Simply disgusting

Click-click-click. The man came down the road with his clapper, warning others to shun him. His face was disfigured by the lumpy excrescences and open sores of leprosy, his smell was foetid. He was an outcast – yet the young gentleman who came by on horseback paused, dismounted, and kissed the leper. He had overcome his disgust at this most alarming of diseases and recognised the presence of Christ in that distorted face. It had been a moment of decision, and Francis would never be the same again.

Yes, the leper was disgusting, and with good reason. It seems that disgust has the office of warning us away from potential danger. We associate it with faeces, vomit, dead bodies, rotting meat, evident signs of communicable disease and a whole range of connected behaviour. Francis was prepared to stifle this deep protective instinct as a sign of his radical choice.

We can speculate further. It has been suggested that disgust could be the source of our moral instinct. After all, we build much of our morality on the basis of what aids or what damages human flourishing. And St Paul’s reference to our recognition of the law in our hearts could very well be an account of such a deep instinct. In fact, our common usage of the word disgusting can include “arousing aversion or indignation”, if the OED is to be believed. So we extend the concept to cover behaviour so perverse that physical disgust merges with moral disgust. So it might refer, say, to the defacing of a war memorial or the corrupt behaviour of MPs.

It is interesting to exchange views on situations which we feel are best described as disgusting. But it may be that the application of the word depends as much on the nature of the describer as on the activity described. We know, for instance, that people of a conservative temperament are more prone to disgust than their liberal fellows. Women are more easily disgusted than men. And it has been shown that people, when asked to make moral judgments in an atmosphere of foul body smells, tend to be more condemnatory in their judgments. This suggests that emotions play at least as much a part as reason in the formation of moral attitudes.

And we note that disgust can lessen with familiarity. A mortuary attendant becomes less likely to be uncomfortable with dead bodies and cleaners of public lavatories can become desensitised to the fouler aspects of their work. If we are old, incontinent and in need of intimate care we may hope that our helper has neutralised the disgust which they might otherwise feel. If this occurs inside the close family it may be found that love is the best antidote – even if we cannot reach the extent of love displayed by Francis.

I do not believe that a sense of disgust explains away our sense of morality. My grasp of right and wrong depends on something much deeper, much less contingent and more permanent. But the two are undoubtedly related. That is, we have inherited a range of warning signals from our genetic past, since those who heeded the warnings survived to be our forebears. At some time or another these warnings have helped the human race to flourish.

It is important to evaluate such instincts or reactions which come from our primitive pasts. Some remain appropriate, others can lead us astray. So, fear of spiders, cats and crowds may be of less use to us now than heretofore. But fear of heights or tight places may well give needed warnings – if they do not become disabling. And so do instincts like reaction to sudden, unfamiliar noise or the temptation of the herd instinct.

The herd instinct reminds me of the 1980s, when it became received wisdom for financial houses to buy estate agency chains. The most elementary analysis (price-earnings ratios) demonstrated the folly of this, yet many were bought at a high price – and had to be sold back eventually to their original owners for a much lower price. Hundreds of millions of pounds went down the drain. Even large commercial organisations, it seems, can make foolish decisions when the herd gives the lead. And I am not speaking here with hindsight. I was there.

Another primitive instinct is the response to first impressions. They influence us disproportionately and even encourage us to disregard contrary evidence. This was useful when the first impression was possibly a prowling beast, but less so in more settled times. Those who claim that they always successfully rely on first impressions are simply guilty of selective memory.

The ability to ignore counter evidence is so common that it even has its own name: bias blind spot. Psychologists tell us that we find bias easy to detect in others but difficult to detect in ourselves. I have little consolation to offer here – it seems that high cognitive ability, good thinking patterns and a knowledge of bias blind spot is no protection against this inclination, and may even contribute to it.

In practice, many of our moral attitudes are formed by such deeply laid primitive instincts. We do use our sense of disgust to guide us – often uncritically, just as we do our elementary fears, and inherited patterns of behaviour. The answer is not to eradicate these instincts but to be so aware of their influence on us that we can discriminate. Have you kissed any lepers recently? Perhaps it takes a higher layer of discrimination, and perhaps a blind spot or two to do that. We call it sanctity.

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About Quentin

Science Editor, Catholic Herald. Portrait © Jacqueline Alma
This entry was posted in Bio-ethics, Catholic Herald columns, Moral judgment, Neuroscience, Philosophy and tagged , . Bookmark the permalink.

98 Responses to Simply disgusting

  1. Iona says:

    One of the exceptions to the “natural” feeling of disgust is a mother’s readiness to clean up her own baby (I am going by my own experience). Some fathers get very good at this too, but my impression is that they do have some initial feeling of disgust to overcome.
    No doubt the phenomenon demonstrates Quentin’s point, – while avoidance due to feelings of disgust generally serves the purpose of self-preservation and (by extension) preservation of the social group, in the case of mothers and babies the social group is better preserved by the disgust-reaction not being present.

  2. Prior to reading the above article I received Quentins email circular alerting us of this new topic…
    “Dear Second Sight Blog User,
    The Catholic Herald column which I post today is disgusting – or, rather, it is about disgust. Could our physical reaction of disgust be the source of our condemnatory moral judgments. And does disgust block us from our corporal works of mercy?
    Whatever you may decide about that, we are in the realm of instincts and moral feelings which we inherit from our primitive (even pre-hominid) ancestors.”
    …and I responsed,
    “You would be well to bear in mind the Dogmatic declaration of Humani Generis where Pius XII stated…
    ‘Some however, rashly transgress this liberty of discussion, when they act as if the origin of the human body from pre-existing and living matter were already completely certain and proved by the facts which have been discovered up to now and by reasoning on those facts, and as if there were nothing in the sources of divine revelation which demands the greatest moderation and caution in this question.
    …concerning your use of the term ‘primitive (even pre-hominid) ancestors’ in such an assured manner.”

    Having just finished reading ‘Science and Human Origins’ by Anne Gauger, Douglas Axe and Casey Luskin just released this year on Discovery Institute Press in the shadow of ‘The Theory of Evolution Judged by Reason and Faith’ by Cardinal Ernesto Ruffini published back in 1959 and seeing how fitting this subject is relevant to our previous discussion on dogmatic declaration of the Church via extraordinary magisterium I couldn’t resist but to raise issue at such a transgression on the liberty of discussion on the origin of the human body.
    David Klinghoffer writes, in an article promoting the release of the Discovery Institute book…
    “Evolutionary biology in its public presentation makes a great show of having figured everything out. We are told that humans share a common ancestral heritage with apes and emerged from an undistinguished primate past through an unguided process of random genetic variations winnowed by natural selection.”
    going on to explain…
    “It’s remarkable how thin the evidence for this uncomplicated assertion turns out to be”
    So let those who act ‘as if the origin of the human body from pre-existing and living matter were already completely certain and proved by the facts’ offer up these facts as evidence to reasonably assure the rest of us.

