Sunday, November 15, 2015

Matt Ridley's Evolutionary Science of Lucretian Libertarianism

Laissez faire et laissez passer, le monde va de lui meme.  "Let do and let  pass, the world goes on by itself." 

This was the declaration of the French physiocrats in the 18th century that was adopted by the proponents of free-market economics and classical liberalism.  Notice the suggestion that the unplanned spontaneous order of free markets manifests the naturally self-organizing order of the world.  Order emerges mostly not by deliberate design but by unguided evolution.  And such evolution explains how change happens not just in markets, but in the human world generally, and in the natural world.

This is the theme of Matt Ridley's new book--The Evolution of Everything: How New Ideas Emerge.  In sixteen chapters, he gives evolutionary explanations of the universe, morality, life, genes, culture, the economy, technology, the mind, personality, education, population, leadership, government, religion, money, and the internet. 

Each chapter begins with an epigram from Lucretius's De Rerum Natura (On the Nature of Things), which reminds the reader that in explaining the evolution of everything, Ridley is appealing to the dissident tradition of Lucretian evolution rather than the more dominant tradition of Platonic intelligent design.  In doing this, Ridley shows how classical liberalism or libertarianism arises from the evolutionary science of Epicureanism that was expounded by Lucretius.

In some previous posts (here, here, and here), I have argued that while Western thought has long been dominated by Plato's intelligent-design cosmology, and by his teaching that the moral and political life of human beings must imitate the intelligent order of the cosmos, this provoked skeptical questioning from Socrates, and an alternative Epicurean cosmology defended by Lucretius, Cicero, Hume, Smith, and Darwin, which supports the libertarian view of social life as arising from the spontaneous order generated by individuals pursuing their happiness in cooperation with others.

A Lucretian evolutionary cosmology allows us to see how a purposeful human nature can arise within a purposeless cosmic nature.  We can judge the moral and intellectual virtues as contributing to the flourishing of evolved human nature, even when we think those virtues have no correspondence to any cosmic order of intelligent design.  We can recognize that there is a natural law for human beings rooted in their evolved natural inclinations, without any need to see this natural human order as the fulfillment of some intentionally designed cosmic order.

Ridley rightly sees how the modern Darwinian science of evolution is rooted in the ancient Lucretian science of atomism.  He does make one mistake, however, in his interpretation of Lucretius.  According to Epicurus, the infinite universe consists of atoms and the void.  The atoms fall downward in a straight line.  But sometimes by chance an atom swerves, and the atoms collide.  This swerve is important for two reasons.  First, the swerve allows the atoms to combine to form all of the compounded objects that we see in nature.  Second, the swerve explains free will in that human freedom can be understood as an arbitrary swerve from the causal determinism of the atoms.

Ridley interprets Lucretius as saying that the atoms swerve unpredictably "because the gods make them do so" (14).  Ridley sees this as showing a "failure of nerve," when someone like Lucretius seems to be explaining everything through spontaneous evolution rather than intelligent design, but then stops at some point and mistakenly posits an intelligent designer. 

In explaining the "Lucretian swerve," Ridley employs Daniel Dennett's metaphor of "skyhooks" and "cranes."  A skyhook is an imaginary device for hanging something from the sky.  Metaphorically, it denotes some explanation of order in the world as coming from some higher intelligence.  By contrast, a crane is a machine planted firmly on the ground for raising things from the ground to construct high buildings; and a metaphorical crane is any explanation of order in the world as evolving from the bottom up without any need for design by a higher intelligence.  Lucretius generally explains everything through evolutionary cranes.  But he fails to go all the way with this, when he invokes the swerve as the intervention of a divine skyhook.  Similarly, Isaac Newton extended the Lucretian tradition of science in explaining the evolution of nature through the laws of mechanistic atomism, but then Newton posited that these laws were ultimately created by the mind of God.  There is no need for this Lucretian swerve, Ridley insists, because there is no need to doubt that all of the order in the world can be fully explained by evolutionary cranes without intelligent skyhooks.

Ridley might have noted that the deus ex machine (god from the machine) plot device is named for Greek plays that used gods played by actors suspended on cranes to suddenly solve problems for the characters.  What appear to be skyhooks are actually suspended on cranes.  Or as Ridley says in his chapter on the evolution of religion, "man creates God" (256).

It is not true, however, that Lucretius thinks the swerve of the atoms is caused by the gods.  In fact, Lucretius argues, the gods exercise no causal power over the universe.  He explains:
"Nothing ever springs miraculously out of nothing.  The fact is that all mortals are in the grip of fear, because they observe many things happening on earth and in the sky and being at a complete loss for an explanation of their cause, suppose that a supernatural power is responsible for them.  Therefore, as soon s we have seen that nothing can be created out of nothing, we shall have a clearer view of the object of our search, namely the explanation of the source of all created things and of the way in which all things happen independently of the gods." (1.150-160)
Oddly, Ridley quotes this, but without seeing that this denies his interpretation of the swerve as an act of the gods (299).

And yet, if Lucretius denies that the gods have any causal power over the universe, then we might wonder why he needs to posit their existence.

In some previous posts (here, here, here, and here), I have presented the evolutionary explanation of religion as supporting my claim that one of the 20 natural desires is the desire for religious understanding.  As animals with evolved social brains that are adapted for reading the minds of the human agents around us, we are naturally inclined to detect rational agency; and consequently, we are prone to imagine that we see supernatural minds acting in our world.

Ridley adopts this theory in explaining the evolution of religion, and in arguing that this evolutionary explanation show that religion does not have to be seen as a miraculous product of divine intervention in the world.  In fact, man has created God, because in the marketplace of religious beliefs, those beliefs that evolved by trial and error to be adapted to the human mind and human society survived and reproduced better than those beliefs that were less well adapted.

One might infer from this, as Ridley does, that gods exist only as fictional beliefs in the human mind.  But one might also say that the evolutionary explanation of religion is compatible with believing that God really exists, and that He has allowed the evolutionary process to endow human beings with the natural capacity for knowing Him.  Ridley recognizes this: "Neuro-theology is actually rather popular among believers, who take the view that it emphasizes the futility of atheism, rather than that it means gods are made up" (268).

I am reminded of the lectures by Father Robert Sirico and Leda Cosmides on the evolution of religion at the Mont Pelerin Society meeting in the Galapagos Islands in 2013.  I asked them whether they thought that atheism was unnatural in being contrary to the evolved nature of the human mind.  They both answered yes.

