Naturalistic evolution teaches that our sense of morality evolved
Imagine I gave you a pill that made you feel morally obligated to give me money… Kinda random but hear me out. After the pill wore off, what would you think of your moral conviction to give me money? Would you regret it? Question it? Probably both.
That’s what moral conviction is if we’re simply evolved creatures. Why? How is that so?
Naturalistic evolution teaches that our sense of morality evolved
Naturalistic evolution teaches that our sense of morality evolved. That is, our “moral genes” just happened to make us better suited for survival, and thus those with a moral characteristic passed on their “moral genes.” And so, we have morality. But, so the thought goes, just as the Neanderthals died out, morality could have died out. Or certainly, a different form of morality could have won out.
In fact, Charles Darwin says in The Descent of Man that if things had gone differently for humans they could have evolved to be like bees, where “females would, like the worker-bees, think it a sacred duty to kill their brothers, and mothers would strive to kill their fertile daughters.” The atheist Michael Ruse in his book, Taking Darwin Seriously: A Naturalistic Approach to Philosophy, says, “Morality is a collective illusion foisted upon us by our genes.”
So, if we’re simply evolved from monkeys, morality is the equivalent of taking a pill that makes us think certain moral convictions are right. But the reality would be different. We, based on this view, only have those convictions—whatever they are: treat people nice, don’t murder and maim, etc.—because we happed to evolve that way (“took the pill”).
Of course, just because the way that you arrived at a conclusion was wrong, does not mean that your conclusion was wrong. In a test where the answer is A, B, C, or D, I could just choose “C” because it’s my favorite letter. I may be correct in my answer, but I certainly don’t have a solid reason for believing in the validity of my answer. In fact, probability would say my answer is likely wrong.
Another problem with wholesale naturalistic evolution is if we believe it explains everything then it in some ways explains nothing. Gasp. Yeah, that’s not a good thing.
If evolution explains morality, then I’m moral because of evolution which at least in some ways undercuts morality. Some people even say that religious people, like people that believe in Jesus, are religious because they evolved that way. Believing in a higher power brought some type of group identity which led tribes of our ancestors to be more likely to protect each other and thus survive and pass on their genes. And so, religion is the result of random mutational chance.
In fact, you could argue all of our thinking processes are the result of evolution. We’re just matter in motion. We’re all just responding to random whims. From belief in morality to belief in evolution, we’re just evolved to think this way… We can’t do anything about it. It’s programmed into us. It’s the pill we were given…
But if all this is a pill we’re given—what we’ve randomly evolved to think—what should we think?… Isn’t all our thinking just built into us through evolutionary processes?…
Alternatively, Christians believe that humans are created with an innate moral sense.
So, it seems morality is either a fiction with no basis in reality or God created us and explains reality—explains why we have an innate sense that we should treat people nice and not murder and maim.
There are big implications for either view. What is your view? And why?
What explains the contradiction of humanity?
What explains the contradiction of humanity?
What are humans?
What are humans?
Are we mere mammals, slightly more evolved than monkeys? Are we ourselves divine, known or unknowingly gods ourselves? Or are we made to know and reflect the Creator God? Are humans nothing more than evolved hydrogen? The chance outcome of random processes with no significance?
Do humans have spirits that go beyond or are we merely matter in motion? Simply an ocean of cause and effect? Do humans have a choice and a voice or are we just in a cosmic Ping-Pong game?
What explains the nature of humans? What are we and why are we what we are? Why are humans capable of almost unbelievable feats of both good and wickedness? What explains our dignity and degradation?
The philosopher Blaise Pascal lamented, “What sort of freak is man! How novel, how monstrous, how chaotic, how paradoxical, how prodigious! Judge of all things, feeble earthworm, repository of truth, sink of doubt and error, the glory and refuse of the universe!”
