On Sunday’s episode of Philosophy in Action Radio, Greg Perkins and I answered questions on identifying dangerous people, evolution and Objectivism, and more. The podcast of that episode is now available for streaming or downloading.

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Whole Podcast: 4 August 2013

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Podcast Segments: 4 August 2013

You can download or listen to my answers to individual questions from this episode below.


My News of the Week: I’ve been working on adding my old podcasts to Philosophy in Action’s archive. Once that’s done, I’ll be able to post more recent lectures too. Also, I’ve finally resumed work on my forthcoming book, Responsibility & Luck: A Defense of Praise and Blame!

Question 1: Identifying Dangerous People

Question: How can I better identify dangerous or immoral people in my life? I don’t like to be morally judgmental about personality and other optional differences. In fact, I like being friends with a variety of kinds of people: that expands my own horizon. Yet I’ve been prey to some really awful people in my life. Looking back, I’d have to say that I ignored some signs of trouble – dismissing them as mere optional matters, as opposed to moral failures. How can I better differentiate “interesting” and “quirky” from “crazy” and “dangerous” in people I know? How can I see “red flags” more clearly?

My Answer, In Brief: You should want to exclude dangerous and immoral people from your life. To do that, you need to notice these and other red flags about people as soon as possible, then distance yourself accordingly.

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To comment on this question or my answer, visit its comment thread.

Question 2: Evolution and Objectivism

Question: Does evolutionary theory contradict the principles of Objectivism? I am new to atheism and Ayn Rand’s philosophy of Objectivism, and I embrace both wholeheartedly. However, I take issue with the theory of evolution. Atheism seems to imply evolution, but evolution seems to clash with Objectivism. Evolution holds that man is an insignificant piece of the larger, grander picture of the randomness that is life, that man is just one small insignificant step in the collective evolution of the earth, and that man is one with Mother Earth, not superior to it. In contrast, Objectivism holds that man has a purpose and that man is the most significant being, supreme over all other life. Also, Objectivism holds that “A is A” and that “Existence exists.” Evolution, in contrast, claims that life came from non-life, fish came from non-fish, and man came from non-man – meaning that A came from non-A. Am I correct in my criticisms? Might some theory other than evolution be more compatible with Objectivism?

My Answer, In Brief: This question is based on major misunderstandings not only of evolutionary theory, but Objectivism too. Evolutionary theory is proven scientific theory that doesn’t conflict with Objectivist principles in the slightest.

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To comment on this question or my answer, visit its comment thread.

Rapid Fire Questions


  • I’ve heard and read tidbits about countless of failed socialists communes, have there also been actual attempts (seasteaders are still in planning phase) by people on our side of the fence?
  • Do you have any thoughts on the movie, “Atlas Shrugged Part II”?
  • Can a person induce you to answer a question sooner by any non-financial means?

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  • Start Time: 1:02:41
  • Duration: 6:44
  • Download: MP3 Segment

To comment on these questions or my answers, visit its comment thread.


Be sure to check out the topics scheduled for upcoming episodes! Don’t forget to submit and vote on questions for future episodes too!

  • Start Time: 1:09:25

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  • James

    Please forgive me for posting before I listen to the podcast, but as a paleontologist I take issue with the way that evolution is presented in the question. Not that I blame the questioner–this view is all too often held among my colleagues.

    Evolution demonstrates that man is not unique in terms of origins and some aspects of development–we arose through a blind combination of organic and inorganic processes known as evolutionary history, the same as every other species, and are subject to selection pressures of various types, the same as every other species. However, it’s also true, in an equally trivial way (at least as it relates to Objectivism), that the theory of evolution demands that humanity be unique from all other species; ALL species are unique from all other species, after all. The idea that we are but an insignificant speck on one insignificant branch of the tree of life is also a complete mischaracterization, as ALL species are merely one twig along that branch.

    Where humans differ significantly from other organisms, in terms of evolutionary theory, is our impact. Humans have had a profound impact on the biosphere. Look up “habitat fragmentation” sometime to see one of many ecological concerns not being discussed–and look up Peter Ward’s book “Future Evolution” for a series of arguments, put forward by a legitimate scientist (I was introduced to his works via reading a paper of his on amonite biostratigraphy of the Sacramento Valley), in favor of the idea that humans are not destructive to the biosphere. We are creating a new ecological paradigm–something few other organisms can claim (cyanobacteria and grass are the other two that spring to mind), and none of those did so consciously the way humans do.

    Yes, we are a part of the biosphere. That’s an unavoidable consequence of the theory of evolution. Contrary to what the mystics and the environmentalists will tell you, we are every bit as natural as a squirrel or a a beaver. That in no way, however, demands that we not actively participate. Evolution proves that we can’t NOT impact the biosphere, and understanding evolution will allow us to impact it in ways that are beneficial to us–in the same way that Maxwell’s equations allowed us to impact the electromagnetic spectrum in ways that are beneficial to us.

    As for “A is A”, that is nowhere violated in the theory of evolution. The ability to change is an inherent part of organisms–adaptability is a major issue in paleontological research on evolutionary history, and is one reason sexual reproduction is such a successful strategy (it has evolved numerous times in quite different lineages). The organisms evolve according to their nature and the nature of the selection pressures acting upon them. In this sense, evolution no more violates “A is A” than making a chair out of a tree does. In a very real sense evolution violates “A is A” in precisely the same way metabolism does (metabolism breaks down molecules and builds new ones, using A to make non-A).

    Abiogenesis, the scientific field concerned with studying how life arose on this planet (and, as a consequence, how it could arise elsewhere), is a bit trickier, but only because the data are so much more difficult to understand. In broad strokes, however, the theories state that organic molecules (defined in chemistry as certain chemicals containing carbon, whether or not they arose via living beings; it’s a cultural thing from the 19th century, not a chemical issue) arranged themselves into forms that became life as we know it. They began to perform the necessary chemical reactions, formed the necessary components (not as hard as you think–a bi-lipid layer always forms a bubble in water), etc. This is akin to going into a car parts store and building an engine. The devil, of course, is in the details–but the processes proposed for abiogenesis, as I understand them (and I will gladly bow to anyone who knows more; it’s been a while since I’ve looked that far back in time), simply involve taking components and arranging them so that life can arise. The definition of when that happened is extremely fuzzy, and that fuzzyness is part of why the we’re having so much trouble defining a theory of abiogenesis. The other, as an aside, is that we don’t have enough data to know which process actually happened–several are viable in Hadean Earth conditions, but there’s no evidence yet as to which pathway was actually followed.

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