    • Quentin says:

      It is as well to remember that the Church has made no doctrinal statement on the evolution of human biology. It is a scientific question. It is of course true that no scientific statement can be regarded as final since the possibility of further evidence can never be absolutely ruled out. However, as it happens, the further evidence since 1960, particularly the fossil record, the huge strides in our understanding of the genome and epigenetics, has given the strongest support to the concept of evolution.

      Naturally there is the possibility of conflict between the conclusions of science and the conclusions of theology. My column on science and faith in the Catholic Herald, and this Blog, were conceived to examine such issues – using good science and good theology. Previous postings, followed by constructive discussion, on a variety of aspects remain available. While I do not propose to trample once again over old issues, I am happy to consider new ones, if they appear to have merit and broad interest. I do not expect that the main lines of evolution will be revised in the future. I do expect, however, that the detail will continue to be refined and corrected as scientists, following their vocation of exploring God’s creation, deepen our knowledge of his magnificence.

  3. John Candido says:

    ‘It is interesting to exchange views on situations which we feel are best described as disgusting. But it may be that the application of the word depends as much on the nature of the describer as on the activity described.’

    Medical conditions such as sleep apnoea, insomnia, and other more prosaic failings such as impatience, and prejudice, can play a significant role in disgust. I suffer from a small but significant amount of sleep apnoea. I am currently seeing a sleep specialist in order to treat this insidious condition. I have been referred to an orthodontist in order to have me assessed for what is called a mandibular device.

    A mandibular device is worn like a mouth guard, in order to maintain an open airway whilst asleep. This is achieved by keeping the lower jaw, which is also called a mandible, set forward during sleep, and thereby keeping your airway open for most of the night. I will be seeing him later this month so he can take measurements in order for an appraisal of my suitability for a permanent mandibular device. They are quite expensive.

    I have undergone two sleep studies. The first diagnosed the problem as having a minor but significant personal application to me, while the second test assessed how successful or prophylactic a temporary mandibular device was in preventing or limiting sleep apnoea for me. While not cured, the minor sleep apnoea problem that I have is significantly better managed with a mandibular device.

    In hindsight, I remain convinced that the minor sleep apnoea that I suffer from has played a significant role in my life. It has had a serious impact on staying alert, to concentrating, my short-term memory, personal organisation, patience, motivation, the agility of my thought processes. I am so glad that I brought the subject up several months ago with my general practitioner.

    What has sleep apnoea got to do with disgust in others? On my way to a game of Australian Rules football one Saturday afternoon at a train station two years ago, I noticed that some disabled people were slowly ambling off a small bus and gingerly proceeding to the opposite platform from where I was. Some had walking frames and others had wheel chairs.

    I was very disgusted by their appearance. I wanted them to vanish from my sight. I felt a ridiculous anger towards them as well. I never said anything to anybody while this emotional turmoil was playing itself out. It was completely unfair, irrational, unchristian, and prejudicial. Disabled people cannot help the state that they are in; no more than anyone help where they were born, what family they were born into, their sex, their sexuality, their race, skin colour, or the cultural milieu that they abide.

    As I was looking at them with disgust, in the corner of my eye I could see another man on my side of the station looking at me. He had easily determined the reason for my great uncomfortableness and was thoroughly appalled by me. I don’t blame him, looking back!

    I needed to confront myself after this episode to possibly see what was in me that threw up this terrible disposition. I think it was probably due to several factors. Namely, arguments with my mother and brother at the time, my general impatience with my own problems, and maybe a chronic lack of proper sleep, had insidiously fed into this predicament as well.

    If you or anybody you know has symptoms such as pervasive tiredness, yawning, problems in concentrating, remembering, an unexplained or general irritability, motivational and personal organisational problems, etc. etc., please consult your local doctor and discuss these issues with him or her, and see if it can be determined that you might have a sleep issue. If need be, ask for a referral to see a sleep specialist. Humans cannot function healthily or efficiently, without an adequate amount of sleep on a nightly basis.

    • John Candido,
      Do you really beleive any digression from hetrosexuality is deterministic?
      May I quote from the well known CDF document on the subject of pastoral care of Homosexual persons as it also makes fantastic reference to the ‘wise arrangement of God, sacred Tradition, sacred Scripture, and the Magisterium of the Church’ being ‘so connected and associated that one of them cannot stand without the others’ which is what we was discussing in the other debate!
      Note again the use of Dei Verbum (word of God) as opposed to Verbum Dei (God that speaks)…

      “The Vatican Council II in Dei Verbum 10, put it this way: ‘It is clear, therefore, that in the supremely wise arrangement of God, sacred Tradition, sacred Scripture, and the Magisterium of the Church are so connected and associated that one of them cannot stand without the others. Working together, each in its own way under the action of the one Holy Spirit, they all contribute effectively to the salvation of souls’. In that spirit we wish to outline briefly the Biblical teaching here.
      Providing a basic plan for understanding this entire discussion of homosexuality is the theology of creation we find in Genesis. God, in his infinite wisdom and love, brings into existence all of reality as a reflection of his goodness. He fashions mankind, male and female, in his own image and likeness. Human beings, therefore, are nothing less than the work of God himself; and in the complementarity of the sexes, they are called to reflect the inner unity of the Creator. They do this in a striking way in their cooperation with him in the transmission of life by a mutual donation of the self to the other.”

      • Quentin says:

        It may not make any difference to the conclusion, but if we are to take with full respect the statement “Human beings, therefore, are nothing less than the work of God himself” we must recall that his chosen instrument of biological creation was evolution. This warns us not be too hasty in claiming that evolved structures invariably signal immutable moral imperatives.

  4. Quentin,
    Is the ‘chosen instrument of biological creation’ you propose as evolution defined as humans, apes and monkeys being related through common ancestry?

    • Quentin says:

      I am not sure of the meaning of your question, but that homo sapiens is, as regards his biological aspects, the outcome of evolution from earlier forms is no longer seriously disputed.

      • Quentin,
        With regard to your comment…
        “that homo sapiens is, as regards his biological aspects, the outcome of evolution from earlier forms,”
        I reiterate David Klinghoffer’s observation…
        “It’s remarkable how thin the evidence for this uncomplicated assertion turns out to be.”

        My question regarding humans, apes and monkeys being related through common ancestry shouldn’t pose a problem for Science Editor of a Major newspaper. Lets put it another way, do you subscribe to the currently accepted evolutionary biologist tree of common descent for Hominids beginning at Hominidae to Homininae to Hominini to Homo?

  5. tim says:

    What does Klinghoffer think happened?

