The Instigator
SolaGratia
Con (against)
Losing
13 Points
The Contender
brittwaller
Pro (for)
Winning
52 Points

How do compassionate liberals reconcile themselves to "Survival of the Fittest?"

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Voting Style: Open Point System: 7 Point
Started: 1/17/2008 Category: Society
Updated: 9 years ago Status: Voting Period
Viewed: 2,273 times Debate No: 1905
Debate Rounds (3)
Comments (2)
Votes (15)

 

SolaGratia

Con

Evolution, passing over the relative truth or falsity of its various claims, is hard and emotionless. The "Survival of the Fittest" doctrine, for example, would seem to put a moratorium on human compassion, if indeed it is true. Darwinism has become, like it or not, a central tenet of liberal thought since The Origin of Species came out in 1859.

And so I ask you, and I'm hoping for a thoughtful, esoteric liberal, how does "compassionate" liberalism reconcile with "Survival of the Fittest?"

I suppose it's up to me to define the parameters. Okay:

I would like a debate that touches on the philosophical side of evolution, rather than the purely scientific. Whereas Darwinism is all too often grounded in empirical data, no one can deny that if it intends to explain the origins of life and indeed of the universe itself it needs something more.

This is about Evolution and Liberalism. Please don't bring up Creationism or Conservatism.

Thanks!

Sola Gratia
brittwaller

Pro

Thank you, SolaGratia, for bringing this topic to the forum for debate. I look forward to a good debate and a mutually beneficial exchange of ideas and information.

1) "Evolution, passing over the relative truth or falsity of its various claims, is hard and emotionless."

Evolution is not hard or emotionless - it is nothing but the overall theory of the development of life on both the macro- and micro- scales. Evolution is the theory (I won't get into the difference of the usage of "theory" in a scientific sense versus its common usage in everyday conversation) and natural selection is the mechanism by which evolution occurs. To say that "evolution is hard and emotionless" is to try to personalize an idea - to give it a face, as it were, when there is neither texture to be touched nor emotions to be expressed or felt. Once you give evolution a face, something to be avoided at all costs, it becomes possible for any statement as vague as "evolution is hard and emotionless" to ring true in *some* general way: "Evolution is wondrous and imaginative" or "E. is mysterious and beautiful" or "E. is rude and cunning" all become equally relevant and equally useless. So let's not personify natural processes. I think your meaning is something roughly equivalent to "Mother Nature (ie, our total environment) isn't very nice" which is hardly a stretch (see how easy, yet unnecessary, it is to personify concepts?!), but there is much more to our total environment than just the process of evolution.

2)"The Survival of the Fittest" Doctrine

I assume that you are not speaking of the archaic, idiotic and pseudo-scientific writings of Social Darwinism, but instead of the process of natural selection, which Darwin used synonymously with the phrase "survival of the fittest" after it had been coined by Herbert Spencer. I know of no particular "doctrine" and so shall use the language of biology that refers to the idea of natural selection; correct me if there is some specific idea I missed or if you were referring to something different.

Darwin used the phrase "survival of the fittest" as a metaphorical way of saying natural selection, and in modern biology the use of "natural selection" is the preferred term, not only because of the confusion that has grown up around "survival of the fittest" but because there is much more to natural selection than just the aspect of "fitness." In biology, an organism's "fitness" is measured in terms of their reproductive success, not by any set of features or characteristics belonging to that organism. The common use of "fit" and "fittest" is generally taken in a way related to being "physically fit" or such, whereas its use in biology can only be related retrospectively.

3)I do not see how this "puts a moratorium on human compassion" at all. To derive your ideas of morality from what you call "the Survival of the Fittest Doctrine" would be to commit the naturalistic fallacy - just because something *is* a certain way in the natural world does not mean that it is good or right, or *ought* to be that way. In any case, evolutionary "survival of the fittest" does not even necessarily mean the strong constantly trample the weak, as social behavior such as cooperation is "fit."

4)"Darwinism has become, like it or not, a central tenet of liberal thought since The Origin of Species came out in 1859."

It would be fairer to say that Darwinism has become a central tenet of rational thought, perhaps. "Liberals" certainly do not have an exclusive relationship with scientific fact.

5)I don't see much to reconcile, frankly. I am generally very liberal (by modern meaning of "liberal") and I am fairly compassionate, but I don't see the contradiction between these facts and a description of natural selection, whole or part. If there is a movement known as "compassionate liberalism" mirroring the neoconic "compassionate conservatism" I am not aware of it; if you meant "compassionate" only as a qualifier of the classical school of liberalism, please clarify.

