DATE: 1 February 1993
KEVIN J. SHARPE
MORALITY AND RELIGION INTERSECT BIOLOGY:
ALTRUISM AND SOCIOBIOLOGY
The Graduate School of The Union Institute
Mailing Address: 65 Hoit Road, Concord, NH 03301, USA
WORKING DRAFT - NOT TO BE QUOTED WITHOUT AUTHOR'S PERMISSION
Copyright <<Date>> by Kevin J. Sharpe
CHECK: 1. Overuse of however.
2. Using too many difficult words together.
3. Use illustrations, examples.
4. Flow between sentences, paragraphs, sections.
5. Long sentences.
6. SPICE is needed throughout.
7. Make the point loud and clear. Stop the text jumping all over the place.
8. Check use of which and that.
9. Using too many technical words.
10. Avoid using our, we and us.
11. Check use of first names.
12. Go over footnotes.
There's a recent paper summary on sb in SCIENCE that may be a good jumping off point for this paper when redone for RS or whatever.
Look at articles (not read as of 9/24/94) by Charles Mann 1994, Bouchard 1994, Plomin et al. 1994 as introductory contextual essays for this general sb paper.
Look at RS letter to me, and my letter to RS for the ideas on how to proceed with this. I want to be able to have the same Ruse-type case without the strong s/b brashness; how does human behavioral ecology approach the subject? Does it have the same conclusions in this instance?
I have to think more about the coherence of this paper. The first part is quite different from the second part. Should I orient the first part around altruism or drop the second part?
One way perhaps of removing the shopping list appearance of the first part could be to make it positive and not defensive.
Theologians often react to sociobiology by rejecting it.
I examine several such responses and respond to them. Many set up an
unacceptable dualism between theological and scientific statements. I also
conclude that theology needs to accept sociobiology and then constructively
face the challenges it raises, such as that involving altruism. According to
sociobiology, altruism is a moral feeling people have to promote biological
Human sociobiology takes evolutionary theory beyond the biological into the social. While continuing research tends to support it, it is not yet a well-confirmed and mature science. Sociobiology challenges theology. Theologians react. Controversy erupts because sociobiologists seek to understand religion and morality with biology.
Sociobiology bashing is still popular. For whatever reasons, including the religious or political, scholars continue the 70s fashion of attacking sociobiologists and sociobiology. Sociobiologists are easy targets for critics to bludgeon with their own points of view. Even recently in this journal, Colin Grant continued the tradition.<1> I keep asking myself how much straw goes into the targets.
Many think the confrontations by such people as Mary Midgley and Philip Kitcher finally discredited sociobiology.<2> Theologians have mostly closed their minds to the subject. Admitedly, sociobiology does raise difficult questions for theology. But that does not give theologians an excuse for dismissing it. They have thrown out sociobiology with the extreme claims of sociobiology's enthusiasts.
The theological status of sociobiology, not the beliefs of sociobiologists, needs revisiting. As a scientific discipline sociobiology is here to stay whether theologians, philosophers, ethicists, or activists want it or not. The debates are no longer all that cutting. Kitcher, for instance, accepts and works on a form of it called human behavioural ecology.<3> (I will continue to use the name sociobiology because that is what theologians usually name it.) The continuing bashing and closed mindedness will only further discredit theology as sociobiology continues to grow as a science.
I do not know what form sociobiology will take in the future. I do know, though, that its claims will not be as extreme as originally presented by enthusiasts. No matter what shape it does take, it will still challenge theology at the same point. It will still present the biological roots of social and individual phenomena, including morality. The debate should be how theology can react constructively to the challenge. That is what this essay attempts.
The problem is more accute than this sounds, an academic exercise. The human genome project forges ahead. This work may connect behaviours such as religiosity, as well as diseases and physical traits, with particular clusters of genes. The twin studies of Lindon Eaves and his colleagues already suggest that genes influence beliefs and attitudes significantly.<4> How will society and entrepreneurs use this knowledge?
Apart from an occasional glance with its ethical spectacles, religion has its back turned to this work. Theologians, religionists, ethicists, and philosophers could engage the scientific findings constructively. I believe they should. When the conclusions of the genome project fall upon us with their ethical, philosophical, and theological implications, theologians could be prepared and in the discussion. Hopefully they will not continue denying the potential usefulness of the discipline with more bashing.
I start this essay by describing sociobiology. Then I turn to assessing and answering several theological criticisms leveled at it. Separating crusading sociobiologists from the scientific discipline of sociobiology, what remains of the attacks? Is sociobiology built on errors? What remains of the overly zealous cases of theologians? I focus on the status of sociobiology for theology.
SOCIOBIOLOGY, `ALTRUISM', AND EPIGENETIC RULES
Monique Borgerhoff Mulder recently reviewed human behavioral ecology (or sociobiology). Even though her approach is conservative, she says we need to assume it is natural selection that `moulds the rules for behavioural change and stability'. Of course we need to adopt an evolutionary perspective to agree with this.<5> Human sociobiology is the evolutionary study of human society and culture. Its base is reproductive success. From evolution's point of view, people are successful when they pass their genes to the next generation.
One way to achieve reproductive success is through cooperative behavior called biological `altruism'. `Altruistic' behavior enhances genetic success at risk or cost to oneself. For example, parents can promote their children's reproductive success by providing an expensive education rather than having a large family and more money for themselves. They are behaving `altruistically'. People also practice `reciprocal altruism' when they do something for others that enhances the others' reproductive success. The altruists' reward is that someone sometime may help them more.
I am focussing on `altruism' and altruism in this essay because they create a flash point for many theologians, relating directly as they do with morality. Sociobiology deals with many other cultural artifacts as well.
`Atruism' may be partly responsible for altruism toward those in the same closely-related kin group. Reciprocal `altruism' may help extend altruism to those in the same clan, more distantly related kin. But what about altrusim between between people not of the same kin? Explaining trans-kin altruism is a problem for sociobiology. There are several attempts, but none seems to satisfy fully at present.
