September 12, 2012 | David F. Coppedge

If Morality Evolved, Is It Righteous?

Evolutionists are determined to keep morality from succeeding as a defeater for natural selection.

Evolving righteousness in a corrupt world” is the eye-catching title of a short summary on PhysOrg of a paper on PLoS ONE by the same title.  PhysOrg stated, “Initially cooperative societies devolve toward corruption, but introducing small ‘payments’ in conjunction with punishment can lead to stable, righteous societies, according to a modeling study published Sep. 12 in the open access journal PLOS ONE.”

In their abstract, Edgar A. Duéñez-Guzmán and Suzanne Sadedin of Harvard’s Department of Organismic and Evolutionary Biology make “righteousness” synonymous with “cooperation”  But can’t societies cooperate on unrighteous deeds?  Their paper views “righteousness” (cooperation) as merely a mechanical game played by natural selection on any group of organisms, whether humans or ants:

Righteousness, by stabilizing cooperation and providing a higher payoff to cooperative groups, constitutes a mechanism to shift the scale of selection from an individual to a group level. Unlike alternative mechanisms to maintain cooperation, such as reputation, righteousness requires no individual recognition or memory. Righteousness does require some ability to discriminate between punishers and non-punishers, but such discrimination can occur without complex cognition; for example, ant punishers are often larger and more aggressive than non-punishers.

Because the collective payoff of righteousness is higher than that of alternative outcomes, righteous groups are likely to outcompete those that have converged on defection or corruption. As a result, righteousness is expected to spread either culturally or genetically. This mechanism may explain the observation of righteous punishment in some ant species and some human societies.

Thus we see that, in their view, “righteousness” is not really moral at all; it involves no conscience, no moral choice, and no definition of right or wrong.  It might spread “either culturally or genetically,” they said.  But if culture is an artifact of genes, then so is “righteousness.”  If ants and bacteria can be righteous, it’s just not really righteousness at all.  It’s an artifact of selection that looks like righteousness.

This article is typical of evolutionary explanations for morality.  Hardly a paper in this genre fails to mention that morality is a conundrum for Darwinism.  Why would an individual self-sacrifice for the good of others?  Think of a grandmother sending a check for the relief of hungry children she has never seen in a faraway country.  Morality threatens Darwinism.  It’s an observational fact that defies evolution.  For Darwinism to survive as the all-encompassing explanation of everything in the living world, it must be Darwinized.  It must be brought within the sheepfold of phenomena explainable by the mindless, aimless, purposeless mechanism of mutation and selection.

Still, it remains a challenge ever since Darwin suggested that human psychology and sociality are selective effects.  That’s why evolutionary journals and articles constantly try to tackle it with new models and approaches.

In Science 31 August 2012 (Vol. 337 no. 6098 p. 1042, DOI: 10.1126/science.1225641), Buyun Zhao reviewed a new book on the topic called Moral Origins: The Evolution of Virtue, Altruism, and Shame by Christopher Boehm.  Zhao agreed that “Prima facie, morality (our sense of right and wrong) appears to be an evolutionary paradox.”  So he was relieved that “With its cautious rhetoric and deep introspection, [Boehm’s] account provides a convincing tale” – a strange description for a scientific theory.   Even conscience is brought within the fold of natural selection:

Uncomfortably inherent in this account, the counterintuitive notion that our sense of fairness arose prior to the formation of our conscience presents us with a philosophical dilemma. However, Boehm tactfully argues that understanding the rules of the social game should precede its true emotional internalization. He suggests that our conscience arose merely as a “Machiavellian risk calculator”—a process of thoughts that conceptualizes the game theory of prohibitive punishment costs versus defection benefits. This seems to me the most persuasive description of the emergence of conscience yet.

Philosophers might retort at this solution to the dilemma, however, asking for clarity about the meaning of introspection, thoughts, and conceptualizations.  Sweeping past such questions, Zhao found it “profoundly satisfying” to see a fellow evolutionist bringing these difficult concepts into the Darwinian fold: “The book’s greatest value lies in its elegant naturalistic explanation for morality, which dovetails Darwinian history with philosophy.”  Now if Zhao can just get philosophy to arise by natural selection, he might be able to locate the genes that produce the illusion of profound satisfaction.

Speaking of fairness, PhysOrg announced that “Fairness can evolve by imitating one’s neighbor.”  And who tells us this?  Physicists, the headline said.  This would suggest that robots can learn fairness.  But if robots do it, who determines if it is fair?  A robot referee?  Who programmed the robot referee with the fairness algorithm?  Omitting to address such philosophical questions, the article about models developed by eastern Europeans continues the selectionist line: “Studies have shown that, while models of natural selection favor the evolution of the rational Homo economicus who accepts anything and offers little, arranging the game spatially can lead to the evolution of fairness.”  The question-begging lights really flash on the words favor, rational, and arranging.

Some evolutionists try to adorn their models with lab experiments.  An example is found on BBC News, where reporter Victoria Gill told readers that “Puppet experiment suggests humans are born to be fair.”   This tale rests, once again, on evolution by natural selection.  Speaking of experiments on fair play with non-human primates, Gill made it clear that “these studies are trying to unpick its evolutionary origins.”  Even though the results of the experiments showed that true altruistic behavior (helping others for no reward) is unique to humans, no theologians were allowed to opine on how fairness might be a created trait in the beings God made in His image.  Instead, answers will have to await better models from evolutionary biologists and psychologists.

