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It seems that many thinkers commit the naturalistic fallacy in thinking about

It seems that many thinkers commit the naturalistic fallacy in thinking about human engineering and enhancement. That is, when thinking about human engineering (e.g., germline engineering) many have claimed that it is "unnatural" to pursue such options or that we "ought" not do such things because it would damage the human race. My question is this: if we take evolutionary theory seriously (with constant change, adaptation, etc.), why ought we not pursue human engineering, especially if larger issues of justice can be adjudicated?

Some people surely do commit the naturalistic fallacy here: Simply to say it's "unnatural" isn't an argument. Couches are unnatural.

The worry that genetic enginerring might "damage the human race" is quite different, however, and I for one take it seriously. The worry, very simply, is that we don't know what we're doing and that the costs of mistakes could be horrific. I'm not sure what evolutionary theory has to do with it. Perhaps the idea is that evoution could somehow correct the mistakes over time. But (i) that could take a very long time indeed; (ii) human reproductive success isn't driven by the same kinds of things now that it used to be; and (iii) evolution isn't going to resolve the problems from which the actual people born as the products of misbegotten engineering suffer.

Why do humans continually put a higher value on material goods (such as

Why do humans continually put a higher value on material goods (such as diamonds and gold) than life. Is it some sort of adaptation through evolution for survival to obtain these goods at any cost? Were greed and jealously formed through some sort of hardwired drive in the human mind as population control? If so would there ever be a way to end this cycle? Nick

Hello Nick from another Nick. In a sense, your question is more one of psychology than philosophy. We philosophers do not so much ask and answer questions about why people actually do things or act the way they do, so much as to inquire about how, perhaps, we should do things, or how we might do them better than we do them now.

Valuing material goods even more than life itself, I think most (if not all) philosophers would agree, is a very serious and ultimately self-defeating ethical error. It is, very simply, to assign greater value to what is in fact far less valuable. But there may be another error here, as well--if we think that life has intrinsic value (as many but not all philosophers do), then valuing wealth over life itself is to mistake something that has only instrumental value--value, that is, only for the pursuit or acquisition of something else that is valuable--for something that is intrinsically valuable (valuable, that is, just in and of itself and not only for trying to obtain something else.

It is generally agreed that wealth is only instrumentally valuable. Just think: If someone were to give you a million dollars, but only under the stipulation that you (and your heirs, and their heirs, etc.) could never spend it on anything, what real value would the money have (for you or for anyone else)? The value of money just is whatever it enables you to do or to purchase--it just is the instrumental value it provides for getting other things. You might think, however, that just being alive is valuable (consider the alternative!).

Of course, there may be other intrinsic values that could come into conflict with the value of life itself. We value not being in pain or suffering, for example, such that too much unrelieved suffering might lead us to conclude that life itself is no longer valuable enough to continue. But such cases do not show that life is not intrinsically valuable, only that there can be considerations that can trump its value.

Some philosophers, however, have said that life is not intrinsically valuable, but can only become valuable if it is lived in certain ways. So Socrates famously said that "the unexamined life is not worth living for a human being" (Plato, Apology 38a), which seems to suggest that he did not think that life itself was intrinsically valuable, but gained value only by being or becoming an "examined" life (one in which critical inquiry was a significant feature is what he meant, I think).

Anyway, it is generally foolish and self-defeating to live one's life as if something that is simply an instrumental value were actually intrinsically valuable, or brought value to a life just by its acquisition. Imagine thinking that one's life would be clearly enriched by acquiring every tool known to humankind, by one who had no clue as to how to use those tools! If one could figure out what was really valuable (intrinsically valuable, that is), maybe then one could figure out how to use money in such a way as to put the money to good use!

Why do the laws of morality and the laws of nature seem to be completely

Why do the laws of morality and the laws of nature seem to be completely opposite one another? For example, most moral codes encourage monogamy while the theory of evolution states the strongest seed should be spread around.

I agree with everything Matthew Silverstein says about the crucial difference between descriptive and prescriptive theories. I'd add the following. There is a large body of work in evolutionary theory which explains how altruistic behavior, both in ourselves and other animals, might have been selected for. For an overview, you might see Elliott Sober and David Sloan Wilson's Unto Others: The Evolution and Psychology of Unselfish Behavior. If evolutionary theorizing along such lines is correct, then "moral traits" such as our capacity to care about others, our outrage at "cheaters," our tendency to want to help those who have helped us, and so on, might have just as deep an evolutionary basis as our more selfish traits. In that sense, there is not the total opposition that you might think between the kind of creature evolutionary theory suggests we are (a descriptive claim) and the kind of creature morality says we should be (a prescriptive claim).

