Sunday, August 16, 2015

Does naturalistic evolution support racism, or inequality of other kinds?

Not exactly. But what if some scientists got together and bred an actually superior race, which has been talked about for a long time? Then you would have a real superior race, and would that superior race feel any obligation to treat inferior races as equal? 

Naturalistic evolution does say that it is natural to pursue your own survival and makes sure your genes, not someone else's genes, are passed on. I know they like to talk about going beyond biological mandates, but if someone is driven by an interest in one's own or one's family's survival, what logical reason is there to prefer some other goal? 

The moral codes human beings developed have had a lot to say about how you should treat your neighbor, but people have limited the class of "neighbor" and said that we treat only some people as "neighbors," namely, those who are "one of us." The motivation to get away from this idea has come largely from the Christian tradition, starting with the parable of the Good Samaritan. The idea, which has been less than fully absorbed even by Christians, is that God created everyone and Christ died for everyone, so everyone needs to be treated the same. But even Jefferson, who wrote those words about equality and inalienable rights, was himself a slaveowner

When you take the religion out of it, you are left with the fact that, for the most part, we like societies in which pursue equality. Unless we get into a position to take advantage of inequality. 

8 comments:

Heuristics said...

What is a superior race?

DougJC said...

Victor,

"But what if some scientists got together and bred an actually superior race, which has been talked about for a long time? Then you would have a real superior race, and would that superior race feel any obligation to treat inferior races as equal? "

This is of practical concern, in my view, since the ultimately superior "race" is general purpose AI that can improve on its own design. Will AI vastly more intelligent than humans feel an obligation to treat inferior races as equal? Not unless the AI is specifically built with human moral values. In the absence of moral values, such an AI is a serious existential threat to humanity.

And of course if morality is of concern to our design of AI, it is also of concern to our design of DNA and no superior race would be constructed without extreme care and thought to moral instincts.

" When you take the religion out of it, you are left with the fact that, for the most part, we like societies in which pursue equality. Unless we get into a position to take advantage of inequality. "

I don't necessarily agree with the last sentence. How morality relates to the functioning of society is a body of knowledge painstakingly gained that won't be ignored. It's unlikely we would throw away our modern cars for the Model-T any time soon, so it seems just as unlikely we would throw away what we've learned about morality.

John Moore said...

We humans are like a superior race compared to the other animals. Why do we try to save the endangered species? Most people assume it's just because we feel pity for those poor struggling lions and rhinos etc. But I think it's really in our own interest to save other animals. We all depend on a healthy ecosystem, and species diversity is healthy. That's the real reason for eco-friendly policies - because it's in our own interest.

When super-intelligent AI arrives, we can expect the machines to treat us the same way we treat the lions and rhinos. They'll admire us and think we're beautiful. They'll kill most of us, but then they'll establish preserves where a small number of humans can flourish in a cultured environment.

And when that happens, it won't be due to the AI's empathy or pity, but it will be due to the AI's own self-interest.

brownmamba said...


I think Victor's main point with this and other similar posts is that without God there is no basis for equality and therefore there would be no reason for a society to be egalitarian in its laws.

Perhaps Rawls should be invoked. On his view, citizens are equal if they have the minimum capacities to cooperate in a society. If people has the ability to carry out a fair social contract, then they are equal in the relevant sense. If the alleged "superior race" does not respect these capacities as a basis for equal treatment, then why would they respect the mere fact that God created everyone?

There are also clearly selfish reasons for a "superior race" to accept an egalitarian society. Suppose one of the superiors gets a severe head injury and is no longer superior? He probably would like egalitarianism at that point.

Moreover, the idea of equality on the basis that "God created everyone" seems vacuous to me. God is supposed to have created everything, including animals, plants, and rocks. I think that the connection between theism and egalitarianism is more tenuous than Victor believes.

Victor Reppert said...

All of this assumes people making decisions for society for the common good, or at least most of it does. And with that assumption, the arguments for egalitarianism seem stronger. But real political decisions are made by people in positions of unequal power who have to choose between exploiting that position of power or not exploiting it. In the pagan world, slaves were the spoils of war, women were breeding machines, and babies were exposed if they were female. The biblical tradition pushes back against this in an unprecendented way, starting with the Old Testament prophets and through the words of Jesus and Paul. Yes, in spite of the sexist content in Paul, women were far better off in the Church than in the rest of the Roman world.

Steve Lovell said...

Enjoying the contrast between DougJC's optimism about AI and the darkly comic views of John Moore.

Dave Duffy said...

It seems China is going to have a go at creating a master race. The odds are long, but they show little scruples about the attempt.

http://www.nature.com/news/chinese-project-probes-the-genetics-of-genius-1.12985

Let's hope as they rise in economic, scientific, and technological strength they continue to become more Christian and their (at least political) atheism declines.

http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/worldnews/asia/china/10776023/China-on-course-to-become-worlds-most-Christian-nation-within-15-years.html

David Brightly said...

What logical reason is there to prefer some other goal? None at all, since it's not a matter of logic. And since one's moral formation is to some extent dependent on the norms with which one grew up, and since these norms are themselves to some extent an historical product, I don't see how we in the West with two millennia of Christianity behind us can possibly 'take the religion out of it'. Those in power will always be exposed to temptation. Hence the checks and balances, surely?