Evolution of Free Agency pt. 1

The real issue that Elder Packer seems to have is with free will and responsibility. Animals clearly don't have and we clearly do. Well, it depends on how you define free will and responsibility. Also, we should again emphasize that evolutionists do not think that humans, since they are animals, are just like all other animals. Evolutionists don't think that any animal is just like all the others, let alone one as unique as a human.
The comprehension of man as no more than a specialized animal cannot help but affect how one behaves. A conviction that man did evolve from animals fosters the mentality that man is not responsible for moral conduct.
Animals are controlled to a very large extent by physical urges. Promiscuity is a common pattern in the reproduction of animals. In many subtle ways, the perception that man is an animal and likewise controlled by urges invites that kind of behavior so apparent in society today. A self-image in which we regard ourselves as children of God sponsors one kind of behavior. A conclusion which equates man to animals fosters another kind of behavior entirely.
Consequences which spring from that single false premise account for much of what society now suffers. I do not speak in theoretical terms; it matters very much in practical ways. The word abortion should suffice as an example.

He seems to suffer from a serious caracturization of evolution and its claims for he consistently argues against things which evolutionary biologists discredited a long time ago. Take for instance the idea of genetic determinism. We can study the actions of some animals, especially insects, and realize that they are not really deciding anything at all. They are programmed by the genes to do certain things and they do them.

Wooldridge gives a great example of this in the life of the digger wasp. When it is time for the female to lay its eggs, it stings a cricket so as to paralyze it without killing it, burrows a hole in the ground and lays its eggs next to the cricket in the hole. By the time the eggs hatch the crickey has not decomposed and can thus be eaten by the offspring. Is this great planning and foresight by the wasp? No, as we can readily see with a simple experiment.

When the wasp is about to drag the crickey into the hole, she first enters the hole to make sure that everything is ok, leaving the paralyzed cricket at the threshold. Upon emerging, she then takes the crickey inside the hole. If while the wasp is inspecting the hole something (such as a curious scientist) moves the cricket even a couple of inches from the threshold, the wasp will proceed to move the cricket again to the threshold, leave it there and proceed to check things out in the hole. If while inside we move the cricket again the same thing happens. The wasp will do this dozens of times without fail in we are so inclined to keep with this game.

Is the wasp really planning and thinking about what it is doing? No. Genetic determinism basically amounts to the fear that we are but an elaborate version of the digger wasp. Fortunately, nobody really believes this, not even the most atheistic Darwinists.

Before we go on to consider what they really do think, let us first recognize a serious flaw in Packers reasoning. No it's not revelation, he says so himself. I'm not using science to criticize an Apostle, instead this Apostle has ventured into the realm of science thereby inviting criticism upon himself, if only by his mischaracterizing evolution.

"The perception that man is an animal and likewise controlled by urges invites that kind of behavior so apparent in society today." This is an obvious violation of the is/ought relationship which spelled the demise of the social darwinists. What happened to our species in the past might have something to do with what we ought to do now, but a bridge is badly needed to connect the two. Spencer (the main proponent of social Darwinism) failed to provide this bridge as has Packer is his criticism.

Yes, animal seem to be 'promiscuous' having sexual relations outside of wedlock, but wait, they don't have wedlock. Ah, but they have multiple parters. Yes some do but others do not. Attempting to dervie ethics for us from animals so disconnected from us is bound to flop.

Well then, what about the nature of our closest relatives then? First of all, or closest relatives are not the chimpanzees, they are our closest living relatives. Just as I am more closely related to my grandparents than I am my cousins, we are more closely related to Cro-magnon and the like than we are to chimps or gorillas.

There is a whole branch of science dedicated to answering question like these regarding human nature. It is called evolutionary psychology. Women tend to be more 'monogamous' than are men, because they want a man to provide for them and their (specifically the woman's) offspring. This is a form of kin selection. Men tend to be a bit less monogamous due to their 'wanting' to spread their genes as far and wide as possible. (This really shouldn't bother Mormons so much for obvious reasons.) Does this mean that it is better that men run around with as many women as possible trying to get others to raise their genetic offspring? No, this is where the is/ought relationship violation comes in. We value trust, honesty and commitment to such an extent that such a scenario seem repugnant to us. This is due to our sense of morality.

to be continued....

Summary: Many attempts to establish a notion of free will and responsibility based on our being animals have been flat out wrong. It is right for Elder Packer to criticize these attempts, but he does so by falling into the same error as them, they all try to derive 'ought' from 'is.'


In many subtle ways, the perception that man is an animal and likewise controlled by urges invites that kind of behavior so apparent in society today.... The word abortion should suffice as an example. 

This example of Elder Packer's seems very strange, almost contradictory. Is he saying abortion is an animal-like behavior? On the contrary, I would guess it is almost uniquely human. 

Posted by Christian Y. Cardall

5/17/2005 05:00:00 AM  

Instead of the attitude of "we can't give evolution any respect because then the people will feel free to act like animals," why not embrace it and use it to support the message of the scriptures that we are fallen, sensual, and carnal, and therefore need redemption?

The counter-argument is that it is because evolution isn't true, so therefore the prophets cannot endorse it. But it seems to me that part of the reason the Brethren are (and have been) wary of evolution is because of the type of fear that I mentioned above.

(I would just add that humanity seems to have a pretty good record of acting like animals which pre-dates Darwin.) 

Posted by Jared

5/17/2005 07:11:00 AM  

Some animals do intentionally abort their children, but not all of them by any means. Does it help at all if we say that evolution is false and God designed them to do it? The whole point of evolution is to reproduce offspring which will survive to reproduce as well. This isn't very abortion like in my opinion.

The fear that we will act like animals is somewhat well founded, however it only comes from a very immature view of evolution which religious hesitancy breeds. I had one guy in an applied ethics course who was absolutely positive and could not be persuaded otherwise that evolution proves that we should not help the starving children in Africa. I replied with all of the typical responses about the is/ought relationship, the disfavor of social darwinism as well as the social behavior which many animals, including humans exhibit and the fact that his view is not natural selection but social selection but he would hear nothing of it. Darwin 'proved', in his opinion, that we american are the fittest to survive and should not help the weak african children. I could barely stand it.

Posted by Jeffrey Giliam

5/17/2005 09:57:00 AM  

He probably would have had the same opinion if he knew nothing about Darwin. 

Posted by Jared

5/17/2005 10:01:00 AM  



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