Science, Philosophy, Theology and Altruism: The Chorismos and the Zygon
(A Response to Sociobiology and Evolution)

Dianne N. Irving
"Alturismus: Aus Der Sicht von Evolutionsbiologie,
Philosophie, und Theologie",
Loccumer Protokolle, 30/92, pp. 97-140
Copyright: April 1992
Reproduced with Permission

"It is important for us to realize that mankind is doomed to live more and more under the spell of a new scientific, social, and political mythology, unless we resolutely exercise these befuddled notions whose influence on modern life is becoming appalling. Millions of men are starving and bleeding to death because two or three of these pseudo-scientific or pseudo-social deified abstractions are now at war. For when gods fight among themselves, men have to die." Etienne Gilson, God and Philosophy (1941)

I. Introduction*

It is often with great trepidation and concern that one approaches philosophers for an interpretation or an evaluation of those questions and issues which are most dear and important -- and generally with good reason. Philosophy itself, throughout its own history or "evolution", has exhibited many of the patterns and phenomena which we will hear about during this Conference!1 In all of these papers all of philosophy's historical tensions and mutations will be experienced. One reason for this is that most "sciences" -- understood in the broad sense -- do not themselves address or investigate adequately the validity or soundness of their own assumptions or presuppositions. More specifically, each field is sometimes unaware of unsound philosophical assumptions inherent in them.2 The same is true even of philosophy itself.

However, one resolution is to address those philosophical assumptions -- if for no other reason than to learn from our mistakes. It is in a way analogous to Nature itself. How interesting it is that Nature often tends to breed toward a mutation -- because once it is expressed and found to be sterile, it can no longer reproduce itself, and the nonviable error is removed from the larger gene pool in general.

Every scientist here knows the intrinsic operative value of a negative experiment.3 It requires no apology, and is part and parcel of his/her methodology. It tells the scientist what data not to use, what experiments that don't need to be performed, etc. Another role of the negative experiment is to tease out of the system unwanted artifacts, which could obscure the truth and negate the validity and soundness of his/her experiment -- as well as negate the truth of the concepts, hypotheses, theories and conclusions about his subject matter which would have followed necessarily from those experiments. It is part of the scientist's assurance to himself and to others that his conclusions are both valid and sound, that is, match reality.

Many philosophers have examined their own discipline in this way -- particularly those who have studied the history of philosophy.4 They examine not only the fruitful and sound insights of any one thinker -- for no philosopher is all wrong -- but also those troublesome and problematic aspects of a theory -- for no philosopher is all right. And what they see emerge is a long progressive struggle by mortal men to understand what is real. After a while a pattern forms -- a constantly corrected, refined and more realistic framework from which to philosophize with better accuracy and confidence. In my analysis here today I will use the history of philosophy as an analytic tool, a tool to understand the negative lessons that philosophers who have also been scientists have learned through their mistakes. I will then apply them generally to the issue of concern in this Conference, that is, what is the connection between science, philosophy and theology with respect to altruism?

My theses are the following:

Thesis #1: Some philosophical frameworks cause us to view reality in a manner which forces unreal and illegitimate splits or gaps in our understanding of the world.

Given a proper understanding of the causes of the gap or separation problem (chorismos)5 inherent in some ways of understanding and explaining the world, the results of those negative philosophical experiments can be used to piece reality back together again. It will also help identify some of the marks of a gap within each of our own disciplines today. This understanding may require the kind of effort that is implied in the Greek word zygon -- for it calls not only for an incidental change, but indeed a significant change, in order to bridge -- as a team -- the gaps that have been created and that separate us as academics and professionals. My method will be to tease out of the history of philosophy at least some of the major "artifacts" which have caused two of my own disciplines -- science and philosophy -- to experience several "negative experiments" of their own. Once those "artifacts" are acknowledged, a different position which does not suffer from such separation problems will be advanced for your consideration.

I will argue that when one splits reality into many different atomistic parts -- and then tries to claim that any one of those parts is the whole itself, major consequences follow necessarily. To paraphrase a dusty, old philosopher -- one small error in the beginning leads to a multitude of errors in the end.6 I will demonstrate to you that if one actually accepts a part for the whole, one must be ready to accept as well the logical -- and ethical -- consequences of that theory further down the line -- often consequences which are intuitively wrong. This should at least alert one that there is something very wrong back there in the premises. And if such a theory is found not to work, why keep holding on to it -- unless to be a reminder of how not to theorize. This will be my accounting of the gap (chorismos) problem.

