Biological Determinism, as with Marxist Determinism, Is Folly

James Montanye’s recent posting on reciprocal rights theory and altruism provides the standard evolutionary biological (evo-devo) view, but as such fails to explain pure altruism or “radical altruism” and is inadequate to defend any consistent system of political economy and morality, including natural law and natural rights, individual liberty and the rule of law. As the analytic philosopher Alvin Plantinga has shown in his book, Warrant and Proper Function, the evo-devo, naturalist, reductionist attempt to explain morality, free will and reason is self-refuting. In this regard, here also is Plantinga’s essay, “Naturalism Defeated.”

In effect, Montanye’s claim that “Politics, both for better and for worse, is an expression of biology” is fundamentally flawed as are all materialistic, determinist models (e.g., Hobbes, Hume, Marx, Darwin, Freud, Skinner, etc.).

1. If all human action is based solely on self-interest, then choosing pure sacrifice vs. pure narcissism ends up in an unworkable dilemma since they both cannot be “fit” for survival. The man who seeks to pet a tiger is not as “fit” as a man who runs away. But in choosing, the man can make a gigantic multiplicity of choices that can also avoid his being eaten, but since only one choice is true, the probability that he will choose false assessments of reality is virtually assured. He may decide that the tiger is a ghost and run away or that the sky is green and run away or that there are witches in the trees and run away or that two plus two is five and run away, etc., etc. The probability of his choosing the truth is virtually non-existent, and the evo-devo theorist fails because in assuming that all brain states make selections solely based of “fitness,” he rules out the existence of reason and free will in the process. Such evo-devo reductionist scenarios end up as speculative “just so stories” that do not explain at all but instead conform to a naturalist ideological presupposition.

2. In addition, if all of human behavior is simply matter in motion, determined mechanically and materialistically by “fitness” as somehow programmed by the laws of physics, then no thought, including the theory of evolutionary biology itself, can be known to be true or not. Indeed, no free will to infer and make arguments can exist since all human thought is merely bio-chemical reactions determined genetically. Such reductionism refutes itself because all human inferences (including those Montanye has made here) assume as pre-conditions the properly basic knowledge that his mind, free will and other minds do exist, refuting his very theory. Hence, all human inferences necessarily first assume a metaphysical dualism (substance dualism) which means that evo-devo alone cannot explain reality.

3. Moreover, if morality is based solely on reciprocity, then no objective standard exists to determine what is or is not moral other than subjective self-interest. The evo-devo advocate then tries to conflate the “is” with the “ought” but ends up in an unworkable dilemma. As such, if someone believes that using invasive violence against another (e.g., murder, theft, rape, etc.) can advance one’s own interest and the chance of being caught is slim to non-existent, then morality (“fitness”) for this person equals aggression against the innocent because all morality is merely subjective and situational. For the evo-devo advocate, the man “is” capable of doing harm to benefit himself and necessarily “ought” to do so since only “fitness” applies. Hence, Nazi ethics would be equivalent to Thomist or Jeffersonian ethics, depending upon the situation because “fitness” assumes that there is no objective standard and that all brain states and truth are subjective. Indeed, this is the dilemma that all utilitarian-rights theorists have in trying to achieve a standard for morality and explains the historical decline of classical liberal thought which once abandoning natural law theory was left clinging to the shifting sands of moral subjectivism. Interestingly enough, since radical altruism has been considered the highest standard for human behavior in societies worldwide since the dawn of mankind, this powerful evidence for natural law suggests that self-interested “fitness” cannot explain morality.

In Plato’s The Republic, Socrates is presented with the story of “The Ring of Gyges” in which Glaucon asks whether objective morality exists or self-interest is the only standard. Socrates responds by refuting subjectivism as the basis for morality. In this regard, here is a video that discusses why the subjective/utilitarian theory of morality is incoherent, self-refuting, and in fact the basis for all of the tyrannies in history.

And C.S. Lewis’s superb book The Abolition of Man (also available free online here) is highly recommended in refuting subjectivism in aesthetics, epistemology, and moral ethics.

David J. Theroux (1949–2022) was Founder, President and Chief Executive Officer of the Independent Institute.
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