19 thoughts on “The evolution of trust / morality

  1. OK readers. You have to make a bargain and your very life depends on the other party keeping his promise. You can choose between bargaining with a materialist or a Christian.

    Do you choose the person who believes there is an objective moral code binding him to keep his word and who believes he will be rewarded in heaven for living a good life, which includes keeping his promises?

    Or do you choose the party who believes his promise is utterly meaningless (along with everything else) and that his brain is nothing but a meat computer?

    That Barry. What a lovely guy.

  2. Corneel: That Barry. What a lovely guy.

    We are talking about a guy who would go to court to prevent a homosexual teen from giving the valedictory address at his “tolerant” charter school.

    If he is an example of how a Christian should act, I am damn glad that I am an atheist.

  3. OK readers. You have to make a bargain and your very life depends on the other party keeping his promise. You can choose between bargaining with a materialist or a Christian.

    Do you choose the person who believes there is an objective moral code binding him to keep his word and who believes he will be rewarded in heaven for living a good life, which includes keeping his promises?

    Or do you choose the party who believes his promise is utterly meaningless (along with everything else) and that his brain is nothing but a meat computer?

    Naturally I’d trust the person who has decided that my promise is meaningless, and that my brain is nothing but a meat computer.

    Who wouldn’t prefer the person who dehumanizes oneself?

    Glen Davidson

  4. Do you choose the person who believes there is an objective moral code binding him to keep his word and who believes he will be rewarded in heaven for living a good life, which includes keeping his promises?

    Well, this is a mischaracterization of Christians. If we’d have to deal with someone like Barry, well, we’d be in trouble. I would not choose someone who needs to deform, mischaracterize, dehumanize, and discriminate people who don’t share his beliefs. How could I know that he’d keep a promise when he thinks I’m going to hell regardless? When he doesn’t feel any need to keep himself honest despite his moral-standard-actually-carrot-at-end-of-stick supposed superiority? When he doesn’t feel like there’s any real value to his honesty. That it all depends on what the magical being mandates, and nothing else. That’s not morality, that’s just irrational obedience.

    There’s a variety of Christians, and who to trust among them is not an easy choice.

    Or do you choose the party who believes his promise is utterly meaningless (along with everything else) and that his brain is nothing but a meat computer?

    This mischaracterizes atheists. Surely there must be some like that. But it seems like the ones who think that promises mean nothing is the likes of Barry. After all, it’s him who needs a carrot-at-the-end-of-the-stick to keep himself honest. It’s him who doesn’t have meaning in his life unless there’s a magical being holding that carrot.

    I don’t believe in the magical being because I’m honest with myself. I have met lots of atheists, and none of them feels like there should be a magical being keeping them honest, before they find value in being honest.

    Maybe the trust issue is not about who’s a Christians and who’s not. Maybe it’s a matter of people’s actual values regardless of their beliefs in magical beings.

    One reason I don’t like discussing morality with Christians like Barry or kairosfocus is how dehumanized they show themselves to be. How despicable they are, and how useless their supposedly superior moral standard actually is. They think of themselves and of humanity as valueless meaningless beings, bound to follow the tantrums of a magical Mafia boss. They show themselves to be morally bankrupt.

  5. Entropy: Maybe the trust issue is not about who’s a Christians and who’s not. Maybe it’s a matter of people’s actual values regardless of their beliefs in magical beings.

    Ara Norenzayan has done some work on this. Pretty much the whole of his book Big Gods – How Religion Transformed Cooperation and Conflict is about how humans decide who to trust.

    ETA link to book

  6. I seem to remember reading something on game theory many years ago (evolutionary stable strategies?). Modelling different strategies with respect to lying and telling the truth. The strategies that appeared to be stable had rates of compulsive liars similar to what we tend to see in society. All without the need for Barry’s homosexual hating God.

  7. How do you go about trusting that the person claiming to be a Christian is actually a Christian?

    I mean, my first inclination, without knowing anything at all about the black box person other than his claim of being a Christian, is that this is a person trying to gain some advantage.

    Now if the rules are that an omniscient and utterly reliable source of information labels the black box person a Christian, I have to ask myself, does it mean “true Christian” or just a person who was baptized or confirmed at some undetermined point in the past. The implication being that True Christian will not lie, which kind of gives the game away.

    So I see no useful information imparted by the naked claim of being Christian.

  8. petrushka:

    So I see no useful information imparted by the naked claim of being Christian.

    And in particular, no useful ethical information.

    Exhibit A: Sal Cordova.

  9. petrushka: How do you go about trusting that the person claiming to be a Christian is actually a Christian

    Good point!
    Let me know when you figure it out…
    Or maybe we should ask rOBERT bYers for the definition of a Christian?

  10. Looks like evolution have evolved too from the survival of the fittest to the survival of the moral and trustworthy… Well, times have changed too, so evolution had to adjust too… lol

  11. Alan Fox: Ara Norenzayan has done some work on this. Pretty much the whole of his book Big Gods – How Religion Transformed Cooperation and Conflict is about how humans decide who to trust.

    ETA link to book

    Yes, Norenzayan’s book is quite good. But it’s worth noticing that his thesis is not about the evolution of cooperation per se. His thesis is about the emergence of the social, cognitive, and architectural structures necessary for people to trust strangers: people they don’t know personally. In a way, it’s really about how religion changes when people start becoming farmers, merchants, and tax collectors — some of them become priests and kings.

