Evolution and Ethics 

I'm not sure whether to file this under "Origins" or "Ethics," but since "Ethics" has fewer entries so far, I'll put it there. There's some good stuff out there on the juxtaposition of the two, and how poorly they fit together. 

First is Matt's ironic point about saving lemon sharks (a beast I happen to like just as he does, as long as we're not swimming together). Speaking of a Washington Post article, he says,

"The author - and really not just this author and scientist but everyone who seeks to ground any sort of concern for the environment in something less than God's mandated stewardship of His Creation - seeks to impose a moral obligation on the reader to do something to preserve the lemon sharks. That's right; you are to throw off your evolutionary instincts to be a winner and instead help someone else be a winner."

At Eternal Revolution, a guest post by an unnamed atheist has stirred up serious discussion. I raised the question of the difficulty atheism has with naming the problem of evil, Stu Ano asked for an explanation, and I wrote this in response.

Non-theistic ethics have been for me one of those puzzles that just get under your skin and nag at you until you finally solve them. I worked on the Rubik's cube for days until I learned its patterns and could regularly work it in under a minute. The puzzle for me in non-theistic ethics is this: millions of people, including many who are brilliant and thoughtful, live relatively good lives. Many of them, who have thought about it deeply, claim to have a good explanation for the underpinnings of their ethics. Not only is their social behavior pretty good, they also believe they have normative explanations for it.

When I became a believer in Christ, it was partly (as I have written) because I couldn't find a good basis for ethics anywhere else but in God and his self-revelation. But what of all those brilliant, insightful people who disagree? I've been truly puzzled by this, so I've read a lot of them, looking for their explanations. Surely those good answers must exist out there somewhere!

And yet I have found only inconsistencies, over and over again. I'm not saying these people act badly. I'm saying their explanations for doing good don't add up. It comes back to things like a duty to protect the lemon shark, when evolutionary theory lays no burden on any population except to win the battle for survival and reproduction.

One could argue that if the lemon shark loses, eventually we lose, but the connection there is so ecologically distant and historically recent, it's hard to see how it could have exerted any selective pressure on our race. Just how, in evolutionary terms, did we ever come to care? I'm certainly not opposed to watching out for other species' survival; I'm just saying that evolutionary theory is a lousy explanation for why we ought to care.

The dominant moral imperatives in secular culture are environmentalism and tolerance. The schools tolerantly taught that everyone should clarify their personal values, with as little guidance as possible regarding what those values ought to be--and then were shocked when Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold actually did as they were taught, and acted out their personal values. Again, it's inconsistent.

Some people view God as handing us moral straitjackets, forcing us to do what we do not like. That's wrong in the first place, because God is a loving God who knows us better than we know ourselves, and offers us a life of fulfillment as we follow him fully. I have thirty years of experience to attest to that. But such people fail to recognize the alternative to God's direction is a life without the ability to understand what it means to enjoy the good, because there is no way consistently even to name what is good. There is no rationally consistent way to overcome evil because there is no way consistently to define what is evil.

Part 1 of a series. See also:
2. The End of Right and Wrong?
3. What Do "Right" and "Wrong" Then Mean?
4. What's to Become of Right and Wrong? A Wrapup  

Posted: Mon - September 12, 2005 at 12:38 PM           |

© 2004-2007 by Tom Gilson. Permission is granted to quote up to two paragraphs of any blog entry, provided that a link back to the original is included or (in print) the website address is provided. Please email me regarding longer quotes. All other rights reserved.

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