A Philosopher's Blog

Dating II: Are Relationships Worth It?

Posted in Ethics, Philosophy, Relationships/Dating by Michael LaBossiere on August 10, 2016

My long term, long-distance relationship recently came to an amicable end, thus tossing me back into the world of dating. Philosophers, of course, have two standard responses to problems: thinking or drinking. Since I am not much for drinking, I have been thinking about relationships.

Since starting and maintaining a relationship is a great deal of work (and if it is not, you are either lucky or doing it wrong), I think it is important to consider whether relationships are worth it. One obvious consideration is the fact that the vast majority of romantic relationships end well before death.  Even marriage, which is supposed to be the most solid of relationships, tends to end in divorce.

While there are many ways to look at the ending of a relationship, I think there are two main approaches. One is to consider the end of the relationship a failure. One obvious analogy is to writing a book and not finishing: all that work poured into it, yet it remains incomplete. Another obvious analogy is with running a marathon that one does not finish—great effort expended, but in the end just failure. Another approach is to consider the ending more positively: the relationship ended, but was completed. Going back to the analogies, it is like completing that book you are writing or finishing that marathon. True, it has ended—but it is supposed to end.

When my relationship ended, I initially looked at it as a failure—all that effort invested and it just came to an end one day because, despite two years of trying, we could not land academic jobs in the same geographical area. However, I am endeavoring to look at in a more positive light—although I would have preferred that it did not end, it was a very positive relationship, rich with wonderful experiences and helped me to become better as a human being. There still, of course, remains the question of whether or not it is worth being in another relationship.

One approach to address this is the ever-popular context of biology and evolution. Humans are animals that need food, water and air to survive. As such, there is no real question about whether food, water and air are worth it—one is simply driven to possess them. Likewise, humans are driven by their biology to reproduce and natural selection seems to have selected for genes that mold brains to engage in relationships. As such, there is no real question of whether they are worth it, humans merely do have relationships. This answer is, of course, rather unsatisfying since a person can, it would seem, make the choice to be in a relationship or not. There is also the question of whether relationships are, in fact, worth it—this is a question of value and science is not the realm where such answers lie. Value questions belong to such areas as moral philosophy and aesthetics. So, on to value.

The question of whether relationships are worth it or not is rather like asking whether technology is worth it or not: the question is extremely broad. While some might endeavor to give sweeping answers to these broad questions, such an approach would seem problematic and unsatisfying. Just as it makes sense to be more specific about technology (such as asking if nuclear power is worth the risk), it makes more sense to consider whether a specific relationship is worth it. That is, there seems to be no general answer to the question of whether relationships are worth it or not, it is a question of whether a specific relationship would be worth it.

It could be countered that there is, in fact, a legitimate general question. A person might regard any likely relationship to not be worth it. For example, I know several professionals who have devoted their lives to their careers and have no interest in relationships—they do not consider a romantic involvement with another human being to have much, if any value. A person might also regard a relationship as a necessary part of their well-being. While this might be due to social conditioning or biology, there are certainly people who consider almost any relationship worth it.

These counters are quite reasonable, but it can be argued that the general question is best answered by considering specific relationships. If no specific possible (or likely) relationship for a person would be worth it, then relationships in general would not be worth it. So, if a person honestly considered all the relationships she might have and rejected all of them because their value is not sufficient, then relationships would not be worth it to her. As noted above, some people take this view.

If at least some possible (or likely) relationships would be worth it to a person, then relationships would thus be worth it. This leads to what is an obvious point: the worth of a relationship depends on that specific relationship, so it comes down to weighing the negative and positive aspects. If there is a sufficient surplus of positive over the negative, then the relationship would be worth it. As should be expected, there are many serious epistemic problems here. How does a person know what would be positive or negative? How does a person know that a relationship with a specific person would be more positive or more negative? How does a person know what they should do to make the relationship more positive than negative? How does a person know how much the positive needs to outweigh the negative to make the relationship worth it? And, of course, many more concerns. Given the challenge of answering these questions, it is no wonder that so many relationships fail. There is also the fact that each person has a different answer to many of these questions, so getting answers from others will tend to be of little real value and could lead to problems. As such, I am reluctant to answer them for others; especially since I cannot yet answer them for myself.


