Thursday, April 22, 2010

Evolution and Answering the Moral Question

Evolution has created a human species whose members are capable of great evil.

To hear some evolutionists talk, humans are incapable of evil. Nature has instilled within us all sorts of virtues, from kin-selection to group protection to maternal and paternal instincts, to general altruism. As a result, we do not need to worry about the possibility of evil. Humans are not capable of such things.

As a matter of fact, no evolutionist would say this. Of course evil is possible. If evolutionary theory implied that evil were not possible, the world around us would provide immediate proof that the theory was incorrect. Evolutionary theory has to be consistent with observed facts, and the observed fact of the matter is that humans are capable of great evil.

Yet, the evolutionary response to theist concerns about morality in the absence of God only makes sense if we add this proposition that even evolutionists would deny as absolutely absurd that evolution makes evil impossible.

Some theists argue that, in the absence of God, we are at the mercy of unchecked evil. Morality requires a God.

The evolutionist responds by saying that this is not true - that evolution has provided us with moral sentiments and attitudes. These attitudes played an important role in our evolutionary past, giving those human ancestors who had those qualities an evolutionary advantage over those who did not. This is one of the explanation for the presence of these qualities in humans today. They will not disappear simply because there is no God.

This response misses the point by such a wide margin it could sensibly be taken as a joke to those who hear it.

Even if all of this were true, evolution has created humans that are capable of great evil. The evolutionist has to accept this as true. The evidence is found every time we pick up a history book or watch a general news broadcast. We are surrounded by evil. Holocausts, slavery, tyranny of all sorts and descriptions, the subjugation of women, apartheid, racial animosities, rape, spouse abuse, child abuse, fraud, theft, and murder are everyday occurances.

Evolution has created a human species whose members are doing great evil, right?

The only sensible response that the evolutionist can give to this statement is that it is true.

"So, what are you going to do to prevent it? Or, at least, to minimize it? How are you going to prevent the next holocaust? How are you going to prevent the next Hitler or Stalin? How are you going to keep my child safe from predators? How are you going to keep my daughter from being raped or keep her from being murdered by a jealous boyfriend? How are you going to keep the racist from lynching my son, and prevent them from denying him opportunities for a high quality of life in the real world without judging him by the color of his skin?"

The evolutionist then turns to his theory of evolution and gets . . . nothing.

There is absolutely nothing the evolutionist can say to address these concerns.

The evolutionist can talk until he is blue in the face about how evolution favors altruism and promotes parental affection.

Against this, the theist concerned about the relationship between morality and God merely has to ask, "Are you telling me that, because of evolution I do not have to worry about these possibilities because the theory of evolution says that humans are incapable of such acts? We can count on their general altruism and kin-selection to prevent these things from happening?"

"Well of course not."

"Then answer the fracking question!

What is your plan for preventing or at least reducing the evils that, contrary to all of your claims of evolved altruism and moral fitness, humans are obviously still willing and able to commit?

Don't tell me that evolution has already dealt with the problem. It hasn't. In fact, if we accept the assumption that we are evolved beings, evolution created the problem by making us a species capable of committing such evils.

19 comments:

DemonAura said...

Evolution isn't sentient and the problem of evil really has nothing to do with it. It is out of our control. Expecting evolution to deal with the problem of evil is pretty much just shirking your own duty to be mindful of your own actions.

Fact of the matter is Evolution set us up to be who we re today, if we want to talk about the problem of evil (which YOU can talk until you are blue in the face, evil will never disprove or invalidate anything about biology) then we should be talking about this combined effort we have created, an organisation of people we have designated as protectors. In most countries they are called the police and they follow a thing called the law that we try to improve and define every day.

I also disagree that evolutionists miss the point on the question. We can't rely on God's morals to prevent rape either can we? Not according to the bible, given enough booze our "just and righteous" Moses impregnated both his daughters. The point is that god is not the only source of morals. If anyone expects morality to be a black and white situation of right and wrong where either good or evil is dominant then they watch too much TV.

That is my opinion anyways, make of it what you like.

mikespeir said...

