Saturday, January 28, 2012

Kraynak's Reply and the Three Levels of Evolution

In response to my recent post on his article--"Justice Without Foundations"--Robert Kraynak has written the following as a comment:
"The main point of my article, 'Justice without Foundations,' was to argue on philosophical grounds that post-modern relativists like Rorty and Darwinians like Dennett and Pinker have commitments to social justice, understood as democracy, human rights, and respect for human dignity that are completely inconsistent with their philosophical and scientific views.  Darwinian evolution does not support democracy and human rights or the inherent dignity of the individual.  If it supports any kind of moral code, it would be a code of the strong dominating the weak or one 'tribal' gene pool dominating or exterminating another tribal gene pool.  Strict Darwinians should look upon, for example, the victims of the Haitian earthquake in cold rational fashion as losers in the struggle for survival, not as objects of compassion or as eliciting aid for the suffering stranger.  The attachment of Darwinians to democratic values or to Christian values of universal charity is completely contradictory and irrational.  Their claims to the contrary seem to reflect the secularized values of the surrounding Christian culture and a kind of Lamarckian belief that we can inherit culturally acquired values from the non-Darwinian cultures that developed through religion, philosophy, and high culture.  None of the above comments [the comments on the post] are really addressing the main point--that Darwinian evolution as a 'metaphysical doctrine' does not support democracy, human rights, and universal human dignity.  When Darwinians refer to 'evolved human nature' that includes democracy and human rights, they are sneaking in cultural values not inherited traits--'memes' rather than 'genes' as Dawkins likes to say, also quite inconsistently.
My response to this comment should be clear to anyone who has read the posts to which I linked in my post on Kraynak's article. 

Contrary to what Kraynak says here, there is no evidence in Darwin's writing or in the writing on the evolutionary psychology of morality that Darwinism requires that we reject any appeal to compassion or sympathy for suffering human beings.  In fact, Darwin is very clear in affirming sympathy as an expression of our evolved social instincts, and recent research on the evolution of morality is very clear about the importance of social emotions in moral experience.  I have written many posts about this.

Moreover, when Kraynak refers to "a kind of Lamarckian belief that we can inherit culturally acquired values," he doesn't realize that Darwin embraced Lamarckian cultural evolution, and he doesn't realize that I have argued in many posts and in my books that to explain social order, we need three levels of order: genetic evolution, cultural evolution, and deliberate judgment.

Darwin elaborates on this throughout the The Descent of Man. He summarizes this point near the end of the book:  "Important as the struggle for existence has been and even still is, yet as far as the highest part of man's nature is concerned there are other agencies more important.  For the moral qualities are advanced, either directly or indirectly, much more through the effects of habit, the reasoning powers, instruction, religion, etc., than through natural selection; though to this latter agency may be safely attributed the social instincts, which afforded the basis for the development of the moral sense."

We have genetically evolved instincts for social learning and deliberate judgment, so that any Darwinian explanation of moral or political order requires moving through three levels of explanation: nature, custom (or habit), and reason.  I have illustrated this throughout my writing.  So, for example, in Darwinian Conservatism, I have explained the evolution of the moral sense as moving through three levels: moral sentiments, moral traditions, and moral judgments.  Similarly, I have explained the evolution of property as moving from natural property to customary property to formal property.  Kraynak needs to explain why this is wrong.

A sample of the many posts on these points can be found here, here, here, and here.


W. Bond said...

It seems to me that you and Kraynak have one argument in common:

That the standard view of the “naturalistic fallacy” that refuses to find anything normative in human nature, often still makes moral claims, implied or explicit, without cogently justifying the basis for the claim.

The obvious disagreement you have is whether one can explain justice on the basis of nature alone, without appeal to the supernatural.

He appears to reject your argument without understanding it, which is too bad, since you elucidate it here and in your books so clearly.

In my view, the strongest sentiment (I hesitate to say argument) against your thesis is whether or not it is enough that only human nature cries out against evil and rejoices in the company of virtue, while the full cosmos itself remains indifferent.

Anonymous said...