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Obama & Same Sex Marriage

Posted in Ethics, Law, Philosophy, Politics by Michael LaBossiere on May 11, 2012

Official photographic portrait of US President...

Earlier this week Obama came out in support of same sex marriage. I initially learned of it while playing SWTOR:

D: “Obama just came out for same sex marriage. Why do you think he did that?”
Me: “I’d say that it was a political move aimed at pandering to certain voters.”
D: “Really? I wanted to like Obama.”
R: “He’s a politician.”
Me: ” Look out, one of them is heading right at us.
D: “A politician?”
Me: “No, just an elite droid.”
D: “What does it think about same sex marriage?”
Me: “Not sure. I just put a rail shot through its electronic brain, so we’ll never know.”

Switching gears to be more serious, Obama’s evolution does raise some interesting questions. On the one hand, people do evolve in their views over time. Romney, for example, had to evolve a great deal during his attempt to secure the nomination and it seems reasonable to regard Obama as being at least as sincere as Romney. There is also the fact that Obama seems to have been for same sex marriage before being president, so perhaps he devolved rather than evolved.

On the other hand, it is tempting to think that Obama’s evolution is aimed at an advantage (Obama’s evolutionary advantage, so to speak). After all, politicians routinely change the views to achieve some practical end. For example, critics of Romney accused him of flip-flopping on his views.

One obvious counter to this view is that taking this stance on same sex marriage will cost him support. For example, many people in the black community who supported Obama are vehemently opposed to same sex-marriage. While they might not throw their support behind Romney, they might decline to vote for Obama. As another example, the recent success of the amendment in North Carolina shows that a majority of voters are against same sex marriage in that state. Given that other states have similar laws, this might actually cost him the election. Given the negative political consequences, it could be argued that his stance is one of principle rather than mere pandering.

The obvious response to this is that Obama’s strategists might have calculated that the loss of votes among people who would have voted for Obama but for this stance will be offset by the support he will gain (or keep) among those who favor same sex marriage. Those who are even more cynical might point to the fact that Obama is trying to get what some pundits are calling “gay money”, namely financial support from the more affluent members of the LGBT community and their allies. Some credence is given to this view by the fact that Obama enjoyed a significant surge in contributions after taking this position. He also, the cynical might note, took this position months before the election, hence allowing time for it to slip out of the minds of many voters.

Naturally, Obama’s motivations are not relevant to whether or not same-sex marriage is good or bad. In my own case, I support the legalization of same sex marriage on the grounds that the state should not impose on the liberty of the citizens except when doing so is necessary for preventing unwarranted harms to citizens. As such, my support for same-sex marriage stems from my classic conservative values regarding the legitimate role of the state and the extent to which it should impose its will on the citizens. Naturally, I would expect all those who oppose the state imposing its authoritarian will on the people will join me in opposing such attempts to restrict liberty.

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Being a Man V: Birds & Bees

Posted in Philosophy by Michael LaBossiere on May 18, 2010
Male Scarlet Robin (Petroica boodang) in the M...
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After reading an article in National Geographic about orchids and evolution, the idea struck me that it makes sense to look at being a man in the context of evolutionary theory. In the case of the orchid article, the idea was that the amazing adaptations of orchids (for example, imitating female insects so as to attract pollinators) can all be explained in terms of natural selection. While humans have a broader range of behavior than orchids, the same principle would seem to apply.

Crudely and simply put, the theory is that organisms experience random mutations and these are selected for (or against) by natural processes. Organisms that survive and reproduce pass on their genes (including the mutations). Those that do not reproduce, do not pass on their genes. Over time, this process of selection  can result in significant changes in a species or even the creation of new species. While there are no purposes or goals in this “system”, it can create the appearance of design: organisms that survive will be well suited to the conditions in which they live. This is, of course, not design-if they did not fit, they would not survive to be there.