Donald Campbell accepts sociobiology, only he thinks it has a more limited role in the rise of human culture than many sociobiologists suppose. This is because he believes nature less frequently selects `altruistic' tendencies that put an individual at risk than those from which the individual selfishly gains. This places limits on genetic evolution and the development of altruism from `altruism'. Instead, Campbell suggests sociocultural evolution produced the altruism essential for contemporary urban civilization. Only it could overcome the selfish tendencies coming from the genes. Religions, he adds, have a major role in this evolution.<6>
Ralph Wendell Burhoe's approach to sociobiology similarly says `altruism' can only go so far. It may help explain altruism within a kin group, but it does not explain altruism to those of different kin. Continuing from where Campbell leaves off, Burhoe says religion is responsible for altruism. He sees societies as shaped by culturetypes, socially inherited packets of information (including religion and language). One could think of them as non-biological cultural genes. Richard Dawkins calls them memes. The environment, following basic Darwinian rules, selects them independent of biological genes, but in harmony with them. (Robert Boyd and Peter Richerson are important figures in the continuing development of cultural evolutionary theory.)<7> In particular, natural selection works on a religion to remove elements not to the society's advantage, so that religious and genetic goals come to depend on each other. Religion's function, Burhoe continues, is to remember and pass on culturally the society's long-range values and goals. It promotes the altruism essential for the development and sustaining of society.<8>
Richard Alexander suggests morality evolved because it permitted early humans to limit conflicts within groups. They could then form larger groups which was to their advantage because of intense competition between groups.<9>
Thus, sociobiology extends the application of its theory of morality from blood relatives (`altruism'), to a circle a little beyond that (reciprocal `altruism'), to within a larger band and between groups.<10>
Not only are there biological and social mechanisms that promote `altruism'. Humans also have altruistic feelings that pressure them to behave `altruistically'. These feelings come through epigenetic rules.
Built into the human mind are various patterns or rules which help it operate. Lumsden and Wilson call them epigenetic rules. They process information that comes into the mind from the outside, as well as from internal emotions. There are two types of these patterns. Primary epigenetic rules process raw emotional and sense data. Secondary epigenetic rules assemble inner mental processes, including conscious and deliberate decision making and the placing of values. Epigenetic rules guide people into thoughts and actions that insure human survival, and genes encode them because they have proved so worthwhile in the struggles of our human and prehuman ancestors.<11>
We often feel epigenetic rules as subconscious feelings Irons. They are similar to the archetypes of the collective unconscious that Karl Jung suggested. In particular, they give rise to altruistic feelings that pressure humans to behave `altruistically'. These feelings oppose selfish inclinations which also exist for biological reasons. To make humans behave `altruistically', genes guide not only feelings but also moral reasoning. The rules give morality the feeling of objective truth and can thus enforce `altruism'.
The sociobiologists who follow Lumsden and Wilson's ideas can only assume the existence of epigenetic rules, despite their importance to the theory. While more evidence for their reality and functioning appears necessary,<12> for the sake of this discussion I too assume their existence.
While humans feel pressure to behave as biology desires, it does not lock them into blindly following the rules. Sociobiology does not dismiss the role culture has to play. Human culture and biology - both of which are approached with evolutionary models -are key players in explaining human moral behavior. A society's moral system is a cultural construct, based in part on biological requirements. The culture decides on good and bad by comparing various epigenetic rules. It builds, sorts, and develops the genetic impulses or epigenetic rules, among other contributions, into a morality.<13>
Emphasizing the role culture and other nonbiological elements have to play is important. I do not accept the extreme position often attributed to E. O. Wilson and Richard Dawkins in which religion and morality are nothing but biology. I agree that erecting a grand theory of human nature based on biology is an error. Kitcher's human behavioral ecology (his version of sociobiology) avoids these extremes. He agrees with the idea of using evolutionary ideas to study social behavior. I applaud his other requirements too, for instance on the need for `precise models and detailed data' and on the important role cultural transmission must play in social practices.<14> [??How does `altruism' fare in this fresh approach to sociobiology exemplified by the recent writings of Kitcher, Borgerhoff Mulder, and Irons? Does it still play a central role in understanding human social interactions and, in particular, altruism? It still seems to be there [??Does it get some airing in Irons???] as a theory, with the understanding that both biology and culture play a part and there is no genetic determinism. `Altruism' might stand, but how it relates to altruism and other behaviors may not.??]
The above understanding of `altruism' and sociobiology touches the religious view of altruism. This, however, assumes the ideas of sociobiology can and should interact at face value with those of theology. Several theologians think otherwise.
I mentioned Grant's essay as an example of sociobiology bashing. It focuses on `the anthropocentric vision of the modern west' that Grant thinks underlies sociobiology, especially as presented by Richard Dawkins.<15>
One of the first items Grant raises is the tendency of Dawkins and others to write as if a single gene is responsible for controlling a behavior. This is not accurate, he contends. The situation is more complicated and seems to be that a small piece of chromosome (=gene) cooperates with other genes to (perhaps) control a feature. Dawkins' emphasis seems to be subconsciously to emphasize the individual in isolation.<16>
Peacocke also points to ethical codes not being uniform.<20> Sometimes they oppose what biology would require - loving everyone to the point of turning the other cheek is an example. Ruse says an ethical code is inadequate where it counters biology and that it needs replacing. Thus, he does not think of a morality as produced mechanically by biology. Cultures add to and change the basic biological norms, even making the resulting morals oppose their original function.
Grant builds from what he sees as Dawkins' emphasis on the individual to point out Dawkins' use of the word selfish. While this is meant metaphorically, Grant points out that it is probably more appropriate to empahsize the metaphor of cooperation. A gene is not so much selfish, making sure it survives against all others, but that it has more of a chance of (genetic) survival if it cooperates more with other genes. Again this is a world view emphasis of the individual comes first againts all others.<21>
Sociobiologists define their scheme so comprehensively and creatively - e.g., over altruism with "altruism," "reciprocal altruism," and so on - that it removes the threat of there being any genuine altruism. So Grant thinks. Sociobiology explains altruism away: the `absolute elimination of altruism'.<22> The meaning of selfishness is also over stretched by some sociobiologists. They make it seem that selfishness characterizes life at its deepest level.<23>
Another example Grant raises of the world view sociobiologists are assuming and pushing, its individualistic focus. They suggest biology starts with an individualistic focus for organisms: the problem is why one would associate with other orgnisms. Grant thinks the assumption of sociobiology is the opposite: it starts with relation and connectedness.