Part of the natural evolution of religious belief was the evolution of moral gods who were seen as the intelligent designers of morality.  That supported the belief that government needed to coercively enforce religious belief as the only way to sustain the moral order of society.  But if we can explain morality as itself spontaneously evolved through the social interaction of individuals seeking the mutual sympathy of sentiments, as Adam Smith and Charles Darwin argued, then we can accept the libertarian argument for tolerating religious pluralism and even atheism, because we can see moral order as a spontaneously evolved phenomenon that does not depend on enforcement by a divine intelligent designer.

But if we conclude from this that all social order arises best from unplanned and unpredictable spontaneous evolution, we have to wonder whether there is any need for government.

In some previous posts (here, here, and here), I have commented on the debate between classical liberals and libertarian anarchists as to whether a self-regulating society without government is possible.  Traditionally, classical liberals like Locke and Smith have said that yes, we need government, but only a limited government, to secure the conditions of liberty--to protect the rights of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness, and to provide some public goods that cannot be provided by private groups.  In response to this, libertarian anarchists have argued that limited government fails, because there is a natural tendency for the powers of government to expand.  The liberal idea that society is an evolved, self-organizing order should lead to the anarchist idea of society without government.

Ridley is unclear as to where he stands in this debate.  On the one hand, he embraces Smith, and he sees that Smith "was no anarchist" (112).  Like Smith, Ridley believes that "there is a vital role for government to play" (101).  On the other hand, in explaining the evolution of government as originating as "a mafia protection racket," Ridley scorns "the government skyhook" (150, 238-241); and he is fascinated by historical examples of societies without much government in which multiple private law enforcers emerged.  He recognizes, however, that these were not anarchic societies, if by anarchy one means absence of any government at all, because what they had was decentralized self-governance (235-36).

At times, Ridley seems to suggest that the evolution of history is a progressive movement towards increasing liberty and declining violence in spontaneously organized societies where the state withers away.

In some previous posts (here, here, here, and here), I have worked through the debate over whether the evolution of classical liberalism shows that history is progressive.  Evolutionary liberals like Herbert Spencer saw history as an inevitable movement towards a fully free society based on spontaneous cooperation without any need for state coercion.  But it's hard to reconcile this progressive view of history with the unpredictable contingency of history.

In arguing that evolutionary history has no direction or goal, Ridley seems to deny that history has any predetermined path of progress (1-2).  But he also says that the Darwinian evolution of human practices and institutions is "in some vague sense progressive" (78).

Ridley concludes his book by declaring:
". . . Bad news is man-made, top-down, purposed stuff, imposed on history.  Good news is accidental, unplanned, emergent stuff that gradually evolves. The things that do go well are largely unintended; the things that go badly are largely intended.  Let me give you two lists.  First: the First World War, the Russian Revolution, the Versailles Treaty, the Great Depression, the Nazi regime, the Second World War, the Chinese Revolution, the 2008 financial crisis: every single one was the result of top-down decision-making by relatively small numbers of people trying to implement deliberate plans--politicians, central bankers, revolutionaries and so on.  Second: the growth of global income; the disappearance of infectious diseases; the feeding of seven billion; the clean-up of rivers and air; the reforestation of much of the rich world; the internet; the use of mobile-phone credits as banking; the use of genetic finger-printing to convict criminals and acquit the innocent.  Every single one of these was a serendipitous, unexpected phenomenon supplied by millions of people who did not intend to cause these big changes. . . .
". . . Letting good evolve, while doing bad, has been the dominant theme of history.  That is why the news is full of only bad things being done, but we find when they are over that great good has happened unheralded.  Good things are gradual; bad things are sudden.  Above all, good things evolve." (318)
Laissez faire et laissez passer, le monde va de lui meme.  Let the good things evolve.

Wednesday, November 11, 2015

The Natural Desire for Beauty

                                                    Bust of Queen Nefertiti of Egypt

Number 12 on my list of 20 natural desires is beauty.  Human beings generally desire beauty in the human body.  Everywhere human beings distinguish beauty and ugliness in bodily appearance.  They esteem the bodily signs of health and vigor.  They adorn their bodies for pleasing display.  Men tend to prefer women whose physical appearance shows signs of youthful nobility.  Women tend to prefer men whose physical appearance shows signs of strength and high status.

Number 18 on my list is aesthetic arts. Human beings generally desire aesthetic pleasure through artistic products and natural environments.  In every society, human beings take pleasure in artistic activities such as singing, dancing, playing musical instruments, forming language into poetic patterns, telling stories, carving, painting, and decorating objects.  Human beings also take pleasure in natural landscapes that resemble the savannas where the human species evolved.  Although human beings are flexible enough to live in urban environments, they try to recreate the natural environments of their evolutionary history as hunter-gatherers through park-like landscapes, gardening, and the company of animals.

A recent issue of Nature (October 8, 2015) has a collection of articles on the science of beauty.  This will be free online for six months.  The research surveyed in these articles suggests that the desire for beauty is a natural desire of our evolved human nature, and that our aesthetic judgment is a mixture of genetic, cultural, and objective factors.

People often assert that judgments of beauty are so subjectively and culturally variable that it's impossible to find any natural and universal standards of beauty.  But that's not true.  Studies have shown that judgments of beauty in faces and bodies are remarkably consistent across cultures, races, and history.  The famous bust of Queen Nefertiti is 3,300 years old, and yet she still looks beautiful to us today.  People from South Africa and Austria agree in judging the same Japanese women to be beautiful.

As indicated by Karl Grammer, the scientific research has identified at least eight elements of human bodily beauty: youthfulness, symmetry, averageness, sex-hormone markers, body odor, motion, skin complexion, and hair texture.  These elements of beauty are signals of youth, fertility, and health.  More attractive people are healthier on average than less attractive people.  More attractive women have more offspring on average than less attractive women.

In The Descent of Man, Charles Darwin elaborated an evolutionary theory of beauty as the product of sexual selection: the more attractive animals find mates more often than the less attractive ones.  What is perceived as attractive for an animals species depends upon the sensory systems of potential mates.  According to the "sexy sons" theory, females might prefer to mate with males who are attractive because their sons are likely to be more attractive and thus more likely to find mates.  According to the "good genes" theory, females might be attracted to males who display signs of health and vigor because their offspring are likely to have the genes favoring health and vigor.

Although I am not sure that I fully understand what he is saying, I am intrigued by David Deutsch's argument that beauty is not just genetic and cultural, but also objective.  In explaining objective beauty, he says:
"The argument I like best is about why flowers are beautiful.  Flowers evolved to attract insects, and insects evolved to be attracted to flower s.  But this explanation leave a massive gap; it only explains why insects like flowers.  So how is it possible that something that evolved to attract insects can be attractive to humans too?  I conclude that there must be objective beauty--aspects of beauty exist outside cultural fads or sexual selection.  And these aesthetic truths are as objective as the laws of physics or mathematics."
There is also a connection between physical beauty and moral beauty.  Studies have shown that beautiful people are more likely to be perceived as trustworthy or virtuous than less attractive people.  Good looking political candidates are more likely to be chosen by voters.  Good looking people are more successful in the workplace.  Good looking defendants might be more likely to win leniency from judges and jurors.

