Ms. Anna Manja Larcher, Psychologist, USA, 3rd International Conference on the Origin of Life and the Universe, April 28th, 2018-istanbul
Beware the Procrustean Bed: Evolutionary Explanations of Love and Compassion Richard N. Williams and Anna Manja Larcher Brigham Young University
Procrustes, a legendary robber in ancient Greece, had the peculiar habit of either stretching or cutting off the legs of all his guests so that they would perfectly fit his bed. This was undoubtedly hard on his guests, since each was distorted in order to fit the bed exactly. However, this practice did have the virtue of saving on beds. Procrustes needed only one bed so long as he was content to distort whoever was to be fit into it.
Moving from the realm of legends and beds to the realm of human behaviors and theories that explain them, the spirit of Procrustes, it seems, is still with us. Genetic explanations of behavior (derived from evolutionary theory) have become a Procrustean bed. Genetic explanations are taken to be the naked truth to which human behaviors, and our understandings of them, must conform. Proponents of these genetic explanations have become quite expert at stretching and cutting as need be to make the facts fit the theory. Often there seems to be little regard for what ultimately becomes of the behaviors, concepts, and meanings that are forced into the Procrustean bed of evolutionary theory. If such things must be cut off from the rest of human history and understanding, or have the meaning and morality stripped away from them so that they become distorted, this is simply the price these theorists are willing to pay so long as the theory itself is preserved. Even if the behavior as explained by evolutionary theory no longer makes contact with our own experience of the behavior, we are asked to reject our experience in favor of the genetic explanation.
2 The price of preserving genetic explanations of our behavior is too high. We are
asked to disbelieve our own understandings of our behavior. In order to fit and preserve the Procrustean bed of evolutionary theory, these theories put in question our agency, our sense of responsibility for ourselves and others, and our most important relationships. When such genetic explanations are applied to human and family relationships , the consequence is the loss of our very humanity, and, even more importantly, beyond that, it means the loss of our divine, God given, eternal identity. Without agency and responsibility, there is no humanity and no divine identity in our lives. We become mere marionettes.
Someone convinced of the truth and value of evolutionary theory in general and genetic explanations of human behavior in particular might accuse us, or anyone who would lament the loss of meaning and morality in our behavior, of being an incurable ―romantic.‖ They would say that we are just trying to hold on to a romanticized but false view of ourselves in order not to have to face the hard fact that meaningless genes are the reality/or sole/ meaning behind our behavior. Certainly, to refuse to accept scientific facts of our biological natures in order to preserve an image of ourselves that we are more comfortable with would be foolish. Indeed, if there were overwhelming scientific or logical evidence for genetic/evolutionary explanations of our behavior, such as for example compassion, it would be futile to hold out against it.
However, we will argue in this essay that there is no such compelling evidence. And explaining human behavior in mere evolutionary/genetic terms creates problems. Trying to lie down in Procrasties bed will result in the cutting off of our divine, God-given nature. Moreover, wewill argue, since we need not accept genetic causality, we should
not accept it. Is there compelling evidence that such things as/compassion, love, or anger are determined by evolution or genes?
The idea that love and compassion in human relationships are governed by biological structures or evolutionary forces is not scientific in the sense we usually use that term. We usually consider scientific facts to be those that are discovered through careful experimentation giving rise to unambiguous results. An example of this sort of scientific work is found in the famous Michelson and Morley experiments (see, for example the description at https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Michelson%E2%80%93Morley_experiment), in which it was shown that the speed of light is constant. This constancy was demonstrated, and the experiment was of such a quality that the results were not easy to refute. This work is often cited as one of the few examples of a truly decisive scientific demonstration. Ultimately our conception of the nature of light and its speed had to be reworked to take account of the experimental findings. Scientific work on which evolutionary explanations of human behavior are based is of quite a different sort. No such decisive work has been done, and , indeed given the very nature of the subject matter, such conclusive scientific demonstration must be considered in principle impossible. Some evolutionary theorists (might) argue that at some future date when technology has advanced and when they are given permission to manipulate human genes, genuine scientific validation will be available, although such seems to be indeed in principle impossible. It is axiomatic in science, however, that one does not rely on nor claim credibility from what might someday be done. To argument in this way moves one from science to science fiction.
4 Of course scientific studies in the field of genetics are very sophisticated and
careful. They have provided us a convincing picture of what genes are and what they do. Studies in genetics have resulted in hybrid strains of plants and animals, and in new, and even patented, life forms. However, all this work demonstrates only that genetic material is responsible for a number of physical structures and attributes.