  6. Tim,
    I’ll allow Klinghoffer to speak for himself…
    http://www.evolutionnews.org/2012/07/a_veil_is_drawn061751.html
    Quentin,
    My point, by way of Casey Luskin’s abstract on human origins (2004). Contrary to your claim we have evolution from earlier forms seriously disputed….
    “Intelligent agents can rapidly infuse large amounts of genetic information into the biosphere, reflected in the fossil record as the abrupt appearance of novel fossil forms without similar precursors. These designed ‘basic types’ may undergo limited genetic change, diversifying
    into similar species belonging to the same basic type clade. Paleoanthropological studies reveal that early hominids appear suddenly,
    without clear direct fossil ancestors, and distinct from previous hominoids. Within hominids, evolutionary theory proposes that the genus Homo is descended from the genus Australopithecus, and have cited Homo habilis as a possible link with transitional morphology. Recent studies indicate habilis should not be classified within Homo but rather under Australopithecus, and that both its morphology and temporal span preclude habilis from consideration as a link between the two genera. Subsequent evolutionist studies highlight significant morphological
    differences between Homo and Australopithecus requiring very rapid and significant genetic changes. The abrupt appearance of Homo as a novel and distinct form, significantly different from earlier fossil forms and without links to previous fossil forms, implicates intelligent design as a cause involved in the origin of Homo. Homo is proposed as a basic type, with current members of Australopithecus plus what is currently labeled Homo habilis suggested as another extinct basic type. The species remaining within Homo have similar morphologies that can generally be explained as microevolution within a basic type.”

  7. Cardinal Ernesto Ruffini – preface to ‘The Theory of Evolution Judged by Reason and Faith’ 1959.

    “I have propounded this work in order to show that evolution applied to living beings, as it is propounded by materialists, has no scientific basis; and that, in particular, transformism applied to man – even if restricted to the body – cannot be admitted.”

    Imprimatur: Francis Cardinal Spellman (Archbishop of New York)

  8. The Phylogenetic Tree Topples
    2006, American Scientist, Lynn Margulis

    What is “evolution?” If evolutionary theory (like the law of gravity or the periodic table of chemical elements) stems from accepted scientific knowledge, why is its teaching controversial? We seek here the source of the controversy: where evidence ends and dogma begins. No honest, rigorous and logical scientist appreciative of hard-earned data from nature disagrees about evolution’s incontrovertible core. Then why are so many who celebrate science as a most, if not the most, effective way of knowing about the world confused by lack of scientific unanimity? None doubts that gravity is the force that accelerates falling bodies, nor are statistics required to predict gas behavior when oxygen and hydrogen are sparked in a closed volume!

    Why isn’t everyone convinced that “evolution is a fact, not just a theory” when biologists feel evolution of life from past life is as well established as gravity or the explosive chemical reaction of H2 and O2 to form water? Professionals in geology, biology and especially biochemistry concur: Evolutionary phenomena proffer crucial organizing principles. So what’s the problem? Evolutionary biologists act certain that they know how new life forms originate and complexify. But they don’t.

    Evolution, no single fact, depends on four observable processes. First, life requires the incessant flow of energy and matter to survive. Second, a species-specific biotic potential, a measurable quantity, is assignable: the number of offspring that, in principle, can be produced per generation. A human couple has 20 children maximum. A single E. coli bacterial cell that doubles in 20 minutes potentially reaches a population size the weight of the Earth in less than a week! Third, all populations grow at rates more rapid than their immediate environment sustains. What Darwin called natural selection is simply this fact of elimination: Never do 100 percent of the offspring survive to reproduce 100 percent. Finally, offspring are not identical to their parent(s); observable inherited (genetic) change is easily measured.

    From these facts Darwin correctly inferred that life “descended with modification” from common ancestors. Overwhelming evidence for this fact (and none against) comes from, e.g., animal behavior, biochemistry, comparative anatomy, ecology, genetics, geochronology, microbiology, physiology, paleobotany, sedimentary geology, virology and zoology, amplifying Darwin’s insight. More than 30 million kinds of life, placed unambiguously into five huge groups—bacteria, protoctists (including 50 phyla of ciliates, diatoms, red and brown seaweeds, slime molds, water molds), fungi, animals and plants—evolved during the past 3,500 million years from our small common ancestors: bacteria. Study of long-chain molecules such as chitin, DNA, lignin, protein, yields spectacular evidence for the shared ancestry of all living matter. Watery cell metabolism (chemical transformation by salt balance, synthesis of proteins and other metabolites always bounded by cell membranes) is incessant whether in aardvark or zoogloea.

    But many biologists claim they know for sure that random mutation (purposeless chance) is the source of inherited variation that generates new species of life and that life evolved in a single-common-trunk, dichotomously branching-phylogenetic-tree pattern! “No!” I say. Then how did one species evolve into another? This profound research question is assiduously undermined by the hegemony who flaunt their “correct” solution. Especially dogmatic are those molecular modelers of the “tree of life” who, ignorant of alternative topologies (such as webs), don’t study ancestors. Victims of a Whiteheadian “fallacy of misplaced concreteness,” they correlate computer code with names given by “authorities” to organisms they never see! Our zealous research, ever faithful to the god who dwells in the details, openly challenges such dogmatic certainty. This is science.

    • Rahner says:

      Is this the same Margulis who was a 9/11 Conspiracy theorist? Just asking.

      • tim says:

        Ad hominem. (the answer appears to be Yes, but she is also the lady who proposed endosymbiosis, and has seen it move from ridicule to mainstream acceptance.)

  9. tim says:

    stefangillies, thanks for the link.

    Klinghoffer reckons that the conventional explanation that human chromosome 2 was formed by joining two primate chromosomes (thereby reducing their number from 24 to 23) is open to objections. Maybe so (or maybe not, I’m not in a position to judge). What follows?

    I see that Klinghoffer is a follower (or possibly a leader) of Intelligent Design. Personally I am agnostic about this idea (insofar as I understand it, which isn’t very far) but it ‘has a terrible name in Portadown’ (as the Orangeman said of the Pope). Is the contention that the whole theory of Evolution is moonshine (I suppose not) or that it isn’t fully worked out or supported by evidence in every case (no doubt) or that it is specifically inadequate to explain human ancestry?

    • Tim,
      Just out of interest did we discuss ‘Irreducible Complexity’ on the ‘Pensive Quill’ a few years back?
      David Klinghoffer is a senior fellow of the Discovery Institute. You have a similar set up on your home turf by way of The Centre for Intelligent Design (C4ID) whoose President is Prof Norman Nevin, OBE Emeritus Professor of Medical Genetics, Queen’s University, Belfast.
      Being that…
      “designed ‘basic types’ may undergo limited genetic change, diversifying into similar species belonging to the same basic type clade”
      …the contention isn’t “that the whole theory of Evolution is moonshine” as you rightly suppose.
      Modern scientific evidence points us away from the previously accepted tree of common descent for Hominids beginning at Hominidae to Homininae to Hominini to Homo. Common descent is also inadequate in explaining the sudden appearence of many basic body plan types in the Cambrian explosion.
      Here’s recent relevant blog post by Jerry Coyne…

      “Virtually all of the non-creationist opposition to the modern theory of evolution, and all of the minimal approbation of [Coyne's University of Chicago colleague James] Shapiro’s views, come from molecular biologists. I’m not sure whether there’s something about that discipline (the complexity of molecular mechanisms?) that makes people doubt the efficacy of natural selection, or whether it’s simply that many molecular biologists don’t get a good grounding in evolutionary biology.
      And now we learn that another respected philosopher (Jerry Fodor was the first) has come out against neo-Darwinism, too: the distinguished philosopher Thomas Nagel is about to issue Mind and Cosmos: Why the Materialist Neo-Darwinian Concept of Nature is Almost Certainly False.”