I am reminded of David Hume's idea that aesthetic taste is the source of our judgments of both natural beauty and moral beauty.  We rely on taste, rather than reason, when we judge a work of art to be beautiful or an action to be virtuous.  Taste "gives the sentiments of beauty and deformity, vice and virtue" (Enquiry Concerning the Principles of Morals, Appendix 1).  (See also Hume's essay on "Of the Standard of Taste.")

Scholars of Egyptian art believe that the bust of Nefertiti probably does not show what the queen really looked like.  The brain has evolved to make connections between physical beauty and moral beauty.  And so the sculptor Thutmose might have designed the bust of Nefertiti to convey her moral goodness or justice through the beauty of her face.  We might like to think that true beauty is inward rather than outward.  But we also hope that a beautiful face can display a beautiful soul.

Friday, November 06, 2015

Justice Abraham Lincoln's Opinion in Obergefell v. Hodges

A long list of prominent people have signed a "Statement Calling for Constitutional Resistance to Obergefell v. Hodges," which has been supported by the American Principles Project of the Witherspoon Institute at Princeton University.

They call for citizens and public officeholders to recognize that the decision in Obergefell is "anti-constitutional and illegitimate," and therefore that they should refuse to accept this decision as settled law, and they should recognize the authority of states to define marriage as the union of husband and wife, thus excluding same-sex unions.

To justify their stand, they quote twice from Abraham Lincoln's remarks about his resistance to the decision in Dred Scott v. Sandford (1857), which declared that black slaves could not have the rights of citizens, because they were property, and that it was unconstitutional for the Congress to deny the right of slave masters to take their slave property into the Western territories.

Remarkably, the signers of this statement do not ask the question of how Lincoln might have decided the Obergefell case.  But in citing Lincoln as supporting their position, they imply that Lincoln would agree that this decision that same-sex marriage is a constitutional right is "anti-constitutional and illegitimate." 

I am not sure about that, because I can imagine that Lincoln would have voted with the majority in this case, arguing that extending the right to marriage to same-sex couples would conform to his understanding of the principles of the Declaration of Independence.  As he said in his speech on the Dred Scott decision, the Declaration declares all men equal in "certain inalienable rights, among which are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness."  The signers of the Declaration did not assert that all would soon enjoy that equality, Lincoln explained, but they did mean "to declare the right, so that the enforcement of it might follow as fast as circumstances should permit."  They meant to set up "a standard maxim for free society, which should be familiar to all, and revered by all; constantly looked to, constantly labored for, and even though never perfectly attained, constantly approximated, and thereby constantly spreading and deepening its influence, and augmenting the happiness and value of life to all people of all colors everywhere."

Much of the history of constitutional law over the past 150 years can be seen as constantly approximating that "standard maxim" of equal liberty for all "as fast as circumstances should permit."  Over a hundred years after Lincoln's death, the equal right to marriage for interracial couples was recognized as a constitutional right in 1967 in Loving v. Virginia.  It took a century for the circumstances to change to allow this, because the racial bigotry supporting the anti-miscegenation laws was too strong to challenge.  It then took almost another fifty years before the circumstances changed to make it possible to extend the right to marriage to same-sex couples, because it took that long to overcome the irrational prejudices against gay and lesbian people.

Some people might object that Lincoln clearly would not have agreed with the decision in Loving, because he openly supported the laws against interracial marriage.  But as I have indicated in my recent post on Lincoln's speech in Charleston, he was careful in his use of ambiguous language.  He said: "I am not nor ever have been in favor of making voters or jurors of negroes, nor of qualifying them to hold office, nor to intermarry with white people."  To say that he is not nor ever has been in favor of this does not say that he never will favor this in the future.  Indeed, by the end of the Civil War, he recommended that the right to vote should be given to emancipated slaves.

Lincoln also indicated in his Charleston speech that the civil and political rights of blacks depended upon state legislation.  With the passage of the Civil War amendments--the Thirteenth, Fourteenth, and Fifteenth--the circumstances were changed so that the states could no longer deny the natural rights affirmed by the Declaration of Independence and protected by the Constitution.  So if Lincoln were on the Supreme Court today, he could look to the Fourteenth Amendment--particularly, the Privileges or Immunities Clause, the Due Process of Law Clause, and the Equal Protection Clause--to decide the Obergefell case. 

As a member of the Court today, Lincoln could have agreed with Justice Kennedy that "the nature of injustice is that we may not always see it in our own times" (11).  And so it was not seen until 1967 that the right to marry is "one of the vital personal rights essential to the orderly pursuit of happiness by free men," and thus to deny this right to interracial couples is unjust.  In this way, as Justice Kennedy indicated, the Supreme Court "has recognized that new insights and societal understandings can reveal unjustified inequality within our most fundamental institutions that once passed unnoticed and unchallenged" (20).

Lincoln saw the principles of the Declaration of Independence as teaching that each human being owns himself, has a "natural right to himself," has a natural right to pursue his happiness, and is "naturally entitled to do as he pleases with himself and the fruit of his labor, so far as it in no wise interferes with any other man's rights" (LA, 1:301, 327, 449; 2:589-590).  Similarly, Justice Kennedy in his Obergefell decision argues that same-sex marriage can be rightly protected as individual liberty as long as it poses no risk of harm to anyone (26-27).

Against this, Justice Roberts asserts that this harm principle of liberty is a matter of moral philosophy not of law (21-22).  Unlike Lincoln, Roberts does not see the moral philosophy of the Declaration of Independence as the "apple of gold" framed within the Constitution as the "picture of silver," so that the Declaration provides the "philosophical cause" for the American regime, which is the principle of "liberty for all" (CW, 4:168-169).  Roberts is a legal positivist and moral relativist like Stephen Douglas, who denies any appeal to the moral philosophy of the Declaration as a guide to interpreting the Constitution.

For Roberts and the other three dissenters in Obergefell, the only rights protected by the Constitution are those specifically enumerated in the text or those "implied fundamental rights" that are rooted in "the history and tradition of our people" (22).  And therefore there is no constitutional right to same-sex marriage, because this right is neither specifically enumerated in the Constitution nor recognized by "history and tradition."  Thus, Roberts ignores the implication in the Constitution--particularly in the Ninth Amendment and the Privileges or Immunities Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment--that government is to secure all of the unenumerated rights necessary for "the enjoyment of life and liberty, with the right of acquiring and using property, and generally of pursuing and obtaining happiness and safety" (the words of James Madison in his speech to the House on June 8, 1789).

