a bonobo humanity?

‘Rise above yourself and grasp the world’ Archimedes – attribution

Posts Tagged ‘transcendence

bonobos and humans – immanence and transcendence?

leave a comment »

the struggle against scumbaggery

Canto: So, having heard recently that Indonesia is passing laws to criminalise sex outside of marriage, and that Uganda is passing laws to criminalise anyone who identifies as homosexual, I’m feeling a touch of despair about the future bonobo society with human characteristics that I intended to impose upon the globe in the next few weeks.

Jacinta: Well it’s interesting to note that Indonesia is a predominantly Moslem country, and Uganda is overwhelmingly Christian, but there’s no doubt that religious ideology is behind both of these developments. 

Canto: Yes, the WEIRD world, which neither of these countries belong to, is becoming increasingly secular, so much so that S should be fitted into the acronym – a world of WEIRDS, perhaps? So I suppose I should limit my ambition to the WEIRDS of the world. But that not’s what I want to talk about today, though it is related, sort of. Remember Ferdinand Mount’s The subversive family, an attempt to argue that the family unit, and so monogamy, has always been the norm, and has managed to subvert all attempts to replace or diminish it? I’ve been thinking a bit about this lately, and wondering about the unknown history of Homo sapiens and their antecedents, and their socio-sexual relations and child-rearing, given that our closest living relatives, bonobos and chimps, are quite different from each other in these traits. 

Jacinta: Yes, and neither of them are monogamous. It’s interesting, but hardly surprising, that we’re inordinately interested in the human side of the divide between us and the so-called HC-LCA (the Human-Chimpanzee Last Common Ancestor), but not so much in the chimp-bonobo side. 

Canto: Well of course, and even with that inordinate interest we’re very far from working out our human ancestry going back any more than two million years or so, let alone their socio-sexual arrangements. Anyway we’re not as monogamous as we pretend to be, and no amount of government regulation, or religious devotion, is going to change that. 

Jacinta: But it’s interesting that we hold to a monogamous child-rearing ideal, and I’m wondering if that’s always been the case, or how long it has been, or whether there’s a worthwhile alternative, as arguably suggested by our bonobo heroines.

Canto: Well I know that single parent families are on the rise in Australia, and no doubt throughout the WEIRDS world, and any stigma associated with this is waning, but I’m not sure that this is exactly a movement in the direction of human bonoboism. It seems to me that the key to bonobos’ attraction is a kind of multiple-parenting system – not so compartmentalised. Sharing the love.

Jacinta: Bonobo and chimp dads likely don’t know for sure who their kids are – I just can’t imagine that being okay for humans any time soon, or even longer than soon.

Canto: Good point, though it’d be great if we could nurture and delight in kids just for being kids, rather than our kids. And I can well imagine that being the case when we lived together in caves rather than wee domestic units. It takes me back to the kibbutzim idea that I learned about as a teenager, after years of feeling trapped in my parents’ loveless marriage. Communal parenting…

Jacinta: But without the socialism? Or the Jewishness for that matter…

Canto: Well most kibbutzim today are secular, and they’re still very much with us – well not exactly with us, as they’re on the other side of the world, but I’m not sure about the socialism. Is bonobo society socialist?

Jacinta: Well, that’s the thing. Kibbutzim are, I presume, rules-based, top-down forms of communal living, whereas bonobo society just happened, a relaxed, happy-seeming culture, with females bonding and looking out for each other and their offspring in a way that the males, over time, acceded to. Nothing forced or regulated about it. I’m done, frankly, with labels like socialism and capitalism. I mean, we’re the most socially constructed mammalian species on the planet, the key to our success if you like, and you can call that socialism I suppose. And we’re more thoroughly capitalist than any other species, capitalising on a massive number of other living resources to survive and thrive, not just through pure consumption but domestication and other manipulative practices. 