6)On the last note of your argument, you mentioned that you wanted a debate that touches on the philosophical side of evolution more then purely scientific. I hope to indulge you as I feel this will be the most rewarding part of the experience.

First, I think, it is important to note that we are making a large step when we move from Darwinism, which is relevant to biology and a host of other disciplines, to looking for the explanation of "the origin of life," which natural selection is still involved in, and "the universe itself," where biological evolution can lay no claims as the subject is now scientifically in the purview of cosmology. I do not claim that Darwinism (or science in general, or any other viewpoint) can answer these ultimate questions of ours. The supreme question, "Why is there anything instead of nothing?" is the most unanswered (and perhaps least asked) question we have. We might as well not even ask, it is so remote a possibility of man ever finding an answer above mere speculation. And it would be ridiculous to ask "Darwinism" to attempt to answer any of these questions. Science will always bring us ever closer to possibly answering some big questions, but we all know that we will never know it all and that science ends where evidence and observation and falsifiability end; after that, all is speculation and guessing, no matter how well-informed or educated it is.

It is neither the purpose nor the want of Neo-Darwinism to answer these questions of ours. As humans, we all exist with this existential quandary every day of our lives. Most people cope with this by getting their metaphysics (and thus their "answers") through religion. As an atheist, I don't do this, but I don't dispose of metaphysics entirely. When a question cannot be answered, the default answer becomes "I don't know," to which I usually append "but someone might know someday" and that is the end of it. It is not entirely satisfying and far from comforting, but it is good enough for the time being - it has to be.

Back to you, Sola Gratia

Britt
Debate Round No. 1
SolaGratia

Con

Hey, brittwaller, thanks for accepting my debate.

1) I'm not trying to anthropomorphize Darwinism, I'm just trying to illustrate my argument. When I said Darwinism was "hard and emotionless," I meant that there is no room in it for emotion. It is, therefore, emotionless.

2) If Darwinism is "a central tenet of rational thought," something I am by no means sure of, it would not matter greatly because rational thought is, ironically, subject to change. Geocentrism, for example, was once regarded as rational thought.

3) You seem to be what I would term a "positive athiest." You admit that Evolution/Darwinism does not explain everything, and that the answer to some hard questions is "I don't know." I definitely agree with you there, but I tend to think the structure of the universe is far beyond the reason of man.

4) It seems a tad unnecessary for you to redefine my terms. I use Darwinism and Evolution interchangeably, and when I refer to them I mean not only natural selection, but spontaneous generation, biogenesis, and Big Bang theory. I'm sure you'll agree that these ARE parts of Darwinian thought.

6) By compassionate liberalism, I meant that liberalism is devoted to personal welfare. There is no basis for this without compassion, and so I used the qualifying term "compassionate." Compassionate Conservatism, by the way, was nothing more than a campaign slogan.

I think I've asked an answerable question, so to speak, and I resent that you say you look forward to a "Mutually beneficial exchange of ideas and information" but deny my argument any credence.

I'll go more in-depth: Evolution has no place for emotion, or for virtue. What Evolutionary purpose does, say, unconditional love serve? Or charity? It would seem that these are completely opposite Survival of the Fittest. And yes, I intend to keep using that term.

I used liberalism because, let's face it, liberalism has accepted Darwinism far more than anyone else. Maybe it's because they're so "enlightened." ;)

I hope I've clarified the terms a bit more, and I'm sorry you didn't find them coherent enough to make an actual argument.

Thanks,

Sola Gratia.
brittwaller

Pro

1)Fair enough.

2)It might not matter greatly, but it does matter. Geocentrism was an unfalsifiable hypothesis; the descent of beings from a common ancestor is a scientific fact.

3)Agreed.

4)What terms did I redefine? You gave no definitions at all.

The question of abiogenesis (not spontaneous generation) and the process of biogenesis are parts of Darwinian thought; the Big Bang theory comes from physics and cosmology. The Big Bang theory may be part of universal evolution (using "evolution" in the widest possible sense), but no, it is not a part of Darwinian thought. I already explained that it is a big leap to jump from biological evolution to trying to explain the origin of the universe. These two forms of "evolution" are far from parallel.

5)I'll assume that you meant "extra-personal welfare," as the nature of the debate seems to hinge on this point.