This selfisih individualistic focus, Grant says, is a product of our culture. In particular it comes from capitalist economics. Sociobiologists project this into nature. In fact, Grant adds, it is a projection of social Darwinism, which he thinks is the original Darwinism.<24>
Speaking of social Darwinism, we come to often heard crisitsms of sociobiology, that it has an explicit political agenda of exploitation and discrimination. An often-heard criticism of sociobiology accuses it of justifying existing injustices. For instance, opponents say it supports the belief that Blacks are intellectually inferior to Whites. They suggest that following what sociobiology says is human nature only continues the injustices: `This is what evolution has produced', they think sociobiology says.<25> Grant thinks that, while sociobiology does not have an explicit political agenda and the activist criticims of it are unfounded, it does promote the underlying world view of our times.<26> (See Haraway )
I will return to this point later with more force, but I think it is important to separate the science of sociobiology from the values of some socioioblogists. Sociobiology really does not support the political interpretation. Biological inclinations contain what many would consider both altruistic and evil. To discriminate between them and to emphasize the more appropriate (perhaps the altruistic, the anti-injustice behaviors) is the task of social reflection. Bogerhoff Mulder writes that `there are indeed legitimate grounds for fear and (debatably) censorship of any science that might be inflamatory and misused for political ends, but on these grounds the whole discipline cannot be discounted.'<27>
Grant continues with his world view theme. Sociobiologists' basic views are not conscious to them. They `are largely impervious to the wider influences which shape their own perspective, and to which they, in turn, contribute.'<28> They draw on modern economics without realizing how much this shapes their fundamental agenda. Grant develops his ideas on metaphor further. Metaphor underlies science and has a `foundational role'. It is at root in language and cannot be separated out as colorful dispensible additions: `truth itself, its apprehension as well as its articulation, is inextricably linguistic'.<29>
Dawkins' root metaphor is individualistic selfishness. Grant see Dawkins going to great length and depth of circularity to uphold his belief. It is very pervasive and comes from `the anthropocentric vision of the modern west'.<30>
Grant's critique of Dawkins reads like several other examinations of sociobiologists. Peacocke, for instance, disagrees with Ruse and Wilson's belief that morality is `an illusion fobbed off on us by our genes to get us to cooperate....[It is] a shared illusion of the human race.'<31> That the content of religion (not only ethics) is an illusion is also difficult for other theologians to swallow. King writes: `Just because religion enables people to survive does not mean that its content is illusion.' The eyes, he suggests, are also `enabling mechanisms for survival'. This does not imply, however, that what the eyes see is not there. Similarly, religion can refer to what really exists. He thinks Wilson sees religion as only adding `emotional fuzz to values developed elsewhere'.<32>
Ruse's writing style is defiant and to the point, and it is easy to think his position is extreme. The criticism of Ruse and Wilson is partly correct: they are using sociobiology to promote atheism. Their use of the word illusion implies ethics and religion's claims to truth are wrong, but sociobiology does not go this far. It does say they are devices enabling genetic survival and it also says they are, in Ruse's words, `fobbed off on us by our genes to get us to cooperate'. However, it does not go so far as to call them illusions or judge whether they are true or not - whatever true means. In fact, Ruse and Wilson might apply their argument to sociobiology's analysis of science as well for it too serves biological functions enabling survival.<33> I cannot imagine that they would conclude sociobiology destroys science's claims to truth, that it too is an illusion.
If theologians respond to Ruse and Wilson's illusion talk by discounting sociobiology, they are overreacting. Grant is too.
Mary Midgley's remarks on sociobiology in her provocative Evolution as a Religion are also similar to Grant's. Spokespeople take the subject beyond its scientific boundaries when they pontificate (`illicit inflation' is a phrase she uses) over, for instance, the end of religion, the greatness of scientific materialism, the future of science, claiming more explanatory power than is warranted, forms of social Darwinism, and so forth. She also makes it clear that these are misuses of the scientific theories.<34>
It appears to me that the work of Grant and others do point out the extremity of Dawkins' and several other sociobiologists' writings. But it says more about these in relation to his own beliefs than it does about sociobiology itself.
Impuning or at least criticizing the scientist's motivations does not underme the scientific theory. Why has Grant not looked at the modern rephrasing of human sociobiology, namely human behavioral ecology, rather than the excesses of the original proponents? I am not arguning with his thesis that selfishness is the root metaphor for our society (although I could), but with its capricious application to sociobiology. It may be appropriate to Dawkins and several other advocates of sociobiology, but not for the science of sociobiology, necessarily.
We could take Grant's ideas on metaphor further. [the metaphor thing true for all sciences, therefore needs a finer discussion of the misuse of metaphor in science.] [what is Grant's metaphor?] [OK to recognize this depth of metaphor, but we cannot escape it. Can we choose given their depths? What are our alternatives? Are any really any better than others? What does better mean? See my sc/myth.]
What does Grant have to say about the snthropocentric myth of modern times? This human centred view Grant contrasts with those of `classical philosophy and...major religious traditions'. It is not a matter of going back, he continues, but we cannot `acquiesce in the simplistic assumption of our own centrality. The future of the earth itself might well depend upon our resolution of this ambivalence, and particularly upon our escape from the total domination of the scientifically endorsed and commercially diseminated dogma of the ultimacy of self.'<35>
That new paper comes in here. Grant has his underlying political, philosophical, and religious reasons and different world views too. He is not as unbiased as he might want to, by using the critical sources he does. I would say he is anti-modernist. That does not undermine the theory, though. Not even Midgley or Kitcher do that or claim to do that; they attack the extreme claims made on behalf of the science.
Grant feels he remains `captivated by something of these more venerable visions' and finds himself `torn between their elevated expanse and this self-conscious anthropocentrism of our own age'.<36> He provides no solution, just the quandry. I conclude from sociobiology, however, that there is a way forward and it involves the insights on human nature that sociobiology affords. Neither is it antithetical to traditional religion. I do not have space in this essay to develop these ideas. I need still to reach the point where those insights can be opened up. Given the bashing of sociobiology, I need to show that it is relevant for theological discussion. I do this by rebuffing the more serious theological critiques and then building a model for the relation between the religious and the biological facets of human life.