There aren't many areas of inquiry that tell us how to be good and avoid evil. Why would anyone expect the science of evolution to do that?

BTW, DemonAura, it was Lot, not Moses.

rvkevin said...

There's a difference between occurring in nature and being selected by nature. Evil occurs in nature, no doubt, but is it selected by nature? That is where I have my doubt.

Andy said...

Thanks for that one Alonzo! :-)

Alonzo Fyfe said...

DemonAura, mikespeir

You continue to miss the point.

When the question on the table is, "How are we going to prevent those evils that humans are clearly capable of committing?" I object to people bringing up the science of evolution as if it is relevant.

I do not expect it to be relevant.

I do not expect it to answer the question. Nor do I think that it needs to answer the question.

I object to people bringing it up as if it answers the question when it clearly does not.

Evolution answers other questions very well. When those questions are on the table, then it is perfectly legitimate to bring up the science of evolution and, furthermore, the science of evolution provides the correct answers to those questions.

However, when the question on the table is, "How are we going to prevent those evils that humans are clearly capable of committing?" evolution has nothing directly to say on the subject.

Note: I use the term 'directly' deliberately. The science of evolution is indirectly relevant in the same way that chemistry and physics are indirectly relevant. A real-world answer cannot contradict facts in the field of biology any more than they can violate facts in the fields of chemistry and physics.

Furthermore, this is the question people are asking when they express concern about the possibility of morality without God.

They are not asking, "How is altruism possible without God."

They are expressing a genuine fear of the possibility of encountering those evils that humans are clearly capable of committing. They are asking, "How are we going to prevent the next Hitler or prevent my child from being raped?"

Still, whenever they ask this question, there's this loud and obnoxious corner made up mostly of atheists who start talking about evolution.

"Hey, you, the atheists in the corner. We're discussing ways of preventing those evils that humans can clearly commit. The science of evolution has nothing directly to say about how we prevent those evils."

Then, evolutionists say, "Oh, you would have to be a fool to think that the science of evolution has anything to say about that."

THAT'S MY POINT!

Why are you talking about evolution when the question on the table is how to prevent evils humans can clearly commit?

Stop it.

You're missing the point.

Do I think that the bible and religion provides a better answer?

Of course not. I think desirism provides the better answer. We prevent these evils by using social tools such as praise and condemnation to promote those desires that tend to fulfill other desires, and inhibit those desires that tend to thwart other desires.

The theist answers are wrong, but at least they are relevant.

The evolutionist response isn't even relevant.

rvkevin said...

"We prevent these evils by using social tools such as praise and condemnation"

While such tools may be effective for some people, what do you propose for people that aren't as susceptible to praise and condemnation. For example, would you expect someone in an Islamic state to use condemnation? Is there a step above condemnation that is to be implemented when condemnation fails? Are you expecting condemnation to be a greater deterrent than imprisonment?

Alonzo Fyfe said...

While such tools may be effective for some people, what do you propose for people that aren't as susceptible to praise and condemnation.

For these people, the conversation shifts from a discussion of morality to a discussion of mental health.

For example, would you expect someone in an Islamic state to use condemnation?

People in Islamic states do use condemnation constantly, so I do not see any reason to expect them to stop. The question of whether they are condemning that which tends to thwart desires and praising that which tends to fulfill desires is a separate question.

I am thinking that I must not be understanding this question correctly.

Is there a step above condemnation that is to be implemented when condemnation fails?

"Above?"

There are other methods to alter behavior. You can change a person's behavior by changing their desires (moral praise and condemnation). You can also change their behavior by offering to fulfill (reward) or thwart (punish) the desires a person already has. Here, we have left the realm of morality and entered the realm of law. However, the two overlap, creating the possibility that some laws can be unjust and some injustice can be legal.

In short, of course there are other options.

rvkevin said...

To clarify, it should be "would someone with good desires use condemnation in an Islamic state?" Essentially, what if using condemnation thwarts their own desires (by getting them killed or imprisoned) and is relatively ineffective in changing other people's desires. What is the appropriate course of action?

mikespeir said...