Canto: Well said. But I still have a soft spot for the kibbutz idea, without Yom Kippur or Christmas, a thoroughly sciencey, sexy, smiley celebration of smart, sassy, sisterly communal living…

Jacinta: Not quite the bonobo world though, is it? Sounds more like dropping out. The original kibbutzim were based on land, and agriculture. And what would the bonobo world be without its forest lands and their simple resources? The world of WEIRDS wants so much more, a kind of eternal transcendence. To be more, to have more, to make more, to do more, to live more, as if it’s more satisfying to never be satisfied. 

Canto: Hmmm. Thought-provoking, but I just wanted to focus on monogamy and child-rearing, and now you’ve given me a headache. I’m wondering though – because it niggles at the back of my mind, if the bonobo world would really work for us. Our success, if you want to call it that, is due to our endless ambition – caused presumably by those big brains of ours. To paraphrase Marx, those big brains have made us want to not just understand the world, but to change it. And boy have we ever fucking changed it. 

Jacinta: Yeah, just ask those aurochs and quaggas and moas and dodos and passenger pigeons… oh but – we can’t.

Canto: Not to mention the millions of humans we slaughtered in wars, worked to death in mines and factories, and fucked to death for our entertainment, but then again, what a piece of work is a man, in apprehension how like a god! But a woman – maybe a woman is more than just a quintessence of dust. And if she is, maybe that little soupçon is just what humanity needs to flavour its thinking about the biosphere and its endless exploitation. 

Jacinta: Yes well, don’t put all the responsibility onto us mate. And yet – we need plenty of adventurous spirit as well as a sense of ‘nobody left behind’ to navigate ourselves out of self-created disasters such as global warming, toxic work environments (both physical and mental), and species depletion. And I’m not saying this from some simplistic perspective of male traits admixed with female ones. 

Canto: No because we’re already getting mixed up, in a good way. The WEIRDS are taking over the world – have taken over the world…

Jacinta: Yes, China is so western now, and so democratic…

Canto: Well, that’s actually half true. The term ‘western’ is surely the weakest link in the WEIRDS chain. I mean China’s difficult to analyse with its vast population, which means tons of poverty as well as tons of richesse. It has urbanised very rapidly, yet its rural and mostly poor population is still greater than the entire population of most countries. But if you take the rapidly educating and enriching and industrialising urban elites, you’ve got a pretty strong candidate for something equivalent to WEIRDness. 

Jacinta: And then of course there’s the urban poor. But you’re right, the term ‘western’ has never made a lot of sense to me. EIRDS perhaps? 

Canto: Not the most cromulent of acronyms. RIDES is at least a word, but… I think we’re stuck with WEIRD/S for the foreseeable. Anyway, I think we need to unshackle ourselves from patriarchal religion – I know the WEIRD world largely has, but I’m impatient. Doing so I think will enable more women to be part of the solutions to the problems we face, and the problems other species face because of us. 

Jacinta: China and Japan are pretty secular these days, but how many female leaders have they had in the last century or so? 

Canto: Yes it’s taking its time – China has now achieved female literacy and education levels that are pretty well equivalent to those of males, but perhaps education isn’t entirely equivalent to empowerment.

Jacinta: Under Xi’s dictatorship female empowerment has clearly gone backwards. Hopefully he’ll be dead soon, but he’s probably already trying to ensure another macho thug succeeds him. Women have absolutely zero power in today’s China. As for Japan, they were ranked 110th in the world for gender equality in 2019, and the sexism there is really stark, in spite of 70% of women being in the workforce. You’ll remember our semi-serious piece about bonobos not wearing stupid shoes, meaning stilettos? There was a ruckus just a few years ago (2019) about that fucked-up footwear, which went semi-viral worldwide, as reported in The Guardian: 

Meanwhile, even something as apparently straightforward as being allowed to wear whatever shoes you like continues to prove tricky. In response to the #KuToo petition [the hash-tag puns on ‘shoes’ and ‘pain’], Japan’s minister of labour, Takumi Nemoto, told parliament that requiring high heels in the workplace was perfectly acceptable – sparking further outrage at the government of Shinzo Abe, whose “Womenomics” policy is supposedly attempting to bring more women into the workforce.