Thesis #2: Other philosophical frameworks maintain the integrity of reality.

I will argue that once it is understood how to bridge the fragmented pieces of reality together, the tensions are reduced, the relationships between and among the parts and the whole are more recognizable -- and the contributions of each discipline represented here is seen to be a critical part of the whole enterprise. This is my thesis of the "bridging" (zygon). It consists in an understanding of both reality and the contributions of each science in an "analogous" manner. The relevant understanding of "analogy" here is that it not only includes that which is common but includes also that which is different. This will require some redefinitions which, when accomplished, will throw some new light on the old tensions between evolutionary biology, cultural evolution, and their efforts to explain altruism. For I will argue that we are properly not only naturally selfish, naturally altruistic, and naturally agapic -- but also naturally charitable as well. The major answer lies in the definitions of both a material being and of a human being.

II. The Chorismos Problem

We are all familiar with the proverbial example of a large cup that is filled half-way with water. Is the cup half-full -- or is it half-empty? Either answer implies a way-of-looking-at-the-world. They are at face value different answers -- but they are also in a way the same answer. To push the analogy, many scientists will say, for example, that philosophy and theology have no objective basis in reality -- they are fantasies, or at least relative opinions with no roots in fact and no way in which to check their validity or soundness.7 Many philosophers and theologians, on the other hand, will say that there is absolutely no connection whatsoever between facts and values -- the old "is/ought" controversy. This inability to see both the objectivity and the connectiveness of reality is part of the "fallout" of the gap problem personified historically by several philosophers -- and inherited both randomly and selectively by some of their descendants. In what follows it should become obvious that one's definition of "being" will determine one's definition of material being and human being; which in turn will determine one's ethics. (Interestingly enough it will also determine one's definition of the Supreme Being).

Perhaps some are not aware that we might be operating with very different definitions of these seemingly simple basic terms -- a major source of the difficulties in communicating. What an evolutionary geneticist, a sociobiology's or a theologian understand by the terms "material being" and "human being" are probably essentially quite different. It is the disparity in these definitions of "material being" and "human being" which I think is the fundamental problem which undermines our ability to both communicate and progress. To a considerable degree it is philosophy itself which is responsible for this disparity -- especially in the areas of natural philosophy, philosophical anthropology and epistemology. To illustrate this I will first touch on these areas of philosophy to indicate some possible causes for such disparity, and then indicate briefly how these dilemmas are at least in part due to our conceptual legacy from certain rationalistic or materialistic philosophers.

A. Some Areas of Philosophy as Sources of Error

For those not steeped in the glorious and controversial tradition of philosophy, below are discussed some of the major subject areas of philosophy, from which certain major sources of error might arise.8 The areas of philosophy should be connected in that they are each studying reality or some particular kind or aspect of reality. They should be different in that each is restricted in its proper subject matter and in its proper method.9 The significance of these sameness and differences will be noted later in my presentation.

The connectiveness (yet distinctiveness) of several of the areas of philosophy will become apparent in the following discussion. Take the three areas of natural philosophy, philosophical anthropology and epistemology. Briefly, natural philosophy is the starting point for all of our natural knowledge, as well as all of the areas of philosophy. It is the study of the material things of reality. Philosophical anthropology is the study of the human being who is the agent coming to know reality. And epistemology is the study of the method(s) we human beings use to come to know reality, or any aspect of reality -- i.e., the actual "mechanics" of knowing -- and how we know that what we are knowing about reality is true. How are these three areas in any way connected?

This connectiveness is often rejected in modern philosophy. But I would argue that epistemology itself cannot even be investigated without some clear accounting of the basic definitions which are integral to it. If epistemology is the study of the method(s) we human knowers use to come to know "reality" or any particular aspect of "reality", then obviously how we define both the human being who is knowing, as well as the material things in reality which this human knower is investigating, is critically important. Different definitions will lead to different epistemological methods and different conclusions. Which of those methods are valid, and which of those conclusions are really objectively true?

