Having babies and caring for children. Does it really make any sense?
If you'll notice, this post is in the Evolution forum. There's a good reason for that, which I will get to, but first I need to make a disclaimer. I've run off most of the people who think that having children is the purpose of life, and that people who decide not to are missing out on the essence of being. This post isn't about that sort of thing at all. I'm not worried about how you feel about whether or not people ought to be having babies in a particular situation.
With that out of the way, I want to ask a rather simple question that might turn out to be a lot more difficult than it seems:
Why should we care about having children, and having had them, why should we care about their lives?
I'll tackle the first part of the question first. It's patently obvious to us that we care about having children because that means we pass on our genes and we get to have a family, but that's missing the point. Why should that be important? There are lots of reasons people give for why it's important for humans to have babies:
* Because otherwise humanity would die off. (So what? We'll be dead, and won't witness it.)
* Because it gives us a sense of community. (Again, not necessary. Many people don't have children and still have plenty of community.)
* Because otherwise all of the great things humanity has done will go to waste. (What great things have we done? All of them are only relative to our own existence. We certainly haven't done much for the giant sloth.)
* Because we love somebody so much that we want to make babies with them. (This doesn't answer the question. It just restates it. Why do we want to make babies with someone we love?)
* Because of survival instinct. (Again... WHY? Why do we have survival instincts for children that aren't born yet? Why should we care about any future existence?)
* (The tour de force) Because it's sad not to have kids. (Duh.. WHY is it sad not to have kids?)
Again, before you accuse me of getting onto the childless bandwagon, that's not what I'm doing. I'm trying to demonstrate that most of the reasons we have for making babies are easily seen as circular reasoning when we break out of the supposedly self-evident nature of them. That's just what I want to get at. Having children is NOT self-evidently a good thing to do:
* It is very expensive (I mean generically, in resources. This applies to all animals.)
* It is physically taxing
* It is extremely time consuming
* It can be a severe hindrance in resource gathering, particularly in the most crucial days shortly after birth.
[EDIT: I thought of a rather crucial element to this. For all the negative side effects of reproducing, there aren't really any material gains to the parent. Only losses. What gains there are -- social standing, respectability, sense of community, emotional gratification -- are the results of what we can call artificial subsidizing. That is, outside of human society, these benefits do not exist. We can look at them as circular in the same way we look at the arguments. We reward parenthood in human society, but why?]
I'm using the language of evolution in an attempt to shock you out of thinking of us as "people" and instead considering us as one of the animals. Even so, you can see how these points translate into more colloquial language.
Now, to the second part of the question. Why should we care about our children after having birthed them? Again, we appeal to many things, but they are all circular. If we say we care because it's the right thing to do, we beg the question of why it's the right thing to do! If we cite human compassion, we must ask why we have human compassion. There are many animals who do not care about their young. They just set them free in the world and let them take their chances. In fact, there are many animals whose young need to get out of the house as quickly as possible to avoid becoming dinner.
Caring for children is not self evident.
This is where evolution comes in, and where theism fails utterly. It's very simple to explain why altruism arose in nature, particularly when we accept the model of the selfish gene. However, it will be a good mental exercise to reduce this to bullet points and start from the beginning.
* Genes replicate.
* The cause of genes' replication is nothing more than the laws of physics. There is no "purpose."
* Natural selection favors genes that replicate very well.
* Natural selection promotes diversity
From here, we learn a few basic truths. There's nothing magical about wanting to have children. Evolution makes us want children because this is a very effective way to get humans to reproduce. We are more consciously aware of our desires than most animals, but that makes them no less innate, and no less a product of genes being naturally selected. I make this point to try to change your perspective. We don't want to have children because of a desire for the human species to continue. We desire the human species to continue because we're effective gene survival machines. There's nothing supremely moral about it because morals are nothing more than the instincts we have been programmed with by those very same genes that want us to think the way we do about morality!
In the same way, when we think about why we care for our children, it's not ultimately because we're moral creatures. Morality is an effect, not a cause. Let me say that again, for emphasis. Morality is an effect. It is not the ultimate cause. Gene expression is the cause.
It may sound callous to say that we care for our children because our genes program us that way, but is it really so awful? Does the realization of this truth change the desires that we have? Of course not. We still feel just as much compassion towards children as we ever did, but now we don't have to answer with circular reasoning. Evolution gives us the answer that theism never could.
Q: Why do we want to have babies?
A: Because god told us to be fruitful and multiply.
A: Because he wanted us to be fruitful and multiply.
A: Because it's good to be fruitful and multiply.
A: Because god made it that way.
Q: Why do we want to have babies?
A: Because we are successful gene survival machine.
Q: Why do genes want us to be successful gene survival machines?
A: Genes don't want anything. They are products of the laws of nature, just like us.
Q: So is it good to want to have babies?
A: Who knows? Why don't you decide that for yourself?