Science and the naturalistic fallacy

Discussion in 'Science & Society' started by Magical Realist, Aug 19, 2013.

  1. Magical Realist Valued Senior Member

    Are scientists guilty of reasoning that "natural" equates to "good"? Does such moralization of "natural" underlie environmentalist causes, veganism, organic foods, and even evolutionary psychology ("men evolved to be hunters, therefore combat and aggression is natural and "good".) ? Here's a description of these fallacies:

    "The naturalistic fallacy is the idea that what is found in nature is good. It was the basis for Social Darwinism, the belief that helping the poor and sick would get in the way of evolution, which depends on the survival of the fittest. Today, biologists denounce the Naturalistic Fallacy because they want to describe the natural world honestly, without people deriving morals about how we ought to behave (as in: If birds and beasts engage in adultery, infanticide, cannibalism, it must be OK). The moralistic fallacy is that what is good is found in nature. It lies behind the bad science in nature-documentary voiceovers: lions are mercy-killers of the weak and sick, mice feel no pain when cats eat them, dung beetles recycle dung to benefit the ecosystem and so on. It also lies behind the romantic belief that humans cannot harbor desires to kill, rape, lie, or steal because that would be too depressing or reactionary."—Steven Pinker
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  3. dumbest man on earth Real Eyes Realize Real Lies Valued Senior Member

    "Are scientists guilty of reasoning that "natural" equates to "good"?"
    My answer to that question, would be - No. Or at least, not very many, and certainly not all.

    ...........naturalistic fallacy...........

    naturalistic fallacy, Fallacy of treating the term “good” (or any equivalent term) as if it were the name of a natural property. In 1903 G.E. Moore presented in Principia Ethica his “open-question argument” against what he called the naturalistic fallacy, with the aim of proving that “good” is the name of a simple, unanalyzable quality, incapable of being defined in terms of some natural quality of the world, whether it be “pleasurable” (John Stuart Mill) or “highly evolved” (Herbert Spencer). Since Moore’s argument applied to any attempt to define good in terms of something else, including something supernatural such as “what God wills,” the term “naturalistic fallacy” is not apt. The open-question argument turns any proposed definition of good into a question (e.g., “Good means pleasurable” becomes “Is everything pleasurable good?”)—Moore’s point being that the proposed definition cannot be correct, because if it were the question would be meaningless.

    From :
    Last edited: Aug 19, 2013
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  5. C C Consular Corps - "the backbone of diplomacy" Valued Senior Member

    I suppose science information can hardly remain inert and sterile (mere data, quantities / measurements and their relations; or abstract description sitting upon a shelf). Within the practice / methodology itself such output can feed back to engender new questions, research, theories, etc. Accordingly dodging the contamination of social interests and evaluations (at least in the physical sciences). But as it disseminates and is applied abroad, it mutates into: "What does this mean for us (how to interpret) and what can we do with it, what ought we to do with it?".

    Which is not to say that individual scientists themselves remain dependable purists once outside their routine jobs. They may work for or serve business interests to start with, or dabble opportunistically in patents on their own ("new discoveries applied"), or assist the R&D of government agencies. They may go on lecture and interview circuits, publish articles for laypersons, write books, etc. In the course of that inevitably offering personal opinions -- switching from being disinterested guardians of their specific body of scientific knowledge to indulging in active poly-sagehood and various "humankind should be steered in this direction" -isms. Dispensing wisdom about life, politics, industry, morality, ontology, epistemology, etc as bountifully as a Hollywood celebrity. Thus public perceptions may arise that science is "guilty of...", a generalizing from the particular scientists to the whole enterprise.

    Gregg Henriques: ...yet virtually no one in the science studies or postmodernist camps argues that specific facts discovered by science are arbitrarily constructed. And it is rarely the specific scientific findings such as the mass of an electron that the postmodernists take issue with. Instead it is the institution of science, the nature of scientific debate, and the scientific worldview coupled with its causes and consequences in society that many postmodernists want to emphasize and examine from a more relativistic lens. Understanding science as a justification system allows us to consider it both as collection of specific findings (which can be characterized as descriptive or explanatory statements justified by scientific methodology), and how it becomes a worldview when we consider it a system of interlocking scientific justifications. But when considered as a worldview, science can then be characterized more along the lines of a value-laden normative vision about how people ought to view the world and their place in it. This shifting in meaning creates complications because as soon as we move from the realm of specific empirical facts uncovered by the scientific method to considering science as a worldview, the object under consideration has changed. --Revisiting The Science Wars
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  7. Magical Realist Valued Senior Member