    To understand the evolution of cooperation per se, at the level of hunters and gatherers living in small bands where everyone knows everyone else, we would need to look elsewhere. There’s some nice recent work by a few people who work on this stuff: Michael Tomasello, Richard Boyd, Kim Sterelny, and Joseph Heinrich all come to mind.

    In a very small nutshell, the main reason why I think religion is not necessary for morality is this: morality is hundreds of thousands years older than organized religion. If our hominid ancestors had not evolved morality by 200,000 years ago, we could not have made it this far. But the oldest texts and monuments that belong to anything like organized religion are about 5,000 years old (give or take).

    The only way one can consistently maintain that organized religion is necessary for morality is by being a creationist, and just flat -out denying that human beings had culture, technology, and language prior to the rise of civilizations and states.

  12. Kantian Naturalist: Yes, Norenzayan’s book is quite good. But it’s worth noticing that his thesis is not about the evolution of cooperation per se. His thesis is about the emergence of the social, cognitive, and architectural structures necessary for people to trust strangers: people they don’t know personally. In a way, it’s really about how religion changes when people start becoming farmers, merchants, and tax collectors — some of them become priests and kings.

    Indeed. His idea is one of cultural evolution, of learned behaviour. But I suspect this cultural evolution built on the biological evolution of sociality in ancestral populations.

    To understand the evolution of cooperation per se, at the level of hunters and gatherers living in small bands where everyone knows everyone else, we would need to look elsewhere. There’s some nice recent work by a few people who work on this stuff: Michael Tomasello, Richard Boyd, Kim Sterelny, and Joseph Heinrich all come to mind.

    Frans de Waal has also made contributions in the field. He seems to be at odds with Tomasello over the uniqueness of human cognitive behaviour.

    In a very small nutshell, the main reason why I think religion is not necessary for morality is this: morality is hundreds of thousands years older than organized religion. If our hominid ancestors had not evolved morality by 200,000 years ago, we could not have made it this far. But the oldest texts and monuments that belong to anything like organized religion are about 5,000 years old (give or take).

    No moral code is necessary for solitary organisms (well, perhaps an etiquette for sex). Social living demands cooperation and chimps, for example, (de Waal rates Jane Goodall in studies in the wild) demonstrate behaviour that involves fairness (meat distribution to participants in a hunt was one illustration).

    The only way one can consistently maintain that organized religion is necessary for morality is by being a creationist, and just flat-out denying that human beings had culture, technology, and language prior to the rise of civilizations and states.

    You can lead a horse to water… 😉

  13. Alan Fox,

    I think the disagreement between De Waal and Tomasello is partly about where they put the emphasis: on feelings of empathy or on judgments of right and wrong? I know of Tomasello’s criticisms of De Waal but not the other way around.

    Methodologically, I agree with De Waal that we shouldn’t allow our aversion to anthropomorphism lead us to deny the reality of mental phenomena in non-human animals. But anthropomorphism is a serious problem in primatology precisely because they are so similar to us!

    One important difference between De Waal and Tomasello is that Tomasello works on chimpanzees and De Waal has mostly worked with bonobos. Tomasello emphasizes how competitive chimpanzees are, and thinks that there’s a need for an evolutionary story as to how hominids developed the cognitive and affective capacities that are necessary for successful cooperation. I think that De Waal sees apes as better at working together than Tomasello does.

  14. Just a quick note of all the mistakes (if not lies) made over in Uncommon Descent on this topic:

    1. Atheism is the same as, or entails, materialism.

    2. Materialism is committed to a computational theory of cognition.

    3. Computational theories of cognition entail that brains cannot have any powers that digital computers don’t have.

    4. Materialism/computationalism is incompatible with propositional attitudes and inferential relations.

    The only sense in which any of the UD folks are correct is this: there’s no mapping of inferentially articulated propositional attitudes onto neurophysiological processes.

  15. Kantian Naturalist:
    Alan Fox,

    I think the disagreement between De Waal and Tomasello is partly about where they put the emphasis: on feelings of empathy or on judgments of right and wrong?

    I think it is more to due with human uniqueness. De Waal questions this and suggests Tomasello assumes it.

    I know of Tomasello’s criticisms of De Waal but not the other way around.

    De Waal questions Tomasello’s methodology. Design of experiments do not allow direct comparison, say, between human children and chimps.

    Methodologically, I agree with De Waal that we shouldn’t allow our aversion to anthropomorphism lead us to deny the reality of mental phenomena in non-human animals. But anthropomorphism is a serious problem in primatology precisely because they are so similar to us!

    Well, De Waal certainly criticizes experiment design when comparisons are made between species. The literature evolves over time!

    One important difference between De Waal and Tomasello is that Tomasello works on chimpanzees and De Waal has mostly worked with bonobos. Tomasello emphasizes how competitive chimpanzees are, and thinks that there’s a need for an evolutionary story as to how hominids developed the cognitive and affective capacities that are necessary for successful cooperation. I think that De Waal sees apes as better at working together than Tomasello does.

    I’ve linked to the video of capuchine monkeys before. Is this about fairness?

  16. walto:
    I enjoyed the hell out of that video regarding prisoner’s strategies.Thanks a lot, Rich!

    No problem, thanks for watching!

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