I do not deny that there are technical problems for sociobiology to solve, what Bogerhoff Mulder lists as `theoretical and methodological weaknesses'.<37> These do not challenge the underlying thesis that, in Kitcher's words, sociobiology is `the application of evolutionary ideas to the study of social behavior'.<38> These are areas for the discipline to work on. The central challenge for theology, that biology in part roots our cultural and individual behaviors, stays. All behavior, in some way, connects with the evolutionary history of the species.
There are several ways to proceed from this. One can either deny it or take it seriously. If the latter, then what is the connection between a particular behavior and the evolutionary history? This is a complex matter, as Kitcher points out.<39> The point for this theological discussion, though, is whether individual and social elements completely override those rooted in the biology when it comes, say, to morality. This is a matter for research to decide, but that has been done. Because of the work of Eaves I tentatively take it that biology is not left behind. Biology plays an important part. The question then becomes what is the relation between the biological and the social. I propose a model in which the two cannot be separated. Then, what are the impications, if any, for theology that morality is rooted in biology?
I outline below several theological reactions against sociobiology and try to diffuse their impact. I do this because the current inability of many theologians to hear sociobiology hampers a constructive dialogue between the two sides. Defensive walls go up and communication stalls. Ruse feels theologians want to say yes to science, but only until it makes them uncomfortable.<40> Then they back off and apologize by elaborating their theology. In doing so, they miss what sociobiology has to offer. Many of their reactions turn out to be variations on a few themes that continually occur in the science-religion discussion.
`IS' VERSUS `OUGHT'
The `is'/`ought' question often rises in debates between sociobiology and theology. Scientific investigation (in this case, sociobiology) can only say how humans have behaved or can behave. That is the `is'. It cannot say how humans should behave (the `ought'). Ethicists, on the other hand, help in deciding this. Thus, Gerrit Manenschijn writes that the only way to justify going from `is' to `ought' is by moral reflection; scientific reasoning has no part in it.<41> Peter Baelz writes of the motive behind this logical break between sociobiology's `is' and ethics' `ought'. Ethics assumes humans decide their own actions. By distancing themselves from their inclinations and instincts, they can work out their motives and reasons for what they do.<42> The naturalistic fallacy is to suppose otherwise. Many use the fallacy to insulate theology (the `ought' side) from sociobiology (the `is' side).
A few theologians, for instance
The usual objection to crossing from `is' to `ought' is that it says something natural must be good. This is not what sociobiology does. Evolution has given humans conflicting motivations,<44> and there are decisions left as to which of these are good. It is as natural to become angry and lash out as it is to feel compassion for the other. Not all biological motivations are good.
On the other hand, there appear to be elements common to all human moralities. Sometimes an `is' can become an `ought' and probably should do so if a morality is to function as biologically intended.<45> In particular, `altruism' and reciprocal `altruism' are and should be the base for each society's morality. Cultures may add to these norms, give them different importance, and say how they apply in particular circumstances. Nonetheless, `altruism' and reciprocal `altruism' are the good, the `ought', for all peoples past and present. They should be the good for all future peoples as well if they are to be true to their unavoidable biology.This seems too strong.
Another reason for questioning the fallacy comes from the way people use science. Employing sociobiology to develop a morality is similar to using science to discern what diets work for human beings. There is no fuss when certain other sciences such as nutrition cross the barrier.
A motivation for setting up the `is'/`ought' barrier is the belief that scientific knowledge is true, and that `oughts' are more sensitive and need protecting against the `is's' of science. The reverse may also be the motive for other more positivist scholars. They want to protect science against takeovers by metaphysics. This belief about the nature of scientific knowledge is not born out by its history and philosophy. Thus, those who make an `is' into an `ought' must remember that scientific knowledge may change. Any morality suggested by contemporary sociobiology could be inaccurate.
Similarly, the barrier could say science is not subject to values. This is incorrect.<46> Science is not a positivist pursuit done for its own sake, and neither is it done without facing the results of possible applications.
I conclude there is no strict division between `is' and `ought' and a hard-and-fast avoidance of the naturalistic fallacy is wrong. The `is' informs the `ought', but does not dictate it.
In approaching the `is'/`ought' fallacy, the theologian might start with the following. God has brought humanity along the evolutionary path. This means the `is' must say something about God's intentions for the human species. Filling out the `ought' with theology should thus draw on the `is' because this is God's way of working.<47>
HIERARCHY OF LEVELS
I want I think to trim this section.To insist the `is' has no role in discovering the `ought' is to say genes should not contribute to culture. This separates fact from value, science from religion, sociobiology from theology. It blatantly takes science and religion as, in Ian Barbour's words, `totally independent and autonomous'.<48> There is a more subtle version of the separating. It uses a model of levels arranged in a hierarchy, theology being on a higher level than sociobiology. Peacocke has a well developed version of this approach.<49>
Peacocke fears reducing religion and morality to biology. He thinks Wilson and others believe genes determine most social behavior; non-biological social properties have a lesser role.
While Peacocke plainly thinks sociobiology reduces morality to biology, at places his writing is confusing. For instance, while he admits research may confirm sociobiology, he cannot accept that genetics will explain all of culture. He also thinks sociobiology does not do this reducing if it accepts some cultural explanations of social behavior.<50> Sociobiology poses no problem for belief in God, he says, if it only partly explains the person. Such a theory could even describe a way in which God is creating. Thus Peacocke appears to support sociobiologists such as Wilson by agreeing that sociobiology produces culture, at least to some extent.
The difference between Wilson and Peacocke lies in the extent to which they think culture builds from biology. The reduction question becomes whether or not culture can break away from biology. Theologians such as Peacocke say it does and sociobiologists such as Wilson say it does not. Wilson writes, `Can the cultural evolution of higher ethical values gain a direction and momentum of its own and completely replace genetic evolution? I think not. The genes hold culture on a leash.' While the leash is very long, it does constrain values.<51> Culture does go beyond biology but biology always tethers it.
