Wednesday, December 2, 2015

ARGUMENT FOR GOD FROM ALTRUISM AND HUMAN PSYCHOLOGY





Science agrees that we have been wired to make specific moral judgments. In fact, it has been well noted that these judgments develop in tandem with our neurological development.

However, we differ in regards to our beliefs about the origins of this wiring – whether it’s evolution or God who has done the wiring. Evolution is based upon the understanding that evolutionary development is guided by the possible survival value our wiring gives us. According to this thinking, we have been wired with emotions which maximize a survival advantage and heighten the likelihood of passing on our superior genetic inheritance to the next generation. However, this understanding fails to adequately explain why we humans have altruistic motivations.

Here is why the God paradigm is superior to that of evolution:

  1. We derive a deep moral satisfaction by doing the right thing.
  1. While certain forms of altruism might be construed as giving humanity a survival advantage, the evolutionary understanding of altruism and our other psychological tendencies is inadequate.
  1. Evolution cannot explain our deepest moral proclivities. However, the hypothesis that we are created in God’s moral likeness can explain these.

PREMISE #1  We derive a deep moral satisfaction by doing the right thing.

Humanity tends to value forgiveness, confession of wrongdoing, acts of love, and even loving our enemies. Although we might not derive immediate benefit from these behaviors, we tend to derive a deep satisfaction when we act in accord with our most deeply held values.

Mental health professionals recognize that living in accordance with our moral wiring is an important factor for mental health, although perhaps not for passing on our genes. Accordingly, Karen Wright wrote,

  • "Eudaimonia refers to a state of well-being and full functioning that derives from a sense of living in accordance with one’s deeply held values."
Many have recognized a connection between happiness (sometimes referred to as “eudaimonia”) and the virtuous life:

  • Plato argues that virtues are states of the soul, and that the just person is someone whose soul is ordered and harmonious, with all its parts functioning properly to the person’s benefit. In contrast, Plato argues that the unjust man’s soul, without the virtues, is chaotic and at war with itself, so that even if he were able to satisfy most of his desires, his lack of inner harmony and unity thwart any chance he has of achieving eudaimonia. Plato’s ethical theory is eudaimonistic because it maintains that eudaimonia depends on virtue. (Virtue is necessary for eudaimonia.) On Plato’s version of the relationship, virtue is depicted as the most crucial and the dominant constituent of eudaimonia. (Wikipedia)
Indeed, disharmony creates peace-depriving conflict. This is one of the reasons that we obsess. Obsession is a normal attempt to harmonize our thinking and moral intuitions with the rest of our lives. When these are in disharmony, peace is replaced by an endless running of obsessive mental tapes, seeking a way out – a place of peace.

Gautama Buddha recognized these truths and provided an eightfold strategy to avoid suffering and to restore peace known as the “middle way,” sandwiched between the extremes of self-denial and self-indulgence:

  • "This is the noble truth of the way leading to the cessation of suffering: it is the Noble Eightfold Path; that is, right view, right intention, right speech, right action, right livelihood, right effort, right mindfulness and right concentration."
For Buddha, Positive Psychologists, and even AA, there are certain objective principles – principles articulated in the Bible - like forgiveness and gratefulness, to which we must adhere for the sake of our peace-of-mind.  

Even atheists perceive these positive principles but pride themselves that they can be good without God. For them, morality is simply a matter of expedience, what provides the desired benefits. Atheist, humanist, and author of the Humanist Manifesto II, Paul Kurtz, affirms that pragmatism – the results - is the “only” possible justification for morality:

  • "How are these [moral] principles to be justified? They are not derived from a divine or natural law nor do they have a special metaphysical [beyond the material world] status. They are rules offered to govern how we shall behave. They can be justified only by reference to their results."
However, this stance is at odds with itself. It affirms moral principles but not because they are objectively moral in themselves. Rather, altruism and other-centeredness is promoted for self-centered reasons – “their results.” Therefore, when we help our enemy, we are not doing it because it is the right thing to do, but because it brings favorable results.

It was this kind of thinking that turned me into a selfish nihilist in my first year at college. I had been volunteering in a project to help the disadvantaged but became increasingly aware that I was doing this for myself. I reasoned that if it’s all about me, then I should be genuine about it. I therefore quit the program to pursue what I now saw as the genuine truth – my own welfare.