Everything genetics is trying to explain beyond that, certainly at this point, looks to end up as a fairy tale: For example, a number of studies have reported that children who live with one or more stepparents are much more likely to be abused than are children who live with both of their biological parents. Some evolutionary theorists will claim that this statistic supports evolutionary theory because it is consistent with what an evolutionary story would predict, i.e., that biological parents will protect their own off-spring better to maximize getting their own genes into the gene pool of the next generation. However, we should ask whether there are more obvious and immediate factors that might explain why children living with stepparents are more likely to be abused. It seems obvious that children living with stepparents are doing so because of some trouble in their birth family. The factors that contributed to the breakup of the birth family in the first place are likely to continue with both parents and children into subsequent family arrangements. These factors include unsatisfactory relationships between parents, stresses from the breakup of the original family, economic troubles, and any number of other social and cultural factors. It seems that the evolutionary account of the abuse of these children is quite far removed from the immediate and compelling circumstances of the actual family. Evolutionary theory does not seem--even by common sense--to be the most direct or obvious explanation of the
evolutionary causes from the host of social and personal causes of this sort of child abuse. It would be impossible to design and conduct an experiment that could control for all social and personal variables and establish evolutionary forces to be the cause of the increased incidence of abuse. Evolutionary theory is not scientifically testable. It's support depends entirely on the persuasiveness of the evolutionary theorist who tells the evolutionary story in a way that agrees with the social facts.
Support for the story of evolution is grounded in how well the story can be used to make sense of the data of the world. The fit of the evolutionary story may also mean that evolutionary theorists are very clever and creative story tellers. Darwin's work was essentially this sort of storytelling. He reported no sophisticated scientific demonstration of the validity of evolutionary theory. This is not to belittle the work of Darwin or of proponents of evolutionary explanations. But, post hoc ―accounting for‖ does not make evolutionary theory true, nor even scientific. The Logic Status of Most ―Scientific‖ Arguments for Evolutionary/Genetic Causality: The danger of affirming the consequent. The logic of the problem we have just articulated is illustrated by the classical logical fallacy of ―affirming the consequent.‖ It goes as follows:
If evolutionary/genetic explanations are true, then we should observe that humans do X (some phenomenon).
We observe that humans do X (this phenomenon).
Therefore, evolutionary/genetic explanations are true.
phenomenon. It should be noted that there is no scientific test that could possibly separate
6 This style of reasoning by affirming the consequent is not sound, because an
unspecifiable number or other things might account for the same phenomenon instead of the evolutionary/genetic explanation, thus studies and arguments of this form are not sound scientific practice. Thus, the evidence generally martialled in favor of evolutionary/genetic accounts of human behavior is not genuinely scientific. Rather, it is argument and deduction. And, as has been shown, most often it is not a sound argument.
The criterion of falsifiability. At least since the publication of the influential work of Karl Popper (1959), a philosopher of science, it has been accepted in most scientific circles that a good theory--a genuinely scientific theory--must be of the type that can be proven false. That is, sound scientific practice demands that a theory must be capable of being tested in such a way that if the results do not turn out to be consistent with the predictions of the theory, then it can be concluded that the theory is false. Theories that cannot be shown to be false are not to be considered genuinely scientific theories. I have already argued in the previous sections of this essay that evolutionary/genetic explanations of human behavior are not falsifiable in this sense. There is no experimental test that can settle the question of the validity of these explanations – that is the direct causal power of genetic material to produce non-material meaningful phenomena such as love, charity, and meaning..
However, most proponents of evolutionary/genetic theories of human behavior do not even attempt to formulate or explain their theories in a way that can be falsified. By contrast, the work of most experimental geneticists is sophisticated and scientifically sound. Their experiments are routinely set up so that their predictions can be falsified by
actual outcomes, and the studies are of the sort that actual genetic material is manipulated, and the mechanisms that connect genetic material to material outcomes are well-known. Experiments having this precision cannot be formulated to test evolutionary theory – the important variables and mechanisms are simply unknown and the element of time involved is staggeringly long. We simply do not know of any mechanism whereby chemicals (like genes) or the material of the body can produce non-physical phenomena like love, compassion, or joy.
There is little argument that our genetic material plays a major role in such things as eye color, physical stature, and certain diseases. These are physical characteristics and have a recognizably physical/chemical foundation. What is not established by any careful scientific work is a) that psychological or mental events and behaviors (such as /love and compassion) can be produced by genetic material, and b) that there is some influential, abstract, cosmic force like evolution that controls such non-physical phenomena as meaningful human events, and governs their development and their manifestation.
Divine Nature and free agency: Examples of our own bias and story telling The arguments we have just made against the credibility of most evolution-based accounts of meaningful human behavior, taken together, can be seen as making a claim
that evolutionary/genetic explanations are more examples of intellectually-motivated bias than scientific fact. In the spirit of objectivity and fair play, therefore, we should be clear about the biases that form the foundation of our research and our accounts of human actions.