According to people like Peacocke, in what ways does culture break away from biology? What does it mean to say they occupy different levels on a hierarchy? What are culture's unique emergent questions and behaviors? The following reactions to sociobiology say how theology and other aspects of culture separate from biology. They are ways of describing the cutting of the leash.
Peacocke thinks sociobiology has a restricted range and should be part of something else such as a theism. This larger perspective will grow from questions like, `Why is there anything at all? What kind of universe must it be if insentient matter can evolve naturally into self-conscious, thinking persons? What is the meaning of personal life in such a cosmos?'<52> Peacocke points to several features of the larger perspective. Biology may ground spiritual and mental aspirations, but it does not ground what they aspire to. That exists in the larger framework. Theology's role is to add to the discussion on the aspirations. Peacocke also suggests that reason and reflection have to do with the larger framework and not the biological. Reason, for instance, provides nonbiological support for ethics, especially in developed societies.<53>
Peacocke thinks social behavior has genuinely emergent properties: the unique features of the larger perspective. Genes have their basic place, but built on them is culture with its own agenda, including the mental and spiritual life. Culture must satisfy basic requirements set up a long time ago by evolution. It also has more say in explaining how people behave than do genes, and it does not reduce to biology. On top of biology, people can interpret themselves to themselves at their own level of cultural development.<54>
John Bowker's criticisms of sociobiology center on what he calls its poverty, that it does not allow for the qualitative or aesthetic in religion. Culture, including religion and the arts, differs significantly from genetic effects. A religion like Christianity, he says, can agree that humans are `tunes sung by the genes', but it differs by saying humans can also become `tunes sung by God'.<55> He even suggests God might act with the epigenetic rules to constrain human behavior and development.<56> The religous framework is larger than sociobiology's.
Langdon Gilkey thinks sociobiologists do not seeg to Gilkey, sociobiology says comes from and directs conscience, consciousness, and reason.Something's gone wrong here.<57> Further, sociobiology does not say why anyone should trust its reason and moral goals as objective and altruistic. Most of all, it does not say why it is not deceiving and manipulating. This problem is not unique to sociobiologists, however; everyone and all vocations and systems of thought share this moral ambiguity. All depend on God, `the power beyond all human powers'.<58> One might say morality has precedence over what sociobiology has to offer, and that morality's foundation is the reality of God and revelation.<59> This is how Gilkey knows that studying sociobiology or any other science depends on the transcendent.
The religious framework is, for Gilkey, larger than the scientific. Before he starts his criticism, he assumes God exists. Sociobiology is second to this, as are other human endeavors and what they say. The question then becomes why one should trust the scientific method as the judge of truth. Why should one not trust some other source, for instance Christian tradition?
The differences between the theological and sociobiological perspectives show in the different words and meanings of theologians and sociobiologists. Hefner notices that theological ideas such as ultimacy, God, and purpose puzzle scientists; they must find them imprecise and unnecessary.<60> Their framework of terms and truth is quite different.
An informative disagreement between theologians and sociobiologists centers on the idea of survival. Discussion on survival belongs, Peacocke believes, to the larger framework.<61> While sociobiology says what needs to happen if humans are to survive, there is still the question, `Survival for what?'<62> Is survival the most urgent value? Thomas King even asks if survival is a value because he thinks value has no empirical proof. `Science has provided us with much, but it will give us an ethic on the same day that it gives us a square circle.'<63> Even if survival is a value, Peacocke thinks there are higher order questions that need answers before looking to sociobiology. An example is the belief that the purpose of humanity is to glorify God but God's intentions may lead to our extinction.<64> `Should we survive?' is a similar question.
Disagreeing with King, Wilson thinks survival is a value.<65> `The desire to preserve our own lives or the lives of those to whom we are closely bonded by love - our families and tribes - is the deepest trait one can find in human beings and animals....If there is any single value that is fundamental to all life, it is the struggle to stay alive as a species.' Higher-order meaning questions are pointless if there is no survival. The questions of meaning are in the end secondary to survival and this should be clear to anyone who takes the natural world seriously.
Their different frameworks make King's and Wilson's words pass over and under each other. They have different starting points in their understandings of value: King starts with a transcendent God, and Wilson with nature.<66> (Note that there are two uses of the idea of framework here. One is that theology offers a framework or perspective which includes but is larger than biology's. The other is the observation that sociobiologists and theologians appear to have different frameworks of meaning.)
King, Bowker, Gilkey, and Peacocke take their respective interpretations of theological tradition to be more important than scientific insight. Can they communicate with Wilson? Perhaps Karl Peters can help as he thinks religion may already support species survival as the most important value. Survival may be central to a religious outlook.<67> Perhaps the theologians mentioned would not contemplate this possibility and the implication that sociobiology and theology can work together closely. In the next section I ask whether there is anything in common to the two world views.
The naturalistic fallacy and the general objections to sociobiology say genes do not hold culture on a leash. The tethering question underlies most theologians' reactions to sociobiology and it is especially behind their strong negative responses. Their replies set up a hierarchy of levels: theology deals with the world built on but quite different than science's. This is a common belief of theologians trying to defend their turf against science.
DANGER IN FRAMEWORKS AND BIOLOGICAL MOTIVATION????
It seems that Peacocke et al. think sociobiology is deterministic. I have been saying it is not, despite what over zealous advocates sometimes suggest. Bogerhoff Mulder writes that `Very little is actually known about heritable differences underlying [many]...behavioual differences....The common and conservative position is that most behavioral variability probably reflects flexible responses of similar genotypes to varying conditions'.<68> While determinsim is out, there still can be biological input into behavior.
The relation between theology and science lies under much of the theological debate over sociobiology. Few people specify the model they follow for the relation, or even appear to be conscious of it and its faults. This applies to many sociobiology bashers. In particular, there are problems with the different frameworks and the larger framework approach. I have two main reactions to them which come from my own perspective. I oppose attempts to separate science from religion. Further, I want to know what the two have in common and to further discussions based on what they share.
The first reaction I discuss in detail in other publications. I will not repeat it here. It says it is dangerous and inadequate to separate science from religion, sociobiology from theology.<69> Further, modern society accepts the scientific process for approaching truth more than it does orthodox theology's. In the end what else is the judge of truth and the assumptions people make?
