Have you ever heard someone say the following? “Morality is easily explained by evolution and the tendency for biological life to survive and reproduce.” If so, read on because this post will evaluate this position to see whether it can really explain morality. If you would like to understand a little more about the theory before reading the critique below, read the previous post first.
There are several objections that can be leveled against the theory. First, we have an intuitive moral duty to help the weak, the elderly, and the disabled. This would seem odd since weaker individuals would tend to be eliminated by evolution. If anything, evolution should have caused feelings of hatred or contempt for those who are biologically unfit. Moral feelings which cause us to help these people are exactly the opposite of what we expect to find.
When confronted with this challenge, some evolutionists offer that helping the weak must somehow be worthwhile and that our ancestors found value in it. In other words, our ancestors decided that evolution did not provide adequate answers for morality and so their rational minds began to work out morality at an individual and societal level. It seems, however, that at this point human beings discovered an objective moral law – it is morally virtuous to help the weak and disabled – but this moral law is now referring to something universal and absolute that exists outside of survival ethics. They are referring to a transcendent moral law that has no ground, which is an admission that survival ethics is inadequate.
The other common answer to the challenge is that helping the disabled must somehow help us to survive, but we just do not know how it helps yet. This view at least attempts to salvage survival ethics, but it is a circular argument. We are asking how certain behaviors evolved, so to assume that a behavior did evolve when answering the question is circular reasoning.
There is another serious problem with this explanation. Francis Beckwith asks:
Because it is clear that not every human being has a moral sense that he or she has a duty and incumbency to help those less fortunate, on what grounds could the evolutionist say that these human beings are mistaken in their moral viewpoint? After all, people who lack this moral sense have existed all over the globe for generations, and if they too are the products of evolution, perhaps having such people in our population is necessary for the preservation of the species.
The only escape for the survival ethicist is to claim that those who feel no compulsion to help the weak are morally unfit. But again, a morality outside of evolution is being invoked which demonstrates that survival ethics does not have adequate explanatory power.
More to come on survival ethics tomorrow.
[quotation references can be provided on request]