Nick Bilton said, in an article about the eccentric and amazing Elon Musk, “when we eventually end up on another planet, humanity is most likely to do there what we’ve done here: destroy whatever wonder we have built. Nowhere is that more on display than with Musk himself. Humans are capable of great things. Every once in a while, a human comes along and propels us forward by leaps and bounds. A human like Musk. But, at the same time, those humans are imperfect, even if we don’t want them to be.”
So, once again, what explains humanity’s propensity and desire for perfection but yet our inevitable and abysmal imperfection? What view of the world or philosophy makes sense of this? What hypothesis explains the conflicting nature of humans?
There seem to be three main options. We’ll look at each. You can decide which view you think makes the most sense.
Are we divine?
One view of the world is that “we are saved not by trusting a transcendent God who reaches down to us in grace but by realizing that God is within us, that we are God. Salvation is not a matter of recognizing our sin; it’s a matter of raising our consciousness until we recognize our inner divinity.”
There are a number of people and sources that say that we ourselves are divine. Shirley MacLaine, for instance, asserts: “You are everything. Everything you want to know is inside you. You are the universe.”
This type of view often posits that there are no ultimate distinctions. When it comes down to it there is no true differentiation. All is one. Everything is divine. You too are divine.
This brings up a few questions.
If we—each and everyone—are divine, why do we all not know of our own divinity? What accounts for our cosmic amnesia? “If, when I was asleep I was a man dreaming I was a butterfly, how do I know when I am awake, I am not a butterfly dreaming that I am a man?” How can one distinguish between fact and fantasy?
Is the tragedy of the human race that we have forgotten that we are divine? Is that what’s wrong with the world?
Also, if distinctions, whatever those distinctions are, are illusions, then how do we know what is real? Further, how can we actually say that there is right and wrong? We can’t. There is then “no basis for human dignity and meaning… No basis for morality. If God is in everything, God is in both good and evil; therefore, there is no final difference between them.” Helping and healing and maiming and murdering would all be the same.
Can we take seriously a view of the world that denies the existence of good and evil? That does not distinguish between death and life, between pain and pleasure? Can we do away with scientific discoveries so easily? Can we sore 35,000 feet in the air while googling arguments in favor of vegetarianism on our iPhone and also say logic has no real bearing on life?
How do we know we are divine? We cannot reason our way to this conclusion because it is beyond reason. Therefore, it would seem clearly unreasonable to hold this view, would it not? There can literally be no reasons or arguments in favor of this position.
I get the appeal of the view of enchantment that we are all gods. I get the appeal of spirituality without the ties of restrained morality or doctrinal commitment. But, are there actually legitimate reasons to believe the view that we are all gods? That question is often not asked.
We also have the question of why humans pivot towards perfection in one area and then revert to a pale and poor reflection of what we could be in other areas. Perhaps it’s because we just randomly mutated into our present form?
Are we evolved?
What can “explain the phenomenon of mind, consciousness, reason and value?” Where did consciousness come from? Do we inherently matter or are we just matter?
There have been countless books arguing for and against the claim that humans are merely evolved matter. Various topics could be considered. It is not the place here to go into the merits of those arguments; although, I encourage you to check out some books on those topics.
Here, instead, I want to ask what follows if we are evolved? What implications does it have for us if there is no enchantment? No beyond? No meaning?
If we’re evolved and we just follow our inner urges because that is what made us fit to survive does it mean there’s any meaning in what we do?
Yuval Noah Harari is a naturalist and popular author. In his book Sapiens he says there is no meaning if we as humans are evolved. “As far as we can tell, from a purely scientific viewpoint, human life has absolutely no meaning. Humans are the outcome of blind evolutionary processes that operate without goal or purpose… Hence any meaning that people ascribe to their lives is just a delusion.”
Is there a basis for morality? Is there a basis for logic? The late William Provine, once historian of science professor at Cornell University, apparently didn’t think so. He said, “no inherent moral or ethical laws exist, nor are there absolute guiding principles for human society. The universe cares nothing for us and we have no ultimate meaning in life.”
