Sunday, November 25, 2007

The Genetics of IQ and the Declaration of Independence

The recent controversy over James Watson's comments on the lower intelligence of black Africans reminds us of one of the enduring debates over Darwinian science. If we accept Darwin's theory of evolution, we must accept the possibility that human races might have evolved to be innately different in intelligence in response to their environments of evolutionary adaptation. Modern genetics and intelligence testing suggest that this is the case, because Africans have lower average IQ scores than Europeans, who have lower scores than East Asians, and Jews have some of the highest average IQ scores. Twin studies indicate that about half of the variation in IQ is genetic. Studies suggest that these genetic differences are correlated with head size and brain size, so that genes influencing brain size could be the inherited cause of IQ differences. A good brief survey of this research has been provided recently by William Saletan in some posts for SLATE.

The moral and political problem with this research is that it seems to deny that principle of equality proclaimed in the Declaration of Independence, and thus it seems to subvert the moral foundations of modern republican government. Some of the religious critics of Darwinian science would say that this is exactly what they have feared: if we reject the Biblical teaching that human beings were created in God's image, and if we see human beings as products of an evolutionary process that sets some races over others, then we have no ground for affirming the equal moral dignity of all human beings.

But for a variety of reasons, this worry about Darwinian science promoting inequality and racist exploitation is unjustified. First of all, it's not clear that Biblical religion solves the problem. After all, as I have noted in various posts, the Bible actually endorses slavery, and throughout history, slaveholders have been able to justify slavery as Biblically grounded. It's not even clear that the Bible teaches the moral equality of all human beings. The Bible begins by elevating the Jews as the Chosen People over all other human beings, and it concludes in the book of Revelation by setting the people of Christ against the people of Satan in a bloody battle at the end of history.

Moreover, the Darwinian account of human nature is fully compatible with the principle of equality as understood in the Declaration of Independence. I have elaborated my reasoning for this conclusion in my chapter on slavery in Darwinian Natural Right: The Biological Ethics of Human Nature. Darwinian science justifies the claim of John Locke, Thomas Jefferson, and Abraham Lincoln that, although human beings are naturally unequal in many respects (including intelligence), they are equal in those minimal emotional and intellectual capacities that sustain a moral sense and thus identify them as members of the human species. This understanding of human equality requires not equality as identity but equality as reciprocity: although unequal in many respects, all normal human beings will resist exploitation and demand social cooperation based on reciprocal exchange.

"This is a world of compensation; and he who would be no slave, must consent to have no slave." "As I would not be a slave, so I would not be a master. This expresses my idea of democracy." Thus did Lincoln capture the logic of equality supporting republican government. Human beings are unequal in many respects. But our natural resistance to exploitation is such that no normal person would consent to be a slave, and so no one can consistently seek mastery based on any principle of superiority without exposing himself to being enslaved. If superior intelligence is the ground of enslavement, Lincoln warned, then beware: you must agree to be enslaved by the first person you meet who is smarter than you.

Moreover, the debate over the nature and nurture of intelligence is complicated in ways that make it impossible for any group to claim innate superiority. James Flynn has shown that rising IQ scores over the past century indicate the complex interaction of nature and nurture in shaping intelligence. There is some genetic influence in intelligence, but a very slight influence from genetic causes is multiplied by environmental causes. This is what Flynn calls "reciprocal causation." Slight genetic differences are multiplied in certain environments in ways that mask the environmental influence. So, for example, people who are genetically inclined to be a little bit taller and quicker than average might grow up in Indiana, where playing basketball would develop their skills to a high pitch. Similarly, the environment in modern industrial societies cultivates certain kinds of cognitive skills that are partially genetic. There is a genetic influence. But it's magnified by environmental conditions.

Another problem with measuring "intelligence" quantitatively is that there are many different kinds of intelligence--practical intelligence, mathematical intelligence, verbal intelligence, emotional intelligence, musical intelligence, and so on. Different kinds of social roles might demand different kinds of intelligence. Darwinian science supports this by stressing the biological fact of individual variation. No two human beings are identical in intelligence or any other trait. Even identical twins are not really identical. As I have argued, human nature shows a universal pattern of 20 natural desires, but individuals are unique in their temperaments in how they rank or order those desires.

