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Saturday, January 02, 2010

Uncommon Descent Contest Question 17: Why do evolutionary psychologists need to debunk compassion? Winner announced

Here, we asked, as per the title, why do evolutionary psychologists need to debunk compassion?

That's always been a puzzle for me because ... why indeed? Only if one is a slave to basically stupid ideas like "the selfish gene," would debunking compassion, which is widely noted in my local society - and most working societies - seem a worthwhile project. Yet that project generates many useless research papers and other goofy projects.

You'd think more people would be interested in sponsoring compassion than debunking it. But hey.

Anyway, the winner here is Aidan at 6 for this entry (and Aidan needs to get in touch with me at oleary@sympatico.ca with an address to which I can mail the prize):
Proponents of neo-Darwinian orthodoxy are instinctively aware of certain awkward anomalies they need to undermine and contradictions they must cover up if their Big Picture View is to appear to trump all others. In the case of compassion, they are required to show that, whatever else it may be, it isn’t *really* compassion. Compassion as it is – in its raw, undebunked state – is particularly threatening to the materialist worldview because it is a universally accessible and entirely tangible demonstration of the reality of higher orders of being.

True selflessness lies not in the exclusion of oneself but in seeing another person *as* oneself. This is essentially ennobling not only because it rises above self-interest but because, in spirit (and in action), it lifts the other to the precisely same degree as ourselves, to the point where their interests and ours are seen as united within a much greater context. The existentially elevated ground upon which both are then able to stand – ground upon which neither could have stood alone – transcends both the material arrangements of the situation and the confines of each one’s personal mentality. Compassion has the power to free us from ourselves and thereby set us upon a very different road.


It is not sympathy, where you suffer along with the person in the hope that this will make them feel better; neither is it pity, where you look down on the person and feel sorry for them from the position of your own safety. As a form of understanding – of oneself, other people and life generally – true compassion is astonishingly rich in content. It is intellectual and spiritual rather than emotional in nature, possessing a power to transform the character beyond recognition. On such a foundation, there is a sense of resonance and alignment with far higher orders, the contours of which we can hardly begin to discern, along with intimations of universal laws profoundly unlike those proposed by materialist observers yet plainly in harmonious accord with laws long since codified by spiritual tradition.


For ideological reasons, materialists and Darwinians cannot allow anything to be in this world that is not of it. If they can show that every instance of compassion fits the grim calculations of one survival strategy or another, they can dismiss every spiritual teaching without further examination. Then they win!

What I liked best about Aidan's entry is that Aidan helpfully distinguishes compassion from mere sentiment - you know what I mean: Blubbing all over someone's sofa about the awful time they are having.

Chances are, the afflicted person secretly wishes that "Blubber" would just go away. Almost any problem is easier to deal with than useless blubbing. Compassion transforms people; blubbing means that the upholsterer must be called in, for advice re the sofa.

Readers in general, in my view, "evolutionary" psychologists are generally poseurs. I respect the paleontologist who toils in the Badlands or Death Valley. But "evolutionary" psychologists are tax-funded intellectual parasites on a once Big Idea.

Other comments:

Barb, as always, had an excellent comment at 1: This point particularly struck me:
If materials are solely responsible for morality, as E. O. Wilson asserts, then Hitler simply had bad molecules. He holds no moral accountability for what he did. People not versed in the art of logic and debate as well as those who are Ph.D. candidates in philosophy know this is sheer nonsense.
The observation particularly struck me, because that was one of the motivations for Richard Weikart's involvement in investigating the role of Darwinism in Nazism. The irrational attacks on Weikart for simply documenting the facts were one of my reasons for continuing to follow the story.

qwertyuiop at 4, I hope you are not running for office anywhere near where I live. Your comments in general, about how materialist mechanist explanations are useful, tell me much. You write,
Would you claim that someone who studies how the brain processes music or the physics of music does not still appreciate music? If not, then why is their seeking of a physical explanation different from “Darwinists and materialists”?
I doubt very much that such a person appreciates music, because they are looking for a debunking explanation. People who get past that can appreciate music - as opposed to being thought well of by fellow members of their herd because they supposedly appreciate music, when all they really offer is a clever putdown.

Here are the contest rules. I gather that Contest 19 is still open.

Find out why there is an intelligent design controversy:

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