Does Evolution Explain Morality? Part 4

Continuing our critique of optimistic humanism, we find that proponents of the view are unable to speak about the subject of morality without contradicting their own ethical system.

Proponents of optimistic humanism admit that ethics are relative and changing over time.  They assert that there are no absolute, objective moral values that are true for all people at all times and in all places.  Their view is that humans just make a subjective choice to be moral and that there is no rational justification for this choice.  Morality is a useful tool for man to develop, but nothing more.  Oddly, though, optimistic humanists seem to frequently lapse into absolutist speech which undermines their system.

Writing in the January-February 2005 edition of Humanist magazine, former American ambassador Carl Coon says the following:

[Ethical] principles constitute a structure of interlocking behavioral guidelines that have been growing organically since our ancestors first became human, if not earlier.  These standards and principles didn’t descend to us from on high as some revealed truth from an intelligent being greater than ourselves.  We worked them out through a long and arduous evolutionary process marked by many wrong turns and much social discord.  Indeed, the structure is still imperfect and we continue trying to make improvements.

According to humanists like Carl Coon, ethics evolved from a purely natural and physical process with no intelligent agent guiding their development.  Ethics are relative in time and relative to man’s evolutionary development; they are not absolute in any way.  Ambassador Coon emphasizes in the the article that basic morality has changed over millions of years and that moral norms have been building from one period to another.

But notice the words he employs to describe morality: wrong turns, discord, imperfect, and improvements.  All of these words indicate that morality, over time, has been moving in a direction from worse to better, from bad to good, from imperfect to perfect.  But how is it possible for the ambassador to judge the morality of the distant past if all morals are relative?  How can he say that morality has taken “wrong turns”?  How do we know ethics are improving over time if no two time periods can be compared? 

The trap to which optimistic humanists succumb is that they cannot help but utilize absolutist language when they describe morality.  The only way one can say that ethics are going from bad to good is if there is an objective standard to which all ethics are compared, but this standard must stand outside of the ethical systems being evaluated.   A man cannot know a crooked line unless he first knows what straight is.  Optimistic humanism does not ever provide knowledge of a “straight line” and, in fact, denies that “straight lines” objectively exist. 

There are no absolute ethical standards in relativistic evolutionary ethics, so either Carl Coon is referring to a fictitious standard, which renders his description of morality incoherent, or he is busy sabotaging his own theory.  If we take his words seriously, he has introduced an absolute standard and has totally undermined his ethical system.  An ethical relativist can never compare the morality of one time period or one culture, or even one person, to another.  The moment they compare, they are invoking an absolute and objective moral law, the very thing their theory forbids.

Given the problems chronicled in the last few posts for optimistic humanism, we must reject this theory as a reasonable explanation for morality.  Our next post will analyze another ethical system based on evolution – the immanent purpose view.

[quotation references can be provided on request]

Does Evolution Explain Morality? Part 3

We continue with our analysis of optimistic humanism.  In the previous post, we found that optimistic humanism is incapable of condemning obviously immoral acts as objectively or absolutely wrong.  In addition, this ethical system cannot explain the “oughtness” inherent in moral norms.  But there are additional problems for optimistic humanism.

Morality seems to require humans to possess a robust form of free will that allows them to make moral choices.  We often praise good moral acts and condemn bad moral acts as if the people we are judging have some control over their actions.  If there is no free will, then moral choices are completely determined by the laws of chemistry and physics, and it makes no sense to praise or criticize anyone because they are acting according to deterministic physical laws. 

Our uniform experience, however, is that we naturally judge others as if they do have control over themselves, as if they possess free will.  C. S. Lewis helps us by pointing out:

The truth is, we believe in decency so much – we feel the Rule of Law pressing on us so – that we cannot bear to face the fact that we are breaking it, and consequently we try to shift the responsibility.  For you notice that it is only for our bad behavior that we find all these explanations.  It is only our bad temper that we put down to being tired or worried or hungry; we put our good temper down to ourselves.  