Another general consideration is that there are many different types of methods of knowing, some used in combination with others, but ultimately each "science" has a method which is peculiar to that particular science. [For example, natural philosophy uses the method of abstraction (with precision) of the whole substantial form from the matter, accidental forms and the act of existing (esse); whereas mathematics uses the method of abstraction (with precision) of a part, i.e., of one accidental form from another accidental form (e.g., quantity from quality).]

Several perennial and problematic issues about philosophy can be suggested just from these few considerations; problems which spill over into the kinds of discussions we are having here today. For example, one can identify problems deriving from: (1) the definitions of a "material thing" and of a "human being" (natural philosophy); (2) the number and kinds of knowing faculties in the human knower -- and the number of aspects in the thing to be known (philosophical anthropology and natural philosophy); (3) the starting point of the method of investigation (epistemology); and (4), the criterion of truth that is used to justify the truth-claims of any particular method (epistemology). I will try to demonstrate how these three areas of philosophy are necessarily interrelated (and yet distinctive), and how this is relevant to the issues in this conference. A cursory glance at some of these typical problems may open up a number of questions here which might not seem obvious at first glance.

(1) The Definitions of a Material Thing and of a Human Being

Generally speaking, I would argue that the definition of a definition (!) is a description (based on empirical experience) of what is required of a particular certain kind of thing in order for it to exist. I will attempt to demonstrate that one's definition of a "material being" and of a "human being" (which are the prevue of natural philosophy and philosophical anthropology) will actually impact on one's ability to even do epistemology; not to mention evolutionary biology, sociobiology, or theology.

Based on natural philosophy, one could define a material thing which is being studied as having several aspects to it (rather than just one aspect). For example, a real particular material thing can be considered to be composed of matter which exists, and is shaped or formed in a specific kind of way. All three of these aspects must be present for the thing to exist as a particular kind of thing. When a material thing acts, the whole thing acts. Thus, a really existing frog must possess the aspects of matter which are arranged or formed in specifically "frog-like" ways (rather than in specifically "cabbage-like" ways). It is the specific integration of all of these aspects which are really what makes a frog to be and act as a frog. It is also important to note that whatever causes this blob of matter to be formed as a frog -- rather than as a cabbage -- is also responsible for and explains the various "frog-like" functions and operations peculiar to frogs. Thus frogs can swim in the pond, make great croaking sounds, and generate new baby frogs; but frogs cannot fly through the air, nor sing arias from Carmen, nor generate new baby giraffes.

The same can be said in defining a human being. A really existing human being must possess the aspects of material which is shaped or formed in specifically "human" ways (rather than in specifically "gorilla-like" ways). It is the specific integration of all of these aspects which are really what makes a human being to be a human being. Again, when a human being acts the whole human being acts. And, whatever it is that causes this blob of matter to be formed as a human being -- rather than as a gorilla -- is also responsible for and explains the various "human-like" functions and operations peculiar to human beings. Thus human beings can generate new baby human beings which produce specifically human enzymes and proteins from the one-cell zygote stage on; can learn by using all of its material senses in proportionately human ways; can write arias and symphonies; can figure out how to get us to the moon and back; can choose to act or behave in ways that defy our genetic or cultural influences; and can build massive and integrally complex social institutions. But cabbages, frogs or gorillas can not.

In philosophical anthropology, one is interested in elaborating on this definition of a human being in terms which focus on his ability to learn about and come to know reality, or certain aspects of reality. It is the whole human being who is knowing, and specifically as having and using many different human faculties of knowing (rather than just one human faculty) in order to "reach" these different aspects in the material thing that one is investigating. Again, in philosophical anthropology it is understood that when a human being is knowing, the whole human being is knowing. The significance of this approach for epistemology -- and for all of the sciences -- is that a "science" is now not defined only in terms of its subject matter, but also in terms of which human faculty is being used to study that subject matter. Thus the subject matter as well as the human faculty which is used to grasp the subject matter are integrally interrelated. The bottom line is that there must be a "match" between the different aspects of a real thing and the faculties used by the real human knower, in order to reach or grasp each aspect in the material thing being studied. For example, the sense faculties of the human knower register all of the aspects of a material thing, but specifically reach the material aspect of a material thing; the faculty of reason reaches the formal aspect of a material thing; and the faculty of the negative judgment reaches the aspect of existing in the material thing.

