What Is Wrong With Social Darwinism? Part 2

Continuing from yesterday’s post on What Is Wrong With Social Darwinism?  Part 1:

Fourth, morality is characterized by an “oughtness” that weighs upon us before we act.  It is prescriptive, not descriptive.  Ethics derived from evolution, however, are only descriptive.   Ethicist Francis Beckwith offers the insight that evolutionary ethics only tells us “what behaviors in the past may have been conducive to the survival of the species and why I may have on occasion moral feelings to act consistently with those behaviors.”  Beckwith continues, “But evolution cannot tell me whether I ought to act on those feelings in the present and in the future.”  

If ethicists grant that feelings of morality stem from a natural process of evolution, they are still left with the question of why anyone should follow those feelings.  After all, people choose every day to act on some feelings and to suppress others.  Perhaps one could argue that humans possess moral instincts that are hard-wired and based upon evolution; these moral instincts force behavior.  This line of argument, however, does not adequately explain the evidence at hand.  C.S. Lewis elaborates:

Supposing you hear a cry for help from a man in danger.  You will probably feel two desires – one a desire to give help (due to your herd instinct), the other a desire to keep out of danger (due to the instinct for self-preservation).  But you will find inside you, in addition to these two impulses, a third thing which tells you that you ought to follow the impulse to help, and suppress the impulse to run away.  Now this thing that judges between two instincts, that decides which should be encouraged, cannot itself be either of them.  You might as well say that the sheet of music which tells you . . . to play one note on the piano and not another, is itself one of the notes on the keyboard.

Fifth, morality is characterized by feelings of guilt and conscience.  Is there any robust support for conscience on a theory of evolutionary ethics?  It is perplexing to see exactly what that support would be.  If nature produced our moral instincts because they would ensure our survival, then why would it produce an opposing force that would pass negative judgment on those instincts?  It seems very odd that a non-material process would have developed feelings of guilt.  Feelings of guilt, like moral intuition, are only discovered through introspection, not by empirical methods using our five senses. 

I know that I have guilty feelings because I examine my conscious states and realize that I am experiencing the state of guilt.  Since there is no ontological status for anything like a mind or consciousness on the evolutionary (naturalistic) worldview, the evolutionist must explain feelings of guilt by purely physical means.  Philosopher J. P. Moreland points out that this simply will not work because the behavior or physical condition that results from a conscious state is not the same as the conscious state itself.  They are altogether different.

Sixth, morality is characterized by motive and intent.  The evolutionary explanation for morality only explains behaviors and actions taken by individuals in the struggle for survival.  As pre-humans evolved there were certain types of behavior that enabled their survival and there were certain types of behavior that hindered their survival.  If behavior A was beneficial, then those animals that acted out A would survive to reproduce more offspring and pass on the genetic traits that forced the animal to behave that way.  If behavior B caused an animal to die at an early age, before it could reproduce successfully, then its genetic traits would not be passed on. 

This explanation is interesting, but where do motive and intent enter the picture?  Motive and intent make morality quite a bit more complicated and evolution does not have the ontological tools to cope with them.  We’ve already seen that true mental states do not exist in a naturalistic world and it would appear that motive and intent are completely ad hoc and unnecessary on an evolutionary explanation of ethics.  Francis Beckwith summarizes that “since evolution, at best, can only describe what behaviors are conducive to the preservation of the species and does not address the role of motive and intent in evaluating those behaviors, evolution is an inadequate explanation for the existence of moral norms.”

In summary, social Darwinism, as an ethical system, fails to account for all seven aspects of morality that we know from our innate moral intuition.  It cannot account for the objectivity of moral norms or the immateriality of moral norms.  It fails to account for the facts that moral norms are a form of communication and that they are prescriptive, and not just descriptive.  Social Darwinism cannot explain why behaving badly affects our conscience, nor does it have the tools to deal with motive or intent.

[quotation references can be provided on request]