This is Robert Kraynak speaking. I think I understand quite well the argument of Dawrinians: they are attempting to move from evolutionary naturalism to an argument for soical justice based on democracy, human rights, and human dignity by fudging or cheating. The slight of hand is the move from genetic evolution to cultural evolution -- from genes to memes. These two senses of "evolution" are totally different. Darwin himself seems to have begun the fudging when saying that cultral evolution takes humans from the bruatlity of natural selection to humane values including univeral sympathy -- from altruism within the tribal gene pool, which is genetic but does not extend beyond the gene pool, to moral ideas taken from non-Darwinian values such as Christianity, liberalism, or Aristotelian high culture. Thus, Darwinians are not establishing grounds for social justice on Darwinism -- and they should stop calling this borrowing "evolution." It is misleading and it makes it seem as if they are being consistent, when they being inconsistent.

The error of Darwinians like Prof. Arhnhart is that they take a partial truth like Darwinian evolution and try to make it into the whole truth and think it provides the foundations for Aristotelian virtues (like man's higher nature in philosophy) or Christian virtues (like universal compassion) or liberalism (human rights). These philosophies and religions have arisen ("evolved") independently of any Darwinian imperatives like self-preservation, procreation, or kin selection -- from something like the human "soul" which cannot be explained by Dawrin. Prof. Arnhart is a frustrated Aristotelian who seeks to use "imminent teleology" to ground all of the Aristotelian virtues (and more) because he despairs of "cosmic teleology" -- so he tries to stretch a partial truth into the whole truth, and must exaggerate or fudge to to get there.
No hard feelings, of course -- a lot of people engage in wishful thinking! (its human nature to hope beyond evidence, but we call that faith, not reason).

W. Bond said...

I don’t think that my comment said anything different, really, than Mr. Kraynak’s. That is, Arnhart is a “frustrated Aristotlean” in that he finds biologic teleology as a ground for Aristotlean arguments about ethics (and argues that Aristotle, himself, did the same).

Kraynak’s criticism still rests on the argument that this cannot be enough basis for morality – or, the slightly different argument that a modern understanding of biology doesn’t work, since the species originate through natural selection. As to the second argument, the underlying cause of the “becoming” does not necessarily change the nature of the “being” of the species, even if the existence of all species are impermanent on a geological scale.

As to the first argument, this just rejects (biological) nature as a standard for morality and makes the claim that the only real choice is between faith (the supernatural) and nihilism.

Troy Camplin said...

Kraynak is mistaking the mechanism of evolution for the outcome. The mechanism is as he describes. The outcome is not. It is possible for the mechanism of evolution to create a species that is social and sympathetic and moral, because such a species is better able to survive and reproduce. Survival of the fittest can of course mean survival of those best able to cooperate, those most sympathetic with the plight of their fellow human beings -- that is, those most moral.

It seems to me that the objections are against what Kraynak himself believes deep down to be true, and is personally struggling with, but would prefer if someone else erroneously believed these things. I know that is psychologizing, but there is a certain degree to which all philosophizing is personal, is it not?

Rob S said...

I think Mr. Kraynak would be well-advised to read the professional literature in the area of reciprocal altruism, developed by Robert Trivers in the early 70's.

Domics said...

The problem is that there are many actions that can not be judged morally in terms of cooperation, evolution or altruism.
The same Trivers after so many years of study said:
"If i fuck a goat i may feel ashamed if someone saw it, but absent harm to the goat, not clear how i should respond if i alone witness it."

Now I'm sorry but I consider to have sex with a goat wrong and shameful regardless of witnesses.
And if anyone thinks otherwise he must be very careful because he may get right down a road where 'goat' could be easily replaced by other words.

Rob S said...


No one is saying that every rule or more comes directly from evolution, kin selection, sexual selection, or altruism. You're talking about a very specific rule. I might argue that, were we to talk about sex and human beings, evolutionary mechanisms might play a more crucial role in our considerations.

Jon Haidt's work has some nice insight on how liberal vs. conservative morality differs. It includes a conversation about the notion of sexual purity as central to the conservative understanding, but not the liberal. I believe Haidt has a new book coming out in March, as well.

Larry Arnhart said...

Bob Kraynak has argued that the "foundation" for the modern ideas of human rights and liberal justice can only be found in Christianity.

But he has also argued that these modern ideas of liberal democracy cannot really be found in Biblical Christianity, because the Bible teaches authoritarian hierarchy and theocracy.

