more evolution and less supernatural
than ID and creationism
Review of The language of God
by Gert Korthof, 23 Aug 2006 ( updated: 12 May 2013 )
While reading Collins it became gradually clear to me that what he does is more than 'a scientist presents evidence for belief'. In this book Collins presents evidence for evolution too. I was much more impressed by his evidence for evolution. However, I will discuss his Moral Law argument and his plea for The´stic Evolution too.
The Human Genome
Francis Collins is well positioned for discussing the implications of the Human Genome Project (HGP) for evolution, because he was the director of the HGP project from 1993 to August 2008. The HGP was the ambitious international scientific effort that completed the first draft of the human genome in June 26, 2000 (80). The achievement is described as "a pinnacle of human self-knowledge". "We have caught the first glimpses of our instruction book, previously known only to God". Before he was the HGP director, Collins won fame in the scientific community in 1989 when he discovered the mutation that causes the genetic disorder Cystic Fibrosis (CF), which opened the way to a cure for that potentially fatal disorder. Francis Collins was the director of the US National Human Genome Research Institute (NHGRI)
until 2008. In 2009 Collins became the director of the National Institutes of Health (87).
Although I thought I was rather up-to-date about the most important research findings in genetics, genomics and evolution, after reading Collins I must confess I missed a few important things. Here I select three superb examples of the surprises from the first reading of the genome.
All three examples were known to me in outline, but the details and subtleness are new to me. I find them impressive. They are not the first evidence for Common Descent, because all sorts of evidence have been available since Darwin. But they are extremely enjoyable and beautiful.
Noteworthy is the attention Collins gives to creationist alternative explanations. I found the examples in the chapter with the poetic title: "Deciphering God's Instruction Book. The lessons of the Human Genome" (ch5), paragraph 'Surprises from the first reading of the genome" (page 124-141).
His first example starts easy with a simple and straightforward question: What is the likelihood of finding a similar DNA sequence in the genome of other organisms, starting with a human DNA sequence? (page 127).
| table 1||Gene sequence that|
codes for protein
|Random DNA segment|
|Chimpanzee || 100% || 98% |
|Dog || 99% || 52% |
|Mouse || 99% || 40% |
|Chicken || 75% || 4% |
|Fruitfly || 60% || ~0% |
|Roundworm || 35% || ~0% |
The first column in table 1 shows that human genes are not uniquely human, but other animals have the same genes.
A human gene can be found with 100% certainty in a Chimpanzee and with 99% probability in a dog or a mouse (38,39).
This is predicted and explained by common descent (in outline).
More than that. Common descent not only predicts that human genes can be found with different probabilities in other species,
but more specific that the likelihood should be smaller for insects and worms.
So, even at this basic level, the prediction of common descent is more subtle than just a list of different similarities
of humans and other animals. The prediction is that there must be a pattern in the differences.
The pattern must confirm to the tree of life.
Genes are easy. But what about DNA between genes?
The second column of table 1 shows that human DNA which does not code for proteins has a far lower likelihood to be found
in other animals. DNA between human genes can still be found with 98% likelihood in chimpanzees, but the likelihood drops
significantly to only 52% in the dog. Why should this be so?
DNA between genes is non-functional, so-called junk-DNA.
Neutral mutations (=mutations that do not affect function) will accumulate steadily over time.
Since natural selection has no grip on neutral mutations,
they are free to go in any direction. So why do we still see similarities?
Those eventual similarities can only be explained because they are inherited from the common ancestor
of humans and chimpanzees or humans and dogs.
And again there is a second level of specificity to this prediction.
There is a pattern in the similarities and dissimilarities in this 'junk DNA'.
This pattern also follows the tree of life. Roundworms and fruitflies have diverged so long ago from humans
that any similarities of their junk DNA are erased completely.
That is not all.
Genes are easy and genes are not easy. Interpreting similarities of genes is not easy because
genes are doing useful things and they are expected to do the same useful thing in man and dog.
So, same genes are expected to have similar DNA sequences.
But we are lucky. Genes have dark corners. Those dark corners are equivalent ways of coding the same amino acid.
Those hidden corners behave just like the junk-DNA between genes.
Data show that silent mutations in protein coding DNA (genes) are much more common than those that alter an amino acid.
The reason is the same as for junk DNA. Mutations that do not change an amino acid will not be seen by natural selection
and are therefore free to change.
The longer those genes have been separated in the tree of life, the greater the difference.
Collins: "If these genomes were created by individual acts of special creation,
why would this particular feature appear?" (p.130)
The Creator would have to create pointless differences for fun or worse to misled human observers.
Unknowingly, Collins closely follows here Darwin's reasoning in The Origin of Species. Collins useless junk-DNA
argument has the same function as Darwin's "rudiments, echoes of the past, ... useless organs that lie hidden in living
bodies like the refuse in a hundred year old attic" (31).
There are two kinds of mutations in genes: those that alter and those that do not alter the amino acid.
Those that do not alter the amino acid are called silent mutations.
Those that alter the amino acid can be advantageous, deleterious or neutral (=amino acid is different but does not affect
the performance of the protein).
These remarks about the Creator are significant because they are made by a theist and a Christian.
In my own words: theological theories do not predict or explain these subtle observations.
Only after the facts have been discovered, theists try to guess why God would have done it in that precise way.
Collins is very patient towards alternative creationist interpretations.
However, he does not make a full theological and biological analysis of independent creation/origin of species.
Examples: Why mutations? Why would a wise, benevolent, powerful God design DNA in such a way that mutations are inevitable?
Mutation would destroy his perfect designed genomes. Why? What's the point?
Why jumping genes at all? What is the point of having different codes in a gene for the same amino acid?
By omitting these theological and biological considerations, Collins presents alternatives for evolution far too favourable
and too reasonable.
I have discussed technical arguments against independent origin in
Independent origin and the facts of life.
My second example is Collins' comparison of human and mouse chromosomes.
This example is presented by Collins as "even more compelling evidence for a common ancestor".
So if the reader wants to understand the best evidence for common descent, he must understand this one.
His evidence has two aspects: how it supports common descent and how it makes independent origin an unreasonable alternative
This example is not about true genes and not about truly random DNA, but about damaged copies of genes (jumping genes).
Jumping genes produce several copies that are inserted at random places in chromosomes. In the past and in the present.
The order of genes along a chromosome is often the same in humans and mice. This has been known for some time.
This is true also for some jumping genes (Ancient Repetitive Elements).
They are often found in similar chromosome locations in human and mouse.
More remarkable, damaged copies also occur in the same place in human and mouse. This is new.
Collins: "Finding a precisely truncated ARE [damaged copy] in the same place in both human and mouse genomes is
compelling evidence that this insertion event must have occurred in an ancestor that was common to both the human
and the mouse." (p.135).
Collins: "Unless one is willing to take the position that God has placed these decapitated AREs (1)
in these precise positions to confuse and mislead us, the conclusion of a common ancestor for humans and mice is virtually
inescapable. This kind of recent genome data thus presents an overwhelming challenge to those who hold to the idea that all
species were created ex nihilo." (p.136-137).
I add: again there are a hundred other biological-technical objections to special creationism and independent origin,
and some are 150 years old.
Please note: Collins carefully avoids claiming that special creationism is wrong, but he hopes that the reader will see
that special creation as an explanation for tAREs is highly unreasonable.
I like the third example very much because I worked in the field of medical cytogenetics. It is about human and chimpanzee chromosomes. By way of introduction a nice anecdote I heard in the cytogenetics lab where I worked. A medical cytogeneticist (specialised in medical aspects of human chromosome abnormalities) was asked his opinion about the chromosomes of an anonymous patient. He sweated blood on the case and finally after hours he concluded that 'this patient has a serious chromosome abnormality'. Unfortunately for the cytogeneticist, the patient was a perfectly healthy chimpanzee. The lesson is of course that chimpanzee and human chromosomes look so similar that even a well trained
medical cytogeneticist can be fooled. Since the discovery of chromosome staining decades ago and its application to human and chimpanzee chromosomes, it was suggested that human chromosome 2 was the head-to-head fusion product of chimp chromosomes 12 and 13 (2). However, the chromosome staining technique and microscope resolution did not allow a definite proof.
Recently, the complete sequence of the human and chimp genome revealed the molecular fingerprints of the chromosome fusion event in the exact location predicted by the old chromosome staining technique (19). This is a triumph of the techniques of genome sequencing and a vivid demonstration of the progress of science. After decades, finally a definite proof of common descent of chimps and humans was established. There is no deeper level of proof than DNA. What more evidence can be asked? Collins: "It is very difficult to understand this observation without postulating a common ancestor" of chimps and humans (p.138). There are more exciting examples in Collins book (see chapter five).
H = human, C = chimpanzee, G = gorilla, O = orangutan.
- Further Reading: Chapter 5 'Fossil Genes' of Sean Carroll (2006) The Making of the Fittest, tells more stories
about what he calls 'fossil genes', genes whose function have been abandoned.
- Evidence for Evolution animation on You Tube (codon usage in the alpha and beta chains of hemoglobin are predicted by evolution, not by creationism/ID)
- Evidence for Evolution, Part II shows a pseudogene for vitamin-C biosynthesis in the human genome. Recommended! Similar Collins' examples.
What is Theistic Evolution?
One cannot discuss Theistic Evolution (TE) if you haven't defined it.
Collins provides a useful definition (but it has unresolved internal contradictions: see my comments):
| ||Theistic Evolution according to Collins||my comments|
|1||The universe came into being out of nothingness, approximately 14 billion years ago|| |
|2||Despite massive improbabilities, the properties of the universe appear to have been precisely tuned for life||(my emphasis) This is the Theistic part of TE. Please note that Collins does not say 'tuned for humans'. Either he must assume that the origin of humans is inevitable or assume supernatural intervention. However, intervention contradicts 4. The question whether human origin is inevitable is open to empirical investigation and cannot be decided in advance. |
|3||While the precise mechanism of the origin of life on earth remains unknown, once life arose, the process of evolution and natural selection permitted the development of biological diversity and complexity over very long periods of time||Note: no claim of supernatural intervention. Collins is agnostic about the origin of life (contrary to most creationists and Intelligent Design Theorists). This view cannot conflict with future research outcomes.|
|4||Once evolution got under way no special supernatural intervention was required||Again contrary to creationists and Intelligent Design Theorists. However, point 6 contradicts this claim, because the Moral Law is a divine intervention. |
|5||Humans are part of this process, sharing a common ancestor with the great apes||This is mainstream science. But still an important claim since ID advocates are usually remarkably 'agnostic' (unsure) about this point|
|6||But humans are also unique in ways that defy evolutionary explanation and point to our spiritual nature. This includes the existence of the Moral Law (the knowledge of right and wrong) and the search for God that characterizes all human cultures throughout history.||See: Moral Law section. Future research can and probably will disprove this view.|
Collins gives a theological solution to the incompatibility of neo-Darwinian randomness and the predetermined outcome of
evolution (the human species):
"Evolution could appear to us driven by chance, but from God's perspective the outcome would be entirely specified." (p.205).
I cannot understand this theological claim, because I cannot place myself in God's position. I don't know how to think like
God. Apparently, Collins can.
Francis Collins shows that one does not need to be an atheist to accept evolution. That is important. Also, it is good to hear from a Christian that a Christian need not subscribe to Intelligent Design. Collins rejects YEC and ID because it is in conflict with good science.
In the paragraph 'Evolution: a theory or a fact?' Collins states:
"The examples reported here from the study of genomes, plus others that could fill hundreds of books of this length, provide
the kind of molecular support for the theory of evolution that has convinced virtually all working biologists that
Darwin's framework of variation and natural selection is unquestionably correct." (p.141)
Furthermore, Collins argues that to deny evolution would make God a Great Deceiver. This is the Great-Deceiver-argument and he also used it against a YEC interpretation of the human genome data. ID examples such as the human blood-clotting cascade, the eye and the bacterial flagellum
fail in the light of new research. Genome research has contributed to the refutation of ID claims. ID is a God of the gaps theory. ID damages faith. Similarly, one could ask what would happen to faith when Collins' own irreducibly complex Moral Law were explained
by natural processes? His discussion of ID is short and his list of references to the literature is short too (3).
