Theodicy of naturalists
In a recent blog post (Nouslife: Theodicy of the naturalists) Andii Bowsher raised a point that has puzzled me for some time: Loyal Rue, an evolutionary naturalist, says that scientists should not be too hasty in letting the rest of us in on the secret that religions are adaptive illusions that have enabled the human race to evolve and survive, because if we came to realise that we might abandon the illusions and thus lose their adaptive advantage. “If we expose our religions as the lies they really are, humanity might go extinct.”
And Andii’s puzzlement, like mine, is why, on a naturalistic account, we should care whether the human race goes extinct or not?
Kevin Parry, in a post on his blog a couple of years ago raises the same question in a slightly different way. In discussing Ursula le Guin’s novel, The dispossessed
Not only is such an argument an example of the naturalistic fallacy, but as the quote above clearly shows, the fittest are not necessarily those who are the most violent or domineering. As far as I understand, those organisms that are the strongest (or fittest), in the context of evolutionary theory, are those who are the most successful in passing along their genes to the next generation. And what better environment to successfully bear children than in a stable, peaceful society based on a common code of ethics.
And it seems to me that that is an example of the very naturalistic fallacy he refers to. The assumption seems to be that extinction is bad, non-extinction (ie survival) is good — but why?
For those unfamiliar with these terms (like “naturalistic fallacy), the following article and definitions may help: Naturalistic Fallacy:
Naturalism (as ideology) is a direct effect or benefactor of the naturalistic fallacy – naturalism being the idea that all explanations and descriptions of the universe and humankind must be based on a ‘natural’ understanding of our-selves and universe, given that human beings are a part of nature.
The “naturalistic fallacy” is the belief that we can derive an idea of how things ought to be from the way they are. The problem with it is the gap between the “is” and the “ought”.
The reason I found Andii Bowsher’s question interesting is that I have found the same problem. It is a problem that those who claim to have a naturalistic worldview seem to have most difficulty in understanding. If you ask them about it, they insist on answering a quite different question, and tend to say that naturalists/atheists (they are usually atheists) can be just as moral as religious believers, and believers don’t have a monopoly on morality etc. The question they always evade is why one should be moral, or think that anything has value. It seems to be the anthropomorphization of evolution, which makes it anything but “scientific”.
I tried, as an experiment, copying Andii’s post to a number of atheist and religious newsgroups, in which I could hope to find a few, at least, who might claim a naturalistic worldview. After a week, however, I had failed to find anyone who could explain it, and those who did respond tended to evade the question, or to misinterpret it, or both.
They also usually fail to understand the basis of Christian morals/ethics/values. Perhaps that it not quite so surprising, as many Christians also fail to understand it, and thus give a distorted picture to those who are not Christians. This view (or rather caricature) is that Christians believe we cannot be moral without God as an authority-figure to keep us in line with the threat of hell if we misbehave. The real basis of Christian morals/ethics/values is rather teleological: that God has made the world with a purpose, and that that purpose is part of its nature, and that some behaviour is consonant with that purpose and nature while other behaviour is not, and is therefore destructive.
But the one thing the naturalistic worldview denies is teleology or purpose. The universe came into existence or has always existed as a cosmic accident, and there is no meaning or purpose to existence. In such a view it is not meaningful to say that survival is “better” than extinction, or that existence is “better” than non-existence. While I have no doubt that some people who hold a naturalistic worldview are moral and have values of one sort to another, what I find difficult to understand is how they get from the “is” to the “ought” within the naturalistic worldview. I’m still looking for someone to explain that.