Evolutionists also share this problem. While certain forms of altruism might be construed as giving humanity a survival advantage, the evolutionary understanding of altruism is necessarily self-centered and, therefore, not truly altruistic. Therefore, the theory of evolution cannot embrace a true, non-self-centered altruism.


PREMISE #2  While certain forms of altruism might be construed as giving humanity a survival advantage, the evolutionary understanding of altruism and our other psychological tendencies is inadequate.

In fact, humanity seems to possess many gratuitous traits, like our enjoyment of music, dance, and literature, that defy a Darwinian explanation. We are even psychologically constituted to seek to understand our place in the world and to comprehend our purpose and meaning within it. The late Jewish philosopher and theologian, Abraham Heschel, asserted this very thing:

  • “It’s not enough for me to be able to say ‘I am’; I want to know who I am and in relation to whom I live. It is not enough for me to ask questions; I want to know how to answer the one question that seems to encompass everything I face: What am I here for?”
Such an introspective trait seems to exceed and defy what the evolutionary paradigm can reasonably explain. It might even interfere with the business of survival and passing on the human genetic inheritance. Just ask Hamlet!

John M. Gottman, professor of psychology and cofounder of The Gottman Institute for marriage improvement wrote about another gratuitous human requirement – the need for honor, respect, and appreciation:

  • “The typical conflict-resolution advice won’t help. Instead, you need to understand the bottom-line difference that is causing the conflict between you—and learn how to live with it by honoring and respecting each other.” 
If our heads are cluttered with these additional psychological needs, the pursuit for survival and passing on our genes is somewhat displaced. It would therefore seem that these needs would not provide any survival advantage. Instead, they might even prove disadvantageous.

In “The Significant Life,” attorney George M. Weaver has made a strong case that the drive to establish our self-importance is so compelling that it even eclipses the drive for survival:

  • Individual humans are not concerned so much about the survival of the species as they are about their personal survival or significance. In order to push ourselves beyond our confining space-time limits, we as individuals try to set ourselves apart from the rest of humanity. It is unsettling to admit that one is average or ordinary – a routine person. (7)
Weaver documents this convincingly. Even those who commit horrific self-destructive acts do so to establish their importance:

  • In 2005 Joseph Stone torched a Pittsfield, Massachusetts apartment building… After setting the blaze, Stone rescued several tenants from the fire and was hailed as a hero. Under police questioning, Stone admitted, however, that he set the fire and rescued the tenants because, as summarized at trial by an assistant district attorney, he “wanted to be noticed, he wanted to be heard, he wanted to be known.” (44)
Evidently, this drive for significance is so powerful that it can overrule the drive for survival. One mass-murderer gunman explained in his suicide note, “I’m going to be f_____ famous.” (45)

This need to be famous is potentially anti-social. It detracts from the viability of the social group by creating fragmentation. But how can the biblical paradigm account for this human drive? When we do not find our significance in God, we are psychologically coerced to pursue it elsewhere.

This drive for significance can be so compelling that we will sacrifice our future for it. Weaver reports that:

  • More than two hundred people confessed in 1932 to the kidnapping and murder of the infant son of famed aviator Charles Lindbergh. (50)
If humanity had always evolved in a way that would confer a survival advantage, it is hard to explain many of our individualistic human traits. Instead, if we had more of a group-oriented nature like the ants or the bees, we might have fared better.

Also, from the perspective of evolution, our altruistic moral wiring will only confer a survival advantage when we act altruistically towards those who will reciprocate. We should only forgive those who can repay our forgiveness. If instead we forgive our enemies, they may interpret this as weakness, which might encourage them to attack us.

Likewise, we should only confess our wrongdoing when we can derive a clear benefit. After all, such a confession can be used against us. Also, we should only love those who are in a position to repay us.

CONCLUSION: Evolution cannot explain our deepest moral/psychological proclivities. However, the hypothesis that we are created in God’s moral likeness can explain these.
It is also highly ironic that a book completed 2000 years ago could more accurately explain the human condition than the “scientific” fruits of our modern age.

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