As I have said in some previous posts, the dispute over the Obergefell case ultimately becomes a dispute over an empirical question as to whether legalizing same-sex marriage will harm anyone.  Will this weaken opposite-sex marriage?  Will this harm children?  The defenders of the Obergefell decision say no to both questions.  The critics say yes to both questions.

As I have indicated in previous posts, there is something strange in the claims about what harms children.  It is asserted that there is a risk of harm whenever children are not under the care of both the biological mother and the biological father.  Consequently, children are equally at risk in households with a single heterosexual parent, with heterosexual stepparents, with adoptive heterosexual parents, and with homosexual couples.  If the purpose of a state's marriage law is to give marriage licenses only to couples whose children will not face elevated risks of harm, then the state should not give licenses to heterosexual couples setting up households with stepchildren or adopted children.  The state could make "covenant marriage" (like that established in Louisiana, Arkansas, and Arizona) the only form of legal marriage. (Oddly, the "Resistance Statement" identifies real marriage as "the covenantal partnership of one man and one woman," but it does not endorse "covenant marriage" law.)  If a state were to do this, there would be no irrational discrimination against same-sex couples that would violate Equal Protection, because many heterosexual couples would be denied marriage licenses for the same reason--the risk of harm to children--that same-sex couples were denied marriage licenses. 

As the "Resistance Statement" indicates, there is also another dispute here as to whether there are any constitutional means for resisting a controversial decision like Obergefell.  Justice Roberts and the other dissenters declare that once this decision is made, that stops all debate over the issue of legalizing same-sex marriage, which they regard as an attack on the right of the people to govern themselves through democratic politics.

But that is false, because the Constitution provides many avenues for challenging and overturning unpopular Supreme Court decisions like this one.  The Congress can impeach Supreme Court judges who have made decisions that are "anti-constitutional and illegitimate."  The Congress can legislate that the Supreme Court has no appellate jurisdiction over cases concerning same-sex marriage.  The President and the Senate can appoint new judges pledged to overturn Obergefell.  The Congress and the states can pass a constitutional amendment declaring that same-sex marriage is not a constitutional right. 

I am surprised that the "Resistance Statement" does not specifically mention all of these constitutional powers through which unpopular Supreme Court opinions can be reversed.  I am also surprised that the "Resistance Statement" does not criticize the dissenters in this case for assuming that once the majority of the Court decides a question, that becomes settled law that cannot be challenged by anyone outside the Court.

My prediction is that as it becomes evident that legalized same-sex marriage is not harmful to children or to heterosexual marriage, the resistance to Obergefell will fade away.  But in the meantime, the resisters can try to persuade us that the harm is great, and therefore that this decision must be reversed.

My previous posts on the Obergefell decision can be found here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, and here.

My previous posts on homosexuality, intersexuality, and the argument of Robert George for "real marriage" can be found here, here, here, here, here., here, here, and here.

Sunday, November 01, 2015

Ben Carson's Creationism: Is Evolutionary Science Promoted by Satan?

As Dr. Ben Carson has risen in the opinion polls for the Republican presidential primaries, there has been increased scrutiny of his Seventh Day Adventist religion, his creationist attack on evolution, and the connection between the two.  A YouTube video of Carson's lecture at an Adventist creationist conference a few years ago illuminates some of this.

If you watch the whole video, you will notice that Carson begins and ends his lecture by claiming that Darwin's theory of evolution has been "encouraged by the Adversary."  Of course, "the Adversary" is Satan.  This and almost everything else he says comes from the founder of Seventh Day Adventism--Ellen White--and from George McCready Price, who defended White's creationist denial of evolution by developing a "flood geology" that interpreted the geological fossil record as showing the results of Noah's flood.  This became the basis for the "creation science" that was elaborated by Henry Morris in the 1960s.

White had many visions from God.  In one of them, God gave her a vision of the original creation of the world in six literal days, which showed that Darwinian evolution must be a false science designed by Satan to promote disbelief in the literal truth of the Bible.  She also believed that the Bible taught that the whole universe was no more than 6,000 years old.  Price and Morris claimed that the scientific evidence supported this creationist view as superior to Darwinian evolution.

From what Carson says in his lecture, he seems to accept all of this except for one point.  While he accepts the literal six-days-of-creation story, he does not accept the idea that the universe is no more than 6,000 years old.  He doesn't explain why he disagrees with White, Price, and Morris about this.

Carson agrees that the idea of evolution is Satanic because it is necessarily atheistic.  But then he describes joining with Francis Collins in debating Richard Dawkins and Daniel Dennett.  Collins is a theistic evolutionist who believes that God has used the evolutionary process to carry out His creative will.  Carson stresses that Collins is a great scientist who is also a Christian, but Carson passes over Collins' acceptance of evolution very casually by saying Collins is "an evolutionist of a sort."

Carson thus does not seriously confront the possibility that theism and evolution are compatible.  There is even some evidence that Darwin himself was a theistic evolutionist who used the theological idea of "dual causality" to argue that the Creator could be the "primary cause" who worked through the "secondary causes" of evolution.

Oddly, Carson himself comes close to this idea when he talks about the evolution of Darwin's finches in the Galapagos.  Carson accepts the fact that the finches have changed in an evolutionary process of adaptation to their environment, and he says that it shows more intelligence for God to have made finches capable of adaptive evolution without any need for God to miraculously intervene every few years to do this.  But if this is so, then why would it not show God's intelligence to have allowed the entire evolutionary process from the beginning to carry out His will, which is the thought of theistic evolutionists like Collins?  What reasons does Carson have for believing that God is unable or unwilling to work through evolution?

Darwin's finches pose another problem for Carson.  The finches and some other species on the Galapagos are unique to these islands, although they resemble species on the Latin American mainland.  Why?  According to the creation scientists, all species were created in six days at the beginning, and then all of these species were carried on Noah's Ark through the flood until the Ark landed in Turkey, and then the species migrated around the world.  If so, why did some species go the Galapagos and disappear from the rest of the world.  Darwin offered a biogeographical theory to explain this as superior to the theory of special creation.  Carson doesn't explain why he thinks the theory of special creation works better to explain this.

Carson also ignores Darwin's account of the evolution of human morality when Carson argues that "survival of the fittest" cannot explain morality.  According to Carson, "survival of the fittest" would mean that murder is good if the murderer is stronger that his victim.  The only source of morality is the Bible and the Biblical teaching that human beings are created in God's image.

Moreover, Carson insists, this Biblical morality has been adopted by the United States, beginning with the affirmation of the Creator in the Declaration of Independence.  As a result of America's becoming the Chosen People of God in 1776, America's influence in the world has brought over 200 years of progress--such as the landing of men on the Moon--that would not have been possible without God's intervention.  This is a remarkable claim.