Getting back to being a man, evolution has shaped men via this process of natural selection. As such, the men who are here now are descended from men who had qualities that contributed to their surviving and reproducing. These men will, in turn, go through the natural selection process. In the case of humans, the process is often more complicated than that of birds, bees and orchids. However, as noted above, the basic idea is the same.  The “men” of the non-human species have  a set of behaviors that define this role. In most cases, the majority of these behaviors (nest building, fighting, displaying, and so on) are instinctual. In the case of humans, some of the behavior is probably hard-wired, but much of it is learned behavior. However, if one buys into evolutionary theory, what lies behind all this is the process of evolution. As such, being a man would simply be an evolutionary “strategy” that arose out of the process of natural selection. As such, being a man is on par with being a drake, a bull or a steer.  That is, it involves being in a gender role that is typically occupied by biological males.

Of course, this does not help a great deal in deciding how one should act if one wants to be a man in a meaningful sense. But, evolution is not about what one ought to do. It is simply about what is: survive and be selected, or fail and be rejected. That said, looking at comparable roles in the animal kingdom as well as considering the matter of evolution (and biology) might prove useful in looking at the matter scientifically.

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Darwin & Cameron

Posted in Religion, Science by Michael LaBossiere on November 22, 2009
Charles Darwin, photographed by Julia Margaret...

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Kirk Cameron, formerly of Growing Pains, has lent his skills to the defense of creationism against Darwinism. He is currently involved in handing out a version of Darwin’s book with a new introduction. Not surprisingly, the introduction is highly critical of Darwin.

While there are some reasonable criticisms of evolution and it is quite possible to give reasonable arguments in favor of teleology (see, for example, Plato, Aristotle, and Aquinas), this introduction seems to focus primarily on ad homimen attacks against Darwin. To be specific, the main criticisms seem to be allegations that Darwin’s theory influenced Hitler, that Darwin was a racist and that Darwin was a misogynist.

The logical response to these charges is quite easy: even if these claims were true, they have no bearing whatsoever on the correctness or incorrectness of Darwin’s claims. After all, these are mere ad homimen attacks.

To see that this sort of reasoning is flawed, simply consider this: Adolf Hitler believed that 2+2=4. Obviously the fact that Hitler was a wicked man has no bearing on the truth of that view. Likewise, even racists believe that fire burns and to say that this makes the claim about fire untrue is obviously false.

To use another example, it has been argued that Hitler was influenced by Christianity. However, it would be a logical error to infer that Christianity is flawed because a wicked person was influenced by it (or believed in it).

Interestingly enough, certain atheists attack religions in the same manner that Darwin is being attacked here: by noting that people who did terrible things were Christians/influenced by Christianity (such as the impact of Christian antisemitism on the Holocaust). Obviously, this sort of tactic is based on a fallacy whether it is used against Darwin’s theory or against a religious view.


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The Death of a Race

Posted in Running, Science by Michael LaBossiere on November 6, 2009
Neanderthal Skeleton, AMNH

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We know for a fact that one intelligent race died off on earth. This race was, of course, the Neanderthals and their race came to and end about 30,000 years ago. What we do not know for sure is why they perished. While figuring this out is important for science, it is also important for practical reasons. After all, since they perished completely, so could we.

Over the years, various theories have been presented as to why they died off. One popular theory has been that modern humans simply out-competed the inferior Neanderthals with superior intelligence and technology (include social technology). While this nicely appeals to our collective ego (and classic social Darwinism), there are alternatives. The latest one is put forth by Clive Finlayson in his book The Humans Who Went Extinct: Why Neanderthals Died Out.  Put crudely, his hypothesis is that luck was the decisive factor, as opposed to superiority on the part of our ancestors.