      http://whyevolutionistrue.wordpress.com/2012/08/30/larrry-moran-reviews-shapiros-anti-darwinian-book-and-another-new-anti-evolution-book-by-thomas-nagel/

  10. Quentin says:

    We must be careful to avoid ‘discussion by quotation’ on this blog. The reductio ad absurdum of this is argument by everyone quoting their favourite authors against everyone else. And no readers – since everyone has left out of boredom. It may sometimes be relevant to make a short quote to give weight to a point, or to produce a reference for people to study if they wish. But contributions themselves should be an expression of view, or a question, written in the contributor’s own words.

    in this case we seem to have started with a worthwhile question about the extent, if any, of primitive instincts still influencing us today. But we haven’t talked about this. What we are talking about now I have yet to learn.

  11. John Candido says:

    I agree with Quentin.

    • John Nolan says:

      I was never Princess Diana’s greatest fan, but her willingness to make physical contact with AIDS sufferers, at a time when popular prejudice regarded them as latter-day lepers, displayed true Christian charity.

    • Quentin,
      I offered up my point as you requested by way of Casey Luskin’s abstract on human origins.
      I wasn’t aware of the rules of engagement you lay down within your blog that contributions should be the contributor’s own words however being that I have offered up veiws seriously disputing evolution from earlier forms, contrary to your initial statement that the outcome of evolution from earlier forms is no longer seriously disputed, do you not feel you owe me and your readers your reply?

      • Quentin says:

        Stefangillies, I don’t like to use names when I am trying to correct an activity which I feel is not in the interests of contributors if I can avoid it.. But you happen to be the first person who has employed this cut and paste method of blogging. So I gave as gentle a warning as I could.
        You may well save yourself from trouble by looking through my earlier postings in this Blog. They go back to 2008. You will have to forgive for declining to deal with issues that I have written about in the past. Were I not to decline I would be doing this for every new (and, of course, welcome) contributor. but if you have a new point for which you can provide commensurate evidence, do put it forward for discussion. We will see
        what your fellow bloggers make of it.
        If you would like a good authoritative source on human evolution i would recommend Britannica, although of course any standard university textbook would do. Britannica will give you an overall picture of the state of the game. Britannica has general articles, and a number of more specialist articles.

      • Quentin,
        I have searched your blog using the engine at the top of the page and it yielded no results on what I’m about to discuss so here’s a new point for which I provide commensurate evidence in my own words…
        In 2007 Durrent and Schmidt estimated that for a single mutation to occur in a nucleotide binding site and be fixed in a primate lineage it would take 6 million years alas 6 million years is the timescale alloted by the standard evolutionary model for the transition from our last supposed common ancester with chimps to present day man.
        Unfortunately you won’t find Durrant and Schmidt’s study on Britanica either so maybe you’d be well rethinking what you consider a good authoritative source on human evolution especially in your capacity as Science Editor!

      • Horace says:

        I personally believe that the earth is a round ball which exists in space travelling in an orbit around the sun and spinning on its axis with one rotation every 24 hrs. My own personal knowledge of the scientific basis of this belief is surprisingly limited and confined to the observation of a ship slowly sinking below the horizon as it sails away from where I am standing on the shore.
        When confronted with the belief of the Flat Earth Society called Zetetic Astronomy, [which holds that the earth is a flat disk centered at the North Pole and bounded along its southern edge by a wall of ice, with the sun, moon, planets, and stars only a few hundred miles above the surface of the earth] I have some difficulty in producing effective counter arguments.

        Nevertheless I am prepared to accept the opinion of the majority of people that I know and the majority of explanations that I read.

        My opinion about evolution is very similar; most reasonable people today consider evolution as the best current scientific explanation of how humanity was created and I am happy to agree.

      • Horice,
        Most reasonable people today consider evolution as the best current scientific explanation of how humanity was created simply because they are resoning without all the new data which only becomes accessible if you follow this as a specialised field.
        Quentin, it seems, highlights this with his reference to Britanica as an authoritative resource on the subject!
        The face of scientifc knowledge changes with each new year and new study’s contained therein. An example would be where in the early 1990s it became possible to sequence actual bacterial and archaeal genes rather than just RNA. The expectation was these DNA sequences to confirm the RNA tree alas in more than some cases they did not. RNA suggested that species A was more closely related to species B than species C, but a tree made from DNA would suggest the reverse!
        Indeed all of the non-creationist opposition to the modern theory of evolution comes from molecular biologists!
        History teaches us with Galileo Galilei, amoungst others, that just because there is a consensus it doesn’t mean it is correct especially when that consensus is propogated via the vested interests of philosophical materialism.

  12. Singalong says:

    I think a natural instinct for disgust does still influence us today, and probably always will. I can feel exactly the same as you describe, John. Isn`t it what we do about it, and how we recognise it, and train ourselves to think, that is important.

    I will always be grateful to a brilliant English teacher, at my school, a religious sister, who gave us an essay title, Beauty in Unexpected Places. “What about the beauty of a cripple`s hands?” she wrote at the end of mine. Of course, they are not always beautiful, and the word she used is not acceptable today, but the thought made a deep and lasting impression, and has transferred to many other situations.

    On the other side of the coin, we can become too accustomed to the idea of brutality by seeing or hearing about it constantly and taking it in our stride so that it loses the impact it should have.

    What would we think about Christ`s life and His suffering and death, if it was not a familiar story and the symbol of the Cross was not so widespread?

    • Vincent says:

      I think we may safely assume that when Pilate showed Jesus to the crowd and said “Behold the man” those with love in them saw a pitiable sight. And since we are expected to see Jesus in the lowest of the low, we have our model.

      • Singalong says:

        Thank you Vincent, so enough real love in our hearts will make sure that compassion overcomes our natural revulsion, which goes beyond even the mother and baby feelings mentioned by Iona in the first comment.

    • Vincent says:

      I agree. But I daresay St Francis had to steel himself to the task. So love must be applied with thought and determination. At that human level, the Paralympics may well have helped people to moderate negative feelings towards disability. I wonder whether it will stretch as far as babies in the womb.

  13. tim says:

    I think it is inevitable that from time to time we rehash previously discussed topics. I want to ask – what is stefangillies’s point? He is not challenging the theory of evolution as a whole. What I understand him to say is that there are particular difficulties with it in explaining the evolution of man from apes. The molecular biology (some say) doesn’t seem to add up. Now, most of us are not molecular biologists, so we’re not going to be able to follow the arguments of each side on this. But let us suppose (for the sake of argument) that the difficulties are real. What follows? Either Man is a special creation of God, inexplicable by the ordinary laws of Nature – or the difficulties of the molecular biologists will be resolved by further developments. It is imprudent to assert that the latter cannot happen, when there is no need to do so. We know that Man is God’s creation – how this creation came about is secondary. We may hold as a pious opinion that a miracle was necessary to create us – but it is not to be an article of faith. In previous controversies between science and religion we have seen real difficulties overcome by later knowledge – Galileo could not adequately explain why the stars appeared fixed, while geological millennia were inconsistent with an estimated maximum age of the sun (according to the then current state of physics) of 20,000 years. In short, if stefangillies wishes to believe in a special creation of Man, I have no objection, as long as he does not insist that I do the same.