Canto: Presumably Mr Nemoto wasn’t wearing high heels when he said this, so WTF. 

Jacinta: At least there was blowback, but not nearly enough. Sigh, the arc of progress is long, but it bends towards beating sense into blokey blokes, ou quelque chose comme ça. 

Canto: Transcendence may not be imminent, but it’s eminently desirable, for the benefit and beautification of our immanent being…


Ferdinand Mount, The subversive family, 1982



Gaia Vince, Adventures in the Anthropocene, 2014

Gaia Vince, Transcendence, 2019

Click to access shsconf_sschd2023_02001.pdf



a bonobo world 33: they don’t wear stillettos

Written by stewart henderson

June 13, 2023 at 5:03 pm

how to debate William Lane Craig, or not – part two, in which LFS begins to warm to the topic

leave a comment »

the most convenient term in the language

the most convenient term in the language

So here we have, in toto, Luigi Funesti-Sordido’s response to the challenge thrown down by William Lane Craig. It will be rather lengthy, so I’ve broken it up into parts in the hope of making the whole more easily digestible. I’m hoping too, to present the video of LFS’s response in the near future, but at the moment it’s tied up in a beautiful red ribbon of legal and contractual wrangling and other such wishful thinking. We shall see.

Luigi Funesti-Sordido: Well g’day ladies and gents and others, believers and unbelievers, agnostics and sceptics, the notionally curious and the curiously indifferent. Dr Craig has urged upon me a particular and onerous task, to refute his eight arguments for the existence of his pet monotheistic being, within the next twenty minutes. That’s about one refutation every two minutes or so, which considering that he didn’t click me an email about what exactly he was going to say, seems a bit rich. But, as the bishop said to the actress, I’m sure I can rise to the occasion. However, I’ve got some news for you. Forget the time limit, I’ll take as much time as I damn-well please, and you will all sit down and shut up, and take your medicine. The point being that putting forward a few points for the existence of Dr Craig’s weird little being doesn’t take long, while pointing out all the weaknesses or unlikelihoods of the arguments can take quite a while – even just to untangle what it is that Dr Craig’s on about. That’s not to say that it’ll take hours to demolish each of Dr Craig’s points, because some can be dealt with much more quickly than others, but I certainly don’t intend to make this a rushed job, for the simple reason that I want it to be comprehensive and as final as it can be. You will note, by the way, that the doors to this auditorium are locked from the outside, and there is no escape. You will note also that if you try to rise from your chairs, you will receive an electric shock, mild at first but gaining in strength as you seek to widen the distance between your buttocks or other body parts and the comfortable upholstery provided for your viewing and listening pleasure. I wish no-one any harm so if you have any heart problems I’d strongly advise you to keep still and keep comfortable, and above all, don’t panic.

So, to the issues. I want first to make some general comments. Of Dr Craig’s eight arguments, five of them involve what appears to be up to date knowledge about the world, in terms of physics, cosmology, mathematics and the field of consciousness. This suggests that Dr Craig is a thoroughly modern and with-it, forward thinking philosopher. However, nothing could be further from the case. Anybody who has observed Dr Craig’s activities over the past several years, would, I think, be right to form the judgement that this is a man obsessed. In fact, I would go further and say, fanatically obsessed. It seems to me that Dr Craig’s sole purpose, his life’s work, his raison d’etre, is to pedal and promote his particular, peculiar and parochial brand of monotheism. Everything else he talks about, whether it be mathematics or morality, cosmology or consciousness, everything has to be bent and shaped and shoe-horned to fit with this peculiar, fanatical obsession. It follows from this, that nothing Dr Craig has to say about these various fields of activity and inquiry can be trusted. If you ask any expert in any of these fields how best to make a contribution, one thing you’re always likely to be told is to rid yourself, as far as you can, of preconceived notions. Keep an open mind. The two principals that drive science, to my mind, are curiosity and scepticism. Is that really the case? And what is the case? Does that argument really stack up? Can we find a better argument to fit the facts? Wow, here’s some new data, we’re going to have to rethink our basic assumptions, isn’t that exciting.