Humanism, however, denies the existence of true free will because free will requires that non-physical properties such as the mind, consciousness, and moral values exist.  Physicalist Paul Churchland has this to say:

The important point about the standard evolutionary story is that the human species and all of its features are the wholly physical outcome of a purely physical process.  If this is the correct account of our origin, then there seems neither need nor room to fit any nonphysical substances or properties into our theoretical accounts of ourselves.  We are creatures of matter.  

Thus optimistic humanism, as well as all other evolutionary ethical systems, must reject the existence of free will and therefore the rational thinker must reject optimistic humanism.  In the next post, we will review one final and serious problem with optimistic humanism: its adherents find it nearly impossible to talk about morality without contradicting and undermining their own theory of morality.

[quotation references can be provided on request]

Does Evolution Explain Morality? Part 2

In the previous post, we introduced the ethical theory of optimistic humanism.  In this post, we will start to analyze optimistic humanism in order to see whether it can adequately explain morality.

Many of the same objections can be cited for optimistic humanism as were cited for social Darwinism because both base their ethics on evolution and so both suffer from similar deficiencies.  Optimistic humanism, though it tries to escape the logical results of social Darwinism, does not completely succeed. 

First, this theory offers no mechanism to objectively judge heinous crimes such as those of Nazi Germany.  We intuitively know that gassing millions of innocent Jews is morally outrageous, but how would optimistic humanism condemn these activities?  When Nielsen and Kurtz tell us to adopt morality in line with our life plans and in sync with the “throb and excitement of life,” on what grounds can they call the atrocities of Germany wrong?   J. P. Moreland answers:

After all, many of the Nazis found a lot of excitement in killing other humans, and this activity was obviously one to which they attached value.  If an optimistic humanist responds by saying that we ought not to do this, then he is inconsistent.  For now he is using an absolutist sense of ought.  It even seems he uses an absolutist sense of ought if he tells us we have a moral obligation to be optimistic humanists.  So optimistic humanism either fails to provide the rationale for a moral objection to obviously immoral behavior, or if it does provide such a rationale, it becomes inconsistent.

Kai Nielsen would seem to have to agree with this assessment because he states that his theory of ethics “doesn’t give you an absolutism.”   But if there is no absolute wrong, then the Nazis were not absolutely wrong.  Nielsen and Kurtz leave the door open for Nazi atrocities to be justified and any ethical theory which cannot categorically state that Nazi Germany was morally wrong must be in serious error.

There are additional problems with optimistic humanism.  As there is no ultimate rational source for its moral dictates, there can be no prescriptive element or “oughtness” to it.  Morality is experienced as a communication between two minds and it carries an incumbency.  With evolution as the source of optimistic humanism, where is the transmitting mind?  A communication that comes from a random process can and should be ignored.  There can be no rational obligation to follow any of the ethics of optimistic humanism.  According to J.P. Moreland, Paul Kurtz “admits that the ultimate values of humanism are incapable of rational justification.”

Much more analysis of optimistic humanism is to come, so please come back.

[quotation references can be provided on request]

Does Evolution Explain Morality? Part 1

In previous posts, we have built an understanding of seven aspects of morality that seem to be true.  Following those posts, we examined a popular ethical system in the early 20th century known as social Darwinism, and we found that it utterly fails to explain what we know of moral norms.  But social Darwinism is an easy target which most people disavow these days.  Ethicists who base their systems on Darwinian evolution dismiss social Darwinism as an unfortunate mistake that later evolutionary ethical systems have corrected.

So in this post and the following series of posts, we will examine two modern ethical systems that are both derived from Darwinian evolution.  These systems are more sophisticated than social Darwinism and attempt to avoid that system’s mistakes.

First up for analysis is optimistic humanism.  This system uses Darwinian evolution as an explanation for the source of morality, but it does not use evolution for the justification of adopting the moral life.  Optimistic humanism recognizes that just because the natural and unguided process of evolution produced moral feelings or instincts in mankind, it does not follow that human beings should therefore adopt the moral lifestyle, which would entail obeying all of the moral impulses that evolution “created.”  This view recognizes the “is/ought” fallacy and seeks to avoid it.  Just because moral feelings or impulses exist does not mean that we ought to obey them.