The Moral Law Argument
The Moral Law is very important for Collins: "After twenty-eight years as a believer, the Moral Law stands out for me as the strongest signpost of God" (p.218). In other words: Collins uses the Moral Law as an argument for the existence of a God, which is an age-old theological argument (25). What is the Moral Law?
Collins quotes C.S. Lewis (4):
'the denunciation of oppression, murder, treachery, falsehood and the injunction of kindness to the aged, the young, and the weak,
almsgiving, impartiality, and honesty (15), (41).
But, why is the Moral Law proof for the existence of God? Collins has two main arguments. One is that all cultures and religions of the world endorse a universal, absolute and timeless Moral Law. It is overwhelmingly documented in the Encyclopedia of Religion and Ethics according to Collins. He argues that it is a unique property that separates humans and animals. The Moral Law includes altruism which is more than just reciprocity ("You scratch my back, and I'll scratch yours", p. 25). His second argument is: "Selfless altruism presents a major challenge for the evolutionist" (p. 27).
Having accepted the evolutionary origin of humans without supernatural intervention, for him the Moral Law is the only property that cannot be explained and will never be explained by Darwinian evolution and the human genome data. A number of serious difficulties with both arguments arise.
- The first problem is a problem of meaning of the concept 'Moral Law'. 'Law' can mean (1) a system of rules that citizens of a country must obey and which usually is written down, or it can mean (2) a natural law, which is a description of regularities in nature. Collins confusingly uses both meanings of 'law' without clearly distinguishing them.
The following is a clear example of meaning (1): "the incredibly high standards of the Moral Law, one that I had to admit I was in the practice of regularly violating" (p. 30).
The second meaning of (Moral) Law is apparant in the following quote: "is a phenomenon approaching that of a law, like the law of gravitation," (p.23). Even worse, Collins mixes meaning 1 and 2 when he adds: "yet it is a law that, is broken with astounding regularity" (p. 23). The law of gravitation is not broken with astounding regularity. The world of facts (gravitation) and the world of values (moral law) are very different kinds of 'laws' and it is highly inappropriate to think they are similar. With this confused thinking, one cannot even begin to have a meaningful discussion of the question: what does it mean to say
'the Moral Law exists'?
Is the Moral Law internal or external to a person? According to one of Collins' descriptions, the Moral Law is internal to humans: an "altruistic impulse, the voice of conscience" and "We all have an innate knowledge of right and wrong" (p. 243).
An internal law cannot be a law in meaning (1) because a system of (written) rules is external to a person.
To test this claim, one needs empirical evidence of actual altruistic behaviour, or crime and hate crime statistics (69), an interview, or a brain scan.
Instead of calling it the 'Moral Law', it could better be called 'Moral Behaviour', or 'Moral Feelings', or 'Moral Inclination',
or 'Moral Knowledge'. Here, a Darwinian explanation could be relevant.
Complications arise, because an external command can be internalised through education (parents, school, church).
Indeed, Collins uses 'The Moral Law' in a second meaning which is external to humans:
"a command trying to get us to behave in a certain way". Here the Moral Law is not inborn, but needs to be taught.
This could be called the 'divine command theory', the theory that moral values are whatever is commanded by God.
A passage in the last chapter of the book confirms this view (59).
If so, instead of calling this 'Moral Law', it would be better to call it 'The Moral Command' or 'The Divine Command'.
To test this meaning one would investigate religious texts. But in that meaning of Moral Law, Collins' statement
that "the Moral Law stands out for me as the strongest signpost of God"
is a tautology because religious texts such as the Bible are supposed to be God-inspired texts and any moral commands
present in it are necessarily originating from God. Here, a Darwinian explanation is not relevant and cannot fail.
It would not be right to expect from the theory of evolution to explain an ill-defined and biased list of religious
denunciations and injunctions regardless real-life behaviour.
Selfless altruism in the sense of a 'Moral Command' can never be "a major challenge for the evolutionist". Collins uses a quote from C. S. Lewis who quotes the Encyclopedia of Religion and Ethics (6). However, this second meaning (external) has its own problems. The Moral Law as quoted by Collins is a highly selective list of injunctions and denunciations. For example, on one page of the Old Testament high moral principles of peace, justice, and respect for people and property are promulgated, and on the next page raping, killing, and pillaging people who are not one's "neighbors" are endorsed (7). If his list is biased, it cannot be used as a good test of the existence of a universal Moral Law.
Another problem with the list is that its principles are abstract and general, which allows for disagreements in practical applications such as abortion, euthanasia, suicide, cloning, capital punishment, vaccination, organ and blood donation, birthcontrol, divorce, gay marriage, inter-racial sex, gun control, war, capitalism. Collins error is that he confuses defining a list of common moral principles with observing such a list.
- The second problem arises from confusing the two meanings of 'Moral Law' when it is applied to actual behaviour in humans. Human behaviour can be moral (altruistic) or immoral (egoistic). For Collins The Moral Law defines the very meaning of the word moral. When Collins seeks evidence of actual moral behaviour he focuses on extreme (53) and rare forms of altruism (Mother Teresa, Oskar Schindler), and what I call 'suicide-altruism' (4a) and ignores moderate but more common forms of altruism. Effectively, he claims that those rare forms cannot be explained by Darwinism and ignores the common forms which can be explained by Darwinism. His positive evidence for 'true altruism' in humans is anecdotal, but is presented as if it were representative for the human species. However, it is just as easy to come up with anecdotal examples of true altruism in animals (11), as to come up with rare or unique cases of true altruism in humans such as Mother Teresa. Even a million Teresa's still amounts to less than 0,1% of the human world population.
Far from being common, Teresa-altruism is rare (40). The very fact that Teresa received the Nobel Prize means that her behaviour is exceptional and that her behaviour is rewarded (82). In contemporary personality psychology, agreeableness is one of the five major dimensions of personality structure. Agreeable people can be described as altruistic, gentle, kind, sympathetic and warm.
Studies indicate that the trait is distributed on a bell curve (normal distribution), with relatively uncommon extreme scores (Hitler and Mother Teresa on opposite extremes of the scale), and many people scoring in between (16).
'True' altruism is just an extreme of a continuously distributed trait in the human population. The task of Darwinism is to explain these facts, not rare individuals in the population. All this would necessitate more modest claims about the Moral Law as an argument against Darwinism and an argument for the existence of God.
When he has to deal with our failure to behave in a moral way, Collins switches to the Moral Law in the sense of The Divine Command and talks about our free will, our disobedience to the Moral Law, and that our innate knowledge of right and wrong can be obscured by 'distractions and misunderstandings' (8).
No matter how large the gap between actual behaviour and the moral command, it does not affect the existence of the
'Moral Law' (The Moral Command). The Divine Command is simply present in religious texts whatever our behaviour.
However, in humans there is a huge discrepancy between knowing what is good and doing what is good (8).
The gap between knowing and doing is so huge that it leads to the infamous "problem of pain".
"It is widely agreed that what C. S. Lewis termed "the problem of pain" is one of the most significant obstacles to
Christian belief" (9).
Collins himself writes "that a large fraction of our suffering is brought about by what we do to one
another" (p.43), which establishes again the discrepancy between the Moral Law and our actual
behaviour. But all this does not affect Collins because he is in the comfortable position that no amount of immoral human behaviour
disproves God. In that sense the existence of the 'Moral Law' is irrefutable and will be automatically evidence for God.
When discussing the Moral Law in animals, Collins uses it in the sense of actual behaviour.
He cannot do otherwise, because one cannot ask animals about their knowledge of right and wrong.
In animals there is only actual behaviour to observe. But this creates a double standard for evaluating the Moral Law,
reinforcing the bias against animals and in favour of humans.
- The third problem. Collins fails to demonstrate:
First, the Darwinian explanation.
Collins claims that "Selfless altruism presents a major challenge for the evolutionist".
(For this discussion I follow Collins' simplification of 'Moral Law' to 'selfless altruism').
- the failure of Darwinism to explain the Moral Law ('true altruism')
- the divine origin of the Moral Law
- b follows from a
The mainstream Darwinist view
Indeed, the mainstream Darwinist view is:
"As it was realized that natural selection should favour behaviours that benefit the individual rather than the
species it belongs to, explaining the occurrence of altruistic behaviours has become one of the central
problems in evolutionary biology." (17).
Evolutionary biologist Jerry Coyne wrote:
"Reciprocal altruism (you scratch my back . . .), which is not true altruism, but a form of mutualism that benefits both
individuals. According to evolutionary theory, true altruism, in which individuals sacrifice more than they benefit,
cannot evolve, and shouldn't be seen in nonhuman animals. (It isn't.)" (...)
"While true altruism cannot be produced by genes, humans might reason their way towards niceness" (45). Richard Dawkins argued "Let us try to teach generosity and altruism, because we are born selfish" (27). Mathematician Peter D. Taylor wrote:
"one of the most enduring puzzles [in evolutionary biology] is the existence of social behaviours such as cooperation and
altruism" (43). Evolutionary biologist Mark Ridley wrote in 2005 "In all, biologists still recognize self-sacrificial behaviour as a major challenge for Darwin's theory of natural selection" (48).
Four Darwinian explanations for individuals to be altruistic have been proposed: (1) kin selection,
(2) reciprocity, (3) acquiring a reputation for generosity and kindness, (4) conspicuous generosity as a way of buying
unfakeably authentic advertising (47).
Altruism, defined as helping genetically related individuals at a personal cost, has been derived from Darwinian
principles by W. D. Hamilton in his famous article 'The Evolution of Altruistic Behaviour' in the American Naturalist
(1963) (91). Hamilton's rule rb > c, states that altruistic behaviour will evolve if the coefficient of relatedness (r) between benefactor and beneficiary organisms multiplied by the benefactor's fitness benefits (b) exceed the costs (c) to the benefactor. Simply put, since one's genes are shared with one's relatives, enhancing relatives' reproductive success is a way for genes to proliferate themselves (32).
Later Axelrod, Hamilton and Trivers showed that cooperation (reciprocal altruism) could develop for unrelated individuals as
Recently (after the publication of Collins book), researchers pointed out that some forms of altruism
such as heroism in warfare are directed to non-kin with high costs (so cannot be explained by Hamilton's rule) or
reciprocation is unlikely (so cannot be explained by reciprocal altruism), but can be explained by group selection
On page 27-28 Collins discusses and rejects evolutionary arguments for altruism without proper references (92). He needs less than 2 pages. Collins' overlooks that once cooperation, helping behaviour, sympathy and empathy are part of our behaviour and emotional repertoire, it is a smaller step towards non-reciprocal helping or even helping which is costly to oneself.
Collins accepts that '"ant altruism" is readily explained in evolutionary terms by the fact that the
genes motivating the sterile worker ants are exactly the same ones that will be passed on by their mother to the
siblings they are helping to create" (p.29), but he says he fails to see how this could apply
to 'more complex populations'. Indeed, it could be that human behaviour in complex societies is largely out of reach of Darwinian explanations, because the large societies of today never existed in the past (54).
However, that is no argument for the divine origin of morality. It means that disciplines like social psychology (49,50,74) need to supplement Darwinian explanations. Collins' discussion of the matter is very short and he discusses the subject as if research has halted, but research is going on
covers new disciplines such as brain research, economics and psychology and borders between disciplines become blurred
(example: neuroeconomics 68, 76).
Furthermore, alternative explanations to kin selection and reciprocity are proposed by Zahavi (24)
and Susan Blackmore (30).
A recent overview of all theoretical models of cooperation and altruism in animals is: (18),
and definitions of terms are discussed here: (33).
