What is Philosophy of Biology? | Episode 1806 | Closer To Truth

What is Philosophy of Biology? | Episode 1806 | Closer To Truth

Why did I do my doctorate
in neuroscience?
At UCLA at the time,
it was brain research.
Everything we think about
comes from our brains.
If I could comprehend the brain,
I thought,
perhaps I can apprehend
deep reality.
Although I learned
to do science,
and lots about the brain, there
wasn’t much apprehension.
Over the years, I’ve studied
physics to explore the universe
as well as neuroscience
to explore the mind.
But I’ve largely ignored the
foundations of neuroscience,
biology, though biology,
human biology,
was my undergraduate major
at Johns Hopkins.
Biology offers its own set
of big questions.
What’s life?What’s language?
Morality? Wisdom?
What’s race and gender?What’s the origin and
essence of religion?
These seem like
philosophical questions.
That’s why I should explore
a new field of inquiry
called philosophy of biology.What is philosophy of biology?I’m Robert Lawrence Kuhn,
Closer to Truthis my journey to find out.[♪♪♪] [♪♪♪]I’d been planning to attend
a conference at Notre Dame,
The Quest for Consonance:Theology
and the Natural Sciences.
And when I read that
among those attending
were several philosophers of
biology, I had a new priority.
I wanted to meet them.I go to South Bend, Indiana,
where to start,
I seek the British-Canadian
philosopher of science
who pioneered philosophy
of biology as a new field,
Michael Ruse.Michael, my life’s interest
has been in the philosophy of cosmology,
philosophy of mind, and the philosophy of religion. I’ve not really taken
an interest in the philosophy of biology, which has been
one of your specialties. You’ve helped create this field. Tell me what I’m missing. Ha ha! Well, it’s not just
philosophy of biology, is it? It’s philosophy of science, and the simple fact
of the matter is, science and technology have such
a huge role in our world today. And I as a philosopher turn,
shall we say, almost naturally to this. There’s been a long tradition. I mean,
Aristotle was a biologist. Descartes was
a great mathematician. Leibniz, too. So, it’s not that I’m doing
something strange. Of course, biology, by the
1960s, was on that upsurge away from being the poor sister
of the physical sciences, and it was on its way to being
as important as it is today. The DNA model
had come out in ’53. Evolutionary biology was now
moving forward with people like Bill Hamilton writing about kin
selection and ideas like this. So, characterize
the field for me. What is the natural divisions
of philosophy of biology? Well, I think there are
really two big divisions. What one might call
philosophy of biology, and what I’ve heard called
by I think the rather ugly name of bio-philosophy, but I prefer
philosophy of nature. One way of doing
philosophy of biology is you’re a kind
of upper level biologist. You’re a kind of metabiologist. The biologist looks at,
let’s say, a classification. Looks at different organisms
and sees differences and tries to work out
what the differences are, and then relates this
to evolution and so on. The philosopher of biology
would say, what kind of criteria
does the scientist use? Why, for instance, does one
separate out bonobos from humans, and things
that fundamental in your classification
in a way you would not separate out
males from females. I mean, the difference between
men and women are at least as big as the differences
between humans and bonobos, and yet one rather
than the other. So, the philosopher of biology
is asking, I think, important
and intelligent questions. The other way –
I call it philosophy of nature, but that’s a little broader
than biology – is taking the science,
biology in my case, and applying it to philosophy
and saying, what about epistemology? What about ethics? What about some
of these sorts of issues? Can we find insights, let’s say,
in the fact that you, Robert, are a modified monkey,
if I might say so – a very nice one,
but a monkey nevertheless – rather than modified mud? In other words, I’m interested
in saying the fact that we are modified monkeys,
what does this mean for our moral sense
or something like that? In the first category, what are
some of the other questions that would be
in this meta approach other than demarcation
questions, which seem important, but of an older kind of science. The best of all
is evolutionary theory. Why the hell should we accept
a story about dinosaurs and these sorts of things
when we never ever see them? Why is it reasonable to believe
that we are modified monkeys rather than modified mud? So, the deep philosophy of what
are your assumptions and what are
the philosophical– Absolutely. And to what extent
can we explain what we see here in terms of unseen entities. So, as I say, I think a lot
of philosophy of biology is distinctive in being about
biology, but at heart, it’s philosophy of science. How do you then demarcate between the
philosophical fields? The way you’ve defined
your second category of philosophy of biology, you’re
subsuming a lot of other fields that a lot of philosophers
spend their whole lives on. Yes, but the point is, Robert,
you forget I’m a philosopher. I’m a philosopher first. So, you say how do I demarcate? This has been done for me. I mean, you know, I’m part
of a legacy of philosophy. So, issues like
the starry heavens above and the moral law
within us, as Kant said, are demarcated for me. So, this is why I’m so
interested in picking up issues. You mentioned the mind. One of the things I’m
particularly interested in at the moment is to what extent