The present writers` bias is that because family relationships have been ordained
8 by God from the beginning of this earth life, human relationships have meaning that goes
beyond anything that genes could ever explain. We are Gods creation and further His children or spiritual offspring. Our Heavenly Father gave us as most precious gift our use or freedom of free-agency, the gift to be agents unto ourselves and chose – responsibly or not-- to change our nature to become more Christ-like, or God-like in our probation on earth. This gift stands in direct opposition to the notion of us being mere marionettes to any outside or genetic influences and is central to what might considered to be our intellectual and spiritual bias. One could maybe challenge our bias by saying that instead of being marionettes to genes or the environment, we have become marionettes to Gods plan. But, we believe that we were agents in having chosen His plan, and that His plan would never require the dissolution of our agency. We have chosen everything. We chose to accept God’s plan to come to this earth to learn and grow in a different sphere or dimension. We chose to accept our ordination to be born to our families. We chose to go through distinct trials to learn more about ourselves and about God, and to serve others. In like manner, we believe that WE CAN CHOSE to love, we can chose compassion, and we can chose not to engage in anger, jealousy etc.. Only as agents do these qualities have true meaning for us.
Have any of you ever prayed to overcome anger in a moment of great emotion, when anger seemed so strong as a train already running on high speed and the only option for you was to jump on that train? Have you in that moment maybe shared with our Creator your feelings and pleaded for relief? Have any of you perhaps then felt and experienced an unmistakable relief, from an unseen yet real and true hand—a power beyond this earth that goes against all initial logic? Have you perhaps experienced the
9 miracle of love washing over you, being able to forgive someone and even show
compassion? Even more so, have the windows of your understanding opened and you have perhaps seen things about the other person, or maybe even about yourself that you did not see before?
There is no record in history of a single scientific study, or even of a set of studies that proved that supernatural explanations of the living world are false and evolutionary explanations are true. It is inconceivable that any experiment might ever be able to prove such a thing. In other words, the truth or falsity of evolutionary explanations is not a scientific question at all because it would be impossible to formulate a properly scientific test of these explanations in contrast to other non-evolutionary explanations. There are alternative methods of knowing besides the scientific method that yield sound knowledge or surety, if used in their proper context. Even for such experiences with anger and compassion as just mentioned, there is, according to our bias, a sound method that investigates this experience and yield sure understanding and knowledge. While we cannot go into depth about this topic in this paper, for it would be a whole other presentation, it should be said here that supernatural explanations must be studied with methods that are congenial to the spiritual realm of reality. Conclusion
It is one thing to show that evolution is a very flexible and coherent story--that it can generate a ―sensible‖ story about much of the data of our world. It is quite another thing, however, to claim that the evolutionary story is the story of our behavior, and more importantly, the story of the meaning inherent in our behavior, and indeed, inherent in our being the kind of beings we are. Unfortunately, a story that has become as popular as
10 evolution has become often takes on a life of its own. Before long, its very popularity
convinces many that there is no alternative explanation of our behavior. Once one sees evolutionary/genetic theory as the only account of our behavior, it is quite relatively easy to make the story fit the data of the world.
We asserted at the beginning of this essay that if there were no conceptual or scientific evidence such that we need to accept evolutionary/genetic explanations of our behavior, then we ought not to accept them. Space permits only a brief discussion of the rationale for this assertion. William James, in a very insightful essay in defense of human free will (1897/1956), argues persuasively that, when the validity of theories cannot be established with certainty based on scientific or conceptual grounds (and indeed, they cannot), then it is not only reasonable, but important to evaluate them on other grounds, including moral grounds. Further, he argues that rejecting a theory because of the moral consequences to which it leads is entirely legitimate. Such a rejection is not simply religious or moral dogmatism, but it is an intellectually valid and responsible position. Therefore, given the lack of solid scientific and conceptual evidence for evolutionary/genetic theories of human behavior, it is important, in the spirit of William James, to be clear about their moral implications.
The effect of genetic causality on our relationships is every bit as devastating. If we accept evolutionary/genetic accounts of our behavior, then the love of parents for children, and spouses and lovers for each other, is the result of merely automatic and mindless processes. We can feel hurt--emotional creatures that we are--but it is meaningless to do so. The cause of our hurt is inevitable and uncontrolable. Evolutionary/genetic accounts of our behaviors operate by strict equal opportunity
11 principles: they demolish the meaning of positive and negative experiences equally
As I have argued above, evolutionary/genetic accounts of our behavior are not based in firm scientific findings; they are more story-telling than fact. The logic on which they rely, is largely fallacious, relying as it often does on affirming the consequent. Humans – and their intrinsic humanity -- are chopped off so they are less than humans and, at the same time, genes are stretched until they become much more than mere chemical molecules to fit the Procrustean bed of current evolutionary explanation in the face of the lack of any compelling reasons to accept such explanations, we should yield to the weight of the very most important reasons for rejecting them--so that we can maintain and redeem our morality, or religion, and our very humanity. Because we have an eternal identity and purpose, human love, compassion, or anger take on a different meaning, especially when these qualities are chosen or exercised by one`s own free will and choice.
We should not agree to spend even one night in Porcrustes' bed.
References James, W. (1897/1956). The dilemma of determinism. In W. James, The will to believe
and other essays in popular philosophy, (pp. 145-184). New York: Dover. Popper, K. (1959). The logic of scientific discovery. New York: Basic Books.