    • Rahner says:

      There clearly are legitimate questions about the limits of Darwinian explanations eg in relation to the origin of life, the emergence of animal and human consciousness and the emergence of higher human culture. No doubt biology is still in its infancy and so we can always say that we must await developments but some would argue from a philosophical viewpoint that any biology cannot posses the conceptual resources to explain certain things just as, say, particle physics or pure mathematics cannot explain the causes of the French Revolution.

      • Interesting point Rahner,
        I wonder if Quentin believes there are legitimate questions about the limits of Darwinian evolution as he states homo sapiens are, as regards their biological aspects, the outcome of evolution from earlier forms and it’s no longer seriously disputed!

      • tim says:

        I would readily concede, Rahner, that Darwinian theories may have little or nothing to offer on the questions you mention. But we are discussing how (or perhaps if) Man originated from hominids. The explanatory power of evolution in questions of this nature is such that it is difficult to believe that it will not prove adequate to explain this. Maybe, in the current stage of our knowledge, there are anomalies. But what is the alternative? If you contribute to this blog, you (like me) may well believe in miracles – so you (like me) will be prepared to believe in the possibility of a special creation. But I (at least) will first require convincing evidence of it. Casting a few doubts on the conventional explanation will not be enough.

    • Evolution as a word can imply many different things Tim.
      That basic body plans evolve to adapt to their enviroment is clear for all to see.
      That basic body plans evolve to form entirely new body body plans is seriously disputed by modern science.
      Two questions here press on us…
      1) How many mutations would it take to transform an australopithecine species into a Homo erectus?
      2) If there are only one and a half million years between A. afarensis and H. erectus, can the evolutionary theory of transformism produce the necesary changes in the time allocated?
      Bramble and Lierberman list sixteen feaures of the human body plan that first appear in H. erectus or H. sapiens…
      http://www.nature.com/nature/journal/v432/n7015/full/nature03052.html
      There are numerous studies showing that there isn’t enough time to allow for those changes given the engine proposed by the modern evolutionary syntheisis.
      Tim I don’t insist that people beleive something without reasoning the facts presented. Contrary to popular beleif evolutionary transformism of one body plan into another has not been presented in a reasonable manner backed up with empirical evidence. All the evolutionary biologist/philosophical materialist has to offer us as evidence of his theory is localised enviromental adaption and domestic breeding.

      • Rahner says:

        “Casting a few doubts on the conventional explanation will not be enough.”
        I should have thought that casting doubts on conventional explanations was an essential part of the development of scientific knowledge…….

      • tim says:

        Are you saying that ‘transformism’ (one body plan into another) doesn’t work generally – or that it hasn’t been shown to work in this particular situation (apes into humans)? I would find the latter easier to believe than the former.

  14. Vincent says:

    Stefan gillies, while I have no close knowledge of these matters, out of idle interest I thought I would look up Durrent and Schmidt, whom you quote. I tried Durrant too, as you supplied an alternative spelling. They appear to be unknown to the internet, and various scientific indexes, both general and molecular, yield a nil return. Oh, and I did check the standard sources such as Scientific American etc. This seemed strange because you are implying that they have caused a rethink of evolution on a grand scale. So perhaps you could give me the reference to their study or the research establishments or universities in which they hold posts.

  15. John Nolan says:

    @ Singalong

    Interesting that abortion is the only medical or surgical procedure that has never been televised (at least in this country) and when pro-life people attempt to disseminate images of the procedure they are prevented from doing so as it might upset people.

    • Quentin says:

      John, I am glad you have supported Singalong’s reference to abortion. I have often turned around in my mind the whole question of our society preferring to hide their eyes to behaviours which, by other names, would horrify them. Yet, stupidly, I never connected it to my thoughts on ‘disgust’. This ability of basically good and intelligent people to accept such behaviour with equanimity passes my comprehension. I hope that the blog can throw more light on this.

    • tim says:

      Actually not quite correct? I remember an abortion being shown on television – by Channel 4, I think. However, it was all done in the best possible taste – at the 4-week stage, if I remember right – in an attempt to suggest that a great fuss was being made about nothing. Lying by omission.

  16. Please allow me at this juncture in the debate to entice our learned commentators to contribute by way of introducing the concept of the plasticity–relaxation–mutation (PRM) mechanism proposed this year by A L Hughs…
    http://www.nature.com/hdy/journal/v108/n4/full/hdy201197a.html
    This new non-Darwinian mechanism of adaption was discovered and Published in Detail by a Geneticist called Wolf-Ekkehard Lönnig 25 Years Ago!

    • tim says:

      You will need to explain (to me at least) in what sense this mechanism is non-Darwinian. It seems to involve expression of one of two possible phenotypes in a specific environment more adapted to that phenotype, followed by disappearance of the other phenotype due to molecular changes and no selection pressure to maintain it. If that’s right (and it may well not be) how is that broadly conceptually different from the normal Darwinian process where a change in the genome offers a survival advantage which is selected for by the environment? It may well be an extension of Darwin’s scheme, but it hardly undermines it.

      • Tim I would love to explain this process to you and how it undermines the normal Darwinian process but Quentin has requested that we agree that in future that such issues should are not be raised unless they have received reasonable attention in the general scientific press. I don’t like restriction on acedemic freedoms as much as the next man but I am duley respecting his wishes. There is a post further on in the debate Where I explain in full what Quentin has said to me.

  17. John Candido says:

    We will never agree on abortion, I am afraid. One views abortion with disgust, while another views it differently. The topic ‘Foetal Reduction’ covered these issues exhaustively on the 5th January 2012.

    http://secondsightblog.net/2012/01/05/foetal-reduction/

    There is no reason why we can’t have another go at it. It is a difficult and delicate issue where a lot of emotionalism can reign on both sides. If you can get past the Roman Catholic Church’s implacable opposition to any abortion under any circumstances, there might be a small opening to discuss it in rational terms, even if a lot of people on this blog view abortion as thoroughly disgusting. But as Rahner put it so aptly in ‘Foetal Reduction’ on the 6th January 2012 at 7:51 pm,

    ‘Any detailed discussion of abortion involves consideration of the philosophical issues about the moral status of the unborn. However, philosophical arguments for or against a given position are rarely absolutely compelling and so apart from changes to time limits etc. I suspect that in a secular culture people will just have to agree to disagree on this issue. Of course, theological based arguments against abortion are unlikely to have much impact in a secular culture.’

