18 September 2012

This Week on Ecotopia we’ll be taking a look at evolution, but evolution as it may be shaping human values. We’ll talk first with Steve McIntosh, author of a new book called Evolution’s Purpose, where he argues that such values as truth and beauty may well be part of our evolutionary path.

Then we’ll talk with Michael Shermer, author of  The Science of Good and Evil, who believes that conflicting evolutionary paths pitting flight-or-fight against a need for community can explain good and evil, peace and war.

Our Questions for Steve McIntosh
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Tonight’s “ecosystem” connects human values with evolution. How do our values develop and emerge? Are we “hard wired” to adopt some value systems over others? Are human values evolving in positive ways?

On the phone with us to discuss these questions is Steve McIntosh, author of Evolution’s Purpose: An Integral Interpretation of the Scientific Story of Our Origins. It has just been published by SelectBooks. [www.selectbooks.com] Steve has formal education in law and is founder and president of a consumer products company Now & Zen, and a leader in the integral philosophy movement. Welcome, Steve McIntosh.

–Please tell us about “integral philosophy.” What are its aims and basic tenets? What led you from law school and business school to being a writer and speaker on integral philosophy?

–The central argument of your book is that a theory of evolution must be more than just “science”; to be complete, it must be linked to human history and to our morals, values, and cultures. Please explain.

–Many philosophers have said that ours is a “value free” universe. Other people have argued that a transcendent power or divine being created and passed down the laws of human behavior and the laws of physics. And still others see evolution as having just one value: survival in a dog-eat-dog, winner-take-all universe. How does your integral interpretation respond to these claims?

–What are the values that we humans have evolved/are evolving/might evolve?

–Stephen Jay Gould (whom you cite multiple times in your book) has argued in The Mismeasure of Man that it is an error to perceive of evolution as making “progress,” especially if that trajectory places human beings at the apex of evolution. How does your view differ from Gould’s?

–You argue that evolution is leading us to value truth, beauty, and goodness. Why is there so much of the opposite in our world? Why are we failing to exercise some fundamental truths that have been given us by mother nature?

–What are your best hopes for the evolution of our values and behaviors? Are you optimistic that we can evolve toward a kinder, gentler, possibly smog free universe?

Our guest has been Steve McIntosh, author of Evolution’s Purpose: An Integral Interpretation of the Scientific Story of Our Origins, just published by SelectBooks. You can learn more about the book at www.selectbooks.com and more about Steve and the integral philosophy movement at www.stevemcintosh.com. .

Our Discussion with Michael Shermer
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This is Ecotopia on KZFR, and tonight we are examining connections between science and morality. Our guest on the phone is a writer, editor, skeptic, and scholar—Michael Shermer—whose book, The Science of Good and Evil, has given us food for thought for a number of years. Michael has written a number of books and articles about how morals, ethics, and choices emerge from human consciousness. He’s also a monthly columnist for Atlantic and founder and editor of The Skeptic magazine. Welcome Michael Shermer.

–In The Science of Good and Evil, you argue that morals and ethics are neither god given nor formed in a vacuum. You say there are genetic characteristics or traits that (help to) determine values. What are those characteristics? Is it in our nature to be moral, immoral, or amoral?

–You write of conflicting genetic tendencies: flight-or-fight versus the formation of communities. Please describe this, particularly the value of community. Is there an optimal size for communities? Can we have a global community? Is this tendency (toward community) an explanation of why the golden rule is so common to cultures and religions?

–You have done a great deal of study of neurology and how it affects perception and behavior. And you say that beliefs are formed “ for a variety of subjective, personal, emotional, and psychological reasons in the context of environments created by family, friends, colleagues, culture, and society at large.” How can we sort through those complex factors, plus genetics and the neural system, to figure out where our values come from?

–Your newest book is The Believing Brain From Ghosts and Gods to Politics and Conspiracies—How We Construct Beliefs and Reinforce Them as Truths. You say, “Beliefs come first, explanations for beliefs follow.” Are we at all in charge of our own values?

[You tell a story that recently in a restaurant you were tempted to order “a heavy stout beer, a buttery escargot appetizer, a marbled steak, cheesecake” and chose “ a light beer, salmon and a salad with vinaigrette dressing and split a mildly rich chocolate cake with my companion.” You also say that you had no choice in the matter. What’s up with that?!]

–Obviously, ours is a deeply, possibly fatally, troubled world. Why do we continually select war over peace, hierarchy over equality, consumption over sustainability?

–What is your degree of optimism that humanity will, in the long run make sustainable choices or choose “good” over “evil”?

–Where can listeners learn more about your work? http://www.michaelshermer.com/ http://www.skeptic.com/

Our guest has been Michael Shermer, founder of The Skeptics Society, and Editor in Chief of its magazine Skeptic, columnist for Atlantic, and author of a number of books, including Why Darwin Matters, Why People Believe Weird Things, and his newest, The Believing Brain: From Ghosts and Gods to Politics and Conspiracies—How We Construct Beliefs and Reinforce Them as Truths. Thank you for being with us on Ecotopia.