An open access overview is: Biological Altruism.
It seems to me that Collins' predominantly theological view prevents an open minded scientific
investigation of morality.
Collins too easily dismisses Darwinian explanations of altruism. On the other hand, evolutionary biologists tend to explain
'too much' without even knowing the actual extent of altruism in human society,
ignoring for example social psychology.
Furthermore, Collins has a rather low opinion of reciprocal altruism (mutual benefit). Maybe this is because we see it in
other animals besides ourselves and it is not 'true' altruism? This is attitude is quite unnecessary.
The "ethic of reciprocity" or "The Golden Rule" is a fundamental moral principle found in virtually all major religions and
cultures (Moses, Confucius, Jesus, Muhammad) (34).
Would a man who is not willing to reciprocate a favour to his neighbour, jump in the river to save a stranger?
What about claim b) that 'God placed the Moral Law in humans'? What is the direct proof that the Moral Law derives from God? Is it derived from God because the Bible and other holy texts state the Moral Law? Then he has to prove that God directly inspired the Bible and all the other holy books which contain 'the moral law'. Unfortunately, Collins knows "that the tools of science are not the right ones to learn about Him. (...) The evidence of God's existence would have to come from other directions, and the ultimate decision would be based on faith, not proof." (p. 30). So, Collins fails to give a direct proof that the Moral Law derives from God. Anyway, do we need God to be moral? In another passage Collins writes "We all have an innate knowledge of right and wrong; although that can be obscured by distractions and misunderstandings, it can also be discovered through careful contemplation" (p.243, my emphasis). Although this careful contemplation does not disprove the Moral Law comes from God, it proves that we do not need God for our moral principles. It is quite possible that the authors of religious texts did some careful contemplation too. Collins further observes: "One need not be a theist to agree to these [bioethics] principles. The Moral Law speaks to all of us, whether or not we agree on its origins." (p.244) Indeed, the origin does not matter, especially in a secular and pluralistic society. In pre-Darwinian times philosopher David Hume (1711-1776) already argued that we do not need God to behave morally. Collins seems to be completely unaware of modern literature arguing for an 'Ethics without God' (28). Moreover, he is unaware of the moral case against religious belief (46).
What about claim c) the divine origin of the Moral Law follows from the failure of Darwinism to explain the Moral Law? The divine origin of the Moral Law does not logically follow from the hypothetical inability of Darwinism to explain altruistic behaviour. That would be a variant of the God-of-the-gaps explanation. Collins rejects that type of explanation when dealing with ID. So, it is amazing that he invokes it here. What is the difference between Michael Behe's Intelligently Designed Irreducible Complexity and Collins' Moral Law? Philosopher Richard Joyce (44) asks an important question which Collins completely overlooks: if morality is ultimately a result of evolution, would that undermine the authority of morality? Could it be that the evolutionary origin of morality vindicates morality? Without investigating these questions it is completely pointless to see the evolutionary origin of morality as a threat. The evolutionary origin of morality seems perfectly compatible with the universal character of the Moral Law.
One last word about 'true altruism'. By definition Christians cannot behave truly altruistic because their reward is a place in heaven. For Christians "small acts of conscience that no one else knows about" do not exist because God sees, hears and knows everything. So Collins' claim about true altruism collapses. One final word about 'pure altruism': volunteering and other altruistic behaviours are also a strong source of positive emotion (Argyle, 2001). Helping others results in feelings of joy in the giver. Sometimes charitable giving is associated with a "warm glow". Giving support rather than receiving it from others has been associated also with longevity (Brown, Nesse, Vinokur & Smith, 2003) (36, 37). It seems pure altruism does not exist.
- The fourth problem is an awfully embarrassing one: the Moral Law leads to a justification of witch burning. Amazingly, this happens on the same page (page 24) right after the definition of the Moral Law! I give a full quote of the passage in order not to misrepresent Collins:
"In some unusual cultures the law takes on surprising trappings - consider witch burning in seventeenth-century America. Yet when surveyed closely, these apparent aberrations can be seen to arise from strongly held but misguided conclusions about who or what is good or evil. If you firmly believed that a witch is the personification of evil on earth, an apostle of the devil himself, would it not seem justified to take such drastic action?"
With 'the law' Collins is referring to the Moral Law. Witch burning apparently follows from the Moral Law. However, since there is no mention of punishment in the Moral Law at all, how could punishment possibly follow from it? It is a big jump from the Moral Law to punishment.
Death penalty contradicts the denunciations and injunctions of the Moral Law. Shockingly, Collins highest priority is showing that witch burning does not invalidate the Moral Law (26) and he does not bother to tell his readers that he is unconditionally against all torture of all human beings or against the death penalty. Or did he just forget to tell us? It should be easy to condemn an inhuman practice of more than 300 years ago (29). The 'aberration' seems to be that they burned the wrong people and that the Moral Law they tried to follow is good. The implication would be that Christians today more accurately know which people they have to burn. At the time they only got a few minor details wrong and mistakenly executed 60,000 people (20). 'Some unusual cultures'? The European witch-hunt was not a single historical event, but took place from Scotland to Transylvania and from Spain to Finland over a 300-year period (1450 - 1750) (20).
Collins completely overlooks that witch burning is not an aberration of otherwise clear and sound concepts and principles. These poor individuals were charged with killing babies, causing sterility among cattle, and destroying crops by magical means, worship the Devil, and nocturnal flight (yes, the executors believed that witches can fly). An ordinary criminal could have been imprisoned or have a painless and quick death penalty.
What is the harm done by witches to their neighbours? Does Collins think that magic works and that it has been proven by the inquisitors?
Does Collins think that babies are killed and crops fail by magic? Does Collins think that the Devil exists and that 'the pact with the devil' has been proven in any case? Does Collins think that a 'firm belief' in stead of legal proof is enough to execute people in the cruellest way? The real aberration is in the abstract and fictional nature of the theological concepts such as 'witch', 'personification of evil', 'apostle of the devil'. There is the problem. There is the danger. Collins provides on these pages the best evidence of the dangers of fictional, abstract concepts so characteristic of religion. A closely related religious concept is eternal burning in hell. He completely fails to attempt a scientific analysis of this kind of thinking, instead he is part of the problem and he is completely carried away by abstract concepts himself (10).
In an Appendix about bioethics, Collins describes the Moral Law as "We all have an innate knowledge of right and wrong; although that can be obscured by distractions and misunderstandings, it can also be discovered through careful contemplation." (p.243) Could it be that the moral judgement of the executors was obscured by distractions and misunderstandings?
Collins quotes four ethical principles which are common to virtually all cultures and societies:
When applied to witch burning, all four principles are violated. Collins does not see the connection.
However, in discussing bioethics in the Appendix he seems aware of a problem with the Moral Law:
"The obvious danger is the historical record that believers can and will sometimes utilize their faith
in a way never intended by God, and to move from loving concern to self-righteousness, demagoguery, and extremism.
No doubt those who conducted the Inquisition thought themselves to be carrying out a highly ethical activity,
as did those who burned witches at the stake in Salem, Massachusetts." (p.271).
Please note that Collins did not add the simple conclusion: "but they were carrying out a highly unethical activity".
Well, if God did instil the Moral Law into humans, he failed to teach us an unambiguous Moral Law.
Humans seem universally confused about what the Moral Law teaches us. Are we any better off today?
Collins needs to recognize that a blind following of moral commands in religious texts is not the solution, but the problem.
Witch burning is just one example of such a problem.
- Respect for autonomy: the principle that a rational individual should be given freedom in personal decision
making, without undue outside coercion.
- Justice: the requirement for fair, moral, and impartial treatment of all persons
- Beneficence: the mandate to treat others in their best interest
- Nonmaleficence: "First do no harm" (as in Hippocratic Oath)
Anyone who thinks the Moral Law in religious texts such as the Bible, is a clear, unambiguous, and consistent concept should ponder over the Old Testament Moral Law 'Eye for an Eye' (revenge) and the New Testament "Love your enemies" (reconciliation) (42).
- The fifth problem: Collins views on morality makes animals morally inferior to humans.
Collins writes: "Though other animals may at times appear to show glimmerings of a moral sense,
they are certainly not widespread, and in many instances other species behaviour seems to be in dramatic contrast
to any sense of universal rightness." (p.23, 5).
Where are the data to support this claim? Is this a fair and unbiased assessment of moral behaviour in animals?
If viewed in an unbiased way, actual behaviour of humans is not something to be proud of.
The behaviour of many people is in dramatic contrast to any sense of universal rightness (see above).
This would necessitate more modest claims about the 'Moral Law' in humans.
Collins adds that humans have an 'awareness of right and wrong, along with the development of language'.
Indeed, the big disadvantage animals have is that they can't write down moral rules.
The big advantage is that animals can't pretend to be better simply because they have written down The Moral Law.
That animals are morally inferior is an inescapable logical conclusion from Collins view that the Moral Law is a written Law.
However, animal behaviour research shows there is more continuity between animals (primates) and humans than Collins
Animals do show altruistic behaviour and cooperation (12).
This should not surprise Collins, because he knows that continuity exists at the genetic level between humans and other
Amazingly, Collins problems with moral behaviour in animals arise out of a failure to fully accept that humans are an evolved
species including their behaviour.
The search for human-like behaviours in primates is quite similar to Collins' own search for human-like genes in animals!
A good book to start with is Frans de Waal's Our Inner Ape and especially
Primates and Philosophers - How Morality Evolved (11).
Collins' items on the list of the Moral Law include impartiality, kindness, and almsgiving.
De Waal wrote about impartiality: "It is quite the opposite of the view that fairness was an idea introduced by wise men
after a lifetime of pondering right, wrong, and our place in the cosmos." (15).
About kindness Frans de Waal wrote: "Christianity urges us to love our neighbor as ourselves, clothe the naked, feed the poor, and tend the sick. It is good to realize, though, that in stressing kindness, religions are enforcing what is already part of our
humanity." (p. 181) and Michael Shermer described it succinctly: "Evolution created these values
in us, and religion identified them as important in order to accentuate them" (14).
Francisco Ayala describes the situation succinctly as:
"My own view is that we are moral beings because of our biology, but our moral systems are cultural constructs"
Recently, almsgiving has been observed in the jackdaw (Corvus monedula, a bird species) (15).
In the end, what would be gained from viewing animals as morally deficient creatures? Does it feel better? Does it improve the human condition? Does it improve the human ability to live a moral life?
- The sixth problem: is morality a innate or learned behaviour or something else? Nature or nurture or both?
Collins seems to prefer "Moral Law within", but how did the Moral Law get 'within'?
He forgets that children are continuously exposed by do's and don'ts of their parents.
As de Waal puts it: "From very young onwards we are subjected to judgments of right and wrong" (22). These are a mixture of religious/non-religious, and moral/non-moral instructions. It is difficult to draw sharp lines between the categories. However, children learn by these educational interactions that there are bad and good behaviours. Apart from Kaspar Hauser, no child escapes this kind of exposure (75). So it is wrong to consider only one source of the "Moral Law within". Education is very important source of an 'internal' moral law.
I don't know of any other Theistic Evolutionist with such a superb defence of evolution and such an unambiguous rejection of YEC and ID. Collins does not claim a supernatural origin of life. Theistic Evolution is a more science-friendly form of religion then YEC and ID, although Collins has strong disagreements with the Darwinian explanation of altruism. He needs to rethink his Moral Law argument, which is not a coherent argument and ignores animal behaviour research as well as a lot of modern theoretical research in the evolution of altruism. If God did instil the Moral Law into humans, He failed to teach us an unambiguous and powerful Moral Law. The historical record shows that humans are very confused about what exactly the Moral Law tells us to do. And besides altruism, humans are surely endowed with a capacity to hate. However, Collins and evolutionary biologists seem to agree on one issue and that is that humans are not universal altruists, often behave selfish and as Jerry Coyne has put it: "evolution built us a brain capable of allowing behavioural flexibility, and we can use it to consciously override our genes to teach virtuous behaviour." (45).
