Tag Archives: source of morality

Why Can’t Evolution Be the Source of Transcendent Moral Values?

Post Author: Bill Pratt 

In two previous blog posts (here and here), I have called attention to the fact that human beings universally take for granted that our moral judgments transcend time, place, and species. We judge certain actions to be morally right or wrong regardless of when these actions occurred, where they occurred, and also regardless of which species of intelligent agent has acted. I take these truths to be indisputable, based on our common human experience.

Biological evolution is a group of many and varied processes which act on all organisms to produce the great diversity of life on earth. These processes have operated on life in dramatically different ways depending on the particular time in earth’s history, the particular places where life resides, and depending on the type of organic species.

I take it that when a person says, “Evolution is the source of moral values,” they are saying that the process of evolution has produced particular bio-chemical brain states in human beings that we identify as moral values and duties. So, here are the problems for those who want to claim that biological evolution is the ground or source of transcendent moral values.

With regard to time, the very word “evolution” entails change over time. A thing could not be said to evolve if it stayed exactly the same forever. Evolution, then, is working to modify and change all organisms all the time. It seems to me to be completely incoherent to claim that timeless, unchanging moral values have been produced by a process which, by its very nature, is changing everything on which it operates. If we are looking for a fixed, time-independent source of moral values, I cannot see how biological evolution even remotely fits the bill.

With regard to place, the results of evolutionary processes are quite dependent on geography. This was one of Darwin’s first insights about evolution, that geography is a major factor in the way that evolution produces biological diversity. No evolutionary biologist would claim that the effects of evolutionary processes are the same across our planet, or even on other planets (assuming life exists elsewhere). But if moral values are independent of place, then how can a process which produces completely different effects from place to place possibly produce moral values?

With regard to species, let’s first look at gods, angels, and demons. Evolutionary processes simply do not apply to immaterial beings. Even an atheist who does not believe that these beings exist, would at least grant that if they did exist, biological evolution would not operate on them. But if evolution is the source of moral values, then how is it coherent to apply evolved brain states in human beings to non-human agents who themselves never evolved?

What about intelligent aliens? An evolutionist would say that aliens, if they existed, did evolve through biological processes, but there is a different problem here. How in the world does it make sense to apply the evolved brain states of human beings to alien beings who evolved completely different brain states? It is inconceivable, given evolutionary processes alone, that alien brains would evolve the exact same moral values that human beings evolved.

As we’ve seen, though, human beings feel very natural in making moral judgments about spiritual beings and aliens alike. We all take for granted that all intelligent agents should be operating under the exact same moral principles. If evolution is the source  of moral values, then we are completely unjustified in morally judging non-human intelligent agents.

To summarize, evolutionary processes are totally and completely inadequate to ground moral values that transcend time, place, and species. If evolution were truly the ground of moral values, then we would only be justified in judging the actions of other members of our human species who live at the same time and place as we do. Since none of us restrict our moral judgments in that way, then clearly evolution cannot be the source of moral values.

Why Ought I Act Morally? Part 1

Post Author: Bill Pratt

This week I’ve been listening to a debate between Matt Slick (Christian) and Dan Barker (atheist) on whether humans can be good without God.  Barker’s argument during the debate struck me as illogical, and here’s why.

Barker explained that moral values are merely natural inclinations that are built into human beings due to the long process of evolution.  These inclinations vary from person to person across a statistical distribution.  Some people feel a strong inclination to help the poor and some don’t.  Some people are strongly opposed to rape and some are not.

For every natural, moral inclination there is a statistical bell curve across humanity.  Evolution has bequeathed moral inclinations to humans, but to varying degrees.  At one point, Barker even said that it may be evolutionarily necessary for this bell curve to exist.  To give an example, it may be that if everyone was strongly opposed to murdering the innocent, this may not best advance the survival of the human race.  We can’t have everyone acting like Mother Theresa or else our species might die out.  The converse is also true: a world full of Hitler’s would also kill off the human race.

I agree with Barker that some people have stronger moral inclinations than others and that some of this variation may be genetic.  What I don’t understand is the next move he made in the debate.

He then offered his definition of behaving morally: do less harm.  For Barker, this phrase neatly encapsulates the diverse natural instincts that evolution has given us.  In essence, Barker is saying, “Nature has caused us to have these inclinations and if I had to come up with a phrase to describe what these inclinations are telling us to do, it is ‘do less harm.'”  Barker is acting as Nature’s ambassador and explaining to us in a command what she actually wants from us.  From then on, Barker repeatedly stated that humans ought to do less harm, with the situation determining how that plays out.

In the next post, I will explain why Dan Barker’s approach does not work.  See you then.

Is God the Source of Morality?

Post Author: Bill Pratt

Christians assert that God is the only source of morality.  Wanting to reject this assertion, atheists sometimes offer a counter-argument which claims to invalidate the Christian God as the source of morality.

The challenge is often referred to as the Euthyphro Dilemma because it was first raised in Plato’s dialogue Euthyphro.  The argument goes like this.  Either something is good because God commands it, or else God commands something because it is good.

Christians have problems with both options.  If you say something is good because God commands it, then right and wrong are arbitrary.  God could command tomorrow that murder, rape, and theft are right, and that love, kindness, and generosity are wrong.  That seems bizarre; it runs counter to all of our common moral intuitions.  It also conflicts with traditional and orthodox concepts of the Christian God.  If murder and rape can be declared good, then we have no idea what kind of God we are worshiping.

On the other hand, if God commands something because it is good, then goodness exists outside of God.  The ground for morality would then be independent of God –  a stand-alone entity.  God would be subservient to this source of morality, and therefore not God at all.  The Christian God is not subservient to anything outside himself.

What is the solution to this dilemma?  Christians have split this apparent dilemma by offering a third option: goodness is part of God’s nature.  God, according to Christians, is the good.  God commands the good because he is essentially good.  His nature does not change, so he cannot declare murder to be right tomorrow.  On the other hand, morality does not exist outside of him, but as part of him.  He is only subservient to himself, which is no subservience at all.

It turns out that no dilemma really exists once you understand the nature of God.  He truly is the source for all moral values and duties.