Isn't this contradictory?

Anonymous said...

This is Robert Kraynak replying to Larry's point about my claim that only Christianity adequately grounds human dignity in the "image of God" but this is inconsistent with democracy and human rights.
This is not quite what I argue. Christianity (unlike Judaism and Islam) distinguighes God 's realm and Caesar's realm, and therefore justifies or permits all forms of limited government -- ie, governments which recognize the Caesar is not God and has a limited function to secure order, a modest version of virtue, and a limited form of piety. This means Christianity can provide a powerful prudential argument for consitutional democracy or constitutional monarchy or other fomrs of moderate authoritarianism. Its conception of human dignity is primarily spiritual rather than political and historically has been used for theocracy, but Christianity is not inherently theocratic because of the disinction of two realms, God and Caesar.

Troy Camplin said...

Kraynak is right about the New Testament division -- render unto Caesar what is Caesar's, render unto God what is God's. This does actually set up further social divisions such that a liberal civil society constituting a variety of spontaneous orders -- including a divine economy (as Frederick Turner describes) that may (as in the U.S. and post-WWII Japan) or may not (as in Europe, where religion receives government support) develop into a spontaneous order. Thus does Christianity set Europe up for the eventual development of liberal civil society. I hadn't thought of that aspect, but I'm certain it's true now that I think about it.

Larry Arnhart said...

In his book CHRISTIAN FAITH AND MODERN DEMOCRACY, Kraynak has said that "a Christian argument for liberal democracy cannot be found in the Bible" (54).

He has also said that the Biblical concept of human dignity is not the same as the modern concept of human dignity. "In the biblical view, dignity is hierarchical and comparative; in the modern, it is democratic and absolute" (60). So, for example, we should recognize the biblical "acceptance of the patriarchal household and of social inequalities," in which wives are commanded to obey their husbands, and slaves commanded to obey their masters (60-61).

Slaves commanded to obey their masters? Is this the "foundation" of the modern idea of equal human rights, as Kraynak claims in his article?

Domics said...

I would recommend:
"Created Equal: How the Bible Broke with Ancient Political Thought" by Joshua A Berman

Larry Arnhart said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Larry Arnhart said...

Colossians 3:22
"Slaves, be obedient in every way to the people who, according to human reckoning, are your masters; not only when you are under their eye, as if you had only to please human beings, but wholeheartedly, out of respect for the Master."

I Timothy 6:1
"All those under the yoke of slavery must have unqualified respect for their masters."

I Timothy 2:11-15
"During instruction, a woman should be quiet and respectful. I give no permission for a woman to teach or to have authority over a man. A woman ought to be quiet, because Adam was formed first and Eve afterwards, and it was not Adam who was led astray but the woman who was led astray and fell into sin."

Romans 13:1
"Everyone is to obey the governing authorities, because there is no authority except from God and so whatever authorities exist have been appointed by God. So anyone who disobeys an authority is rebelling against God's ordinance, and rebels must expect to receive the condemnation they deserve."

Rob S said...

I would recommend The Born Again Sceptic's Guide to the Bible by Ruth Hurmence Green.

Troy Camplin said...

The Old Testament also makes it clear that God wanted a system of decentralized governance through the decisions of judges (similar to English common law), and that when the Hebrews asked God for a king, first God warned them what would happen, then when they asked again, he punished them -- by giving them a king.

As for the quote from Romans, I know you are aware that the author was imprisoned by the Romans, and eventually killed by them, for engaging in rebellious activities. For Paul, the issue is that people should adapt to they society they live in, but that if they must choose between God and society on what really matters, one must choose God. One can find a number of passages recommending rebellion against the authority -- not explicitly (as that could get one killed), but by example. Indeed, one should keep in mind that much that was written at the time by rebellious individuals to others was written in such a way that it seemed innocuous to the authorities, but was clear to the recipient.

Anonymous said...

This is Kraynak again, asking for clarification about what we are really arguing about here. There seem to be three issues:
1. Does Darwinism adequately support a natural right/natural law theory and what is the content of that natural right theory -- Aristotelian, Christian, or modern liberal democracy?
2. Does Christianity have a teaching about human dignity that supports democratic values or is it more supportive of theocracy, hierarchy, patriarchy?
3. Is liberal democracy the true definition of justice?