    It is not my intention to upset anybody, but I am for legal and regulated medical abortions, where they can only be performed by qualified doctors in authorised clinics and hospitals, after a woman has been clinically assessed as able to undergo the procedure.

  18. Vincent says:

    John, you have put your position very straightforwardly, so I will be equally straightforward. I take it that you would agree that from conception to death we are speaking about one, continuous, human life. That human life, although dependent on its mother, is a different individual with a different genome from its mother.
    I also take it that, at some point, you accept that those with human life have human rights — including a right to life.
    So I must conclude that before a certain date, or before the development of a certain faculty, that right to life does not exist. Would you identify this point, and explain how it relates to the right to life.

    • John Candido says:

      ‘…at some point, you accept that those with human life have human rights — including a right to life. So I must conclude that before a certain date, or before the development of a certain faculty, that right to life does not exist. Would you identify this point, and explain how it relates to the right to life.’ Vincent.

      This is a very interesting and pertinent question. If I may paraphrase one of my answers in ‘Foetal Reduction’. Commenting as a non-lawyer, the human foetus has legal rights as represented by a number of specific legal cases surrounding issues in criminal or civil law. A foetus cannot be considered an inanimate object, but a living thing with legal rights. Its situation vis-à-vis the mother is legally paradoxical, because in our society the mother can abort her foetus in a regulated, legal, clinical abortion. Within the regulated timeframe, a mother has a higher legal right over the life of her foetus.

      A human foetus is not a fully sentient post-partum (born) human being, and I am reasonably confident that this is a medical and legal fact. A human foetus is a complex collection of living cells in a transient state of development. And that is all it is until it is born and immediately has the full set of human rights as everyone else. An abortion cannot be conducted on a living, post-partum baby, as that would clearly be an appalling murder.

      According to the Australian Concise Oxford Dictionary (Fifth Edition), ‘sentience’ is a noun meaning, ‘having the power of perception by the senses’. This is where I am going to be on shaky legal grounds due to a lack of legal research and legal training. Without doing the prerequisite legal research, I will stick my neck out and say that, it is a reasonable observation that various Parliamentary and Judicial Inquiries, of several democratic nation-states, in and outside the Commonwealth, have drawn the line regarding when a foetus is capable of feeling, or possessing sentience.

      Rahner mentioned in ‘Foetal Reduction’ that sentience is thought to be achieved by a foetus in ten days after conception. I will assume that a similar timeframe generally exists for proper scientific research on the foetus. Speaking personally as a progressive Catholic, the Catholic window for an abortion would, by necessity, be smaller than for a nonbeliever. My guess is that the criterion of where an abortion would cease to be viable for a Catholic would be the foetus’s development of sentience at ten days. After ten days when the foetus would have developed sentience, it would be morally problematical for a Catholic to procure an abortion.

      • Vincent says:

        Thank you, John. I notice that you have moved from a general position of accepting abortion subject to certain medical safeguards to allowing it only up to 10 days. You seem to have a problem here. A woman conceives at ovulation, approximately 15 days before her next period is due. She will not know that she may be pregnant for some 2 – 3 weeks. How would she get a medically supervised abortion within 10 days?

      • tim says:

        John, I’m much encouraged by your idea that a Catholic should not procure abortions after 10 days from conception. This brings the difference of opinion between us from the nine months that I’d assumed it to be to 10 days. And I can’t challenge your claim that a foetus is unborn. Apart from that, however, I’m not sure that your biology is much better than Aquinas’s. I haven’t checked back, but I very much doubt that Rahner said that a foetus (or embryo, as it is more properly called – ‘pre-embryo’ if you want to do experiments on it) has anything that reasonably could be called sentience at 10 days from conception. At about 14 days the embryo acquires a ‘primitive streak’ – and at that stage you can be reasonably sure that it’s not going to split and form twins. But for sentience you need an at least partially developed nervous system (surely?) and that doesn’t develop until later.

      • John Candido says:

        Oh dear! Back to the drawing board!

  19. I have had an email from Quentin which I include below for readers attention…

    “Dear Stefangillies

    I have somewhat reluctantly left your latest comment on the blog, although it is obscure and of little interest to anyone who is not a specialist in the field. So that you do not think that I am making up ground rules post factum let us agree that in future that such issues should not be raised unless they have received reasonable attention in the general scientific press. Scientific American and New Scientist will certainly have picked up any reputable scientific work with significance for the mainstream theories of evolution.
    But, although there will be exceptions, the invitation to contribute is generally for comments on the existing formal posts – not for raising new subjects. If you wish to do that you will need to start your own blog. Get in touch with WordPress, and they will show you how.”

    If you click on my name you will find my wordpress blog which I use as a dumping ground for articles I find of interest relevant to the Faith seeking understanding through science even if it isn’t in the realms of the general scientific press as of yet.
    I beleive all my comments have been relevant to the original post but in good faith I will refrain from further debate on this blog given the restrictions imposed.

    Fun while it lasted,
    God Bless and goodbye.

    Stefan Gillies.

  20. Mike Horsnall says:

    Disgust ! Disgust! Disgust!

    Just thought I would mention the subject again. Disgust is very interesting and I’m not sure if we have, amid all the other learned cutting, pasting and referencing…really defined what it is. It seems to me that we have refined ‘disgust’ which is little more than a prejudice. Then we have something more visceral -ie a stomach turning kind of thing-then yet again there is the disgust which is akin to deep revulsion and nausea and is a very deep reflex of some sort or another. It sounds to me like John Candido’s example was a mixture of the first two-or perhaps he was feeling a bit tired and sensitive and so let his undisciplined feelings get the better of him. I do not think the phenomena of disgust should be an excuse for action or lack of it or for a belief. That is not to say I have never been held a little in thrall to ‘disgust’ over social issues-but I do think we can at some level choose to ‘decouple’ this particular reaction which would indicate.

  21. Mike Horsnall says:

    Oh dear,
    I just read Stefans valedictory comment, thats a shame as he talked quite good sense I thought.

  22. John Nolan says:

    Disgust is a word which in Jane Austen’s day merely meant distaste, but now is supposed to signify extreme aversion or loathing, and is so overused given the modern vernacular tendency to overstatement that it can revert to its original meaning, as when someone uses it in connection with brussels sprouts. When I use it I mean slightly more than distaste, but am aware that I am being subjective. Rummaging around in decomposing corpses would certainly make me throw up, but to a forensic pathologist it is all part of the day’s work.