If we are merely evolved then that perspective seems correct.
“If there is no God, then any ground for regarding the herd morality evolved by Homo sapiens as objectively true seems to have been removed. Human beings are just accidental by-products of nature that have evolved relatively recently on an infinitesimal speck of dust lost somewhere in a hostile and mindless universe and which are doomed to perish individually and collectively in a relatively short time.”
If we are no more than evolved animals, is all life no more than a match struck in the dark and blown out again?
If we’re not magnificently divine is it right to say we’re merely dirt? What explains the complexity of the human character? Courageous and caring conquers and quivering and cranky cowards? Why the walking talking contradiction called humans? What explains our glory and gloom?
If we’re merely evolved how can we account for the fine-tuning of the universe? For example, why is the earth we inhabit inhabitable? Like Goldilocks’ potage why is it not too hot or too cold but just right to allow for life (also consider gravitation, the nuclear force that binds proton and neutrons, and the electromagnetic force)?
And what about the existence of matter? Where did it come from? Doesn’t it make sense to say that everything that begins to exist has a cause of its existence? And hasn’t it been shown that the universe had a beginning? What is its cause for existence? How did it happen?
Are we created in the image of the Creator?
What explains what seems to be the dual nature of humanity? Humanity is simultaneously great and wretched. What explains this paradox? We all innately sense it, but why is it here?
Christianity teaches that humans have dignity because they are made in the image of God but that they also can be devilish because they are rebellious (humans don’t always live and love according to God’s good design). “Our being made in the image of a personal and good God enables us to affirm objective goodness and reject evil.”
As much as we are great, we bear God’s image. As much as we are wretched, we bear Satan’s. Human greatness split the atom; human wretchedness uses the same to kill millions of people. A great, though wretched, leader, Adolf Hitler, will lead a nation to slaughter millions. A great leader, Winston Churchill, will lead a nation in their defense. Ashok Gadgil, with his intelligence, will fight for cures; others will inject poison.
Humanity is fallen, however. So we cannot neatly divide the line between good and evil. We cannot say all the bad people on the left and all the good people on the right. We’re all mixed together. We are made in God’s image and thus can do fantastic things and fantastic good but we have been marred by the Fall and often reflect Satan so we can also do acts of unbelievable wickedness.
Thus, sin is not good because it wreaks havoc on our greatness, our image of God, and distorts it to evil ends. How sad that we who are capable of exploring the limitless expanse of the sea, the mind, space, and biology so often content ourselves with razing and rioting. How sad that though we as humans are capable of such good, there is such grave injustice. I’ve read, for example, that a woman born in parts of South Africa is more likely to be raped than to learn to read. This surely should not be!
The world is a weird place. And, if the Christian view is the correct view, it must account for the weirdness of the world. It must best describe “the contours of the world as it actually exists.”
Again, the world is a weird place. Did you know it’s not just the Christian scriptures that say the first humans were made out of mud? Also, the Bible isn’t the only account that explains the origin of diverse languages connected to a huge tower. Why is that?
Why is the world so strange? And what accounts for that strangeness? And why are humans so conflicted?
One hypothesis alone makes sense of who we are: “creation in the divine image followed by the fall, explains our predicament and, through a redeemer and mediator with God, offers to restore our rightful state.” Sin, resulting in the fall, explains humanities wretchedness and yet greatness.
The Bible does not teach that we are gods but that we are to be like God. We image God. For the Christian, “Everything is not the result of the impersonal plus time plus chance, but that there is an infinite-personal God who is the Creator of the universe.” The Bible gives us a reason for believing in a lot inner in us. And a lot out there in the otter world. So, if you sense you have a lot of untapped ability, if you sense that the world is enchanted and spiritual, you’re correct.
It’s hard to consider these questions without also asking whether or not God exists. So, it’s important that you consider that all-important question: does God exist?