What we need now is a discussion of the merits of a list of moral behaviour codes which benefit the whole planet, irrespective of their supposed religious or evolutionary origin.
- Truncated AREs (Ancient Repetitive Elements) are truncated at a precise base pair at the time of insertion; they are dead genes.
- Humans and chimps have a different number of chromosomes. Chimpanzee: 2n=48 (n=24); humans: 2n=46 (n=23).
The human haploid set consists of 23 chromosomes, but there are 24 different chromosomes, because the sex chromosome pair XY consists of two different chromosomes: X and Y. The sex cells (germ cells) have either an X or a Y chromosome, so sex cells have 23 chromosomes.
Because, in the haploid state, two chimp chromosomes fused head to tail into one, humans have in the haploid state one
chromosome less, and in the diploid state two chromosomes less. The chromosomes fused head to tail after the human
lineages diverged from chimpanzee, gorilla, and orang-utan. Structural chromosome changes similar to those that
gave rise to the human lineage happen today in humans and are the cause of diverse medical problems.
- Absent is: Matt Young and Taner Edis Why Intelligent Design Fails: A Scientific Critique of the New Creationism and recent evidence: Mark J. Pallen and Nicholas J. Matzke (2006) "From The Origin of Species to the origin of bacterial flagella". Nature Reviews Microbiology, published online 5 September 2006
- page 24. This is a quote from C.S. Lewis. The Moral Law is described on other pages as:
the existence of human altruism (p.169);
"the law of right behavior" (p.22);
"the Moral Law - the altruistic impulse, the voice of conscience (p.25,27);
"the motivation to practice this kind of love exists within all of us" (p.27);
"a command trying to get us to behave in a certain way" (p.29);
"instilled this special glimpse of Himself into each one of us" (p.29);
"the Moral Law within" (p.57) quoted from Immanuel Kant;
"inner voice that causes me to feel compelled to jump into the river to try to save a drowning stranger, even if I'm not
a good swimmer and may myself die in the effort" (p.28);
"we all have an innate knowledge of right and wrong" (p.243).
Elsewhere Moral Law is described as "unchanging moral duty".
- 4a. This last type of altruism I call 'suicide-altruism'. it doesn't make sense to me. Obviously, Collins ignored his inner-voice because he is still alive. It is not smart for a bad swimmer to jump into the river. How could a bad swimmer save a non-swimmer? Both could die. What about the moral obligation towards his family? Who takes care of his wife and children if he is dead? A good altruist is able to do many acts of altruism. The 'suicide-altruist' cannot repeat his act. A stranger? The non-swimmer would likely be a member of his own group; not a complete stranger. Another question: would Collins jump into the water to save his dog? (99% probability that a dog has same genes as human). Another limitation: the altruist must have knowledge of a dangerous situation and the ability to save lives.
Not all passengers of the Titanic were saved despite the altruistic motives of the rescue workers. The most severe limitation of altruism is when a ship sinks without a trace in the middle of the ocean and only God knows about it (but does not interfere). Pain, suffering and death will continue to exist in this world and no altruist can do something about it.
- Could it be that this Christian view of animals has something to do with the lack of any human moral obligations towards animals?
Saint Augustine argued categorically that we have no moral obligation whatsoever to animals. The English Jesuit Joseph Rickaby (1901) argued that human beings have no greater duties of charity towards animals than we have toward stocks and stones (21). For me personally, this animals-are-inferior-view is a reason to reject Christianity (13). However, from a scientific point of view, the problem with the anthropocentric view is that it is a dogma and is not open to empirical findings.
- Collins quotes C. S. Lewis saying "a lie, a good resounding lie" (page 24). Calling an opponent a liar is unheard of in a scientific publication. Something weird is going on here. Maybe this style of thinking has something to do with the fact that Lewis is not a professional theologian, but a self-thought man. It is puzzling that a professional scientist bases his most important conclusions and decisions on a self-thought theologian.
- from Michael Shermer (2006) Why Darwin Matters, page 133. (see short book reviews of Michael Shermer). Steven Pinker adds: "The Bible contains several injunctions from God to the Israelites to slay the occupants of towns they covet - except for the young women, whom they are to take as unwilling wives. Since then, religions have given the world stonings, witch burning, crusades, inquisitions, holy wars, jihads, fatwas, suicide bombers, gay bashers, abortion-clinic gunmen, child molesters, and mothers who drown their sons so they can happy be reunited in Heaven", page 143 in Intelligent Thought.
The Bible describes infanticide: God himself killed all the firstborn of Egypt at one time, among which were certainly many children:
"For I will go through the land of Egypt in that night, and will smite all the first-born in the land of Egypt,
both man and beast; and against all the gods of Egypt I will execute judgments: I am Jehovah. "
Exodus 12:12; (Exod.12:29) (see: Old Testament Infanticide) It is well known to Muslims, Christians and Jews that Abraham was ordered to sacrifice his son and he was
willing to do so. So God ordered infanticide and Abraham was willing to sacrifice his son. Collins would do better by being more modest about the Moral Law. Yes, infanticide is opposed to child care. But raising ones own children is also the opposite of the adoption of foreign children. The fact that the majority of people do not opt for adoption, but instead opt for having and raising their own children is predicted by Darwinism.
- "it is broken with astounding regularity" (p.23);
"the Moral Law, and our obvious inability to live up to it (p.37);
"We use this ability [free will] frequently to disobey the Moral Law" (p.43),
"our innate knowledge of right and wrong can be obscured by distractions and misunderstandings" (p.243).
That makes it not easy to establish the existence of the Moral Law because its absence can simply be explained by our obvious inability.
- quoted by McGrath (2005) Dawkins' God, p.74.
- Witch burning could be a case of xenophobia, turn a single individual of ones own community into an enemy and dehumanize it
in order to kill it in the most brutal way. Xenophobia is also known in chimpanzees. Frans de Waal (2005) pp 139-142.
- Frans de Waal (2005) Our Inner Ape. A Leading Primatologist Explains Why We Are Who We Are, paperback 288 pp. Recommended! For example he points to the error of believing that since natural selection is a cruel, pitiless process of elimination it must produce cruel and pitiless creatures." (page 34-35). In Primates and Philosophers: How Morality Evolved (2006)
Frans de Waal points out that the famous Darwinist Thomas Henry Huxley as well as Richard Dawkins say that human morality cannot not be handled by evolutionary theory! See also: Lee Alan Dugatkin (2006) The Altruism Equation: Seven Scientists Search for the Origins of Goodness. A general and very attractive introduction is: John Alcock (2001) Animal Behavior. An Evolutionary approach. See also: Steven Pinker (2006) "Evolution and Ethics" in John Brockman (2006) Intelligent Thought.
- A dilemma for Collins: does he agree with Christians who believe that the movie The March of the Penguins "passionately affirms traditional norms like monogamy, sacrifice and child rearing"? (see: here). If so, did God implant these norms into penguins or is there a natural explanation? If God did implant these norms in penguins, then humans are no longer unique. On the other hand, if there is a natural explanation, why not invoke it for humans as well?
- An exception seems to be Joan Roughgarden (2006) Evolution and Christian Faith, page 141, where he/she talks about the Christian responsibility to care for God's creation. Furthermore, Christians are not known for their altruistic behaviour towards animal and plant species. E.O. Wilson (2006) proposes an alliance between science and religion to save Earth's vanishing biodiversity in his
The Creation: A Meeting of Science and Religion to stop the destruction of nature. Would Collins agree with extending altruism to all species of the earth?
- Michael Shermer (2006) Why Darwin Matters, p. 130.
- Frans de Waal (2005) Our Inner Ape: "It is quite the opposite of the view that fairness was an idea introduced by wise men after a lifetime of pondering right, wrong, and our place in the cosmos." (page 221).
'kindness to the aged, the young, and the weak': Frans de Waal devotes a whole chapter on Kindness (chapter 5) in the same book. Almsgiving is listed in the Moral Law. Recently, almsgiving has been observed in the bird species jackdaw (Corvus monedula)! See: 'Food sharing in jackdaws, Corvus monedula: what, why and with whom? Animal Behaviour (Aug 2006). The other unique human properties awareness of right and wrong, language, self-awareness and the ability to imagine the future (Collins page 23) are found also in animals. See also Frans de Waal's book.
- Agreeableness in wiki.
- M. Van Baalen and V. A. A. Jansen (2006) "Kinds of kindness: classifying the causes of altruism and cooperation", Journal of Evolutionary Biology, September 2006, page 1377. Also: "Explaining cooperation remains one of the greatest challenges for evolutionary biology, irrespective of whether it is altruistic or mutually beneficial." (33)
- L. Lehmann & L. Keller (2006) "The evolution of cooperation and altruism - a general framework and a classification
of models", Journal of Evolutionary Biology, September 2006.
- See for the details: [page no longer exits].
For a discussion and more figures see: [http://www.iidb.org/ does no longer exist]. For a free pdf see: Yuxin Fan, Elena Linardopoulou, Cynthia Friedman, Eleanor Williams and Barbara J. Trask (2002) Genomic Structure and Evolution of the Ancestral Chromosome Fusion Site in 2q13-2q14.1 and Paralogous Regions on Other Human Chromosomes, Genome Research 2002 12: 1651-1662.
- Brian P. Levack (1995) The Witch-hunt in Early Modern Europe, p.25. See also Execution by burning and Witch-hunt in wikipedia.
- Gary Steiner (2005) Anthropocentrism and its Discontents. The Moral Status of Animals in the History of Western Philosophy, page 114.
- Frans de Waal (2006) Primates and Philosophers - How Morality Evolved, page 172-173.
- (a) Bettina Rockenbach & Manfred Milinski (2006) "The efficient interaction of indirect reciprocity and costly punishment", Nature, Vol 444 7 December 2006, pp. 718-723.
- Amotz and Avishag Zahavi (1999) The Handicap Principle. A Missing Piece of Darwin's Puzzle, chapter 12.
According to Zahavi, "scientists increasingly recognize that many altruistic activities observed among animals cannot be
explained by the theories of kin selection and of reciprocal altruism. ... once one accepts that altruistic activities
bring those who perform them a gain in status, then no further explanation for altruism is needed." p.149. The question remains how general status-altruism is.
- Since Thomas Aquinas, theologians have claimed that the very fact that humans have a moral conscience can be taken as evidence
for the existence of God (page 210, Victor. J. Stenger, 2007). The book has a useful chapter 'Do our values come from God?'
and an excerpt of the chapter is present here.
Stenger agrees that universal norms exist, but they do not derive from God.
A general overview of Moral Arguments for the Existence
of a God. An example is:
Geisler & Turek (2004) write: "This Moral Law is our third argument for the existence of a Theistic God (after the Cosmological and Teleological Argument)."
(p.171). Collins does not refer to G&T, but both are based on C.S.Lewis. "Someone must have given us these moral obligations" (p.170), "the moral law has been written on our hearts" (p.170), "everyone knows ..." (p.171) is precisely the same vague language Collins uses too. They do not even try to demonstrate why a 'Moral Law Giver' follows from the existence of a 'Moral Law'.
- Geisler & Turek (2004) write "What has changed is not the moral principle that murder is wrong but the perception or
factual understanding of whether "witches" can really murder people by their curses" (p.183). This makes punishment
dependent on factual understanding, that is science! But the science was wrong! These persons were tortured
to death for wrong reasons. G&T 'forget' to explain how punishment follows from the Moral Law;
why burning people is not murder or why it is not violating the Moral Law, why it is not morally wrong.
G&T 'forget' to reject torture, G&T 'forget' to explain what kind of interrogation and punishment is morally acceptable.
They make the all same mistakes as Collins, except that G&T make the link between Darwin and Hitler, whereas Collins
does not (to his credit).