Of course, there is considerable evidence that our ancestors were more advanced than the Neanderthals. After all, our ancestors seem to have had better tools and weapons plus we have clear evidence that they produced art. Of course, Neanderthals were tool makers and some scientists believe that they could speak and might have created art (although evidence is still needed for this claim). In any case, they were clearly quite capable because they survived almost 300,000 years-not a bad run for a species.

While I am not an anthropologist, it is obvious that better tools and weapons would provide a considerable advantage. Also, the creation of art provides clear evidence that our ancestors had the capacity for abstract thought and communication. Also, the fact that they created art indicates that they had the luxury of doing so-indicating that our ancestors were doing well enough to expend time and resources on artistic endeavors.

To return to Finlayson’s luck hypothesis, he bases his view on the fact that about the time the Neanderthals were nearing their end, the forests of Eurasia began to shrink-thus resulting in a significant shift in the hunting conditions. According to Finlayson, modern humans humans evolved to be distance runners ideally suited to engage in long hunts. In contrast, Neanderthals were supposed to have bulky and strong bodies-suitable for waylaying animals in a forest, but no so good for chasing them across open lands. So, when Eurasia terrain switched from thick forest to open areas, modern humans gained the edge over the competition and thus we are here today and they are not. Finlayson notes that the Neanderthals survived the longest in wooded areas, thus lending support to his hypothesis.

Our success, as he sees it, is thus a matter of luck: we evolved as runners and Eurasia became a runners’ world. Of course, even if our intelligence was what enabled us to succeed then that would also have been a matter of luck. After all, (assuming evolution) we evolved intelligence through the same mechanism that we evolved as runners and whether intelligence or running won the day it would still just be a matter of chance.

As a runner, I obviously find his hypothesis appealing. However, I think that a reasonable case can be made against his hypothesis.

First, if the relative lack of endurance lead to the extinction of Neanderthals, then we would expect that animals that are not endurance hunters would also have been driven to extinction in Eurasia. After all, if the intelligent Neanderthals could not compete with modern humans, then animals should have not been able to do so. As such, we would expect that animals such as bears and  large cats would have been driven to extinction along with the Neanderthals.

Of course, it could be replied that bears and cats could survive because they do not live in large family groups and hence can get along as individuals far better than human like creatures. In contrast, Neanderthals were group oriented and hence would suffer far more from the competition and would be driven to extinction before such “loner” predators. Of course, humans did not make the wolf go extinct (yet)-and the wolf is also a group animal. It could also be replied that while these other animals are predators, they did not occupy the same niche as humans, while Neanderthals did. If a niche can only belong to one species (for whatever reason) it would have been us or them.

Second, if the Neanderthals were comparable to modern humans in abilities and technology, they should have been able to compensate for their lower endurance (assuming they actually did have less endurance). After all, even animals that do not have particularly good endurance (such as Cheetah) are able to hunt quite effectively in open areas. Further, modern humans have proven quite capable at thriving in very diverse conditions due to our intelligence and technology. If the Neanderthals could not do the same, then this would indicate that they were, in fact, inferior in certain respects to modern humans-thus lending support to the hypothesis that we succeeded based on these superior capabilities. Our alleged edge in endurance alone should not, one would think, be enough to result in the extinction of another intelligent race.

Of course, as any runner will tell you, a slight edge in endurance can make all the difference in a race. So, perhaps it made a difference in this race as well-we got across that finish line just a bit earlier for the win. However, it still seems reasonable to wonder why they went completely extinct rather than surviving as our other competitors (wolves, bears, cats, and so on) have done. Perhaps our ancestors simply expanded into the only niche they could survive in and that spelled their doom. Or perhaps our ancestors warred against them until they were no longer able to survive (after all, we wage wars of extermination against our own kind). Or perhaps some other factor, unrelated to us, wiped them out-such as a disease. We will almost certainly never know. Perhaps someday our successors will be asking the same sort of questions about us.