does evolution throw views on philosophies of mind. William Kingdon Clifford said,
if you’re an evolutionist, you ought to be a panpsychist. Oh, wow. You ought to think that even
the molecules have minds at some level. Now, here’s a good question. This is a philosophical
question. What is the nature of mind? But of course,
you’re bringing biology. Is evolutionary theory
in any sense relevant, as Clifford said? Or is it totally irrelevant, as
for instance Thomas Nagle said inMind and Cosmos.So, you can’t get deeper
or more exciting philosophical questions
than these. [♪♪♪] KUHN:
Michael develops philosophy
of biology as a philosopher,
and he describes two categories
of the new field.
The first is where philosophy
asks meta-questions
about biology, encouraging
clarity and rigorous thinking.
The second is where
biology addresses
philosophical questions,
such as mind, morality,
knowledge, even religion.If this is a philosopher’s
approach to philosophy
of biology, what would be
a biologist’s approach?
I should speak with a
philosopher of biology who is,
first and foremost,
a biological scientist
who starts with the
discoveries of biology
and Darwinian evolution.Attending the Notre Dame
is the distinguished
evolutionary biologist,
Francisco Ayala.Originally a Dominican priest,Francisco is University
Professor of Biological Sciences
and of Philosophy at the
University of California Irvine.
To Francisco, which
issues are fundamental?
Francisco, define for me
the purpose of philosophy of biology, and then
something of the structure of the kinds of questions
that it asks? The process of evolution
in particular has tremendous
philosophical implications, because if we want to understand
what we are as human beings, a fundamental component
has to be that we originated by a gradual process,
and that our ancestors of a few million years ago
were not human. And in fact, our own species
came out only very recently, perhaps as recently as 100,000
years ago in tropical Africa, from there, colonized
the rest of the world. So, what is a human being? In order to understand
what is a human being, a philosophical question, you
need to understand our origin. You have to understand
many other things, because the process of
evolution has implications with respect to what we are
not only in the general way, but in explaining the details. I mean, think, for example,
of the transmission of signals that go from our senses
to our mind. I mean, we know that the
experiences that we have when we touch something
or when we see something, it does this– get incorporated
from our senses to our nerves and go to the brain. And it’s in the brain where
we have these experiences we call qualia. These individual sensations. But how chemical
and electrical signals, mostly chemical signals,
become transformed in color, shapes, and the like? It’s a philosophical question. And more for the
mental question yet is how out of all these
experiences emerges the mind, the person, what we have as
a unitary view of ourselves and something that exists in us. How does that emerge? Well, that’s a very fundamental,
philosophical question. But we have to incorporate
the biological knowledge and integrate it into
our philosophical view of how the mind works. So, there are other kinds
of questions that a philosophy of biology
would ask? The questions of morality
of ethics, because understanding
what we are biologically and how we have common origins, and the very little diversity
between different populations of the world, so-called
races or ethnic groups, obviously has social
implications, it has ethical implications. You know, we see ourselves
as being very different, those of us who are
so-called Caucasians from, say, people
from Central Africa or people from Japan and China. But if you were to take
the whole genetic variation of the whole human population,
which has a lot, eighty-five percent of that
whole variation of the world can be found
in a little village. Then when you look at different
towns on the same continent, you have six percent more. And you have only
nine percent more when you look at
the whole world. Well, if so much of that
variation is local, why is it that we see
that we are very different? It is because the adaptations
which we have observed which have to do with skin color
and configuration of the hair, configuration of the body
have a lot to do with the colonization
of the world. You know,
our ancestors in Africa were definitely people
with very dark skin. You need that
when you live in a place where there is a lot of sun, because the sun causes
various forms of cancers, melanomas and the like. As these people colonized,
say, the temperate zones and eventually places like
Scandinavia and Alaska and the like, people with
lighter skin were favored by natural selection,
because they needed the sun. There is much less sun,
much less exposure to the ultraviolet light
of the sun, which we need to synthesize
vitamin D. Vitamin D is synthesized in
the deeper layers of the skin, and is done through the action
of ultraviolet light. A person with very dark skin
living in Scandinavia cannot do very well, because
you cannot synthesize vitamin D. So, that is a deep
philosophical conclusion that comes from biology, because it really shows the
commonality of human beings, even though superficially we see
things that look very different, that much all of the differences
are much deeper in the things that we don’t see. Yeah. That’s correct. I think that these differences
are very superficial. They are real, but in fact
very little of what we are. And in the majority of the
