"Evolution cannot account for morality" is no myth. It is a fact.
This week, I am responding to a statement calling the proposition, "Evolution cannot account for morality" one of ten myths of evolution".
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.
It should be sufficient to show, "We have evolved a disposition to punish those who do X" does not imply "X is wrong" (which can be done with a long list of counter-examples). This shows that we cannot, in fact, account for wrongness in terms of an evolved disposition to punish - even if it were true that we had an evolved disposition to punish.
But what of this claim that we have an evolved disposition to punish?
The quote above states that "It would not be possible for a social primate species to survive without some moral sense." This is a lot like saying that life could not have come into existence without a designer. It requires a lot of faith.
Ant colonies exist. Yet, I have not seen the proof that they could not exist unless ants had a moral sense. While it is true that they are not a primate species, they at least show that cooperation without a moral sense is possible.
If one want to suggest that ants have a sense of duty, then let us look at the human body - with its many and different organs, as an example. Many different cells in the body all work together to promote the survival of the whole, yet none of them operate on a "moral sense".
The rich and varied animal life in any wilderness also continues to survive, with different parts of the system contributing to the welfare of other parts and obtaining benefits in return - again wholly independent of any type of "moral sense".
I remind the reader that the quote says, "It would not be possible. . . " Declaring impossibility is a very big claim - particularly in a universe where we have clear examples of different types of possibilities.
Next, let us look at this claim that we have an evolved disposition to punish
Let us assume that, in place of this evolved disposition to punish liars, we merely had an evolved disposition to harm liars. Clearly, to punish is not synonymous with to harm. A hurricane can harm property on the coast without punishing it.
Yet, in evolutionary terms, to harm would accomplish everything that to punish accomplishes. There is, in fact, no need to have an evolved disposition to punish. In every case where a person asserts such a need, we can substitute a disposition to harm and reach the same ends without all of the moral baggage.
It is relevant to note that to punish has a moral component - that it is a moral term, while to harm has is amoral. In fact, when the defender of the thesis that evolution can account for morality applies the concept to punish, she is actually begging the question - sneaking the moral concepts in through the back door. "How do you determine that this is an evolved disposition to punish, and not just an evolved disposition to harm?
Look at our ant colony. Ants do not need to punish ants that engage in behavior harmful to the colony. They only need to kill those ants - no "moral sense" is required.
As another example, take a mother's disposition to care for her child. No "sense of duty" is required to bring about this behavior. It is sufficient that the mother evolve a disposition to like taking care of her child - or to like those things that result in her child being better off. We do not need a sense of obligation to avoid pain. And, I assure you, I can be biologically driven to eat chocolate without suffering any pangs of guilt at not doing so.
There is no behavior that requires a moral sense. In every case, there is a set of likes and dislikes that will accomplish the same results. We do not need a sense that lying or adultery deserves punishment - all we need is a taste (a fondness, like the fondness for chocolate) for harming liars and adulterers.
In fact, this brings up another problem with the idea that an evolved disposition to punish is necessary for survival. Really, for every evolved disposition to punish we can substitute an evolved distaste for the type of behavior being punished. If people reacted to adultery and lying the way they react to the smell of a rotting corpse, an evolved disposition to punish would not be necessary at all.
Like I said, the claim that a primate species needs a moral sense for survival is a very big claim to make - and one that is far from being proved.