On 24-26 March 1983 the Science and Religion Forum in Britain returned to Durham where it had been officially and publicly initiated in 1975. Its theme on that previous occasion, whose proceedings were also reported in Zygon (Vol. 11, No.4) was The Problem of Consciousness and involved much discussion of the biological dimension to that problem. Eight years later the rapidly developing biological sciences, with their increasing impact on received religious and ethical ideas, again provided the Forums theme, The Ethical Challenge of Contemporary Biology. There was a deliberate ambiguity in this title, comprising, as it did, a reference both to biologys interpretation of human ethical behavior and its origins and also to the ethical problems generated by the application to human beings of new biological knowledge and techniques. The former was the principle emphasis of the meeting, which did come to earth again at the end with a stimulating paper by john Walker of the Department of Community Medicine at the University of Newcastle. His paper was concerned with the painful decisions that have to be made in administering finite medical resources at a time when possible medical treatments and techniques are expanding so rapidly in number and cost. We hope very much that that paper will find publication elsewhere.
Sociobiology is the scientific study of why organisms sometimes associate with other organisms. This paper surveys recent research on the reasons for altruism and aggression. It also considers the contributions an individuals genes and its environment make to its behavior, and it reviews functional theories for the evolution of cannibalism, polygamy, homosexuality, and infanticide in humans and other animals. Finally mention is made of the limited and generally negative attitude of sociobiology to religion.
Michael J. Reiss has a Ph.D. in biology and can be reached at Hills Road Sixth Form College, Cambridge CB2 2PE England. He is grateful to Mark Avery, Jenny Chapman, Herbert Reiss, and John Robertson for their helpful comments on the manuscript and to Jenny Chapman for her typing of the manuscript.
Sociobiologists make large claims for their subject. Knowing about the genetic underpinnings of human society will, they claim, enable us to understand all of human behavior and even to solve the ancient philosophical questions of how we ought to live. This essay assesses the significance of sociobiology for ethics. It argues that sociobiologists have misunderstood the relevance of facts to values and that their larger ambitions for their subject are bound to remain unfulfilled. Nevertheless, philosophers are wrong to ignore sociobiology. To give a genetic account of the existence of a widely held value does not justify that value, but it does say something of relevance to the ethical issues. The problem is to work out just what difference such an explanation makes.
Peter Singer is professor of philosophy and director of the Centre for Human Bioethics, Monash University, Melbourne, Australia 3168.
Singer, Sociobiology, and Values: Pure Reason Versus Empirical Reason by William A. Rottschaefer and David L. Martinsen
E. O. Wilson argues that we must use scientifically based reason to solve the values dilemma created by the loss of a transcendent foundation for values. Peter Singer allows that sociobiology can help us understand the evolutionary origin of ethics, but denies the claim that sociobiology or any science can furnish us with ultimate ethical principles. We argue that Singers critique of Wilsons attempt to bridge the gap between fact and value using empirical reason is unconvincing and that Singers own ethical principle of disinterestedness requires major support from empirical reason and is not sustainable by pure reason alone.
William A. Rottschaefer is associate professor of philosophy, Lewis and Clark College, Portland, Oregon 97219. David L. Martinsen is associate professor of biology, Lewis and Clark College.
Sociobiology and Its Theological Implications by Arthur Peacocke
The broad character of the arguments used by sociobiologists is assessed, particularly in relation to criticisms coming from anthropology. The implications of sociobiology for theology are developed with respect to the general impact of evolutionary ideas, the reductionist assumptions of sociobiologists, whether or not survival can be a value, and more holistic accounts of the physical and biological grounding of the mental and spiritual lives of human beings.
Arthur Peacocke is dean of Clare College, Cambridge CB2 1TL, England, and from January 1985, director of the Ian Ramsey Centre, Saint Cross College, Oxford.
Sociobiology, Ethics, and Theology by Philip Hefner
The topic of sociobiology and ethics opens up a range of questions that have to do with important relationships: between the history of nature and human being, between biological evolution and psychosocial evolution, between is and ought, between language usages in one domain and another. The task of ethics is properly to discern what sociobiology has to tell us about the fundamentals of life and persuasively to direct our actions in accord with those fundamentals, in a manner that is consistent with our essential humanity. From the theological perspective all of this transpires within the creative will of God.
Philip Hefner is professor of systematic theology at the Lutheran School of Theology at Chicago, 1100 East 55th Street, Chicago, Illinois 60615.
A Christian Perspective on the Biological Scene by Peter Baelz
The interaction of scientific, ethical, and theological concerns raises several distinct but related problems of continuity and discontinuity. The theologians task is to articulate a unifying vision of God and the world. He must do justice to the discontinuities which exist between the sociobiological and the ethical points of view, but he cannot accept them as ultimate. Within his own discipline he is already confronted with analogous problems of continuity and discontinuity, for example, between creation and redemption. Concepts associated with love, such as freedom, risk, and patience, may prove more persuasive and coherent than concepts associated with omnipotence.
Peter Baelz is Dean of Durham Cathedral, Durham DH1 3EQ, England.
Genes, Mind and Culture by John Maddox, Edward O. Wilson, Anthony Quinton, John Turner, and John Bowker