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Running Man

Posted in Running, Science, Sports/Athletics by Michael LaBossiere on August 28, 2008

I’ve been watching Evolve on the History Channel and have found it quite interesting. The last episode I watched was on skin and it had an interesting segment on human skin and running.

While the idea that humans evolved to run has been around for a while, the segment did a good job presenting the various aspects of the human body that make us ideal endurance runners. Since the show was on skin, the focus was obviously on the skin.

Mammals are generally good at maintaining body warmth. We are “warm blooded” and also have fur/hair that serves as insulation. However, cold is not the only problem we face. We also face the problem of heat. While other mammals have evolved means of coping with the heat, humans seem to be the best at this task. Unlike other mammals, we can secrete (sweat) plenty of water through specialized glands. This enables us to cool ourselves via evaporation. Because of this feature, we can thermoregulate very effectively and thus can handle the heat better than other animals.

In addition to our skin, we also have the right muscles for running. As the show pointed out, humans have relatively large buttocks (baby does, in fact, have back). Our large butt muscles (gluteus maximus) are ideally suited for running. Throw in our bipedalism, our binocular vision, our opposable thumbs and our intelligence and you have the makings of a top predator.

Interestingly, one of our most effective hunting methods involved our skin. Most prey animals tend to cool themselves via panting. Unfortunately for them, this is not as efficient as sweating and it works poorly when an animal is running. Hence, it is believed that human hunters could run their prey to exhaustion. This fact is has also been known to  modern hunters and I learned about this long ago. After I had started running track, I went deer hunting with my Dad and his friend. They joked that I should run the deer down (this was a joke because I’d probably get shot if I ran through the woods). My Dad said that although a human could not outsprint a deer, eventually the deer would become exhuasted and that would be it for Bambi.

I’ve never tried running down a deer, but I do know that I can outlast even a husky while running. Hence, the idea that early humans used running as a hunting method makes sense. As a runner, I find that quite appealing.

If we are natural runners, and we seem to be, then it is tempting to think that we should run. Naturally, I am thinking about Aristotle here. His view was that each thing had a purpose (or purposes) and excellence involved fulfilling one’s purpose as well as possible. Thus, if man is the running animal (and not just the rational animal), then our excellence depends on being runners. Hence, we should run.

Of course, the idea of purpose lost favor long ago in the sciences. Even if humans are evolved to run, this fact has no normative implications. The theory of evolution has, as a key component, the view that the world is fundamentally lacking in purpose in regards to the natures of living things. In the case of running, we are not designed to run. Randon chance and natural selection merely resulted in a running animal. And, as those who follow Hume point out, one cannot derive an “ought” from an “is.”

Since I am a runner, I find Aristotle appealing. We are runners and, if we wish to be excellent at being human, then we need to run. I freely acknowledge my runner’s bias in this matter.

Naturally, some might say “but I cannot run.” To borrow from Obama “yes you can.” Running need not be literal running and we can run in different ways. Yes, that is obscure and cryptic. But, if you run about ten miles, it will make perfect sense. Really. 🙂

Can ID Be Science? A Short Argument.

Posted in Metaphysics, Philosophy, Religion, Science by Michael LaBossiere on March 17, 2008

The debate about whether intelligent design (ID) can be science or not is still ongoing. In order to address this problem, a non-question begging account of science is required.

In some debates, I have seen science defined in terms of involving only naturalistic explanations. If this definition is accepted, then the usual suspects in the case of ID can be dismissed by definition. For example,  if God is supposed to be the designer and God is supernatural, then this falls outside the realm of science. QED.

Of course this approach has two main weak points. First, the door is still open to natural designers. As such a form of ID involving a non-supernatural agency would still be (potentially) scientific. Second, to say that ID is not scientific based on this definition is not a substantial criticism of ID. It would, in fact, beg the question. It would be somewhat like saying that French literature is not literature, because literature must be written in English. If this were accepted, then French literature would not be literature-but only by definition and not on any substantial ground.