- Dawkins' selfish pitiless universe, is also expressed dramatically in River Out Of Eden (1995):
"The universe we observe has precisely the properties we should expect if there is, at bottom, no design, no purpose,
no evil and no good, nothing but blind pitiless indifference".
Dawkins is quite wrong about that. Charles Darwin, following John Stuart Mill and David Hume, already claimed that morality has a natural basis, stems from human nature, not from any other nobler sources such as divinity or 'pure reason'; sympathy also plays a crucial role in morality.
However, no one before Darwin insisted, consistently and persistently, on the continuity of man and animal even with respect to moral faculties. And above all, Darwin pointed out how this can be established in a species, in humans in particular. The key was natural selection, and although Darwin had some grave difficulties for explaining altruistic tendencies in man, his message was clear: human morality should be explained as an adaptation. (Randal Keynes, Annie's Box - Charles Darwin, his Daughter and Human Evolution, Fourth Estate, 2001. (review). See also: "Darwin on the Evolution of Morality". Some evolutionary biologists (Jerry Coyne) seem to agree with Collins that 'reciprocal altruism' ('you scratch my back . . .')
is not true altruism, but a form of mutualism that benefits both individuals. Jerry A. Coyne Thirty years of the Selfish Gene, TLS, June 14, 2006.
Martin Nowak recommends Robert Axelrod (1984) The Evolution of Cooperation:
"humans must cooperate on a global scale, requiring us to show wisdom, generosity and respect.
A classic from which we may all learn is Robert Axelrod's book",
Nature, 25 Sep 2008.
A revised edition appeared December 4, 2006.
- Kai Nielsen (1990) Ethics Without God;
Michael Martin (2002) Atheism, Morality, and Meaning, in which he argues that
atheism can provide a basis for morality and that attempts to provide a basis for morality by a Christian worldview
are seriously flawed. Richard Carrier (2005) Sense And Goodness Without God: A Defense of Metaphysical
Naturalism (short section on secular ethics).
- "In 16th century Paris, a popular form of entertainment was cat-burning, in which a cat was hoisted on a stage and was slowly lowered into a fire. According to the historian Norman Davies, "the spectators, including kings and queens, shrieked with laughter as the animals, howling with pain, were singed, roasted, and finally carbonized." As horrific as present-day events are, such sadism would be unthinkable today in most of the world." Steven Pinker.
- Susan Blackmore (2000) The Meme Machine, Oxford University Press paperback, chapter 12 (A memetic theory of altruism) and 13 (The altruism trick).
- "rudiments, echoes of the past, traces of vanished limbs, soldered wing cases, buried teeth - all that conglomeration of useless organs that lie hidden in living bodies like the refuse in a hundred year old attic" from: Loren Eiseley (1958) Darwin's Century: Evolution and the Men Who Discoverd It, p.196.
- David Livingstone Smith (2006) A review of Lee Alan Dugatkin, The Altruism Equation, Evolutionary Psychology 2006. 5(1): 45-46. (Evolutionary Psychology is an open-access peer-reviewed journal)
- S. A. West, A. S. Griffin, A. Gardner (2007) 'Social semantics: altruism, cooperation, mutualism, strong reciprocity and group selection',
EUROPEAN SOCIETY FOR EVOLUTIONARY BIOLOGY 20 (2007 ) 415-432. Definitions:
- Altruism: a behaviour which is costly to the actor and beneficial to the recipient; cost and benefit are defined on the basis of the lifetime direct fitness consequences of a behaviour.
- Selfishness: a behaviour which is beneficial to the actor and costly to the recipient.
- Cooperation: a behaviour which provides a benefit to another individual (recipient), and which is selected for because of its beneficial effect on the recipient.
- mutual benefit (helping): a behaviour which is beneficial to both the actor and the recipient
- proximate explanations are concerned with the mechanisms underlying a behaviour (causation; how questions);
- ultimate explanations examine the fitness consequences or survival value of a behaviour (why questions).
- Ethic of reciprocity in wikipedia.
- Michael Balter (2007) Brain Evolution Studies Go Micro, Science 2 March 2007: Vol. 315. no. 5816, pp. 1208 - 1211. Unique elongated neurons have been discovered in two areas of the human brain involved in aspects of social cognition such as trust, empathy, and feelings of guilt and embarrassment. Not only were those neurons unique to great apes, but humans had many more and they were markedly larger. Feelings of empathy and guilt are the necessary building blocks of human altruism and conscience, precisely those properties Collins ascribes to the supernatural.
- Jeanie LercheDavis (2005) The Science of Good Deeds: "Scientists are searching to understand just how altruism -- the wish to perform good deeds -- affects our health, even our longevity." "Brain chemicals also enter into this picture of altruism. A recent study has identified high levels of the "bonding" hormone oxytocin in people who are very generous toward others. Oxytocin is the hormone best known for its role in preparing mothers for motherhood. Studies have also shown that this hormone helps both men and women establish trusting relationships." "Altruistic behavior may also trigger the brain's reward circuitry -- the 'feel-good' chemicals like dopamine and endorphins, and perhaps even a morphine-like chemical the body naturally produces, Fricchione explains. "If altruistic behavior plugs into that reward circuitry, it will have the potential to reduce the stress response." Fricchione, is associate chief of psychiatry at Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston. (this research searches the proximate causes of altruism).
- The Power of Positive Psychology.
- The macaque genome has also allowed for a detailed study of more subtle changes that have accumulated within orthologous primate genes. The average human gene differs from its ortholog in the macaque by 12 nonsynonymous and 22 synonymous substitutions, whereas it differs from its ortholog in the chimpanzee by fewer than three nonsynonymous and five synonymous substitutions. Similarly, 89% of human-macaque orthologs differ at the amino acid level, as compared with only 71% of human-chimpanzee orthologs. Science 13 Apr 2007.
- Elizabeth Pennisi (2007) 'Genomicists Tackle the Primate Tree', Science 13 Apr 2007, is a summary of the meaning and lessons of the macaque genome.
- Who is the most altruistic person in the world? Consider Melinda Gates (Co-founder of the The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, the largest charitable foundation in the United States: 2006 spend: US$ 908 million) or Wangari Maathai.
- Collins Moral Law is an exclusively human oriented list! No trace of animals and the rest of nature and our planet as a whole. A Christian who is aware of the global environment is Joan Roughgarden: 'One of major moral issues facing Christians today is how to care for God's creation in view of the sheer magnitude of human activity on the planet' (page 145 of Evolution and Christian Faith, 2006) (my emphasis). Indeed, the survival of the human species does neither depend on 'jumping-in-the-water-to-save-a-stranger' kind of altruism, nor Mother-Teresa-altruism, but keeping-our-global-environment-healthy kind of altruism. "As Roberts makes plain, the history of fishing -- commercial fishing primarily and most flagrantly, but many instances of sport fishing as well -- is one of human selfishness persistently outracing attempts to bring it under control" (Callum Roberts: THE UNNATURAL HISTORY OF THE SEA reviewed here). Freeman Dyson: "Environmentalism has replaced socialism as the leading secular religion. And the ethics of environmentalism are fundamentally sound. Scientists and economists can agree with Buddhist monks and Christian activists that ruthless destruction of natural habitats is evil and careful preservation of birds and butterflies is good."
- updated 12 May 2013. "Eye for an eye ..." inserted.
- Text and Note 42 before update: If anyone thinks the Moral Law is independent of geography and history, I strongly recommend reading Jared Diamond's account of dramatic encounter between the Inca emperor Atahuallpa and the Spanish conquistador Francisco Pizarro at the Peruvian highland town of Cajamarca on November 16, 1532. Pizarro destroyed the Inca Empire for the glory of God and for the service of the Catholic Imperial Majesty: "We come to conquer this land by his [King of Spain] command, that all may come to a knowledge of God and of His Holy Catholic Faith; and by reason of our good mission, God, the Creator of heaven and earth and of all things in them, permits this, in order that you may know Him and come out from the bestial and diabolical life that you lead." (Jared Diamond, 1999, Guns, Germs, and Steel, page 74). (Please note that Jared is not anti-religious). The Spaniards had no moral problems killing the Emperor and 40,000 of his men on one day in the name of God. They had the same Bible as Collins and C.S. Lewis. Clearly, knowing the Bible and the Moral Law, is not enough to behave morally. On the contrary: it justified killing. Probably Pizarro had not read the Bible. In this case feelings of empathy, sympathy, fairness, altruism failed too. Some cultural factors independent of sympathy and religion must be invoked to explain his cruel uncivilized behaviour. Anyway, a time- and geography independent Moral Law seems highly unlikely. Anyone who thinks there is an absolute Moral Law true for all time and all places, should read the story of Pizarro and his men.
- Peter D. Taylor, Troy Day & Geoff Wild (2007) "Evolution of cooperation in a finite homogeneous graph", Nature 447, 469-472 (24 May 2007).
"Here we demonstrate that Hamilton's notion of inclusive fitness provides a natural way to understand evolution on such graphs, and that it provides simple analytical conditions for the evolution of any trait (including cooperation) for a large class of graphs. The primary process at work in such systems can thus be viewed as a case of interactions among related individuals as a result of limited dispersal."
- Richard Joyce (2006) 'The Evolution of Morality', Hardcover, The MIT Press.
- Jerry A. Coyne (2006) Times Online.
- R.A. Sharpe (1997) 'The Moral Case Against Religious Belief', SCM Press, paperback 102 pages.
Sharpe is professor of philosophy at the University of Wales, Lampeter. He does not believe in God for moral reasons and argues that in some ways morality is corrupted by religion.
- Richard Dawkins (2007) The God Delusion p. 219.
- Mark Ridley (2005) How to read Darwin, p. 79, Chapter 7 'The social and moral faculties'. However, Ridley lists four possible solutions: kin selection, reciprocal altruism, group selection and cultural factors.
- According to the Empathy-altruism hypothesis, if you feel empathy towards another person you will help them, regardless of what you can gain from it. See: E. Aronson, T.D. Wilson, A.M. Akert (2005) Social Psychology (5th ed.).
- An example is the Bystander effect. The bystander effect (bystander apathy) is a psychological phenomenon in which someone is less likely to help somebody who needs help when others are present than when he is alone.
- Dan Jones (2007) Moral psychology: The depths of disgust, Nature 14 Jun 2007.
- William T. Harbaugh, Ulrich Mayr, Daniel R. Burghart (2007) 'Neural Responses to Taxation and Voluntary Giving Reveal Motives for Charitable Donations',
Science 15 June 2007. Editorial: 'Can't Buy Me Altruism' by Adam Hinterthuer, ScienceNOW Daily News, 14 June 2007.
A voluntary gift to the needy (philanthropy,charitable giving) can be motivated by pure altruism or "warm glow".
To test for the pure altruism and warm-glow motives, we used functional magnetic resonance imaging.
- ID biologist Jeffrey Schloss (1998) also focuces on extreme forms of altruism: "My overall conclusion concerning biological
explanations of altruism is that they work reasonably well for behavioral patterns of rational actors in general and for some
philanthropists but have nothing to contribute to our understanding of the more extreme forms of altruistic behavior."
from chapter 'Evolutionary Accounts of Altruism & the Problem of Goodness by Design' in:
Mere Creation. Science, Faith and Intelligent Design, p.252.
- A critical difference is population size. Chiefdoms arose around 7,500 years ago and consisted of several thousands
to several tens of thousands of people. That size created serious potential for internal conflict because, for any
person living in a chiefdom, the vast majority of other people in the chiefdom were neither closely related by blood or
marriage nor known by name. See: Jared Diamond (1999) 'Guns, Germs, and Steel, page 273.
Although Diamond does not discuss altruism, population size created also a challenge for altruism. Neither evolutionary biologists nor
Collins seem to be aware of the factor population size.