processes that are controlled by genes,
all humans are identical. [♪♪♪] KUHN:
Francisco focuses on evolution
and its explanatory powers,
addressing diverse questionsincluding the genetic
commonality of the human family
and the physical workings
of the human mind.
He alludes as well to
the biological basis of morality
and ethics, but morality and
ethics are traits of the mind,
different from the pure
physicality of human genetics
and sensory perception.What’s an evolutionary accountof how morality and ethics
came about?
[indistinct conversation]I speak with the organizer
of The Quest for Consonance
Celia Deane-Drummond.
With doctorates in science,
plant physiology, and theology,
Celia’s Director of Notre Dame’s
Center for Theology, Science,
and Human Flourishing.Celia, what are the kinds
of questions that would be under a philosophy of biology that are unique and original
kinds of questions that can be asked,
and particularly looking at it from your
theological perspective? I think one of the most
interesting questions is the evolution of wisdom. Where does it come from? I’ve thought about this question
for must be 10 or 15 years. I was trying to find some
evolutionary biologists and those maybe
working with other animals to look at that question with me
to try and sort of discover, are there any sort of traces
in other animals early in the evolutionary history
that might look something like wisdom,
which I define or understand as being that very complex
relationships between things and how to understand
what that ability to have those social kind
of relationships might mean. So, not simply
love relationships, but relationships as such. So, it’s really fundamental
to understanding how a community works. So, we were trying to find, if
you like, a baseline definition of wisdom that would work
both theologically but also work for
evolutionary anthropologists. In Aquinas, for example, there are two different kinds
of wisdom. There’s wisdom proper,
which is about the relationship of everything with everything
else, including God, and that’s the virtue of wisdom. But there’s also
practical wisdom, which is the particular skill
you need to deliberate, judge, and act. So, both of those elements
were likely to be important in the evolution of wisdom. So, one of the first tasks we
did was to try and not look at the archeological record
of early hominins just as a collection of bones,
but try and imagine that internal world as well as
their external world. In other words, what was
going on when they started making beads
to go around their necks? What was going on when they
dabbed red ochre on their faces and other parts of their body,
and maybe shells and so on. Something was changing in their
minds in a way that was about their ability to form these
very different relationships. So, we started to map these
different signals, if you like, of something happening
in a cognitive sense that indicated
some sort of complexity. Jeffery Schaff said something
interesting about wisdom. He said that it was the
ability to judge a right between different possible
cultural expressions of a social sphere. So, it was like a sort of meta – a meta ability
and over and above it. When we were trying to
think about how to look at the evolution of wisdom,
we were trying to scale back a little bit from that what
you say as sort of grander metaphysical narratives to
something much more practical. And we found something
really surprising, which is why this research has
proved extremely interesting. That if you go back to way far
back in the evolutionary record to something like 500,000 years
ago, and even beyond that, you find early signals of acts
that hominins did that suggest some sort of
mental complexity, even though the standard
narrative amongst the evolutionary anthropologists
is that we change from anatomically modern humans
to cognitively modern humans all in one go,
around 200,000 years ago, whereas these other signals
were happening much, much earlier than that. And gradually, you get more
and more and more of them building up. So, in order to have this
research project make sense in tracing the history
of wisdom, you can’t have this big break where you have humans on one
end and animals on the other. You have to have a
clean continuum. There’s no step function
break in it which is a traditional teaching
of Christianity. I would say there’s
a continuum, but there’s still
distinctiveness. So, in other words,
when we were looking at this, we were looking at hominins. Now, hominins is the period
after the – the split between,
between humans and, and other primates
happened, 8 million years ago. We’re looking at relatively
recent history, after that branch had split. All the species we’re
looking at were homo species. So I see it as part
of the homo family. What’s more interesting I think
is to see the imago dei say as applying you know
much further back than where we’ve
previously supposed. – It’s not just–
– Image of God… Yes, not just the image of God
is homo sapiens necessarily. Maybe it was
further back than that. But what I see
is like anything else, the evolution of wisdom
happened gradually. So, you don’t suddenly get
this extremely complex capacity, especially the capacity
to relate to the Divine, all at once. What happens is you get these
intimations of that possibility, and then eventually
it clusters together into this more sophisticated
cognitive ability, which I think is the ability
to receive God as it were in Revelation. [♪♪♪] KUHN:
Celia sees wisdom as a marker in
the evolution of human beings,
signifying the emergence