I have not elaborated my second reaction before. Sociobiology helps explain why theologians want a world of meaning beyond that of science. (It can also explain why science works the way it does.) In so doing, it challenges theologians to an open discussion on the future world of meaning suitable for the survival of humanity. Altruism is a key to this and will be the central topic in later sections. Meaning may be an adaptive trait of human beings.Draw on the Time article for nature of meaning. Also: I need to make it clear that I am not trying to explain everything, including meaning, with this sociobiological model. Otherwise I am claiming too much power and fall under Midgley's critique. Why am I not doing this? Like Midgley, I can say that even though s/b attempts to explain religion - its existence and power, p.114 - that doesn't make its content untrue. God, I believe, exists. This is an important conclusion I make from Ruse's critique. Don't have to swallow all of Ruse's conclusions.
Sociobiology says culture is an instrument of genetic survival and meaning is not separate from the biological. Tone this down. Rather, it seems like the need for meaning is biological (see the Time article too in support of this). Biology starts and drives any cultural activity, partly directing it with epigenetic rules. To help human survival even more, biology may encourage people to think meaning comes first. So Peacocke, King, Gilkey, and Bowker's genes may promote their belief in a larger framework of meaning beyond biology's. In doing this, they may think and feel according to the channels of their epigenetic rules.
Thus there is no complete release from genetic survival pressures to decide with total freedom. Ethicists follow the `is' when debating what the `is' means, and they also follow it when discussing what the `ought' should be in different situations. The `is' requires deciding the `ought'. In part also the `is' directs the `ought' through its epigenetic rules. The rational bases chosen to justify an ethical code may result from epigenetic rules whose function is to lead to `altruistic' behavior.
Similarly, genes partly require theology and similar cultural activities to discern and promote what humans might aspire to. Biology working through epigenetic rules inclines people to raise and answer the meaning questions, and it pressures them to do this so they will want to survive and reproduce. In trying to make sure his gene line continues, Peacocke's biology may encourage him to ask `Survival for what?' It also may pressure him to insist that the truth of religious ideas comes before what sociobiology says. Genes may encourage Bowker to consider humans as `tunes sung by God'. They may also motivate Gilkey to insist that the source of sociobiologists' trust in science's objectivity or in their moral position lies beyond science. People biologically need a framework of meaning and they understandably resist attempts to undermine the one they have.
Human biology inclines us to ask larger framework questions. They are necessary for our survival. It also helps direct our answers.
A levels approach has major difficulties and is dangerous. Assuming there is a higher religious framework does not protect it from biology because it exists as a function of biology. There is too much in common to sociobiology and theology, too much traffic between them, to have them at different levels on a hierarchy. The lower level of sociobiology touches all aspects of the upper one, theology. Genes tether and help steer all that humans do. Culture adds to what the genes bring and helps choose the genes through natural selection. It also helps enforce what biology requires. To insist there is no leash from genes to culture or religion is to disagree on world views. I prefer one informed by science rather than dominated by a traditional religion. Then theology can seek to build on and with sociobiology rather than be afraid of it.<70> This opens the need to understand their mutual relevance, a very important subject.
Maybe my arguments against a different levels in a hierarchy idea are weak. What is their point? I am trying to be anti-reductionism and anti-defensive boundary-defining reactions to it. The question is, rather, how are they related and how does this relationship work in practice? I could have used altruism as an example, but I want to focus in this essay on the theoretical relationship.
A MODEL FOR THE CULTURE/BIOLOGY RELATION
`There is too much in common to theology and sociobiology, too much traffic between them to have them at different levels on a hierarchy.' Having said that and rejected Peacocke's model, I now need a better basis for relating ideas in theology and sociobiology. How can we think of the relation between biology and culture without using the levels of frameworks approach? How can we picture it so there is an inseparable link between culture and biology? The challenge is to do this so that religion does not reduce to biology.
Peacocke and others have the image, to put is crudely, of a line drawn between biology and culture. All below the line is biological, all above is cultural. But there really is no clear-cut division between them. For instance, the epigenetic rules that people feel as cultural are biological mechanisms.<71> It is not a matter of culture above a certain point; rather, the genetic and the cultural are inseparable.
Bowker says that being more precise over how much the genes determine and how much culture constrains is `a very distant goal'. Perhaps it is hopeless because the relation between cultural and genetic evolution is so complex.<72> I more than agree. It is not `a very distant goal'; it cannot exist.
Unknown to him, Peacocke already has a model on which to base a solution to the biology/culture problem. It is his epistemological stand over objectivism and subjectivism, what he calls critical, qualified realism. This says scientific theories do reflect the structure of reality, but, on the other hand, one cannot isolate all social and psychological factors from them. If Peacocke applies a similar approach to his problem with sociobiology, he could say genes do determine human behavior and that biology comes through culture, making the two inseparable. (In fact, Peacocke's epistemological problem is a more general version of the biology/culture one. To translate, note objectivism is sociobiology, and subjectivism is culture.)
Gene-culture coevolution says much the same. Genes affect the direction of cultural change. Natural selection, in part working from culture, shifts the frequencies of these genes, and this then opens new channels for cultural evolution. The circle goes round again.<73> Biology and culture work together; they are inseparable.
There are not, I conclude, two frameworks, one strictly emergent from the other. Why not strictly? I would agree there are two frameworks, but not one above the other. The problem is that all attempts to show here the religious is strictly greater than the sociobiological fail. Rather, there is one framework with different clusters of its terms used for different purposes, but, ideally, with each connected to all others. In the past I have described this model using the image of a ladder, the two vertical poles representing each of science and religion. The rungs stand for what they hold in common.<74>
The ideas on the nature of the cultural level by Peacocke et al. can help elaborate the nature of the purpose of the religious meaning-giving area of discourse (area is a better spatial metaphor than level) - still totally interrelated to the sociobiological level. Perhaps i should stop using Peacocke as this s/b-bashing oponent and see his work more as a searching for a more adequate relationship than reductionism, only I find his levels model too confusing (what does it say to mutual relevance?) and dangerous because it could lead to the protecting of theology against s/b. The argument above says the search for meaning is biologically motivated (besides being to some extent informed by biology in content too) and hence is in all aspects not transcendent of biology. In a way biology is an emergent level above theology [can this be justified? Think more about it.] as it serves a biological function. If the search for meaning - especially given its biochemical aspects - consistently went against genetic and cultural fitness, it would be selected against. Its content over the long haul is therefore subject to selective pressures either genetically or memically.