  23. John Candido says:

    I will be responding to Vincent shortly. As an aside, there is an excellent article that many readers of SecondSight might be interested in, in The Age on the 11th September 2012, called ‘The Vatican’s very own Revolution’, by The Age’s religious affairs reporter, Barney Zwartz. Next month will be the 50th anniversary of Vatican II and Zwartz’s article is a useful summary of how the council was initiated, the curia’s reaction to it, the world’s Bishops responses, and the aftermath of the council. It is a balanced article which examines the culture war between conservatives and progressives. Opinions are also garnered from both sides. It also contains two very good photos of Pope John XIII. I warmly recommend the article.

    http://www.theage.com.au/world/the-vaticans-very-own-revolution-20120910-25ob3.html

    • John Nolan says:

      There has already been a lot of ink spilled over V2 and we can expect more in the weeks to come. Whether or not it was revolutionary (progressives and extreme conservatives unite in believing it was) it certainly ushered in a revolution, and we know from history that revolutions are better at destroying existing structures than erecting effective and credible alternatives. The nearest historical parallel (and it is uncannily close) to John XXIII’s summoning of the Council is Louis XVI’s fateful decision to summon the Estates-General in 1789. A true appraisal of the Council will only be possible when all those directly connected with it have left the scene, which will be the 70th anniversary, not the 50th. That’s my opinion, for what it’s worth.

      • tim says:

        So (another parallel), as Zhou Enlai was thought to have said when asked whether the French Revolution was a good thing or not “It’s too early to say!” (pity to spoil a good story, but it seems his comment, made in the early 70’s, was intended to be about the student demonstrations in ’68).

  24. John Candido says:

    In ‘Dealing with Dad’, I had the idea that future medical, nursing, sociological, and pastoral research, would eventually win the argument over secularists, by eliminating entirely or limiting the suffering of the dying with new drugs and other treatments, in more effective palliative sedation and/or pain management. It has got me thinking if something similar in terms of future scientific research could apply to solve or ameliorate the abortion issue. The solution to this problem is potentially not as intellectually realisable or resolvable in my mind as euthanasia, because it would possibly involve a more futuristic setting many years down the track. Some of you will think that I have finally gone mad, but here goes anyway.

    If I may be given a large licence to use some imagination and creativity; in a future scenario where contraception was approved by the church and the teaching on sexuality were more contemporary, the number of unwanted pregnancies would possibly be fewer in number than contemporary figures.

    Given this state of affairs, what if future scientific and technological prowess were to find some way of preserving the lives of foetuses by some as of yet unknown technique of suspension, rather than ending their lives through an abortion? Would this help to stop or limit the use of medical abortions in future? When childless couples seek a child or when infertile couples, who might have had children in the past, seek a child for their future families, could such a child come from preserved foetuses who have been implanted in a woman or their gestation restarted by some other artificial means?

    Of course this is massive speculation on my part that could lead nowhere. This idea can throw up a lot of problems. What if there are more suspended foetuses than couples who are willing and able to be parents to them? What if this was a continuing and possibly accelerating trend? Will governments commit to this idea and keep funding it?

    What is in my favour is that lots of problems of all kinds are either ameliorated or solved through people speculating, thinking, making, trying, testing, imagining, and creating. Even if people did all of this there is no guarantee that any solution would appear that would be acceptable to the majority of people in future on abortion.

  25. tim says:

    Rahner (to go back a bit) “I should have thought that casting doubts on conventional explanations was an essential part of the development of scientific knowledge…….”. Indeed. But in themselves a few doubts in one particular area won’t upset a theory widely established over a whole field. If you can provide a new theory which explains all the old facts, and the anomalies as well, that’s different.

    • Rahner says:

      My point is that Darwinian theory – which I take to include molecular biology, is in its infancy and so we should be cautious in assuming that it is/can be a fully comprehensive explanatory theory. But I accept that it might be the “final” theory of life/anthropology.
      But it also seems to me to be entirely legitimate to criticise a given theory even though there is no current replacement theory. And these criticisms may be from an empirical viewpoint or from a more philosophical viewpoint. For example, must Darwinian theory be a physicalist theory? If so, how does it deal with the problems with the physicalist approach raised in the philosophy of mind by Tom Nagel and many other philosophers.
      By the way, if there are “established” Darwinian explanations of the origin of life, consciousness and higher human culture perhaps you could provide appropriate references…..

      • Mike Horsnall says:

        Hear Hear!!

        I cannot see why we kow tow to what appears to be such an absolutist theory. I follow the evolution thing quite closely and cannot see why even the very questioning of it is generally recieved with sneers. I thought the earlier attempt by stefanGillies was very good:

        “…Indeed all of the non-creationist opposition to the modern theory of evolution comes from molecular biologists!
        History teaches us with Galileo Galilei, amoungst others, that just because there is a consensus it doesn’t mean it is correct especially when that consensus is propogated via the vested interests of philosophical materialism…”

      • tim says:

        Rahner, I don’t think we broadly disagree (despite my best efforts!). The proper scope of Darwinian theory is to explain the origin of species – including the human species. I can’t see that it is within the scope of the theory to explain the origin of life – consciousness I’m not sure about – human culture I’m sure there are explanations of, but whether they are ‘established’ or ‘Just-So Stories’ I don’t know. I’m inclined to regard molecular biology as a separate discipline, but of course the two need to be consistent (and – I believe – generally are).

        I think in the light of your comment I may need to back-pedal a bit. It must always be legitimate to criticise a theory, and particularly on the basis of inconsistent facts. But in criticisms of a theory as well established as Darwinian evolution, a few inconsistent facts do not lead to immediate abandonment of the theory. In the end, the point is quite a narrow one. stephangillies objected to Quentin’s remark “that homo sapiens is, as regards his biological aspects, the outcome of evolution from earlier forms is no longer seriously disputed.” and produced a number of authorities and facts to challenge this. Did these amount to a credible reason to abandon the conventional evolutionary explanation? In my view not, but others may disagree.

  26. John Candido says:

    Mike Horsnall,
    I am not a scientist, but throwing your hat in the air and celebrating is out of place. The theory of evolution as far as humanity can ascertain our origins, is the truth. You will not find literal, chronological scientific truths in Genesis chapter one, or in the other creation account in Genesis. Both the old and new testaments are not scientific papers but very old religious texts, which we called inspired by God. The other thing that most people are not aware of is the use of ‘theory’. It might be called the ‘theory of evolution’, but it is a common misunderstanding that most non-scientists make in surmising that it is a literal theory. It is not a theory in the sense that it is tentative knowledge. It is the most verified and prodigiously tested hypothesis, which has come through with shinning colours. It is real knowledge not theory. Without knowing what is to occur in future, as each year goes by, I am extremely confident that it will be confirmed, reinforced, re-established, supported, and reauthorised again and again.

    • mike Horsnall says:

      la la la la , sorry John we disagree, I’ve done my best with the science. Though not a scientist I do have a fair grasp of a few issues and once did a course in philosophy of science during my first degree. Your faith is touching but it is just that.

      • mike Horsnall says:

        Oh -by the way John, I wasnt thinking about the testaments at all. I’m not a ‘creationist’ anymore than an ‘evolutionist’ You really need to understand that it is possible to hold a position of scepticism towards evolutionary absolutism with perfect integrity, without even being religious.

      • John Candido says:

        If you are not a creationist or an evolutionist, what do you believe is the story of our begining?

