Leftist natural selection is incoherent and dishonest; since in practice it is simply Leftism capturing natural selection, Platonism and everything else which contradicts its universalist, fake-hedonic imperative.

So Leftist Natural Selection is not a viable or coherent religion of natural selection, because it has in practice rejected the application of natural selection to humans, and replaced natural selection explanations with 'whatever is the current Leftist consensus'.


In conclusion - the religion of natural selection is made possible by adding two sets of assumptions - a Platonic metaphysical framework of transcendental physical laws within which natural selection can operate, and a moral assumption which relates humans to the system so-described by giving life a direction, a system of evaluation; and this is typically the moral assumption that reproduction is good, growth in genetic representation is good.

This is the religion of Social Darwinism, but it has few modern adherents because it contradicts the mainstream religion of secular Leftism, or Political Correctness.

Attempts to make Social Darwinism compatible with modern Leftism simply subordinate natural selection to political correctness, which results in incoherence covered-up by dishonesty.



Nicholas Fulford said...

Natural selection (NS) is poorly classified as a religion.

Niels Nielsen's "World Religions", has a good set of characteristics from which to deduce whether NS is a religion. (Note: A religion does not need to have all of these characteristics, but an absence of many is a strong indicator.)

1) belief in the supernatural (spirits, gods, God) or belief in some other Ultimate Reality beyond, yet connected to, human experience and existence.

2) A distinction between sacred and profane.

3) A set of rituals and practices to be performed by individuals and communities.

4) Promotion of a moral code or ethics to guide individuals and communities.

5) Religious life engages and incorporates common emotional and intuitive human feelings.

6) Religions both encourage communication and provide ways to communicate or connect with the divine.

7) Through sacred stories, the religions provide a coherent worldview.

8) Religions organize life for individuals--including dress codes, personal sacrifices, and appropriate occupations--in the context of their respective worldviews.

9) Religions require and promote social organization and institutional forms to carry out the necessary functions of worship and leadership, preserving orthodox teachings and practices.

10) Religions promise an inner peace and harmony despite the vicissitudes of life.

11) Religions typically offer a future hope through the coming of a new age or a better existence in the afterlife.

12) Religions must propagate themselves through the recruitment of new members and procreation within the community of faith.

I will use the same point numbers as above in responding to whether NS is a religion.

1) NS is not supernatural, and does not postulate an Ultimate Reality.

2) No distinction is made between what is sacred and profane.

3) There are no rituals or practices that are required to be performed by individuals and communities who hold to NS as a theory. (Unless I am conducting an experiment to test NS, then this does not hold. If I am, I am practicing science, and the theory being tested is NS in evolution.)

4) NS does not promote a moral code.

5) NS does not engage and incorporate common emotional and intuitive human feelings. (accept perhaps in defending it from non-scientific criticism.)

6) NS does not encourage communication or provide a means of communicating or connecting with the Divine.

7) NS has no sacred stories, (as NS has no distinction of sacred and profane as per point 2.)

8) NS does not organize the life of individuals.

9) NS does not require and promote social organization and institutional forms to carry out the necessary functions of worship and leadership, preserving orthodox teachings and practices. (Science does promote social organization and institutional forms to enable science to be carried out in accordance with the scientific method, and to enable peer review and independent testing of any hypothesis.)

10) NS does not promise an inner peace and harmony despite the vicissitudes of life.

11) NS does not offer a future hope through the coming of a new age or a better existence in the afterlife.

12) NS does not propagate itself through the recruitment of new members and procreation within the community of faith. (Some who hold to NS may vigorously attack religious projection into the scientific discipline, but that is a different thing.)

In consideration of the above it is apparent that NS does not fit within the classification of religion. Hence to criticize it as a religion is invalid.

Titus Didius Tacitus said...

I feel you compressed this a lot and some of the explanation is missing.

"This is the religion of Social Darwinism, but it has few modern adherents because it contradicts the mainstream religion of secular Leftism, or Political Correctness."

Correct, or near enough, but you can say the same about Christianity. The dominant religion has suppressed all its rivals.

The reason I say "near enough" rather than "exactly right" is that the dominant religion is Social Darwinist to an extreme degree, in all respects but atheism - and it includes atheism as a respected option. It just won control of culture in the white world, and reserved positive Social Darwinism for itself, while imposing suicide by reverse Social Darwinism on its (historic, actual and potential) rivals.

That doesn't show that there is anything ineffective, unsatisfying or impious about natural selection in religion; it just shows a tactic in the sort of religious / racial / ethnic / cultural war that Biblical religion imposes.

The accusation of "selfishness" seems to hang in the air like a Cheshire frown. This is what God commands for his beloved people. It's obviously good, and negative attitudes to it are unwarranted.

I think the accusation of "selfishness" should be pointed the other way. And I will do that.

It's the view that collective survival is not a good to fight for, and that, in effect treachery and suicide are fine, that stands in need of justification, or, better, abandonment. Why is it OK, in effect to be a traitor, a kin-slayer and a suicide? I don't think it is.