- Carl Zimmer (2007) 'In Games, an Insight Into the Rules of Evolution', NewYork Times, July 31, 2007
"Dr. Nowak and his colleagues found that when they put players into a network, the Prisoner's Dilemma played out differently. Tight clusters of cooperators emerge, and defectors elsewhere in the network are not able to undermine their altruism. "Even if outside our network there are cheaters, we still help each other a lot," Dr. Nowak said. That is not to say that cooperation always emerges. Dr. Nowak identified the conditions when it can arise with a simple equation: B/C>K. That is, cooperation will emerge if the benefit-to-cost (B/C) ratio of cooperation is greater than the average number of neighbors (K). "It's the simplest possible thing you could have expected, and it's completely amazing," he said.
- Francisco Ayala (2007) Darwin's Gift: To Science and Religion.
- Holly Arrow (2007) 'The Sharp End of Altruism', Science 26 Oct 2007.
"From an evolutionary perspective, altruism--acts that benefit others at a personal cost--is puzzling.
Some influential theories that address this puzzle are kin altruism, the tendency to help blood relations;
and reciprocal altruism, the tendency to help people who are likely to return the favor.
Neither explains generosity to non-kin when costs are high and reciprocation unlikely. Heroism in warfare is an example.
Explaining such extravagant altruism via indirect benefits to altruists and their kin has proved difficult.
A growing body of work seeks instead to explain altruism with models that include selection on both individuals and groups."
"Altruism flourishes only in the company of outgroup hostility (parochialism), with war as both the engine of this
coevolutionary process and its legacy. For a compatriot, the parochial altruist who risks his life is a shining knight,
whereas the outsider encounters the sharp end of this altruism."
"Evidence that intergroup violence killed a nontrivial proportion of our ancestors (5) has fueled interest in war as a
force for robust group selection. War is a strong candidate because people kill each other based on group membership."
Jung-Kyoo Choi and Samuel Bowles (2007) The Coevolution of Parochial Altruism and War (Science, 26 Oct 2007):
"Our game-theoretic analysis and agent-based simulations show that under conditions likely to have been experienced by late
Pleistocene and early Holocene humans, neither parochialism nor altruism would have been viable singly, but by promoting
group conflict, they could have evolved jointly."
"Late 19th-century scientists as diverse as Charles Darwin (The Descent of Man) and Karl Pearson (Fortnightly Review 56, 1, 1894) recognized war as a powerful evolutionary force that might foster social solidarity and altruism toward the fellow members of one's group."
- Joseph Henrich and Natalie Henrich (2007) Why Humans Cooperate. A Cultural and Evolutionary Explanation, Oxford University Press.
- "A man who was merely a man [not the Son of God] and said the sort of things Jesus said would not be a great moral teacher.", (page 224) is a quote from C.S. Lewis. This is an argument from authority. Founding morality on authority, does not answer the question why a behaviour is morally good. It is question begging. So, authority cannot be the ultimate foundation of morality. It is amazing that a scientist (Collins) believes that authority is a good argument.
- J. McKenzie Alexander (2007) The Structural Evolution of Morality, Cambridge University Press, hardback 310 pages.
- Joan B. Silk (2007) 'Chimps don't just get mad, they get even', PNAS August 21, 2007 | vol. 104 | no. 34 | 13537-13538.
"Humans are the most cooperative species on the planet, and the most punitive. This is no coincidence.".
"The results of these experiments suggest that chimpanzees are predisposed to impose sanctions on those that harm them."
- Donald W. Pfaff (2007) The Neuroscience of Fair Play: Why We (Usually) Follow the Golden Rule, Dana Press, Hardcover, 300 pages. "The whole focus in these pages is on the possibility that some rules of behavior
are universally embedded in the human brain - that we are 'wired for good behavior.' He claims he's surveyed the world's
religions and found some variant of the Golden Rule in every one, leading him to conclude that this trait is likely to
be under some sort of genetic control." Reviewed in Science:
"The Neuroscience of Fair Play successfully highlights important issues in a young field of inquiry. Although readers
may find much to disagree with in Pfaff's account, clear formulations of their objections will help advance the study
of possible biological bases of morals.". My view: there is a danger to 'explain' social and anti-social behaviour by
neurogenetic bases, which amounts to saying: social behaviour is caused by the brain and anti-social behaviour is caused
by the brain, and if there is an imbalance beween the two the outcome is social or anti-social behaviour.
- A. Knafo et al (2007) 'Individual differences in allocation of funds in the dictator game associated
with length of the arginine vasopressin 1a receptor RS3 promoter region and correlation between RS3 length and hippocampal
mRNA ', Genes, Brain and Behavior, OnlineEarly Articles. The authors argue something like that there is a gene for altruism.
- Edward O. Wilson, and Bert H÷lldobler (2005) 'Eusociality: Origin and consequences', PNAS September 20, 2005 | vol. 102 no. 38 13367-13371
"In this new assessment of the empirical evidence, an alternative to the standard model is proposed: group selection is the strong binding force in eusocial evolution; individual selection, the strong dissolutive force; and kin selection (narrowly defined), either a weak binding or weak dissolutive force, according to circumstance."
- David Sloan Wilson, Edward O. Wilson (2007) Rethinking the theoretical foundation of sociobiology, The Quarterly Review of Biology, December 2007, vol. 82, no. 4 Free Access
"In this article, we take a "back to basics" approach, explaining what group selection is, why its rejection was regarded as so important, and how it has been revived based on a more careful formulation and subsequent research. Multilevel selection theory (including group selection) provides an elegant theoretical foundation for sociobiology in the future, once its turbulent past is appropriately understood."
- Dan Jones (2008) 'Human behaviour: Killer instincts', Published online 23 January 2008 | Nature 451, 512-515 (2008)
"In an intriguing turn, Raine and his USC colleague Yaling Yang have recently pointed to a link between homicidal behaviour and the capacity to follow moral guidelines. Over the past six years, brain-imaging studies aimed at understanding moral judgements have illustrated the crucial role of the emotional feeling that comes with violating moral codes."
- Michael Balter (2008) 'Why We're Different: Probing the Gap Between Apes and Humans', Science, is an interesting overview.
"We are just primates with a particular combination of traits," says Bryson. "Seeing how all those traits came together and exploded into our current culture is really interesting."
- Peter Politser (2008) Neuroeconomics: A Guide to the New Science of Making Choices. This discipline is not concerned with moral choices, but economic choices.
- Crime in the United States, Hate Crime Statistics, Family Violence (pdf). As far as I know there are no altruism statistics.
- Manfred Milinski & Bettina Rockenbach (2008) Human behaviour: Punisher pays, Nature, News and Views, 20 March 2008.
"The tendency of humans to punish perceived free-loaders, even at a cost to themselves, is an evolutionary puzzle: punishers perish, and those who benefit the most are those who have never punished at all.".
Original article: Anna Dreber et al (2008) Winners don't punish, Nature, 20 March 2008.
- Elizabeth W. Dunn et al (2008) Spending Money on Others Promotes Happiness, Science, 21 March 2008.
"This study provides initial evidence that how people spend their money may be as important for their happiness as how much money they earn and that spending money on others might represent a more effective route to happiness than spending money on oneself."
[this is weak altruism, not strong altruism because it is about 'disposable income' (income remaining after bills are paid).
Question: why should altruism make people happy? If altruism makes people happy, is it still altruism? Material costs, immaterial benefits. GK]
- Constance Holden (2008) 'Smart Birds Lend a Beak for Food', Science 28 March 2008.
Corvids--including ravens, crows, and rooks--are among the smarty-pants of the bird world. Now scientists report that rooks,
like chimpanzees, can cooperate in food-getting tasks.
- Michael McCullough (2008) Beyond Revenge: The Evolution of the Forgiveness Instinct.
"Psychologist Michael McCullough argues that the key to a more forgiving, less vengeful world is to understand the evolutionary forces that gave rise to these intimately human instincts and the social forces that activate them in human minds today."
- Stephen G. Post (editor) (2007) Altruism and Health. Perspectives from Empirical Research, Oxford University Press, 480 pp. (info):
"Does a kindly, charitable interest in others have health benefits for the agent, particularly when coupled with helping behaviours?".
- "... the normal route by which children acquire folk psychological abilities is through their encounters
with stories about people who act for reasons ..." Erik Myin in a review of 'Folk Psychological Narratives
by Daniel D. Hutto in Science (2 May 08)
- Herbert Gintis, Samuel Bowles, Robert T. Boyd, and Ernst Fehr (2006)
Moral Sentiments and Material Interests: The Foundations of Cooperation in Economic Life,
(Economic Learning and Social Evolution), The MIT Press, Paperback - Sep 1, 2006.
"This book presents social science at its interdisciplinary best: an exhilarating mix of game theory, evolutionary
biology, experimental economics, cultural anthropology, grammatology, and policy analysis. It will change our views
of how biology and culture together determine social behavior."
(Daniel Kahneman, Princeton University, Nobel Laureate in Economic Sciences).
- Greg Miller (2008) 'Your Brain on Ethics', Science, 9 May 2008.
- Ming Hsu et al (2008) 'The Right and the Good: Distributive Justice and Neural Encoding of Equity and Efficiency', Science, 23 May 2008.
Using brain imaging to setlle age-old questions about morality, justice, emotion.
- Book review of Kwame Anthony Appiah (2008) Experiments in Ethics, Harvard University Press: 2008. 288 pp.
The review can be viewed for free as I noticed with this link:
"In the past few decades, scientific interest in moral behaviour has surged. Psychologists, neuroscientists, evolutionary theorists and behavioural economists have begun to turn their experimental methods to understanding the ways we arrive at moral judgements."
- 'This time it's personal', editorial Nature 453, 697 (5 June 2008). "Collins also deserves credit for making the ethical, legal and social issues of genomics a high priority at the NHGRI. He says he is particularly satisfied with recent passage through Congress of the Genetic Information Nondiscrimination Act, for which he had long been a passionate advocate. "
- Samuel Bowles (2008) Review: 'Policies Designed for Self-Interested Citizens May Undermine "The Moral Sentiments": Evidence from Economic Experiments', Science, 20 Jun 2008.
"The example points to a shortcoming in the conventional economic approach to policy design: It overlooks the possibility that economic incentives may diminish ethical or other reasons for complying with social norms and contributing to the common good.", etc. Very stimulating review.
- The first recipient of the Templeton prize for "Progress in Religion", $85,000 , was Mother Teresa of
Calcutta, in 1973. Templeton: "The list of moral qualities that Templeton thought science should be looking at was entirely characteristic of the man: "ethics, love, honesty, generosity, thanksgiving, forgiving, reliability, entrepreneurship, diligence, thrift, joy,
future-mindedness, beneficial purpose, creativity, curiosity, humility, and awe." Nature, Obituary: John Templeton (1912-2008).
The relation of belief in God, happiness and altruism is profoundly disturbed by the publication of her letters in:
Mother Teresa: Come Be My Light. See: Time: "for the last nearly half-century of her life she felt no presence of God whatsoever".
- Ara Norenzayan and Azim F. Shariff (2008) 'The Origin and Evolution of Religious Prosociality', Science, 3 October 2008.
A very useful overview of the association between religion and prosociality (altruism).
The authors defend the hypothesis that religions facilitate costly behaviors that benefit people of the same group.
This effect depends on reputation. The authors present predictions which are tested experimentally against evidence.
Although the main thesis is pro religion, and the authors supports it with evidence, this not a severely biased review.
- Samuel Bowles (2008) 'Being human: Conflict: Altruism's midwife', Nature 456, 326-327 (20 November 2008).
"Generosity and solidarity towards one's own may have emerged only in combination with hostility towards outsiders".
- Martin A. Nowak (2008) 'Generosity: A winner's advice', Nature 456, 579 (4 December 2008).
"In both, mathematical analysis shows that winning strategies tend to be generous, hopeful and forgiving.