Notice also that Carson claims that his famous neurosurgery in which he separated twins conjoined at the brain would not have been possible if God had not intervened miraculously.  I have no idea of whether the evidence supports this or not.

Some of my previous posts on these points can be found here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, and here.

Saturday, October 31, 2015

Intelligent Design Theory Is a Sophistical Argument from Ignorance and Equivocation

In Chapter 7 of Darwinian Conservatism and in various posts on this blog, I have claimed that the argument for intelligent design theory (as developed by people like Michael Behe, William Dembski, and Stephen Meyer) is a sophistical argument from ignorance and equivocation.

It's a argument from ignorance, because the proponents of intelligent design argue that if Darwinian scientists cannot explain in precise detail the step-by-step assembly of some irreducibly complex biological mechanism by evolutionary natural selection, then this proves that this biological mechanism was created by a divine intelligent designer. 

So, for example, Behe has argued that the bacterial flagellum (the rotating tail of bacteria) is an irreducibly complex biological mechanism, and since no biologist has provided convincing evidence for the step-by-step assembly of bacterial flagella by natural selection in evolutionary history, we must infer that the bacterial flagellum was created by the intelligent designer. 

Similarly, Dembski assumes that there are only three kinds of explanatory causes--natural necessity, chance, and design.  If we can eliminate natural necessity and chance as likely causes for some event, then we are left with design as the only explanation.  If we cannot explain the precise step-by-step path by which the bacterial flagellum arose through purely natural causes or by chance, then we must assume it was designed by some sufficient powerful intelligent agent.  Thus, Dembski defines design as the negation of natural regularity and chance, and consequently design has no positive content.

For intelligent design to have some positive content, Behe and Dembski would have to explain exactly where, when, and how a disembodied and sufficiently powerful intelligence designed flagella and attached them to bacteria.  Behe and Dembski don't do this, because it better serves their rhetorical strategy of negative reasoning that puts their Darwinian opponents on the defensive.  The trick is to demand a standard of proof for Darwinian science that the intelligent design proponents have not themselves met by showing exactly how a disembodied intelligence works in the world.

The argument for intelligent design is also an argument from equivocation in the use of the term "intelligent design."  Both Dembski and Behe speak of "intelligent design" without clearly distinguishing human intelligent design from divine intelligent design.  We have all observed how the human mind can cause effects that are humanly designed, and from such observable effects, we can infer the existence of human intelligent designers.  But insofar as we have never directly observed a disembodied, omniscient, and omnipotent intelligent designer causing effects that are divinely designed, we cannot infer a divine intelligent designer from our common human experience.

Behe is right that from an apparently well-designed mousetrap, we can plausibly infer the existence of a human intelligent designer as its cause, because we have common experience of how mousetraps and other human artifacts are designed by human minds.  In the same way, William Paley was right that from a well-designed watch, we can plausibly infer the existence of an intelligent human watchmaker.  But from an apparently well-designed organic mechanism (like the bacterial flagellum), we cannot plausibly infer the existence of a divine intelligent designer as its cause, because we have no common experience of how a divine mind designs things for divine purposes.

Dembski has written: "The point of the intelligent design program is to extend design from the realm of human artifacts to the natural sciences."  This sophistical rhetorical strategy of equivocation in the use of the term "intelligent design" hides the fact that while detecting the design of human artifacts is a matter of common observation and inference, detecting the design of divine artifacts is not.

At Dembski's website ("Uncommon Descent"), Barry Arrington wrote a post a few years ago responding to these criticisms.  Here's the post:
ID opponents sometimes attempt to dismiss ID theory as an “argument from ignorance.”  Their assertion goes something like this:
1.  ID consists of nothing more than the claim that undirected material forces are insufficient to account for either the irreducible complexity (IC) or the functionally specific complex information (FSCI) found in living things. 
2.  This purely negative assertion is an invalid argument from ignorance.  As a matter of logic, they say, it is false to state that our present ignorance concerning how undirected material forces can account for either the IC or the FSCI found in living things (i.e., our “absence of evidence”), means no such evidence exists.  In other words, our present ignorance of a material cause of IC and FSCI is not evidence that no such cause exists.
This rejoinder to ID fails for at least two reasons.  First, ID is not, as its opponents suggest, a purely negative argument that material forces are insufficient to account for IC and FSCI.  At its root ID is an abductive conclusion (i.e., inference to best explanation) concerning the data.  This conclusion may be stated in summary as follows: 
1.  Living things display IC and FSCI.
2.  Material forces have never been shown to produce IC and FSCI.
3.  Intelligent agents routinely produce IC and FSCI.
4.  Therefore, based on the evidence that we have in front of us, the best explanation for the presence of IC and FSCI in living things is that they are the result of acts of an intelligent agent.
The second reason the “argument from ignorance” objection fails is that the naysayers’ assertion that ID depends on an “absence of evidence” is simply false.  In fact, ID rests on evidence of absence.  In his Introduction to Logic Irving Marmer Copi writes of evidence of absence as follows:
In some circumstances it can be safely assumed that if a certain event had occurred, evidence of it could be discovered by qualified investigators. In such circumstances it is perfectly reasonable to take the absence of proof of its occurrence as positive proof of its non-occurrence.
How does this apply to the Neo-Darwinian claim that undirected material forces can produce IC and FSCI?  Charles Darwin published Origin of Species in 1859.  In the 152 years since that time literally tens of thousands of highly qualified investigators have worked feverishly attempting to demonstrate that undirected material forces can produce IC and FSCI.  They have failed utterly. 
Has there been a reasonable investigation by qualified investigators?  By any fair measure there has been.  Has that 152 year-long investigation shown how undirected material forces can account for IC or FSCI?  It has not.
Therefore, simple logic dictates that “it is perfectly reasonable to take the absence of proof” that undirected material forces can account for IC and FSCI as “positive proof of its non-occurrence.”
As far as I can see, there are two and only two responses the Darwinists can make to this argument:
1.  The investigation has not been reasonable or reasonably lengthy.
2.  Give us more time; the answer is just around the corner.
Response 1 is obvious rubbish.  If thousands of researchers working for over 150 years is not a reasonable search, the term “reasonable search” loses all meaning.
Response 2 is just more of the same Darwinist promissory notes we get all the time.  How many such notes will go unpaid before we start demanding that the materialists start paying COD?
Notice how this illustrates the intelligent design argument from ignorance and equivocation.  Notice how Arrington fails to provide any explanation for exactly when, where, and how the intelligent designer creates "the irreducible complexity (IC) or the functionally specific complex information (FSCI) found in living things."  So intelligent design theory has no positive explanatory content whatsoever.