My contention is that Darwinism doesnt really support either Aristotelian virtue ethics or Christian universal charity or human rights, but something like Social Darwinism or Nietzscheanism -- although it is mostly a partial account of human behavior rather than a moral theory. It is a partial truth about how some human physical and biological traits developed, but it cannot account for the human soul from which all the other philosophies and religions have arisen.
Christianity is a revealed truth which does not have a clear political teaching -- render to Caesar and "obey the established authorities" as long as they do not usurp God's authority leaves politics wide open for many kinds of limited government. It does have a patriarchal view of the family. But slavery is more complicated because masters are human authorities not natural authorities, in Christianity, so it falls under convention rather than nature -- unlike in Aristotle and Darwinism (which certainly is compatible with slavery as a matter of natural right of the stronger).

As for democracy, Aristotle and Christianity only provide prudential arguments for democracy as a mixed regime that is often the best one can hope for in most circumstances. Human rights are difficult to ground theoretically on any foundation -- whether Darwinian, Aristotelian, or Christian. Human rights always need a higher good to justify them properly, and then they are conditional or prudential rights.

Where do these thoughts leave us? Darwinism is the least plausible foundation for any of these political theories -- it cannot bear all the weight that Prof. Arnhart places on it. He needs to add something more to get to the human soul, which is the connecting link between metaphysics/physcis and ethics/ and politics. But the soul is a mystery ...

Posted by Kraynak under anonymous.

Domics said...

I recommended a book from Oxford University Press; someone else a book from 'Freedom from Religion Fndtn'.
I recommended a book about the Bible written by a qualified biblical scholar; someone else a book written by a graduate in journalism.
Everyone choose what they prefer.

Domics said...

"but excepting in the case of man himself, hardly anyone is so ignorant as to allow his worst animals to breed"...
"At some future period, not very distant as measured by centuries, the civilised races of man will almost certainly exterminate and replace throughout the world the savage races."

"but there appears to be at least one check in steady action, namely the weaker and inferior members of society not marrying so freely as the sound; and this check might be indefinitely increased, though this is more to be hoped for than expected, by the weak in body or mind refraining from marriage"...

When I read these words my first reaction is to ask for explanations to someone who is a qualified expert of their author.
The expert scholar will certainly help me to explain what Darwin means.
Well, when talking or writing about the Bible we should do the same.

W. Bond said...

"From all of the foregoing, I concluded long ago that, had Aristotle been called upon, in the latter half of the 17th century, to write a guide book for constitution makers, he would have written something very closely approximating Locke's Second Treatise."

-Harry Jaffa, from “Aristotle and Locke in the American Founding.”

"the difference between Plato and Aristotle is that Aristotle believes that biology, as a mediation between knowledge of the inanimate and knowledge of man, is available"

-Leo Strauss, from correspondence with Kojeve.

Mr. Kraynak assumes that the human soul is – however mysterious - by necessity not biological, i.e. not natural. This, it strikes me, is a theological argument or postulate dressed up as phenomenology.

Rob S said...

I recommend Bart Ehrman's book Forged: Writing in the Name of God -- Why the Bible's Authors Are Not Who We Think They Are. Ehrman is the James A. Gray Distinguished Professor of Religious Studies at UNC Chapel Hill. I would also recommend his books, Jesus, Interrupted and Misquoting Jesus.

Based upon his misreading of the peer-reviewed sociological work on secularism, I highly doubt that Dominics understands what constitutes a serious scholarly account in any academic field. He is more interested in advancing an ideological conservative Christian soapbox than adding to academic understanding related to Professor Arnhart's work.

W. Bond said...

Perhaps I should have stated more explicitly I my comment above: Prof. Arnhart’s work, among other things, does more than anyone to flesh out the philosophical arguments and empirical evidence behind the two quotes in my preceeding comment above. A good example is the post immediately prior to this current one.

To have as your starting point, however, that the human mind, or soul, is not and cannot be biological/natural – however it is that the mind is an emergent property of the brain – is not an argument that belongs in the category of philosophy, but of theology.

Troy Camplin said...