of cognitive powers
and a moral sense.It’s an example of how
philosophy of biology
sifts evidence
and shapes theories.
No sudden jumps in the
progressive development
of wisdom.
It’s a continuum, she says,
but still
there is distinctiveness.
But can the clustering
of cognitive capacities
mean that emerging wisdom
does not refute
traditional religious views
of human origins?
Projecting our contemporary
sense of wisdom
into the phylogenic
or anthropological record
of proto-wisdom is a challenge.How much more so is the
leap from proto-wisdom
to the capacity to receive
God as in Revelation?
One way to try to make
such a move
is to try to extend
our winning explanations
to social, psychological,
and even theological matters.
I meet Louis Caruana, a Jesuit
priest, who is Dean
of the Philosophy Faculty of the
Gregorian University in Rome,
and Professor of Philosophy
at the Vatican Observatory.
Louis, how can the questions
that you address in evolution and Darwinism and Catholic
doctrine, how can those reflect on the importance
of a philosophy of biology? In my studies, I concentrated
mainly on how evolution explanation can be applied
to explain religion itself, and whether such explanations
are plausible or useful and so on. What is an
evolution explanation? Let’s start there. Of course, to have
an evolution explanation, you need to have something
to explain, of course, and then one of the
attributes has to be hereditary, it has to be significant
for survival, and it has to have some kind
of random mutations. If you have that sort of thing and the system
is self-replicating, then you have actually natural
selection in the long run. So, when that kind of mindset,
that philosophy, needs to identify some aspect
of the religious phenomenon which has these characteristics. And there are a number
of suggestions here, and one of them is that
the religious phenomenon is all dependent on some
primordial agency-detecting device that we may have. That means when we see movement,
for instance, we associate the movement
with an agent. We may be hypersensitive
to this, as if we’re assuming that there are agents
when there aren’t. If you consider that
as a unit of explanation, it seems to suggest that in
the long run, groups, let’s say of hominids in the early
evolution of the human species, groups who had that trait
of seeing agency or assuming there is agency,
exaggerating in this kind of assumption, it has a survival
value in the long run, because it’s better to assume
that there may be an agent rather
than when there is one. As you say a false
positive is much better – than a false negative.
– Exactly, that’s the point. And some philosophers
try to suggest that because of this argument
and similar arguments, then religious belief
as we have it today is somewhat undermined. Now, I have doubts about
that kind of conclusion. Even if we accept the cogency
of the kind of explanation, there may be traits that have
an evolutionary origin in this sense or similar senses. I would say it doesn’t
necessarily mean that religion is undermined. Yeah, but I think the point
of philosophy of biology is such that this is
a relevant question. You can argue that religion
is not undermined, somebody else can say
a biologist or atheist is undermined. It’s interesting, but it
becomes a question under – a big question under
the philosophy of biology. That makes sense. Philosophy of biology is
usually philosophy for biology. What we’re talking about here
is what biology uses as its explanation, whether it’s
plausible in other areas. So, that kind of critique of
religion usually says, you see, so, religion has nothing
to do with God. Religion has nothing to do
with the supernatural. It is actually just
a natural phenomenon because it’s explainable
in this way. Now, some religious people
may find that very difficult to accept, because
they want to see religion as a non-natural phenomenon. But I would not have great
problems with that myself. I mean, if religion has
a natural origin, in fact, it’s a positive fact
that we may be discovering. That in fact, being religious is part of our bodily makeup
in a sense. That the evolutionary mechanism
has given us actually some kind of kick start,
if you like, in the direction of discovering
more about God and so on. I wouldn’t like to kind of
squeeze religion on that particular aspect
only, but my main point is that if there are
naturalistic explanations of religiosity of this kind, it shouldn’t be a great worry
for the religious believer. [♪♪♪] KUHN:
Philosophy of biology offers new
ways of thinking about biology.
I see it operating
in five areas:One, using philosophy to
enable progress in biology
as a science,
such as clarifying the nature
of biological evidence,
models, and arguments.
Two, using philosophy to assess
applications of biology, such as
genetic testing, treatment
of animals, astrobiology.
Three, using philosophy
to discern specific
biological puzzles such as
how did altruism evolve,
and how does environment
affect race?
Four, using biology
to address perennial problems
in philosophy, such as
the nature of mind, morality,
and wisdom.Five, using biology to analyze
the nature of religion
and belief systems in general.Although religion
could be classified
as a perennial problem
in philosophy,
I opt for a separate category,because the intersection
of biology and religion
is a deep probe
of the human condition.
Philosophy of biology,
I admit, is new to me.
I’m just getting started
Closer to Truth. [♪♪♪] ANNOUNCER:
For complete interviews
and for further information,
please visit closertotruth.com.[♪♪♪]