Arrington claims that ID is not an argument from ignorance, because it is actually "an abductive conclusion (i.e., inference to best explanation) concerning the data."  But notice the third step in his abductive inference: "Intelligent agents routinely produce IC and FSCI."  He doesn't specify who these "intelligent agents" are.  If he's referring to human intelligent agents, then, of course, we can all agree that human intelligent agents routinely produce IC and FSCI.  But if he's referring to divine intelligent agents, then he will have to explain to us exactly how "divine intelligent agents routinely produce IC and FSCI." 

He doesn't want us to see that, because he wants to hide the movement by equivocation from human intelligent design to divine intelligent design.

Thursday, October 29, 2015

Did Abraham Lincoln's Speech in Charleston Show that He Was a White Supremacist?

Lerone Bennett, Jr., is an African American historian and journalist. who has been a senior editor of Ebony magazine for many years.  He attended Morehouse College, where Martin Luther King, Jr., was one of his classmates.  He later wrote a biography of King.

Growing up in Mississippi in the 1930s, Bennett had admired Abraham Lincoln until he read Lincoln's speech in Charleston, Illinois, in his debate with Stephen Douglas, where Lincoln declared that he had never desired the perfect equality of the white and black races, and that he preferred that the white race should be in the "superior position."  Bennett told one interviewer: "I was a child in whitest Mississippi reading for my life, when I discovered for the first time that everything I'd been taught about Abraham Lincoln was a lie."  He explained: "I read it and I--and I was just--just absolutely shocked.  And from that point on, I started to--researching Lincoln and trying to find out everything I could about him. . . . I was trying to save my life because I find it difficult to understand how people could say this man was the great apostle of brother--brotherhood in the United States of America."

In 1968, Bennett wrote an essay for Ebony entitled "Was Abe Lincoln a White Supremacist?"  His answer to the question was yes.  Coming only a few years after Martin Luther King had delivered his "I Have a Dream" speech at the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, Bennett's essay provoked an intense debate over whether Lincoln's reputation as the "Great Emancipator" was a fraudulent myth.  In 1999, Bennett published a massive book (662 pages) laying out the evidence for his argument--Forced Into Glory: Abraham Lincoln's White Dream.  John Barr--in his book Loathing Lincoln--has shown how Bennett's argument fits into a long history of criticizing Lincoln.

Since I am rereading Lincoln now with my students, I have been reexamining that Charleston speech.  This question of whether Lincoln was a racist white supremacist has deep implications for American political history and for political philosophy.  The story of Lincoln as the Great Emancipator is crucial for the story of America as the nation that was redeemed from the sin of slavery by Lincoln and the Civil War, thus confirming America's original promise from the Founding period as the land of moral improvement directed to the goal of equal liberty for all. 

For political philosophy, the question is whether it is possible for political thinkers and statesmen like Lincoln to break free from the cultural prejudices of their time in apprehending the natural standards of justice that dictate natural human rights, or whether the cultural relativists and historicists are correct in claiming that there are no natural standards of right and that all moral and legal standards are merely the cultural biases of some particular historical moment.

Another question of political philosophy that arises here, and in the Lincoln-Douglas Debates generally, is how to resolve the tension between individual liberty and majoritarian democracy.  For Douglas, the tension is resolved by giving priority to majority rule, even when majority rule violates individual liberty.  For Lincoln, the tension is resolved by giving priority to individual liberty, even when that means denying the will of the majority, and yet as a politician in a majoritarian democracy, Lincoln cannot disregard the opinions of the majority.

Here's the opening of Lincoln's speech in Charleston on September 18, 1858.  For the purposes of citation, "CW" refers to Basler's Collected Works of Abraham Lincoln, and "LA" refers to the Library of America edition of Lincoln's Speeches and Writings.  Although the newspaper transcripts of the speech present this opening as one long paragraph, I have divided it into shorter paragraphs.
"While I was at the hotel today, an elderly gentleman called upon me to know whether I was really in favor of producing a perfect equality between the negroes and white people. [Great laughter.] While I had not proposed to myself on this occasion to say much on that subject, yet as the question was asked me, I thought I would occupy perhaps five minutes in saying something in regard to it." 
"I will say then that I am not, nor ever have been in favor of bringing about in any way the social and political equality of the white and black races, [applause]--that I am not, nor ever have been in favor of making voters or jurors of negroes, nor of qualifying them to hold office, nor to intermarry with white people, and I will say in addition to this that there is a physical difference between the white and black races, which I believe will forever forbid the two races living together on terms of social and political equality." 
"And inasmuch as they cannot so live, while they do remain together, there must be the position of superior and inferior, and I as much as any other man am in favor of having the superior position assigned to the white race.  I say upon this occasion I do not perceive that because the white man is to have the superior position, the negro should be denied everything.  I do not understand that because I do not want a negro woman for a slave, I must necessarily want her for a wife. [Cheers and laughter.]  My understanding is that I can just let her alone.  I am now in my fiftieth year, and I certainly never have had a black woman for either a slave or a wife.  So it seems to me quite possible for us to get along without making either slaves or wives of negroes." 
"I will add to this that I have never seen to my knowledge a man, woman, or child who was in favor of producing a perfect equality, social and political, between negroes and white men.  I recollect of but one distinguished instance that I ever heard of so frequently as to be entirely satisfied of its correctness--and that is the case of Judge Douglas' old friend Col. Richard M. Johnson. [Laughter.] [Johnson was a Kentucky Democrat who was widely known to have a black mistress.]"
'I will also add to the remarks I have made, (for I am not going to enter at large upon this subject,) that I have never had the least apprehension that I or my friends would marry negroes if there was no law to keep them from it, [laughter] but as Judge Douglas and his friends seem to be in great apprehension that they might, if there were no law to keep them from it, [roars of laughter] I give him the most solemn pledge that I will to the very last stand by the law of this State, which forbids the marrying of white people with negroes. [Continued laughter and applause.]"
"I will add one further word, which is this, that I do not understand there is any place where an alteration of the social and political relations of the negro and the white man can be made except in the State Legislature--not in the Congress of the United States--and as I do not really apprehend the approach of any such thing myself, and as Judge Douglas seems to be in constant horror that some such danger is rapidly approaching, I propose as the best means to prevent it that the Judge be kept at home and placed in the State Legislature to fight the measure. [Uproarious laughter and applause.]" (CW, 3:145-46; LA, 1:636-37)
There are at least three possible interpretations of what this reveals about Lincoln's thinking.  First, one could argue that this shows that Lincoln was a life-long white supremacist, who fully embraced the racist attitudes of his audience in Charleston.  Second, one could argue that while this shows that Lincoln shared some of the racist opinions of his audience in 1858, he later moved away from the racism of his time and evolved towards promoting racial equality.  Third, one could argue that Lincoln always believed in racial equality as a standard to be approached as quickly as circumstances permitted, but that racist prejudices would for a long time make this hard to achieve, and that in 1858, he had to speak in an ambiguous way so as to make his audience think he shared their racism, because any direct challenge to their racism would have deprived him of any political success.