Optimistic humanists believe, according to philosopher J. P. Moreland, that “there is no reason why something rather than nothing exists, there is no purpose toward which the cosmos or human history is moving, humans are modified monkeys which have resulted from a blind process of chance mutations, and real, irreducible moral values do not exist.”

Why should a person be moral?  According to optimistic humanism, it is because leading a moral life will give you personal satisfaction.  Proponents of this view offer several ways of defining personal satisfaction.  Atheistic philosopher Kai Nielsen says that “there can be purposes in life even if there is no purpose to life.”   He speaks of each individual developing a life plan that may include career goals and social goals.  Meaning can be found in “things like love, friendship, caring, knowledge, self-respect, pleasure in life.”  

Humanist philosopher Paul Kurtz explains, “The humanist maintains as his first principle that life is worth living, at least that it can be found to have worth. . . . The universe is neutral, indifferent to man’s existential yearnings.  But we instinctively discover life, experience its throb, its excitement, its attraction.”

Nielsen seems to believe that there is a subjective choice to be made to live the moral life and that there is no rational reason that can be given for making this choice; it is simply a personal choice and that is all there is to it.   Once a person is in the moral framework, then the way that person determines right and wrong is to reflect on the world’s morality and build a coherent system.  In his words, you “start with considered judgments and then you try to get them into a coherent pattern with everything else you know, with the best theories of the function of morality in society, with the best theories we have about human nature.”

To summarize, optimistic humanism asserts that human beings can create or adopt their own values within their lives and adapt these values to their life plans and goals.  Moral values are not objectively real and are indeed only tools to be used by men as they see fit within a moral framework.  According to optimistic humanists, even though evolution is the source for our moral instincts, it does not provide the rational ground for why someone should act morally; but this does not mean that mankind cannot subjectively choose to live the moral life.  They agree that no reason can be given for why someone ought to choose the moral life, but all other ethical systems suffer from the same problem.

In the next post, we will analyze optimistic humanism and see whether it adequately explains our seven characteristics of morality.

[quotation references can be provided on request]

Who Is This Jesus?

The more I research, study and compare Christianity with Mormonism the more convinced I become that the paramount difference between these two faiths surrounds their teaching on the nature of Jesus Christ.  Who is this Jesus?  Is He God Himself or is He the first born spirit son of God the Father?  Has Jesus always existed as God or is He a being formed from eternal matter who then grew to become a God? 

It is interesting to look at the New Testament to see what claims Jesus made about Himself.  Looking at these claims and then comparing them to what the Old Testament teaches about God helps us to see just who Jesus declared Himself to be.  Here are a few examples:

1.  In John 10:11 Jesus teaches that He is “the good shepherd”.  Yet, in Psalms 23:1 God teaches us that “the Lord is [our] shepherd”.  Jesus was telling us that He is “the Lord” or Yahweh.

2.  In Revelations 1:17 we are taught that Jesus is “the first and the last”.  Yet, in Isaiah 44:6 we are taught that the Lord Almighty is the first and the last and apart from Him there is no God.   Jesus was telling us that He is the Lord Almighty and apart from Him there is no God. 

3.  In Matthew 25:1 Jesus gives the parable of the brides and bridegroom.  He teaches that He is the bridegroom and we (His church) are His bride.  Yet in Isaiah 62:5 God tells us that He is our bridegroom.  Another claim by Christ to be God.

4.  In John 8:12 Jesus taught “I am the light of the world.  Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.”  Yet in Psalms 27:1 the Psalmist taught “The Lord is my light”.  Jesus  claims again to be  Yahweh/God.

5.    In John 8:56-59 Jesus declared Himself to be “I Am” when he said “before Abraham was born, I Am.”  When He declared this the Jews tried to stone Him because they knew exactly what He was saying.  In Exodus 3:12-14 God tells Moses His name… “I AM WHO I AM”.  In John Jesus was declaring Himself to be God and that is why the Jews tried to stone Him.