Don't be resentful. I did not deny your argument credence - I'm sure you do accept it as true. I explained that there is nothing to reconcile, as being compassionate (or loving, or virtuous, or charitable, etc) has nothing to do with what Darwin meant when he used the phrase "survival of the fittest." As said before, there is no contradiction. I think you may be defining survival of the fittest in a sense other than what Darwin meant. See Point #2 in Round One.

As far as what evolutionary purpose the afore-mentioned things serve, I already explained that these are factors that contribute to the "fitness" of an organism, improving its chances both for its own survival and the survival of its genes (accomplished via reproduction.)

Forgive my shortcomings and faults.

Britt
Debate Round No. 2
SolaGratia

Con

It pains me to admit that this was a poorly-thought-out debate, and certainly one that I deserve to lose. It was one of those spur-of-the-moment things which one regrets later. My original point was the seeming incongruity between Natural Selection and human compassion, the lack of an Evolutionary basis for compassion. I concede that it was unfair to my opponent to begin a debate with such vague terms, and I can't fault him for trying to define them further. It was also, perhaps, not a good debate for this format.

But I do intend to go down fighting. You are quite probably far more knowledgeable about the subject than I am, but I deny categorically that there is any evidence that the traits I have mentioned (compassion, charity, unconditional love, etc.) make an individual more "fit" and thus more likely to reproduce. The idea of charity, for example, which is giving of yourself to help someone less fortunate than you would seem to weaken yourself and perhaps put the recipient of your charity on an equal footing with you and thus make it a competitor for food, territory, reproduction, etc.

Very well, it probably doesn't serve any purpose to continue to argue since my fate is in the cards, so I'll stop. Thanks, britt waller, and sorry I wasn't able to actually debate you ;)
brittwaller

Pro

I understood the general idea of what you were trying to get across, but there were at least three or four topics being discussed as one. I wanted to get a common understanding of terminology out of the way, which in itself took care of the alleged link between Darwinian thought and modern liberalism. I accepted the challenge primarily to speak about the philosophical side of evolution, but terminology bogged us down.

As far as the debate that we ended up having goes, however, I will show how charity, as that is your example, does make an individual more "fit" and thus more likely to reproduce.
For the sake of argument, I'll use homo sapiens for the species in question, although the same principles apply fairly evenly for all animals.

What all of the traits you mentioned have in common is reciprocal altruism, or basically "You scratch my back, I'll scratch yours." Let's say person A is on the verge of starvation and person B decides to help person A in a large way - take them in off the street, nurse them to health, get them started in life again, then person B has probably made a friend to say the least. Person B can count on person A to be there when they are down, or if they ever need anything. So, through charity, person B has made an ally. This is not to say that every charitable action ever taken was considered in terms like this (some individuals are nicer than others) or that person A couldn't be a liar and never come back to help person B, or even possibly harm them - that is a chance that person B took. The point is that person B could *afford* to do this in the first place. Helping others is a sexual selector (imagine person C saying, "Wow, if B can take care of himself and A, too, then he is very "fit.") And the more that B does this, the more chances he will have to make allies (helping to ensure his own survival) and the better he will "look" to the opposite sex (helping to ensure the survival of his genes.) Of course there are many other factors and variables, but that is the gist of the argument, in simplified form, of course. See Dawkins' "The Selfish Gene" for more in-depth material.

I've read your debates and I respect your views and skills. Hopefully our next debate will be a little more substantial. Thank you, and good luck. See you around the site.

Britt
Debate Round No. 3
2 comments have been posted on this debate. Showing 1 through 2 records.
Posted by Logical-Master 8 years ago
Logical-Master
CLEANERS VOTE LM REPORTING!

CONDUCT: SolaGratia, never, ever speak poorly of yourself in a debate. Never lose your composure no matter what. In addition, you really weren't clear on what you wanted to debate about. This vote goes to PRO.

Spelling and Grammar: "Thanks, britt waller, and sorry I wasn't able to actually debate you ;)"
There is no space in PRO's user name. This goes to PRO.

Convincing arguments: PRO exploited quite well as to CON's misunderstanding of the term "survival of the fittest." In addition, CON claimed he'd go down fighting, but does nothing more than make a an assertion (which PRO more than easily answers with in actual argument in his final round). I voted PRO here.

Reliable sources: PRO cites the "selfish gene" in his final round, thus, he wins in terms of reliable sources.

Yours truly,

The impartial observer of the cleaners.
Posted by mrmazoo 9 years ago
mrmazoo
I don't understand this debate at all.

What exactly are you two debating?

What in the world does Darwinism have to do with modern Liberalism?

It would really help if next time the instigator of the debate actually stated what it was they were for or against.
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