  27. Iona says:

    Darwinian evolution combined with Mendelian inheritance certainly doesn’t tell the whole story. The whole story is much more complex, as I discovered when I read a book called “Virolution” demonstrating that much of our DNA – not only ours – consists of viral DNA which having infected us then went on to embed itself in our DNA thus ensuring its own indefinite survival as we pass it on to our offspring. The type of virus involved comes under the general heading of retrovirus, of which HIV is one example.

  28. Mike Horsnall says:

    John Candido,
    I do not honestly know -and neither do you.

  29. John Candido says:

    Mike Horsnall,

    You are certainly entitled to be uncertain, but I can speak for myself, thank you anyway. My position would, by necessity, be similar to Horace’s at 12:24 am, on the 10th September 2012.

    ‘I personally believe that the earth is a round ball which exists in space travelling in an orbit around the sun and spinning on its axis with one rotation every 24 hrs. My own personal knowledge of the scientific basis of this belief is surprisingly limited and confined to the observation of a ship slowly sinking below the horizon as it sails away from where I am standing on the shore.’

    ‘When confronted with the belief of the Flat Earth Society called Zetetic Astronomy, [which holds that the earth is a flat disk centred at the North Pole and bounded along its southern edge by a wall of ice, with the sun, moon, planets, and stars only a few hundred miles above the surface of the earth] I have some difficulty in producing effective counter arguments.’

    ‘Nevertheless I am prepared to accept the opinion of the majority of people that I know and the majority of explanations that I read.’

    ‘My opinion about evolution is very similar; most reasonable people today consider evolution as the best current scientific explanation of how humanity was created and I am happy to agree.’

    In any case, if you or anyone else knows better, then it would be incumbent on you to place your hypothesis against evolution, and have it objectively assessed by scientists who specialise in evolutionary theory. If it is determined to be a far better explanation by those qualified to make such an assessment, then you will have succeeded in revising or replacing the existing hypothesis or theory of evolution, with your own hypothesis. If not, then the theory of evolution succeeds again.

    • Mike Horsnall says:

      I say again John, you do not honestly know-what do they put in the water down there?

      • John Nolan says:

        Mike, you must surely know by now that if the Pope donned a white lab coat and called himself a scientist John Candido would have no problems in accepting Church teachings.

      • John Candido says:

        It is really surprising how many people on SecondSight have a pejorative view of science and technology. Could it have anything to do with the Church’s problems in accepting stem cell research, recombinant DNA, or genetic engineering, have anything to do with this sad state of affairs? Both biomedical technologies will feature prominently in curing or better managing lots of specific human diseases in future. Some that come to mind are Alzheimer’s, dementia, motor neurone disease, other progressive degenerative neurological diseases, diabetes, paraplegia and quadriplegia, stroke, heart disease, etc. etc. I cannot for the life of me understand why anybody would be against progress. What! Progress! Is ‘progress’ like ‘science’, to be another pejorative notion to be guarded against?

      • John Candido says:

        Its called common-sense.

  30. Iona says:

    I may recognise it as “the best current scientific explanation”, while still considering that it is far from complete or adequate. Nor does this constrain me to put forward an alternative hypothesis, – merely to note that there are things which can’t be accounted for purely by evolutionary theory.

  31. Skeptic Griggsy says:

    Google covenant morality for humanity to see how ti’s consequences for sentient beings,depending on moral disgust, makes for morality.Disgust for bi- and homosexuality cannot gainsay that they are moral but disgust for theft is moral. The former depends on people having the right to so engage and nothing bad has to ensue; those who have disgust on that are just bigoted. In ” Forbidden Fruit,” Dr. Paul Kurtz notes that theists find disgust as others do but relate the disgust to God’s commandments as I remember.

    • Quentin says:

      it may be the interesting article by Jonathan D Haidt at http://www.happinesshypothesis.com/haidt.spiritual-information.pdf which Skeptic Griggsy has in mind (everyone’s Google produces a different order of items). Looks well worth reading.

      • Skeptic Griggsy says:

        Thanks!
        We ever have to refine our moral sense. from tribalism to a planetary ethic. Empathy should help guide us. Reason has to be aligned with emotion- no, to Mr. Spock!
        And no to Ayn Rand! Covenant morality means that we are all endure life together,not as hermits.
        Covenant morality depends on consequences, so that those who take it to task, also use consequentialism to an extent! And when forged with the categorical imperative, it binds us be nice to each other as the Platinum Rule suggests. It reflects wide-reflective subjectivism whereby one has ones considered judments to override mere tastes and whims. One would make her judgments with reason and facts.That makes for objective morality. And covenant morality is just that in so far as all can see the consequences as one can in science and like science, it is debatable, and schools of thought develop and tentative so that we can refine our moral sense. That reflection depends on two objective matters: equality and equity and universality,applying to all as the imperative notes.
        I had tried to show that a humanist morality was just fine and objective but in reading John Beversluis’ ” C.S.Leiws and the Search for Rational Religion,” I found his account of what I call wide-reflective subjectivism compelling, what he calls the kind of Hobbes and Hume. He also notes that despite Lewis, in the right hands, such as Lord Russell’s, even simple subjectivism could be moral.
        The paradox is then that subjectivism and objective morality can entertwine! Or, should one opt for one of the pair, one can still lead a moral life!
        In brief, it’s ecletic.
        David Brink enters.
        This covenant is just a framework.

  32. Skeptic Griggsy says:

    C.S. Lewis

  33. Iona says:

    That certainly is an interesting article by Jonathan Haidt. But doesn’t seem to take into account the fact that many people actually seek after sights or stories that disgust (gather around accidents or disasters, for example, to say nothing of internet pornography).

    • Vincent says:

      Iona, you make an interesting point. I think pornography has a special status. That is, it disgusts in the cold light of day, but may not do so in the presence of sexual arousal. This would seem to be similar to our ability not to be disgusted by our own sexual actions, but to be disgusted when our imaginations touch on the sexual activities of those we know, and particularly family members close enough to come within the ‘incest’ circle. What do you think?

    • Singalong says:

      Iona, I wonder if the propensity of many small children to seek after and revel in bodily functions, squelchy mud, slimey creatures, etc., could be related. Maybe it is a question of maturity, and an example of their need to be taught and protected during development without destroying their natural curiosity. The question of sensational accidents and disasters might be more related to empathy with the victims, and relief that it has not happened to the onlooker.

  34. Iona says:

    Singalong – small children – I think it’s boys more than girls! Or maybe it’s just that girls learn social responses, including disgust, at an earlier age than boys do.
    I don’t know about “empathy with the victims”. I do know it’s quite a nuisance for the emergency services, who sometimes refer to the gathering crowds as “vultures”.

  35. tim says:

    John C (September 18, 2012 at 3:08 am), why do you say the Church has difficulty in accepting recombinant DNA? What did you have in mind here? I take your point that the Church is against human embryonic stem cell technology (I say, rightly) but recombinant DNA? Please clarify!

  36. Skeptic Griggsy says:

    So many adults revel in talking about excretory functions! I find that disgusting. I find profanity silly and superstitious, as though cursing could change matters. Yes, a study does indeed show that cursing very loud can redue pain. So what? Yell shazam,shazam!

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