Generous here means not seeking to get more than one's opponent; hopeful means cooperating in the first move or in the absence of information; and forgiving means attempting to re-establish cooperation after an accidental defection. These three traits are related. If I am generous, it is easier for me to forgive, and also to be hopeful and take the risk of cooperating with newcomers."
- Samuel Bowles (2009) 'Did Warfare Among Ancestral Hunter-Gatherers Affect the Evolution of Human Social Behaviors?', Science.
"But taking all of the evidence into account, it seems likely that, for many groups and for substantial periods of human prehistory, lethal group conflict may have been frequent enough to support the proliferation of quite costly forms of altruism."
- Jocelyn Kaiser (2009) 'White House Taps Former Genome Chief Francis Collins as NIH Director', Science, 17 July 2009; Jocelyn Kaiser (2009) 'Questions About the Language of God', Science, 17 July 2009.
- Tim Clutton-Brock (2009) 'Cooperation between non-kin in animal societies', A review. Nature, 5 Nov 2009.
- Marc Bekoff and Jessica Pierce (2009) Wild Justice. The Moral Lives of Animals, The University of Chicago Press, 204 pages.
"Bekoff and Pierce reveal that animals exhibit a broad repertoire of moral behaviors, including fairness, empathy, trust, and reciprocity. Ultimately, Bekoff and Pierce draw the astonishing conclusion that there is no moral gap between humans and other species: morality is an evolved trait that we unquestionably share with other social mammals." (info)
- By Michael Balter (2010) 'Foster Care for Chimps', Science, 5 Feb 2010.
"A new study of these primates in the wild suggests that they are far more selfless than scientists have given them
credit for, though some researchers have their doubts. The team has observed 18 cases of adult chimps in
(over 27 years of observations) adopting young chimps whose mothers had died."
- The name "Hamilton" or the word "kin selection" do not occur in the book! Collins mentions E. O. Wilson, On Human Nature (1978), in which Wilson "explains how evolution has left its traces on the characteristics which are the specialty of human species like generosity, self-sacrifice, ... " (wikipedia).
- He mentions and rejects E. O. Wilson's arguments for altruism. He further rejects 3 other arguments for altruism without bothering to give names, quotes or references. On the other hand he refers or quotes 9 times to 5 books of C.S. Lewis.
Other reviews of The language of God
- David Klinghoffer (2006) The Human factor. A man of science faces Darwin and the Deity. Klinghoffer is a senior fellow at the Discovery Institute. Comment: Klinghoffer did not tell why ID is true. Klinghoffer ignored chapter 5, where Collins presents the most beautiful evidence for common descent!
- Sam Harris: The Language of Ignorance
is a review by philosopher Harris, which attacks Collins' philosophical and theological views and completely ignores
the important fact that Collins provides superb creationism-resistant proofs of common descent,
and that Collins rejects ID! Harris' review is ill-considered, and unbalanced.
- Robert Pollack (2006) "DNA, Evolution, and the Moral Law", Science 29 Sep 2006 Vol 313 pp.1890-1891.
Pollack writes: "I consider myself a religious person". He reads Collins' Moral Law as "the presence in himself and others of "the Moral Law".
He does not notice the two different meanings of Moral Law Collins uses. Further: "surely I would not want to make of this subjective emotional experience [Moral Law], however ubiquitous, evidence of the sort that a scientist marshals to confirm a hypothesis." (against Collins), but later he states: "The Moral Law may well be God's presence among us" (agreeing with Collins). "The Moral Law ... cannot be reduced to a DNA sequence, not even to the whole human genome." "But if the Moral Law were not written in DNA, then why would DNA be the 'language of God' at all?". [good point!] "Collins has done a brave thing in laying out his own religious convictions in a way that permits him to appeal to his fellow evangelical Christians to cease their war with nature and to accept the facts of life as discovered through science." [good point!]
- Patricia Pearson (2006) 'The God debate', Toronto Star, Oct. 15, 2006. Is a review of The God Delusion by Richard Dawkins and The Language of God by Francis S. Collins.
- Thomas Dixon (2006) The carbon and the Christian,
Times Literary Supplement, 20 Dec 2006.
"Yet this strumming, sentimental Christian geneticist will do more to promote the acceptance of Darwinism in modern America
than any number of polarizing and polemical atheistic tracts could hope to do." "From a more theological and philosophical
perspective, however, Collins is unwise to base his Christian apologetics, as he does, on the supposed inability of science
to explain the 'Moral Law' within each human heart".
- Victor J. Stenger (2006) A Weak Effort to Reconcile Science and Religion.
"No doubt some believers reading this book will be reassured that a prominent scientist is able, in his own
blinkered mind at least, to reconcile science - especially evolution - with
Christian belief. But it is a weak effort. If the author wished to make any significant
scientific and theological statements, he would have done better to
refer to the latest literature on cosmology and evolutionary psychology, and
to consult theological sources besides an author of children's literature."
- Jack Haas (2006) 'Francis S. Collins: A Spokesman for Today', Essay review by Jack Haas, Perspectives on Science and Christian Faith, Volume 58, Number 4, December 2006.
"One patient challenged him to reconsider the God question and he visited a Methodist minister who pointed him to C. S. Lewis's Mere Christianity.
Collins was particularly attracted by Lewis's Moral Law argument."
- Paul R. Gross (2007) Mammoth in the Garden. Why the Harmonization of Science and Religion is a Strong Human Need", Skeptic, February 21st, 2007. "Francis Collins is a devout Christian who cherry-picks the Bible that he insists is God's word".
- Catherine H. Crouch (2007) Not Too Simply Christian. Two approaches to apologetics
(Catherine H. Crouch is assistant professor of physics at Swarthmore College), Christianity Today March/April 2007, Vol. 13, No. 2, Page 26.
"Another limitation of Collins's book (...) is his choice of evidence to examine, which is a rather
narrow slice of all the evidence that might be considered. Collins essentially gives the same argument for belief
that Lewis presents in Mere Christianity: the Moral Law - the human instinct that right and wrong come from outside
the individual, rather than simply being defined by each individual with reference to him or herself - points to
the existence of One who is the source of right and wrong."
- Robert J. Richards (2007) Reason and Reverence,
American Scientist March-April 2007. "Collins's persuasive attempts are so well-intentioned and his tone so congenial
that you want to believe, but ultimately his efforts are unlikely to succeed with either group. [accomplished scientists
and committed believers].
... Throughout his book, and especially in his discussion of stemcell techniques, one detects the man of science in
Collins struggling with the man of religion. He desperately wants reconciliation between reason and faith but seems not
always aware of the price each side would pay".
- David Brash (2007) The DNA of Religious Faith,
The Chronicle of Higher Education, Volume 53, Issue 33, Page B6, 20 April 2007.
A review of several books, including Collins' book.
"Is there really one moral law?" [very good!]. "Collins is greatly impressed, nonetheless, that people have a single, deep,
shared knowledge of right and wrong, which he might find less impressive if he were more familiar with basic sociobiology.
He seems not to understand that infanticidal male behavior in langur monkeys does not preclude the use of "altruism" at
other times, and by other species, as a means of mate attraction, or that the evolutionary biology of kin selection is
based on identity of genes via common descent, not just in ants but in any sexually reproducing organism. Taken together
or in various combinations, kin selection, reciprocal altruism, group selection, third-party effects, and courtship
possibilities, as well as simple susceptibility to social and cultural indoctrination, provide biologists with more than
enough for the conclusion: God is no longer needed to explain "Moral Law."."
I think Brash underestimates the explanatory problem caused by infanticide which is the opposite of altruism. One needs
good predictors for the appearence of infanticide and altruism, otherwise it are just-so stories.
- Sam Harris (2010) The Moral Landscape. How Science Can Determine Human Values contains a devastating critique of Francis Collins views on morality and belief (pp. 160 - 174).
Further Reading (ascending chronological order)
- Curriculum Vitae Francis Collins at National Human Genome Research Institute (NHGRI).
- An Interview with Francis Collins (2004): "I had no idea, really, who Lewis was. The idea that he was a scholar, though, that appealed to my intellectual pride. Maybe somebody with that kind of a title would be able to write something that I could understand and appreciate." "And the argument that Lewis made there - the one that I think was most surprising, most earth-shattering, and most life-changing - is the argument about the existence of the moral law."
- Interview with Francis Collins by Counterbalance Meta Library, undated but must be before 2005.
- Interview with Francis Collins by Stan Guthrie: Creation or Evolution? Yes! Francis Collins issues a call to stand on the middle ground. Christianity Today, posted 1/16/2007.
- Interview with Francis Collins, April 17, 2008, The Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life. Quote: "To focus on a particular area of nature where our understanding remains incomplete and say, well, God must have done something miraculous in that spot, is actually, I think, to make God much too small."
- Double interview with Richard Dawkins and Francis Collins in Time magazine Posted Sunday, Nov. 5, 2006. Very interesting!
- Francis Collins in wikipedia.
- Nicholas Wade Scientists Complete Rough Draft of Human Genome, New York Times June 26, 2000
- Nicholas Wade Genetic Code of Human Life Is Cracked by Scientists, New York Times June 27, 2000.
- Building bridges - An American geneticist advocates a rapprochement with religion, editorials Nature 13 July 2006 p.110.
- Genomics luminary weighs in on US faith debate, Nature, News, Vol 442|13 July 2006 p.114-115.
- The Composition of Life is an animation explaining the genetic code of life (New York Times).
- A nice Timeline of the discoveries in genetics from Mendel to the completion of the Human Genome Project (New York Times).
- Elliot Sober and David Sloan Wilson (1998) Unto Others. - The evolution and psychology of unselfish behavior. Philosopher Elliott Sober and biologist David Sloan Wilson provide a panoramic view of altruism throughout the animal kingdom.
- September 2006 special issue of Journal of Evolutionary Biology about altruism.
- Literature about Theistic Evolution on the introduction page of this site.
- Peter Hammerstein (2003) Genetic and cultural evolution of cooperation, The MIT Press. This book addresses the role of cognition and emotions in human cooperation, reciprocity, the puzzle of friendship, the origins of human cooperation and the cultural evolution of cooperation, etc.
- Lee Alan Dugatkin (2006) The Altruism Equation. Seven Scientists Search for the Origins of Goodness, Princeton University Press, hb p.188. This is an accessible account of the history of the altruism debate from Darwin to Hamilton. The influence of Hamilton's rule on evolutionary biology has been as great as the impact of Newton's laws of motion on physics.
- Frans de Waal (2006) The animal roots of human morality, New Scientist 14 October 2006. "We insist that morality is something uniquely human that goes against our nasty, natural instincts. Yet many animals also have an inbuilt sense of fair play and can show compassion to others in their group, argues Frans de Waal".
- Marc D. Hauser (2006) Moral Minds: How Nature Designed Our Universal Sense of Right and Wrong, Ecco: 2006. 512 pp. (Harper Perennial 2007). Review: Nature. See also Introduction page of this site.
- Cornelia Dean 'Faith, Reason, God and Other Imponderables', New York Times, July 25, 2006
- Reason to Believe A leading geneticist argues that science can lead to faith THE LANGUAGE OF GOD reviewed by Scott Russell Sanders, Washington Post Sunday, July 9, 2006; Page BW05
- Interview with Francis Collins in the National Geographic February 2007 pp 34-39. (not online)
- Philip Lieberman (1991) Uniquely Human The Evolution of Speech, Thought, and Selfless Behavior : "The unique brain mechanisms underlying human language also enhance human cognitive ability, allowing us to derive abstract concepts and to plan complex activities. These factors are necessary for the development of true altruism and moral behavior."
- Philip Clayton and Jeffrey Schloss (eds) (2004) Evolution And Ethics: Human Morality In Biological And Religious Perspective, 339 pages. Contributions from scientists, philosophers, theologians. Most authors are positive about evolutionary explanations of altruism. (info)
- Neil Levy (2004) What Makes us Moral? Crossing the Boundaries of Biology, Oneworld Publications.