Bennett takes the first view.  If I am reading him correctly, John Barr takes the second view.  I take the third view.

In his book, Barr seems to agree with the words of Eric Foner: "the aspiring Illinois politico of the 1850s who pandered to the racial prejudices of his audience had, by the end of the Civil War, arrived at a remarkable sensitivity to the plight of blacks in American society.  The growth of Lincoln's vision was the hallmark of his Presidency" (Barr, 237).  Barr observes that Lincoln's view of race was "quite advanced" compared with other people of his time, because he always defended, even in Charleston, the claim that blacks were entitled to the equality of rights affirmed in the Declaration of Independence.  And by 1865, Barr notes, Lincoln was showing "expanded notions of racial egalitarianism." In his last public speech, Lincoln recommended voting rights for the emancipated slaves.  He recommended the readmission to the Union of the new government of Louisiana, despite the fact that blacks in Louisiana did not yet have voting rights.  Lincoln observed: "I would myself prefer that it [the elective franchise] were now conferred on the very intelligent, and on those who serve our cause as soldiers."  Lincoln indicated that the new Louisiana Constitution provided for public education equally for black and white and empowered the Legislature to grant voting rights to all blacks (CW, 8:403-404; LA, 2:699-700).  Barr points out that when John Wilkes Booth heard this, he told someone that this meant "nigger citizenship," and then he assassinated Lincoln only three days after the speech (Barr, 130-31).  In the original manuscript of Barr's book that I read, he wrote that the Charleston speech "was not Lincoln's best moment," but that he showed improvement in his "evolving racial views as they stood in 1865."

I agree with Barr that there was some evolution here, but the evolution was not so much in Lincoln's views as in public opinion.  From the early days of his political career, Lincoln embraced the equality of natural rights for all human beings as affirmed in the Declaration of Independence, but he also indicated that the practical enforcement of those equal rights would depend upon a slow evolution in public opinion towards recognizing those rights for all human beings, black as well as white, female as well as male.  For example, when Lincoln was running for a second term as an Illinois state representative in 1836, he declared to the voters: "I go for admitting all whites to the right of suffrage, who pay taxes or bear arms, (by no means excluding females.)" (CW, 1:48; LA, 1:5).  Remarkably, as far as I know, Lincoln for the rest of his life never again mentioned extending voting rights to women.  Can't we assume that he realized that the women's suffrage movement was unlikely to win over public opinion during his lifetime, and so he would have to keep quiet about his belief that equality of rights included equal voting rights for women? 

Similarly, I suggest, Lincoln had to move slowly and carefully on the issue of voting rights for blacks.  In his speech on the Dred Scott decision, Lincoln noted, in contrast to Roger Taney's claim that blacks had not been citizens during the Founding period, that in fact blacks were voters in some of the states during the ratification of the Constitution; and Lincoln said nothing to suggest that he thought this was wrong (CW, 2:403; LA, 1:395).

Furthermore, Lincoln's careful use of language in his speech in Charleston allows the audience to believe that he is endorsing their racist attitudes, while in fact he is not.  Notice what he says.  Twice he says: "I am not, nor ever have been in favor of . . . ."  But he does not say: "nor ever will be"!  So he does not say that he will never in the future favor negroes being voters, jurors, or officers of government, or intermarrying with white people.

Lincoln says that there is "a physical difference between the white and black races" that he believes will forever forbid the two races living together in "perfect equality, social and political."  He does not say what that "physical difference" is, but the most obvious difference is skin color; and thus Lincoln could be suggesting that a mere difference in skin color between races can make "perfect equality" difficult if not impossible to achieve because of racial prejudices.

In his speech on the Kansas-Nebraska Act in 1854, Lincoln had said that once black slaves are emancipated, they will not be treated as socially and politically equal to whites, because "the great mass of white people" have a "feeling" against this.  "Whether this feeling accords with justice and sound judgment is not the sole question, if, indeed, it is any part of it.  A universal feeling, whether well or ill-founded, cannot be safely disregarded.  We cannot, then, make them equals" (CW, 2:256; LA, 1:316).  So the failure to achieve perfect equality between the races arises from feelings of racial prejudice that cannot be ignored, even though they might be totally unjust and irrational.

Speaking of the negro in the first debate at Ottawa, Lincoln said: "I agree with Judge Douglas he is not my equal in many respects--certainly not in color, perhaps not in moral or intellectual endowments.  But in the right to eat the bread, without the leave of anyone else, which his own hand earns, he is my equal and the equal of Judge Douglas, and the equal of every living man" (CW, 3:16; LA, 1:512).  So the only certain "physical difference" is color.  The differences in "moral or intellectual endowments" are uncertain.  Even if there were moral and intellectual differences, this would not weaken the argument for human equality, which is based on the claims that all human beings have a right to themselves and to what they have earned, that no man is good enough to govern another man without that other man's consent, and that as none of us would wish to be a slave, so none of us should wish to be a master (LA, 1:303, 327-28, 484; 2:19, 663).

In his Charleston speech, Lincoln goes on to say that if "perfect equality" of the races is not achievable, and if the races do remain together, then "there must be the position of superior and inferior," and he as much as any other white man would want to have the "superior position" assigned to the white race.  But notice that he does not say that the white race deserves the "superior position" because it is the "superior race"! 

Stephen Douglas does say that the white race is the "superior race."  But Lincoln in other speeches rejects such talk: "let us discard all this quibbling about this man and the other man--this race and that race and the other race being inferior, and therefore they must be placed in an inferior position--discarding our standard" from the Declaration of Independence.  That standard of equal liberty in the Declaration is a standard of perfection that can never be perfectly achieved, Lincoln argued, but it can be approximated over time: "let it be as nearly reached as we can," or "as fast as circumstances permit"(CW, 2:501; LA, 1:458).  He sometimes suggested that it might take one hundred years or more to approximate that standard of equal liberty (LA, 1:514-15, 677).

Lincoln agrees with Douglas that in America's multiracial society, emancipated slaves can have the "civil rights" of free people, but they cannot have the "political rights" of citizens, because the free blacks will be assigned to an "inferior position" by the whites.  But while Douglas thinks this is a permanent position of inferiority for the blacks because they belong to a permanently inferior race, Lincoln thinks that through gradual social changes, blacks can move from inferiority to some approximation of equality (CW, 3:10-11; LA, 1:505-506).

