Evolution’s Twisted Ethical Benchmark

We must be careful when we use “science” or “evolution” as an excuse to disregard Christianity. A world without God comes with ugly baggage.

Biologist E.O. Wilson writes, “Our bloody nature, it can now be argued in the context of modern biology, is ingrained because group-versus-group was a principal driving force that made us what we are.” We can imagine ancient near-human tribes battling for resources, the fittest groups defeating the weaker groups, naturally selecting for the most survival-ready human race. Like it or not, Wilson argues that racism, ethnocentrism, and genocide were integral forces in shaping mankind. We don’t exist apart from these atrocities (The Social Conquest of the Earth).

That last word, “atrocities” is interesting. It’s a moralizing word, one we don’t fear attaching to universal evils like genocide. It presents an interesting question: what determines right and wrong. Without God (or without a speaking God) how do we make sense of morality?

To quote Dostoevsky, “If God is dead, everything is permitted?” What true north can guide our moral compasses, if it turns out we’re just animals?

Can evolution provide us an ethical matrix? Many evolutionary biologists, including Wilson, answer yes. They are not overly simply in their answers, but I’ll take a risk and summarize: what most benefits our continual fitness, ought to be labeled “moral.”

Take an example like homosexuality. The evolutionary biologist might argue it’s best to accept different adaptations of sexuality, as these identities might provide a diverseness of love, care, and happiness that benefits overall human society. Or, they might defend those with physical handicaps, not because their handicaps are beneficial, but because fostering a culture of charity and acceptance is.

All of this moralizing talk is gray. Wilson continues later, “There is a principle to be learned by studying the biological origins of moral reasoning. It is that outside the clearest ethical precepts, such as the condemnation of slavery, child abuse, and genocide, which all will agree should be opposed everywhere without exception, there is a larger gray domain inherently difficult to navigate.”

Why so gray? As mankind changes and our world changes, so must our adaptation. Morality, in fact, is just another adaptation, so it too changes. This has one practical benefit: biologists can peaceably scratch the backs of our ever-changing moral zeitgeists. 

No one needs be insulted by evolution! By feats of extraordinary rational gymnastics, they can contort evolution to support any view.

Now, I suppose that might be the very practical downside. Our historical memory is short. If we step back just one century we can easily discover those who practiced eugenics: the systematic breeding of “fit” humans, and, in the darkest cases, sterilization of “unfit” humans. Evolutionary logic was pleased to contort to the Nazi’s atrocities against the Jews.

Wilson’s greatest problem is of his own creating. He realizes that our social evolution requires a dark past: the racism, ethnocentrism and genocide. Yet, he includes the rejection of each of these dark evils under the category of “clearest ethical precepts.” If we honestly follow Wilson’s logic about good and evil, there was a time in human history when genocide and racism were condonable, because without them humanity does not evolved

This is an ethical conundrum. Do we really want an ethical matrix that, under the right circumstances, allows for such evil?

Wilson’s only way out is to claim that certain moral precepts are self-evident. But they’re nothing of the sort! Consider that racism is an almost universal human experience. If anything, racism appears perfectly normal, and racial reconciliation odd. Moreover, no moral is self-evident for Wilson, since morals must, by their adaptive nature be ever-changing.

I bring all this up to ask a question: does this sliding scale of moral relativity really make sense of your experience? If you’re being objective, do you really feel that right and wrong in your life change so drastically? What about when someone lies to you? Steals from you? Hurts you? Are you okay admitting that, in some evolutionary cases, that might be a very moral act against you?

Morality only makes sense in reference to an unchanging person. Preferably a person who is perfectly good and perfectly powerful. This person ought to be one whom all people owe allegiance, because he is their creator and owner. This person is God, and we must be careful before we abandon him for “science.”

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