Thursday, October 14, 2010
Evolution Debate at BYU
Got to go to the evolutionary debate and it was what I expected actually. It was in a small auditorium type classroom and was maybe half full, so maybe 100 people showed up, which was what I was expecting, but I had hoped for a full room. It really wasn't even a debate, but I had thought it might not really be. Also, it was about evolutionary psychology, rather than the workings of evolution. Before I go on though I must give some background.
Evolutionary psychology is a rough field. Psychology itself is a very young science, and neuroscience is even younger. Evolutionary psychology is also a new field, and being new it has many holes to fill, theories to make and build upon, and lot's of work ahead of itself. However, in evolutionary psychology there is the issue that it is hard to empirically study the 'facts' or to try to prove the theories. Some use this against the field to say it isn't even scientific, and on some levels I agree. We cannot go back 100,000 years and try to study our human ancestors in the environments they lived in back then. Even present day primitive humans do not truly compare to what our history as a species is. Being that we can only mainly infer things through the studies and evidences, the field is pretty sketchy.
Now this isn't to say that the theories are bad though. Some theories brought to us by evolutionary psychologists have real-life application, such as the evolution of sex in the social sense with us. Some psychologists like to theorize that humans probably were not monogamous, or at least not for their whole lives. One thing brought up in the 'debate' was that some theorize that our ancestors lived together for about 5 years, bringing a couple children into the world, before they moved on to other mates. This is used as an explanation for why humans socially and neurologically change after about 5 years in a relationship and where divorces often take place. The theory has many good points, and evidences for it, but we can't go back and test this.
Ergo the problem with evolutionary psychology.
Validating the claims can be difficult. Supporting the theories can be difficult. Testing the theories can be near impossible for some. These problems throw doubt on the whole field, but I for one think that it has some worth and that we can at least use the field to throw out some good theories on human behavior, origins of social culture, and the evolution of our minds.
An interesting point was made by Jared Diamond in an older presentation he made in California. He pointed out that the human brain has been roughly the same for over 100,000 years. No bigger or smaller or notable differences. He theorized that our technology advanced only as language advanced. That once we began communicating with a complex system of language it opened doors to coming up with more ideas, better ideas, and to begin us on the path of technological advancement at an immense rate. We cannot prove this theory, but the theory, if looked into, is very good and makes a lot of sense.
In this way we can see what evolutionary psychology has to offer. So, now on to the 'debate.'
Luckily for me I showed up late and probably missed the opening prayer. Also Saint Pickle and a friend showed up, as well as a fellow BYU agnostic and then another person who found me through my blog. I had many reasons to go. I must point out though, that I had thought yesterday that the debate was on evolution and not evolutionary psychology. In preparation though I looked a little up about it and listened to a podcast episode on it from Rationally Speaking. Massimo is an intelligent guy.
Only about a minute or two into it I knew it would be a slightly painful presentation. Both of the speakers, awesome intelligent guys, were very churchy and trying to push for LDS beliefs, which was slightly difficult if you took what they were saying from a slightly more outside view. LDS doctrine runs into problems with evolution. General Authorities still write books, such as The Infinite Atonement, that teach doctrines that do not allow for evolution, such as saying there was no death before the fall. Some things said really made me shake my head, but the two presenters, professors at BYU from different departments, did an excellent job and I was annoyed when people would get up and leave. To be completely honest.
Vehement as I was (winkwink) I actually enjoyed the whole thing and noted the many good things they brought up. One presenter talked about the 'warrior' gene which is more than common in people who commit violent crimes or are in gangs. He related studies from the primate families to human behavior, and he used the Mountain Meadows Massacre as an example for human behavior several times. He is not afraid of the taboo.
Even the other guy was really good, his focus being on religious implications. He said science is dogmatic with empiricism, and I tend to agree, but he also would point out things such as "science can prove things where God is not needed in the equation," and he was clear in pointing out that in psychology a God is not needed to make sense of anything. Some people questioned this and the only point where he allowed God was with free will and the soul or consciousness. But both professors presented good cases for their views.
Yet, being that I don't really believe in free will or consciousness anymore those arguments don't hold much weight for me. Which came up in conversation after between me and a couple friends. I am being swayed to the idea that we simply react to our bodies, our current brain chemistry, our memories, and environmental influences and that is where our 'choices' come from. Every action we take has a precursory action or cause. I don't like the idea of not having free will, but I really don't see how free will actually makes any sense anymore. It's my understanding that many philosophers take both sides, so I feel okay not being so sure for one side, and disliking the other but thinking it's correct.
On the 'debate' though, there really wasn't a debate. Nor was there really any questions from the box, but there was about an hour long question session from the audience, a couple atheistic people included. One being a friend. The other being a guy who seemed a little angry, lol. The two profs played off each other well, but stumbled a little when it came to naturalism and theism. Both had to admit that God is not necessary in the empirical sciences. However, one said that science uses metaphysical aspects so science should be open to a metaphysical God. Honestly I am unsure where he is coming from.
Ultimately it was a good experience and I'm happy I went. The people in the religion/psychology department seem to be trying to push for the idea that science shouldn't be studying religion because it can't. I am more new to this debate, having only joined in during winter in my psychology of religion class, and most of my knowledge on the topic is from the LDS perspective, so I feel a little skewed as of right now. BYU has some decently liberal professors and many of them are admitting that evolution in any aspect needs to be looked into and on many levels it needs to be accepted. Many students do not feel this way when they come to BYU, unless of course I just happen to only meet people who have little to no understanding of it or don't accept it.
This could just be ignorance on their part, parents or schools trying to keep evolution away from them, or simply the church not treating the topic fully.
On another note, at one point one of the professors rhetorically stated that there could be people in the room who thought God was made up by humans, or by the human brain, to which a couple friends raised there hands. I laughed, but was also slightly embarrassed since I was sitting right next to them. I mean, I'm still going to BYU! I have this blog! I'm a heathen! I don't want to be expelled! Either way it was funny and totally worth it. I now wish I had raised my hand as well (no one would know who I was anyway).
On a final note, there was a blond girl who was annoyed with us. A couple people were whispering a couple times, and one friend was making noise with his empty peaches cup, but since it was apparent that most of us were not believers, two known for a fact, and one started his question by stating he was an agnostic atheist who had some sincere questions and was looking for a civil debate, I have to wonder if she just didn't like us and thought we were Satanic. Even the couple bouts of whispering were related to statements JUST made by the professors. If so, then I say 'fu** you blond girl.' I just had to say that cause I don't feel there has been enough ranting in this post. Night.