We are a social species. It stands to reason that natural selection has equipped us with a suite of behavioral predispositions suitable for such a species. A subset of those predispositions is the ultimate cause of what we know and experience as morality. One might say that Mother Nature wasn’t too finicky about such irrelevancies as rational consistency in designing the necessary mental equipment. She created the compelling illusion in our minds that such imaginary objects as Good, Evil, and Rights actually exist, and then hedged them about with powerful emotions that inclined us to reward Good and punish Evil. The fact that we’re here demonstrates that the system has worked well enough so far, although it has shown distinct signs of becoming dysfunctional of late.
I don’t know whether it ever occurred to Mother Nature that we might someday become clever and nosey enough to wonder where these objects came from. I never asked her. I rather suspect that she assumed the problem would be patched over via the invention of imaginary super beings. In that case, the objects would exist just because that’s the way the imaginary super being(s) wanted it, end of story. She probably never bothered about the possibility that some of us might realize that the imaginary super beings weren’t really all that plausible. After all, no one could accuse her of pussy footing around when it came to moral illusions. Good and Evil would appear as real things in the imaginations of believers and infidels alike. If the infidels couldn’t trace their existence to a God, well, they would just have to be creative and come up with something else.
And creative the infidels have certainly been. They’ve come up with all kinds of systems and rationalizations in the hope of saving the Good and Evil objects from vanishing into thin air. They are similar in that all of them are even more implausible than belief in imaginary super beings. The amusing thing is that the true believers can see through the charade without the least difficulty, whereas the “rational” infidels persist in floundering about in the darkness.
Consider, for example, a piece Dennis Prager just wrote for National Review Online, packaged as “A Response to Richard Dawkins.” Prager cuts to the chase with the following:
If there is no God, the labels “good” and “evil” are merely opinions. They are substitutes for “I like it” and “I don’t like it.” They are not objective realities.
Thank you, Mr. Prager. I couldn’t have said it better myself. That is a perfectly clear and straightforward statement of a simple truth that so many of my fellow “rational” atheists seem completely unable to grasp. There is simply no mechanism whereby the moral emotions in the mind of one individual can stroll over, smack another individual up alongside the head, and acquire the legitimacy to apply to that other individual as well. Atheist moralists are like so many zombies, still wandering aimlessly about in their imaginary world of good and evil even though they’ve just been shot between the eyes. The bullet that hit them is the realization that evolved behavioral predispositions are the ultimate cause of moral behavior. As Mr. Prager says, they do, indeed, have very pronounced opinions about the precise nature of Good and Evil. The problem is that such opinions are analogous to having opinions about the color of a unicorns horn. They are opinions about objects that don’t exist.
Unfortunately, belief in imaginary super beings is just as ineffectual as the fantasies of the atheists when it comes to conjuring up Good and Evil Things and endowing them with objective reality. Consider, for example, the rest of Mr. Prager’s article. It’s basically a statement of the familiar fallacy that, because (Judeo-Christian) God-based morality results in Good (as imagined by Mr. Prager), and atheist morality results in Evil (as imagined by Mr. Prager), therefore God must exist. In fact, there is no logical mechanism whereby the mind of Mr. Prager can force God from non-existence into existence by virtue of the fact that a God is required to transmute his Good and his Evil into objective realities. The truth of God’s existence or non-existence does not depend on Mr. Prager’s opinion touching on how his presence might affect the moral climate.
No matter, Prager stumbles on with his version of the now familiar “proof” that (Judeo-Christian) God-based moral systems result in Good, but secular ones result in Evil, and that the (Judeo-Christian) God must therefore exist. Apparently he knows enough history to realize that to believe this “proof” it is necessary to stand reality on its head. The slaughter of countless Jews through the ages, the murder of hundreds of thousands of innocent women as “witches,” the extermination of the Albigensians, the decades of bloody warfare conducted by “good” Christians to stamp out the Hussite heresy, the slaughter of the French Huguenots, and countless other similar events are the real legacy of Christianity. Prager is aware of this, and so would have us believe that Christianity has been successfully “tamed” in the 20th century. As he puts it,
But if that isn’t enough, how about the record of the godless 20th century, the cruelest, bloodiest, most murderous century on record? Every genocide of the last century — except for the Turkish mass murder of the Armenians and the Pakistani mass murder of Hindus in East Pakistan (now Bangladesh) — was committed by a secular anti-Jewish and anti-Christian regime. And as the two exceptions were Muslim, they are not relevant to my argument. I am arguing for the God and Bible of Judeo-Christian religions.
In fact, the God and Bible of the Judeo-Christian religions weren’t as spotless as all that, even in the 20th century. Consider, for example, the bloody history of the “Black Hundreds” in Russia just before the Bolshevik Revolution. They murdered tens of thousands of Jews in the bloody pogroms that were one of their favorite pastimes. The degree to which they were inspired by Christianity should be evident from the image of one of their marches I’ve posted below. No, I’m sorry, but I put little faith in Mr. Prager’s assertion that, while Christianity may have been responsible for inspiring astounding levels of bloody mayhem over the centuries, the Christians promise to be good from now on.
We are moral beings. We will act morally regardless of whether we believe in imaginary supermen or not, because it is our nature to act morally. As is obvious from the many variations in the details of moral rules among human societies, our moralities are not rigidly programmed by our genes. Within the limits imposed by our innate moral predispositions, we can shape our moral systems to suit our needs. It seems to me that our efforts in that direction are more likely to be successful if we leave religious fantasies, whether of the spiritual or secular variety, out of the process.