Atheists generally are familiar with the argument from evil concerning the existence of God. Evolutionary ethics has its own problem of evil – a problem that shows that the thesis that humans evolved some sort of moral sense is barking up the wrong moral tree.
Clearly, humans have the capacity to do evil.
If one gets caught up in the evolutionary view of ethics, one could almost come to the conclusion that humans are incapable of doing evil. After all, evolution has given us a "moral sense" to guide our actions – to make us kind and altruistic. The main assertion made when an atheist presents an evolutionary account of ethics seems to be that we do not need to worry about humans doing evil even if there were no God. Our evolutionarily evolved moral dispositions would prevent us from doing evil even if there were no God.
Only, it hasn’t worked all that well so far.
Whatever one wants to say about an evolved moral sense and capacity to perform kindness, we also have, within our nature, the capacity to do great evil. In fact, every act of tyranny and injustice committed in human history – genocide, torture, tyranny, racial injustice, slavery – all of it is within our evolved nature.
We know this merely because of the fact that it has happened.
This leads us to a question that is by definition outside of the realm that any evolutionary ethicist can answer.
What do we do about the evils that are clearly within our evolved nature?
I then want to combine this with an observation. That this is the issue that people are concerned with when it comes to the issue of morality.
People are not concerned with those evils that we have no capacity to perform. The idea of a person fearing the possibility of somebody doing evil that it is impossible for him to do would, actually, be a paradigm example of irrationality.
The evils that people are concerned with when they think about the issue of morality are evils that surround us – the abduction and rape of our children, the slaughter of our neighbors while shopping in a mall or going to work, the lynching of man because of his race, the enslavement of thousands of people, and the imprisonment and slaughter of those who would dare speak in opposition to the current realm.
The evolutionary ethicist's response, "Don't worry. It is in our genes not to do these things," is simply false.
This may appear to be a straw man – that no evolutionary ethicist would ever say such a thing. However, my argument is not that this is a claim of the evolutionary ethicist. My argument is that the evolutionary ethicist is caught in the horns of a dilemma.
Either he must make such an absurd and false claim.
Or he must admit that evolutionary ethics has absolutely nothing to say about the questions that people are really concerned about when they address the issue of morality – the evils that surround us every day and that are clearly within our nature to perform.
How do we minimize those evils?