Two Moral Models:
Fits The Facts?
Dr. JohnPaul Slater (8-00)
We have all, I am sure, been subjected to the Christian slander of being told that Atheists lack morality. Since morals come from a God that we do not believe in then why not murder and rape to our hearts content?
Morals, of course, do not come from any Gods (and lucky for us as there don't happen to be any.) They can be explained with the use of very simple Darwinian evolution.
Most prey animals, and for that matter many predators live in groups. "There is safety in numbers." For a group to operate efficiently requires a "group dynamic." A set of behaviors that bonds the group together. This could be as simple as all the sardines in a school turning at the same time or as complicated as the order in which a herd of elephants gets to drink from a water hole.
Animals that fail to follow the group dynamic are forced to leave the group either through there own actions (swimming in the wrong direction) or the group forcibly ejects them (for the group's own safety.) No longer a member of the group they are now vulnerable to attack and deprived of the opportunity to mate. This is what Charles Darwin referred to as natural selection.
Scientific theories must have a certain degree of predictability. That is, if your theory is correct, you should be able to make predictions of results that you will be able to observe in the "real" world. I suggest that we give the Christians the benefit of the doubt and treat their theory in a completely scientific fashion.
Theory One: Morals are the dictates of God to mankind.
Prediction of observable results. (Please note that in order not to taint these predictions with my own prejudices I have taken them directly from Fundamentalist Christians).
Theory Two: Morals are the name of the human group dynamic and are subject to purely Darwinian evolution.
Prediction of observable results.
I would suggest that Theory Two more closely fits the observable facts.
Animals that feel the need to conform to the group dynamic -- that have what we call a conscience -- and can bound with their herd members (non-sexual love and friendship) stand a much better chance of passing their genes on. (Again no need for Divine intervention)
There have been major studies of wild dogs, sea lions, elephants and gorillas that show that when a member of one group tries to join another the alpha animal will force it to conform to the new dynamic. This forcing may be through aggressive displays and sometimes actual violence. More likely the newcomer will not be accepted (for perhaps the same reasons that its original pack did not accept it) and it is driven off to die. This dark side of nature "red in tooth and claw" actually protects the group as a whole. Members of a pack of wild dogs that did not conform group dynamic and jeopardize the procuring of food. Intolerance is necessary for the group's well being as a whole.
This Darwinian behavior, which is so important to wild dogs and hyenas, is precisely that which is demonstrated by Evangelical Christians. It would have been an extremely important as a survival technique in the days when humans were hunter-gatherers traveling in small tribes.
Richard Dawkins likes to mention that the acquiring of a large brain was an evolutionary adaptation for hunting that had wonderful side effects. Once we had large brains we could not only hunt better but we could communicate and invent agriculture and science and art.
One of the unexpected advantages evolving a large brain has given us is writing. But this, for some people, is a two edged sword.
Writing enabled us to record the group dynamic (morals) and that way everyone in the group would know just what was expected of them, the group would function better and advance.
Now here's the problem. Once the group dynamic was written down it became a physical object and not an idea any more. As a physical object it could not evolve. It remained the same even as the environment changed. The environment changed as another side effect of our having evolved large brains.
When the group dynamic was changed from an evolving idea to an artifact our species was sitting in the desert staring at a campfire of camel dung. Now we are floating around in a space station staring at a computer monitor, but we have the exact same un-evolved artifact.
Fortunately most people in the world have used their large brains to continue to socially evolve. We might still have a little trouble with people who are different from us, but we are getting over that. Our brains will show us that the entire planet is now our herd.
Evangelists were an important part of our evolutionary past. Perhaps, if they can ever divest themselves of these silly religions, they will continue to hold the social structure together.
If not, we can continue to evolve without them.
Dr JohnPaul Slater
Material by Cliff Walker (including unsigned editorial commentary) is copyright ©1995-2006 by Cliff Walker. Each submission is copyrighted by its writer, who retains control of the work except that by submitting it to Positive Atheism, permission has been granted to use the material or an edited version: (1) on the Positive Atheism web site; (2) in Positive Atheism Magazine; (3) in subsequent works controlled by Cliff Walker or Positive Atheism Magazine (including published or posted compilations). Excerpts not exceeding 500 words are allowed provided the proper copyright notice is affixed. Other use requires permission; Positive Atheism will work to protect the rights of all who submit their writings to us.