Is religion a result of evolution? I mean, is the human kind fitter and more

Is religion a result of evolution? I mean, is the human kind fitter and more surviving by being religious?

This is a matter of dispute. First of all, there is dispute over whether religion has any innate component, for example whether there is an innate predisposition towards religion. Second, if there is an innate component, there is a further dispute over whether this is present because it is in itself advantageous from a natural selection point of view, or whether instead it is a by-product of other cognitive traits having nothing particular to do with religion that have such an advantage.

In intelligent design theory, what exactly are the ID scientists comparing life

In intelligent design theory, what exactly are the ID scientists comparing life to, to determine its complexity?

My understanding is that they're not really comparing it to anything. The idea is that the structure of DNA is, in itself, so complex that it could not have been produced by the kinds of processes postulated in the theory of evolution. There are ways of measuring complexity in such cases, or at least there are ways of trying to do so, but it is extremely difficult to provide a good account of this kind of complexity. A large part of the reason is that DNA is finite, and most of the mathematics relevant to the study of complexity counts everything finite as supremely simple. Still, there are ways one can go here (using, for exmaple, the resources of information theory). But part of the criticism of many arguments by proponents of intelligent design is that they operate with inadequate accounts of complexity.

The more fundamental criticism of these arguments, though, or so I take it, is that there simply isn't any remotely plausible argument that the structure of DNA is too complex to be produced by evolutionary processes. Of course, such arguments have been offered, but they have not been at all convincing to the great majority of working scientists. Indeed, scientists who have not accepted those arguments have not found anything of interest in them, and that is important: Scientists don't just respond "yes" or "no" in these kinds of cases; they can respond, "well, no, or probably not, but this bit seems interesting". That hasn't happened. Scientists react in pretty much the same way mathematicians do when someone submits a new proof that it is possible to trisect and angle with ruler and compass. We have overwhelming evidence that the proof is wrong. It can be amusing to see just where the proof goes wrong, but there's not really much illumination that is likely to come from the exercise.

An even more fundamental criticism is that, even if that were so, it's not clear why we should assume that an "intelligence" or some sort was responsible. David Hume long ago dismantled that sort of argument in his Dialogues Concerning Natural Religion.

If science (i.e. evolutionary psychology) can explain why I have the morality I

If science (i.e. evolutionary psychology) can explain why I have the morality I do, does that mean morality is subjective? If what I believe about morality is just a product of my evolution and my upbringing, can I still expect other people to live up to my principles even though they may have had a different upbringing? What about myself? Can I still hold myself to my own standards or am I being deceived by my evolution into thinking it would be wrong to do so?

It might be helpful to follow a strand of British empiricism and to think about 'morality' as a social phenomenon, involving various 'sanctions' such as blame, guilt, shame, and so on. (So in that respect it is rather like law, though the sanctions there are somewhat different.) Your worry is that some moral principle you accept -- that it's wrong to cause serious suffering merely for fun, say -- has emerged only because of the evolutionary advantage conferred on groups which accept something like that principle. So it seems quite contingent which principles we come to believe -- as you imply, in different circumstances we might accept different principles. But, to pick up Alex's point, we have the capacity to stand back from our 'morality' and assess whether we have independent reason to accept its principles. In which case, if you believe there is a reason not to cause suffering for fun, you may think that this justifies the moral principle which forbids it (as it would also justify a law forbidding it).

ID theorists and creationists like to say that the Theory of Evolution is "just

ID theorists and creationists like to say that the Theory of Evolution is "just a theory." Is that true? What does that mean? What's the difference between "truth" and "theory"?

Theories are descriptions, and they come in two flavors: true and false. So the Theory of Evolution can be both a theory and true, which is just what a great number of scientists believe. When evolution by natural selection is called a theory, however, this is sometimes intended to emphasise that there is no proof that it is true. Now if by 'proof' we mean what pure mathematicians produce, then this is correct. There is no proof of the Theory of Evolution, and there is no proof of any other empirical theory either. Proof in this sense is not an option in science, because all theories go beyond the evidence upon which they are based. There can similarly be no proof that the sun will rise tomorrow. But the sense in which it is true that there is no proof of evolution is compatible with the claim that there is overwhelming evidence that it is true, which is again what a great number of scientists believe.