In principle, ideas flow both ways between sociobiology and theology. The point I have been urging is the relevance of the ideas of sociobiology for theology, so this direction of the flow is clear. What of the relevance of theology to sociobiology? Gilkey's points about the metaphysical basis for sociobiology and sociobiolgists' stands are examples of this flow.
Any attempt to seek the implications of sociobiology and theology for each other must, of course, respect the different meanings that might be attached to their words. There is a base for discussing these terms and a respect for the need for each in the total picture of meaning necessary for human beings. Now we have a model of the direct interaction of theology and sociobiology, admitting the different purposes to which each is putting the same collection of ideas.
I have in other essays attempted this approach in discussions on sociobiology and altruism and sociobiology and evil. Refs. Maybe I need here to say a little about how the breaking down of the levels model affords the chance for theology and sociobiology to begin to converse about topics of mutual interest on the same level. That is, why on earth have this paper at all? I'm saying that sociobiology cannot be discarded and that previous apparently mostly defensive approaches by theologians are inadequte. There are vital topics of mutual interest that need addressing. It's near to a biological imperative that the meaning deliberators of our society - inculding theologians - do so. The next sections take this intermingling of the two further. They have to do with altruism, a key idea, as I mentioned above, for linking the two areas.
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<3>:, for example.
<4>:L. J. Eaves, `Resolving Genetic and Social Causes
of Human Differences', unpub. presentation to the Theology and Science Group,
American Academy of Religion Annual Meeting, Anaheim, CA, November 1989;
`Spirit, Method, and Content in Science and Religion: The Theological
Perspective of a Geneticist', Zygon: Journal of Religion and Science,
24, no. 2 (June 1989), 185-215; and L. J. Eaves, H. J. Eysenck and N. G.
<6>:Donald T. Campbell, `On the Conflicts Between Biological and Social Evolution and Between Psychology and Moral Tradition', Zygon: Journal of Religion and Science, 11, no. 3 (September 1976), 167-208.
<7>:. : 95 reviews the topic of cultural evolution.
<8>:Ralph Wendell Burhoe, Toward a Scientific Theology (Belfast: Christian Journals Limited, 1981), pp. 17-21.
<9>:Alexander, The Biology of Moral Systems. See also Irons, `How Did Morality Evolve?' for a modification of Alexander's theory.
<10>:See also Robert Boyd and Peter J. Richerson, Culture and the Evolutionary Process (Chicago, IL: The University of Chicago Press, 1985).
<11>:For details on human sociobiology, see William Irons, `How Did Morality Evolve?', Zygon: Journal of Religion and Science, 26, no. 1 (March 1991), 49-89; Charles J. Lumsden `Psychological Development: Epigenetic Rules and Gene-Culture Coevolution', in Sociobiological Perspectives on Human Development, ed. by Kevin B. MacDonald (New York: Springer-Verlag, 1988), chap. 8, pp. 234-67; Charles J. Lumsden and Edward O. Wilson, Genes, Mind, and Culture: The Coevolutionary Process (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1981); Promethean Fire: Reflections on the Origin of Mind (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1983); Michael J. Reiss, `Human Sociobiology', Zygon: Journal of Religion and Science, 19, no. 2 (June 1984), 117-40; Ruse, `The Morality of the Gene'; The Darwinian Paradigm; `What Can Evolution Tell Us About Ethics?'; Ruse and Wilson, `The Evolution of Ethics'; `Moral Philosophy as Applied Science'; Edward O. Wilson, Sociobiology: The New Synthesis (Cambridge, MA: The Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, 1975); On Human Nature (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1978). I am not considering the disagreements within the sociobiological community - see Richard D. Alexander, The Biology of Moral Systems (New York: Aldine de Gruyter, 1987); and Irons, `How Did Morality Evolve?'.
<12>:See Irons, `How Did Morality Evolve?', for recent research; also Lumsden, `Psychological Development'; Kevin B. MacDonald, `The Interfaces Between Sociobiology and Developmental Psychology', in Sociobiological Perspectives on Human Development, ed. by Kevin B. MacDonald (New York: Springer-Verlag, 1988), chap. 1, pp. 3-23; and John Maddox, Edward O. Wilson, Anthony Quinton, John Turner and John Bowker, `Genes, Mind and Culture', Zygon: Journal of Religion and Science, 19, no. 2 (June 1984), 213-32.
<13>:Kevin J. Sharpe, David Bohm's World: New Physics and New Religion (Lewisburg, PA: Bucknell University Press, forthcoming).
<18>:See Robert Plomin, `The Role of Inheritance in Behavior', Science, 248, no. 4952 (13 April 1990), 183-88, as an example of this type of development.
<19>:Ruse and Wilson, `Moral Philosophy as Applied Science', p. 178. See also Grant, pp. 433-34; MacDonald, `The Interfaces Between Sociobiology and Developmental Psychology', p. 10; and Edward O. Wilson, `The Relation of Science to Theology', Zygon: Journal of Religion and Science, 15, no. 4 (December 1980), 425-34, esp. p. 428.
<20>:Peacocke, God and the New Biology, pp. 66-67.
<22>:: 435-436, esp. p. 439.
<25>:Peter Singer, `Ethics and Sociobiology', Zygon:
Journal of Religion and Science, 19, no. 2 (June 1984), 141-58, esp. p.
156; see also William A. Rottschaefer and David L.
<29>:: 444-45, esp. p. 445.
<30>:: 449, see also p. 446.
<31>:Peacocke, God and the New Biology, p. 113. Ruse and Wilson, `The Evolution of Ethics', p. 52; see also Manenschijn, `Evolution and Ethics', pp. 93-94.
<32>:Wilson and King, `Religion and Evolutionary Theory', p. 92.
<33>:Lumsden and Wilson, Genes, Mind, and Culture.