Kraynak is still mistaking the process for the outcome. It is possible for a mindless, amoral process that rather heartlessly selects the "strong" over the "weak" to create a creature that is strong because it protects the weak, is moral, is altruistic, and thus is able to defeat groups that are weaker because they do not work well together, being vicious, selfish, and immoral.

As for the mind, we have a theory that explains how one can have a mind emergent from the network (inter)actions of the embodied brain -- and that is emergent properties from self-organizing processes theory. Such network processes are quite common in nature, and the mind is an extremely complex version of it. A slightly less complex example would be the cell emergent from the network interactinos of its biomolecules. The cell acts in ways unpredictable from its constituent biomolecules, and requires a different vocabulary. It is the emergent "being" of the underlying biomolecular "becoming." It thus has emergent meaning, emergent patterns of behavior.

Anonymous said...

Kraynak replies to Troy:
1. Darwin might be able to explain reciprocal altruism within the tribal gene pool, but not altruism toward the stranger -- nor is this even 'good' from a Darwinian point of view. Some indepenent standard of morality is being introduced by culture not biological evolution -- this comes from religion or philosophy.
2. By the human soul, I mean the biological, psychological, intellectual, and spiritual nature of man -- some of which overlaps with animal nature and some of which is distinctively human, like free will, language, abstract reasoning, and the longing for eternity. This cannot be explained by Darwinian evolution -- some kind of 'leap' took place to get us to man and his soul. I don't know when and where this occurred or the causality -- it is a mystery to behold that in the infinitely expanding cosmos which is otherwise indifferent to man, a creature has arisen with a soul that is open to the whole and is the basis of our dignity. It looks like a divine spark to me, since no rational explanation is adequate. Hence, my formulation that everyone believes in the dignity of man, but no one knows why or how we got here with a special moral status. Dont' try to reduce this mystery to Darwinian evolution and dont' try to claim that the philosophical and spiritual insights "evolved" from something biological. Be open to mystery and live with it.

Domics said...

Well, it seems to me that Paul S came to a personal attack to me. This is very interesting.
My position is that readers can read and understand for themselves what is written. I will not follow him on this ground and I maintain my point: I recommend a book whose subject is relevant to this discussion: according to Berman0s book "the Pentateuch can be read as the earliest prescription on record for the establishment of an egalitarian polity".

I can only say that I find funny that I'm accused to "be interested in advancing an ideological conservative Christian soapbox" from someone who has recommended a self-published book by a foundation whose 'purposes, as stated in its bylaws, are to promote the separation of church and state and to educate the public on matters relating to atheism, agnosticism and nontheism"...

So who is interested in promoting ideological soapboxes?

p.s. Bart Ehrman writes about the New Testament; my recommended book is about the Pentateuch. I have to explain the difference?

Domics said...

Prof. Arnhart,
"There is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus." (Gal.3:28).

I can barely find a clear statement of equality between man and woman in Darwin.
I read about "differences in the mental powers of the two sexes"
"The chief distinction in the intellectual powers of the two sexes is shown by man attaining to a higher eminence, in whatever he takes up, than woman can attain - whether requiring deep thought, reason, or imagination, or merely the use of the senses and hands”.

"... thus man has ultimately become superior to woman"...

The powers of intuition, of rapid perception, and imitation more marked in woman than man were dismissed by Darwin as characteristic of the lower races and of a lower state of civilisation.

So where in Darwin I can find an explicit claim that woman and man are equal?

W. Bond said...

"2. By the human soul, I mean the biological, psychological, intellectual, and spiritual nature of man -- some of which overlaps with animal nature and some of which is distinctively human, like free will, language, abstract reasoning, and the longing for eternity. This cannot be explained by Darwinian evolution -- some kind of 'leap' took place to get us to man and his soul. I don't know when and where this occurred or the causality -- it is a mystery to behold that in the infinitely expanding cosmos which is otherwise indifferent to man, a creature has arisen with a soul that is open to the whole and is the basis of our dignity. It looks like a divine spark to me, since no rational explanation is adequate. Hence, my formulation that everyone believes in the dignity of man, but no one knows why or how we got here with a special moral status. Dont' try to reduce this mystery to Darwinian evolution and dont' try to claim that the philosophical and spiritual insights "evolved" from something biological. Be open to mystery and live with it."