It could be replied that science is by its very nature concerned solely with natural phenomenon. This reply would, of course, ignore a substantial part of the history of science (such as Newton) but can be granted as a viable approach for the sake of argument. One might, for example argue that just as math deals with mathematical matter and literature deals with literary matters, science deals with natural matters. Supernatural matters belong to philosophy and religion.

In this case, most (but not all) forms of ID would be non-scientific. But, the obvious reply is that ID is being dismissed as non-scientific by fiat and (once again) by mere definition. It would, one might say, be more honest to say that supernatural ID theories are not part of the natural sciences. This is perfectly reasonable. So, one might ask, why not stop the discussion now and simply accept that ID is not scientific?

The obvious reply is that the classification of ID as non-scientific is more than just a matter of saying that supernatural theories do not fall under the natural sciences. Rather, to tar ID as unscientific is often an attack on such theories. The idea is not to say that they belong in a different field (as one might say that the matter of ethics belongs in philosophy and not chemistry) but that ID theories are somehow defective and perhaps even fundamentally irrational.

An obvious reply to this is to point out that some ID theories are irrational and unscientific in the most negative sense of the terms. This is true, but does not seem to warrant dismissing all ID theories as being unscientific in this highly negative sense.

Perhaps there is a more substantial way to assess whether ID can be considered scientific or not-without begging the question by simply relying on the fact that supernatural ID theories are, by definition, not natural theories.

One hallmark of scientific (and philosophical) reasoning is that a claim or theory is subject to rational evaluation and, most critically, testing. If a claim or theory cannot be tested, then it cannot be considered a scientific claim or hypothesis. Naturally, a claim might be beyond our means to test now (like a claim about the nature of the interior of a black hole or about the composition of Dark Matter) but as long as it is testable, then it can be considered scientific (to some degree-obviously I am cutting numerous corners here for the sake of brevity).

So, can ID theories and claims be tested? If a claim or theory is such that it cannot be tested, then the obvious answer is no. To use a rather absurd example, imagine that someone claimed God zapped the life, the universe and everything into existence 4,000 years ago. Further, God made it so that the universe seems much older to all possible tests-this is why scientists mistakenly think the universe is older. Obviously, this view cannot be tested in an meaningful sense (though it might be true). But this does not mean that no ID theory can be tested.

If someone claims that living creatures are the product of intelligent design, because of the evidence of complexity, then this can be tested. The test would be (to put it simply) to determine if the complexity of living  creatures can result from something other than an intelligent designer. To the degree that such an alternative (or alternatives) is established, the hypothesis of the designer has been dis-proven. To the degree that the complexity can only be accounted for in terms of design, the hypothesis is supported. This certainly seems to be properly scientific.

At this time, the natural selection hypothesis seems to have the upper hand. It has been claimed that the complexity of living creatures can be explained in terms of a random process (one not guided by a designer) and a selection mechanism (natural and opposed to intelligent) selection. As such, by Occam’s razor, there is no reason to bring in an intelligent designer.

So, it could be reasonably held that ID can be scientific. It just so happens that the consensus in science today is that it is an implausible theory.

So, what about teaching ID in schools? That is a matter for another time.

ID vs Natural Selection

Posted in Metaphysics, Religion, Science by Michael LaBossiere on March 16, 2008

The natural selection vs. “creationism” debate has led to Ben Stein creating a film about the matter. The film was shown in Tallahassee recently and was not a great success. I suspect that part of the problem was the apparent lack of advertising-I had no idea the film was even here until after the fact.

But, this shows that matter is still of some concern.

The debate is often muddled by the fact that people (on various sides) lump together all the forms of intelligent design with creationism (and often the most absurd form of creationism).

The more interesting conflict is between the foundation of the two main views. To be specific:

Natural selection: there is no intelligent or purposeful guide to the universe. Complex organisms arise from a process in which those that survive reproduce and pass on traits. Organisms that do not survive to breed do not (obviously enough) pass on traits. This selection process results in the evolution of complex organisms that seem designed but are, in fact, the result of a random process and a selection mechanism. This idea actually originated with the Ionian philosopher Anaximander but was best presented by Darwin.