6.  In John 17:5 Jesus asks God the Father for the Glory that was His before the world began… God’s glory.  In addition, numerous times throughout the New Testament Jesus accepts worship from those around Him… thereby accepting the glory that is rightfully God’s.  Yet in Isaiah 42:8 God tells us that He “will not give [His] glory to another”.  How could Jesus receive glory that God Himself tells us He will not give to another unless Jesus Himself was God?

It is fairly obvious from these comparisons that Jesus was telling us exactly who He is.  He made specific references to the Old Testament claims about God and applied those claims directly to Himself.  This is, after all, why He was crucified.

At this point a Mormon may say “Well, that is fine with me because I believe Jesus was the God of the Old Testament.  That is what the LDS Church teaches after all.”  Unfortunately, this line of reasoning creates a problem for Mormons.  As I pointed out in the YHWH and Mormonism post God tells us on several occasions in the Old Testament that “He is God, there is no God before Him and there will be no God after Him.”  If Jesus is the God of the Old Testament and Jesus is the spirit born son of God the Father than there was a God prior to Jesus… Elohim/The Father.  This directly contradicts what God says about Himself.

All praise be to my God, Savior, High Priest and Lord Jesus Christ!

Darrell

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]

What Is Wrong With Social Darwinism? Part 1

As we saw in the previous post describing social Darwinism, it was a disastrous experiment for mankind in the twentieth century, but need it have been?  Certainly some dastardly individuals justified their tyrannical reigns with it, but we must take a sober look at the theory and evaluate its ability to explain the moral truths that were discussed earlier.

The ethics of social Darwinism are largely relativistic and subjective.  Any society could develop an ethical justification for its moral actions by claiming that their goal was the advancement of humankind.  This is a seemingly noble goal, but the definition of the “advancement of mankind” is hardly universal.  Under social Darwinism, each society ultimately chooses its own definition and then forges ahead with its own effectual policies. 

A totally relativistic system such as social Darwinism, however, runs afoul of our innate sense of moral right and wrong.  For example, we intuitively know that murdering innocent people is morally abhorrent.  We know that murdering millions of innocent people is especially horrendous.  Certainly a supporter of social Darwinism could argue that the goal of producing a superior race of humans justifies the means (murdering innocents) of reaching that goal.  This utilitarian view, however, does not escape the basic moral intuition that mass extermination of human life is morally wrong.  The end cannot possibly justify the means and so social Darwinism violates our intuitive knowledge of right and wrong.

Second, moral rules are non-physical entities, but strict adherents to social Darwinism believe mankind evolved by completely natural and material processes.  To a Darwinist there is only time, space, and matter, and therefore everything in the universe must be explained by those three things.  Since our moral intuition is not discovered by our five senses, but by self-reflection, then there must be an immaterial or “soulish” aspect to a human person.  Any ethical theory that denies the existence of non-physical objects seems to contradict our innate ability to know objective, moral truth. 

Third, moral norms are a form of communication between two intelligent agents.  Who are the two agents in social Darwinism?  The ultimate source of morality for the social Darwinist is a random, natural, and unguided process (i.e., Darwinian evolution).   In other words, the transmitter is not an intelligent agent and does not possess any sort of rational faculties.  Therefore, there is clearly no communication happening at all, so again the theory violates our moral common sense criteria.

Much more can be said about social Darwinism and we will continue this analysis in a future post!

What Do Political Liberals and Atheists Have In Common?

According to an August 2008 poll by Barna Group, they are both far more likely than conservatives and evangelical Christians to engage in behaviors such as unmarried sex, viewing pornography, lying, getting drunk, and gossipping.   These results, sadly, are not surprising to me, as previous poll data and personal experience have proven these facts true over and over.