"You continue to miss the point."

Or maybe I was just underscoring your point.

supersage400 said...

^ Funny attempt to save face.
I lol'd.

Nice post, as usual.

mikespeir said...

Did you actually read what I wrote and compare it to the OP, supersage? It's not out of the realm of possibility that I've missed Alonzo's point, but his comment

"However, when the question on the table is, "How are we going to prevent those evils that humans are clearly capable of committing?" evolution has nothing directly to say on the subject."

and

"Then, evolutionists say, "Oh, you would have to be a fool to think that the science of evolution has anything to say about that."

THAT'S MY POINT!"

does seem to seem to square with what I wrote, right?

DemonAura said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
DemonAura said...

After reading your comment I agree, I did miss the point there. When I referred to the problem of evil I read your post as if it were saying the question was how can good exist without god.

I stand by my response regarding the law as our best effort to prevent evil but, that isn't really in debate here.

I must admit though, part of my confusion stems from my never having heard someone bring up evolution in preventing evil. I guess I just have been lucky enough not to meet someone who does. Thanks for clearing that up.

And thanks to Mike for correcting me there, totally had my names mixed up.

rvkevin said...

"I must admit though, part of my confusion stems from my never having heard someone bring up evolution in preventing evil. I guess I just have been lucky enough not to meet someone who does."

Lucky? Someone looking at morality in animals to prevent evil would have a similar response to the one you proposed. In nature, if an individual is compromising the success of the group, they are separated from the group (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kdSiLhW0Zn8). Now, how would someone be separated from society? Imprisonment.

Ignostic Morgan said...

We have an evolved moral sentiment- empathy, altruism- that we ever have to refine to make for Paul Kurtz's planetary ethic and counter sentiments that we learn to keep in check. We see the precursor of that moral sense in our fellow apes.
Evolution, not the Eden myth, clarifies why we do good and we do wrong.
See Michael Shermer's " The Science of Good and evil."

Alonzo Fyfe said...

Ignostic Morgan

How about reading this post to see what your claim is nonsense. Michael Shermer may say it. But it is still nonsense.

People who claim to have a "moral sense" are speaking just as much nonsense as those claim to have a "sense of God's presence". There is a huge gap between what they sense in fact, and what they claim to sense.

Ignostic Morgan said...

Alonzo, I'll reread that but I'm depending on what others state that de Vaal and Hauser find true. My point is that as babies we start feeling for others but unless we get stick into the poverty of the tribe, we learn to expand that sense. My friend Paul Kurtz in " Forbidden Fruit," and elsewhere admosnishes us to have a planetary ethic.
My pont is one of a basis, but not the affirmation of morality itself.
I refer to John Beverseluis that if I as a rational being want others to treat me well, I have to respond the same.
Beversluis's " C.S. Lewis and the Search for Rational Religion" has excellent points on what I call wide-refelective subjectivism that I paradoxically find to underpin objective morality.
I find that consequential morality provides the standard that supernaturalists insist on having but without their superstition.
I'' read my Hauser later today.
Irecommend Michael Martin's " Atheism, Morality and Meaning," my friend Richard Caarrier's ' Sense ..."
So, Alozo, my point then is that we ever refine this sense, then can lead to better people I've now reread your point.How then to we get people to extend that basic empathy [ except for the psychpaths,etc. to all humankind? By wxample and education.
Behold, the Tutus and the Hutsis were killing each other but now find peace.Now, they can be friends. A strong police presence helps.
DemonAura and mikespeir can answer for themselves but perhaps they agree with me. Anyway, this remains an open question!
Alonzo, thanks,friend!

Ignostic Morgan said...

Yes, how to spur ourselves and other to do what is right is the question.
Our consiences do not depend on a God-gene or God-implanted moral sense!
I'm a compatibilist, so I find that our deision-making depends on causes, which influence but generally do not command us.Penitenciaries try to be the causes of getting prisoners to change their bad ways. My Celexa has lightened the power of shyness and paranoia from my schixotypy over me.

Michael Allen Clauwaert said...

Wow. That went off the rails, huh?