I get discouraged from time to time.
I would like to see the atheist community embrace reason and evidence-based conclusions. Many claim to value this as a virtue. Yet, "You know them by their deeds." By that standard, they fail.
My most recent disappointment - one that has recently caused me to throw up my hands and ask, "Why do I bother?" - is this entry concerning the to 10 myths about evolution at AtheismResources.com.
10 Evolution Can’t Account For Morality: As a social primate species we evolved a deep sense of right and wrong in order to accentuate and reward reciprocity and cooperation, and to attenuate and punish excessive selfishness and free riding. As well, evolution created the moral emotions that tell us that lying, adultery, and stealing are wrong because they destroy trust in human relationships that depend on truth-telling, fidelity, and respect for property. It would not be possible for a social primate species to survive without some moral sense. On the constitution of human nature is built the constitutions of human societies.
The fact is, evolution can't account for morality.
Neither can religion, by the way. This is not an either-or question. Evolution cannot account for the size of the Earth or the existence of the moon, but this does not imply that we must turn to scripture to find the answers. There is a third alternative.
Morality requires a community of two or more individuals engaged in intentional behavior (beings acting on beliefs and desires). It requires that some desires are malleable - they can be changed through interaction with the environment.
Once you have these elements, then you have a situation where one member of the community has reason to alter the environment in such a way so as to cause others to acquire desires useful to an agent. A community engaged in using environmental factors (e,g., praise, condemnation, reward, punishment) to promote desires generally useful and inhibiting desires generally harmful is a community with a moral system.
One can say that evolution accounts for the fact that we are creatures that engage in intentional action, and the fact that some of our desires are malleable - which is everything that morality needs. But that is far different from what is claimed above.
For one thing, this "deep sense of right and wrong" is often wrong. People have - or have had - a deep sense that interracial marriage or homosexual relationships are wrong. Many Muslims have a deep sense that creating depictions of Mohammed are wrong. They kill their own daughters in "honor killings" out of a deep sense that their daughter's behavior was wrong.
These facts - and a huge list of similar facts all conveniently ignored by the "evolution accounts for morality" crowd - tell us two things about ths "deep sense of right and wrong". First, that its objects are learned. Second, if it did have an evolutionary explanation, it provides us with no way to distinguish between evolved evil and evolved goodness.
Nobody can think that this is a sensible answer to the question of morality without turning a blind eye to huge portions of human history - a history in which this much-vaulted evolted "sense of right and wrong promoting reciprocity and condemning selfishness" cannot be found, and a "sense of right and wrong promoting war, slavery, rape, conquest, and genocide" can be found in its place.
Seriously . . . look at any great evil that was done in human history. Take, for example, the Holocaust. Did evolution prevent it? Answer: Obviously not. Can we count on evolution to prevent something like that from happening in the future? Answer: Of course not. If you wanted to try to prevent something like that from happening in the future, does "evolution accounts for morality" say anything useful? No. It's not even relevant.
In its ability to ignore inconvenient facts, people tied to the view that evolution accounts for morality prove to be just as adept at any theist. They see that there are circumstances in which evolution favors altruism and cry, "evolution accounts for morality!" They utterly ignore the fact that evolution also invented the parasite and the predator - and perfected organisms for these roles as well.
Evolution accounts both for some of our altruism, and for some of our predatory and parasitic behavior. Under some conditions, predatory and parasitic behavior is just as useful or better than altruism and a highly evolved liar, rapist, or thief can have a great deal of evolutionary success.
If we are honest about the facts of the matter, this deep sense of right and wrong is easily attached to behavior that is predatory or parasitic. Rape and racism - tribal bigotries targeting people who do not look like us - the disposition to slaughter or dominate them and take their resources - or to take them and use them as resources (for sex or for forced labor) are all perfectly comfortable with the fact of human evolution. And they have all been found in certain moral codes.
Let's grant (as I think we must) that evolution accounts for some altruism. This falls far short of accounting for the fact that altruism is good. Evolution accounts for chins and male nipples, but it does not force the conclusion that they are good.
Religioin - unlike "evolution accounts for morality" is an attempt to account for the goodness of altruism. Evolution can merely acount for a portion of its existence.
Ironically, it is also the case that the alturism that evolution does acount for is entirely amoral. If Jim's altruism can be attributed to some genetic disposition, then it makes absolutely no sense to say that Jim deserves praise or is in any way to responsible for those altruistic acts. That would be as senseless as saying that Jim is responsible for his own genetic makeup.
Furthermore, if morality is in our genes, why do we need to reward reciprocity and punish excessive selfishness? Isn't it supposed to be the case that reciprocity and selflessness are accounted for by our genes?
This, in turn, brings up a logical problem with the idea that evolution accounts for morality. If it were true that evolution accounts for morality, then, "I evolved a sense that you should be put to death" implies "you deserve to die." What actions are wrong? Well, those actions that we evolved a disposition to punish. Is homosexuality wrong? Well, to determine this we need to look at whether humans evolved a disposition to kill homosexuals and feel justified in doing so. If they have, then homosexuals deserve to die - at least according to the thesis "evolution accounts for morality."
There is much more that I could say on this issue - but this post is too long already. Yet, what I said so far should be - should have long ago been - more than enough to discredit the idea that evolution accounts for morality.
I really wish and hope that the atheist community would be one that respects reason and evidence. Yet, the fact of the matter is that the atheist community is made up of human beings, and humans (not just religious humans but all humans) are disposed to grasp onto ideas and embrace them in the complete absence of reason and evidence. Though I still hold out hope - sometimes badly shaken but always present - that, slowly, some group of people can actually adopt these attitudes.
Do you want an answer to the objection that "evolution cannot account for morality?"
Here it is:
Evolution does not have to account for morality. Morality is fully and adequately accounted for by the fact that we are intentional agents with malleable desires. From this, it follows that there are dispositions that intentional agents generally have reason to promote, and an ability to promote by altering the experiences of others (through praise, condemnation, reward, and punishment). Nothing more is required. Evolution accounts for the fact that we are intentional agents with malleable desires. Therefore, evolution accounts for all of the prerequisites for morality.
This view is fully compatible with the fact that there has been and continues to be a lot of evil out there that was not or is not being prevented. It tells us how we can identify moral error and make moral improvements. It does not justify punishment in terms of, "I have evolved a disposition to feel justified in killing you; therefore, you deserve to die." It answers the real-world concerns of those who look to religion to answer moral questions - to prevent the evil that continues to exist and that our evolved history fails to prevent.