Intelligent Design/Teleological Approach: There is an intelligent guide or purpose to the universe. The ID view is that an actual mind (or minds) guided the development of organisms. Naturally enough, this view is most often put forth by religious thinkers. However, it can also be presented without a religious angle. Aquinas, Locke, Leibniz and others present excellent arguments in favor of this view. The teleological view is that the universe has a purpose or goal and that living creatures also have an end or purpose that guides them. On this view the process of evolution would not be due to random factors and a natural selection process. Rather, the process would be goal oriented. This need not involve a mind (like God) guiding the process. For example, Aristotle took this view and some take Taoism to also include this approach.

In the public battles, people tend to stab vigorously at straw men-they attack the worst, simplest and most absurd version they can find or create. While this affords a certain degree of amusement, it is intellectually dishonest.

I have argued elsewhere (my book will be out in May) that a teleological account fits a non-question begging definition of science. At this point, the teleological approach seems to be behind the natural selection approach based on the empirical evidence, theoretical economy and such. But it can be considered a proper hypothesis.

To forestall some attacks-I don’t defend simplistic creationism. I don’t defend the pop view of evolution. I consider the matter of the nature of the universe to still be an open matter. One thing that science and philosophy teach us is to be wary of dogmatism. That is one of the most savage enemies of truth and wisdom.

Is God Compatible with Evolution?

Posted in Philosophy by Michael LaBossiere on September 18, 2007


While the theory of evolution is considered as a matter of established scientific fact, there is still very significant opposition to the theory from the religious community. The main concern is that the theory of evolution is a threat to faith and religious belief. Some thinkers content that religious belief is compatible with evolution-that a person can have science and God. It is to this matter that I know turn.



Addressing this matter requires being clear about what exactly is being debated. If the theory of evolution is taken to involve the claim that there is no God, then obviously God and the theory are not compatible. While this is a commonly held view, the theory does not actually explicitly deny the existence of God. What is does is postulate a mechanism of natural selection in place of an intelligent designer. So, rather than having an intelligent being design and create life forms, new life forms emerge through mutations and selection in terms of survival and reproduction. Mutations that survive and breed can eventually differ enough from the original species that they become a new species. As odd as it might seem, natural selection seems initially compatible with the existence of God.



God could have created the universe and put in place the method of natural selection as the means by which new life forms would arise from older ones. So, rather than designing each life form in hands on acts of creation, God would set the universe up so that a natural mechanism of selection did the work for Him. This sort of view is not without precedent. Many thinkers have argued that God created a world of laws and natural machinery that run without his direct intervention. The best known version of this view is deism.


Of course, there is the question of why God would use such a method and whether it is compatible with His other alleged traits.



God is, in Philosophy 101 terms, supposed to be all good, all powerful and all knowing. These attributes do seem to clash with using natural selection. First, if God is all powerful and all knowing, He could simply create the life forms He wants and not have to rely on a mechanism to do the work for him. An obvious reply to this is, however, to re-emphasis the view that God is the divine watchmaker who builds a world that can run on its own. Of course, many religious thinkers, such as Berkeley, regard this view as unacceptable. After all, if laws and mechanisms do all the work, what need is there for God? In any case, this does rekindle the old debate over the degree of God’s involvement in the world.



Second, if God is all good, then natural selection seems incompatible with God. This is so for two main reasons. The first reason is that natural selection seems to be terribly wasteful and brutal. It seems almost inconceivable that an all good being would allow so many species to simply perish. The second reason is that natural selection seems arbitrary. It is, after all, a chance driven mechanism. To leave survival up to chance hardly seems like the action of a perfectly good being.


Of course, this sort of problem is really nothing new-it is but the problem of evil with the twist of natural selection added in for a different flavor.



Thus, the logical conclusion seems to be that God is compatible with evolution, but serious problems arise with reconciling God with the nature of natural selection.