    VERY helpful distinctions there! That's what I'm mainly worried about. Not science per se, as a methodology for learning about the universe. Rather, about science as a world view--a world view enforced by an institutionalized hegemony that projects values and moral codes, depersonalizes, dehumanizes, inspires allegiance, and develops agendas that can only be totalitarian when allowed to flourish unchecked. I guess I see what happened to religion, and seeing how science fills the exact same place for many people that religion used to fill--that same old meme of promised utopia and man's eventual salvation thru information--I'm wary we may end up right back where we started. I want man to to return to his first hand experience. To find in the phenomenal exploration his own being and consciousness the meaning of the cosmos. Science can provide him invaluable tools for that. But it can't act as a replacement for it.
    Last edited: Aug 20, 2013
  8. exchemist Valued Senior Member

    Interesting observations. I'd be interested to know the views of people such as Dawkins and Steve Jones on this subject. It seems to me they try to elevate natural science into a sort of total world-view, or alternative religion. Presumably, though, they must derive their morality from OUTSIDE natural science. From where, then?
  9. Fraggle Rocker Staff Member

    World view? Sure. Alternative religion? Well... the world desperately needs an alternative to religion so I suppose science is as good as any.

    The essence of science is reasonable faith: The universe has always behaved this way, so it is reasonable to assume that it will continue to behave this way, according to the laws of nature that we have spent half a millennium cataloging by use of the scientific method.

    The essence of religion is unreasonable faith: There exists an invisible, illogical supernatural universe from which fantastic creatures and unimaginably powerful forces emerge at random intervals for no other purpose except to fuck up the behavior or the natural universe. There are no respectable records of these events, yet we know in our hearts that this is true. The best evidence we can provide is an occasional tortilla, out of the hundreds of millions fried every year, bearing a scorch mark that looks kinda like the image of a Biblical figure, of whom no portraits exist against which to verify it.

    Science has done wonders for mankind. Religion has brought us wars, ignorance and intolerance. The choice is obvious to anyone with a three-digit IQ. (Yes science has been used as a tool for war, but it was religious people who did this. Even communism with its fairytale economic system is nothing but a weird offshoot of Christianity--"to each according to his needs, from each according to his ability" is an elaboration of a line from the Book of Acts. As Jung said, "No wars in history have been as bloody as those among the Christian nations.")

    Actually, science explains this to anyone patient enough to listen. Homo sapiens is a pack-social species like wolves, lions, elephants and many other mammals. As the world's only obligate carnivore with no fangs or claws, the only way we can get enough food is to hunt as a group, using strategy, intelligence, and the tools our enormous brains have invented.

    Therefore, we have the instinct to live in extended-family units, working in harmony and cooperation to make sure the clan brings down enough food for everyone. This is the essence of our morality: Work for the good of the clan or we all starve.

    Yes yes, about 12,000 years ago some really smart people invented the twin technologies of farming and animal husbandry, which comprise agriculture. (Figs and goats in the Old World, peppers and turkeys in the New World.) We no longer need to hunt and the world now has a food surplus so no one has to starve, although some national leaders are so selfish and incompetent that they manufacture artificial famines.

    However, 12,000 years is only a few hundred generations, which is not long enough for our instincts to evolve significantly. Deep down inside, each one of us is still a caveman, and we still have the instinct to live in harmony and cooperation with our clan. This is still our morality. We're just programmed that way.

    Our uniquely enormous forebrain (about four times larger than our closest relative, the chimpanzee) gives us the ability to override instinctive behavior--to a modest extent--with reasoned and learned behavior. So we have steadily been browbeating ourselves into expanding our pack-social instinct to cover an ever-larger pack. Starting from a band of a few dozen nomadic hunter-gatherers whom we had trusted and cared for since birth, we enlarged it to a whole village of people who don't all know each other so intimately, then to a city in which many of the inhabitants are complete strangers, then to a nation of people we'll never even meet, and now to a transnational hegemony of people who are nothing but abstractions. The reason we do this is that it works. Every upgrade in technology (from Paleolithic to Neolithic, Bronze Age, Iron Age, Industrial Era, Information Age) makes our labor more productive. Until 150 years ago, more than 99% of the population worked 120-hour weeks growing food. Today in the developed nations, only 3% of the population does that, and they do it in 40-hour weeks. Many of the rest of us have jobs we can do sitting down!

    We're so happy to be able to live this way, that we continue to be ruled by the instincts of our Stone Age ancestors, because they still work!

    This is the morality of nature, and the morality of science.

    The morality of religion is quite different. The various religions teach their followers that they are just a little bit better than the rest of us. This makes it okay for them to proselytize mercilessly, and often to simply make war against us in order to either convert us to their religion or to simply cleanse the planet of our heathen souls.

    The choice seems rather obvious to me, especially since I have the misfortune of living in an era when the Christians, Jews and Muslims seem determined to start a three-way nuclear war.

    Time to dump religion. Its morality sucks. Stick with nature, and stick with science, which does nothing more than catalog and explain nature.
  10. exchemist Valued Senior Member

    Er, was there an answer to my question in there somewhere? If so, can you extract it and present it simply?
  11. wegs Matter & Pixie Dust Valued Senior Member

    Just a note:

    That's not a complete definition of Social Darwinism. Darwin asserted that part of evolution comes with it a desire to wish the best for one's fellow man, that certain characteristics evolve such as sympathy, kindness and charity. He even felt that evolution would bring with it, a moral conscience if you will. This opposes a religious person's belief however, because a religious person feels our morality comes from God. Well, for those religious ppl who disbelieve in the theory of evolution, I should add.