Republican government is not based on the principle that all human beings are equal in the sense of being identical. It is based on the principle that all human beings resist exploitation by others, and thus that no human being is good enough to govern any other person without that person's consent. Government by consent of the governed allows the ambitious few to satisfy their ambition for rule, while also allowing others to consent to their rule without being exploited.

Monday, November 19, 2007

Antony Flew's God

Antony Flew is famous as one of the leading philosophical exponents of atheism. That's why there was so much publicity a few years ago when it was reported that Flew had changed his mind and was now a religious believer.

And yet there is much confusion surrounding Flew's supposed conversion. He is now 84years old, and his mental faculties have slowed with his advanced age. There have been rumors that some evangelical Christians--such as Gary Habermas and Roy Abraham Varghese--have taken advantage of his mental state to manipulate him into professing some kind of religious belief. Now there's an article in the New York Times Magazine by Mark Oppenheimer, who has interviewed Flew at his home in England. Oppenheimer's interviews indicate that Flew cannot remember what is attributed to him in a new book--There Is A God: How the World's Most Notorious Atheist Changed His Mind. Oppenheimer suggests that this book was actually written by Varghese (who is identified as a co-author of the book)as a way of manipulating Flew into apparently giving up his atheism. If this article is accurate, the Christians manipulating Flew have engaged in some morally despicable behavior.

But if one compares this book with Flew's new Introduction to the 2005 edition of his book God and Philosophy, it is clear that he has undergone some change of mind. But it's a change not from atheism to theism but from atheism to deism. In his Introduction, he suggests that the scientific arguments from nature's order to God as the designer of nature support--at best--a deistic belief in "Aristotle's God" or a Spinozistic "God or Nature." He writes: "Absent revelation to the contrary, the expectations of natural reason must surely be that an omnipotent creator would be as detached and uninvolved as the gods of Epicurus" (p. 13).
In the new book, Flew speaks of his "'conversion' to deism" (p. 1). He reinterates this when he professes to believe in "Aristotle's God" (pp. 92-93).

In this new book, Flew repeats a point that he has made in earlier books, and which I have made in my books: all explanation ultimately depends on some ground that cannot be explained, and this search for the ultimate ground of explanation leads us to a choice between nature and nature's God. Either we take the order of nature as a brute fact that cannot be explained. Or we look beyond or behind nature to God as the source of nature's order. Either nature or God is the uncaused cause of the universe. I have emphasized that Darwinian science leaves us open to this fundamental question without resolving it.

Flew's book explores the arguments for why an uncaused God might be more probable than an uncaused nature. He and Varghese suggest that we need to invoke the existence of God to explain certain phenomena of our immediate experience that point to some cosmic Mind at work. The experiences of rationality, life, consciousness, conceptual thought, and the human self imply that the ultimate source of nature must be a rational, living, conscious, thinking person that is omnipotent.

Flew is clearly impressed by this kind of argumentation. But it is not evident that this has led him to any kind of theism. It does seem, however, that he agrees with Darwin that "the mystery of the beginning of all things is insoluble by us."

Flew seems to agree with me that Darwinian science must be open to this mystery. Moreover, Flew has written a short review of Darwinian Conservatism that endorses my argument. His review can be found here.


I have posted some comments on John West's book Darwin Day in America, which can be found here and here. West's response to those posts can be found here.

As indicated in the brief publishing blurb that I wrote for ISI Press, I like the book insofar as it provides "a deep and comprehensive study of scientific materialism's morally corrupting effects on American public policy," but I don't find his attack on Darwinian science persuasive, because I don't think he shows that there is any necessary connection between Darwinian science and the crude scientific materialism that he rightly criticizes. Similarly, I liked Richard Weikart's book--From Darwin to Hitler--insofar as it provided a history of how a crude rhetoric of scientific racism was used by Hitler and the Nazis, but I objected to Weikart's attempt to tie all of this to Darwin and Darwinian science.