Prof. Kraynak:

This is the crux of the argument, but it is theological not philosophical.

A true philosophy is open to the divine but must not assume it. Existence itself is a mystery, as is life. Water is an emergent property of hydrogen and oxygen. Biological life is an emergent property of its chemical building blocks. Certainly our animal companions are not pure automatons, but make calculated decisions, however simple and rudimentary and instinctual.

To assume a divine mystery to the uniqueness of homo sapiens that is over and above the mystery of life itself - rather than to be merely open to it - is a leap of faith, not an act of human reason.

You may be correct, of course, but by definition such disputes cannot be solved by reasoned argument.

Prof. Arnhart's thesis, however, provides a framework that allows for the possibility of human virtue, of ethics and morality, that does not depend on faith, without excluding it. That is, it a philosophical argument that the only choices are not between revelation and nihilism, as you contend.

Cheers, wbond

Larry Arnhart said...


I take up this issue in Chapter 6 of DARWINIAN NATURAL RIGHT.

Larry Arnhart said...


You point to the fundamental point in this discussion with Kraynak when you say "the only choices are not between revelation and nihilism."

It's significant that Kraynak embraces Nietzsche--or at least the early and late Nietzsche, the "pious Nietzsche," as opposed to the Darwinian Nietzsche of the middle writings. Kraynak is a Nietzschean in assuming that the only choice is between revelation and nihilism, because there is no ground for naturalism, for the idea of nature as a stable order that can be grasped by natural reason.

Like other Christian conservatives (Peter Lawler, for example), Kraynak rejects Darwinian natural right because he follows Nietzsche in rejecting nature and looking to revelation as the only escape from nihilisitic chaos.

Anonymous said...

Kraynak clarifies his position:
I do not reject the idea of nature as a stable rational order operating according to laws of nature and I think there is some basis in nature for a notion of natural right. However, even that nature requires a power outside of nature (a creator) to bring it into being and lay down its laws. Also, Big Bang cosmology and Darwinian evolution cannot explain the whole development of the universe -- either the moment of creation, the existence of stable rational laws, the emergence of life ("emergent properties" is a fudge, since the odds are overwhelmingly against the emergence of life on its own), the emergence of man (the human soul), and grounding of morality in its higher senses (beyond preservation, procreation, and kinship that we share with animals). None of these claims 'proves the existence' of God, but it means science (modern science, big bang, evolution) and philosophy (Aristotelian) are partial and incomplete accounts which are insufficent to do the heavy lifting that Larry, and Troy believe then can. My position is not a 'leap of faith', it is Thomistic view that reason is completed by faith -- a reasonable faith that is beyond reason but not against reason.

Larry Arnhart said...


What you have just said brings you close to my position. I agree that "there is some basis in nature for a notion of natural right."

I also agree that when we ask about the uncaused cause of the natural order that we see, we are confronted by a choice between two possible unexplanable grounds of explanation--nature or nature's God.

The question is whether natural right can stand on its own natural ground, regardless of whether we have religious faith or not. I say yes--we can look to our evolved human nature as a guide for judging human moral and intellectual excellence, and while religious belief can reinforce these natural lessons of experience, religious belief is not absolutely necessary.

We can judge natural right or natural law--as rooted in natural human inclinations--regardless of whether we believe in divine right or divine law.

Troy Camplin said...

Stuart Kauffman proved that with a proper understanding of complexity, there is more than sufficient time for the universe to evolve complex organisms -- that, in fact, it is far more unlikely that there would not be such complex processes as life than that there is.

And actually, since everything in the universe is relational and involve variations on attraction and repulsion, which are sufficient for self-organization to occur, what we understand to be the laws of nature can be explained, particularly if we take an evolutionary standpoint when understanding cosmology. The laws of the universe changed until stable elements could form, at which point the laws stabilized (there is already some proof that the "constants" have changed over time).

I personally have an informational ontology. Information is that which is without form, which gives form. It is necessary for self-organization to occur. Information is found at the beginning of the universe.

"The foundation of all things was information" -- John 1:1

"And the information was with God and the information was God. And the information became flesh . . . "

Sounds to me like the story I've been trying to tell, at least.

Anonymous said...

I have another point one this at