Saturday, November 03, 2007

The evolution of love

I find the seemingly random differences in humans interesting when compared to the breeding of dogs. Using AKC standards, one can imagine the look and behavior and most details of a particular dog without ever seeing that dog, if one were told the dog is pure breed and of a sanctioned AKC breed. Not so with humans. So in a relatively short time wild dogs have gone from canines with random differences to many breeds that are near clones of one another. Which makes me wonder why do some humans feel and experience more a mystery of love while other feel more a utility of love? We see very clearly that in a relatively short time wild canines have evolved (with human direction) into tiny furry cute lapdogs (or pitbulls). So it seems it doesn't take much time to change a creature from this to that. So I ask, could a purely "utility love" of ancient humans, through tens of thousands of years, been shaped and transformed through religion, myth, superstition, to this present day "mysterious love"? And if you think that possible, then how do we now view all that "religion/myth/superstition" of the past that shaped what today most would consider good and what makes us human -- love? (I am not speaking of group or institutional changes that the religions and mythologies of peoples have created, but the individual genetic changes that transformed a pre-homo sapiens with a sort of utilitarian kind of love into a present-day musing fellow that is filled with love and compassion.) And why am I thinking this at all? I think to better think through some of the current challenges to religion by Richard Dawkins and Christopher Hitchens and others. Apart from the challenges are the statistics, a recent survey of over 1,600 science faculty at elite research universities came up with 38% of those in the natural sciences did not believe in God, and 31% in the social sciences did not believe in God. I mention these numbers because some well meaning Christians attempt to construct biblical arguments to counter challenges from atheists, yet as I've said before, when someone can't get past the first sentence of the Bible, and the atheist cannot, then how do you expect a dialogue when you pepper rebuttals with scripture? Maybe the choice is to have no dialogue? I think not.


Lucy said...

As few as 38%? I'd have thought more. It probably is more in Europe.
I think perhaps it is our our persistent questioning and needing to know why, that has brought home to us the mystery of love, why something so intangible, so abstract yet so powerful,so impossible to prove, measure and quantify, what is it, how does it fit into our system of reasoning?

Simple people, children, (dogs even!) accept love as something experiential, not needing proof or analysis.

Lifewish said...

...whereas sophisticated scientists are very aware that experience without reflection can lead to conclusions that are badly wrong.

To me, that's the link between science and atheism. It's not that science has been very successful at getting the right answer. It's that, even with the most careful controls in place, science still quite frequently gets the wrong answer, and it takes a lot of effort by diligent scientists to correct those mistakes.

If even science can take the wrong path in its quest for knowledge, how much more prone to error must religion be, since there's no way to compare it against reality?

So I ask, could a purely "utility love" of ancient humans, through tens of thousands of years, been shaped and transformed through religion, myth, superstition, to this present day "mysterious love"?

I'd guess that this "mysterious love" is more likely to be a spandrel: not an adaptive trait itself but rather a side-effect of an adaptive trait. What's really interesting is to consider what the associated adaptations might be.

For example, I'm fascinated by this article, which associates belief with a tendency to mistake gibberish for patterns, and skepticism with a tendency to mistake patterns for gibberish. Of course, in a savannah situation, it's far better to be "credulous" about pattern recognition - false positives only waste your time, whilst false negatives mean a tiger eats you.

Maybe the choice is to have no dialogue? I think not.

The ideal choice, from our perspective, is for the religious person to lay out their honest-to-God reasons for belief so we can see whether they apply to us. The only real problem comes when we decide they don't apply to us and the believer has trouble accepting this.

If your reasons aren't rational (and, as far as I can tell, reasons for belief in God are not) then any attempt to convert us is not guaranteed to succeed. What's hardest for atheists to get our collective head around is that this rule does not apply in both directions: our reasons are as rational as we can make them, and yet people still do not accept our conclusions.