But these principles do not drive Dr Craig. He already knows the answers, all that remains for him is to convince the rest of the world. Students out there, be very wary of such individuals. Dr Craig doesn’t have the intellectual ingredients to make a good scientist. For a start, he doesn’t have a sceptical bone in his body. Imagine if Dr Craig’s dream came true, imagine if every debater capitulated before his watertight arguments, and not only that, after every debate, the whole audience ‘saw the light’ and converted in their thousands, and eventually millions, to his peculiar deity, with its father-part and its son-part and god knows what else? Where would science go then? What would happen to open and relentless questioning? I ask you to ponder that.

Dr Craig does seem to do well in these debates, and a lot of people try to put their finger on the reasons. They say he’s an ‘expert debater’ and that’s partly true, but I think the principal reason is his lack of scepticism, his absolute certainty about his position. This gives his talks something of a steamroller effect, a relentlessness which sceptics, accustomed to dealing with other sceptics, find difficult to handle. There’s also the fact of Dr Craig’s single-minded obsessionalism. This is his one and only topic, whereas his opponents – writers, academic philosophers and scientists in the main, have a much greater variety of interests and don’t, in general, spend a great deal of time thinking about their atheism.

The situation in this respect reminds me of that in Christine Garwood’s fascinating book ‘Flat Earth’. At the height of the Flat Earth belief in the nineteenth century, lecture halls in the US were regularly filled with people from all levels of society who had come to be discombobulated and entertained by the likes of flat-earth proponent ‘Prof’ Joe Holden, holding forth on the imbecilities of ‘global earth theory’, and using the language and theorems of mathematics, physics and astronomy to prove his point. In Britain at the same time, the notorious Parallax, another flat-earther, was challenging prominent scientists, including the Astronomer Royal, to debates on the matter. Another flat-earther of the time challenged no less a scientist than Alfred Russell Wallace to a test of the flat earth view against the global earth view, and according to a great many observers, actually won the contest. Of course, this is a footnote to history now, and I think the real test of Dr Craig’s position will also be how he is seen by posterity. For the fact is that Christianity is in retreat, in some places more rapidly than in others, but certainly in every western country on the planet. And this can hardly be attributed to ignorance.

Now to the first argument, and fortunately I have the gift of perfect recall, so I remember every detail of it. The best explanation of why something exists, rather than nothing, is a supernatural being. But what is a supernatural being? Not being bound by any rules of evidence, it could of course be anything you like. However, a lot of work done by anthropologists and psychologists into the supernatural beings worshipped and loved and feared and placated throughout the many cultures in the world and throughout history, and there have been many thousands of these beings, has found a number of traits in common. In particular, supernatural beings tend to be rather obsessed with us. In fact it almost seems to be that their very purpose is to protect us or punish us. This is clearly the case with Dr Craig’s god, and that should be seen as a big red flag.

