Q. for Atheists: Why do organisms desire to reproduce?


#1

A basic building block of evolution is the struggle among organisms to produce the greatest number of offspring. But why do organisms want to reproduce or even maintain their life? What possile benefit do they recieve? Wouldn’t it be easier to die with no descendants and for species to go extinct than to continue struggling to survive?

A Theist would say that God wants them to survive and leave offspring, so He gave them these desires. But from an Atheistic perspective, where did these desires originate? It can not be the result of evolution, because evolution presupposes the desire to reproduce. Although evolution could maintain these desires from organism to organism, I can’t see how it could create them. What biological process can give a non-living unit a desire to reproduce and survive?


#2

The anwer to this is so obvious, and yet similarly, it is also so off-topic to the debate over God’s involvement in evolution. Evolution doesn’t purely involve survival of the fittest (as is the common misconception), but it involves survival of those with the most reproductive success. So in order for a species to continue on and survive, it not only has to be adapted to its habit long enough to reproduce, but there would have to be some sort of factor encouraging them to reproduce.

Otherwise, yes you are right, without any pleasurable, hormonal, or chemical incentive to reproduce, a species probably wouldn’t go through the trouble!

Likewise, all the animals that didn’t have some sort of incentive to mate – no matter how strong physically they were – would be extinct by today. Or in other words, the only way all the animals alive today could be alive today would be if if their species had the genetic desire to mate. This desire in turn is ingrained in their genes, and its existence in no way proves or disproves God’s existence as you would like to think. It is simply what is there.

How it came to be within our genes is the ***real question.***, and it’s there where secular evolutionists and theistic evolutionists (like myself) pitch their battles. :wink:


#3

But pleasurable, hormonal, and chemical incentitives can only apply to life. How could a non-living unit have or gain an incentive at all?

Likewise, all the animals that didn’t have some sort of incentive to mate – no matter how strong physically they were – would be extinct by today. Or in other words, the only way all the animals alive today could be alive today would be if if their species had the genetic desire to mate. This desire in turn is ingrained in their genes, and its existence in no way proves or disproves God’s existence as you would like to think. It is simply what is there.

How it came to be within our genes is the ***real question.***, and it’s there where secular evolutionists and theistic evolutionists (like myself) pitch their battles. :wink:

But if there is no known scientific explanation for how it could have originated, how much scientific sense does it make to believe in an unknown process?

The main argument is how the first cell gained its desire to survive and reproduce. If you assume that the first cell had this desire, then all of life after it could recieve the desire in their genes.

BTW I am a theistic evolutionist as well.


#4

In the OP he says “organisms” implying living organisms. I think you are jumping ahead of the question and getting into abiogenesis.


#5

You don’t need an incentive to reproduce. Cells don’t have incentives, they reproduce just fine. Chemical reactions can reprodue without incentives as well.


#6

“Desire” implies consciousness on the part of the organism. I wouldn’t use that word.

One doesn’t have to posit a divine creator to understand that organisms evolved such an instinctual imperative through natural selection. Afterall, can you imagine a world populated by organisms lacking an instinctual imperative to survive and reproduce? What are the logical consequences of such a situation?

Life as we know it fights for survival because the life that didn’t no longer exists.


#7

Yeah, in my Biology 101 class they showed us this breed of fish where there are 2 types of males. One didn’t really have that great a survival rate, but 80% of it’s energy was exerted on mating. The other male used 20% it’s energy on mating, so it was bigger, faster, healthier…but had fewer offspring.

The general populations idea of “survival of the fittest” is the stronger, faster, smarter survive. But in biology “fittness” is about an organism’s ability to pass on it’s genetic information.

Webster Dictionary On-line :

Fitness -
1 : the quality or state of being fit
2 : the capacity of an organism to survive and transmit its genotype to reproductive offspring as compared to competing organisms;

We generally thing def. #1, biologists use def. #2.

A desire to reproduce (assuming they are capable of acting on that desire) would be highly influential in an organism’s fittness. It’s not just about survival, it’s about using that extra time alive to make more kids. :smiley:


#8

I apologize for using confusing language in my posts. I was assuming that these behaviors would naturally be traced to their origin, but I should have phrased it more clearly.

I know that living organisms have a desire to reproduce, and that this has been passed down throughout evolution. This is not my argument, it being how these expressed genes originated.

Allow me to clarify my argument. In a pre-natural selection situation, how did protocells gain the necessary genes for reproduction and self-preservation? Since nothing is selecting for the genes, did the protocells gain both genes by chance? How did organized genes for something that did not yet exist exist themselves? There may be a scientific explanation, but I am not aware of one. If there is no current explanation, then it would seem to me to be a push in the direction of, if not conclusively, theism.


#9

Yeah, that one’s much harder. Most of the bio, professors I’ve asked use the whole “with billions of stars in billions of galaxies the statistics say it’s bound to happen”.

But predicting these things isn’t as easy as people say. I head a story of some scientists trying to test the monkeys writing Shakespear idea. They put a dozen monkeys in a room for a week. They constantly had to fix keyboards, and in the end they didn’t get a single word even an “A, an, or it”. Instead they got a bunch of unrine soked keyboards…:shrug:
Maybe these projections are more shots in the dark that they would have us think.


#10

If I were an atheist I’d say organisms reproduce in order to propogate their genes. If you were an atheist and accepted the current theory of evolution, including at the molecular level, the ‘engine’ of evolution is gene mutation and selection. In the natural environment reproduction along with death at the level of the individual and the species determines how many members of a certain population survive and reproduce a new generation. Over enough time, the populations of organisms with the best adaption to their environment and its constraints are the most successful, biologically speaking.

Darwin grasped this in his idea, though he didn’t properly understand the underlying mechanism, which is the gene. Genes are quite flexible as they are complex molecules, and so can undergo a lot of changes in structure, and also there are trillions of possible different combinations for genes. But, my area of expertise is not biology, so an educated biologist could explain it better.

If we are talking about the teological purpose of an organism, the ‘why’ of its existence, we could explain an organism and its parts in terms of ‘function and form’ or we could try to understand its place in the overall system of nature. Scientific anatomy (zoology) studies the former, along with paleontology (studying how present organisms have come from fossils in the past) while scientific ecology studies how organisms interact in systems. At a philosophical level, we could ask with the ultimate purpose of life may be in the cosmos.


#11

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