Like Weikart, West has responded by claiming that I am criticizing a straw man because "not everything in the book is directly tied back to Darwin." As West indicates, he does say in his Introduction (p. xvii) that Darwinism is "only one part" of the larger story of "materialistic reductionism" from Democritus to the present. But on that same page, West claims that "the work of Charles Darwin ultimately supplied the empirical basis for a robust materialism finally to take hold."

Like Weikart, West employs a rhetoric of bait and switch. He draws attention to the supposed primacy of Darwin as a source of evil policies, but then when readers ask for evidence and arguments to support this strong claim, he insists that he has never made such a claim.

Similarly, last year I wrote a post on the Discovery Institute's use of Weikart's From Darwin to Hitler. Weikart doesn't really show any direct line "from Darwin to Hitler." When I have pointed this out, Weikart has complained that this is a straw man, because it is incorrect to allege that he argues for "a straightforward 'Darwin to Hitler' thesis." But then I drew attention to the fact that in a blog post at the Discovery Institute website, Jonathan Witt said that Weikart's book shows "a straightforward path to horror" from Darwin to Hitler. After I did this, Weikart forced Witt to alter the language in his post, which can be found here. Witt carefully removed the word "straightforward" from his post and wrote about "how reasonably and logically many of the horrors documented in Weikart's book follow from Darwinian principles." But even this language is a problem for Weikart, because in his book he says that it would be "absurd" to claim "that Darwinism of logical necessity leads (directly or indirectly) to Nazism" (p. 9). I agree! But if there is no logical necessity for connecting Darwinism to Nazism--either directly or indirectly--then how can Weikart argue for the movement "from Darwin to Hitler"?

There is some good scholarship in these books by West and Weikart. But the scholarship is distorted by the public relations strategy of the Discovery Institute's "wedge document," which requires that all of the writing sponsored by the Discovery Institute advance the claim that Darwin and Darwinian science are responsible for the moral collapse of Western civilization.

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

"Judgment Day": A PBS Show on the Dover Case

I have just seen the PBS documentary on the Dover, PA, school case on the teaching of intelligent design, a two-hour program broadcast tonight on PBS stations.

The Discovery Institute folks refused to be interviewed for this documentary. Michael Behe also refused to be interviewed.

I think Behe and the Discovery Institute are making a big mistake. As I have indicated on some previous blog posts, it's clear to me that the Dover case was a decisive defeat for the strategy of the ID movement as led by the Discovery Institute. If they cannot blunt the effect of this case, they are dead.

The PBS documentary accurately conveyed the drama, which is clear in the transcripts of the case, of three turning points: the humiliation of Michael Behe through cross-examination, the evidence from the early drafts of the book OF PANDAS AND PEOPLE, and the perjury of the Dover school board members.

Behe was not able to respond effectively when confronted with a stack of articles and books on the evolution of the immune system. He claimed that there were no evolutionary explanations of the immune system. But he could not explain why this research was not worth studying. Behe should have agreed to be interviewed for this documentary to refute this conclusion.

The Dover school board invited students to examine the book OF PANDAS AND PEOPLE for a presentation of "intelligent design theory." A subpoena of the early drafts of the manuscript of the book indicated that the publisher had meticulously replaced all references to the work of "the Creator" with references to "the intelligent designer," and this happened after a Supreme Court decision declaring that teaching "creation science" was an unconstitutional violation of the First Amendment. So here was blatant evidence that "intelligent design" was just a fraudulent disguise for biblical "creationism." The whole strategy of "intelligent design" as pure science and not religious was blown apart by this evidence. The people at the Discovery Institute should have agreed to be interviewed to respond to this evidence.

The school board members in Dover promoting intelligent design lied under oath about how the copies of OF PANDAS AND PEOPLE were purchased. Originally, they said they did not know how this has happened. But eventually, it was revealed that the books were purchased by contributions taken up at a local church by school board members. This deception seriously undermined their case. After all, here are Christians willing to lie under oath to advance their cause!