    Just wanted to note that because one needs to look at the complete definition of Social Darwinism.
  12. Fraggle Rocker Staff Member

    Er, what was your question? Looking at your original post:

    Since Dawkins and Jones don't post on SciForums, I suppose you're asking where the other millions of us, who find religion to be dangerous and illogical bullshit, get our morality.

    My answer is that it's already programmed into our synapses by evolution. Our Stone Age ancestors could not have survived without the pack-social instinct, as I explained at greater length above. Sorry if it was too long for you, but it's a complicated point and not everything can be condensed into a 140-character text-message.

    This is not somethine we're taught, or something we discover. It's a basic part of who we are.

    Yes, there are sociopaths who only take and don't give, who regard other humans as resources (on some days) and obstacles (on other days). As big a problem as they may be, they still make up a nearly insignificant portion of the population. Either they have suffered brain damage (physical, or emotional such as enduring an unbearable experience or simply having abusive parents) or they were born with a mutation. Some of them manage to breed (if only by rape) so the mutation is probably occasionally passed down.
  13. exchemist Valued Senior Member

    So you would say that morality arises naturally from evolution? Yes, that makes sense.

    But in that case, would that not be an argument against the proposition in the OP, and put you (and probably Dawkins) at odds with Stephen Pinker?
  14. wellwisher Banned Banned

    The problem with atheism, is the only criteria needed to belong to the club, is not believing in God or deities. Beyond that, anything goes, including being unnatural and/or bizarre and any level of uncritical irrationality.

    If someone was an ax murderer, but didn't believe in God, one is an atheist by definition, since the they will meet the singular requirement. It is very open allowing anyone to belong via denial of one thing. The club then scams people, since it calls anyone who meets this one criteria, rational, as though one rational gesture (based on lack of sensory evidence) makes you completely rational like a scientist. One does not even have to collect their own data to test the atheist propaganda against religion. Since the singular standard makes all atheists honorary scientists of impeccable reason, let us reason together.

    Religion has been around since at least the formation of civilization. From that beginning, until now, religion has been dominant within most cultures throughout most of history. This is just objective data. As such, Darwin's law of natural selection applies, with those who had the religious bent, having selective advantage, since this would be selected by the social environment.

    If evolution is real, and not just a theory, this means humans may have evolved a religious instinct, since such as these would have had breeding advantage via social selection and social elimination of the infidels. The net effect is, you can take an atheist out of religion, but you can't take religion out of an atheist psyche. This is why there is only a singular standard. The rest connected to religion is still being used.

    Naturalism is just a religion for the irrational atheist. Since they are only honorary rationalists are not real critical thinkers so you can tell them anything and they will have faith with religious zeal. The only criteria is god is pooh. That is it.

    From a scientific POV, one main purpose of religion was connected to IT (information tech) of the brain/mind. Controlling of impulse and will power is all about using the mind to alter natural circuits within the brain, so the brain can lead evolution.
  15. rpenner Fully Wired Valued Senior Member

    "Social Darwinism" however isn't science, but ideology.
  16. river

    So where does the questioner of either reside ?
  17. Fraggle Rocker Staff Member

    Well okay. If you accept Jung's theory of archetypes, then most morality derives from instincts, and instincts are the result of evolution.

    I've re-read the OP three times, and it still gives me a headache. Sorry. This philosophy stuff is not my cup of tea.

    I don't understand why that is a "problem." The definition of atheism is lack of belief in fantastic creatures who emerge at random intervals from an invisible, illogical supernatural universe, for the the express purpose of fucking up the behavior of the natural universe, thereby convincing us that we'll never understand the universe so we all have to bow in subservience to them. I don't see why one cannot lack that belief yet still exhibit unnatural and bizarre behavior and uncritical irrationality.

    After all, theism is not the only bizarre behavior rooted in uncritical irrationality. And if Jung is right, theism is perfectly natural, because it's programmed into our neurons by evolution. Perhaps belief in the supernatural was a survival trait in an era long ago whose dangers we can't imagine, but were vanquished by that belief and the behaviors it manifests.

    Huh? My credentials are second to none: a third-generation atheist who didn't even know what religion was until I was seven. But even I understand that not all atheists are rational, just as not all theists are irrational. So what's the big deal here?

    Huh??? Where do you find this stuff? It's quite possible to be an atheist without being rational, and it's also quite possible to be rational without being anything remotely resembling a scientist. An amateur philosopher, perhaps, but hardly an obligate scientist.

    There were still plenty of Paleolithic societies in Africa, Australia and the New World when the Europeans began exploring. Their scholars found religions among these people. You must not be an American if you're not aware of the myriad religions of the Native Americans.

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