“Evolution” Doesn’t Get You To Human Morality

Over the weekend, I represented my university – BIOLA – at the Unbelievable Conference in London. It was so great to promote their MA programs in Christian Apologetics and Science and Religion to attendees.

One chap spoke to me at the stand, and confessed that he was wrestling with the moral argument for God. I pointed out that these arguments didn’t get you all the way to Christianity…tho they do point to a form of ethical monotheism.

I asked with his problem was. He explained that, he feels evolutionary arguments seem sufficient to justify moral behaviour. So where does that leave God? After all, surely moral actions are ones that preserve the species. And those species who are NOT moral, won’t survive. So species that survive…are moral species.

First – if we are just physical beings, then morality is an illusion. There is no right and wrong, we just have physical brain compositions that may differ from other people…but that’s okay. He responded, “That’s not what I’m saying.” But – I think it is. As soon as you allow for an evolutionary type of explanation for human beings, you cut God out of the picture right away. Evolution is about chance and necessity, it is an unguided process. And not even God can guide an unguided process – that idea makes no logical sense to me.

Second – you can’t really get a hard ought from evolution. When people express moral statements, they do so with force. A moral “ought” isn’t just someone’s opinion. They state it as a demand, not a suggestion. He disagreed with me that evolutionary arguments don’t account for this. But – to my thinking – you need a Moral Law, not a social convention or accepted behaviour, to account for this ought. You also need a personal source to this Moral Law before whom we feel guilty when we inevitably break the law and justify ourselves for doing so.

He wasn’t convinced.

But there are two more problems here.

Three – why is it right for a species to survive? Why is this morally preferable over death? If the fittest must survive, this suggest an element of competition between individuals. Rabid self-interest. What does it benefit me for the species to survive? Perhaps my survival is tied to the species’ survival? Yes – but why is it morally preferable for my people to survive and not die out?

Four – evolution only gets you to survival. It’s doesn’t get you to truth. Alvin Plantiga pointed this out.[1] Caveman A may think the way to hug a tiger is to run away from that tiger. Caveman B may think you need to wrap ones arms around the tiger to hug it. Caveman B dies pretty quickly, and makes a great meal for the tiger. Caveman A survives by running away. But – even though he survives – this does not mean his beliefs are true. In fact, his belief was false, but he survived anyway.

The point here is – moral oughts are understood to be important and true statements. But evolutionary justifications are inadequate to justify true statements. They don’t require something to be true…just to be promoting of survival (even if they are false).

 

My conclusion is that evolution doesn’t do a good job of justifying morality.

[1] Alvin Plantiga, Warrant and Proper Function, (Oxford University Press).

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I live in the UK, I'm married to Janet and I'm passionate about proposing a case for the historic Christian faith. You can find me on Twitter at @stuhgray.

5 thoughts on ““Evolution” Doesn’t Get You To Human Morality”

  1. Religion doesn’t get one to the truth. We can see that by Christians being unable to convince each other that their version is the one right way to know what this god is, what it wants and how to be “saved”.

    Evolutionary theory has no problem with getting to morality. We are a social species and it is beneficial for us to work together so humans invent morals that make it easier for us to work together. As for any objective morality, there is none. I am quite happy to have a subjective morality that isn’t that of ignorant xenophobic agrarians from the eastern Mediterranean. Human morality has gotten a lot better than inventing a god that approves of slavery, genocide, treating some people like property and demanding that those who don’t believe in it should be killed.

    I’ve had many Christians say that it is okay for God to do anything since by definition it is “good”. But as soon as you say that it’s okay for God to murder a child for the actiosn of its parents, and then say it is not okay for a human being to do so, then all you have is a morality based on what something is, not the objective “rightness” of an action. Most Christians in my experience have nothing more than a morality that is based on might equals right e.g. God can do whatever he wants because it is powerful/the creator.

    1. I see.

      Okay – if there is no objective reality, I am fully justified in rejecting all of your moral requirements and outrage. They simply are irrelevant to me, I’m afraid. Your statements are just equivalent to (as C S Lewis said) a vomit or a yawn.

      1. You can reject whatever you want. That’s nothing new for a Christian when something is inconvenient. So, how many people have you killed for working on a sabbath? Are Catholics, Mormons, Evangelicals, Jehovah’s Witnesses, Protestants all Christian?

        And ah, C.S. Lewis, the Christian who wanted other Christians to lie to prospective Christians so they won’t know about the vast differences between sects. I guess CS didn’t remember that this god doesn’t like lies or liars.

  2. I’m rejecting your outraged words on the basis of your stated subjective reality. Excuse me if I enjoy your situation as I do so (!) If, however, you think there IS an objective moral standard we can all appeal to…that makes your outrage words actually mean something…then that’s a very different situation. Isn’t it?

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