To return to Dr Craig’s argument, he asks ‘What is the explanation of the universe?’ Take note of that question. It’s not ‘What is the cause of the universe?’ There’s quite a sizeable difference between those two questions, and I’ll come back to that. If you asked a bunch  of cosmologists ‘What caused the universe?’ they might say- and I can only speculate of course – ‘you mean what caused the big bang’ and then they might, perhaps, find some consensus in saying, ‘well nothing caused the big bang, because causes always exist in time before their effects and time actually began with the big bang, so it makes no sense to speak of an antecedent cause, and if you think that’s a satisfying answer to us, you’re wrong, but that’s the best we can do, for now.’ Probably though, I’m underestimating these cosmologists, who would likely come out with something much more sophisticated-sounding. What none of them would say, I’m quite sure, is that the cause must be ‘a transcendent reality, beyond the material universe, whose existence is metaphysically necessary,’ which is what Dr Craig says. This reminds me of what Daniel Dennett says about Dr Craig, that he is able, with absolute equanimity, to pass from the most mundane to the most preposterous assertions in a heartbeat. So what is a transcendent reality, and why should it be metaphysically necessary? I think it’s an artifact of Dr Craig’s imagination, and it’s metaphysically necessary because that’s what Dr Craig desperately wants it to be.

Now let me return to the difference between ’cause’ and ‘explanation’, a word Dr Craig is fond of using. He says at the outset that his ‘god’, a metaphysically necessary transcendent being, is the best explanation of the universe’s existence, and he uses the analogy of the explanation for a ball found by the roadside. Now, the difference between an explanation and a cause seems to me to be that an explanation already assumes the existence of an agent, an ‘explainer’. Somebody, in this case maybe the owner of the ball, who can tell the story of how the ball came to be there. So, Dr Craig, argues, because the whole universe is just as much of a contingent object as a ball, it, too, must have a cosmic owner who can explain its being there. (This is of course why Dr Craig chose as his example a ball, and not, say, a large rock). Only, according to Dr Craig,  whereas the ball’s owner/explainer is a contingent entity, like the ball itself, the universe’s owner/explainer must be a ‘transcendent, metaphysically necessary entity.’ To which one might be inclined to say ‘What the…? Where did that idea come from?’ Were I one of those blunt Aussie types, I might be tempted to reply ‘from out of the good doctor’s capacious arsehole’, but being much more civilized I should say that it reminds me of the old cartoon with the equations on the blackboard and the line ‘here a miracle happens’. I think Dr Craig needs to be a great deal more specific in that area.

In short, using the word ‘explanation’ to conjure up a transcendent, necessary explainer is nothing more than a semantic cheat. But I’m not finished with argument one yet. Let’s look more carefully at the argument form he presents:

1. Every contingent thing has an explanation of its existence.

2. If the universe has an explanation of its existence, that explanation is a transcendent, personal being.

3. The universe is a contingent thing.

4 Therefore the universe has an explanation of its existence (from 1,3).

5. Therefore the explanation of the universe is a transcendent, personal being (from 2,4).

Now, this is a version of the age-old cosmological argument, which goes back at least as far as Aristotle, and which can be described in the briefest and most mocking terms as, something can’t come from nothing, therefore god. Arguments on both sides have been heaped up over the centuries, by Aquinas, by Leibniz, by Hume, by Kant, and by innumerable modern  philosophers, and it’s unlikely any headway will ever be made, because it’s entirely speculative, or theological, and non-evidence based. The version of it presented here seems particularly weak and tenuous, because there just seems to be an almighty leap from the need for an explanation, supposing such a need is real, and the claim about a transcendent, personal being. In other words, the major problem lies in the conditional claim (2). I don’t find it at all reasonable, or even comprehensible to me, that the universe can be explained by a ‘transcendent’, that’s to say, non-material, personal being. Does this mean personal to me? That seems self-serving and egotistical. What else can be meant by personal? Personal to herself? (Let’s call her she – I’m really sick of male gods, please, please no more of them, please). That makes little sense. It seems to me that Dr Craig has thrown in the ‘personal’ term precisely to make the god our own little personal father-figure and protector. And let’s face it, Dr Craig’s god is very male. My response to that is in line with what Albert Einstein said many times. In his view, and in mine, belief in a personal god is simply a form of childishness.

I could say more, but it’s time to move on to argument two.

Written by stewart henderson

March 15, 2013 at 8:40 am