That doesn't mean that atheism is correct, or that religion cannot include anything but looking after one's extended kin.

But it must include at least that, and in time of crisis, that in first place. A man cannot pride himself on his morally superior "unselfishness" and let his wife and children starve to death, or cut their throats one dark night. That abolishes all his claims to goodness. And it makes sense that the same thing applies with his wider family. A "good Jew" could not be one who was OK with the Holocaust. A good white person cannot be one who has no real objection to white genocide.

There is no religious, moral, intellectual or any other platform from which one can look down with well-warranted complacency and indifference on a calamity for one's whole race.

There is only a state of self-delusion, in which an individual out for himself, seeing bliss for one in a Heaven to come, and destitute of a necessary kind of love, thinks himself clever. That is a human kind of narrow cleverness. But divine wisdom as shown in the Bible - and I've already given enough quotes though there are many more - is is the kind of racial, long term thinking that the clever man dismisses, thinking, "what is it to me if they all perish, as long as there's honey-cakes in Heaven for me, little me?"

Arakawa said...

Rightist Natural Selection (supporting reproductive success) seems to me something like the Judaism to the Gnosticism of Leftist Natural Selection.

In one case, 'evolution' is taken to be a benevolent (or, at least, the only real) God whose Law (reproductive success) is to be obeyed, while in the other, 'evolution' is a Demiurge which has created humanity by clueless accident, and the reproductive urge is a form of slavery whose consequences must be escaped (whether via the sterilization of sexual intercourse, affirmation of hedonism as the primary value, or even stranger Singularitarian Tower of Babel schemes which propose to turn everyone into digital uploads living in a computer and able to decide the parameters of their own human nature).

Bruce Charlton said...

@NF - That list is arbitrary - I don't see why I should take it seriously.


@TDT - Appropriate selfishness is common sense, but it is wholly inadequate as a bottom line religion. Arguments concerning selfishness MUST be embedded in a larger ideology - some concept of The Good. Thus is it OK to be selfish so long as it does not conflict with the larger Good. When there is no larger Good, then even common sense selfishness (whether personal, familial, national, racial) is an open-endedly destructive principle - a recipe for disaster. And we all know this, which is one reason why the modern secular Right gets nowhere.


Sylvie D. Rousseau said...

What you call "appropriate" selfishness would be better termed under its real name in moral philosophy and theology: rational self-interest. It applies to a broad range of ends, including those that demand selflessness or even self-sacrifice and absolutely prohibit selfishness.

Bruce Charlton said...

@SDR - Yes.

It seems to me that there is a visceral hatred of selfishness in most people, or at least a fear of being regarded as selfish; and that The Left ruthlessly exploit this in secular society - because when public discourse is secular sensible, common sense - rational self interest - appears to be *merely* crass selfishness, and 'idealist' Leftist claptrap carries the day.

This is why 'common-sense' secular political parties get absolutely nowhere - they just seem to be glorifying selfishness.

The only way the secular common sense parties can get effective support is either to provide some spontaneously appealing positive ideal (usually nationalistic, and this nearly always proves short lived) or to harness CS to much more visceral human passions such as hatred and pride.

Titus Didius Tacitus said...

(Blinks.) That's a very good answer, and on reflection I agree with you.

For me, abortion is the point where the claims of personal convenience, family, nation and even race must give way. Some pro-whites think it should be tolerated or even tacitly approved because the alternative would be a more rapid rate of demographic replacement for whites. I don't agree with that at all. Innocent, defenseless human beings should not be killed even for the vital interests of the nation and race; the alternative view takes is right back to Carthage, and child sacrifice to secure the goodwill of the gods for the survival of the nation. I think that particular groups of human beings have great value in a context where human life in general has value, and the more fundamental principle can't be sacrificed. Nor can the proper relationship of the human and the divine be abandoned, and that is present in traditional Christian pro-life teachings, and absent in a "state above all" line of thought, whether it is theist (as in Carthage) or atheist.

Whether you draw the line at abortion or somewhere else, there has to be a line, where the claims of the collective are extinguished because elements of the greater context are more important. And it is an essential part of religion to supply this greater context.

Donald said...

@NS. Perhaps 'worldview' might suffice for you instead of religion. But religion implies a directedness to the organizing principle/metaphysical assumptions which I think better captures the criticism here.

I find viewing peoples 'worldview' through the lens of 'idol worship' (that is what idol or end are they worshiping) can be very helpful.

Sylvie D. Rousseau said...

A "visceral hatred of selfishness" is a good thing if people have the common sense not to confuse rational self-interest with something else. I personally know some very self-centered people who often act unwittingly against their own rational self-interest.

If by "idealist Leftist claptrap" you mean that sensible people are accused of selfishness by Leftists when they advocate only common sense, it is all the more important to speak as clearly as possible and not to fall in PC inverted use of words.

Bruce Charlton said...

@TDT - Thanks for that graceful acknowledgement!

chris said...


I figured with your interest in Christianity and evolution that you might find this interesting.