February 9, 2009 | David F. Coppedge

Evolutionists Hunger for Morality

Nature is completely sold over to naturalistic evolution, yet cannot escape the question of morality.  Science depends on morality, but it is not clear in their statements that they acknowledge any universal moral standard.  Christian standards of honesty seem to be assumed.  But if everything in biology (including human behavior) emerged by natural selection, then so did morality.  Can one derive honesty, trust, or responsibility by an unguided natural process?

  1. Responsibility index:  Nature thought it would be good to devise a “responsibility index” for emerging nations who want to join the science club.1  To reduce fraud, plagiarism and fabrication of data, the Editorial suggested better investigation, openness about violations, avoidance of discrimination, and other moral motions.
  2. History of scientific morality:  In the same issue of Nature,2 Jerome Ravetz reviewed a new book by Steven Shapin, The Scientific Life: A Moral History of a Late Modern Vocation (U of Chicago, 2008).  Both author and reviewer had things to say about the honesty of scientists past and present.  Science is supposed to be “the embodiment of objectivity,” Ravetz said.  “In The Scientific Life, historian Steven Shapin asks if contemporary high-tech science is a moral enterprise.  Does objectivity render scientific achievement less personal than that in the humanities, and does the scientist possess any special moral virtue?”  Shapin’s thesis is that civility between scientists is the key.  Ravetz pointed out that there have been some glaring shortcomings of that ideal.  Using the world of finance as a comparison, he had a final reflection: “Had Shapin chosen to study the mathematicians who are employed in the world of finance, he might well have found similar patterns of civilized interaction and similar evidence of individual moral virtues,” he said.  “Yet we now know that the collective endeavour of these other very nice entrepreneurial scientists has resulted in the creation of a mountain of toxic fake securities.”  This “sobering thought” seemed calculated to cast doubt on the value of civility alone to produce a moral fellowship.
  3. Robotic morality:  Another interesting book review, in the same issue of Nature,3 discussed whether robots could have morality.  Peter Danielson reviewed Moral Machines: Teaching Robots Right from Wrong by Wallach and Allen (Oxford, 2008).  He believes it is premature to know whether robots will ever be able to make autonomous moral decisions.  Hal, the rogue computer in 2001: A Space Odyssey comes to mind.  He also considered it an open question whether robot morality should be modeled on human morality.  In the meantime, best subject our robots to human oversight.  Words like values, trust and moral agents peppered the review, but it seemed both the authors and the reviewer were begging the question of what constitutes a moral standard.  Danielson spoke of “functional morality,” but even that phrase presupposes a function that is good in some moral sense; otherwise, one could consider Nazi morality “functional.”
  4. Spencer’s legacy:  One other book review in Nature4 highlighted the problem of deriving morality from evolutionary theory.  Andrew Read reviewed Banquet at Delmonico’s: Great Minds, the Gilded Age, and the Triumph of Evolution in America by Barry Werth (Random House, 2009).  Werth’s book “covers the elite’s battle for ideas during the turbulent years of the 1870s and 1880s,” climaxing in an “eponymous banquet” at a Manhattan restaurant shortly after Darwin’s death, “attended by 200 of the most powerful men in the United States, and celebrated [Herbert] Spencer at the end of what was to be his last US trip.”  That’s a tale for the interested reader.  What concerns morality and evolution was stated here by the reviewer:

    The audience found a new idea only in John Fiske’s speech: he asserted that humans acquired a sense of morality not from God, but from natural selection.  The only speech that might resonate today was Spencer’s own.  Worried about the country’s well-being and health, he railed against the national work ethic, arguing that Americans should spend less time striving for a future good, and more time enjoying what the passing day had to offer.  The idea baffled his audience and was poorly received.

    Early evolutionists were giving a conflicting moral standard, it seems.  Andrew Read summed up that we moderns have no such excuse, because we understand evolution much better now:

    We have yet to fully comprehend the consequences of what Darwin did to humanity’s view of itself.  Werth’s picture of what his ‘great minds of the gilded age’ were thinking, of how far they tried to stretch Darwinian insights, and of the personal and moral lessons they drew, makes a forceful argument that the causes of biological diversity – and humankind’s place within it – really matter.  The fact that many of these thinkers’ conclusions were based on such a poor understanding of evolution also shows why everyone deserves proper schooling in evolutionary biology.  The Victorians had the crippling disadvantage that they did not understand inheritance or units of selection.  Today, humanity has no such excuse.

Incidentally, yesterday was Darwin Sunday at some churches.  Robert Roy Britt on MSNBC News reported on the growing number of liberal churches honoring Darwin and apologizing for “misunderstanding” his ideas (see 02/11/2006).  Britt did mention opposing views, like those of the Discovery Institute and the book by John West, Darwin Day in America.

1.  Editorial, “A responsibility index,” Nature 457, 512 (29 January 2009) | doi:10.1038/457512a.
2.  Jerome Ravetz, “Morals and manners in modern science,” Nature 457, 662-663 (5 February 2009) | doi:10.1038/457662a.
3.  Peter Danielson, “Can robots have a conscience?”, Nature 457, 540 (29 January 2009) | doi:10.1038/457540a.
4.  Andrew F. Read, “Natural selection and the nation,” Nature 457, 663-664 (5 February 2009) | doi:10.1038/457663a.

Evolutionists want it but can’t get it.  They don’t have the “natural resources” for morality.  It must be imported.  An embargo of Christian morality would make them starve.
    They are like bad boys sneaking into the Christian smorgasbord.  While nobody is looking, they come in and pretend they belong.  “I’ll have some responsibility, and oh… that honesty looks delicious.  Give me some of that truth for dessert.”  They slurp up all these healthy values with bad manners, and without a dime in their pockets.
    Letting them get away with this only perpetuates their delinquency.  Tough love requires a gentle but firm manager looking them straight in the eye and demanding, “Sorry, boys, you cannot come in and enjoy the banquet without paying the price.  That would be immoral, now, wouldn’t it?”

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Categories: Politics and Ethics

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