Time would fail to list all the other attempts to evolutionize morality, such as the paper this month in PNAS by Suchak and de Waal, “Monkeys benefit from reciprocity without the cognitive burden” (an attempt to identify the “mechanisms” that led to the “origins of human prosociality” via natural selection), or the paper in Science about “Microbial Cooperative Warfare”  by Helene Morlon (Science 7 September 2012: Vol. 337 no. 6099 pp. 1184-1185, DOI: 10.1126/science.1227512) that tried to answer the valid question, “But how can such social systems evolve? Antibiotic production comes at a fitness cost to the superkillers, and in a Darwinian world of survival of the fittest, why should an individual help others at its own expense?”  Morlon found respite in the prospect that cooperation can appear to evolve, even in bacteria, and that further research may find out why some day.

It should be no surprise, given this tendency to evolutionize morality, that evolutionists look at hot political issues in similar terms.  For instance, the latest Live Science entry by Stephanie Pappas headlined, “Providing Abortions Can Be the Moral Choice, Doctor Says.”  With the emphasis on “fairness” as an artifact of game theory and models of natural and social selection, now Pappas’ arguments make a kind of sense, if sense has any grounding in selectionist theory.  If conscientious objectors can be granted immunity from prosecution for refusing to perform abortions due to religious beliefs, then the ones who want to perform abortions as their “moral choice” should also be granted immunity.  It’s only fair.  It’s also convenient: one doesn’t have to consider the rights of the unborn, a mass of evolving genes with surrounding tissue.  Bystanders might well wonder what soap box Pappas is standing on to teach fairness, if fairness is an illusion brought about by natural selection in her genes.

Pastors, listen up:  these articles reveal just how pernicious the Darwin Industry is.  Ever since Huxley, Tyndall and Darwin turned the selectionist storytellers loose on the humanities (see Evolution News & Views), Darwinists have rationalized the worst atrocities in human history with their ideology of evolutionary naturalism.

It’s pernicious on at least three grounds: (1) They redefine words like righteousness, morality, and altruism, turning them into empty evolutionary artifacts devoid of meaning; (2) They bastardize science by telling stories; and (3) They turn around and rationalize evil with their foolish models.  We might add a fourth: (4) They shoot themselves in the foot.  In their Yoda trances, they assume a stance outside the universe of evolved behaviors, pretending to explain rationally and truthfully what goes on in the minds of everyone else but themselves.  For this reason alone, we can dismiss all they say as nonsense.

But give them enough power to exclude other views, and they are the most dangerous ideologues on earth.  If you think Darwinian evil was spent on the 20th century, just wait: the same corrupted minds are corrupting young minds in universities across the world, equipping the next Lenin or Pol Pot with a pseudoscientific justification to commit unheard-of atrocities, all in the name of natural selection.  An altruistic person like yourself would never let that happen, would you?






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  • Shawn says:

    What a poignant article concerning the state of morality in our world and extremely well timed. Earlier this week I presented the Moral Argument for the defense of the existence of God and I talked about the illogical notion that morality is an evolutionary product. I had an individual approach me afterward trying to argue against my assertion, but everyone seems to fail to realize how contrary morality is to the evolutionary paradigm.

    I mean, what environmental force would change the fundamental behavior of consume and survive in any organism, such that it would deny its supposed one and only directive to increase the survival of others? Is that not one of the tragedies that is frequently encapsulated by artists? The fact that we as men fail time and again to set aside our differences to better our world. The true FACT however, is that men and women who exemplify this behavior exist and they DO sacrifice for the sake of others. This runs contrary to everything we would expect were evolution true.

    I also appreciate this article for touching upon the hollowness of words such as righteousness, altruism, etc. in a strict naturalistic Darwinian worldview. These words mean nothing in that context, they are just by-products of a directionless, senseless process. I think people who advance the evolutionary origin of conscience forget that these words and ideas are infused with emotion and not just hard, cold descriptions of a process that we are dimly aware of. I mean do we really look at a guy who would jump on a grenade to save the life of his fellow soldiers and say, “I wish I had his genetic or environmental disposition”? I would like to think we honor and praise him in our hearts, that we see a disciple of Christ, so infused with the Spirit that his concern is first and foremost the protection of the things he loves on this earth.

    Two completely irreconcilable views of such an awesome and powerful gift. If your previously held convictions do not adequately explain such an amazing thing, why do you continue to cling to them? I don’t understand it.

  • coreysan says:

    I just read part of a debate between Greg Koukl and Michael Shermer, on morality. I’m concerned that when you’re in a debate face-to-face, being civil and respectful is a priority, however in that debate there was a lot of “well you’re right about that, but…” and “Yes, I agree, however…” on both sides, so the main point kept drifting away.

    I credit Koukl with trying to bring it back to the original debate point, but the drifting was amazing.

    I like the answers on much better!

  • rockyway says:

    “This mechanism may explain the observation of righteous punishment in some ant species and some human societies.”

    – This ‘animalization’ of human beings is what Raymond Tallis calls Darwinitis. Though he’s an atheist (and an anti-creationist) he opposes analyzing human beings as if they were animals.

    The authors are playing a favorite game with Darwinists and that’s the old strategy of equivocation. Contrary to them, righteousness only has one valid meaning, and that is conformity to God’s law. (Tallis at one point in ‘Aping Mankind’ says that it’s wrong to say man is morally superior to a lion. Why? A lion isn’t moral at all; no more than a tree is.)

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