- Christopher Boehm (2001) Hierarchy in the Forest The Evolution of Egalitarian Behavior: "This book will be a key document in the study of the evolutionary basis of genuine altruism."
- Nigel Barber (2004) Kindness In A Cruel World: The Evolution Of Altruism, Prometheus Books 416 pages. info. Reviews: About.com; Peter Lamal in Skeptical Inquirer, May 1, 2005.
- Laurence Tancredi (2005) Hardwired Behavior: What Neuroscience Reveals about Morality Cambridge University Press hardcover 240 pages. info.
- William D. Casebeer (2005) Natural Ethical Facts: Evolution, Connectionism, and Moral Cognition (Bradford Books) (Paperback). See Amazon Customer Review.
- David Sloan Wilson (2007) a review of The Altruism Equation: Seven Scientists Search for the Origins of Goodness (Lee Alan Dugatkin); Primates and Philosophers: How Morality Evolved (Frans de Waal); and The Evolution of Morality (Richard Joyce), American Scientist, May-June 2007.
- Richard Dawkins (2007) The God Delusion has chapter 6 'The roots of morality: why are we good?' devoted to altruism. Dawkins lists four solutions to altruism, two different from Ridley.
- Victor J. Stenger Do Our Values Come from God? The Evidence Says No. (date 2006?)
- Trey Popp (2007) Bad Samaritans: On the Universal Capacity for Doing Harm in 'Science & Spirit' May/June/2007, reviews three books: (1) James Hollis 'Why Good People Do Bad Things'; (2) Jacob Needleman 'Why Can't We Be Good?'; (3) Philip Zimbardo 'The Lucifer Effect'. Please note that these are useful additions to Collins book, because Collins does not discuss why people do bad things. We need that to understand human behaviour.
- Philip Zimbardo (2007) The Lucifer Effect: Understanding How Good People Turn Evil (Random House).
"Why Situations Matter. We want to believe in the essential, unchanging goodness of people, in their power to resist external pressures. The Stanford Prison Experiment is a clarion call to abandon simplistic notions of the Good Self dominating Bad Situations. We are best able to avoid, challenge, and change negative situational forces only by recognizing their potential to "infect us" as they have others who were similarly situated."
- Stephen J. Pope (2007) Human Evolution and Christian Ethics, Cambridge University Press.
Book Description: "Can the origins of morality be explained entirely in evolutionary terms? If so, what are the implications for Christian moral theology and ethics? Is the latter redundant, as socio-biologists often assert? Stephen Pope argues that theologians need to engage with evolutionary theory rather than ignoring it. He shows that our growing knowledge of human evolution is compatible with Christian faith and morality, provided that the former is not interpreted reductionistically and the latter is not understood in fundamentalist ways"
- Robert A. Hinde (2007) Bending the Rules. Morality in the Modern World from Relationships to Politics and War, Oxford University Press. 287 pp.
"In Bending the Rules, Robert Hinde addresses the controversial and timely subject of how the behavioral sciences apply to the study of morality. In contrast to moral philosophers who focus "on how people ought to behave," he concentrates on "how they think they should behave and how they actually behave." "Second, the author argues that there are certain moral principles found in all cultures." Reviewed in Science. Robert A. Hinde is the author of Why Gods Persist: Scientific Approach To Religion and War: A Cruel Necessity?: The Bases of Institutionalized Violence.
- Roy F. Baumeister (1999) Evil. Inside Human Violence and Cruelty, Scientific American Library.
"murder, rape, street crime, war, petty cruelty, emotional abuse, wife beating, government repression, racial and ethnic hatreds."
- Arthur G. Miller (Editor) (2005) The Social Psychology of Good and Evil,The Guilford Press, Paperback 498 pages.
"why people engage both in behavior that is extraordinarily harmful to others and behavior that is extraordinarily beneficial".
- ADL Blasts Christian Supremacist TV Special & Book Blaming Darwin For Hitler (ADL also denounced Coral Ridge Ministries for misleading Dr. Francis Collins) August 22, 2006
- Thomas Jay Oord (Ed.) (2007) The Altruism Reader. Selections from Writings on Love, Religion, and Science, Templeton Foundation Press, paperback.
- Andrew Michael Flescher and Daniel L. Worthen (2007) The Altruistic Species. Scientific, Philosophical, and Religious Perspectives, Templeton Foundation Press.
- Elof Axel Carlson (2008) Neither Gods Nor Beasts. How Science Is Changing Who We Think We Are, Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory Press, Hardcover, 200 pages.
"Traditional views of human nature focus on the supernatural, defining us as creatures with souls, minds, and spirits that transcend our physical attributes. In this provocative book, distinguished scientist and historian Elof Axel Carlson argues for a different understanding of ourselves based on our biology-cellular organization, genetics, life cycle, evolution, and our origins as a species. This interpretation would not negate our capacity for imagination, spiritual and emotional yearnings, or aesthetic appreciation for art, music, and literature. Carlson challenges educators, the media, and public policy makers to integrate the evidence from science more fully into our understanding of ourselves."
- Francis Collins (2008) 'RETROSPECTIVE: Victor A. McKusick (1921-2008)', Science 15 Aug 2008:
"In August 1969, at the International Conference on Birth Defects in The Hague, McKusick proposed that mapping all human genes would be useful for understanding basic derangements in birth defects."
- Francisco J. Ayala (2003) 'Biology Precedes, Culture Transcends: An Evolutionist's View of Human Nature', Zygon, Volume 33 Issue 4, Pages 507 - 523. Published Online: 7 Jan 2003. I conclude from the abstract that Ayala accepts a biological basis for our moral sentiments, but 'the moral codes' are products or our culture. Of course are 'the moral codes' a product of culture if you define 'the moral codes' as written codes: moral sentiments expressed
- Kees Keizer et al (2008) 'The Spreading of Disorder', Science 12 December 2008.
"The broken windows theory (BWT) of Wilson and Kelling suggests that signs of disorder like broken windows, litter, and graffiti induce other (types of) disorder and petty crime. We found that, when people observe that others violated a certain social norm or legitimate rule, they are more likely to violate other norms or rules, which causes disorder to spread. The mere presence of graffiti more than doubled the number of people littering and stealing"
- Denis O Lamoureux (2009) Evolutionary Creation (Paperback), Lutterworth Press, 514 pages. "Graduate school training at the doctoral level in both theology and biology led him to the conclusion that God created the world through evolution". From the same author (2008): Evolutionary Creation: A Christian Approach to Evolution.
- Marc Bekoff and Jessica Pierce (2009) Wild Justice. The Moral Lives of Animals, The University of Chicago Press, 204 pages.
- "Bekoff and Pierce reveal that animals exhibit a broad repertoire of moral behaviors, including fairness, empathy, trust, and reciprocity. Ultimately, Bekoff and Pierce draw the astonishing conclusion that there is no moral gap between humans and other species: morality is an evolved trait that we unquestionably share with other social mammals." (info)
- Francis Collins (2009) Can Science and Religion Co-Exist in Harmony?, Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life June 22, 2009
- "Then there's C.S. Lewis' point that I discovered while reading the first chapter of Mere Christianity, "Right and Wrong as a Clue to the Meaning of the Universe." Where does this notion of morality come from? Is this a purely evolutionary artifact, where we have been convinced by evolution that right and wrong have meanings and that we're supposed to do the right thing, or is there something more profound going on?"
- "you would also have to postulate that God intentionally put a defective gene in exactly the place where a common ancestry would say it should be."
- Marco Iacoboni (2009) 'Mirroring People: The Science of Empathy and How We Connect with Others' (Paperback).
- Matt Young (2009) 'Francis Collins and the God of the Gaps', posted July 19, 2009.
- The Intersection of Faith and Evolution: A Civil Dialogue with video of panel discussion.
- Evolution, the Bible, and the Book of Nature. A conversation with Francis Collins. Interview by Karl W. Giberson, Christianity Today posted 7/10/2009
- Francis Collins: fit to head the NIH? Los Angeles Times July 29, 2009. For: Francisco J. Ayala, against: Michael Shermer.
- Frans de Waal (2009) The Age of Empathy: Nature's Lessons for a Kinder Society, Harmony (Hardcover). Reviewed in: Nature 460, 41 (3 September 2009).
- Elizabeth Pennisi (2009) 'On the Origin of Cooperation', Science 4 September 2009: Vol. 325. no. 5945, pp. 1196 - 1199. An overview of cooperation in systems from microbes to humans.
- George C. Cunningham (2009) Decoding the Language of God. Can a Scientist Really Be a Believer? A Geneticist Responds to Francis Collins, Prometheus, Amherst, NY.
"fellow geneticist George C. Cunningham presents a point-by-point rebuttal of The Language of God, arguing that there is no scientifically acceptable evidence to support belief in a personal God and much that discredits it."
- Francis S. Collins (2010) The Language of Life: DNA and the Revolution in Personalized Medicine, Harper/Profile: 2010. 368 pp/288 pp. Reviewed in Nature (21 January 2010) and Science (12 Feb 2010). Both reviews are positive.
- Robert W. Sussman and C. Robert Cloninger, Eds. (2011) Origins of Altruism and Cooperation. Springer, New York, 2011
- Jonathan Haidt (2012) The Righteous Mind Why Good People Are Divided by Politics and Religion, Pantheon, New York, 2012. 441 pp.
- Review: John T. Jost (2012) Left and Right, Right and Wrong, Science 3 Aug 2012. The review is very critical but very useful.
- Review: by Thomas Nagel The New York Review of Books: "Haidt is a social psychologist, and he sets out his descriptive theory of the origins and nature of morality and of moral disagreement. But the book's overall point is partly normative, not just descriptive. Haidt makes definite recommendations of a clearly moral nature, and he seeks to support them with the help of his descriptive findings about morality. These two aspects of the project do not fit easily together."
- Simon Gächter (2012) 'Human behaviour: A cooperative instinct', Nature 20 Sep 2012:
- "psychological studies have suggested that moral judgements are often made intuitively, and because many people view 'freeloading' on other people's contributions as morally blameworthy, it is plausible that moral intuitions support cooperation. ... Rand et al. show that this extends to cooperation: in their experiments, people under time pressure contributed significantly more than those who made their decisions with no time limit or with a forced delay. Thus, it seems that forcing a person to decide more rapidly – by intuition – increases their tendency to cooperate. ... The authors have demonstrated that, on average, our intuition is to cooperate, but further studies are needed to understand the variation in this behaviour between individuals."
- The most dishonest thing to do is quoting Francis Collins ("the spiritual worldview provides another way of finding truth") to support an anti-evolution book:
The Death of Evolution: Restoring Faith and Wonder in a World of Doubt by Jim Nelson Black
- Francis Collins Does evolution explain human nature? Not entirely. (2009?) Templeton website.
- W. David Winslow (2011) "... the best book I read on this subject was The Language of God: A Scientist Presents Evidence for Belief by Collins." My thoughts on science and faith in God, blog.
- Joshua Greene (2013) Moral Tribes: Emotion, Reason, and the Gap Between Us and Them.
"Our brains were designed for tribal life, for getting along with a select group of others (Us), and for fighting off everyone else (Them)." Joshua Greene is the director of Harvard University's Moral Cognition Lab.
- Collins: Stop Abusing Baby Monkeys: "THIS PAST NOVEMBER , at a convention center just outside Washington, D.C., PETA supporters disrupted a special address by Francis Collins. As the NIH director began his presentation–celebrating the 20th anniversary of the Association for Molecular Pathology–two women began shouting, "Why do you cause the suffering of baby monkeys, Francis Collins?," a reference to an NIH lab that has been measuring the psychological impact of removing young rhesus macaques from their mothers. A security officer escorted the women from the crowded room, as they yelled "Shame on you!" while holding signs that read, "Collins: Stop Abusing Baby Monkeys." Science 23 Jan 2015