Morality: A Christian puts 2 and 2 Together

I haven’t read the book,  “Roots of Despair: Evolution and the Death of Morality,” by Bill Weaks, but the the blurb about it on the Amazon website is interesting in its own right.  It reads,

Is morality real? Is there a universal morality that exists beyond opinion and circumstance? If evolution is correct, then the answer to these questions is an obvious and unequivocal “NO.” If Darwin was right, then what we call morality is simply the physical result of billions of random accidents, and that is that.

When the author, who happens to be a Christian, speaks of morality here, he is referring to transcendental morality, meaning morality that is legitimate in itself. As an atheist I completely agree with him on this particular point. He’s really just stating the obvious. If morality is the expression of evolved behavioral traits in a particular type of animal, namely us, then it is illogical to speak of morality as a thing in itself, an object having some kind of universal validity in its own right. The remarkable thing is that, in spite of rapidly increasing acceptance among secular scientists and philosophers of the evolutionary basis of morality and its association with innate predispositions, many of which we share with other animals, none of them, at least to my knowledge, has explicitly accepted this seemingly obvious and fundamental truth.  It is, apparently, a truth that has, so far, been too unpalatable for them to swallow.

Why do all these academic, scientific, and philosophical worthies have such difficulty putting two and two together when a Christian many of them would dismiss as a simpleton can see the obvious without the least difficulty?  As a hypothesis, I suggest that it’s because it conflicts with the ideological preconceptions of many of them.  Like all human beings, they experience moral distinctions of good and evil as real, because that’s the way they’re wired, so it’s no more difficult psychologically for them to maintain the illusion that they actually are real than anyone else.  Many of them suscribe to ideological “holy causes” that they are used to associating with “the good.”  If “the good” is the artifact of behavioral traits that evolved at times that are completely different than the present, then the basis for associating ideological goals with “the good” disappears.  The problem becomes even more accute for “ethics experts” who have spent their lives reading dull tomes of philosophy.  The rug is pulled out from under them, and their “expertise” becomes irrelevant.  Throw in for good measure the fact that many of these people come from a milieu that until very recently considered any suggestion that innate predispositions had anything to do with human behavior a sign of political unsoundness, and the reasons they keep clutching at some imaginary Platonic form of “the good” become clear.

How long will it take them before, like Mr. Weaks and other Christians who have no ideological motive for being spooked by the truth, they, too, finally put two and two together?  There are grounds for optimism.  After all, the fact that morality is an expression of evolved predispositions has been obvious to anyone with an open mind since at least the days of Darwin, but because of the ideological baggage referred to above, many of them have rejected the obvious until very recently.  They defended their ideological myths with the tenacity of true believers until they were finally buried by the mountains of evidence emanating from the fields of neuroscience and other scientific disciplines.  The fact that morality has no objective validity in its own right is just as obvious as the fact that it is the expression of evolved behavioral traits.  For that matter, the former fact follows from the latter, and one hopes they will finally stumble on that truth as well in the not-too-distant future.

Of course, Mr. Weaks takes a very pessimistic view of things.  As the Amazon blurb referred to above puts it,

This simple truth is at the root of the decay and despair that surrounds us. Grasping this fact allows those of us who believe in a supernatural source of morality to better love and minister to those lost in the moral wasteland that Darwinism inevitably leaves behind.

Unfortunately, the truth regarding the existence of a God does not depend on whether Mr. Weaks experiences despair about it or not.  I tend to take a more optimistic view of things, and, based on the evidence of all recorded human history, conclude that moral behavior in human beings will not suddenly disappear regardless of whether Christianity or any other religion or philosophy happens to be true or not.  We’re wired to be moral, even if we still have only a very vague perception of what morality actually is.  In the day to day interactions among individuals, we will act morally because it is our nature to do so.

Author: Helian

I am Doug Drake, and I live in Maryland, not far from Washington, DC. I am a graduate of West Point, and I hold a Ph.D. in nuclear engineering from the University of Wisconsin. My blog reflects my enduring fascination with human nature and human morality.

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