From the beginning, the Discovery Institute realized that they had a losing case. That's why they withdrew from the case. But this has been such a disaster for the intelligent design movement that their refusal to answer the questions it raises only hurts their cause.

One sees here the fundamental flaw in the rhetorical strategy of the Discovery Institute and the other proponents of intelligent design theory as an alternative to Darwinian science. The main idea in their rhetoric is that intelligent design is not the same as biblical creationism, because intelligent design is science rather than religion, and therefore introducing intelligent design into biology classes in the public schools is not an unconstitutional "establishment of religion." The problem with this strategy, however, became clear in the Dover case: the parents and school board members who argue for teaching "intelligent design" will almost always be creationists using "intelligent design" as a cover for creationism. Once this is made clear, as it was in the Dover case, the rhetorical strategy of the Discovery Institute collapses.

So what should the Discovery Institute have done in the Dover case? They should have offered their expert witnesses as support for the ACLU's case against the Dover school board policy. Their witnesses could have testified that it is fraudulent to use "intelligent design" as a cover for creationism. They could have argued that intelligent design proponents like Michael Behe have actually dismissed the idea of using the Bible as a science textbook as "silly." Moveover, Behe endorses the scientific theory of evolution by common descent with human beings evolving from primate ancestors, which contradicts the creationist view that human beings were "specially" created by God with no primate ancestors. Even now, the Discovery Institute could try to repair the damage from the Dover case by actively campaigning against any claim that creationism is science.

The problem, of course, is that if they were to do this, they would be driving a wedge between intelligent design and creationism that would alienate their creationist supporters, for whom "intelligent design" really is just a cover for "creation."

Some of my other posts on Behe and the Dover case can be found here, here, and here.

Saturday, November 10, 2007

Strong Reciprocity and the Darwinian Left

Can there be a "Darwinian left"?

In Darwinian Conservatism and elsewhere, I have argued that a "Darwinian left"--such as that proposed by Peter Singer--is incoherent, because a Darwinian understanding of human nature denies the left's utopian belief in human perfectibility.

But at a recent Liberty Fund conference on "The Evolution of Moral Sentiments," I was led to think through this issue once again. At the conference, we read Adam Smith's Theory of Moral Sentiments and a book collection of papers edited by Herbert Gintis, Samuel Bowles, Robert Boyd, and Ernst Fehr--Moral Sentiments and Material Interests: The Foundations of Cooperation in Economic Life (MIT Press, 2005). The authors in the Gintis et al. book criticize the conception of Homo economicus--the assumption that most human beings most of the time act as rational egoists who maximize their selfish interests. While recognizing that human beings are naturally selfish, these authors insist that human beings are also naturally social beings. They contend that experimental research in game theory has falsified the predictions of the Homo economicus model, because while a substantial proportion of people (20-30%) do behave as rational egoists in these game theory experiments, a larger proportion act as "strong reciprocators," who cooperate as long as they think others are cooperating, and who punish cheaters who violate the norms of cooperation. This seems, then, to confirm Adam Smith's view of human nature as moved both by "moral sentiments" and by "material interests."

Herbert Gintis and Samuel Bowles were once well known as Marxist economics professors at the University of Massachusetts. They no longer identify themselves as Marxists, presumably because of the discouraging failure of Marxist utopias around the world. But one can still see some of the moral passion of Marxism in their writing and the writing of others in their book. The attack on Homo economicus and the insistence that human beings can learn to cooperate based on moral norms of communal sharing are familiar expressions of Marxist passion. Darwinian science seems to support this by showing how the moral sentiments arise by natural evolution, and particularly by genetic and cultural group selection. Here Gintis, Bowles, and others follow the lead of Peter Singer who has argued that a Darwinian conception of cooperation as rooted in evolved human nature could support leftist thinking.

In a paper on "Reciprocity in the Welfare State," Fong, Bowles, and Gintis argue that the modern welfare state is supported by the natural morality of reciprocity as long as people perceive that welfare recipients are deserving of aid and not undeserving free riders. The reforms of welfare programs in the 1990s show the disposition to design welfare programs that benefit the deserving poor while punishing the undeserving. Supporting prudent welfare state measures expresses a moral community of shared concern based on strong reciprocity.