With regard to liberals vs. conservatives, here are the statistics when respondents were asked what behaviors they engaged in during the previous week:

On average, adults who describe themselves as “mostly liberal” on sociopolitical issues were twice as likely as those who describe themselves as “mostly conservative” to participate in activities that conflict with traditional moral perspectives. In particular, liberals were five times more likely to participate in unmarried sex (20% vs. 4%), more than three times as likely to view pornography (30% vs. 8%), more than twice as likely to lie (21% vs. 8%) and to get drunk (17% vs. 7%), and twice as likely to engage in retaliation (13% vs. 6%) and gossip (17% vs. 9%).

Atheists and agnostics don’t fare much better when compared to evangelical Christians:

Examining people’s faith perspectives revealed that evangelicals were the group most likely to follow traditional morality while atheists and agnostics were the faith segment most likely to reject those ways.

Among evangelicals, profanity (16%) and pornography (12%) were the most common transgressions. Fewer than 5% of evangelicals had engaged in gossip (4%), inappropriate sex (3%), gambling (2%), lying (1%) or drunkenness (less than one-half of one percent).

In contrast, among skeptics (atheists and agnostics) participation in the eight behaviors ranged from a low of 11% (retaliating) up to a high of 60% (using profanity). While evangelicals averaged 6% participation in each of the eight behaviors mentioned, skeptics averaged five times that level (29%). Other common acts among skeptics included exposure to pornography (50%), gossip (34%) and drunkenness (33%).

What to make of these results?  Although it is possible for atheists to live moral lives, they often do not, when compared to strong Christians.  Again, there is no surprise here for those of us who have come from non-belief to belief, as adults.  We remember how we were before Christ changed us from the inside out.  If Christ does not live inside you, you face an impossible battle.  Rather than gloat, as believers, we should humbly thank God for what He’s done for us.  The atheist lives just like we would without God’s grace.

What Do We Know About Morality? Part 3

According to ethicist Francis Beckwith there are at least seven aspects of morality that appear to be true, based on mankind’s common moral experience.  In the previous post, we discussed the first four.  In this post, we will discuss the final three.

The fifth aspect of morality is that when we break a clear moral rule, our conscience bothers us.  Francis Beckwith explains that “when we break a significant and clear moral rule, it is usually accompanied by feelings of painful guilt and sometimes shame, for we are cognizant of our moral failure and realize we deserve to be punished.  Only sociopaths succeed in overcoming their conscience completely.”

Sixth, morality is characterized not just by an action or outward behavior, but by motive.   If a young man were to shove an elderly woman to the ground, we could not judge the morality of his action without knowing his motive.  If he were shoving her in order to steal her money, then his act is clearly immoral.  However, if his motive was to save her life because she was about to step in front of a bus, then we would judge his act to be morally righteous.  Motive, then, is a necessary component of any ethical system.

There is a seventh element that must also be part of any moral calculus, and that is intent.  There is a well-known parable within the bioethics community where two men separately intend to kill a young boy to get his inheritance.  One man sneaks into the bathroom and drowns the boy while he is bathing.  In the case of the other man, he sneaks into the bathroom with the intent to kill the boy, but the boy had accidentally hit his head and drowned just before the second man arrived.   It should be apparent that even though the second man did not actually murder the boy, his intention to do so makes his act morally reprehensible.  We would not say that the second man did nothing wrong, because his intent to kill, although not acted upon, is still evil.  Intention, then, is the seventh necessary component of morality.

If you put the two previous posts on morality together with this one, we have made a case for the following: 

  1. moral norms can be objectively known
  2. moral norms are immaterial
  3. moral norms are a form of communication
  4. moral norms are prescriptive
  5. moral norms affect our conscience
  6. moral norms include motive
  7. moral norms include intent

Now, armed with this basic understanding of the nature of morality, we can now evaluate ethical systems by judging whether they adequately account for the seven aspects of morality.  If they do not, then we have good reason to reject those accounts of morality.

In future posts, we will indeed put to the test various ethical systems that derive from naturalism and Darwinian evolution.

[quotation references can be provided on request]

A Christian Apologetics Blog

SEO Powered by Platinum SEO from Techblissonline