An alternative to striving for equal liberty in a racially mixed society would be to separate the races so that each race could live in its own society.  For a long time, Lincoln proposed voluntary colonization of Africa, particularly Liberia, where American freed slaves could satisfy "the aspiration of men . . . to enjoy equality with the best when free" (LA, 2:353).  But Lincoln had always doubted the practicality of this scheme, and by the end of the Civil War, his plans for reconstruction assumed that the emancipated slaves must be assimilated into American society.

As indicated in his Charleston speech, any alteration in the social and political relations between the races to move towards equality would depend on state legislatures, because of the limited powers of the national government for intervening in the states.  But at the end of the Civil War, Lincoln supported the adoption of the Thirteenth Amendment, which abolished slavery in all of the states.  This was followed by the Fourteenth and Fifteenth Amendments, which prohibited the states from abridging the equal liberty of citizens of the United States.  These amendments could be seen as the fulfillment of the principles of the Declaration of Independence--that all human beings are naturally endowed with equal rights to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness, and that just governments must secure those rights.

In contrast to Stephen Douglas's claim that the principle of self-government requires that majoritarian democracy takes priority over individual liberty, the Civil War Amendments confirm Lincoln's claim that the principle of self-government requires that individual liberty takes priority over majoritarian democracy.  And for Lincoln, individual liberty means that "each individual is naturally entitled to do as he pleases with himself and the fruit of his labor, so far as it in no wise interferes with any other man's rights" (CW, 2:493; LA, 1:440).

Consequently, Lincoln could have foreseen that under the Fourteenth Amendment's prohibition of state laws abridging the natural liberty of citizens, the Supreme Court--in the case of Loving v. Virginia (1967)--could strike down as unconstitutional the state laws forbidding and punishing interracial marriage.  As Lincoln foresaw, it took a hundred years to do this!

This shows that the cultural relativists and historicists are correct in claiming that moral progress is constrained by the cultural prejudices of a society.  But they are wrong in denying that it is possible for prudent thinkers and statesmen like Lincoln to apprehend the principles of natural right as the standard of moral perfection that can be approximated over time, even if never perfectly attained.

In his "Lecture on Discoveries and Inventions," Lincoln presented the history of progress towards equal liberty as a big history of human evolution from foraging society to farming society to commercial society.  Ultimately, this is a history of the progressive improvement in the human mind.  Of the many discoveries and inventions in this history, the three most important are language, writing, and printing.  The invention of printing brought the "dark ages" to an end.  Lincoln explains:
"It is very probable--almost certain--that the great mass of men, at that time, were utterly unconscious, that their conditions, or their minds were capable of improvement.  They not only looked upon the educated few as superior beings; but they supposed themselves to be naturally incapable of rising to equality.  To emancipate the mind from this false and underestimate of itself, is the great task which printing came into the world to perform.  It is difficult for us, now and here, to conceive how strong this slavery of the mind was; and how long it did, of necessity, take, to break its shackles, and to get a habit of freedom of thought established.  It is, in this connection, a curious fact that a new country is most favorable--almost necessary--to the emancipation of thought, and the consequent advancement of civilization and the arts. . . . It is in this view that I have mentioned the discovery of America as an event greatly favoring and facilitating useful discoveries and inventions." (CW, 3:362-63; LA, 2:10) 
Thus, the emancipation of human beings and their rising to equality requires the emancipation of the human mind.

Some of my posts on Lincoln and slavery are here, here., here., here., and here.  Some of my posts on equality and the IQ debate are here and here.

Monday, October 26, 2015

Animal Homosexuality: Response from Aldo Poiani

In response to my previous post, Aldo Poiani (a biologist at Monash University, Victoria) has sent me the following email message, and he has allowed me to post it here:

I read your article and would like to point out the following: When it comes to using examples from biology to extrapolate to the realm of ethics, just about anything goes. You mention the important example of aggression, a rather adaptive trait in many contexts for both social and non-social animals. Ethically, we may put together some very sound arguments to limit the expression of aggression in society (hence the many laws doing so), and yet we regularly also put forward arguments (and laws) to justify aggression in other contexts (e.g. war, maintaining social order). Hence, this evolutionarily adaptive trait can be ethically acceptable or not depending on circumstances. This is the reason why I felt that a direct personal stance was required in order to clarify my ethical position regarding homosexuality. I gave arguments and evidence to suggest that homosexuality is not a pathology, rather it can be adaptive, and yet the extrapolation into ethics is ambiguous, something else is needed, and that something else requires a personal decision as individuals. This implies that acceptance of homosexuals in society rests on additional cultural and political work, it won't come effortlessly from the description of homosexual behaviour as biologically adaptive. In my view, such cultural and political work is rooted into our beliefs in democracy and the recognition and acceptance of cultural and biological diversity.

To quote from your article: "To argue, as Poiani does, that the science of animal homosexuality shows that homosexuality is a naturally adaptive trait and thus not a "pathology" or "disorder" is a scientific argument with normative connotations.  And yet, Poiani insists, science cannot claim to support normative conclusions without committing the naturalistic fallacy." As I mentioned above there are adaptive traits that can raise ethical questions leading us to one conclusion or the exact opposite. Infanticide, for instance, is a widespread behaviour among many vertebrates, it can demonstrably have adaptive value under specific environmental conditions, and yet infanticide can produce strong negative ethical reactions in modern Western societies. On the other hand, many argue in favour of abortion and also euthanasia. Navigating such ethically turbulent waters requires a long and serious work of cultural change.

Homosexuality is not a pathology, hence arguments against homosexuality based on such link to pathology should be simply dismissed. However, homosexuals are advised not to rest on this argument, but continue their hard work to open up the mind of other members of society to the acceptance of our human diversity. This is currently relevant (both in Australia and elsewhere) in the debate over marriage equality. Marriage equality strikes at the very core of our understanding of democracy, biology can only help by telling us that homosexuals are not "mentally sick individuals". This takes me to your last statement: "Is there any evidence that same-sex marriages harm children?"... The answer from psychological research is a resounding: No! There is no evidence that growing in a homosexual family leads children to develop more problems than those developed by children growing up in a heterosexual family. This is quite unsurprising, as in our evolutionary history children have experienced all sorts of social environments where a father or a mother may have been missing due to early death or other reasons, where heterosexual marriages have been unstable, etc.

Finally, I agree with your conclusion as it fits with life in a mature democracy: "Given what we know about the animal nature of homosexuality, if we want to pursue happiness, peace, and prosperity in societies with both heterosexual and homosexual individuals, then we ought to protect the liberty of homosexuals to live their lives as they wish as long as they do not harm others.  Consequently, the liberty of homosexuals would include the right to same-sex marriage as long as we know that this is not harmful to others."