At the conclusion of their paper, they quote from Friedrich Hayek: "the demand for a just distribution . . . is . . . an atavism, based on primordial emotions. And it is these widely prevalent feelings to which prophets and moral philosophers . . . appeal by their plans for the deliberate creation of a new type of society" (297). But while Fong, Bowles, and Gintis think it is good for us to evoke those "primordial emotions" of justice, Hayek warned against the pursuit of a "just society" as a threat to the "free society," because "social justice" would require a centrally planned allocation of resources based on merit that would destroy freedom. The proponents of the theory of strong reciprocity in the Gintis book seem to reject Hayek's position, because they seem to say that a free society requires norms of justice based on reciprocity.

But here is where Darwinian conservatives should insist on distinctions between different levels of social order. We need state coercion to enforce a constitutional framework of law within which civil society and free markets are possible. But to secure liberty we need to minimize state coercion. We might need a minimal welfare state to provide some security for individuals who might become unfairly deprived through no fault of their own. But generally we will rely on the spontaneous orders of civil society and free markets to secure our social and economic needs.

After all, even the proponents of strong reciprocity are not arguing for fully enforcing reciprocity through state coercion. Rather, they are arguing--as in Elinor Ostrom's chapter in the Gintis book--that we need "complex polycentric systems" that combine "public governance" (state coercion), "private markets," and "community governance." This is illustrated by Ostrom's account of how common pool resources can be best managed by local groups that spontaneously develop and enforce their own norms (as in irrigation systems managed by farmers themselves rather than bureaucratic experts).

Isn't this compatible with Hayek's position? We can enforce norms of reciprocal justice in social groups at the local level while leaving markets to function freely in coordinating exchange across the larger community. The state enforces a constitutional framework of law within which these local communal groups and impersonal free markets can work. Smith's Theory of Moral Sentiments assumes that the moral sentiments arise spontaneously in social life with minimal reliance on governmental coercion. So we could say that Hayek's "free society" needs the strong reciprocity of moral sentiments as sustaining the moral community that makes freedom possible, but this moral community would be understood as arising in civil society from the bottom up rather than being constructed from the top down by state coercion and central planning.

Hayek recognizes this point in The Constitution of Liberty (62)when he notes the importance of moral rules enforced as "conventions and customs of human intercourse": "Coercion . . . may sometimes be avoidable only because a high degree of voluntary conformity exists, which means that voluntary conformity may be a condition of a beneficial working of freedom. It is indeed a truth, which all the great apostles of freedom outside the rationalistic school have never tired of emphasizing, that freedom has never worked without deeply ingrained moral beliefs and that coercion can be reduced to a minimum only where individuals can be expected as a rule to conform voluntarily to certain principles."

The Darwinian explanation of how the natural moral sense arises from evolved human nature supports this conception of morality enforced by voluntary conformity. A good society will cultivate those conditions of free association in which the moral norms of cooperation can emerge spontaneously as conventions or customs of social life. In this way, a "free society" is also a "just society."

This reliance on morality as an unintended, emergent social order based on individuals learning to voluntarily conform their behavior to social norms goes against the leftist tradition of rationalist constructivism. If the left is willing to give up its utopian vision of perfecting human nature through top-down central planning and state coercion, then there might be something like a "Darwinian left." But as Peter Singer has conceded, this would be "a sharply deflated vision of the left, its utopian ideas replaced by a coolly realistic view of what can be achieved." In fact, it would look a lot like Darwinian conservatism.

Monday, November 05, 2007

Debate with John West in Seattle

The Intercollegiate Studies Institute is sponsoring a debate on Darwinian conservatism between me and John West. The debate will be in Seattle at Seattle Pacific University, November 15, at 7:30 pm in Demaray Hall 150.

I have written a number of blog posts in response to West's book Darwin's Conservatives, which is a detailed critique of my Darwinian Conservatism.