<34>:, see especially p. 131.
<37>:: 93. Midgley also has some things for sociobiology to work on.
<41>:Gerrit Manenschijn, `Evolution and
Ethics', in Evolution and Creation: A European Perspective, ed. by Svend Anderson and
<42>:Peter Baelz, `A Christian Perspective on the Biological Scene', Zygon: Journal of Religion and Science, 19, no. 2 (June 1984), 209-12, esp. pp. 209-10. See also Bernard D. Davis, `The Importance of Human Individuality for Sociobiology', Zygon: Journal of Religion and Science, 15, no. 3 (September 1980), 275-93; and Edward O. Wilson and Thomas M. King, `Religion and Evolutionary Theory', in Religion, Science, and the Search for Wisdom: Proceedings of a Conference on Religion and Science, September 1986, ed. by David M. Byers (Washington, DC: Bishops' Committee on Human Values, National Conference of Catholic Bishops, 1987), pp. 81-102, esp. p. 93.
<44>:Irons, `How Did Morality Evolve?'.
<45>:This is the hub of my crossing from `is' to `ought'. If certain behaviors are biologically essential (decided on by their being genetically common to all peoples), they should be `oughts' for any society.
<46>:See Kevin J. Sharpe, From Science to an Adequate Mythology (Auckland: Interface Press, 1984).
<47>:Hefner, `Sociobiology, Ethics and Theology', p. 204. See also Solomon H. Katz, `Biocultural Evolution and the Is/Ought Relationship', Zygon: Journal of Religion and Science, 15, no. 2 (June 1980), 155-68; and Singer, `Ethics and Sociobiology'.
<49>:I discuss this further in
<50>:See also Lumsden, `Psychological Development', p. 234.
<51>:Wilson, On Human Nature, p. 167.
<52>:Peacocke, God and the New Biology, p. 111.
<53>:Peacocke, God and the New Biology, pp. 66-67.
<54>:This argument is unchanged in the face of Peacocke's levels theory. He sees theology and science forming a hierarchy of levels of which theology is higher (this is the larger framework idea made more explicit). Many concepts of the higher level (theology), Peacocke would say, are genuinely emergent and do not reduce to those of the lower level. On the other hand, the lower level must feel the higher-level concepts as singularities - inexplicable by its own concepts. Does sociobiology find there are singularities in its domain which theology explains? I do not think so.
<55>:J. W. Bowker, `The Aeolian Harp: Sociobiology and Human Judgment', Zygon: Journal of Religion and Science, 15, no. 3 (September 1980), 307-33, esp. p. 329.
<56>:Maddox, et al., `Genes, Mind and Culture', p. 221.
<57>:Gilkey is wrong about selfishness. The usual moral sense of selfishness is not that used in sociobiology where it refers to passing on one's genes. Thus sociobiology does not have what Gilkey calls a `high moral stance' (Gilkey, `Insights from a Senior Associate').
<58>:Langdon Gilkey, `Insights from a Senior
Associate', Insights: The Newsletter of the Chicago Center for Religion and
Science (December 1989), 19; see also Langdon Gilkey, `Biology, Ethics and
Theology', in Kooperation und Wettbewerb: zu Ethik und Biologie menschlichen
Sozialverhaltens, ed. by Hans May, Meinfried Striegnitz and
75/1988 (Rehburg-Loccum, Germany: Evangelische Akademie Loccum, 1989), pp. 33-58.
<59>:Carl Braaten, `Values that Guide Our Lives: A Response',Insights: The Newsletter of the Chicago Center for Religion and Science (December 1989), 10.
<60>:Hefner, `Survival as a Human Value', p. 208.
<62>:Peacocke, `Sociobiology and Its Theological Implications', p. 181, following Mary Hesse, `Retrospect', in The Sciences and Theology in the Twentieth Century, ed. by A. R. Peacocke (Notre Dame, IN: University of Notre Dame Press, 1981), pp. 281-295, esp. p. 284.
<63>:Wilson and King, `Religion and Evolutionary Theory', p. 93.
<65>:Wilson and King, `Religion and Evolutionary Theory', pp. 100, 102.
<66>:Is Wilson misunderstanding what King thinks is a value? Or does King have too theological an understanding of value? Another example involves theologians wanting to go beyond a materialistic explanation by saying human evolution follows a divine plan towards an undetected goal. Wilson boils it down to requiring a leap of faith. See Wilson and King, `Religion and Evolutionary Theory', p. 98.
<67>:K. E. Peters, `Evolutionary Naturalism: Survival as a Value', Zygon: Journal of Religion and Science, 15, no. 2 (June 1980), 213-22. Hefner also takes survival as a primary theological value (Hefner, `Survival as a Human Value'. See also Hefner, `Is/Ought', p. 393). Hefner adds that there are theological ideas which a discussion on survival should consider.
<69>:Sharpe, From Science to an Adequate Mythology; `Biology Intersects Religion and Morality', Biology and Philosophy, 7, no. 1 (1992), 77-88; and David Bohm's World. Plus .
<70>:Hefner leads the way. See, for instance, his
`Sociobiology, Ethics and Theology'; `Creation: Viewed by Science, Affirmed by
Faith', in Cry of the Environment: Rebuilding the Christian Creation
Tradition, ed. by Philip N. Joranson and Ken Butigan (Sante Fe, NM: Bear
& Co., 1984), chap. 10, pp. 198-217; `The Evolution of the Created
Co-Creator', in Cosmos as Creation: Theology and Science in Consonance,
ed. by Ted Peters (Nashville, TN: Abingdon Press, 1989), chap. 6, pp. 211-33;
and `An Exercise in Theological Anthropology: The Created Co-Creator and
Ethical Norms', in Kooperation und Wettbewerb: zu Ethik und Biologie
menschlichen Sozialverhaltens, ed. by Hans May, Meinfried Striegnitz and
<71>:Lumsden, `Psychological Development', pp. 241-43, 256-59.
<72>:Bowker, `The Aeolian Harp', p. 318.
<73>:Ruse and Wilson, `Moral Philosophy as Applied Science', p. 184. See also Wilson, `The Relation of Science to Theology', p. 428.