I have a sense that some people have taken my earlier posts to imply that we cannot find morality among animals. This has the added implication that we cannot look at the animal kingdom to find examples of morality that does not involve moral behavior - genuine moral behavior - that does not depend on a belief in God.
That implication is mistaken.
We can find examples of genuine moral behavior in animals, and we can use it as an example of moral behavior that does not require a belief in God.
We do not find it in an example of a rat freeing a confined rat.
We will find examples of genuine morality among animals in a group setting. What we are looking for is a system where members of the group use praise, condemnation, reward, and punishment to alter the dispositions of other members of the group.
Examples of condemnation would include such things as bearing one's teeth, yelling (or making aggressive sounds), taking a threatening posture, or even a facial expression or ignoring the perpetrator in a particular context.
Punishment goes further. It actually inflicts harm on the perpetrator. It involves driving the perpetrator away or taking a non-lethal swat at the offender. It can involve driving the perpetrator away from available food. It may involve killing or banishing the perpetrator. In these cases, the moral lesson is not taught to the perpetrator as much as it is taught to all of the other members of the community. They see what comes from that type of behavior and form a corresponding aversion to it.
Rewards can take the form of grooming, sharing food, and allowing sex to those who exhibit behavior that the animal in question has an interest in promoting.
In a milder form, a facial expression or a friendly gesture can take the form of praise. It communicates to the other member of the group and to all witnesses that the behavior is welcomed and appreciated, forming in others a desire for that type of behavior.
Let us take a community of rats and observe them. Let us discover if there are behaviors in that community that are greeted with condemnation or punishment, or behaviors that are greeted with praise and reward. Let us observe what effects these social conditioning behavior have on the frequency of the types of behavior being praised or condemned.
Now, we have observations of animals in a state of nature - lacking a belief in God - setting up a true moral system.
Furthermore, I hold that these types of communities are very common in nature, particularly among primates.
More importantly, they provide a model for creating human communities in which moral behavior can be promoted and immoral behavior inhibited without a belief in God. Specifically, one uses social tools such as praise, condemnation, reward, and punishment to create in community members desires that produce behavior helpful to others, and aversions that reduce behaviors harmful to others.
We do not get our rights from God. We get our rights from the purely natural fact that there are some desires that people generally have many and strong reasons to promote or to inhibit. Our right to freedom of speech simply expresses the natural world fact that people generally have many and strong reasons to use social forces to promote an aversion to responding to words with violence.
In short, my objection to pointing to altruistic mice as an example of morality independent of God is that it simply doesn't make any sense. It requires a sense of 'morality' that is so alien and foreign to common usage that the person who uses it tends to sound rather foolish.
There are behaviors in nature that actually do fit the bill here. Those are the ones that people should be using. They actually make sense and they do not cause the atheist to appear foolish.