If evolution is true, isn't it likely that our capacity for understanding the

If evolution is true, isn't it likely that our capacity for understanding the world is limited to what is necessary for survival? And if Christianity is true, isn't it likely that we can know only what God wants us to? It seems a reasonable bet, at least considering only these two world views, that there is cognitive closure at some point, and that McGinn, for instance is very possibly right that the hard problem of consciousness will never be solved (not that we should stop trying to solve it). Bob West

I'm not sure that either of the claims you suggest are "likely" are likely. (I'm also quite sure that the conflict you implicitly suggest exists between evolution and Christianity is a mirage, but that's another matter.)

The theory of evolution in no way implies that human capacities are "limited to what is necessary for survival". Stephen J Gould and Richard Lewontin borrowed the term "spandrel" from architecture to describe what one might also call "side-effects", biological traits that were not themselves selected for but are necessary accompaniments of traits that were selected for. Any particular case will be controversial, of course, but perhaps I can mention one intriguing such question: whether female orgasm has any benefit of the sort that would lead it to be selected for. The philosopher of biology Elisabeth Lloyd has written several interesting papers on this question. There is also an answer in this same area to evolutionary arguments against the innateness of sexual orientation. (There are answers elsewhere, too.)

As for Christianity, I don't see why our knowledge would have to be limited to what God wants us to know. One might suppose God had given us certain kinds of cognitive capacities, and then it is up to us how to use them. Indeed, doesn't Genesis tell us that Eve eats from the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil? I don't think God had that in mind. Hence the Fall and all that follows, right? (I'm not suggesting we read Genesis literally here.)

That said, I think the very abstract point, that there are things about the universe we simply aren't equipped to understand, is pretty plainly true. There are obviously things about the universe that my cats aren't equipped to understand. They've got some cognitive abilities, but those are limited in various ways. I don't see why we shouldn't be different. Indeed, surely it would be most remarkable if we were not. Whether the mind-body problem in particular is beyond us is, of course, another question.

Being a non-religious person I do not believe in 'Intelligent design', I am a

Being a non-religious person I do not believe in 'Intelligent design', I am a strong adherent to evolution. Yet I still wonder 'What is the meaning of life'. After much thought and some reading/learning I have come to the conclusion that the meaning of life is to pass one's ('one' being anything alive, plant or animal) genes or DNA along to the next generation thereby renewing the cycle of life. What are your thoughts on this subject? Another question - If my meaning of life is true, do you think that man, with his science, can surpass this meaning and redefine the meaning of life? David D.

Frankly, I've never understood what "the meaning of life" issupposed to mean. It's an odd phrase. I take it that the question issupposed to be what the purpose or point of life is, but that's an oddway to ask the question, and I'm not sure I really understand it then,either. Why think that life, as such, that of plants or animals,bacteria or gnus, has any uniform point or purpose? What differencewould it make if it did or didn't?

I think people who have asked what "the meaning of life" is have wanted some understanding of what they were supposed to be doing with their lives: If we knew what the meaning of life was, the thought is, then we'd have some idea what the goalof life was, and that would give us some sense of what a well-livedlife would consist in. Then we'd have some idea what we ought to bedoing here. The cover of Killing Joke's second album shows a young ladlooking up at the sky and screaming, "What's this for!?" That's thefeeling behind the question.

But note that the real question isjust this one: What ought one to do with one's life? Or simpler still:How ought one to live? (The Greeks were a big fan of that question.)It's just not obvious that there has to be some goal everyoneis supposed to be trying to reach for there to be some sensible answerto the question how one ought to live. But ultimately, of course, thequestion is a personal one: How ought I to live? What do I wish to do with mylife? These are profound questions with which we all have to struggle,and I pity the person who does not struggle with them. Moreover, I verymuch doubt that the theory of evolution has much to tell us about theanswer, and I doubt that intelligent design does, either. And I'm notsurehow much philosophy as practiced today, or for that matter ever, has toteach us here, either. Frankly, when I find myself puzzled or troubledaboutwhat I'm doing with my life, I'm not very likely to turn to Kant oreven to Plato, let alone Frege or Quine! I'm much more likely to turnto fiction, to poetry, orto music. Or to the Bible, but not because I think it will answer my questions for me.

If one understands the question what the meaning of life is in thisway, then I think the answerat which you're arrived is pretty unattractive. Of course, that's nothow you were understanding the question. But then your answer is beside the point, because youweren't answering the question that was actually botheringpeople.