(2) The Number and Kinds of Knowing Faculties in the Human Knower -- and the Number of Aspects in the Thing to be Known

However, as suggested, epistemology itself may be systematically subject to certain philosophical presuppositions latent in the mind of the investigator -- specifically in one's own preferred definitions of a "material thing" and of a "human being". For example, if the material thing to be studied is really composed of several aspects, but considered by the investigator to be composed of only one or two of those aspects, then the investigator will not look for anything other than those few aspects which he acknowledges. There will, then, not be a match. It is analogous to the situation in which a lab technician or a biologist is culturing for a bacteria on an E. coli medium, when the causative agent is really a virus. He'll never see or even consider that the causative agent is a virus. He can only conclude that it is not E. coli.

Similarly, if the investigator presumes the validity of only one knowing faculty, e.g., intellectual cognition, and rejects the validity of sense cognition, his Reason will only reach the formally intelligible aspect of a material thing, and not the material or the existential aspect of it. Again, there will not be a match. This insight of the relatedness between the human knower and the material thing being investigated has been lost over time, and has periodically resulted, for example in the human intellect not "seeing" or grasping an aspect of reality which really is there. Sometimes it even results in the human knower imposing a method peculiar to one knowing faculty on a completely different subject matter for which the use of that method or faculty is invalid.

An example of the former would be that some investigators would not include either "matter" or the factual existing of a material thing in that thing's definition, but only consider the formal definition as sufficient. Others would not include anything but matter in these definitions. And yet it is obvious to all that a material thing or a human being does (or did) contain matter, that they are (or were) really existing (i.e., they were not fantasies or merely products of an errant imagination), and that they act (or acted) in specific, characteristic and limited (formal) ways according to the kinds of things they are (or were). Thus all of these aspects should be contained in the definition.

This observation forces a good number of questions to be considered by the various participants in this conference, because some would define a material thing and a human being in terms of form only; others would define these same things in terms of matter only!

Generally speaking, can philosophy or theology, as disciplines, justify defining a material thing or a human being only in terms of its formal "nature" -- and leave out the matter or factual existence which are also constituent of its nature? Isn't a material thing's nature also composed of matter too? Does or did it not really exist, in a particular way, or is or was it just a fantasy? When did it begin to exist, what caused its existence, and why does it not exist anymore? Is a human being only a "soul", or even just a part of a "soul", e.g., a Reason, with no body at all? Can a human being think or act or save himself by means of his Reason alone -- with no body? And is only the "soul" to be saved, and not the body? Is the "soul" or the intellect really located in the brain alone -- or does it permeate the whole human substance? And if it is not present in the developing human until the third month, how do we explain the specifically human formation of human tissues and human organ systems up to that three-month point -- rather than the formation of a cabbage or of a giraffe? Is there really any such thing as only a human vegetative "soul" -- all by itself? Or a human sensitive "soul" -- all by itself? Or, for that matter, a human rational "soul" -- all by itself? I have never seen such a thing! Is there really any such thing as a "human-being-on-the-way", or an "intermediate human being"? I have never seen such a thing as that either! As Aristotle railed against Plato, "how can we believe in such things"?

Doesn't the rational power (not "soul") contain virtually the vegetative and the sensitive powers (not "souls")? And aren't all of those powers required to co-exist with the existing matter in order to exist as a whole complex material human composite? Is the human "soul" a uniform, universally equivalent "soul"; or is "it" specific for each unique individual (and therefore different) human being who is embodied? If the latter, since it is clear that the human body has evolved over millions of years, did the same kind of "soul" inform the earliest human beings as those which inform the present-day human beings? Or is the history of human evolution totally irrelevant to discussions of the human "soul" and altruism? In other words, if a material thing and a human being are defined only in terms of their formal aspects, how do we account for the above enigmatic questions? Can these questions really be answered in only formal terms alone? Perhaps purely formal (substantial) causes are truly part of the answer, but are they the whole answer?

