Can Evolution Adequately Account For And Sustain Morality ?

While nearly all of us agree that we are wired to make certain moral judgments, we disagree from where the wiring originates. While evolutionists claim that we evolved moral intuitions through a mindless, purposeless process for adaptive reasons, theists invoke God. However, the account of evolution encounters numerous problems.

  1. For one thing, evolution reduces morality to mere biochemical reactions or intuitions. This raises the question of whether or not we should even bother to obey our moral impulses.
  • Why should I obey my biochemical instincts? They need not command my life if they are no more than reactions. I’d rather do what I feel like doing. Besides, these reactions only tell me what “is”; they do not tell me what I “ought” to do.
  1. No one will obey all of their moral impulses. Some are actually contradictory. Some of our impulses lead us to act altruistically; others selfishly. Even worse, some of our impulses are evil, like sadism, revenge, rape, bitterness, and hatred. If it is just about biochemical impulses, how do we decide which to obey and which to restrain? It seems must be a higher moral law that mediates over our instincts.

It can be argued that this “higher moral law” is no more than another biochemical instinct. However, we do not experience it in this manner. Instead, this law seems to be able to dispassionately mediate over our competing instincts/drives in a non-instinctual and non-reactive way.

  1. It seems that we are unable to resist the impulse that these moral intuitions represent as higher objective moral law, which ought to be obeyed. C.S. Lewis famously reasoned that making moral judgments is unavoidable:
  • “Whenever you find a man who says he does not believe in a real Right and Wrong, you will find the same man going back on this a moment later. He may break his promises to you, but if you try breaking one to him he will be complaining, ‘It’s not fair.’”
  • “If we do not believe in decent behavior, why should we be so anxious to make excuses for not having behaved decently? 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.” (Mere Christianity)

Perhaps, then, we have to accept our moral intuitions that morality is more than just the sum of our biochemical reactions.

Perhaps we need to regard our moral instincts as we do music. We perceive that music has a life of its own that transcends the sum of its notes. And if we are willing to trust our sense about music, perhaps we also should regarding our sense about morality.

Can the evolutionary worldview sustain a conviction that our moral reasoning is paramount and ought to be obeyed? Not if it is just a biochemical reaction. It then will be regarded as no more authoritative than a fire alarm bell that sounds when there is no real fire.

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Daniel Mann

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