  • Madhusudan Jeurkar says:

    Very thought provoking

  • TheFlamingChips says:

    Thank you for these uploads. This is my favourite channel and this has kicked it up a level. Will allow ads to play in full. Thanks.

  • Closer To Truth says:

    What are your thoughts on the philosophy of biology? What ideas stood out as the strongest to you? Let us know in the comments below.

  • No Be says:

    Ayala, a former priest sexually harassing women. Disgusting.

  • Dr.Satish Sharma says:

    Excellent….. thanks 🙏.

  • Al Garnier says:

    Philosopy is usually an exercise in emotional ignorance. It's baseless hypothesis that rarely provides evidence.
    Modified apes are not a philosophy, they are a reality. The history of philosophy has it's rudiments in emotional religious ignorance.
    Artificial intelligence will expand our psyche exponentally. It will answer all the difficut questions without the bottleneck of emotional ignorance.
    Morality is a fundamental for the survival and evolution of biological entities. Cooperation and sharing information is required for "species" consciousness to evolve. Morality is required for social interactions. Basic morality is mutual respect.

  • Bruce Lee says:

    Two of the sharpest snags science has hit so far are quantum mechanics and biology. It seems to me that, in addition to ontological type laws, the mother of nature has some sorts of "administrative" types laws too. "Don't ask don't tell" policy for example. One of the major characteristics of western science I've found is called self-confidence, i.e., even nature doesn't tell, we still desire to keep asking. Unfortunately, self-confidence itself may be nothing to do with rational, or rationalized emotions, rather it is pretty much an emotionalized rationality.

  • Jerzy Muszyński says:

    This is an exceptional piece of content, thank you from the bottom of my heart <3 Greetings from Poland!

  • GhostlyXShots says:

    Please for the love of god, CHANGE the intro/outro music. IT'S EAR BLEEDINGLY BAD.

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