Evolution of Free Agency pt. 2

Last post (pt.1) we noted that we are not like the digger wasp, nor does anybody claim this anymore. Genetic determinism is false, plain and simple. Nevertheless, we do inherit a great deal from our evolutionary past, such as sexual instincts, and appetite for sweets, a fear of snakes and heights and the like. There clearly is a connection to these 'animal' urges and our current behavior whether creationists like it or not. But to say that this is the end of the story is misleading at best.

This can be seen in that some animals do make actual choices. A couple of posts ago we noted a few examples from studies of chimpazees, our closest living relatives. How conscious or rational these choices are is debatable, but decisions are being made.

Gary Drescher in his study of artificial intelligence (a topic I will definitely steer clear of) makes a distintion between what he calls 'situation-action' machines and 'choice' machines. A situation action machine are programmed or designed according to rules which basically say 'if you encounter condition C, do A.' This is what we saw in the wasp example, pure reaction to environment and programming. Such a machine requires very little design and are exceedingly cost-effective, a serious matter in evolutionary biology.

Choice machines require far more design in the form of intelligence. They are 'programmed' according to rules which state 'If you encounter condition C, doing A will result in outcome Z with probability P.' We can even imagine an intermediate which cuts out the probability part. Thus, such an animal allows it thoughts (the choices it didn't accept) to die in its stead greatly increasing its chances for survival and reproduction. Humans clearly are able to consider more options or possible choices at a fast speed than can other animals. We can also easily imagine the ability to consider options in greater numbers and speed coming through evolutionary mechanisms. These things clearly played a relational role in our developing bigger brains which greatly modifies both the timing and quanitity of child birth.

But is this all there is? Is this all we are? Some, myself included, have no problem with this. Others, such as Blake Ostler, do have problems with this and shall be addressed shortly. First I will consider those who do not have a problem with this, taking Michael Ruse and Daniel Dennett as test cases.

Ruse and Dennett are definitely the two philosphers who have taken evolution into consideration more than others. Dennett has written numerous papers on evolutioin, mostly dealing with consciousness and free will, and has also written two books which deal rather thoroughly with the subject: Darwin's Dangerous Idea and Freedom Evolves. Ruse has probably written more books on evolution than any other person alive. His books which pertain most to the subject at hand are Taking Darwin Seriously and Can a Darwinian Be a Christian? the answer to which he feels is 'yes.' (Though his attempts at reconciliation will simply be unacceptable to most Mormons.)

Dennett is a hardcore naturalist who conisiders himself a 'brite' (the new, P.C. and less emotionally charged word for 'atheist'). He makes no mention of Intelligent Design not considering with his or anybody else time or consideration. While endorsing the idea of epigenetic rules, he accepts and is one of the main proponents for the existence of memes. His book long treatment of this subject, "Freedom Evolves" was instantly a classic and burned many relatively new paths which showed promise. Here is basic account of the evolution of agency taken from his book:
Four billion years ago, there was no freedom on our planet, because there was no life... The wisdom inherent in the design of multicellular life forms can best be understood by adopting the intentional stance toward the whole process of evolution. From this perspective we can discern the free-floating rationales of the cooperative 'choices' in non-zero-sum games that have guided the evolutionary R&D [Research and Design] process to ever more sophisticated rational agents, expanding the capacity of life-forms to recognize and act on opportunities. Turning our back on the misguided bugbear of 'genetic determinism,' we can see how evolution by natural selection provides for greater and greater degrees of freedom, but this is still not the freedom of human agency... A Darwinian approach to human culture permits us to sketch an explanatory path that can account for the major differences between us and our nearest animal relatives. Culture... provides... Homo sapiens with new topics to think about, new tools to think with, and - since the media of culture open up the possibility of cultural replicators [memes] whose own fitness is independent of our genetic fitness - new perspectives to think from... This approach does not subvert the ideals or morality; it provides much-needed support... The complexities of social life... generate a series of arms races from which agents emergbe who exhibit key components of human morality: an interest in discovering conditions in which cooperation will flourish, sensitivity to punishments and threats, concern for reputation, high-level dispositions of self-manipulation that are designed to improve self-control in the face of temptation, and an ability to make commitments that are appreciable by others.

Like Dennett, Ruse is a metaphysical naturalist who considers a form of compatibilism to be the best path to take regarding free will. He clearly has no axe to grind against theists for while strongly objecting to a scientific status of "Intelligent Design" he has no strong objections to one seeing the hand of the designer in the world, just so long the the validity of evolution is never compromised. Rejecting or ignoring the idea of memes, he relies quite heavily on E. O. Wilson's ideas of epigenetic rules in considering human epistemology and ethics, viewing David Hume as a brilliant precursor in these areas. This is from his Taking Darwin Seriously:
What then of freedom of choice, given genetically underpinned moral norms?... If we had gone the route of Hymenoptera, programmed to do blindly what we do, then there would be no true freedom. But we are conscious beings, aware of the dictates imposed by our epigenetic rules - aware of the prescriptions of morality. Far from Darwinism denying freedom, it demands it! And this demand is obviously met, for nothing has been said to negate our phenomenological awareness or ourselves as free beings... None of this is to decide on whether or not, in some basic sense, all human thought and action lies within the causal nexus. My own presumption is that it does. Like many philosophers, I have difficulty in imagining what an uncaused thought/action would be like. I certainly cannot see how such would open up a presently missing opening for human freedom... Readers versed in history of philosphy will have appreciated, already, that the solution to the free-will problem that I have recommended to Darwinians is Humean to the core [compatibilistic].

While the Mormon reader will want to include a part for our "intelligence" to play in the decision making, such a compatibilist account is quite compatible with evolution and, in my opinion, Mormon doctrine.

Blake Ostler, however, disagrees. In our recent debate regarding Libertarian Free Will versus Deterministic Compatibilism, he argued that the Mormon position should be that of the Libertarian. When asked how this model fits in with evolution he responded:
My views are actually mainstream emergent agent causation... adopted in its noumenal form by Immanuel Kant and is entailed in process thought. My background is in neurophysiology and all of these views are considered live options in the philosophy of neurophysiology or neurosciences. In fact, it seems to me that the emergence of mind from material complexity is precisely what evolution leads us to believe.
I accept evolution. I did a paper on cranial evolution of hominids in school where I argued that cranial capacity has nothing to do with hominid evolution or intelligence, rather, the key is the structure and complexity of dendryte morphology. I believe that God used the means of evolution to create our bodies. I like what you say on your post about evolution and find myself largely in agreement on those issues.

I couldn't help but include that last part ;-)

When asked if his view of free will works even without any kind of "spiritual reality" he responded yes. In other words, a libertarian account of free will seems to be fully compatible with evolution as well. While I myself am a determinist, those who strongly disagree with me can accept the evolution of free agency.

Summary: The Evolutionary accounts of free will as provided by both Dennett and Ruse are reviewed as well as that of Blake Ostler. While we clearly have a sense of free will far surpassing that of any other animal, this does not imply that evoltionary accounts of humans are incorrect.




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