Find it here: http://edsearl.blogspot.com/2011/05/soul-is-dead-but-spirit-lives-on.html
Tuesday, May 17, 2011
The Soul Is Dead, But the Spirit Lives On
I always read David Brooks's op-ed pieces in the New York Times. His politics are too right of center for my own point of view; however, he's always well-reasoned and even more importantly draws upon much of the scientific research that I find authoritative, regarding the human condition. Brooks has an interest in morality, as do I. He often cites evolutionary biologists and psychologists, as well as neuroscientists who explore the landscape of the mind.
I've long been convinced that these areas of science have successfully challenged traditional philosophy, ethics, and theology. The popular writer Tom Wolfe, relatively early on, recognized the impact the new sciences, neuroscience, in particular, would have in a 1996 article "Sorry Your Soul Just Died."In it he wrote, "Thereupon, in the year 2006 or 2026, some new Nietzsche will step forward to announce: 'The self is dead'except that being prone to the poetic, like Nietzsche I, he will probably say: 'The soul is dead.' He will say that he is merely bringing the news, the news of the greatest event of the millennium: 'The soul, that last refuge of values, is dead, because educated people no longer believe it exists.'"
Today, Brooks has an article "Nice Guys Finish Last" in which he makes a case, based on recent scientific thought that human beings are intrinsically moral, though programmed by evolution to be selfish. Is this an oxymoron? No. Because evolution also involves complex equations to be cooperative and part of a community.If the group benefits, so the individual benefits, reasons Brooks.
He writes, "In his book, 'The Righteous Mind,' to be published early next year, Jonathan Haidt joins Edward O. Wilson, David Sloan Wilson, and others who argue that natural selection takes place not only when individuals compete with other individuals, but also when groups compete with other groups. Both competitions are examples of the survival of the fittest, but when groups compete, it's the cohesive, cooperative, internally altruistic groups that win and pass on their genes. The idea of 'group selection' was heresy a few years ago, but there is momentum behind it now.
In the end, Brooks makes a conservative pitch for religion ethics, saying, "[T]he big upshot is this: For decades, people tried to devise a rigorous 'scientific' system to analyze behavior that would be divorced from morality. But if cooperation permeates our nature, then so does morality, and there is no escaping ethics, emotion and religion in our quest to understand who we are and how we got this way.
If I could question David Brooks, I'd ask him to name the "people" who sought a scientific system divorced from morality. Sounds a bit like a straw man to me. I've never seen science (scientists) wanting to diminish moralityor religion or God. Such a judgment comes from the religionists or traditionalists who become defensive.
My bottom line maintains that we human beings, by virtue of millions of years of creaturely evolution are hardwired to be moral. A few years ago Jonathan Haidt, a leading evolutionary psychologist, described five moral colors, which he describes on his web site's home page as
1) Harm/care, related to our long evolution as mammals with attachment systems and an ability to feel (and dislike) the pain of others. This foundation underlies virtues of kindness, gentleness, and nurturance.
2) Fairness/reciprocity, related to the evolutionary process of reciprocal altruism. This foundation generates ideas of justice, rights, and autonomy. [Note: In our original conception, Fairness included concerns about equality, which are more strongly endorsed by political liberals. However, as we reformulate the theory in 2010 based on new data, we are likely to include several forms of fairness, and to emphasize proportionality, which is more strongly endorsed by conservatives]
3) Ingroup/loyalty, related to our long history as tribal creatures able to form shifting coalitions. This foundation underlies virtues of patriotism and self-sacrifice for the group. It is active anytime people feel that it's "one for all, and all for one."
4) Authority/respect, shaped by our long primate history of hierarchical social interactions. This foundation underlies virtues of leadership and followership, including deference to legitimate authority and respect for traditions.
5) Purity/sanctity, shaped by the psychology of disgust and contamination. This foundation underlies religious notions of striving to live in an elevated, less carnal, more noble way. It underlies the widespread idea that the body is a temple which can be desecrated by immoral activities and contaminants (an idea not unique to religious traditions).
Remarks in the previous blog regarding First Nature and Second Nature have relevance here. I'm thinking Second Nature is the rationalization and application of First Nature instincts, including the five moral colors. To these five instincts, I certainly add the mammalian bonding instinct which has resulted in a cornucopia of the various fruits of love.
To return to Wolfe and the soul, the soul may be dead, but the human spirit is more vibrant than evera source of awe and wonder.