And there are more related questions to be considered. How does one accurately define "culture"? Does "culture" consist only in the humanities, or isn't it also constituted by information from and influenced by the hard sciences as well? Is "culture" a real live thing walking down the street with independent existence -- a real existing substance which has evolved -- or is "culture" really only the cumulative institutional and informational (and therefore accidental) residue effected, established, and caused by real living human beings who have evolved? A human being does not undergo a radical change in his essential nature just because he has recently learned Shakespeare. Thus, when speaking of the "effect of culture on the evolving human being", certainly it is not implied that this effect actually changes the very species or basic nature of a human being? He is still a human being, isn't he -- albeit a more "cultured" human being. Can we really speak of "cultural evolution" only in terms of "social institutions", "psychological behavior" or "the transmission of information" without essentially integrating within that theory an accurate account of the materially embodied and existing human beings who really do (or did) constitute those institutions, who are what are behaving personally and socially in embodied ways, and who are what are learning and transmitting information in specifically embodied human ways? Is "cultural evolution" itself evolving as a "thing", in total isolation from the embodied human beings who are evolving? And how do "cultural evolutionists" define these human beings? Perhaps "formal" (accidental) causes are part of the explanation, but are they the whole explanation?

On the other hand, can scientists really justify defining a material thing or a human being only in terms of matter, in terms of "matter-in-general" or "genes-in-general", in isolation from the particular specifically human cells, human organ systems or the whole human being which is really what is or was evolving? What is causing that specifically human evolution? Only matter? But why does a particular "clump" of molecules form or evolve one way rather than another? Because of genes only? Genes neither evolve nor operate in a vacuum. Nor were the genes which composed the chromosomes of ancient beasts and human beings the only source of genetic information which was passed down; what about the genetic contributions which were due to the mitochondrial DNA? Why is mitochondrial DNA not included in explanations of evolutionary theory? Was mitochondrial DNA so insignificant in the transmission of information during evolution? Were only material genes plus the effects on those genes of a purely material environment causing that specifically human evolution? If so, then how do purely material molecules, genes and the material environment alone explain and account for the empirical phenomena of the specifically human characteristics of willing or choosing among alternative behaviors or actions which have essentially influenced human and cultural evolution and survival? Does the "selfish" gene theory of Dawkins really explain all human acts of altruism, agape or charity which we do, in fact, observe? What kinds of molecules comprise love -- or hate? Are love and hate totally explained only in terms of matter, i.e., purely material genes, or material genes plus material environment -- or only partially? Perhaps purely material causes are truly part of the answer, but are they the whole answer?

Further, can we impose the purely "process" aspect of evolution on our understanding of evolutionary theory? That is, does the obvious fact of "process" ground the claim that there is really never any individual who is present during that process, but only bits and pieces of comings and goings which are actually blurred into and in with the "process"? Surely I passed through the process of childhood while I was growing up -- but that does not mean that there was no individual present who was undergoing that process. A process cannot be substituted for an individual -- but in fact is consequent upon the reality and the presence of that individual to begin with.

Further, can we impose on the human beings existing today an explanation of their behaviors during their present lifetime totally in terms of their isolated genetic past? Or is there a limit to the extrapolation of the data of past genetic history (which itself is certainly speculative to a large extent) to present-day human behavior? Are we totally determined by our genetic past -- and if not what are the factors which are responsible for the ability of the presently existing human beings to alter their behavior or choose to act against such determinism? If our "genetic" heritage explains some of our behavior, does it in fact really explain virtually all of our behavior as presently existing human beings? If not, what accounts for the rest of our behavior? And what is the nature of what it is that is culturally transmitted that so perplexingly effects genetic evolution? Is "cultural information" really something material, and is it transmitted to past and present humans through material causes only? If I am taught to love by my parents' or a friend's example or by Scripture, is that love transmitted to me molecularly? Or genetically? Exactly how? Do I learn to play Mozart or Bach, or the pros and cons of a democratic society by means of matter only? Perhaps material causes are part of the explanation, but are they the whole explanation?

These fractured ways of looking at reality are, as implied above, often the result of a partial understanding of the real and whole nature of a material thing, or of a human being -- caused either by assuming only a limited number of knowable aspects of the things which are being studied, or by acknowledging only a limited number of human knowing faculties. Another related philosophical source of problems is the propensity for one science to impose its proper method on the subject matter of a different science. [For example, the method of pure abstraction of the whole substantial form (with precision) is appropriate for studying natural philosophy, but not for metaphysics or for ethics -- and vice versa. I will elaborate on this further in the discussions below.]

Next Page: The Starting Point of the Method of Investigation
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